My 2015 Yearbook (will you sign it?)

chris and travis after seeing death grips

JUNE: Chris and Travis survived Death Grips. No small feat.

2015 was my quietest year in terms of blogging since Todd and I started Music or Space Shuttle? in late 2011, but it’s not for lack of outstanding experiences around music. The blogging part of my brain just got really lazy.

But after the holidays ran their course, I looked back at the great music that came out in ’15, and the various photos and videos I shot at concerts big and small, and decided I should package it all together. Even if no one else looks at this, it will serve to remind myself just how much fun it is to stay up late for a weeknight show in Iowa City or drive a few hours to St. Louis for a wonderful night at the Pageant or join up with my Riot crew to make Chicago our home for a few days to do a proper festival.

January 20
Bjork, the band formerly known as Viet Cong, and Sleater-Kinney all decide to drop new music on us. The Bjork album is beautiful; the Viet Cong release is brutal (in a great way); the Sleater-Kinney album didn’t suck as I feared it might and landed on my top 10 of 2015 at #7.

February 10
I did not like Fleet Foxes. At all. But I kinda like what this Father John Misty guy is doing on his own. Yeah. His latest LP, I Love You, Honeybear, held much more than the SiriusXMU staple “Bored in the USA.” “Chateau Lobby #4” and “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” and “The Ideal Husband” are personal favorites, but really it’s an album you can enjoy front to back (even the electronic song grew on me). By year’s end, I rated it #3 among 2015 releases.

 

sleater kinney in concert

Once they went on hiatus, Sleater-Kinney was one of those “never saw ’em live” bands. Until 2015. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

February 13
You know those lists you make if you’re a nerd? One of those lists is “Bands I Never Got to See, Goddammit” and mine is painful to read. (The Nirvana entry is the worst.) But here’s the thing: in 2015, I got to cross off a couple of names. The first one: Sleater-Kinney, who played a pretty-close-to-dream setlist at the Slowdown (a pretty cool club in Omaha). Janet pounded her kit, Carrie punctuated her riffs with amazing high leg kicks, and Corin’s voice was in good form. To my surprise they played one of my favorite S-K songs (“Oh!”), and the songs that sounded so good on the new album also sounded great live. And “Dig Me Out” was so great.

March 16
Kendrick Lamar drops To Pimp a Butterfly. I immediately liked “Alright,” and also found plenty to like throughout the lenghty LP. Is it OK that I prefer good kid m.A.A.d city, though? Not trying to take a hipster stance here; I just find myself listening to more songs from the previous album when I want to queue up some Kendrick. (Tobias Jesso Jr. put out Goon a day later. Not as good as TPAB, but good all the same.)

March 19(ish)
Jenny Death, the second part of Death Grips’ double album The Powers That B, leaks online. I’m sure I waited until the album was officially released at month’s end to obtain these songs. Anyway, I put Jenny Death at #10 on my top albums of 2015 list.

March 24
Courtney Barnett will be a 2016 entry in the “From the MoSS? Pit” series; Sam, Travis, and our friend Ian from the Riot Fest crew are joining me at First Avenue in April 2016 to see her do her thing. (I swear I’m going to get better about timely posts about concerts.) We will all be enjoying songs from the album she put out on this day, which ended up at #4 on my top albums of 2015 list.

April 2
Mission Creek show #1: Real Estate. I’d seen them the year before at Pitchfork, and the venue (outdoors, summer) and the time of day (late afternoon, sun lazily going down) were perfect for the band’s aesthetic. But they put on a nice nighttime show in the Englert Theatre, as it turns out. Their sound is so clean, so pure. Nice way to open my trifecta of 2015 Mission Creek shows, and it was the lone show of the festival that brought together me, my MoSS? boys Todd and Sam, and our honorary MoSS? brother Travis.

