Here’s a look at some of Saturday’s top sets at Riot Fest 2021:
Early Saturday at Riot Fest was the battle of who could bring the better performance art — and it was quite the matchup. Though it was not raining, the poncho army came out for scuzzy intergalactic provocateurs Gwar.
They started things off like they usually do with a big old bloodbath, their first victim being an impersonator of President Joe Biden, though sounding a bit more like JFK or George W. Bush. He mockingly touted his recent accomplishments, including a comment about ending the war in Afghanistan, quickly followed by an actor dressed as a member of the Taliban “beheading” him to get the blood Olympics going.
Gwar may best Andrew W.K. now as the band that has played Riot Fest the most over the past 15 seasons, and the droves always come out for their uncensored satirical theater that combines elicit 8th grade boy humor and a bunch of tomfoolery that makes a commentary on the current day’s political environment. This set focused its gaze on the pandemic and mask-wearing for a good chunk while the music honed in on their best-selling 1990 sophomore album “Scumdogs of the Universe,” still in the midst of a 30-year anniversary tour. Though the group doesn’t carry the lineup it did in that era, the current band delivered the goods on “Maggots,” “Sick Of You” and “Death Pod,” which frontman Blothar the Berserker declared hadn’t been played in quite some time.
Les Savy Fav
Tim Harrington, of Les Savy Fav, performs on Day 3 of Riot Fest in Douglass Park, Saturday afternoon, Sept. 18, 2021.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Les Savy Fav was another showstopper that has the corner on immersive art punk and physical comedy. Whereas some bands might rely on minimalism in their performances, frontman Tim Harrington is of the belief that everything and anything can be used as a prop or vessel for his show — like a folding table that became a crowd surfboard, or a large black tarp that was commissioned as a giant blanket to roll around in over the heads of the gathered fans.
Harrington is not only a master of the bizarre but he’s also incredibly engaging with his audience, like a comic who knows just who to pick out to become part of his routine. During the set, the singer stole sunglasses off people’s faces, spit water all over another person’s head (assuring it was no big deal since he’s “fully vaxxed”), made a headband out of pink gaffer’s tape plucked from the sound booth and then, best of all, spotted a person holding a mannequin head with a wig that Harrigton then turned into a tail and proceeded to ride a fan like a horse in the photo pit.
Behind him was a solid assortment of musicians that delivered the soundtrack to the escapades with buzzy post-hardcore bangers like “Hide Me From Next February” and “Hold Onto Your Genre.” Harrington’s body warpaint, fully visible when he stripped down to his underwear, was also a colorful display, but perhaps best of all were his temporary tattoos paying homage to a Chicago red hot on his back and the words “deep dish” above his knees.
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