My 2015 Yearbook (have a neat summer)

 

All of our new friends at the Foo Fighters show in Kansas City.

All of our new friends at the Foo Fighters show in Kansas City.

 

Yes, I’m back. WE’RE back. The MoSS? boys are all still alive and kicking. But life sometimes happens.

But thankfully, Chris’ 2015 yearbook lit my fuse, and Todd’s Cliff-Notes follow-up made it an actual necessity to respond myself. Woke up from an eight-month slumber to share my 2015 tour stories.

But unlike those guys, who continue to immerse themselves in the new stuff, my year on the road consisted of a tour through what I imagine is the stuff populating the used-CD bins at Record Collector these days.

I ain’t got no complaints …

Less Than Jake (Wooly’s in Des Moines, January)

The year started with this throwback of a show, which was really just a night for all my boys to reunite and celebrate 1997-98 all over again, when we were all just out of college and partying every night like you’re supposed to when you’re 23. There was a time when Losing Streak was the soundtrack to that party and it ranked among my very favorite albums. Well, those days are long in the past, but that album can still take me back to that moment in time. Of course, they only played one or two songs from it.

Oh, and Reel Big Fish opened the show … I felt like I was at a Milwaukee Beers BASEketball game.

Barry Manilow (CenturyLink Center in Omaha, February)

Hey, that's not a wax sculpture ... it's Barry manilow!

Hey, that’s not a wax sculpture … it’s Barry manilow!

“I’m just going because my mom wants to see him.”

That’s was my excuse if anyone asked. Truth be told, I just used that as an excuse because yes, I’m a closet Fanilow. “Weekend in New England” and “Could It Be Magic?” make me misty. Shut up! When I was 4, my mom bought my brother and me t-shirts at the mall with our names on the back and ANY iron-on patch we wanted on the front. Logan got a Star Wars patch (the “a” and the “n” from his name quickly rubbed off his shirt, leaving only Log … which I still call him 38 years later). What did I get? You guessed it … a Barry Manilow patch. Shut up! I guess it was all those times I was forced to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” in the car because it was “cute” (I’m lucky I didn’t get beaten up more).

Anyway … it was enchanting (yes, I said enchanting), and I got some quality time with Mom in the process. And sadly, I’d never had better seats to a show in my life. Ever … only for them to be trumped about four months later.

Spoiler alert: My favorite album of 2015 was No Cities to Love

Spoiler alert: My favorite album of 2015 was No Cities to Love

 

Sleater-Kinney (Omaha and St. Louis, Feb./April)

I’ve already covered this one sufficiently. And nothing has changed, except for the fact that I love this band more now than I did then. I’m praying they take another run through the Midwest soon.

Foxygen at the Mission Creek Festival (Blue Moose in Iowa City, April)

IMG_2719This was the only show of the week I went to differing from Chris’ itinerary. We both caught Real Estate and Father John Misty (with King Tuff … those dudes were bad-ass). But he chose Shovels and Rope on Friday, and I chose this one. Glad I did.

A super-energetic show. Sam France has that androgynous look like some ’70s British glam rocker and the band has this wall of backup singers, like they’re Ike and Tina Turner or something, including one that looked like a sex-kitten version of Abbi from Broad City. Yes, I was captivated. I remember saying to Michelle, friend of MoSS? and my partner in the evening’s festivities, that the whole thing was like some hyperactive psychedelic version of Meat Loaf.

After the show, we bumped into honorary MoSS?-Man Travis …

“That was awesome,” he said with his typical chuckle and grin. “They were like psycho Meat Loaf or something, right?”

Bastard stole my line. Case closed.

Diarrhea Planet (Gabe’s in Iowa City, April)

IMG_2766Great stuff. But if I took away anything about this show, it was the realization that from here on out, I will never NOT take earplugs to a show at Gabe’s. These guys play three-guitar punk rock with shredding solos. And as I stood and watched, I could SEE the guitarists’ fingers moving up and down the fret boards with Yngwie Malmsteen-like dexterity, but all I could HEAR was harsh, distorted fuzz. On a whim, I just stuck my fingers in my ears … then and only then could I hear the flurry of notes. I love me some Gabe’s – it’s been my home base for over 20 years now – but the sound needs improvement (it has for a while). I used to worry that the day I started wearing earplugs would be the day I was officially old. I still love it loud, but I just want to hear what’s actually happening. That ain’t old.

IMG_2878

MASTODON!!

 

THE SWORD!!

THE SWORD!!

Mastodon (Five Flags Center
in Des Moines, May)
The Sword (Gabe’s in Iowa City, October)

Hail metal.

I love this doom metal shit, the sludgy stuff coming out of the south, especially – Mastodon, Baroness, Kylesa out of Georgia, and The Sword out of Austin, Texas. I never want to grow up, apparently, because for as cultured as I like to think I’ve become over the years, I still love heavy metal and slasher movies. I hope that never changes.

IMG_2996

Royal Blood (Wooly’s in Des Moines, May)

In the era of two-man bands or even no-bass player bands (think White Stripes, Black Keys or Sleater-Kinney), those bands’ guitarists always find a way to replicate the bottom-end sound where the bass would be. Check out Corin Tucker on “A New Wave” or Jack White on “The Denial Twist” for good examples of this.

But I’ve never seen anyone replicate a screaming guitar lick on a bass before, while still playing bass at the same time. It’s a mindfuck when you see it. But that’s what Mike Kerr does in Royal Blood. Plus, it’s just good old-fashioned hard rock. I like these guys. Quite a bit, actually.