April 3
Mission Creek show #2: Shovels & Rope. This was year 2 of what might be an annual tradition, if Mission Creek keeps up its booking pattern: me and my bestie Sondra taking in the Friday night Englert show. (She went to Sleigh Bells while 8.5 months pregnant…that’s concert cred I don’t think I could attain even if I had the proper lady parts.) The first year it was The Head and the Heart, which we both looked forward to with crazy anticipation. This time around, though, neither of us were all that familiar with S&R (read: I glanced at their bio, listened to a couple of tracks online, figured Sondra would like them, bought the tickets). I think I can speak for the both of us in saying that S&R cleared the high bar set by Head/Heart. Those two are pure joy on stage (and, as we plunged into their discography, on record, too) and clearly enjoy making music together (and human beings, as it was announced that Cary Ann Hearst was pregnant). It might take a reunited Civil Wars to raise the stakes in 2016…

April 5
Mission Creek show #3: Father John Misty with opener King Tuff. OK, so the opening act set off the fire alarm when the singer’s leather jacket met up with the stage pyrotechnics, and yet King Tuff was easily the SECOND-hottest act to grace the Englert stage that night. Josh Tillman has it goin’ on, folks. He pretty much owned the room with his soulful vocals, slinky moves, and damn great songs. Even the cheesy neon backdrop worked. I was comfortably seated about halfway back, which was probably good because his magnetic charm had quite the effect on fans closer to the stage. My ancedotal evidence: one of my former work colleagues ended up burying her face into his shirt. It’s funny, partly because this is totally a Brittany B move, but also because it conjured up imagery of Veronica wiping Jesus’ face, and is it any surprise that a Father John Misty moment would relate to religion somehow? Anyway, a great way to close 2015 Mission Creek; I think I would rate this show as my favorite MC show so far, ever.

May 29
Jamie xx releases In Colour, which, after much internal debate, emerged as my favorite album of 2015. For most of the final third of the year, I had Beach House’s Depression Cherry in the top spot, but in the end, I found myself more satisfied with the front-to-back listening experience In Colour provides. “Girl” and “Seesaw” are my two clear favorites, but there’s not a song on here that I feel like skipping when I put on the album. (Sure, I wouldn’t include the instrumental interludes if I were curating a mixtape, but within the context of the album, they too are fantastic.) I am aware that Jamie xx has been involved in my album of the year three times in the past seven (2009 and 2012 with the xx), and what can I say? They are absolutely genius, and Jamie perhaps stepped up as the mastermind behind the magic with this solo-branded effort.

 

tame impala in concert

Tame Impala was fuckin groovy live. Another killer show at the Pageant in STL. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

June 1
Tame Impala turns the Pageant in St. Louis into the coolest kaleidoscope ever. We (Travis and I) had nice seats in the center balcony, and we enjoyed some good pizza and beer across the street before the show. Every time I go to the Pageant, I leave wishing such a venue existed in Iowa City (its capacity of 2300 surpasses the Englert’s 725, and the Pageant sound is immaculate in my experiences) and, more importantly, that such a venue could receive proper support in Iowa City. Would 2,000 people show up for Tame Impala in Iowa City, especially if the show weren’t scheduled during the week of Mission Creek?

But this isn’t about the fact that I often have to drive more than 100 miles, sometimes 250, to see the bands I like. It’s about Tame Impala previewing tunes from its forthcoming third album and playing just about every one of my favorite songs from the first two LPs. Travis and I did have to snicker a bit about how seemingly all of Kevin’s lyrics reflect his inability to talk to/score with chicks, which we find highly suspect.

June 23
Kacey Musgraves releases Pageant Material, which lands at #5 on my best of 2015 list, and I nearly flipped a coin between this and Courtney Barnett for #4. The title track lyrics are arguably the most entertaining I heard all year. “Somebody to Love” is a very moving tune that sheds any cowgirl texture and replaces the vibe with a cool drone. And she puts on a hell of a show, which I got to experience later in 2015.

