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« Youth Lagoon Puts On a Show to Remember, Pure X a Show to Forget Riot Fest 2013: Saturday Review »

Riot Fest Sat Sep 14 2013

Riot Fest 2013: Friday Review

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Smoking Popes crowd by Katie Hovland

It was the perfect black hoodie and leather studded jacket weather Friday in Humboldt Park, as a noticeably much larger than last year crowd descended on the park for this year's Riot Fest. With one of the most impressive lineups of this years festival season, the growth in attendance is no surprise. And although it made for some major logistical hiccups (long will call lines, confusion with park layout and lack of schedule posting, troubles with transit to and from the festival) the crowd didn't seem to mind once the music started. -Lisa White

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Dessa by Katie Hovland

I arrived early to catch some of Dessa, the Minneapolis MC who is part of the addition of more hip hop at the festival this year. Her smooth and soothing vocals rang clear past the entrance gates and was the perfect way to relax and kick off the day under the afternoon sun. Her set showcased mainly her latest album released earlier this year, Parts of Speech, including one of my favorites off the album, "Skeleton Key." Dessa also announced that she and her band will be returning to Chicago for New Year's Eve, and she confirmed directly with me they'll be playing that night at Schubas. Mark your calendars now, it will be a great way to ring in the new year. -Lisa White

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Saul Williams by Katie Hovland

Saul Williams might win the award for most punk rock during the entire weekend of Riot Fest. I've seen him a handful of times, and his blend of heavy electronic hip hop is always high energy and incredibly intense. So I was a bit confused when he took the stage, sans his usual stage costume, with just a single mic and no instruments behind him. Williams got his start in the spoken word/slam poetry scene, and we were going to be given a spoken word set despite the fact it wasn't billed as such. Much of the crowd seemed to think his poetry was an intro to his set and seemed confused, but Williams didn't miss a beat as he proceeded to command the mic and deliver the closest thing to a sermon we'll see this weekend. Although I love his music, it was a lovely reminder of just how wonderful a wordsmith Williams is and was pretty ballsy to get up onstage at a punk festival and perform solo poetry to the crowd. At the end he announced he was selling merch, but not at the designated area, out of his own backpack instead. You can not get more punk rock than this. Socially minded raw wordplay and DIY aesthetic made Saul Williams effortless set engaging and an interesting addition to the weekend. -Lisa White

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Andrew W.K. by Katie Hovland

Saying that Andrew W.K. loves to party is like stating that the sky is blue. If you aren't aware of this factual information, all you have to do is spend a few seconds and you'll learn this to be truth. The one man party machine took the stage again this year at Riot Fest to spread his gospel of the art of positive partying and headbanging to the masses. Opening with "It's Time to Party" Andrew W.K. and his wife Cherie Lily (dressed in the finest high cut aerobic leotard fashion) headbang in unison as the crowd pumped their fist in time. Andrew W.K. proclaimed "It's so good not to be dead today!" before launching into "Ready to Die" which included him playing a perfectly executed classical piano solo without missing a beat headbanging along. You cannot deny the fact that Andrew W.K. is one of the most positive and energetic people on this planet, as he and his band whipped their long hair all over the place and encouraged the massive mosh pit up front to swirl in a circle. The camera panning over a crusty punk crowd surfing to the sounds of another classical piano solo during "She is Beautiful" was one of the most epic moments of Friday night, a true testament to the powers of party at the hands of Andrew W.K. -Lisa White

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Mark and Ivy: A Riot Fest engagement by Katie Hovland

Screeching Weasel pulled in a respectable and curious crowd of longtime fans and/or out-of-towners who can't normally see their one-offs. As usual, they flew right into their fast-paced aggressive pop-punk and reeled off a slew of songs in the 15-minute window before some people headed to see Bad Religion.

At the Roots stage, an eclectic crowd of young and old and punks and yuppies was bustling for Bad Religion. The LA band that's been going strong for 30+ years came out of the gate with a good mix of new and old songs to appease everyone, including a lot from the new True North album, as well as old favorites like "I Want to Conquer the World", "21st Century (Digital Boy)", "Sorrow" and "Infected." Unsurprisingly, the singalongs were much more potent during the old songs. And singer Greg Graffin was on his game with amusing and self-deprecating anecdotes about the band, such as asking the crowd who they wanted to see and waving off the reply of "You!!!"

Following their set, I headed to see Gwar and passed four teenage girls covered in fake blood at the corner of Augusta & Humboldt. Luckily, it didn't seem like I missed much of the splatter theatrics. Although, even more entertaining than watching a metal band dressed like the cast of an intergalactic horror movie spray fake blood on a crowd while portraying a crucifixion of Christ is overhearing the reactions of people who don't know what they're in for. At best, Gwar's subjects are challenging (i.e., questioning the existence of a god); at their worst, they're taboo (i.e., a song called "Pre-Skool Prostitute"). But they're also so over-the-top that a guy near me reacting with "ugh" or "sick" to everything should've known better. Presumably, an interlude of "Born in the U.S.A." after a decapitation didn't help that guy see the point. To the other many thousand people watching, it was absolutely entertaining. -James Ziegenfus

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Atmosphere by Katie Hovland

"Lets be honest, this is as close to church as a lot of us are going to get," proclaimed Slug, half of the Minneapolis duo Atmosphere, who took over the field Friday night dishing out their honest and stark form of hip hop. Slug is a no bullshit blunt yet charismatic MC as he lead the crowd through a set heavy with deeper cuts from their catalog. Standouts were the always disturbing yet sexy "Shoulda Known" and "Godlovesugly" both tracks perfectly showcasing the dichotomy of tragedy and beauty that Atmosphere aims to perfect with their music. -Lisa White