After the show, I asked their sound guy how Mike Kerr did it. “It’s gotta be just a series of effects pedals, right?” I asked. But he basically told me – in that very regal, polite way that only a Brit can – to go fuck myself.

IMG_3049Smashing Pumpkins (Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, June)

I mean, look at these!

I mean, look at these!

The Barry Manilow show gave me the best seats I’ve ever had for any show ever. Until this one. Second row center and seated, with no buffer between Billy and me (the front row in the center was for handicapped seating, but there were no handicapped people at the show, so it was just as good as front row). This show had sold out immediately months earlier, but I just knew the ungodly-priced VIP tickets would end up on the market again. Checked the day before, at just the right time, and bam, got four at a discount.

But no one wanted to go with me. I, of course, asked the MoSS? boys first (we’ll always have the fantasy draft, after all). Too short of notice. Finally, I got some takers in old reliables Kat and Von.

I loved this show. A stripped-down acoustic set. Yes, it was largely devoid of many hits or deep cuts from the 1991-95 era (more on that later), but at the same time, it didn’t feel like a rock concert. Lots of stuff from Adore (which I was cool with – “For Martha” was excellent, and the arrangement on “To Sheila” was KILLER), a couple of new ones, some Zwan stuff, some solo stuff, all meticulously arranged and presented almost like a Broadway show, with a locked-in songbook. I knew what I was getting.

But this was Des Moines. Home of a ton of buttrock FM radio. A lot of the people who bought tickets, guaranteed, probably didn’t read the fine print about what this show was going to be and expected to hear the big, loud anthems. They didn’t get them. I mean, he did play “Tonight Tonight,” “Today,” “Mayonaise” and “1979,” but mostly? Yeah, they didn’t get them.

Needless to say, it got ugly. For the first hour or so of the show, he had the room in the palm of his hand. But when people started realizing that this show must be winding down and they still hadn’t heard “Cherub Rock” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” they started getting antsy. During the end of the show, people started yelling out requests, which Billy actually took in stride, until some jackass yelled, “Play ‘1979’ again!” At that point, the famous Corgan petulance reared its ugly head. All tour long at that point, he had taken some requests for the final encore (including one stop when he played the entire Gish album in less than six minutes). But for us, he came out and played “Spaceboy” and got the fuck outta there.

Look, I’ve been very vocal over the years about how his refusal to play the old stuff is petty (basically, he feels like if he plays the stuff from Gish, Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, he’s no better than Warrant playing “Cherry Pie” at the state fair. “I’m still making new music, dammit. You should want to hear that,” he thinks). There is a middle ground. People will listen to the new stuff if they know you’re gonna reward the years and years of loyalty with a few of the deep cuts. He needs to realize this.

But on that night, in that room, under those circumstances, I was on his side. We (I mean Iowans in general here) looked like hayseeds and it reinforced my fear that this was one of the reasons that Iowa is just the warm-up show for Chicago or Detroit.

I got into it pretty intensely with Chris about this afterward. A snippet of our correspondence:

“I can’t be on his side if he can’t entice me to attend. He can’t be bothered to include true fan rewards like Crush or Suffer or Obscured or Soma or Hummer. These are not hits. These are legacy-affirming songs but because they were written in the 20th century he won’t play them, even though he’ll play 1979 and Tonight and Today. If he wants an entire room of disciples without having to play the entire Greatest Hits tracklist, he would do this.”

I agreed with every word of this (my response: “I knew this was coming. And I know your stance. In fact, how many times have we had this discussion … and I AGREED with you? Because you know that I do”), but the contents of his acoustic tour were well-documented. It’s just that I bet no one was playing attention.

Well, I bet Todd would’ve loved it … I think.

All your base are belong to Rational Anthem

All your base are belong to Rational Anthem

 

80-35 Festival (Des Moines, July)

Miss Lewis in rock star pose

Miss Lewis in rock star pose

Jenny Lewis (she of Rilo Kiley, playing with the Watson Twins, and Jenny and Johnny) was awesome. Wilco was as good as they usually always are. Cloud Nothings sound better live than on their record. Run The Jewels were the balls. And Weezer played maybe the quintessential example of a perfect festival gig – every hit, a few deep cuts, a couple new ones, and the huge ones to shut it down.

In addition, on Friday night, I caught the Ataris play at the Gas Lamp … and the show was opened by Rational Anthem, my current favorite Iowa City band. Originally from Florida, they hooked up with fellow Iowa City punks Lipstick Homicide (also awesome) somewhere on the road and relocated to Iowa City when they realized that at any given moment, they were within a four- or five-hour drive of Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Omaha. If you like fun pop punk, check them out.

Against Me! (Wooly’s in Des Moines, July)

Tom Gabel was the shit. Best voice in punk rock. That was always the draw with Against Me!. Laura Jane Grace? Now she has the best voice in punk rock. I love this band.

Cheap Trick (RAGBRAI stop at the Coralville Marriott, July)

“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees I’ve seen live” list as of July 2015: The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Metallica, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Neil Young, Buddy Guy, the Pretenders, Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, U2, R.E.M., Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy, Kiss, Nirvana, Green Day, Parliament (well, George Clinton), Run-DMC (kinda) and Patti Smith (kinda).

Now, I can add these guys to the list. Getting inducted this year (as well as Steve Miller, who I saw in 1992 and is also getting inducted this year). So many awesome anthems. And I bought a great t-shirt to boot.