 

June 28
TRIPLE SIX FIVE FORKED TONGUE GET GET GET GET GOT GOT GOT GOT BORN WITH A SKI MASK ON MY FACE I’VE SEEN FOOTAGE I STAY NOIDED HUSTLE BONES COMING OUT MY MOUTH GRAB YOUR FUCKIN CHAIN AND DRAG YOU THROUGH THE PARKING LANE WHILE EVERYONE’S LIKE NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO VISITED TESLA’S GRAVE FOR THE NINTH TIME TODAY SPREAD EAGLE CROSS THE BLAWWWWWWCK UP MY SLEEVES UP MY SLEEVES I BREAK MIRRORS WITH MY FACE IN THE UNITED STATES HALF COCKED FULL TILT RABID DOG FILTH ARRRRGH KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING (FUCK IT) ANKLES TIED TO CINDER BLOCKS AYE AYE I’M BOUNCING IT GOES IT GOES IT GOES IT GOES GUILLOTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE YUH! YOU’RE FIT TO LEARN ABOUT THE MEANING OF A BEATDOWN MADNESS CHAOS IN THE BRAIN I WANT IT I NEED IT NEED IT TO MAKE ME FEEL HEATED

Yep. Death Grips showed up for a concert and atoned for any previous misses we’d experienced over the past three years. I’m usually too old to get in the mix these days, but yours truly turned back the years (and wore flip-flops like a dumbass…thankfully all my toes survived). Travis also attempted to bring beers into the chaos and I ended up wearing about 89% of my beverage…but it’s all good. Need to do it again soon.

July 16
Wilco puts out a free album that I download and never listen to, not once.

August 28
Beach House releases Depression Cherry, which nearly crossed the finish line in the lead but ended up settling for my #2 album of 2015. All the same, this album and the band’s impeccable back catalog did entice me into an all-nighter trip to STL to see the band live…more on that later.

 

big guitarist

I thought Prop Joe was back from the grave when I attended the Iowa Soul Festival. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

That night, I attend the Iowa Soul Festival in Iowa City to see Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. It’s raining pretty hard. I saw one act with a very large and very talented guitarist, and I heard the Dap-Kings do about five minutes before lightning decided to take over the Iowa skies. No Sharon Jones show for me. Drove home in torrential downpour. Can’t win ’em all.

 

kacey musgraves in concert

Usually I can’t take my real camera to concerts. River Roots Live…not a problem. I love this shot, almost as much as I like Kacey’s music. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

August 29
Family concert night! My better half and our son pile into our friends’ truck and hit River Roots Live over in the Quad Cities. It was $10 to get in (and I think the kids were free?), and Kacey Musgraves was headlining. BBQ stands lined the walkway, and our friends’ two children joined our boy in bouncy house tomfoolery before we all snagged good seats to see Kacey. She was on point, running through the lion’s share of the songs on her two albums. The beer prices actually weren’t bad compared with Riot Fest or Lolla, and the QC has a decent local craft beer selection that was available here. I probably exploited the relatively cheap beer prices to the point of being a bit off-kilter. The evidence of such inebriation existed in a video file (since erased, too bad) where you could clearly hear me “singing” along. Oh god, it was bad. And if you’ve ever seen me participate in karaoke night at the Red Lion in Cedar Rapids, you would know I have no shame.

But I did feel like my photo game was still on point. A photo similar to the one you see above currently sits framed in my basement, awaiting my eventual arrangement of a pop culture-themed room. Seeing as I’m putting out a 2015-in-review piece nearly a month into 2016, you can imagine how soon that room will come together.

 

four dorks at riot fest

My Riot Fest crew. We’re doing it again in 2016. Counting the days. (Photo by Ian Hall)

September 11-13
RIOT FEST. I loved the 2014 version, primarily because I was so excited to see one of the big bands each of the three nights (Slayer, Descendents, The Cure). But this year I found myself looking at three days packed with intriguing artists, rather than playing the waiting game until the headliners finally took the stage. The new location was a vast improvement on the 2014 park. Plus, our crew ended up renting a place that had a rooftop patio, a grill, and a hot tub. Much better than your typical hotel room, especially with six humans sharing the quarters.

