Day two of Riot Fest kicked off with less buzz and people than the previous day. Maybe it was due to the 10 mile long bumper-to-bumper traffic of the first day or it could be that the second day’s offering of acts didn’t hold up to the billing of day one. In any event, there was a staid and aloof atmosphere when the first band took the Rock stage, the woefully named New Beat Fund. Sadly, the name wasn’t the worst part of the band. New Beat Fund played a blend of emo, rap, pop-punk, techno, and reggae as if they were trying to please every kind of bro or bro-ette, and you know what they say when you try and please every bro… The pinnacle of the groups set came when they pushed all their chips in and covered Sublime. Since they already established themselves as not being limited by just one cliche, New Beat Fund sacrilegiously squeezed the Misfits “Hybrid Moments” into the middle of a Sublime song. By the end, New Beat Fund had left a worse taste in my mouth than the warm Red Bull I had been drinking all morning, which coincidentally is also their record label.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with either the innocuous, Bop Skizzum, or the obnoxious, Breathe Carolina. Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan was the only one that brought some credibility that seemed to be in abundance the first day, but was so desperately lacking on day two. Ragan did his best Springstein to the delight of the black clad bartenders over 35 in the crowd, but lacked the fire that made Hot Water Music so compelling.
Following Ragan over on the mainstage was Peelander-Z, a group of fluorescent japanese punks that barely spoke english. They were like the Power Rangers, except instead of using their powers for good they used them to bore. Their generic interpretation of american punk couched in japanese kitsch only seemed to impress anyone under the age of 19.
By three o’clock things were feeling a bit drab around Riot Fest, just as many people were huddled for shade as were watching the bands. Stars took the Roots stage shortly thereafter and looked about as out of place as they sound. They are a solid Canadian indie-pop band that has been a mainstay of the Arts&Crafts scene. Unfortunately, atmospheric love songs don’t translate as well in the middle of a sunday afternoon in a giant dirt field. Frontman Torquil Campbell did his best to overcome the setting saying, “I know we might not look like the most punk band, but punk is what’s inside of you and in that case we are punk.” This seemed less like a proclamation and more like a defensive plea. It’s as if the crowd told him, “You’re not punk and were telling everyone!” Well guess what? He never was one. Near the end of the set, Stars began “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” off of the delightful Set Yourself On Fire. During the opening bars Torquil said, “This song is for the person you hate most in the world.” As such a poignant break up song, he couldn’t have been more accurate. The song’s crescendo grew and grew until the band was at a fever pitch with Torquil yelling and banging his tambourine against his leg. They might not have been the best fit on the bill, but they did everything in their power to prove they belonged.
It was approaching the evening and not a single act had really galvanized the festival crowd. Then at five o’clock Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers Public Enemy brought the noise. Chuck D immediately told everyone to put their fists in the air. It is either a testament to the universal themes of hip-hop or sad reminder of the power of commerce that the thousands of black power fists in the air were in fact mostly white. Either way, PE brought a much needed shot of adrenaline to a waning festival.
Professor Griff, Flavor Flav, and Chuck D sent tingles down my spine rapping with a youthful fire that belied their age. It served as a reminder that Flavor Flav once stood for something more than a reality show punchline. Between songs Flav took to the mic to pay tribute to all of those affected by the recent Colorado floods. This was immediately followed by a shout out to Michael Jackson that was met by a mix of cheers and boos, this was Flavor Flav after all. Lastly, Flav took a moment to take up the case of Trayvon Martin and all the other young unarmed black men that have been shot for daring to wear a sweatshirt then said, “Hit me!” DJ Lord spun “911 is a Joke” which felt just as relevant today as it did over 20 years ago. It served as a nice reminder that even though PE is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and are positioning themselves to be the Rolling Stones of rap we haven’t come as far as we hoped. Sadly, there are still people that fear a black planet, you just couldn’t find any of them in the sea of white fists in the air.
Playing at the same time as Public Enemy over on the Rock stage was aging hipster favorite Yo La Tengo. This seemed like a curious counter booking. The mellow rocking sounds of Yo La Tengo was quite the contrast from the militant hype of Public Enemy and seemed to be directed at the more hung over patrons. Their set had the chill atmosphere of an all day cool dude county fair, but god love the guy in front of me busting out Krush Groove style dance moves trying to find any semblance of party. This was not the place. This was for the guys who made mixtapes on cassettes and remember what it was like to order albums through the bearded guy at the record store. Near the end of the show, Ira Kaplan swung his guitar around his head generating a cacophony of reverb and feedback, but never brought it to the ground to break it. This perfectly sums up shoegazing noise rock, it channels the sound and passion of rock but not it’s aggression. At an event called Riot Fest, Yo La Tengo barely raised their voice.
Dark clouds began to roll in from the west right as Flag, a mishmash of former Black Flag members not named Greg Ginn, took the stage. Obviously, seeing a group that so perfectly expressed youth and rebellion attempt to recapture that spirit while pushing 60 left a little to be desired. The massive stage made it feel like everyone was at a punk museum. There was more distance from the stage to the crowd than there was between Ginn and the remaining members of the band. Keith Morris did an admiral solid job belting out, “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” but whole affair felt a bit hollow. Morris’s bald spot was clearly visible through his dreadlocks and a number of the songs he sang he wasn’t even a member of the band when they were written. If Black Flag and Flag are going to continue this split then Keith Morris will be the David Lee Roth of punk rock.
The last few minutes of Flag’s set was cut short due to rains, high winds, and lightening. The entire park was evacuated and it was unclear if the weather would subside enough to continue. There is an old adage about music festivals that goes, “There is either the hot one or the wet one.” Well, Riot Fest was both unlucky enough to be both.
After over an hour the organizers got the okay to let people back in, but at this point there was already a line of cars attempting to leave. It appeared that day two might be a bust, but enough brave souls waited it out to see their favorite bands from their youth as Rancid and Blink 182 were still left to perform. After only catching a few mud soaked minutes of Rancid, I was able to make my backstage for the night’s headliner Blink 182.
The first real concert I ever saw was the Pop Disaster Tour with Green Day and Blink 182 in 2003. My mom drove my best friend Cory and I from our small town in Nebraska to Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater. For a couple of budding pop-punk dweebs this felt like the highlight of our adolescence. We found a drummer for our shitty band and I found a girlfriend that night. Ten years later, the band and the relationship had both long ended but Blink was still here after their own break ups and near death experiences. Mark, Tom, and Travis had clearly matured. Gone was Tom DeLonge’s low hung strat and lip ring replaced with a Gretsch guitar and hat pulled down low. There wasn’t sophomoric banter or lame poop jokes just three guys tightly giving the people what they want, to hear the song that was playing when they touched a boob for the first time. The set played out like a greatest hit record and the guys shied away from playing much off their comeback effort Neighborhoods. The final three songs that closed the show are arguably Blink’s best; “Josie,” “Carousel,” and “Dammit” (Also know as the song that every suburban white kid knows how to play).
Standing to the side of the stage, just fifteen feet from Mark Hoppus, it was impossible to not get nostalgic. Sure, Blink 182 are not as revered as The Replacements and definitely don’t hold the same clout in rock history, but this is a band that meant a lot to dorks going through their awkward years. Blink wasn’t too ashamed or pretentious to come out and give the audience a brief time capsule of what life was like before we all got too jaded and cynical, back to the time when the anthem for driving around with your buddies was “Anthem.” On Sunday night Blink 182 proved you’re never too old to ask, “What’s My Age Again?”