Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Riot Fest round-up (live review)

The very muddy Riot Fest 2014 hit Downsview Park in Toronto this past weekend.  Despite the conditions (and some extremely poor planning for entry and security) it was a blast.

It's really all about the performances, so here's a rundown of my thoughts on what I saw.

The Beaches
Playing the small Rebel Stage, this female local foursome made a powerful impression.  While whatever Verbing The Noun generic 'punk' act was on the nearby Rock Stage, the band gave as good as they got, reminding me of a harder version of Sleater-Kinney.

Afghan Whigs
The Afghan Whigs
The first big circle on my schedule (which was not posted anywhere and had to be referred to on the Fest website) was the reunited Whigs.  Dulli and company rocked hard.  Strangely, the songs from the new album sounded cleaner and more accessible than the material from their first go around.  Although that didn't stop me from marking out for "Something Hot", "My Enemy" or "Fountain and Fairfax".

Death From Above 1979
Yes, DFA are a unique band.  Nobody really sounds like the Toronto duo.  However, after a few grinding, pounding, slashing, thrashing numbers, you begin to realize that all of their songs kind of sound the same live.

Paul Weller
The Modfather's crew somehow managed to take so much time setting up that he hit the stage almost ten minutes late.  His loyal fanbase didn't really seem to notice.  Not being a giant fan myself, I would've like a couple more Jam tunes, but that's just me.

The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips

This was the highlight of Day One for sure.  With all the pomp and circumstance, costume changes, giant dressed up mushrooms, human bubble, confetti cannons, and just blissed out music, it's easy to not notice that they only played 8 songs during their hour long set.  It was sensory overload of the greatest kind.  It was a long way from the first time I saw them at the Opera House twenty some-odd years ago.

The Cure
The first night headliners drew in all kinds of different folks.  While the band sounded great, singer Robert Smith was showing his age.  He couldn't hold notes and his highs weren't as high as in the past.

Day Two for me kicked off with the Memphis southern/country rockers.  Their songs about whiskey, women, and making dubious choices was the perfect way to kick off a sunny festival afternoon.

Bob Mould
Bob Mould
Mould may have struck the perfect balance between old and new.  His set was equal parts Husker Du and his new album Beauty & Ruin, with a sprinkling of Sugar on top.  His band was tight and energetic (not to mention loud).  It was amazing how well the new material held up against some undeniable classics.

The New Pornographers
This didn't work almost from the get-go.  The band valiantly played through some of their biggest hits, and new songs from the solid Brill Bruisers, but it wasn't clicking.  It almost seemed as though they needed to turn the volume up to compete with others at the festival, and the result was a jumbled mess.

Dropkick Murphys
One of the punk rock favorites at the festival, they did not disappoint.  They shied away from the older stuff, which was a shame, but the high octane rock (and just enough Celtic influence) had the mosh pit fired up.  I've never known them to put on a bad show, and they kept their streak intact.

I had the hard decision between Stars and Social Distortion.  I chose the Montreal outfit because they offered a change of pace.  While the music was good, bordering on excellent, Torquil Campbell's moronic banter made it difficult to truly enjoy the gig.  In fact, I may have a hard time enjoying the band at all anymore....so...

Social Distortion
No nonsense, no bullshit.  Just straight ahead hard rock with great tunes.  Why the Hell did I think Stars was a better idea?  Give me "Ball & Chain" or their "Ring Of Fire" cover any day.

The National
The National

The reason I decided to go to the festival in the first place, and they didn't disappoint.  The performance was just as passionate yet nuanced as always.  The great songs coupled with showmanship (wading through a theatre crowd while singing is one thing, a festival pit is a completely different animal) may have even won over some of the City And Colour fans who had camped out waiting for Dallas Green to bore them.

The Buzzcocks
A sprint across the grounds gave me a chance to catch the UK punk legends for the first time.  It was worth the run as they pounded out their best songs.  It was better experienced with your eyes closed though, as time has not been kind to the band.

So that's my no holds barred (oh yeah, there was some bad pro wrestling demo for some reason) of the performances.  Some were excellent.  Some where horribly.  Some were pleasantly surprising.  Exactly what you'd expect from a weekend long event.

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