A sidenote: After drinking a few too many beers that night, my buddy and I headed over to the Lumberyard II for a little post-show entertainment. I just want to say this to the strippers of the world: Picking your music? Shouldn’t be that difficult. Hair metal or ’90s R&B. Just keep it simple, ladies. It ain’t hard.

IMG_3372Foo Fighters (Sprint Center in Kansas City, August)

Just one of the shows that you always imagine a rock concert will be like when you’re 12 and haven’t been to a rock concert before.

IMG_3434I have friends who rag and rag about Dave Grohl and his overexposure. It’s tiresome. And it makes my head spin so much that it’s impossible to gather and articulate my thoughts on the matter (check out this piece that Chris wrote almost over four years ago, then check my counterpoint in the comments. And Chris wrote this BEFORE he was just starting to truly usurp Bono’s roll as media-appointed rock ambassador… his roll has only gotten bigger since then).

But anyone who tries to say the Foo Fighters are not one of, if not THE best, arena-rock bands in the world is crazy. This night was a tour de force.

I went to this show with T-Dub and it was a classic T-Dub and Vodka Bob outing. More than a few frosty beverages. Screaming every lyric, including the end bridge of “Monkey
Wrench.” Making friends with total strangers. There was the
IMG_3461purple-t-shirt guy. There was the beautiful girl in the checkered dress. The dudes in the Cinderella t-shirts (by the way, we weren’t ripping on you … we actually do worship at the altar of Tom Keifer, guys!). We invited one woman who was partying hard and her sister from Idaho out for post-gig drinks … unfortunately, I really don’t remember a whole lot about this or anything after (I do remember asking Miss Idaho if she liked shopping malls, because I remembered a line in Adventures in Babysitting when the kids in the movie asked the guy who carjacked the car they were sitting in to please drop them off at the nearest mall and the carjacker said “where do y’all think we are – Boise, Idaho?”). I think I asked for her number and she did give it to me (I’ve never used it), but she didn’t tell me her last name. I think she made the right call.

Anyway, I woke up the next day and start checking the receipts in my pocket. It was all worth it.

X (Wooly’s in Des Moines, August)

IMG_3546One of my favorite movies of all time is The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years (why Penelope Spheeris has never done a “Where Are They Now” follow-up on the London dudes, the Wet Cherri guy, the guy with the one-side-bleach-blonde/one-side-blue-black hair, and Randy O. from Odin, I’ll never know. I mean, I REALLY want to know, for real).

Anyway, The Metal Years came out when I was 15, and after that, I was obsessed with seeing Part 1. For 25 years, I tried seeing it. I tried renting it everywhere. Never had it. Out of print. I started checking every used video store. No luck. Any time the TV guide said it would be on, I set the timer and it ALWAYS ended up being The Metal Years. No dice.

Finally, this year, the red tape finally got cleared up and the entire Decline of Western Civilization trilogy got released on Blu-ray. Part 1, for the uninitiated, is a deep dive into the L.A. punk scene of the early ’80s – The Germs, Circle Jerks, Fear and Black Flag, most predominantly. But X, with that infusion of rockabilly, stood out to me.

Skeet and I loved it. Doe rocks. Exene Cervenka kinda looks like a crazy Muppet these days, but still had me in the palm of her hand.

Plus, I didn’t want to think of John Doe as just the guy that said, “that guy at the end of the bar is fuckin’ Dalton, man.” Glad I went.

Beach House (The Pageant in St. Louis, September)

IMG_3711Chris already covered the specifics of this show well. I was just disappointed that he left out the late-night driving playlists I utilized to keep myself occupied while he slumbered … an ‘80s New Wave that featured Erasure, Duran Duran, Bananarama, The Dream Academy (twice!), Berlin, Bow Wow Wow, Romeo Void, Kajagoogoo, Simple Minds … I could go on and on, but it wasn’t until “Perfect Way” by Scritti Politti came on that he finally said, “Can we listen to something else, please?”

Then, on the way home, it was Vol. 4 of my essential “Anson Thrash” series, with enough Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Motorhead, Venom, Death Angel, Coroner, Forbidden, Sacred Reich, Overkill and Death to satisfy any knuckle-dragging, wastoid, headbanging degenerate like myself.

He didn’t say it (he was dozing), but I know he was impressed.

Not even gonna attempt a Top 10 for 2015 list …

… but I will say goodbye to a couple of dudes that meant a whole hell of a lot to me.

It was a good year. See you in 2016 … I mean, I hope I don’t fall asleep for another eight months.

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Best albums of 2014: No. 11-20 (with playlist!)

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we start with our individual picks for #11-20, with playlists sampling each group of 10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19th.

Todd’s #11-20

20. Alt-J, This Is All Yours

19. Craft Spells, Nausea

18. Bully, Bully EP

17. Future Islands, Singles

16. Pixies, Indie Cindy

15. Dum Dum Girls, Too True

14. St. Vincent, St. Vincent

13. I Break Horses, Chiaroscuro

12. Warpaint, Warpaint

11. Hozier, Hozier

Chris’ #11-20

20. Jessie Ware, Tough Love

19. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness

18. The Raveonettes, Pe’ahi

17. Beck, Morning Phase

16. Phantogram, Voices

15. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun

14. Warpaint, Warpaint

13. Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso

12. Tune Yards, Nikki Nack

11. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

From the MoSS? Pit: Riot Fest 2014

A staple at these festivals, Social Distortion failed to disappoint.

