Well, folks, the time has come to say goodbye to another year of Chicago’s most revered music festival. 2017 marked a great year for Riot Fest and even more so for attendees, who were graced with a wholly unique lineup packed to the gills with top-tier artists, beloved nostalgia acts and legendary reunion shows. While Friday night hosted amazing sets from Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, New Order and more, Saturday night was elevated by standout performances from gypsy punks Gogol Bordello and desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age. And just when fans thought it couldn’t be topped, Riot Fest organizers summoned the collective power of Jawbreaker, TV on the Radio and Prophets of Rage to close out Sunday in style.
“If you didn’t love that set, you are not alive.” Those were the words spoken from one ecstatic festival-goer exiting the Roots Stage grounds in the aftermath of the explosive Prophets of Rage performance that all but shook the earth. The epic performance was primarily built from a collection of material hailing from the supergroup’s members’ previously-established core projects (Cypress Hill, Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine) but there were also a couple politically-charged originals from the group’s new album Prophets of Rage, which just dropped Friday… and both tracks packed a hell of a punch. “Living on the 110,” backed by Tim Commerford’s menacing bass, took on poverty while “Hail To The Chief” saw B-Real and Chuck D trading off venomous verses. The track peaked with a slick scratch battle of sorts between guitarist Tom Morello and DJ Lord, prior to its erupting in a flurry of blinding white strobe lights paired with Brad Wilk’s rapid-fire work behind the kit.
Also among the setlist, which was more like a splitting selection of greatest hits, were “Bulls on Parade” (Rage), “How I Could Just Kill A Man (Cypress Hill) and “Take the Power Back” (Public Enemy) — the lattermost which united the masses with an all-inclusive crowd-wide fist salute. Other noteworthy moments included charged up renditions of Rage’s “Sleep Now In The Fire,” and set closer “Killing in the Name.” Fans in the front row got some face time with the group’s duo of frontmen as the pair got up close and personal for a wicked medley that included Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” and Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain.”
Morello was on fire throughout the night, pulling unearthly sounds from his instrument as well as its plug, which he sonically manipulated to the delight of fans during a volatile performance of “Testify.” He later paid tribute to his good friend and collaborator Chris Cornell with a touching instrumental cover of Audioslave’s “Like a Stone.” “If you know the words, sing along,” encouraged Morello. “If not, say a prayer for peace.”
TV on the Radio’s set on the Rise Stage was among the several other standout performances from Sunday evening. Tunde Adebimpe and company brought their A-game to Douglas Park, taking listeners on an auditory trip beginning with the extended tone-setting opener “Young Liars.” The band played a handful of songs off their 2014 album Seeds including “Happy Idiot,” “Could You” and “Lazerrey… but the group’s rendition of “Winter” — dedicated to Adebimpe’s friend, whom he referred to as “tough as f*ck” — seemed to strike an extra meaningful chord with fans. A muted overcast sky and the faintest threat of rain only served to enhance the Dear Science track “DLZ,” which made for a tight, atmospheric jam just prior to sundown. The mid-set rendition of “Wolf Like Me” also transfixed listeners, who bobbed along to the frenzied apex crowd sing-along… “We’re howling forever, oh oh.”
Earlier in the day on the Roots Stage, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ 20th anniversary celebration of Let’s Face It brought the day’s biggest skank pits. California skate punks Pennywise, later prompted massive circle pits throughout their rowdy performance, which included opener “Fight Till You Die,” “F*ck Authority” and fan fav “Bro Hymn.” Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., Best Coast and Paramore were among the other buzzy sets from Riot Fest Day 3, all leading up to the highly-anticipated Jawbreaker reunion slated for later that night.
Excitement was certainly in the air by the time Jawbreaker took to the stage for their Sunday night headlining reunion on the Riot Stage. The New York-hailing punks fittingly opened their set with “Boxcar,” a fan favorite punk scene critique that still resonates 20 years after it first appeared on the group’s album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Frontman Blake Schwarzenbach showed love for Chicago saying he was “honored and humbled to be in this city with its enormous history,” prior to prompting a passionate sing-along during the 1990 Unfun track “Want.” The set also got political as the singer-guitarist took a moment between songs to encourage audience members to protest. “Nobody’s going to work tomorrow,” shouted Schwarzenbach. “General strike. F*ck this country.”
More than a dozen tracks made up Sunday night’s 75-minute set, which included renditions of “Kiss the Bottle,” “Sea Foam Green” and “Condition Oakland.” Intense at times, like during the gritty performance of “Jet Black,” the group brought range and depth to their Riot Fest set, etching in stone a reunion performance that won’t soon be forgotten.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)