DAY ONE: We start with Death, the stars of recent documentary A Band Called Death. These guys still got it, as do the next group we caught, Fishbone. I had seen them twenty-some years before, but I think the intensity level is the same. Angelo Moore was in fine form. Caught Living Colour from a distance, made sure to catch the obligatory “Cult of Personality” before moving along. I split off from the group at some point to catch Anthrax rather than seeing Faith No More. Mistake? If you ask Ian and Travis, yeah, as FNM topped their festival highlights. Instead, I got “Caught in a Mosh”…

IMG_0548While the rest of the crew caught Motorhead (R.I.P. Lemmy), I went over to see Ice Cube, who was reuniting with Ren and Yella to do some classic Straight Outta Compton tunes as part of his set. It was OK, I guess. They cut the songs short to eliminate Eazy’s verses rather than have someone else stand in. I think my favorite part of the set was getting this watercolor-looking photo of a dude’s mohawk standing tall among the smoke wafting through the crowd.

We tried in vain to get a cab. At one point we were outside a prison, so we asked one of the guards entering the facility if she knew if cabs trafficked this area. Her response: “You don’t want to get a cab around here.” Um, Uber? Can you come get us? (And within a minute, our Uber arrived. Nice.) The hot tub felt awesome.

DAY TWO: Was pleased to discover FIDLAR at this fest. They were a lot of fun, especially the part where one of the band members crowd-surfed and then upon returning to the stage was pretty much tackled by security, much to the puzzlement/anger of his bandmates. To be fair he did look like your average Riot Fest whippersnapper.

Travis and I checked out Swervedriver, although it was a tad depressing when we got there, like two minutes before the band was scheduled to go on, and yet we were able to get within a row of the front rail. I did think they were an odd booking compared with the rest of the bill, and it was an early set, but come on. Thankfully the place filled up to a respectable level once they started playing. I was happy with the music, anyway.

the damned

Captain Sensible (left) looking good as one would expect. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

Ran over to the other side of the park to catch Captain Sensible and the Damned. I kinda get Swervedriver being forced to play an early slot, but I really thought the Damned at Riot Fest would land a later, more high-profile spot. But oh well, I found myself a good spot on Sensible’s side of the stage and pogo’d around for an hour. Neat neat neat!

Then it was back to the other side again to meet up with the crew at Thurston Moore Band. It was cool to see Deb Googe play live again (not nearly as magical as the My Bloody Valentine show, but still…) as well as Thurston’s apparent hetero life partner Steve Shelley. Thurston got himself off for 45 minutes to mixed reviews (in other words, Rog hated it, Ian loved it, Trav liked/loved it, I was good with it).

fans young and old at Echo and the Bunnymen

Fans young and old dig Echo and the Bunnymen. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

After getting a bite to eat, we all watched Echo and the Bunnymen, which was fun for the whole family. Then Roger and I camped out on the Rancid side of the park, and got up in the mix when it was time for …And Out Come the Wolves, played in its entirety. It was a lot of fun to shout along with “Olympia, WA” and “Timebomb” and “Alleyways and Avenues” and “Ruby Soho” and “Roots Radical” and all the rest. And wouldn’t you know it, I once again ended up running into the Brothers Warden at a concert/festival. They also enjoyed the glory that is a Rancid pit.

I watched Iggy Pop and his hot dog skin from a distance to close out the night.

DAY THREE: After all the joking we’d done about bees at Riot Fest this year and the year previous, it finally came back to bite me…well, sting me, I guess. I caught a jab in the back during the De La Soul set. Pos, Dove, and Mace had us moving like crazy, which stirred up the bees, and one flew up the back of my shirt and couldn’t get out, so STING. I put on a brave face and didn’t complain about it (much).

