Here’s a look at some of the sets from Day 2 of Riot Fest:
Seeing a band play their hometown is one of the defining moments of live music, and watching the ownership Chicago fans have for The Smashing Pumpkins truly never gets old — nor does a full crowd of people singing the lyric “the city by the lake” like it’s their birthright when the band explodes into “Tonight, Tonight.”
The quintessential ’90s rock act (up against fellow Chicagoan Lupe Fiasco who played on the other side of the park) acted like no time had passed when they closed out Friday at Riot Fest to the introduction of gothic organ music as lightning bolts streaked the sky overhead adding to the cryptic ambiance.
There are few bands that can still evoke the feeling of a time so viscerally as The Smashing Pumpkins can with the beginning notes of songs like “Cherub Rock” reminiscent of the Wicker Park art scene three decades ago where they got their start.
Founding members Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin were a display of unity with their full reunion finally coming to fruitionin 2018. Still missing is original bassist D’Arcy Wretzky, though the addition of Jeff Schroeder rounds out the troupe well and pads out the lush sound that dominates their catalog.
Corgan — dressed in a long “Adore”-era cloak and touches of face paint — pondered with Iha if he should play more to his “artsy f***” side and unleash more esoteric song picks. Ultimately the band chose to stick with the classics with all the chips on the table on songs like “1979,” “Zero,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Today” and new song “Cyr.”
One of the real treats of the set was “Eye,” their contribution to the “Lost Highway” soundtrack, for which they brought out Meg Myers (who delivered her own set earlier in the day) for vocal duties as Corgan followed his young daughter Clementine on stage.
Later, the band brought out local guitarist Michael Angelo Batio for a searing rendition of “United States” that added even more of a heavy metal tinge to the track.
Clocking in at nearly two hours long, the homecoming performance was one to write home about.
Sublime with Rome
Sublime with Rome performs on Day 2 of Riot Fest in Douglass Park.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
With the death of frontman Bradley Nowell in 1996, Sublime could have very well gone by the wayside. Instead, the project was resurrected in 2009 by founding member and bassist Eric Wilson, who recruited new singer and guitarist Rome Ramirez and the project took on the new moniker Sublime With Rome, indicative of their penchant to be both an homage to the ska-reggae juggernauts while leaving room for going rogue with new material.
During the band’s Riot Fest set, which Ramirez called their “best” one at the festival yet by the time they wrapped, the memory of the band and Nowell were held close to the chest.
Vintage video footage of the late singer played during their recognizable hit “What I Got,” and Ramirez ended that song with a message for Nowell to “rest in peace.”
Though the set was dogged with constant sound bleed from nearby Motion City Soundtrack, Sublime With Rome’s chill vibes were no match in the contest; there was still much to cling to in the performance. Though the material was mostly legacy in nature, they did well on the band’s beloved material like “Santeria,” “Summertime,” and “April 29, 1992 (Miami),” anchored by a live horn section and DJ.
Fishbone performs on day two of Riot Fest in Douglass Park, Friday afternoon, Sept. 17, 2021.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
The Radical Stage was groove-funk central on Friday with a back-to-back double feature of two of the greatest alternative bands to come out of the overcrowded ’80s coastal rock scenes, Fishbone and Living Colour.
L.A.’s Fishbone got things started with a special treat, playing in full their seminal album, 1991’s “The Reality Of My Surroundings” to commemorate its landmark 30th anniversary this year. This is now par for the course for Riot Fest, with the festival organizers somehow negotiating with a number of the bands on the lineup every year to exclusively reunite or play albums in full. And whatever they are sacrificing to the music gods to make it happen time and again, it’s truly something to appreciate from the indie organizers who continue to set the standard.
Fishbone’s set was an incredible display of orchestral force as horns, guitars, drums, keyboards and a range of vocals and backup vocals worked in harmony, proving that the troupe still possesses the magic that spurred their cult following more than 40 years ago. The album’s prominent singles “Everyday Sunshine” and album closer “Sunless Saturday” were clear winners and set the bar high for the weekend’s subsequent acts, many of whom admittedly take cues from the decades-long, boundary-breaking work of Fishbone.
