Another year and another Riot Fest Chicago has sadly come and gone. With the 2016 installment, which went down Sept. 16-18 in The Windy City’s Douglas Park, now on the books, it’s time to recount some of coolest moments and greatest highlights… and, well, there were a lot of them. From The Flaming Lips to Gwar, Morrissey to Rob Zombie, here is a list of the 11 best things we saw at this year’s best Chi-Town festival.
1. Dan Deacon transcends technological failure
Dan Deacon began his set with some timely comedy, joking, among other things, about the lack of Aquabats on the Riot Fest Chicago 2016 bill. But things took a more serious turn when his system crashed mid-set, prompting conspiratorial musings about institutionalized slavery among other things, while he rebooted his laptop. Deacon ultimately got things up and running, after which he transcended the minor tech failure with a massive audience-infused interpretive dance party for the ages.
2. Gwar’s political bloodbath
Gwar maybe known for their mutilation-heavy live shows, but hordes of Riot Festies appeared somewhat surprised (albeit, pleasantly) upon the group’s introducing a special guest — President Obama — only to later behead him soon after for the sake of audience entertainment. It was the death match between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, however — which saw the former disemboweling the latter prior to receiving her own brutal royal treatment from the band — that brought things to the next level. A political bloodbath.
3. The Specials’ “Monkey Man” makes for one hell of a skank pit
English 2 Tone band The Specials performed a highly-enjoyable ska-filled set on the Roots Stage on Day 1 of Riot Fest. Among the highlights were the “Ghost Town” opener and the late-set delivery of “A Message to You, Rudy” — dedicated to Mr. Rudy Giuliani — and of course the cover of Toots & the Maytals’ “Monkey Man,” which prompted the ultimate Riot Fest skank pit.
4. Meat Puppets’ epic jam of “Lake of Fire”
Meat Puppets’ mid-afternoon Roots Stage performance brought a healthy dose of nostalgia to Riot Fest attendees inhabiting the grounds on Day 1 of the Douglas Park-based event. Throughout, the Kirkwood brothers and co. performed a solid take on “Oh, Me” and even threw in an unexpected cover of “Sloop John B” (made famous by The Beach Boys) but it was their rendition of “Lake of Fire,” with its extended and highly-distorted psychedelic improvisational jam, that officially transported listeners — through endless layers of crescendo — to otherworldly realms.
5. Ween’s “Buenas Tardes Amigo” send-off
Ween’s Friday night performance at Riot Fest marked their first Chicago show in five years. While there was sadly no “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” or “Bananas and Blow” to go around, the duo’s set did breathe new life into a number of deep cut live revivals — “I’m Dancing In The Show Tonight,” “I’ll Be Your Jonny On The Spot” and “Marble Tulip Juicy Tree.” Their twenty-track 90-minute set came to a soft close with a a spot-on rendition of “Buenas Tardes Amigo” that had the crowd singing along to the very last appropriate words… “And I hoped we’d see each other again.”
6. Juliette Lewis & The Licks’ hard-rocking A$%-kicking opener “Hot Kiss”
Juliette Lewis and her band The Licks delivered a hard-rocking rendition of “Hot Kiss” to kick off their set on Sunday afternoon at Riot Fest Chicago. Donning a tight blue Evel Knievel-esque unitard, the actress-turned-singer thrashed about, working the stage like a true natural. Natural born killer, that is.
7. Andrew W.K.’s tent show encore
Andrew W.K. brought his nonstop party to Riot Fest for the umpteenth year (even he admitted losing count) and, as expected, it was an all-around crowd-pleasing good time. To top things off this year, the party rocker later booked an acoustic show (although it sounded anything but acoustic) at the StubHub Sound Stage and all but blew the tiny tent canopy right off its poles.
8. Ben Gibbard’s (Death Cab For Cutie) emotional acoustic sing-along of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
Death Cab For Cutie have been on the uptick since the release of their latest album Kintsugi back in early 2015. While hits from the record — “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” and “Black Sun” — did make appearances (and were executed with great precision) over the course of their Riot Fest Chicago set, it was the reemergence of old material that made for the most moving moments. Ben Gibbard’s mid-set acoustic performance of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” particularly, created an enormous yet wholly intimate crowd sing-along and resultingly inspired one of the most emotional moments of the entire weekend.
9. The Flaming Lips’ confetti-filled show opening spectacle
At this point, most everybody knows Wayne Coyne is a master of theatrics and spectacle. And attendees at The Flaming Lips performance on Friday night at Riot Fest Chicago 2016 were given a healthy serving of both, when the psychedelic alt rockers blasted into their set with a confetti-filled opening to the tune of “Race For The Prize.” There were no shortage of dazzling lights, giant balloons and costumed characters as Coyne conducted his symphony of the surreal for the endless seas of attendees, wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear.
10. Morrissey’s better-late-than-never “Suedehead” set-opener
Seas of spectators waited shoulder to shoulder for the start of Morrissey‘s headlining performance (set to begin at 8:15 p.m.) on Saturday night at Riot Fest Chicago. And wait they did. Moz ran a playlist of select videos featuring the Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and his personal favorites The New York Dolls among others as collective patience audibly began to wear thin. And the clock ticked on… for what seemed to be an eternity. But at exactly 8:48 p.m. the former Smiths frontman appeared onstage, providing fans an immediate sense of relief followed by shock and surprise upon launching into his debut solo single “Suedehead,” making up entirely for his prior unexpected tardiness.
11. Rob Zombie requests fans put away their electronic devices and enjoy some music
Amidst Rob Zombie’s hit-filled set on Sunday night, the iconic horror aficionado took a moment to request that the audience put away their cell phones and devices and actually watch the show. For those that chose to abide, they were treated to a fantastical theatrical front-to-back treatment of White Zombie’s classic 1995 album Astro-Creep: 2000 with a “Thunder Kiss ’65” into “Dragula” encore to boot.
Until next year…