Roger and I endured a horrible set by Kongos in order to sprint to the gate when the Kongos crowd dispersed. We had different motives, to a degree: I desperately wanted to be up close and personal for Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Rog was dead-set on front-and-center action for THE D (which I was excited about as well). We got up to the second row of people, and then a guy asked who was here to see Rod y Gab, and when I shouted “ME” he traded me his spot on the rail. And after some Kongos fans got picks and setlists or whatever, they vacated the rail and Rog was in. We were dead-fucking-center, and both Rod y Gab and THE D delivered. So worth sitting through that Kongos crap. We did pass the time high-fiving the crowd surfers who had been pulled over the rail one stage over during the Andrew WK set. I found a new way to amuse myself: every time I extended my hand for the five, I also yelled out, “YOU DID IT!” About half the time the person on the other end of the handslap was like “FUCK YEAH I DID DO IT!”; about 30 percent of the time, the person was all like “Um, thanks, wait, what?”; the other 20 percent were pretty much all “FUCK YOU, DICK.” It was fun.

rodrigo y gabriela

Two thrashers on acoustic guitars easily won over the Riot Fest crowd. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

If you’re not familiar with this duo, but you watched Breaking Bad, then you sorta know their music. Go listen to “Diablo Rojo” or “Vikingman” or their cover of Metallica’s “Orion”…or better yet, just go to YouTube and search for some of their live work. They like to cover thrash metal in their flamenco-inspired way, and they did just that at Riot Fest, with a medley of Metallica and Megadeth tunes. At one point, as Rodrigo took up a stance to give his strings a good workout, I yelled from the front row, “YEAH RODRRRRRRRRIGO!” and he looked down at me, gave me a slight nod, turned back to his fretboard, and went to town. I AM A FUCKING NERD BUT SO WHAT RODRIGO GAVE ME THE NOD!!!!!

tenacious d

KG and Jack in all their glory. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

So yeah, we had prime spots for Tenacious D, right next to a guy who pulled a Chris move (me in the third person, yep) and had been on the rail for eight hours waiting for The D. (I did that for the Cure in 2014.) It was a lot of fun, kicking off with “Tribute” and getting most every song you’d expect to hear, I suppose, although I really could have used a rendition of “Lee” somewhere in the set. And I had another interactive moment a la Rodrigo, this time with Jables. Song gets over, we’re all clapping, Jack looks down at the crowd, locks eyes with me. Now with Rodrigo, it all went smoothly, but I initiated that one. This time, I was put on the spot. And like a deer in headlights, I got run over.

I gave him a dorky smile and a big ol’ thumbs-up.

And he furrowed his brow, shrugged, made a face that you can only interpret as “um, okaaaayyyy,” and our moment ended. #isuck

tenacious d guitar pick

The pick of destiny, right?

But after The D played their final note and left the stage, one of the security staff, with whom we made conversation throughout the afternoon/evening between sets, scooped up a guitar pick KG had attempted to throw the crowd. The fans were losing their shit trying to get it, but he told the adoring masses, “Nope, I gotta hook up my guy right here,” and handed me the pick. He must have recognized me from Lolla 2013 and Riot 2014; I honestly did recognize him. The guy who had waited eight hours on the rail was choking back tears of agony when he saw the pick enter my grasp; it must have KILLED him to see me then give it to Rog, the true D disciple.

Then the Prodigy played to close out the night and we all went back to the pad and the next day we returned to our miserable lives. Although my co-workers couldn’t help but notice the post-Riot Fest mood enhancement, at least for a few days. I could tell they liked my stories a lot; I should be sure to nag them to read Music or Space Shuttle?!

September 25
Chvrches releases Every Open Eye, a solid follow-up to the beloved The Bones of What You Believe. Didn’t instantly grab me the way the debut did, but it was a “grower” that settled in at #8 on my best of 2015 list. I would go on to see them twice in the span of 15 days…with mixed results.