A staple at these festivals, Social Distortion failed to disappoint. (UNLESS YOU’RE A CURE FAN AND SOCIAL D RUNS LONG AND TAKES AWAY THE CURE’S ENCORE TIME! FUCKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!)

 

(Chris and Sam both attended Riot Fest Chicago. Below you’ll find their takes. Sam’s is up first; you can jump to Chris’ by clicking here.)

SAM

I won’t bury the lead: I’d like to announce my retirement from the three-day music festival. I just don’t think I can do it anymore. My poor back and feet can no longer take it. And if I was on the fence, Mother Nature made sure I came to a decision right then and there at the beginning of Riot Fest 2014.

Friday was pure hell. It was butt cold and rained almost all day, making the next two days (which actually had pretty damn near-perfect weather) pretty insufferable, too, because of the mudpit it created throughout Humboldt Park. I ended up wearing the same pair of pants all three days of the festival because I didn’t feel the need to ruin a whole gaggle of clothes. Hey, I guess a cheap bottle of Old Spice Swagger actually DOES have some value.

And somehow someway, my shoes actually survived … but let’s pause and pay respect to the towels at the low budget Howard Johnson’s we stayed at that had to make the ultimate sacrifice for my feet. They will be missed.

I didn’t get to see Slayer (seriously, that sucked), the Dandy Warhols, or Cheap Trick. Same with the Flaming Lips. The set-up kept me from properly enjoying Tegan and Sara, Television, and Patti Smith. The curse of the festival: Not getting to see everyone you want. Ugh.

Plus, there was plenty to complain about logistically, as my compatriots and Riot Fest veterans Skeet, T-Dub, Seany, and Chris (not MoSS? Chris … I’ll call this Chris Mr. Cool from now on) continually reaffirmed to me all weekend long.

But if this is my festival swan song (and I have no reason to think it won’t be … in my seven straight years of Lollapaloozas and now Riot Fest, I’ve seen almost everything I can possibly think of), I think the music of Riot Fest 2014 will make it a proper send-off.

(I ain’t even touching The Cure, OK? My MoSS? cohort Chris camped out all 10 hours of Day 3 and was rewarded with a prime front row spot not only for his favorite band of all time but other sets by Superchunk, Tegan and Sara, and Patti. In addition, he spent more time on the stage’s big screen than Robert Smith himself. I’ll just let him tell that tale.)

Let’s not waste time here … MASTODON!!!

Mastodon makes everything betters.

Mastodon makes everything better.

 

Riot Fest is pretty much known as a punk rock festival. And there’s plenty of punk rock I love. But I’m much more metal. I prefer killer riffs to anthemic choruses.

And when it comes to metal in 2014, it begins and ends with Mastodon. They’re the gold standard. Yes, there’s plenty of doom and gloom in their music. But with his jovial preening and crowd banter, bassist/co-frontman Troy Sanders showed that metal is super fucking fun, too. It reminded me of those old videos of Ozzy bouncing up and down with a shit-eating grin on his face while singing sinister songs like “Children of the Grave” and “Black Sabbath” in the California sun in the ’70s. And when lead guitarist/co-frontman Brent Hinds screeched the hook of “Blasteroid,” I would’ve needed plastic surgery to remove the shit-eating grin off of MY face.

And the riffs? Praise Jesus. The crowd went nuts when they tore into “Oblivion,” with the differing tempos and three different vocal sections (Sanders on the bridges, Hinds on the hooks, with drummer Brann Dailor tackling the verses ). It was just perfection across the board. The only thing that sucked is that they didn’t play longer.

Mastodon was my priority of the festival. Hands down. And they did not disappoint. In fact, all the shit on the opening day of the festival – the rain, the cold, the fucking mud, the smell, the congested walkways, the hampered VIP shit –was worth it, because Mastodon rocked my ass off.

Now the bad …

Hey, Riot Fest … fuck you!

Fuck you for making me choose between Slayer and Jane’s Addiction. Seriously, fuck you right in the ear.

In my life, I’ve seen them both an equal amount of times. So it became a question of hearing Reign In Blood start to finish or hearing Nothing’s Shocking start to finish. Both in my all-time top ten list. Not an easy choice. After Mastodon blew my doors off on the same stage, I was prepared to just stay put for Slayer. My hometown pals (and friends and colleagues of MoSS?) Chris, Travis and Annie were already there and I would’ve had a kick-ass spot. But because of the getting-home scenarios with my travelmates in the shitty weather and my unfamiliarity with the area, I ventured back to the other side of the park to find them for Jane’s … just as Slayer took the stage and tore into “Disciple.” I cursed under my breath the whole way over there like a kid with Tourette’s.

Jane’s? Yeah, they sounded great. Love that album. I could see them every day and never get sick of them. That said, I wish I would’ve stayed for Slayer … especially since my festmates took off without me anyway and left me in the middle of nowhere with no previous frame of reference for getting back to the hotel. But just as I was venturing into a pretty sketchy part of Chicago looking for solutions (I was probably a half a block away from getting my throat slit for 25 cents), I serendipitously ran into Annie, Travis and Chris again on the street in a crowd and we shared a cab back downtown. So yeah, guys, thanks for saving my ass. Drinks on me at Van Etten next month.

No seriously, Riot Fest … fuck you!!

