Day 1: Aug. 28, 2015
Riot Festival 2015
Arriving at Riot Fest 2015 in Denver, I can’t appreciate the certain irony of the “death before shorts” mantra that I live by. It’s hot as hell, and living by that code may, in fact, be the end of me. The festival is held at the National Western Complex and there is little shade on the dusty gravel lots. The only relief can be found inside the stadium where the Radical Stage is located. When the wind picks up or an impressive mosh pit forms, dust gets kicked in the air making trying to breathe an exciting adventure. This dry, dusty Mad Max–like environment visually explains why most festival-goers have bandanas around their necks. The resulting appearance makes me think of punk rockers cast out of a post-apocalypse film, kind of what like one could expect from a punk version of Burning Man, minus the burned-out hippies and steampunk enthusiasts. As I make my way through the assorted food tents and brightly lit amusement park rides, I eventually find myself at my destination at the Roots Stage to check out De La Soul.
De La Soul
De La Soul deliver solid verse after verse backed by a prominent beat from their DJ. Soon though, the performance is stalled, as one of the trio talks down to the photographers: “Fuck this job right now. Put down your cameras and party with the people.” The show doesn’t continue until the rappers are satisfied and get the participation that they are after. The show kicks back into full swing and the assembled mass of concert-goers seem to really dig the set. When De La Soul get folks to put their hands in the air, their fans eagerly follow suit. De La Soul also take time to banter with the audience, making cracks about being high, or about those few who are practicing sobriety. In all, the performance is quite entertaining, and a good way start of the festival. De La Soul are thoroughly entertaining—even with the constant breaks for banter. But as they say during their act, they’ve been doing this for some 27 years and they don’t give a shit, but still deliver a great set.
The Black Lips
Checking out The Black Lips is always a treat, even when the set is less than par. The build up to their first number is impressive and easily garners attention from some assembled fans—many of whom had been waiting during the Da La Soul set. Unfortunately, once they kick off, it is ever too apparent that something is amiss. The Black Lips are plagued by sound issues and suffer from a less than cohesive performance that makes their set a slightly less than exciting experience. Their lackluster set is almost made comical as the stage lights flicker on and off to make the performances atmosphere interesting, but this is in vain, as the sun is still glaring overhead. Even with their sound reduced, they still make a gallant effort to give their audience a solid show—though the result is a tempered one. They go through favorites like “Family Tree,” “Modern Art” and “Katrina.” During the latter number they make sure to draw attention to the 10-year anniversary of the famous disaster that the song is named after. When the Black Lips play “Boys in The Wood” the delivery has noticeably improved, and it is probably the best-performed song of the set. It’s truly a pity that their set suffered, but later on, I pass the Riot Stage where they played and catch some of The Airborne Toxic Event whose sound appears fine—I guess it’s just the luck of the draw.
The wait to see Iggy Pop is not terribly long, though I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a bit impatient for Anthrax to finish so he can start. During Anthrax’s concluding number “War Dance,” they give a shout out to Lemmy from Motörhead who was forced to cancel his performance due to high-altitude illness—the same reason he had to cut short his Salt Lake gig on Aug. 27.
Seeing Iggy Pop is, by far, the highlight for this evening, and I don’t think his act could be topped. Pop takes his stage wearing tight jeans, a black motorcycle jacket with red lining and, of course, no shirt. His mere presence onstage is instantly captivating. The first song of the evening is “No Fun”—during which he removes his jacket—followed by “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Iggy Pop goes through other classic numbers like “Lust for Life,” “1969,” “Nightclubbing “and “Real Wild Child (Wild One).” During each song, Pop is all over the stage, twisting around, jumping up and down, straddling the amps and even twerking provocatively. Several times during the act, Pop pours water on his body, which then seems to then glisten in the stage light—mind you all of above is probably enough to make anyone feel a bit wet, including yours truly. Pop seems to have unending energy and is still a fantastic showman and totally charismatic. In great bursts, he hops from one end of the stage to the other to engage his adoring audience and then effortlessly jumps back into his set with every song feeding his unbounding energy. When it is all over, there is a void where his presence was once—a certain numb feeling that is the result of being touched by god. In most cases, I’d attribute this feeling to hype, but this time, it’s simply the result of seeing Iggy Pop.
