When I woke up Sunday morning of Riot Fest, I shot coal out of my nose. By the third band, my lungs had accepted dirt as a new form of cigarettes and my preoccupied mind had forgotten to wrap my bandana around my face during Blink 182.
I couldn’t take more than a half breath before coughing like Walter White and considering I now had two cellphones that was a possibility. I had already researched black lung disease in depth before I realized the rain would nix any chance for the dustbowl to strike my broken respiratory system a second time.
Which is more punk rock: holding it in, or saying fuck it and choosing my bowels over rock stars?
I arrived a little late to Against Me! to discover that the dirt had turned into a thick, syrupy mud that sucked shoes into it. If I had thought the missing shoe epidemic yesterday was bad, the fields had turned themselves into a sticky rat trap littered with converses, flip flops, and liquor bottles. Monsters rolled around in the mud, pushing into the wall of crowd who did not want to step in the mud. A bearded young man in a dress kicked mud in a chorus line-fashion during “Walking is Still Honest.”
A lot of fans, including myself, accused Against Me! of being sellouts a few years back before the autobiographical single “I Was a Teenage Anarchist.” The idea of out growing your opinions sounds very scary in the punk world. But nothing is more prevalent in the ethos of punk-ology than being the person that you want to be.
Against Me! is better than ever now that Laura Jane Grace is the person she’s always wanted to be. Even with old songs like “Pint of Guinness to Make You Stronger,” there is a sincerity and genuine love that blooms as if this was her first chance to sing it. And everyone in the band seemed happy to be playing “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” just as much as her.
I found out my Canadian friend from the night before had also reclaimed her cell phone and we caught a little bit of Bob Mould and Direct hit! on the way to Saves the Day.
Mr. Mould was as tight and energetic as ever. The pioneer of punk and brains behind such prolific acts as Husker Dü and Sugar, kept spirits high with his solo material. A true musicians musician, the crowd was small but intimate an passionate.
Chicago’s own Direct Hit! is one of those post-collegiate pop punk bands that’s been putting out very fast and melodic candy coated songs for almost 10 years now. Their lead singer sings high and from the nose, but hearing him talk between songs, it seems like that’s he real voice. Good for him, finding an outlet and shit.
The Dismemberment Plan delivered with a quick, explosive set with a new song dedicated to the white trash of northern Virginia. With clashing sounds from multiple keyboards, front man, Travis Morrison, made cracks with his distinctive held back voice about how he had to adjust his broken guitar strap from Krist Novecelic level at the groin to math rock nerd “covering the tits.” Their new album Uncanny Valley comes out later this month.
Saves the Day has been putting on great shows all year. All of the band was replaced over the years, but around 2009 they found a solid line up. Chris Conley took a page from the Tom DeLounge vocal coach book a few years back and changed his voice to a more mature high, but he switches back into his old method for classic-era songs. Saves the Day thanked everyone for coming out, with guitarist, Arun Bali, actually inviting the whole crowd back to his house a few blocks away. Everybody cheered! Then they announced they are releasing a new album next week and no body cheered. The new song actually sounded really good. Much like the rest of set, with a little bit simpler of feel to it but a really solid guitar solo. The new album is titled Saves the Day and its actually being released tomorrow.
Continuing on our trek of early 2000s nostalgia, we returned to the muddy banks of the Roots stage for Brand New. Jesse Lacey is so god damn handsome, I have no idea he’s so sad. Maybe it’s because no matter how older he gets his central fan base is eternally underage girls. He should be making Fast Time at Ridgemont High jokes all the way to the bank considering Brand New merchandise sold out before 1 pm. Ever mischievous, I got a misanthropic kick out of watching all the boys and girls who dressed up in their scene-day best get mud flung at them. You’ll be cleaning clay out of your studs, for weeks, suckers!