For years, all I’ve heard about from my oft-returning friends is how much better Riot Fest is when you get VIP. Well, I got VIP the year they expanded to five stages and changed the layout. My pals were NOT pleased. In fact, they apologized to ME afterward.

Yeah, there were some perks. It helped to be able to take a piss without waiting in line. And I can’t front … the drink tickets were a plus. I’ll admit that. I got 12 drink tickets right off the bat, while the commoners had to spend $7 a beer all festival long. In fact, when I told Annie, Travis and Chris – who were serfs to my VIP – about the tickets, Annie did express some envy.

But for me, I bought VIP for sightlines. And there was nothing special about them. I had to stand out in the crowd with the cretins if I wanted even remotely a good spot for the bands.

Now, I did hear secondhand that if the weather had cooperated, there would have been a VIP path between stages avoiding all the congestion on the walkways that hampered everything. But those flooded almost immediately on Friday and were never opened. And I’ll never know if this also applied to the spots to stand and watch, too.

So, Riot Fest, I’m sure you meant well, but that’s did me no good. So suck it.

BEES!!!

The best part of the weather and the mud pit, besides the smell and piles of destroyed shoes, of course? Everybody spent all of Saturday and Sunday under siege by bees. I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie. It’s a miracle I never got stung.

OK, now the music …

After 15 years, the Dubs are finally off the hook

It only took 15 years, but I saw Face To Face

It only took 15 years, but I saw Face To Face

In 1999, I bought a ticket to see Face To Face at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was back when I was a working a grueling schedule as a high school sports reporter and hadn’t had a day off in weeks. I needed this. Bought a ticket. Told my boys T-Dub and Skeet, who were also going. It was all set up. Except it wasn’t, because the assholes went without me. To this day, they swear we never had that conversation. They should know better than to test my memory, but whatever.

Well, after waiting a generation, I finally saw Face To Face on Saturday. Dare I say, it was worth the wait. You see, I like my punk rock heavy. A lot of it is actually quite bright and a little thin, which gets covered up by hooks that get shouted and chanted endlessly. But Face To Face’s riffs can be a little dirty. Crunchy. They speak my language. Two of my favorite punk records – Don’t Turn Away and Big Choice – are both Face To Face records. Fifteen years after I got left behind, I finally got to see “Disconnected” live.

So I forgive you, Dubs. Don’t let it happen again.

Banner says it all ...

Banner says it all …

When it comes to punk rock, the Brits still do it best

I started the festival with the Stiff Little Fingers, from Belfast. Excellent. On Saturday, I watched the Buzzcocks, from England. Very strong. Caught a solo set by Paul Weller of The Jam. I was hoping for more old Jam songs, but it was still a solid outing. Hell, I even caught London vets Cock Sparrer while I was waiting for the Descendents. They were still super tight. I’m telling you: don’t fuck with our motherland, everybody. They’ve still got it.

Oh, there’s some great new punk rock, too

Check out the Menzingers. And PUP. For sure. PUP’s riffing had some serious balls. Highly recommended.

The ‘90s was the greatest era of rock ever, and it was well represented

Super happy to have caught this set by Superchunk.

Super happy to have caught this set by Superchunk.

Just because the surviving giants like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails weren’t there, Riot Fest found a few bands for the fans seeking some nostalgia. I caught a fantastic set by cult faves Superchunk with Chris (at the top of his Cure campout – I still don’t know if he made it through the day without eating, drinking, or peeing, as that stage filled up almost immediately after I left. If he did, kudos). I somehow missed the Dandy Warhols (sad face), but have it on good authority they were on point.

And even the rap was better in the ‘90s? Proof in point: Wu-TANG, Wu-TANG. The RZA was holding court on Saturday, yo. And with them, I’ve been lucky enough to see the majority of the Mount Rushmore of my rap fandom live, joining Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest (it’s impossible to see NWA without Eazy-E, so Ice Cube, I’m coming for ya).

On Friday, with rain and mud becoming a real issue, I was still unfamiliar with the layout of the park. There was no fucking way I was jeopardizing my shot at seeing Mastodon so I took the time to walk the routes. By doing that, I caught a few songs by Clutch (bottom heavy yet hook-y … a good combo), bookended on both sides by a few songs by Failure, a band I was never that familiar with before but I found myself really kind of enjoying them. Pretty damn heavy, technical, drony, almost prog. I found myself kinda wanting to check out their stuff when I got home. But they might not have been the right fit for that snotty, punky Riot Fest contingent. Speaking of which …

NOFX? Yeah, those guys are dicks

Failure wasn’t finished for more than five seconds on the Riot Stage when NOFX took the neighboring Roots Stage and frontman Fat Mike started berating the shit out of them for sucking. In fact, they wasted a ton of their set with stage banter insulting the crowd and the other bands on the bill, managing to fit their seminal 1994 album Punk In Drublic around it (I haven’t been able to confirm from anyone if they actually played the whole thing as they were supposed to as part of the festival’s “10 Essential Albums” series). But apparently being dicks is their thing, because their fans eat it up (believe me when I say I have decades of experience gathering intel on this matter), so more power to them.

I took off early to get my spot for Mastodon, but I did hear that when they went were in danger of going over their allotted time and told they only had time for one more song, they launched into “The Decline” – yeah, the song that’s its own EP, clocking in at over 18 minutes. When they got cut off early, Fat Mike announced “you’re the first people to hear three-fourths of ‘The Decline.’ See ya later.”

Yeah, with stunts like that, I can see why punks love them.

