Words by: Laura Graves
Pictures by: Jonathan Sippel
The Hu is a Mongolian folk band that fuses metal with folk music, loud guitars with traditional Mongolian instrument morin khuur, shouts, and chants with throat singing. Their music is unique and hard to describe and incredibly fun to listen to. The band released their new album The Gereg the day before they played at Riot Fest, and they performed like they had something to prove. Dressed in traditional garb, they had a small but very devoted crowd following along with the chants, raising fists, and clapping along with the music. Their sound is almost apocalyptic – it’s huge and cinematic with a sense of something massive coming. If you haven’t checked them out yet, do yourself a favor and buy the new album. Better yet, go see their tour. They won’t disappoint.
I was excited about this show because I really like Cherry Glazerr’s sound – kind of a modern blend of skater punk and grunge. Their stage performance suffered significantly from poor sound quality, but they fought against it and gave a fun performance. There wasn’t much stage banter or band interaction, but singer Clementine Creevy stomped around the stage and matched the attitude of the songs. The favorite was their finisher I Told You I’d be With the Guys, a dark song that stays with you. I hope to hear more from them.
Shock-metal band GWAR found a formula that works for them – blood, gore, and comical violence aimed at whoever they feel like – and are sticking with it. If you know GWAR, you know what to expect from one of their shows. This had no surprises.
Saturday was about metal, and Testament brought it in spades. Playing in front of a giant pentacle backdrop, they opened to a sea of devil horns with Brotherhood of the Snake. The crowd was loving it and Testament played heavily to it, motivating the crowd into a churning circle pit for their fitting song Into the Pit while vocalist Chuck Billy air-guitared and headbanged around the stage. The music was fast and heavy, driven by double bass drumming and ear-splitting lead guitar. The show built up to metal classic Practice What You Preach and then continued the relentless assault for 3 more songs. Thrash will never die.
The Story So Far
The Story So Far warmed up to the crowd, telling them Riot Fest is their favorite festival, but kind of dangerous. Too much fun, they said. Too much drinking, too much smoking. Unfortunately they didn’t bring this kind of attitude to their unengaging and low-energy performance. Vocalist Parker Cannon threw out some occasional nods to the crowd like dedicating Quicksand to all the bald heads in the audience, but other than the diehards singing along close to the stage, the crowd seemed similarly disappointed.
The Struts embody the archetype of the rock star more than any other band I saw this weekend. Vocalist Luke Spiller played up his persona as a rock primadonna, dressed in flowing red silk and opening with the fitting Primadonna Like Me. The band was similarly attired, leather pants and spandex, bare chests, all the aesthetics of gender-non-conforming icons such as David Bowie without any of the risk. From there they moved into the sexually charged Body Talks, where Luke kept the crowd moving, jumping, and clapping along. He was extremely engaged with the crowd even when he moved to a piano to lead multiple ballads, which was no small feat. The Struts are a band that is hyper-focused on aesthetics, persona, and presence, and all of those things are on high display at their show. If you’re a fan of their music you won’t be let down.
Anthrax had some serious work to do after Testament, but they rose to it. You could tell they were there for the crowd from the band’s stage presence (active and loving it), the dress (matching Chicago Bulls jerseys), and the songs (a setlist packed with favourites). The word of the day was intensity – the guitars were incredible, Joey Belladonna can hit high notes super powerfully, the bass was driving. This was one of the most fun shows of the entire weekend. If you know Anthrax you know their reputation for an amazing live performance and all I can do is emphasize this: if you like metal, go see Anthrax.
Appearing for his eighth Riot Fest, party rocker Andrew WK brought exactly what the crowd wanted. The show began with chants of “PARTY” while fanfare played and the band slowly built up to Andrew coming on stage. The band (and their three guitarists) looked like they were having an incredible time, and Andrew looked like he was having the time of his life. I don’t know how a musician who’s been in it for this long has managed to continually look like he’s at the best show of his life, but he did it. He’s amazing at crowd engagement both through the crowd presence and flawless performance and through nods to the crowd like dedicating She is Beautiful to the women in the audience. Andrew’s music is all about partying, it’s no surprise that his show is one big party.
The big draw of the night was Slayer, who needs no introduction. They’re on their final tour and this was their last Chicago show ever, so the crowd was packed close to get their last chance to see the legends. The stage was lit up with projections of crosses that slowly rotated to upside down for Slayer to come on. The performance was a display of massive pyrotechnic displays, with the band playing surrounded by smoke and fire, fitting their music. They tore through a massive list of songs from across their three-and-a-half decade history. The crowd was huge, enthusiastic, and ready for blood. Slayer, as usual, brought fire and brimstone for a perfect goodbye to Chicago.