Infinite Shuffle

September 20, 2012

Riot Fest 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Iggy

Filed under: Chicago, Riot Fest — assman41 @ 2:40 pm

I’m not gonna lie. I was a little apprehensive prior to attending to Riot Fest last weekend. The punk/hard rock festival, which took place at Humboldt Park in Chicago’s West Side, had a lineup filled with familiar names but not necessarily acts that I was dying to see.

The predictable highlight for me would be Rise Against, who closed out Saturday night’s bill. But all of the other bands I expected to see didn’t exactly excite me.

As it turned out, I actually enjoyed myself for the most part and came away with a newfound respect for a couple of acts.

Here are highlights and lowlights from my weekend:

Biggest milestone

As a fan of the band for the past eight years, and after seeing them in person thrice already, I finally got to see Rise Against play in their hometown. The closest I had come before was seeing them in Detroit about four years ago, but I knew that seeing them just a few miles from where they got their start would be special.

Here’s the opener, “Help Is On the Way”:

It was clear from the onset, as the sides of the stage overflowed with friends and family, that this show would be special for the band members as well. Lead singer Tim McIlrath noted as much several times throughout the set. And the songs also reflected the setting.

In addition to dedicating the second song, “Re-Education Through Labor”, to all of Chicago’s striking teachers, the band played a number of songs from its earlier days. Bypassing their more recent hits that protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the setlist leaned more toward the members’ activist roots.

During the first song of the encore, McIlrath invoked his heritage again by paying tribute to a punk legend, Tony Sly. The former lead singer of No Use For a Name died on July 31, and McIlrath honored him by playing an acoustic version of the NUFAN song, “For Fiona”.

For the next song, they continued to pay homage to their heroes when they brought up a couple of dudes from The Descendents — Bill Stevenson and Milo Aukerman — to sing “Jealous Again”, a Black Flag cover.

On a sidenote, this was also the first show that I went all-out in the circle pits. Usually content to remain on the fringe, I decided to get in there with all of the young’ins and see how close I could get to the stage. By the end of the night, I’d managed to get a few feet away from reaching the security dudes. Pretty memorable accomplishment, if I do say so myself.

Best table-setter

Before Rise Against took to the Riot Stage, they were preceded by Dropkick Murphys, a great appetizer to the main course.

While I admittedly didn’t know any of their songs, they did a great job of pumping up the crowd with their patented brand of faux-Irish punk.

Of course, everyone went apeshit when they closed it out with “Shipping Up to Boston” and a cover of AC/DC’s “TNT”.

Best banter

The second time I saw Rise Against, it was in Detroit as the headliner of a four-act bill. The opener that night was The Gaslight Anthem. They were only on stage for about a half-hour, and I don’t really remember much about the set.

So I was excited to get to see them again at Riot Fest, with a longer set and a couple more albums under their belt.

They lived up to expectations, bouncing around among their three albums, including the biggest hits from their debut.

But the one thing that stood out the most to me was lead singer Brian Fallon’s humorous asides between songs. He mentioned how the previous weekend’s shows at Riot Fest Brooklyn were canceled due to inclement weather. Then he proceeded to describe how a tornado is formed: “When a high-pressure system and a low-pressure system …”

After playing another song, he briefly mentioned tornadoes again, and punctuated his explanation with, “It’s science!”

He almost mentioned how Frank Turner, another act on the bill, would’ve been doomed in a tornado, making fun of his small stature and talking about how the two of them were gonna get messed up on Advil later.

Biggest surprise

You know how bands, toward the end of their sets, will kick up the intensity a notch and the excitement in the crowd becomes palpable? Well, Gogol Bordello doesn’t differentiate between songs. They perform every one as if it was a closing number.

That opening song was actually one of the tamer performances. And don’t worry if you couldn’t understand any words there. The lead singer, Eugene Hutz, is Ukranian and sings in gibberish. I think I managed to decipher no more than 10 words during the entire set. A few of them were “purple”, “crime” and “alcohol”.

I should note that I will never voluntarily purchase or listen to this band’s music. It’s just not my cup of tea. But in that setting and on that night, it was just a great and incredibly entertaining show.

If they’re at a festival you’re attending, and you don’t have anything else to do at the time, go ahead and check them out.

Biggest disappointment

When I saw that Elvis Costello & The Imposters were in the lineup, I figured that could be a fun little distraction. It turned out to be more of an annoyance than anything.

I thought I knew several of their songs, but it only seemed that way. In actuality, I only know a handful. And, unfortunately for me, the other 45 minutes of his set were filled with music I neither knew nor cared for.

I know that seems harsh, but I just don’t dig their sound that much. Sue me!

Although, they did redeem themselves a bit at the end when they played “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Also, I noticed the guy in front of me tweeting that they were the best act of the festival, by far. So, what do I know?