But the bigger news from this day…

ride performing live

Another “I’ll never see this band” band crossed off the list. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

RIDE. Todd and I trekked over to Chicago to see the shoegazers do their thing at the Riviera. To actually hear songs from Nowhere was a dream come true. “Seagull” might be the best live song I’ve ever experienced. So intense. Mixed in some great tracks from Going Blank Again and Chelsea Girl, along with the one really cool song from Tarantula. Blissfully shoegazed, Todd and I retreated to the ‘burbs and found a bar with like a zillion beers from which to choose, along with the 10+% Not Your Father’s Root Beer (aka Headache in a Goblet). Kinda wish I’d stayed in Chicago another night, as Alcest played on the 26th, but alas, it was not to be. But I did have another concert to attend this weekend…

 

beach house in concert

Beach House. The visuals are as dreamy as the music. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

September 27
I shared a FB photo of Beach House that had been posted by the Pageant, one of those deals where “share this and you’ll be entered into a drawing for 2 free tix!!!!1” which, of course, I didn’t win. But Sam saw my share and was like, “Hey, I know the show’s on a Sunday night and it’s all the way down in STL and you have to work at 8 am on Monday morning but if you really want to go I’d probably be down with that.”

Red Bull was purchased. I drove to Sam’s place. Sam drove us to STL. We hit the pizza/beer place across the street. Jessica Pratt provided some decent opener tunes. And then Beach House rewarded our all-nighter trip with that special band of intense chill that I love so much. Kinda cool that they opened with a couple of tunes from their first album, including “Master of None,” which the Weeknd used masterfully on his first mixtape. And of course we got “Sparks” and “Levitation” and “Space Song” from Depression Cherry and “Wild” and “Wishes” from Bloom and it was all pretty much beautiful. Then Sam drove us home, with me catching ZZZZZs from probably about Canton until Iowa City. Then I drove home, got another three hours of sleep, and went to work. (And probably got home from work that evening and went straight to bed.)

October 2
Deafheaven releases New Bermuda. When they released Sunbather, I thought it was pretty cool from a musical standpoint but wasn’t big on the vocals. But then I saw them at Pitchfork in 2014, and was converted. I looked forward to the new album, and was not disappointed. I put it at #9 on my best of 2015 list.

 

October 9
Usually the University of Iowa Homecoming concert elicits yawns. Not this year. Chvrches played a free show on the Pentacrest. Thankfully the Soul Festival weather didn’t ruin this Pentacrest show. Will and I had tickets to see the band two weeks later in Kansas City, but we decided to hit this show as well, seeing as it was free and all. (Glad we did, as you’ll read in the October 23 entry.) The new songs sounded great, and they played a good deal of the first album, saving “The Mother We Share” for the end. Will was fading fast toward the end of the show, but that song perked him up. I hope to see them at an indoor venue not named the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City.

bully in concert

Bully pretty much owned the Mill. (Photo by Todd Larsen)

October 10
Bully at the Mill. I know it was Homecoming weekend at the UI and there were a lot of stupid things happening in town that night, but there should have been WAAAAAAY more people at the Bully concert. Thankfully me, Todd, and Jess weren’t among the poor saps who missed out on a great rock show. I must admit I don’t listen to the Bully album all that often but man did those songs work in a live setting.

One of the opening bands was called Heat. Not The Heat. Not El Heat, like what the Miami Heat put on their jerseys to celebrate Latino culture. Just…Heat. Like the De Niro/Pacino(/Kilmer?) movie. And that’s all I have to say about that.

October 16
Neon Indian releases VEGA INTL. Night School. Worth the four-year wait? Well, it was really good. “The Glitzy Hive” should have been the biggest song in the world, and tunes such as “Smut!” and “Slumlord” were top-notch. I’ve got this at #6 on the best of 2015 list.

