While forecasted rain mostly missed the festival Saturday, heavy downpours in the Chicagoland area Sunday morning forced an adjustment to the Riot Fest schedule, delaying start times by about two hours while canceling scheduled performances by acts like Chicago alternative quartet Smoking Popes.
Despite the amended schedule, an unopposed festival closing set by The Cure went off without a hitch, taking place over the course of nearly two and a half hours on the Riot stage.
Four hours earlier, Oxford shoegazers Ride appeared on the same stage, performing at Riot Fest for the first time since 2019.
“I saw The B-52s here last time. And I was really pleased with that. I enjoyed that. It made my day – made my year,” said Ride singer and guitarist Andy Bell backstage prior to the group’s set. “The Cure of course,” he said with a smile when asked what artists he looked forward to seeing this time around.
“I love The Cure – and always have since I first started buying CDs and stuff as a teenager,” added vocalist/guitarist Mark Gardener. “They’re great.”
Over the course of 45 minutes, Ride offered up a guitar-driven sonic assault, an arsenal of effects pedals and pulsating bass nearly drowning out the early vocals on “Leave Them all Behind” to open the set.
“Thank you very much. How’s everybody hanging in there this long weekend?” asked Gardener from the Riot Fest stage. “You look beautiful from up here,” he continued, setting up the jangly pop of “Future Love” from the group’s 2019 effort This is Not a Safe Place.
Riot Fest finds Ride amidst an unusually heavy year of U.S. touring, the festival appearance following a Friday night after show while capping a year which started with a run of performances pitting the group alongside U.K. hitmakers The Charlatans, a continuation of Ride’s first American dates since 2019.
“It worked out really well with The Charlatans,” said drummer Loz Colbert. “Everybody got on really well. It was nice taking turns each night and it was great hearing their music. The tour went really well, to be honest. It just ran really smoothly.”
“The aftershow was great. It’s good to play a small club show,” added Gardener. “It was a bit of a greatest hits set for us so it went really well. And it’s good for us because it just gets us back into the groove before the festival.”
Putting a contemporary spin upon their well-tested sound, Ride rolled out a brand new track on stage Sunday at Riot Fest, with “Monaco” taking on an edgier, new wave tone.
“We’re gonna be back in America next year,” said Gardener on stage in Chicago. “So we’re looking forward to that.”
Sunday’s schedule built toward The Cure beautifully, Ride a perfect early table setter with California punks AFI immediately following on the Roots stage, once again reflecting the hand of a fan in the curation of Riot Fest.
“We try to tell stories when we book this,” explained Riot Fest co-founder Mike Petryshyn of his approach to building the festival schedule. “We’re at heart a punk rock festival. But punk rock in its singular cell is really just being authentic and original – creative,” he explained. “For instance, this year we have The Cure playing. We also have AFI performing. And that’s on purpose. AFI was a hardcore band – Bay Area. And they toured with Snapcase, which is one of my favorite hardcore bands,” he said, noting the latter, who performed Saturday at Riot Fest. “But look how much [AFI’s] music progressed to where it is now. They weren’t playing three chords any longer – they developed. In so much that the inspiration to a lot of their music was from The Cure or Joy Division,” Petryshyn explained, noting the connection between the bands. “That’s what we try to do.”
It was back to 2003 as AFI kicked off their one hour set with “Girl’s Not Grey.”
“Good evening!” said frontman Davey Havok on stage Sunday. “Thank you for joining us! We are AFI,” said the singer.
Nearby on the Rise stage, Celtic California punks Flogging Molly offered up an hour on stage in Chicago’s Douglass Park.
“Riot Fest!” screamed singer and songwriter Dave King midway through “The Likes of You Again” second in Flogging Molly’s set.
“I’m 62 years of age and I don’t give a f–k!” King asserted proudly, offering up a series of left leg kicks during “Swagger.”
Following a brief U.S. run this summer, a reunited Dresden Dolls arrived at Riot Fest for a one hour performance on the Riot stage.
“I’m already as happy as I could possibly be because I just met Robert Smith!” declared singer and multi-instrumentalist Amanda Palmer on stage Sunday.
Opening with “Sex Changes,” the duo soon moved into the rocking piano pop of “Gravity.”
Standing up behind his kit following “Gravity,” drummer Brian Viglione mimed that he could use a drink, the powerhouse duo moving directly into “Modern Moonlight.”
“Good evening! We are the Dresden Dolls! We love you too!” shouted Palmer from the stage Sunday afternoon. “We are so grateful to be here playing for you. This is a drinking song!” she said, setting up the aptly-titled “My Alcoholic Friends.”
Former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur was an unexpected guest, joining for a rollicking cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right,” with Dresden Dolls heading toward close with their take on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”
“When Brian and I met, we bonded over these bands,” explained Palmer midway through the Riot Fest set. “We were both the f—ing weird kids and we bonded over our love of Nick Cave, P.J. Harvey and The Cure,” she continued. “So, it’s a thrill to perform on this stage. They were a band and we became a band.”
As Cure frontman Robert Smith continues his battle to rein in prices, the group undercut just about everyone else on the three day bill, once again selling t-shirts for just $25.
Clad in an Amy Winehouse tee Sunday, Smith kept banter to a minimum in Chicago, letting the music do the talking as the group continues their most profitable tour yet (even after lowering ticket prices).
Following a jubilant U.S. arena run which found the group shaking up the setlist each night amidst three hour plus performances, The Cure put a slightly greater emphasis on the hits Sunday amidst a shortened festival set – but still worked in a trio of new tracks from the forthcoming studio album Songs of a Lost World, the group’s first since 2008.
As it has for most of the tour, the new “Alone” gave way to fan favorite “Pictures Of You” to open the set, the group working in hits like “High” and “Lovesong” at the top of their Riot Fest performance.
The early instrumental assault of “Push” was resplendent Sunday in Chicago. Moving straight into “In Between Days” and “Just Like Heaven,” “Push” kicked off one of the set’s most rewarding stretches.
Emerging from encore with “Lullaby,” Smith and company rolled out a murder’s row next, cruising toward finish with “Friday I’m in Love,” “Close to Me,” “Why Can’t I Be You” and “Boys Don’t Cry” as Riot Fest 2023 drew to a close in Chicago.