Words by: Laura Graves
Pictures by: Jonathan Sippel
I won’t lie, I went to see Save Ferris purely because of their cover of Come on Eileen: a horn-driven artifact of 2000s ska with a music video representative of all the worst styles of that era – terrible outfits, goofy animal hats, and either a complete lack of self awareness or a readiness to dive headfirst into trendiness. I was not expecting what I saw. The star of the show – vocalist Monique (“Moan, really”) Powell – introduced the band by telling the crowd to get ready to be offended, aroused, and perplexed. They played with the energy of a band trying to recapture a lost time – it felt like forcing something, but it did make you want to dance. They played a bunch of their originals but the real standouts were the covers – Dead Kennedy’s Too Drunk to Fuck, Operation Ivy’s Knowledge, and finally Come on Eileen.
Village People was one of the weird, Riot Fest standouts that made the festival so interesting. Despite an early billing and being at a side stage, they attracted a huge crowd. Thanks to some grassroots internet planning, the crowd was ready for a party. The planned Village People wall of death was spectacular and absurd and there was a crazy amount of crowd surfing and moshing and everyone seemed to be having an amazing time. I feel like in this case the music just sets the mood for everyone to have a good time – high energy songs that everyone knows combined with an eager and energetic crowd make for a great mood. I think, more than any others, this is one you had to be there for.
Continuing the retro performances, surf-rock classics The B-52s brought their sci-fi tinged weirdness. The costumes (straight out of 50s science fiction B movies) and Fred Schneider’s distinctive vocals defined the performance. They opened with Planet Claire and Private Idaho and went through eras worth of songs before ending with the obligatory Love Shack (with a nod to War’s Low Rider) and Rock Lobster.
Against Me! was playing two full albums – their debut Against Me! is Reinventing Axl Rose and 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The crowd seemed split between old punks and new, but everyone was happy to see Laura. The band tore through Reinventing, with the crowd throwing their energy into Pints of Guinness Make You Strong, The Politics of Starving, and Baby, I’m an Anarchist. The real highlight for me was the performance of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The album was written while Laura was transitioning and is an intimate and painful album from someone struggling with the difficulty of a later-life and very public transition. It’s an album that means a lot to me and meant a lot to the small pocket of misfits I was in, shouting along with visceral songs like Transgender Dysphoria Blues and FUCKMYLIFE666. I would’ve loved to see something between the albums like The Ocean, the track from New Wave where pre-transition Laura sings “if I could’ve chosen, I would’ve been born a woman. My mother once told me she would’ve named me Laura”. Even without that, the performance was amazing and I was so fortunate to experience it.
Patti Smith is a genius. Her 1975 Horses, with it’s iconic Mapplethorpe cover and beat-poet androgyny and queerness, is one of the most important albums of all time. It’s amazing enough that she’s still performing, but the way she brought a presence and energy to the stage is another thing in itself. She’s still flouting convention with her vocals, lyrics, and stage presence. She’s still singing about things that matter – her performance included her cover of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, appended to include “look at mother nature on the run in the 20th century” as well as a cover of Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning – a song about returning stolen land to indigenous people. She ended with Horses opener Gloria – a furious anthem. I am so glad I got the chance to see her while she still performs.
Taking Back Sunday
If Friday was punk and Saturday was metal, Sunday was bands you’d never expect to see. Taking Back Sunday were slated for full performances of their debut album Tell All Your Friends and third album Louder Now. It was everything you’d want from a Taking Back Sunday performance – screaming along with Cute Without the ‘E’, You’re So Last Summer, and MakeDamnSure. The band was having a great time letting us relive our teenage angst, and the crowd was more than ready to get the feeling of those misspent years back.
As Kathleen Hanna said partway through the performance, it’s pretty incredible that in 2019 a feminist band can headline a festival. Bikini Kill last played Chicago 20 years ago, and in the 75 minutes they played, the band went through dozens of songs and kept up a steady stream of thoughts about politics, gender, and feminism. The band switched places and instruments frequently so drummer Tobi Vail could take Kathleen’s place on lead vocals, and Tobi was just as outspoken as Kathleen. It’s so great to see a band talking about rape culture, misogyny, and sexual harassment so openly. I hope this isn’t the last time a festival puts a feminist band on the headline stage.