  • An honorable mention goes to Iggy & The Stooges. They closed out the entire festival Sunday night, and I deemed this a positive as I could get a jump on everyone else by leaving early. My friends forced me to stay for a few songs, and that was more than enough. I’m sure Iggy Pop’s antics were groundbreaking and influential 40 years ago. But today, he just seems like a pathetic old man trying to hold on to something that has long since passed him by.

Most chill performances

At a festival full of circle pits and fake blood-covered Gwar fans, it was nice to have a few palate cleansers. The first act we saw upon arriving Sunday was Built To Spill. There was no need to get really close to the stage, so we just hung out on some bleachers, well away from the band, and just chilled out to the tunes.

A little while later, I ventured off by myself and ended up checking out The Jesus and Mary Chain, closer to the stage this time. They were a huge influence on a lot of contemporary bands I like, so I felt it my duty to check them out. I only recognized a few of their songs, but overall I dug their set and really need to give their catalog a proper listen one of these days.

Biggest regrets

One act that I was particularly looking forward to seeing was Frank Turner. Unfortunately, he went on in the middle of the afternoon Saturday. And during his set, my friends and I were attempting to navigate the Chicago public transit system.

We were delayed by some repairs on the L, then a bus took forever to show up, then it turned out that Humboldt Park was farther west than I realized. And, lastly, we showed up at the wrong end of the park. So, by the time we finally arrived, Turner’s set was long over.

I also wished I could’ve seen The Offspring perform. My first “favorite band” as a teenager, they played the opening night show at Congress Theater on Friday. Alas, my friends and I didn’t get into town until Saturday. I’ve seen them twice, but not in the last eight years or so. Perhaps I’ll get to see them once more before they inevitably dissolve.

Best food and drink

After showing up later than we would’ve preferred, we had some time to kill before any other interesting acts took the stage. So we headed to the food vendors to see what they were hocking. I settled on The Aberdeen Tap‘s Gator Sausage sandwich. It was out of this world. A gator-filled sausage, covered in a Cajun-smoked, bacon etouffee. I made sure to scrape out any of the sauce that had spilled into my container.

And to wash it down, I discovered Wishbone‘s Watermelon Lemonade. It’s a very simple premise — fill a cup full of watermelon slices, then pour in some lemonade. But it was so refreshing that I ended up having three cups during the weekend.

Final thoughts

While I was apprehensive going in, I’m glad it attended Riot Fest. Whether I would ever do it again depends solely on the lineup. I don’t know if there are any other bands out there in my wheelhouse — besides Rise Against — that would headline a festival like this.


April 11, 2012

Lolla 2012: The lineup

Filed under: Chicago, Lollapalooza — assman41 @ 1:52 am

After missing SXSW this year, and with Bonnaroo not a viable option, I’d been holding out hope that Lollapalooza would have a solid enough lineup to warrant my attendance.

I had seen a leaked list of acts Tuesday afternoon and immediately purchased a three-day pass, while holding my breath to make sure it wasn’t fake.

Now, following this morning’s official release of the lineup, I can breathe a sigh of relief and start figuring out all the bands I want to see.

Here’s a list of acts that I really want to see and others that I’d be more than happy to see.


Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, Black Sabbath, Jack White, Florence + The Machine, M83, Franz Ferdinand, Santigold, The Temper Trap, Dr. Dog, Alabama Shakes, The Gaslight Anthem, The Walkmen, Dum Dum Girls, Washed Out, Blind Pilot, Chairlift, Givers, Bombay Bicycle Club, Sharon Van Etten, The War On Drugs, Kopecky Family Band, Dry the River


The Shins, Bloc Party, Delta Spirit, Metric, Dawes, The Head & The Heart, fun., Of Monsters and Men, First Aid Kit

Unlike SXSW, I’m not going to Lollapalooza to discover new bands. I’m going there to see, in person, bands I know I already like. In fact, I’ve already seen a handful of these bands, but I have no problem seeing them again.

So, anyway, who among you will join me? Which bands are you most looking forward to? Feel free to leave a comment below.

February 20, 2011

NPR threeplay

Filed under: A, Austin, Chicago, O, Pasadena Calif., S — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I was all set to resume writing my usual full-length band posts this week, but then I started listening to a bunch of stuff I’d found through NPR’s various outlets, and I decided I just had to share the wealth.

I have relayed, many a time on this blog, my affinity for NPR’s music feeds — whether it be the All Songs Considered podcast or the Song of the Day e-mail — and both of those contributed to my discovering the about-to-be-discussed bands. In fact, NPR was directly responsible for the creation of one of these groups.

Oh No Oh My

I originally set out to do a full post exclusively on this four-piece from Austin. But then I decided I didn’t have enough to say about them to warrant a lengthy review.

That’s not to say Oh No Oh My isn’t any good. Just the opposite in fact. These guys have been around since 2004, and in that time have honed their sound into some solid indie/pop/folk that is quite pleasing to the ears.