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Joan Jett by Katie Hovland

For some reason, Joan Jett's never struck me as someone having a big arsenal of great songs, but between the Runaways and her solo records, the originals and numerous covers (Gary Glitter, the Arrows, Sweet and Tommy James), everything she played sounded crisp and edgy, yet also familiar. Ten minutes into her set, the crowd was sold. Bringing out Laura from Against Me! for a song they'd worked on together sold them even more. But I must admit I was a little distracted knowing that Joan Jett's been portrayed in a movie recently and the actress wasn't Noomi Rapace. -James Ziegenfus

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Joan Jett by Katie Hovland

As a girl that never felt comfortable with the cookie cutter offerings of female role models given to me as a child, Joan Jett's set was something a bit more personal to me and many of the other women in the audience Friday night. I never found confidence in the feminine pop icon offerings of what was sexy growing up, but once I saw women like Joan Jett strapping on a guitar and owning an audience, I finally was able to digest a form of confidence and power that I truly found sexy. So for many of us girls who sang along in our underwear to "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" in our bedrooms through our teenage years, seeing Jett live is like paying respects at the altar of the women who helped us blossom into badass ladies ourselves. Jett swaggered onstage dressed in all leather, looking amazing as ever, before delivering a set of favorites and showcasing new work. A highlight from her new work was when she brought out Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! to show off their duet "Soulmates to Strangers," a performance I was both expecting and hoping for since both acts play the festival this weekend. The crowd clapping and singing along on favorites like "Cherry Bomb" and "Do You Wanna Touch Me" and I'd be surprised in those moments if majority of the audience wasn't swooning completely over the awesomeness of Joan Jett. She is the reason so many shy or unsure girls turn into such badass women, and still after all these years she simply rocks. -Lisa White

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Stanley Cup Backstage at Riot Fest by Katie Hovland

I should mention that the last time I saw Danzig was at Fun Fun Fun Fest two years ago, which resulted in delays, unhappiness, unrest, numerous jokes, etc. With another chilly evening in the forecast, my expectations were tempered. But I eventually came around on Danzig during an hour-plus set that was highlighted on the back end with Misfits songs. And it was clear that Glenn and Doyle were having a blast, with Glenn taking a page from choosing songs the same way a baseball team might do so between innings - toss up 3 choices and pick the one that gets the loudest cheers. (In this case, it was "Skulls" by a landslide.) Early issues like a cut-out microphone and some strange video splices faded and the band sounded pretty good to a crowd that was partly massive Danzig/Misfits fans and others who didn't want to see Fall Out Boy and didn't want to go home. Obviously, one of those groups enjoyed the first night of Riot Fest much more than the other, even though "Mother" started a mass exodus. -James Ziegenfus

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Fall Out Boy by Katie Hovland

I went to this Fall Out Boy show and all I got was a close call with a fist fight and a sense of feeling incredibly old. The Chicagoland natives took to the mainstage Friday night with a huge homecoming that included appearances from Naked Raygun and the Stanley Cup and a light show to rival any other stadium act. They opened with "The Phoenix" a track of their latest album Save Rock and Roll while the spastic light show attempted to give at least a few people a seizure. Overall the set contained a large majority of the new album, which I thought sounded flat live, despite the fact I really enjoy the album itself. To me it seemed to be a piece of work better recorded and produced and wasn't nearly as enjoyable translated into a live setting. We finally got a somewhat older song with "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More "Touch Me"" and the older crowd in the back sung along. The band had to take a few breaks in the start to help organize the mosh pit, where apparently several people had fallen and couldn't get up. Is no one teaching kids these days the etiquette of mosh pits? If your neighbor falls, pick them back up. Someone should have sent these Fall Out Boy fans over to the Bad Religion crowd to learn a lesson.

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Fall Out Boy by Katie Hovland

Patrick spoke about talking to a fan earlier about attending a Fall Out Boy show at the Arlington Heights Knights of Columbus Hall in 2003, and to the delight of older fans the band launched into "Grand Theft Autumn." I jumped up and down like I was 17 again and screamed along with much of the older fans hanging out farther back in the field, and for me hearing that nostalgic song was the highlight of the night. They followed up with their breakout hit "Sugar We're Goin Down" another staple of my younger pop punk days that had much of the crowd singing along. I did notice a considerable amount of the crowd leave after this two song trip of nostalgia, as energy dipped a bit with the insipid "Young Volcanoes." At this point the crowd around me had gone down in age bracket, but I was still holding out for a few older hits and some of the newer favorites like "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" And then I was jumped on and almost knocked over by two baby faced dudes trying to catch a Fall Out Boy balloon. As I yelped and pushed one of the guys off of me, he actually attempted to fight me, pushing me back and staring me and my now aware and furious boyfriend down. Nothing like a person who barely looks like they can enter a bar attempting to fight you to make you feel incredibly old and tired. At that point I realized I had got my brief taste of nostalgia that I came looking for, moved farther back, and attempted to enjoy a rousing Stanley Cup presentation and end of the show. But sadly one of my favorite more recent Fall Out Boy tracks couldn't even cheer me up and ended up perfectly encapsulating how I felt about majority of their set; "I Don't Care." The band still has a lot of heart and energy and work really hard to put on a good show, but personally it just makes me miss the days of shitty VFW hall shows. Fall Out Boy delivers a perfectly innocent and enjoyable pop show, but like much music that one equates with a certain age or era it feels personally past its prime consumed ten years later. -Lisa White

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