Riot Fest - Day 1 - Live in Chicago (Cover Artwork)

Riot Fest - Day 1

Live in Chicago (2022)

live show

Fall usually means one thing to punk rock fans in the United States. It’s festival season! Luckily for me, residing in the Chicagoland area I have had Riot Fest at my disposal for many years. It has really been something to see this festival grow from old theaters and random clubs throughout the city to the massive outdoor multi-day event. What initially started as strictly a festival hosting classic and new punk rock bands has evolved into a cultural phenomenon. For those paying attention, the fest has expanded its roster base to include everything from punk, ska, hardcore, rap, indie, alternative and even mainstream. I was able this year to attend both Day 1 and Day 2 of this years edition of Riot Fest. Unfortunately with an event of this size, it is impossible to catch full or even partial sets of every band. I made every attempt to catch as many performances by festival staples as well as those new to my ears.

Local punk heroes Sincere Engineer started the day early on one of the large stages. This band started as a solo effort by Deanna Belos and has morphed into a full band known for their energetic live shows. After a debut LP on Red Scare, the band released “Bless My Psych” on Hopeless Records. The band used social media to their advantage and organized a “Corn Dog Mosh Pit” during their set. At least 100 faithful rocked out with Corn Dog in hand. Fans were treated to energetic tracks such as “Trust Me” and “Coming In Last”. The band also performed their most recent single “Bottle Lightning Twice” released earlier this summer.

Long running locals Lucky Boys Confusion followed Sincere Engineer on the ROOTS stage. This band has been going strong off and on since the mid 90s. I recall catching them decades ago opening for Mighty Mighty Bosstones and being impressed by their performance. They had a good size crowd rocking out to their set. I have heard that they may not be doing too many more shows so those in attendance saw something special.

The next band on my “must see” list were FAT WRECK legends Lagwagon. I had not seen them live in quite some time. A few friends highly recommended Hot Mulligan who I made an effort to check out prior to Lagwagon. I apologize to their fans as I do not know enough about them to comment on the songs performed. What I will state though is the energy they brought, especially this early on in the day. Hundreds sang along and jumped up and down in unison as they ripped through their set. This band appears to be a major force in the modern emo pop punk movement.

Lagwagon took one of the main stages to a crowd of well over 1,000 who were ready to see these skate punk legends. Lagwagon blends humor with heartfelt lyrics which have been inspirational to the punk rock youth for decades. As expected, they played their set with as much intensity as they did with good old fashioned fun. The band did a good job of covering most of their storied career during their one hour set. Fans erre treated to classics such as “Violins” and “Razor Burn” from “HOSS”, “E Dagger” from “Blaze”, and “Island of Shame” from “Trashed.” Lagwagon more than proved why they have been in the game as one of the most successful festival bands for years.

Prior to the Descendents set, I was able to catch half of Sparta. For those unaware, Sparta is an alternative / indie rock band from El Paso, Texas. The band features various members of the legendary At The Drive In. This band was a last minute replacement for Placebo who canceled only weeks prior to the event. I was honestly not sure what to expect as I have not been exposed to much of their music. They played their set with much conviction as they addressed and acknowledged the crowd. They had a faithful and loyal fanbase during their hour long set. Many fans were starting to fill in to the neighboring stage as the Descendents were tuning up for their set which followed.

Riot Fest veterans the Descendents immediately followed Sparta. Anyone going to punk shows for decades knows that wherever this band goes, the fans follow. Milo and company have become a staple band for most major punk tours and festivals and for good reason. The band ripped into the title track from their 1996 reunion album “Everything Sucks” to an amazing response. The train never slowed down once it left the station. The band immediately went into classics such as “Hope” and “Coolidge.” This set proved that the Descendents are more than just a punk rock nostalgia act based on the frenzied response to post reunion tracks as the politically charged “‘Merican” and love songs “Smile” and “Without Love.” Long time fans were certainly not forgotten as staple tracks such as “Clean Sheets”, “Van”, Silly Girl”, and Suburban Home” were played to perfection. “Bikeage” was the track to me which seemed to get the biggest crowd response. It was great to see Milo, Bill, Stephen and Karl play these songs so effortlessly and still look like they loved every minute.

Next on my “must see” list were the Alkaline Trio who I had ironically not seen live since the Riot Fest 5 year anniversary show in 2009! As I took my position on their side of the main stage, I was treated to the second half of Taking Back Sunday. Being on Victory Records, I was always more than aware of their existence and importance to the post 2000 emo punk movement. This band had the crowd in the palm of their hands their entire set. The highlight for me was watching frontman Adam Lazzara who knows how to work a crowd. There was no lull in the action even when the band was between songs. I never really felt like I was the target audience for this style, but I definitely appreciate what they do. They did play the one track of theirs I recognize as one of their hits, “Cute Without The “E”” that simply made the crowd explode.

Chicago area legends Alkaline Trio were up next. The night before they played a sold-out club show at the legendary Metro on the northside of town. Metro has always been the bands home away from home and instrumental to the early part of their career. The band used their one hour set time efficiently in walking the thousands in attendance through their discography. The band opened with “Time To Waste” off of the “Crimson” album. “Blackbird” off of the last studio album “Is This Thing Cursed?” followed. Bassist Dan Andriano took over vocal duties on “Take Lots With Alcohol” off the fan favorite “Good Mourning” album. Both these albums were well represented throughout the set by the way of “Emma”, “Back To Hell”, “Blue In the Face” and “Every Thug Needs A Lady” Matt Skiba is a master of working over and winning over the crowd. During “Mercy Me” the band drops out to let the crowd scream “Back to Chicago.” This was a hometown show in every way and the crowd and band fed off that energy. Highlights of the set were the band reaching deep in the catalog to perform both “Bleeder” and “Radio” which are not normally set staples for Alkaline Trio. This band has firmly cemented their place in not just Riot Fest history, but in all of punk rock.

I was able after the Alkaline Trio set to hightail over to one of the smaller stages to catch the second half of Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. As a life lone Ramones fan, I was eager to see the band as I know Marky does not just work with anyone musically. He had an amazing band including an energetic frontman who channeled his inner Joey Ramone. Ramones staples such as “Rockaway Beach”, “Glad To See You Go”, “Pinhead” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” were performed with precision. The band also performed many staple songs Ramones covered throughout their career such as “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” and the Motorhead penned “R.A.M.O.N.E.S” The energetic crowd demanded an encore. Marky and company treated the crowd to “Rock N Roll High School” to end their short but sweet set.

The night was already upon us and the sky was dark. The tens of thousands in attendance had eagerly awaited My Chemical Romance’s return to Chicago. The pandemic had delayed this performance for a number of years. In all my years of attending Riot Fest, I had never seen a crowd so one-sided towards one performing band. This includes even the Misfits in 2016. I had heard previous My Chemical Romance shows suffered some issues with the large crowd sizes. After every song, vocalist Gerard Way encouraged the crowd to take steps back to avoid anyone getting crushed or otherwise injured. I was far back from the stage so mostly observed this from the monitors. The screen continuously flashed a message asking fans to take precaution and be safe during the set. I know this was extremely necessary though it did unfortunately impact the vibe of the performance. The crowd would die down in excitement as quick as it did when a song would start up. Overall the band sounded tight as ever as they blazed through fan favorites such as “Helena”, “Teenagers” and the epic “The Black Parade” I would not be surprised to find out later that their performance was the biggest attended performance in Riot Fest history.