This past weekend yet another music festival braved to dare the weather of Colorado in late September as Riot Fest took over a patch of farmland on the eastern plains. The eight year old traveling festival made it’s first Colorado appearance with a lineup of rock n’ roll dad nostalgia acts and bands that have become too old for Warped Tour. The exceptionally dude-centric lineup, Best Coast and Yo La Tengo appeared to be the only bands with female members, brought in a crowd where men seemed to outnumber women six to one. It was like a retreat for everyone that was tired of dragging their significant others to loud rock clubs. Due to a bar shift that ran twice as long as anticipated I was unable to a number of acts the first day including Against Me! who are a masculine punk band now fronted by a transgendered woman, which may have been the most disappointing part of the weekend.
By the time I was able to take in some of the fest the sun had gone down and AFI was just starting their mainstage set. It was a bit surprising to see such a huge crowd for a screeching goth-punk band that hasn’t put out a good record in 10 years. The throng of old school fans wasn’t disappointed though, as AFI played a set of hits and classics pulled straight from a past Warped Tour.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges were up next on the Roots stage. The crowd gathered early in an attempt to get a good spot to see a rock n’ roll artifact and was as diverse as a free day at the museum. Right in front of me a khaki clad dad stood with his twelve year old son. They weren’t talking a lot. The kid was obviously at that age where conversations don’t come so easy anymore. If they weren’t standing in front of a giant stage you would think they were standing in line for a baseball game. While the dad was searching for something to say, the first chords of “Raw Power” came blaring over the speakers then the godfather of punk emerged in his all his tan and leathered glory. While James Williamson and Mike Watt, a punk legend in his own right, looked the part of men their age and experience, Iggy looked as if he had a copy of Raw Power stashed in an attic somewhere that was aging for him. Considering Iggy’s past, I bet that record looks terrible. Iggy wormed and weird-torsored his way around the stage bouncing up and down like it was 1973, sans blood and peanut butter. Both father and son in front of me bounced along with Iggy bridging a gap of generation and awkwardness. He routinely waved and thanked the crowd between songs before letting them get in on the fun and invited front row up for a dance party. The stage was covered with about 50 people all grooving with one of the grooviest guys of all time. After ripping through classics like “Search and Destroy” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” I began to sense it might be time to head over to the mainstage to get a good spot for the night’s headliners The Replacements. Right as I was about to leave I heard the icon four chords of “The Passenger” off of Iggy’s 1977 solo release Lust For Life. After watching the first three minutes I exited and heard the last part of the song echo behind me as I walked to the mainstage feeling like I was in the closing scene of a movie.
The Replacements, or what is left of them, reunited for the first time in 22 years after many years of offers and just as many denials. Recently this year on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast bassist Tommy Stinson was vague about the subject of a reunion, but admitted that every year they get offers from all of the biggest festivals. Whatever money or blackmail Riot Fest promoters used to get Stinson and frontman Paul Westerberg was more than worth it. The Mats came out sporting garish pink western shirts and novelty oversized cowboy hats popularized by Lloyd Christmas.
Iggy and the Stooges set the bar high for reunion acts, but Westerberg and company broke the bar in half racing past it; opening with a raucous rendition of “Takin’ a Ride” that had the same fervor as the drunken bar band they used to be. After the song ended the crowd was already whipped up into a frenzy when Stinson took the mic and said, “If you only knew what it took to get here.” It was obvious he wasn’t talking about traffic. Westerberg then chimed in, “He had to get permission from Axel… What? It’s not my fault he is in Van Halen.” Tommy Stinson has spent his post-Mats years touring as the bassist for Axel Rose’s bastardized Guns n’ Roses and Paul Westerberg couldn’t help himself from busting his friends balls. As the show progressed it felt like word “reunion” was taking on new meaning. Stinson and Westerberg were playing with the same joy and enthusiasm that is found when two old college buddies get together for a beer. A lot of this can be attributed to the drumming of workaholic Josh Freese who played with his trademark energy and seemed like a guy who was at Rock n’ Roll fantasy camp.
The Mats settled into their set and focused most of the back catalogue attention on the biggest songs from Let it Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me while throwing in mellow fair like “Achin’ to Be.” After nearly an hour of making everyone feel like they were in an 80’s soundtrack, the Mats closed in spectacular fashion with “Can’t Hardly Wait” segueing into “Bastards of Young.” The endless sea of people all sang along at the top of their lungs. The dads, the former college radio DJs, and the kids that weren’t even born before the band broke up were all the sons of no one, proving that teen angst is ageless. For the encore, the band indulged those hoping for a song from their early years playing “Hootenanny.” The band didn’t seemed to have planned on an encore and was trying to see what everyone knew how to play when Paul Westerberg began to riff “Detroit Rock City” by KISS. The band followed him, but unfortunately only knew about half the song. Westerberg asked the crowd, “What do you guys want? I could do this all night.” Then he was told from the side of the stage that they had to be off by 11:45 and they had only 3 minutes left. The band fumbled around trying to get one more song going and even teased covering The Who. Until eventually laughing and leaving the stage clumsily as feedback rang out into the brisk Colorado sky. It was a haphazard exit that couldn’t have been more fitting for a group of drunk smart-asses from the midwest. Minutes earlier thousands of people were losing themselves in the moment of a beautiful song, the perfect capper to an impeccably crafted set. They couldn’t left on such a polished and calculated note. The Mats always embraced the wild and loose parts of rock music while maintaining a lot of heart. The encore served as a reminder that at the end of the day rock n’ roll is supposed to be dumb and fun, no matter how old you are.