The other white whale I caught? DESCENDENTS!!!

The first two albums I bought as a University of Iowa student? One was M.O.D.’s U.S.A. for M.O.D. – undoubtedly the best album ever recorded that contain the lyrics “What a fucking beast/Her ass alone would be a feast.” The other was the Descendents’ incredible retrospective Somery. Played it endlessly. Probably my favorite piece of punk rock of all time.

Never got the chance to see them live before. Until Saturday.

As part of the “10 Essential Albums” series … I mean, when I think of the concept of hearing a band play one of its albums from start to finish, my brain expects to hear something like Dark Side of the Moon. Well, the SoCal veterans played their 1982 debut Milo Goes To College. We’re talking about “Myage.” “Suburban Home.” “Bikeage.” Those are some heavy hitters.

But still, yeah, it took all of about 20 minutes. You know what? Not a problem.

Because in reality, it felt like they tore through the majority of Somery. I can’t think of anything I wanted to hear but didn’t (well, except “Sour Grapes,” I guess). I got “Clean Sheets.” “Silly Girl.” “Weinerschnitzel.” “Get The Time.” I was happy.

And they actually sound lo-fi live. That’s not an insult, by the way. Actually, quite the compliment. They were fucking awesome.

A post script that must be documented for generations to come…

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My friends? Can drink. A lot. Like Vikings, in fact. That’s selling them short, actually. I mean, you know the tales of Vikings pounding stein after stein of mead at the Festival of the Vernal Equinox? Yeah, well, my boys make those Vikings look like 14-year-old girls trying wine coolers for the first time at a high school kegger.

As the t-shirt says, "Drink Malort or fuck off."

As the t-shirt says, “Drink Malort or fuck off.”

When we got to town on Thursday, we went out for a quick cocktail to start the weekend. Or so I thought, until the bartender brought us a tab 90 minutes later for $280, a Herculean effort in day drinking … and it was only Thursday. In what can only be described as a truly heroic intake of cocktails, Mr. Cool inhaled 12 Miller Lites the way normal people inhale … I don’t know, oxygen? Needed to be seen to be believed.

And T-Dub? He was Don Draper in a pair of Vans with his partaking of the Old Fashioneds . But I think Mr. Draper, the pussy, would’ve needed Mrs. Blankenship to hold his calls all day afterward as he napped on his office couch. For Dub, it was just Friday.

Hey, we were on vacation!

CHRIS

FRIDAY

Fueled up the Equinox. Hit Iowa City. Grabbed pear cider for Denise, my favorite Chicago host; she doesn’t consume gluten, hence the fancy pear juice. Picked up Travis, Annie, and a guy we’ll call, um, “Roger”. Listened to Descendents. Annie hated it, or perhaps just my singing. Avoided the traffic by rolling into Chicago at 2 a.m. Crashed for a few hours. Met Denise for lunch, ate my weight in tortilla chips. Rode in a cab driven by a guy named Lemmy. He ripped us off AND he listened to Backstreet Boys; obviously not the Lemmy of “Ace of Spades” fame.

Rain. Not heavy, but its persistence was characteristic of Chinese water torture. But not nearly as tortuous as the douche canoe behind us as we lined up to get beer tickets. Guy turned a Clash song into his own personal protest song. (“Beer riot! A beer riot! Beer riot! Riot for some beer!”) Yes, I’ve written out the lyrics; no, you can’t understand the fullness of the suck unless you were there. But go ahead, imagine how stupid it sounded. Annie and I played rock/paper/scissors to see who got to kill him, or we should have. Beer selection also sucked. Dos Equis Amber is the best you can do? Or Newcastle Brown Ale? Is an IPA too hipster and/or passe these days? But hey no PBR so hooray.

This was HEAVY FUCKING METAL DAY. So why not start with Gwar. But not too close; I was wearing a snazzy button-down shirt and didn’t feel like wearing “my” poncho to fend off the blood. (“My” is in quotes because it was a borrowed poncho, and I’ll just leave it at that.) Those guys are funny, even if they killed a Robert Smith parody. If the real Robert was on stage, those goofballs wouldn’t step to him, I GUARANTEE IT.

Clutch played next. Think my dad would have dug their set. Seriously. Bluesy, definitely his speed. If you know my dad, you’ll know that I’m not dissing Clutch. They weren’t incredible or anything, but good stuff.

Rain coming harder. Mastodon coming hardest. HOLY SHIT those guys were great. Owned the stage. And we had good spots. Common theme on Friday. Not sure if it was the rain or the workday or the shorter schedule but it wasn’t terribly crowded. This would change.

Biggest conflict of the festival was upon us: Slayer vs. Jane’s Addiction. I hadn’t seen either one before (unless you count Porno for Pyros, but that would be silly). Both were playing landmark albums front-to-back. But this was HEAVY FUCKING METAL DAY, and this was Slayer, and this was Reign in Blood, so really it wasn’t as tough as it first seemed on paper.

Slayer played the song that my wife LOOOOOOOOVES, “Disciple.” Sarcasm, of course. She once yelled at me for listening to it. “On a Sunday, no less!” Hilarious. God hates us all. Played a few more choice tracks, including “War Ensemble,” which made me think of Sam’s air-guitar antics at our first post-college job in M-Town. Kerry King ain’t got shit on Sambob. Then “Angel of Death” to “Raining Blood,” in one fell swoop. Travis and I provided great vocal accompaniment. There’s only one way out of here…PIECEBYPIECE! DO YOU WANNA DIE?!? I HAVE YET ONLY JUST BEGUN TO TAKE YOUR FUCKING LIFE! (devil horn hand gesture!!!!) One person in front of us commented how cute we were or something. Not very metal of her.

