Riot Fest - Denver:  Day One (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Riot Fest

Denver: Day One (2016)

live show

While Warped Tour tries harder and harder to court the teen audience, Riot Fest is happy to book classic punk and alternative acts time and time again, with some obscure bands (many of which are favorites amongst the PunkNews writing staff) sprinkled in between. Essentially, it’s my idea of heaven, and I haven’t missed a single Riot Fest in Denver since they started holding them here in 2013. Riot Fest has a tendency to book bands that aren’t on my bucket list solely because I just assumed I would never, ever get a chance to see them live. From The Replacements, to The Pixies, to The Cure, to Blink-182’s classic lineup, to Iggy Pop, Riot Fest keeps bringing the truly classic artists year after year. And 2016 was the biggest year yet, with the big reunion on Sunday night that nobody thought was ever possible. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The first band I stopped in to check out was White Lung, whose new album Paradise is already pretty much guaranteed a slot on my best of 2016 list at the end of this year. White Lung’s frontwoman, Mish Way-Barber was everything you wanted her to be: brash, uncouth, foul-mouthed, and unladylike. I loved every second of it.

I tried to check out Fitz and the Tantrums because they have some songs I like, and also because I love their name as I once had an asshole of a roommate, named Fitz, who threw lots of tantrums (Fuck you, Fitz!), but the band just reeks of Clear Channel’s (sorry, iHeart Media’s) lukewarm taste making. They're annoyingly positive and look like they came dressed for a yacht club. They just sound to me too much like a band that could be great, but lets businessmen have the final say on everything. So I gave up and took a trip over to Suicidal Tendencies, who I’m not a fan of, but who I thought would be worth checking out because of everything I heard about them.

Okay, jump ahead to the Friday night headliner, Jane’s Addiction. Riot Fest loves to do these things where they have bands announce that they’re going to play one of their most famous albums in its entirety. This Riot Fest, two of the albums they promised we’d hear were amongst my all time top five favorite albums, one of which was Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual. When I was around 12 and finally allowed to go for long walks down the street form my house, I saved up my allowance so I could walk all the way down to the used record store to buy a copy of Ritual, and I slowly fell in love with it. It’s a deceptive album that starts out with five, punchy, punk/metal songs, then turns into a sprawling concept album of truly epic proportions on side B. A true masterpiece, I was really looking forward to it being performed all the way through.

The band had four women who performed various dance routines as part of the songs. All four women were practically naked and their parents probably had a greater appreciation for this album than they did. It’s hard to tell exactly whether or not Ritual is supposed to be a concept album or not, and, as far as I know, Farrell has been vague about what the more cryptic songs are about, but it’s generally thought that, at least starting with the song “Three Days,” the album tells the story of a polyamorous, bisexual love triangle between Farrell and two women. For this reason, some of the use of these dancers seemed to be appropriate artistic statements. For “Of Course,” one of the girls came out dressed in some sort of sexualized version of a pagan animal costume and did something that resembled a ballet routine. For “Classic Girl,” two of the women did a dance in which they seduced each other, lending to the theory of the love triangle storyline. For those moments, the use of these dancers seemed to have a real artistic purpose, even if they were mostly naked. But, at other times, such as during “Three Days,” the girls wore basic black outfits and seemed to serve no purpose other than to give Perry Farrell something to dry hump in between verses.

The band’s performance of the album was epic and breathtaking. They sounded like a jazz band, riffing off the original versions and creating something very new, but something that was always still tied to the original album versions of the songs. Despite this, they never allowed themselves to meander as they performed these songs. “Three Days” is an 11-minute song on the album, and can sometimes sprawl out to much greater lengths when performed live, but I actually timed the song and this particular performance only clocked in at 10:47. I was impressed at how tightly they were conforming to Riot Fest’s rigid schedule while still putting some really new twists on the music.

After they finished performing Ritual, the band launched into a few other songs, closing out the set with “Ted, Just Admit It.” For that song, two of the girls were hoisted up on ropes to swing over the stage, kicking their legs to swing themselves forward and backward. I was in the front row and I saw what I don’t think was obvious to the rest of the crowd: the girls were not wearing harnesses of any sort, but were instead suspended by hooks that pierced their own skin, rocking themselves back and forth in what I can only assume was an extremely painful manner, all while Perry Farrell screamed the lyric “Sex is violent.” If nothing else, this particular use of their dancers stayed consistent with the theme of the song.

With the first day of Riot Fest under my belt, I headed home to soak in the tub and prepare for day two, where my two favorite active bands right now, Against Me! and The Hold Steady, were both playing in the same afternoon. And of course, the Misfits were only two days away. More on that next time, same punk time, same punk channel!