 

chvrches in kansas city

Chvrches in Kansas City’s Uptown Theatre: It looks way better than it sounded. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

October 23
Will and I go see Chvrches for the second time in two weeks. It might seem funny that a band like Chvrches could possibly be too loud, but it was unbearable. And of course I forgot to bring earplugs for Will, so imagine the agony he was enduring if I thought it was too loud. We stuck it out for maybe five or six songs before we left. Even out in the parking lot across the street, we were physically assaulted by the sound. You could feel the vibrations. This theatre was maybe a little bigger than the Englert; no need to have the shit that loud. If nothing else, Will did get a sweet poster from the merch table. I told him to consider it a souvenir from the Iowa City show, and that we’d never speak of the Uptown Theatre ever again. On the plus side, the family enjoyed the rest of the weekend in KC, hitting the Plaza, eating Jack Stack BBQ, and taking in Science City at Union Station.

small black in concert

Small Black returns to Iowa City as headliners. Deserved headliners, I should say. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

November 3
Small Black returns to Iowa City, playing a show at the Mill. Last time they were in town, they opened for Washed Out; this time, they topped the bill. They did quite well as the headliner. The most recent album, Best Blues, is pretty great, right up there with Limits of Desire, in my book. We even had a chance to chat briefly with Josh Kolenik. Cool guy. Hope he experiences bigger and better things in the future.

 

the bright light social hour in concert

The Bright Light Social Hour provided yet another reason to hang out at the Mill during the autumn of 2015. (Photo by Christopher Clair)

November 15
The Bright Light Social Hour met arguably their biggest fan (Ian, from my Riot Fest crew) in Iowa City on this night. I’m sure they made a few more diehard fans with their scorching performance.

 

st louis symphony

St. Louis Symphony prepares to perform works by John Williams. It was really cool.

December 12
Six days before Episode VII: The Force Awakens opened, I had the pleasure of watching/hearing the St. Louis Symphony perform selected works by John Williams. So we got to hear some tunes from Jurassic Park, Home Alone, the Harry Potter films, Catch Me If You Can, The Cowboys, Superman, and, of course, the Star Wars saga. Probably the coolest moment for me, aside from the main Star Wars theme, was a song from Episode I: The Phantom Menace, believe it or not. It was from the Darth Maul/Qui-Gon Jinn/Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber duel scene; the symphony was joined by a choir that provided the vocal portion of the score. It was incredible, that song, the whole concert. The conductor was an absolute showman; his between-song banter was outstanding. An interesting way to close out my 2015 live music calendar.

And The Force Awakens lived up to, nay, surpassed my expectations. Can’t wait to see Episode VIII, but that’s something like 18 months away! Guess I’ll have to go see some more concerts in the meantime. Already got tickets for Courtney Barnett, The Cure, and Riot Fest 2016…

To recap, my top 10 albums of 2015:

Jamie xx, In Colour

Beach House, Depression Cherry

Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think…

Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material

Neon Indian, VEGA INTL. Night School

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love

Chvrches, Every Open Eye

Deafheaven, New Bermuda

Death Grips, Jenny Death

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From the MoSS? Pit: Fleetwood Mac

This will hopefully be the last concert photo I have to take with my shitty iPhone 4S camera, which made my seats to this show (which were awesome) look super sucky. Hurry up and get here, iPhone 6!

This will hopefully be the last concert photo I have to take with my shitty iPhone 4S camera, which made my seats to this show (which were awesome) look super sucky. Hurry up and get here, iPhone 6!

 

A couple of months ago, I saw Alice Cooper in concert (not the enshrined classic-lineup Alice Cooper Band, mind you, but it still counts in my book), making him, at the time, the latest member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I’ve seen live. By my best guess and after much obsessing, I believe this is the complete list: The Rolling Stones, Van Halen (Van Hagar, technically), Metallica, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Neil Young, Buddy Guy, the Pretenders, Black Sabbath, U2, R.E.M., Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy, Kiss and Nirvana.

