This past weekend I got to experience Riot Fest in Chicago, basically the punk rock music festival. The really cool thing about the festival was how genuinely excited bands seemed to be there. More than one band remarked how incredible the crowds were, it almost seemed like a punk rock high school reunion, with older bands mixing with newer ones. In that spirit, I’ve made various awards to hand out to bands that are totally subjective and open to debate.
Fall Out Boy: The “We’re Rocking Stadiums” Award
Chicago’s own Fall Out Boy, closed out Friday night with a headlining slot that got the crowd going. A lot of bands at the festival are on tour, but Fall Out Boy seemed to be the most polished. The band has new found energy since reuniting earlier in the year and it showed throughout their set, as it had to be stopped a few times to stop people from getting crushed. The band sounded great, especially on songs off their new album. The highlight for me was when they played “Save Rock and Roll” with Patrick Stump taking his talents to the piano and then leading the crowd in a sing-a-long. Fantastic way to close the first day.
The Wonder Years: The “Perfect Set List” Award
I’m a little biased on this award, seeing that I love The Wonder Years, but the band didn’t disappoint. The set list covered their three most recent albums. Personal favorites like “Melrose Diner” and “Don’t Let Me Cave In” were played early, along with tracks off of their most recent album The Greatest Generation that the band recently started playing in the United States. The band capped off the set by playing “Came Out Swinging” with lead singer Dan Campbell crowd surfing to a tree and back flipping off it it. Pretty great way to finish off a set.
Blink 182: The “Asses in the Seats” Award
Blink 182 is probably more popular now than at any point in their career, and Saturday night was a perfect example of why. Closing out the show with no other bands playing, seemingly every person crowded to get a good spot for Blink’s set. In fact, Saturday’s crowd was littered with teenagers in Blink 182 shirts who probably came only for one band. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch, it’s great to see kids who could barely walk when Blink made it big enjoying their songs now. The set itself was a mix of old and new. Slower jams like “Adam’s Song” and “Stay Together for the Kids” were left out, but newer songs like “After Midnight” and “Ghost on the Dance Floor” were included. Blink has never been the best live band, but for the thousands of people (including me) crowded into a field on a chilly Saturday night it didn’t matter.
Taking Back Sunday: The “Why Are We Not on a Main Stage” Award
Taking Back Sunday had the unfortunate task of playing the time slot right before Blink 182, on the opposite side of the park. No one would have blamed them if the crowd was on the sparse side as fans clamored for good spots to watch Blink. Instead, what happened was Taking Back Sunday played for one of the bigger crowds of the weekend. From my vantage point, the sound was a little off, at times it was hard to hear the vocals. Playing on one of the bigger stages may have helped that and more people could have seen TBS. The band proved that next time around, they’ve earned a spot on a stage that can accommodate more people.
Rancid: The “Damn We Sound Good” Award
It’s easy to make punk rock sound like a mess. On its surface, punk is straightforward, fast and loud. All of that makes it pretty easy for a punk set to sound muddled, rushed and not very good. Rancid counters this argument with 21 years of experience and an energetic live show. I only stayed for half the set in order to catch Taking Back Sunday, but the half I saw sounded great. The band played a lot of earlier material from Out Come the Wolves before heading on to more recent hits. Both Tim and Lars sounded great, but the best part was the band having fans standing behind them on stage. Really a cool experience.
Brand New: The “Some Bands Should Tour More” Award
Brand New. There’s no other band that could claim this, even the newly reunited (cash grab?) Replacements. Brand New simply had the best set of the entire festival. Their most recent (jeez, 2009) album was Daisy and is an exhausting album to listen to, but you wouldn’t know from watching them on Sunday. The band was well rehearsed and the set list was varied. A highlight being Jesse Lacey bringing out Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra to sing “Play Crack the Sky.” Brand New completely floored me, hopefully they have some new material and a full length tour coming up as well.