Day 2: Aug. 29, 2015
The Dead Milkmen
The Dead Milkmen at Riot Fest 2015 are certainly a treat, even if the heat is oppressive and my likelihood of heatstroke is tripled by watching this act. As though echoing my observation, vocalist Rodney Linderman (aka Rodney Anonymous) says, “It’s fucking hot as shit.” During the performance, Linderman apologizes profusely for his lack of movement during his set, as he is about to pass out from the heat and doesn’t want to push his luck. The Dead Milkmen play classic hits like “Punk Rock Girl,” “Tacoland,” “Methodist Coloring Book” and “Stuart” to an obviously happy audience. However, during the last number, apparently someone in the crowd displayed their middle finger in contempt and caught Linderman’s attention. In response Linderman said, “It’s an Anti-Homophobia song, no need to flip me off.” After this little hiccup and some brief monologues—which I assume are to catch a breath in an attempt to deal with the heat—The Dead Milkman deliver an entertaining set. Their version of folky punk rock mixed with hardcore vocals, make for a catchy as hell act, though it is somewhat still flat—but that’s there charm. They are definitely a group to check out if ever given the chance.
It seems that every punk band has praise for The Damned today. This is not surprising considering they were the first punk band from the UK to tour in the states and release a record—both events would subsequently influence generations of US punk bands. At the Rock Stage, The Damned take positon on the stage all dressed up and ready to go. Dave Vanian is in all black with a leather jacket to boot and Captain Sensible in a sailor uniform. Sensible announces to the gathered audience “We may be old, but we can still fucking rock.” They then launch into “Love Song”—during which the vocals cut out, but they quickly recover. Once they get back into the rhythm of things, they knock out classic numbers like “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today,” “Wait For The Blackout” and “History Of World.” Sometime during the performance, the bass cuts out and Captain Sensible with all his charm says, “We don’t need that fucking four-stringed shit.” After fixing this snag The Damned continue through their set playing other favorites like “Ignite,” “Eloise,” “Anti-Pope” and, my favorite, “Stranger in the Town.” They even dedicate the song “Video Nasty” to the late Rik Mayall of The Young Ones. The Damned knock out “A New Rose” and “Neat Neat Neat,” closing out with “Smash it up Pt. 1” and “Pt.2. “ Theirs is a totally stunning performance that always delivers and then some—complete with snarky English humor and all.
Inside at the Radicals Stage, I manage to check out some of Joyce Manor’s set. They come complete with poppy suburban vocals and the charming awkward presence that almost defines the pop-punk genre. They knock out their numbers with razor-sharp riffs backed by a prominent beat and flat melodies. Joyce Manor keep their audience interested throughout the set and even give a shout out to The Dead Milkmen. Despite being somewhat entertaining, I’ll admit they are not my cup of tea, but they seem to be well liked.
Choosing between Pixies and Rancid is a tough call, as I’ve never seen either live. However, due to the enormous size of the audience for Pixies and the inability to have an intimate experience watching their set, I opt for Rancid. At the Rock Stage, the audience is not as big as the Pixies’, but they draw a loyal following and even retain many who had been previously watching Run–D.M.C.
Tonight, Rancid is playing material from their acclaimed album …And Out Comes The Wolves. They start off with “Roots Radicals” and “Time Bomb.” Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederikesen really own their stage and have this sort of glowing charisma that energizes the audience. During the performance, Frederiksen takes a moment to give a shout out to Lemmy—a hero of his. Pointing out the full moon, Frederiksen encourages the audience to howl in support of Motörhead’s vocalist and says” If you’re not into Motörhead, you should leave now!” Following the brief intermission, Rancid continues to knock classics, including “Ruby Soho.” Armstrong at one point jumps into the crowd to get close with his fans. After they conclude the album, they do a customary leave the stage for an encore routine. Coming back onstage following supportive chants from the audience, Rancid blasts out “Fall Back Down” and concludes the evening on a positive note.