The music ends. The line for taxis begins. The rain continues. The cold gets colder. Taxis don’t come for 45 minutes or so before we finally started walking in search of a ride, which we found eight blocks away on Damen. But the wait was divine intervention, perhaps, as we reconvened with Sam and got him back to his hotel safe and sound (unless the cabbie did something impure/unseemly to Sam after we got out). Food run to nearby Walgreens. Muddy footwear left in the hallway. My socks were quarantined to a pocket of my suitcase. Jeans in rough shape but they’re going back on tomorrow. First day done. Fuck yeah.

(My gang hung together for most of Friday, although Denise missed the rainy day entirely thanks to being a responsible job holder and all that. So not much third-person post-script this time. I will say this of our pre-festival shopping trip: H&M has reasonably priced apparel.)

SATURDAY

Denise with us today; no more of that work stuff for her. More direct cab ride to Division. Found some good breakfast eats (read: chocolate chip pancakes) a few blocks from the park. Arrived at Humboldt to find a line longer than Bill Ennis-Inge’s junk (too obscure?) and a lot of bees. Annie and I would duke it out all weekend long to see who would deliver the best bee puns. I would say I won Saturday. Orderly punks seems odd and it didn’t last forever; eventually we swarmed the gates. We missed the Pizza Underground due to the wait. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but I would have taken a free slice from Macaulay Culkin.

7 Seconds in a swamp of mud: pretty cool. Buzzcocks on more steady ground: awesome. Television while chilling under some trees about 100 yards from the stage: relaxing.

Left the punk scene and headed over to Riot Stage. Die Antwoord. I’d previously only thought of them in terms of gimmicky nonsense; now I think they’re a lot of fun, at least live. Freaky but I liked them a lot. Still, those haircuts are fucked.

Jeans were struggling at this point. Grabbed some sliders and nachos and found a quite area to feast. Went back to Riot/Roots stage area to watch Wu Tang Clan, who still claim they are nothin’ to fuck wit. I might beg to differ. I mean, I wouldn’t step to them, but the music is not beyond reproach. Left after a few songs, leaving Denise alone to later get dragged through the mud during Metric by some crazed kid. Bag contents strewn about the mud. Figures the one HUGE Metric fan would have to run by D.

I wanted front-row action for Descendents. Sat through the last few songs of Get Up Kids, then swam upstream against the fleeing flock of emo kids to get a spot on right side of stage. Cock Sparrer played on nearby stage; not bad. Milo comes out with backpack, ready to go back to college.

Band spends first 20-some minutes playing Milo Goes to College. Then knocks out probably 15 more songs after that. I sang damn near every word while holding on for dear life. Hadn’t been in crowd action like that in many a year. Couldn’t breathe against the gate a couple of times, still sang my heart out. Inner nerd came flying out with fist pumps galore. “I’m not a cool guy anymore//As if I ever was before.” Milo even came down to the rail so that the fans could sing; found the mic in my face. What fun. Got quite a workout passing crowd surfers over rail to security staff. Felt half my age in the moment but twice my age by night’s end/the next morning…sore as hell. Hardly any voice left; so what.

Despite that, I still sounded better than Danzig did with Samhain, which immediately followed Descendents on nearby stage. Fucker was out of breath by second song, even though he wasn’t being smashed against iron by a crowd of hundreds. They were horrible.

Learned our lesson about waiting around Humboldt for a cab. Walked down Division, grabbed huge slices of pizza, found a cab. Damen is the place to find a cab in that area. Got to Denise’s, threw away jeans. Put on different pants. Annie, Travis, and I hit a bar near Denise’s apartment, first stopping to get some cash and discuss the amazing nature of palindromes. Annie kept referencing “racecar” while I helpfully added “boob” and “tit.” Jukebox was rockin some country…until I played Slayer’s “Postmortem.” One guy across the way nodded in approval. Drunk ladies seemed oblivious. One such lady soon found the floor. I went to play more Slayer but some dude had put in 16 credits and was going to town picking Van Morrison tunes—an upgrade from Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon,” I suppose, but that seemed to be our cue to GTFO. Back to Denise’s to crash. Second pair of socks quarantined. Still had manic energy from Descendents set but somehow fell asleep. That’s one comfy ass egg cushion on Denise’s sofa sleeper.

(Stuff I missed: everyone else was raving about Flaming Lips; the fact that the power went out early just added to the legendary moment. Travis and Annie got a cool selfie with Wayne in bubble above them. Roger agreed with my Samhain summation: sucked. Annie had a good day catching Orwells, Dandy Warhols, and Tokyo Police Club. Wish I could have worked in Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas.)

SUNDAY

No one was worried about arriving too early. Slept in, grabbed delicious burger at Parlor, which just opened two days prior. Annie built an insurmountable lead in the “bee pun” game; one landed in her mimosa and she quickly observed, “That bee’s sure getting a buzz.” GAME OVER, although she made some other comment later about making a bee-line for something, piling on for good measure. Cabbie was playing King Sunny Ade and Bob Marley on way to Humboldt; our best taxi soundtrack yet. Punks learned to say “fuck waiting in line” or else we just got there late enough that most people were already in the park. Took a piss and prepared for my endurance test. Went over to Riot Stage, where the Cure would be playing to close out the fest, and caught Kurt Vile and the Violators. Set got over around 2:15, I plowed my way to the front rail. I would be staying there until the Cure played the final note of the set at 10:00. No food, no water, no bathroom break. Mind over body. I was about 25 feet from where Robert Smith would be standing so it was mission accomplished as far as I was concerned.

