I should probably address Riotfest first, in case you are not familiar with it. Go to riotfest.org. Check out the schedule. Got the gist? Cool. Second, you may notice that many of the acts mentioned below are of a certain…”vintage,” I’ll say. Most of the musicians on stage were no longer skinny, youthful punks. But I don’t think anyone who saw these “vintage” acts would contend that they were old. Sure, many people player were in their forties, some even older, but that doesn’t matter because in the end you still left these venues with your ass kicked. Last, in most (but not all) cases you can assume there was an SM58 in the hand or on the stand. Now on to the story.
Friday @ Metro – Articles of Faith, Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine
Friday I had a bit of a crisis. One one side, there was Bad Religion at the Congress Theatre. On the other, an invitation from a great engineer to see Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School Of Medicine. At the end of the debate Jello won out. I’ve seen Bad Religion a few times before, at the same venue, too. While that is a fantastic show and I recommend it to anyone, I needed to see me some Jello.
My only other time seeing Jello Biafra was several years ago when he came out on stage at a Ministry show. As a kid growing up somewhat obsessed with Wax Trax, this was a good thing. I can sort of scratch Lard off the list of acts to see because of that show. But Biafra is a unique voice out there in the world and to see just that one iteration of his musical career would be a disservice to that voice. Added to the appeal of the show was the considerable mixing prowess of Kurt Schlegel, whom I had first met a few years back when he was mixing the Melvins.
I arrived at Metro early enough to catch most of a reunited Articles of Faith. It was a return 25 years in the making. The crowd was made up of every age group. Those true fans were generally over 35 and they were the ones with their fists in the air, shouting the lyrics. Those younger than them caught on quick. There was a little rust on the set, but these guys put on a show worth seeing, especially if you’re in to early Chicago punk/hardcore.
After their set and a very quick set change, Kurt slid in to the sound booth and got things set up. The band preceded Jello to the stage. Soon the ex-Dead Kennedys singer was on the stage, stirring up the crowd with his unique voice. The showman came dressed in something resembling bloodied medical garb. In time the layers would be removed down to the skin for the end. Not a skinny punk anymore, but the perseverance deserves a nod. I mention this because I thought it odd that night, but understood better the following night when a good friend asked, “You went to Jello? Does he still take his shirt off at the end?”
I was almost hoping for a DK-free set, but when they launched in to “California Über Alles” (modified to work with the current California officials…and I use “work with” ironically) I was glad to hear it. To call Biafra outspoken or opinionated would be an understatement and in between songs he would let loose informed vitriol on the audience. Those critical diatribes were artfully woven in to the set, and it was hard to tell if there was a difference between the music and the message at times.
The audience was whipped in to a frenzy by the time the band closed with “Holiday in Cambodia.” We bunch of hyped apes left the Metro happy.
Saturday @ Congress Theatre – Anti-Flag, Snapcase, Less Than Jake, Pennywise, Mighty Mighty Bosstones
I’m proud to have Anti-Flag as part of our endorser family. Those guys, a) are a great band, b) stick to their mission, and c) have a mission to begin with. My guess is if you threw a million dollars at them and said, “Take this. You have artistic control over everything. The only thing is your shirts have to come from a sweat shop,” they would refuse. Granted, no one can say what anyone would do in that situation because it never happens, but that’s the kind of character they seem to have.
Musically, they recall older punk bands with slightly more refinement. They are frequently airborne in still photography. They will stop a show if they notice the audience members are not taking care of each other. Also, they did something that I think is a first for me. In a nine-band schedule I thought they might have been pressured to get off the stage when I saw Justin, Chris Head and Chris #2 playing and Patrick’s drum kit being deconstructed. “Booo,” I thought. Then to my surprise the kick drum went over the front of the stage, then over the barricade. Next the snare, then the hi-hat. There, on the floor, in the general admission section, was Pat’s new throne. I was thinking they’d have an awful tough time hearing the kit, but thanks to a little A-F ingenuity Chris #2 described to me after the show, Pat started hammering away, projecting through the PA. I’ll hold on to their secret, but I can tell you they were excited with the Shure solution they had come up with to make that happen.
After they wrapped it was a quick goodbye as they piled back in to the van to drive back home to Pittsburgh. This seemed a little crazy considering they drove straight to the venue from home in the first place. Pitts-Chi-Pitts, all for Riot Fest. Thankfully they made it back all safe and sound.
Snapcase followed. I wasn’t too familiar with them, but they definitely impressed me as someone I should have known. They were a little more abstract than the tried and true “punk” formula. I’ll have to dig deeper on those guys.
I was never really a fan of Less Than Jake or Pennywise, so I’ll just state that the crowd was having a blast.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones closed the night out. Aaron Glas, who normally works with all things Flogging Molly, was handling the FOH duties for the night. He did an admiral job, considering the Congress is an infamous room to make a mix. I almost forgot where I was, which is high praise for an engineer. As for the Bosstones, they really brought it. I knew them from my youth and was happily nostalgic finally putting the live show to the music I had listened to those years ago.
Sunday @ Metro – Torche, High on Fire
I would have been running out of steam on day 3 of Riot Fest, but if you’ve read my posts before you might know that I’m a bit of a metalhead. It was easy to lace up my shoes and head out to the Metro. I got there right after Kylesa wrapped up their set. That ends up being a shame, as their show was highly commended by the staff. I wound my way in to the backstage area where I introduced myself to High On Fire frontman, Matt Pike. HoF have used Shure a while now, and we’re looking to make that official in short time. After meeting the rest of the band and crew we chatted briefly about gear and football. The whole while bassist Jeff Matz warmed up his speedy fingers on a quiet practice amp. Soon I began to hear thick, low guitars growling above me. I excused myself to go see Torche.
Torche is a band I only found out about this past Summer. They have a special kind of uniqueness about them. As a musician, it makes me want to do what they do. The unfortunate part of that is that there are now a bunch of bands that, following that same inspiration, sound almost identical to Torche. Hopefully they, rather than one of their acolytes, will achieve the recognition they deserve.
High on Fire took the stage next. There are few bands with such a sonic assault. Ear plugs: extremely necessary. They ripped off every head in the crowd. If I were to describe their sound, it would have to be something akin to the angry child of Motörhead and Black Sabbath. Des Kensel’s drum kit didn’t have a tom (including the rack) that couldn’t be a perfectly serviceable kick drum on some other kit. I would have had to hit those cymbals with baseball bats had I been back there. This is they type of thing that you expect when seeing the premier doom/stoner metal band in the world, but it is still pretty crazy to actually look at that. Rarely will you see a trio make so much sound. In to metal? Go see them.
About half-way through their thundering, grinding set I had a Twitter review pop in to my head: “If your band is heavier than High On Fire you’re in the Melvins.” After the show over drinks next door at the Gingerman Des, FOH Phil, and Tour Manager Brady found that to be an agreeable statement.
The band prepped to get underway and I stepped outside to catch the bus, thoroughly beat from the whole weekend.