Riot Fest Day 3 reviews: Vic Mensa, Gogol Bordello, Gwar, Les Savy FavSelena Fragassi – For the Sun-Timeson September 19, 2021 at 1:05 am

Saturday night at Riot Fest gave new meaning to “anything goes.”

From the mayhem and art punk of Les Savy Fav to the gorefest of Gwar to the hope-filled rhymes of Vic Mensa to the high energy of Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk, the party in the Park — Douglass Park — offered up plenty of excitement if not controversial moments.

Here’s a look at some of Saturday’s top sets at Riot Fest 2021:

Gogol Bordello

Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello performs on Day 3 of Riot Fest in Douglas Park on Saturday night.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Even Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz seemed to be in awe of the “Chicago choir” that came out ready to lend their voices to the gypsy punk’s high-energy takedown.

A Riot Fest favorite, the jumbo-sized ensemble that is Gogol Bordello expertly melds together ages-old Eastern European musical traditions with ballsy punk rock and a bit of folk-country, making many in the crowd wonder if they should waltz, mosh or start a hoedown. But as is the true ethos of punk, anything goes and it did in this energetic bonanza.

Around since 1999, the eclectic New York-based band with members from around the world, celebrated their latest album “Lifers” with their banner art while delivering fan favorites like the early career hit “Start Wearing Purple” that woke up the Riot Fest masses from a midday slump. The whole performance came off as one big party, with Hutz at one point swigging from a bottle of red wine that spilled down his jacket decorated with patches of The Clash, System Of A Down and the NYPD.

The attention equally turned to other members in the communal project with violinist Sergey Ryabtsev in particular demanding many turned eyes as he bared down on his instrument like he could have been wielding an electric guitar in his own solo. Those seeing them in their intimate after-show tonight at Concord Music Hall are in for a treat.

Vic Mensa

Chicago rapper Vic Mensa proved why he remains one of the best in the scene today by going back to the beginning of it all in the hometown appearance at Riot Fest.

Offering a very rare album set of his debut mixtape “Innanetape,” the Hyde Park native took time to reflect on his origin story as a solo artist, talking about the place he was in his life when he made it in 2013, shortly after his genre-defying group Kids These Days broke up, as well as his personal motivation for wanting to be an artist.

“I wanted to talk about the man pushing the shopping cart on 47th Street with all his possessions, why life was like that for some while Obama five blocks away was the president,” he noted.

Blasting hip-hop’s materialistic and clout-filled nature, he added, “You can lose sight but practicing this album reminded me of what to be striving for.”

Mensa (wearing Rage Against The Machine’s infamous Che Guevara shirt) bounced around in the album order, but, accompanied by a live band, sold it on tracks like “Tweakin” (which features Chance The Rapper on the recording), “Lovely Day,” and “Holy Holy,” a song he wrote in memory of his brother Cam who was murdered when he was 17.

Gun violence has long been a focal point for Mensa as has police brutality, often using his music as a magnifying glass to larger societal issues. Earlier in his set, Mensa unleashed his powerful track “16 Shots” (inspired by the death of Laquan McDonald) that brought people across the park to his performance. Though the real draw was when he handed out free weed to the crowd, saying it was from his own upcoming handcrafted line that he claims is the first Black dispensary in Illinois.

Ending the set with his gripping anthem “We Could Be Free,” it’s a great example of how Mensa continues to imbue hope within his message, even when talking about some of society’s darkest moments.

Gwar

Gwar performs on Day 3 of Riot Fest in Douglass Park.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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 eighth-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.

Check back soon for more.

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