Corey Glover (left) and Muzz Skillings of Living Colour perform on Day 2 of Riot Fest in Douglass Park.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Living Colour had a special guest in tow for their set — not that the magnetic performance from the alt metal-funk fusion masters needed anything extra to set it over the top.
Pro wrestler CM Punk came to the stage to introduce the act’s final song, their mega hit “Cult of Personality,” which is also famously his entrance music.
“In 1989 my little league team the Indians had a song played to pump us up, and it helped us win the championship that year,” he said, proceeding to call the members of the band “four of the greatest artists in the world.” Which is not total hyperbole.
Guitarist Vernon Reid has Mensa-level licks that could conjure the spirits of the long-gone blues underworld, while vocalist Corey Glover has a voice that oozes rhythm with every note. Glover will go down as one of the most colorful characters of the weekend, not just for his vibrant rock star persona but also literally for what he wore. Dressed in a neon green suit and orange dreads tucked under a bowler hat, the “Clockwork Orange”/Wonka vibe worked for him as he was clearly visible headbanging at the front of the crowd, watching over the mosh pit he invoked, when he was not letting loose his uncompromising vocals on songs like “Ignorance is Bliss” and “Love Rears Its Ugly Head.”
Four-decades strong and still going with the energy they did in their formative years, Living Colour always brings a top-notch show — if only they had a longer set!
Amigo The Devil
Amigo The Devil performs on Day 2 of Riot Fest in Douglass Park.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Day 2 of Riot Fest got off to a twisted start with darkminded singer-songwriter Amigo The Devil, who was the antithesis of what most might expect from the genre.
The artist, born Danny Kiranos, brought out a heavy bag of murder ballads and revenge songs paired with expressive facial twitches that made you wonder if you should maybe avoid eye contact as he rolled through the set.
From the lurid step-by-step detail of how he’d exact vengance on a person who harmed a child in “Better Ways To Fry A Fish” to the Jim Jones-inspired song “Hungover In Jonestown,” Kiranos’ set was mired in the macabre and a good bit of cabaret theater that made him an early favorite of the day.
Jokingly describing himself as the “fat Dave Grohl,” Kiranos’ comparison was fitting in at least the same way he is able to command a crowd — and does it solo on top of it. “We just set up the drums for fun,” he mused, pointing out that he in fact does not have a band in the project.
Though Kiranos does move well between acoustic and electric guitars and the banjo, it would be interesting to seem him with a full backing lineup to really amplify the shock and awe he delivers. A cover of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” was a bizarre best bet but it’s his original material — told in incredible narrative style – that makes him our true crime-obsessed generation’s new Johnny Cash.
Meg Myers performs on Day 2 of Riot Fest in Douglass Park on Friday afternoon.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Meg Myers’ afternoon set came to an abrupt ending as she had to cut things short right in the middle of her superb take on Kate Bush’s perennial hit “Running Up That Hill” as she went into overtime. Though, anyone watching the ingenue would have wondered where the time went as her performance was nothing short of a hypnotic thrill — which may or may not have been a side effect of being blinded by her holographic jumpsuit.
Tracks like the breathy “Desire” to the staunch pop anthem “Any Way You Wanna Love” were well-placed in her performance, further edifying her as a lost relic of the evocative ’90s alt rock realm while keeping up with the best of modern pop songwriters.
She gave flashbacks of Tori Amos’ best in key-heavy tracks while also channeling the aggro poetry of artists like Liz Phair and making it all completely her own. Standouts included bringing out collaborator Morgxn for their emotive duet “I Hope You Cry” as well as padding her set with a drummer and electric guitarist whose sonic wails were the gravy on her song plate.
Myers stumbled on some new material, restarting a song or two while blaming it on her “unique ears.”
Check back for more reviews…
NOTE: There are plenty of COVID-19 safety protocols in place for the festival including hand sanitizing and handwashing stations throughout the park, and an onsite COVID vaccination station (courtesy of St. Anthony Hospital; Pfizer and J&J vaccines only). In addition, all attendees must show proof of a full vax or negative COVID test results (the latter within 48 hours of entry date) accompanied by a valid, government-issued photo ID to gain entry each day.