Day 3: Aug. 30, 2015
The final day of the festival is characterized by a sense of urgency powered by coffee and curiosity. First on the list is to see OFF!. They are a group largely defined by the forceful presence of Keith Morris and the weight of his sincere integrity. The need to see OFF! again is also a way to take one’s mind off the blistering heat as their hardcore thrashing about makes for a good distraction and even serves as a way to keep blood flowing while suffering from near fatal heat exhaustion. During the performance, Morris makes a point of keeping an open mind, saying, “We purposely played with TV on the Radio.” This is a reference to OFF! touring with acts who remain largely outside the punk genre, rather than with groups like Rancid or Pennywise. It’s a nice thought to broaden horizons, but to date I’ve only seen OFF! at punk festivals or shows, so that kind of diverse lineup will be something to watch for.
In an attempt to escape the heat, I manage to check out some of Skating Polly. The duo is comprised of a drummer and guitarist who blast out some solid alt-rock meets riot grrrl attitude—an out of the garage sound reminiscent of 1990s Washington, intense and raw. The two musicians switch off every couple of songs to take up each other instruments. The style between the two is noticeable, but minor. A more prominent difference to point out is the younger vocalist has a more soulful way of singing, but can rise to the style of harsh intensity of her partner. Their audience is modest is size, but those in attendance dig the performance. This is an act to pay attention to.
Babes in Toyland
Babes in Toyland can perhaps be defined by the prominent drum beats, shredding riffs, aggressive vocals and a no-bullshit attitude. This band certainly knows how to rock. Their audience is not quite as big as I would have thought it would be, but the heat can definitely deter even the most interested concert goer. Kat Bjelland says, “They should spray you all with a hose. Are you guys ok?” The set is quite enjoyable, as they are still able to exhibit a youthful snotty attitude when performing. Unfortunately Babes in Toyland suffers from technical difficulties, but they are quickly sorted out. However, due to a speaker malfunction that cannot be remedied, Bjelland tosses her violin bow into the audience. As this happens a sea of people rise up to try and catch it. After someone catches the bow, Bjelland mentions it was meant for Lori Barbero’s brother Scott who was in the audience.
“Alright, we didn’t sound check, we’re just sitting on black ice,” says L7’s Donita Sparks. “Hold on to your ass, it’s going to be a wild ride.” Between the razor wire riffs and whiskey vocals, it’s a brilliant act to check out. L7 exude a no-shits-given attitude. They knock out numbers like “Everglade” with superb ferocity. As each number is knocked out, more and more people start breaking out into spontaneous gyrations and twisting about. During the performance, they are plagued with technical difficulties and but they try to make light of it all by blaming the high attitude.
L7 is certainly snarky in all the best ways. During the performance, they crack jokes and banter about a bit. Their banter covers a variety of topics from suggesting to their audience to meet them later for a drink, or that the 1990s was a good time for giving and receiving head. Normally, I’d be a bit miffed at groups messing about in-between songs, but when L7 eventually plays, they own their stage and are highly entertaining. They are an act to see, whenever given the chance.
Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band
The last act for me to check out for Riot Fest 2015 is Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band. Seeing this legend is a great way to leave three days of rock n’ roll on a high note. They are truly an impressive act to catch, and were the best of the evening. It’s all bass-heavy funky goodness defined by groovy soul and an awesome spectacle as perfectly heard with the number “Keep That Funk Alive.” The songs played are long, easy to groove and perfect for some nice long loving. Bootsy Collins’ stage presence is simply awe-inspiring. He is at first dressed all in gold and plays a star-shaped guitar, which glows red. During the set, he inspires the audience to part like the Red Sea so he can get down to his fans level and walk amongst them. As he makes the appeal to have the crowd part for him, Collins says, “I don’t need no security tonight, ‘cause Denver is my security!” This statement brings out cheers from the crowd, and you better believe that they made way for him. After he returns to the stage, the set starts winding down. As Collins concludes he says, “Next time, Denver, we’ll do it longer.”