And it’s not like I just stood there staring at walls for the next five hours. I had great views of Superchunk (fun as hell) and Tegan and Sara (really great set) and Patti Smith (surpassed my expectations). When our stage was quiet, the nearby stage featured the music of Billy Bragg, Naked Raygun, Dropkick Murphys, and Social Distortion (who played a few minutes long and fucked up the Cure’s encore…more on that later). Sam hung out with me during Superchunk and I was surrounded by friendly Cure diehards—I wasn’t the only one willing to sit tight for the entire day. The woman on my right was surprised to learn I was going to stay there through the Cure; she figured with my Paddy cap and Donnelly’s Pub t-shirt, I would be sprinting over to Dropkick Murphys.

I counted five people hauled out of the crowd after passing out for one reason or another. The first one happened right at my feet during Tegan and Sara. Security couldn’t quite reach him, and seeing as many a member of the T&S audience belong to the small teenage female demographic, I had to do some serious heavy lifting to get the guy over the gate. Once again I felt it was proper to chalk it up as even more exercise.

Patti Smith was encouraging an overthrow of pretty much everything in between her rockin’ renditions of her tunes. I was more impressed with the ferocity of her music than the rally cries but whatever. She was not afraid to be confrontational with songs like “Rock n Roll Nigger.” I went into the set thinking it would be an interesting novelty act but I was genuinely impressed. Denise was not impressed. AT ALL. She had worked her way up, getting within about two or three “rows” of me at the front, but the diehards were not letting her through, even after I confirmed that she was with me. I was bummed, but at the same time, I get it.

Cure was supposed to go on at 7:45 but fucking Social D was still playing. They went over by five minutes. Not a big deal, one might say, but it was to us. Anyway, Social D shuts the fuck up finally, fog machine in high gear, intro music from the Wish era comes over speakers, the lads come out, and I swear to fucking god Robert locks eyes with me momentarily and gives me a hint of a nod. I know I sound 14 instead of 40 with that sentence but it’s an honest assessment of the moment so I’m sticking with it.

What is undisputed: I’m in the front row at a Cure show.

The first half of the set was really nice. “Open” led into “Fascination Street.” The latter is the one song I recorded on my phone; the video below will give you a glimpse of my view. And yeah, you can hear my finest Robert Smith singing voice on this vid.

One of my favorite “album tracks,” “Push” from The Head on the Door, was played fourth, followed by the sing-along keyboard line in “Play for Today” and the simple-yet-ominous tones of “A Forest.” As you can hear around 10:22 of the embedded video below, I unleashed a timely scream of “SIMON!!!!” just before he plays the closing notes of “A Forest.” I knew I gave it a good belt, confirmed by being picked up by some other guy’s video.

Simon Gallup is age-defying; at 54 he has more energy than rockers half his age. It’s no wonder I once named my cat after him, because he rules. (So did my cat…RIP.)

The second half of the set featured a few of the overly poppy songs that I enjoy (“Close to Me,” “The Walk”) and some that I could do without (“Mint Car,” “Friday I’m in Love”) but it’s a festival so there’s no sense brooding about not hearing 23 deep cuts. And truth be told, the pop songs are quite good but just not my favorite side of the Cure. But toward the end we got “One Hundred Years,” which is as punishing as pretty much anything played throughout the festival.

So the band finishes “End” right at 10:00. Robert says thank you (or, you know, “Q!”) and then looks at us and shrugs and walks off. Photo of the setlist reveals that they were going to come back out and play a one-song, four-minute encore: “Give Me It,” a great song from The Top that would have satisfied the diehards, but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, fucking Social D had to run long and fuck it up, since Chicago has a very strict noise ordinance that cuts off the music at 10:00. Lot of whining from fans around me, mainly because they didn’t get to hear “Boys Don’t Cry,” which it turns out they weren’t going to play anyway. Ha. Still, while not the perfect setlist, the performance was top-notch and my front row spot was amazing. Worth not consuming or excreting anything for eight hours.

Stopped at the same pizza joint from the night before. Left my knapsack there…goodbye awesome gray Paddy cap. Would have cost three times the retail value to take a cab there and back, as I only realized the loss once we were back at Denise’s. Third pair of socks quarantined. Lou Mitchell’s breakfast in the morning before returning to our Iowa reality.

(Stuff I missed: the gang applauded Primus. Annie and Denise enjoyed Weezer. Denise HATED Patti Smith—did I mention that already? It needs to be noted twice. HATED HER. Dropkick Murphys made people happy.)

My top 5 of the weekend:

5. Die Antwoord

4. Mastodon

3. Slayer

2. The Cure

1. Descendents

Honorable mention to Buzzcocks and Patti Smith.

If this mega-sized version of Riot Fest irons out some wrinkles (the park layout was horrible; a couple of scheduling conflicts seemed unforgivable), I think I’d go to this as long as I’m physically able (and as long as my wife keeps letting me go to these things). Maybe I can make it long enough that The Next Generation could go with me…a dad can dream.

(Jump back up to Sam’s recap)