According to their Wikipedia page, all the members can play at least three instruments, and, in most cases, many more.

Despite being around for a while, they just released their second full-length album, People Problems, last month. It’s full of songs that were made for chilling out and occasionally bobbing your head to.

Several of the songs conjure up memories of Ben Folds Five, especially “There Will Be Bones”, “So I Took You” and “Brains”, which is the song that I first heard via NPR’s Song of the Day.

But my favorite track, “You Were Right”, doesn’t really provide a good comparison. It’s just a really tune.

Oh No Oh My – You Were Right

Apex Manor

If it wasn’t for a post by Carrie Brownstein on NPR’s Monitor Mix blog, then Apex Manor may have never come into existence.

In a post on a random Friday in late 2009, Brownstein called on musicians to write and record a song over the weekend.

One artist who answered that call to arms was Ross Flournoy, former frontman of since-disbanded The Broken West. He recorded the song “Under the Gun” and sent it in. Suddenly inspired, Flournoy wrote two dozen more songs.

Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago when Flournoy and thee new bandmates, under the moniker Apex Manor, released the 10-track disc, The Year of Magical Drinking — the title being an overt allusion to the Joan Didion book The Year of Magical Thinking.

I just heard the whole backstory on a recent All Songs Considered podcast, which included the album’s opening track, “Southern Decline”, my favorite on the disc.

Not knowing much of anything about The Broken West, I can’t really compare or contrast the two bands. What I can say is that the Pasadena-based Apex Manor put out solid, vocals-driven indie-folk/pop.

Besides the opener, my other favorite track is “Burn Me Alive”. Half of the instrumentation reminds me of The XX, but with a whole other layer added.

Apex Manor – Burn Me Alive

Other songs that stood out were “The Party Line”, “Teenage Blood”, “Holy Roller”, and “Coming To”.

Here’s the song that got the whole ball rolling.

Apex Manor – Under the Gun

Smith Westerns

Unlike the above two bands, Smith Westerns’ musical roots don’t run quite as deep. The quartet of college-aged kids from Chicago started making music together as high schoolers in 2007. And like a lot of high school bands, their music was pretty awful.

Eventually, they put out their self-titled debut in June 2009. It was heavily influenced by Nuggets-style garage and psychedelia. When I heard the album, I was immediately turned off.

But then I heard a track from their recently released follow-up album, Dye It Blonde, on another All Songs Considered podcast.

Listening to the album, it’s clear that they’re still stuck in the ’60s and ’70s, but they’ve moved on to a different set of influences. Practically every one of the 10 tracks on the disc sound like a mix between The Beatles and ’70s radio rock.

Smith Westerns – All Die Young

It was as if, after splitting up, the Fab Four had secretly joined forces with Nazareth and put out an album together. In fact, the whole time I was listening to it, I kept thinking these songs would’ve been great on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.

There weren’t necessarily a lot of standout tracks — just a lot of pretty good ones. Here’s my personal favorite.

Smith Westerns – Only One

January 16, 2011

59 – California Wives

Filed under: C, Chicago — assman41 @ 12:01 am

As I prepared to see The Helio Sequence in concert earlier this week, I made sure to check out the various opening acts to find out what was in store for me and to figure out how early I wanted to arrive.

After listening to all the bands, it quickly became apparent that I needed to get to the venue as soon as the doors opened. Not because the bill was packed full of awesome bands, but because the best act of the night would be the first one to hit the stage.

The five songs on California Wives’ website absolutely blew my socks off. So much so that I immediately headed over to iTunes and downloaded their debut EP, Affair.

California Wives – Blood Red Youth

(Note: For some reason, all of these songs are taking 15-20 seconds before they start to play. So, just be patient.)

This four-piece group from Chicago combines all the best elements of the post-punk, shoegazer and indie-pop genres into one awesome force.

California Wives – Twenty Three

Because of a special promotion at the concert, there were more people than usual in attendance for the opening acts. So, after a somewhat quiet response to start the show, the Wives received a solid ovation following their 30-minute set. They played six songs — four songs from their album and two new ones — all of which were solid.

One of the things I found most interesting seeing them live was how they divvied up the lead vocals. Standing front and center with his keyboard — and occasionally a guitar — was Jayson Kramer. He did most of the talking between songs and, I assumed, was the lead singer.

But with my view from the upper level somewhat obstructed by the band’s family, I didn’t realize initially that a lot of the singing was actually coming from the far right side of the stage, where unassuming bassist Dan Zima was perched.

Any time a band has more than one real vocalist, I consider that a plus in my book.

California Wives – Guilt

This band is ready to blow up on the national scene. The group is currently unsigned, but I doubt that’ll be the case for long, especially after the boys strut their stuff at the South By Southwest Festival in March.

To keep tabs on the band, check out its MySpace page.

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