Brand New, being over 80% the original Levittown, Long Island line up, still puts on an incredible show. Jesse gives his all with every song, the audience knew every word from Your Favorite Weapon to Daisy. After barreling through “Sic Trasit Gloria” and “Jesus,” the Long Island boys didn’t realize they had more time. Their extended encore included “Play Crack the Sky” with Andy Hull of Bad Books and an impressive overture of “You Won’t Know” with Lacey smashing his guitar into the cymbals.
I returned the lost iPhone without any hassle in front of the Ferris wheel as the rain poured and poured. The girls were very happy to actually get their phone back. I had threatened them the night before to bring $700 in unmarked Hamiltons or let me make out with her friend who had been texting me. I demanded nothing. In fact I barely said anything because they seemed pretty terrified of me. Mission accomplished.
Back at the Puddle of Mud show, the Pixies were set to take the stage and I decided to fall back behind crowd to avoid a repeat of last night’s pit from hell. I had seen quite a few kids with Nirvana swag all weekend and many of them turned out for the Pixies show. I befriended a girl name Hailey who had lost both her shoes at Brand New. We grabbed a garbage bag and I helped her make a pair of custom Tom’s shoes.
The Pixies were okay. I had hoped they would be better, but post Kim Deal leaving the band there was a caustic energy amongst the group. Singer, Black Francis seemed as strange as ever, only a little unnerved and maybe pissed off. The unusual set list, which seamed be commiserating the departure of Deal, spanned their entire career, including some new tracks. Francis closes the set with “Where is My Mind,” alternating his pacing to prevent people from singing along to his resurgent hit from the Fight Club soundtrack. Or maybe he’s just crazy. They chose not to do an encore, leaving out fan favorites, “Gigantic,” “Mr. Grieves,” and “There Goes My Gun.” Upset, a man in a black cabbie hat, the prodigal son, tried leap over the fence to holding and shout at the band directly. Those guys are like Pokémon, just showing up at every show looking and talking the same.
The Replacements were ever plucky to be playing their second show together in over a decade. It was interesting to see how few people knew any other Replacements songs besides that one song (you know, that song) including myself. Gone were the Replacements that once got banned from Saturday Night Live drunk that I had read about a month ago on Wikipedia. No instruments were smashed, but they still had fun. They even covered Chuck Berry, which was thousands of times better than AFI’s horrendous Cure cover I heard unceremoniously from the Portapotty line.
As I said from the beginning, Riot Fest was the adult warped tour. And adults have a problem where they don’t listen to new music. There were a lot of great newer bands besides Masked Intruder, tlike Peelander Z, or the Dear Hunter, that were buried by small stages and early set times.
Nostalgia isn’t conducive to forward momentum. At some point a reunion stops being a celebration of people coming together and becomes an act of staying together. Bands break up and start other bands and maybe it’s for the best.
The Replacements reunion was well deserved and well needed. With half of their original members taking dirt naps, it was good to see these guys take the reigns again. Flag, albeit more of a fun “fuck you” more than a blessed reunion of souls (hey, when is that show happening?) was long over due and just as volition as any Black Flag tour should be. Then you have bands like Bad Religion, GWAR, Rancid and Pennywise who have toured and recorded relentlessly over the past 20 to 30 years and don’t actively try to suck your money out of your wallet with a nostalgia straw. Meanwhile, Blink 182 used to fuck up their songs on purpose and now they’re blissfully unaware how much they’ve lost touch with themselves. Pretty soon a new Blink record will be like a new Smash Mouth record.
On the bus ride back to O’Hare, an adult goth sat next to me. She was dressed in all black nylon clothing, with dyed black dreadlocks to match. She seemed visibly upset she had to sit next to me, probably because I made the same face back. It tried to break the tension.
“Did you see Danzig?”
“Yeah. It sucked.”
“Well, I never expected to see that so it was still cool.”
“No. It sucked.”
At least someone isn’t bowled over by nostalgia.
Sent from Space Station MIR