“OK, I’ve got a serious question…” mused Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl on stage as Riot Fest got underway in Chicago Friday night. “How many of you have seen the Foo Fighters? Be honest…” he continued, taking stock of the fan response at a festival long known primarily for its punk rock bookings. “Well, I’ll get your ass. I’ll get you!”
With temperatures near 80 degrees on a sunny day in Chicago, conditions were perfect as Riot Fest got moving early thanks to the sounds of legendary funk outfit Parliament Funkadelic.
“I can hear you out there!” shouted bandleader George Clinton, 82, from atop an on stage throne.
An elongated, brass-driven take on Parliament’s “Flash Light” gave way to Funadelic’s “Not Just (Knee Deep)” as a massive early crowd varying wildly in age swayed and sang along, yet another generation exposed to the funk progenitor via De La Soul’s sampling of the latter on “Me Myself and I” in 1989.
Long known for unthinkable reunions and full album performances, Riot Fest 2023 finds artists like The Breeders traipsing through seminal albums start to finish. Saturday will feature headlining performances by Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service, frontman Ben Gibbard pulling double duty with an emphasis on the year 2003 as Death Cab offers up the Transatlanticism record alongside Give Up from The Postal Service.
“It’s the album that people kind of come back to all of the time,” said Braid singer and guitarist Chris Broach prior to the group’s reexamination of the 1998 album Frame & Canvas. “I feel like it’s kind of the album that defined our sound and the sound we were going after. So, revisiting it is fun. It’s fun to play and people want to hear it. So, we’re stoked.”
Riot Fest acted as something of a homecoming for the post-hardcore emo outfit who hail from downstate Illinois, having broken out of an influential scene about two hours south of Chicago in Champaign, Illinois in the mid-90s.
“I think we’re all excited. Because we’ve wanted to do Riot Fest for years. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t worked out until now,” said drummer Damon Atkinson. “This is one of my favorite fests ever. And I come every year. So to be able to play it finally feels good,” added vocalist and guitarist Bob Nanna.
Over the course of one hour Friday on the Rebel stage, Braid took stock of the album and more, running through it from start to finish.
“You guys still having fun?” asked Nanna on stage. “We’ve reached the end of side one. If you had the vinyl, we’d flip it,” joked the guitarist following “Milwaukee Sky Rocket.”
“A Dozen Roses” followed as Braid continued the full album performance.
“Several years ago we wrote a new record and it just was a different process. Different songs,” explained Atkinson of the group’s 2014 reunion effort No Coast, their first album in 16 years. “Going back to these, it’s fun. The nostalgia is there. It brings us back to that time – to our 20s. And we’re certainly not in our 20s anymore. And we feel it. But it keeps the youth in us I guess. That’s how I feel,” said the drummer.
“When we wrote and recorded the album, we had played so many shows live and we had tested the songs live and sort of sequenced it in a way that it could be listened to start to finish,” said Nanna of the group’s approach to Frame & Canvas. “So, it’s cool that after all these years it still feels like a cohesive set, you know?”
In 1993, Last Splash was an unexpected entrant to the top 40 of the Billboard 200 albums chart, peaking at #33 thanks to the crossover success of the biggest Breeders hit “Cannonball.”
Friday afternoon, Kim Deal and company ran through the album at the top of a 60 minute set on the Riot stage.
“We’re gonna play it from the beginning all the way to the end!” she declared setting up “New Year” as “Cannonball” rang out across Douglass Park moments later.
Live violin drove “Invisible Man” while the slide guitar of Kelley Deal defined “No Aloha” next.
Bassist Josephine Wiggs moved to the drums and drummer Jim Macpherson picked up the bass, violin resplendent during a quiet interlude amidst “Roi.” “We’re gonna get weird now!” said Deal to rapturous applause, setting up the moving chairs take on the track.
From their latest album Desire Pathway, “Ornament” was a catchy, early highlight from New Jersey indie rockers Screaming Females, the intense shredding of singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster in stark contrast to the contemplative, largely acoustic stylings of folk rocker Ani DiFranco nearby on the Rise stage.
Backed by a terrific three piece band, including pedal steel guitar, drums and upright bass, DiFranco was in fine form Friday at Riot Fest, overcoming early technical issues as she offered up “Little Plastic Castle.”
“So that little record is 25 years old. And so am I, which is the crazy thing,” joked DiFranco of 1998’s Little Plastic Castle. “Here’s a song from that record that I have not played in 25 years!” she continued, setting up “Pixie.” “That’s a song I wrote 25 years ago when I started getting invited to rock festivals and I was just too sensitive,” she said laughing, following it up with “Do or Die” from her latest record Revolutionary Love.
Prior to Riot Fest, Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett teamed with co-founding Pennywise singer and guitarist Jim Lindberg for a pair of very intimate solo acoustic shows in the Sidebar at FitzGerald’s, a longtime destination for music fans in Chicago’s western suburbs.
“I’ve always kind of done little stuff on the side. I never left it. They’re super fun,” said Shiflett of taking the stage to about 150 fans prior to Friday’s festival set in front of 50,000. “It’s comfortable. I like it. Although, I haven’t done one just me and an acoustic guitar for quite a while. So, the first show is going to be nerve wracking,” said the guitarist with a smile backstage at FitzGerald’s prior to the first of two sold out shows.
While 2023’s headlining performance doubles as a Riot Fest debut for Foo Fighters, it stands as a return for Shiflett, who performed as a member of Chevy Metal in 2016.
“I haven’t been to Riot Fest in years. So it’s been a minute. But I have memories of it,” he said. “And I love Chicago. So, hopefully I’ll see some friends. I know that a bunch of my friends are playing and are going to be around. Of course I want to see Pennywise. I want to see H2O. So, I think that it’s going to be a fun weekend,” said Shiflett. “The last time I played Riot Fest – maybe the only time I’ve played Riot Fest? – I was out here with Chevy Metal. And it was the same day that Dee Snider played. He came over and did a song or two with us and it was really fun.”
“May I introduce you to our guitar player, Chris Shiflett?” shouted Grohl Friday night, running through band introductions following “Breakout.” “Chris Shiflett of No Use For a Name!” he clarified, highlighting Shiflett’s punk rock roots on stage at the still largely punk festival. “And Pat Smear from The Germs right there,” he continued, as the band worked up a bit of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” “And the dude that made it possible for us to be here tonight. This mother f–er has been on every Warped Tour ever!” joked Grohl, highlighting the extensive resume of new drummer Josh Freese as the band put its spin upon Devo’s “Whip It.”
As always, Foo Fighters were relentlessly entertaining on stage in Chicago, opening with “All My Life” and “The Pretender” to kick off a rollicking two hours on the Riot stage.
“Let’s do something together here,” requested Grohl, setting up an all hands sing along during “My Hero,” the band kicking things up a notch after with a look back at their self-titled 1995 debut album via “This is a Call.”
“Monkey Wrench” was a late highlight as was “White Limo,” the group dusting off the latter thanks to a fan request.
“We vowed to do this one every night for the rest of our lives,” said Grohl, remembering late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins with a moving take on one of the group’s finest deep cuts in “Aurora.”
“To the city of Chicago,” said Grohl on stage during his Riot Fest debut. “Without you, I don’t think I’d be doing this thing I’m doing now,” he continued, recalling a formative concertgoing moment as a young punk rock fan on the city’s north side. “This goes out to Rights of the Accused who opened that show!” Grohl said, shouting out the Chicago-based 80s punk band as keyboard player Rami Jaffe delivered a slowed down, organ-fuelled intro to “Times Like These.”