In addition, I also caught the last song of Run-DMC at Hubbard Park in Iowa City in 1996 or ’97 (I’m calling that a reach), and even though it wasn’t Parliament-Funkadelic, I DID see George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. At Lollapalooza 2009, I caught a set by Lou Reed (in with the Velvet Underground, but not solo), and a few weeks back, even though I was in horrible position 150 yards from the stage, I caught Patti Smith at Riot Fest (counts in my book, since I was able to rock out to “Rock and Roll Nigger” just fine from where I was standing, thank you very much).

But last weekend, I knocked one of the biggest white whales off that Hall of Fame list when I saw Fleetwood Mac at the United Center in Chicago. For a guy who had Rumours in his ears as a small child, on to absolutely falling head over heels in love with Stevie Nicks and her solo records at the dawn of MTV, and finally getting smitten all over again when the reunion tour and album dropped in 1997, this was a long time coming.

And here are the reasons why this show scratched an enduring itch:

The world’s most underappreciated rhythm section

When you have bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, you have songs that have so much bottom, it almost makes you forget that they’re selling you this juggernaut of almost-sunny Southern California-style pop that took the universe by storm in the late 1970s and into the ’80s. There are doom metal bands that don’t get that much sturdy backbone from the rhythm section. It’s the most enduring part of the show, hands down.

Lindsey Buckingham, motherfucking guitar god

I don’t know how he does it. The way he plays. He doesn’t use a pick. He just does this thing, palm down, where he puts his thumb on the top string and flicks the other strings outward with his fingers. It kind of reminds me of the way my pal Jeremy (the one and only Citrus Head) used to pathetically try to play Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years” on the guitar when we were 13. Except when Lindsey Buckingham does it, it’s pure shred. Listen to the solos on “The Chain” or “You Make Loving Fun” sometime, and then after that, WATCH him play those same solos. It’s insane. And then when he pulls out his acoustic guitar for his signature piece “Big Love,” it’s just a master class of guitar virtuosity. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Well, at least not until …

Top 5, eternally

Top 5, eternally

 

 

My dark princess

You know those lists married people started making of “five people you can sleep with and NOT get divorced” (the Friends episode, you know you saw it)? Well, I always used to joke that the 1978 version of Stevie Nicks was at the top of my list. Hell, the 1981 version, at the dawn of MTV, when she made “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and “Leather and Lace” with Don Henley – those are perfect goddamn rock and roll songs (yes, let’s pause and reminsce for a second):

Anyway, back to the present. Oh my. On Friday night, she sang “Dreams.” She sang “Rhiannon.” We got “Gypsy.” Who can forget “Landslide”? Jesus, her voice is still unique and strong. But the night was complete when she emerged from the shadows – in her gold shawl and fingerless lace gloves, doing her witchy pirouette as wind chimes rang out – for “Gold Dust Woman.” Lord have mercy, she was sex on a stick.

So yeah, I don’t need 1978 Stevie anymore. I’m just fine with 2014 Stevie, thanks.

And as incredible as she was, she was only the second best part of the night.

Christine McVie, thank you for coming back

I’ve been trying to see Fleetwood Mac live ever since that 1997 reunion. For whatever reason, it never seemed to work out. I see now that was a blessing in disguise.

You see, Christine McVie retired from the band after that outing and stayed sidelined for 16 years. I love Stevie, but I can’t imagine hearing “Don’t Stop” or any other Mac anthem on which Christine is featured prominently with anyone’s voice BUT Christine’s. Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out.

We got everything we wanted from her this weekend (well, except “Hold Me.” My favorite Mac song. A Christine staple, in my book. Unfortunately, they didn’t play it. So I’m just gonna tuck this here so my experience with the band can be all-inclusive):

But yeah … “You Make Loving Fun” was majestic. “Say You Love Me” and “Everywhere” were enchanting. Even “Little Lies,” which has never been one of my favorites, sounded bad-ass and downright heavy live.

But when she closed the show with “Songbird,” her signature piece, it made me thankful I had to wait 16 years to experience this band. I can’t say this enough: If you want to see this band, do it. Now. Don’t wait. You may have seen them before, but maybe it was without Christine. Right now? She’s back. You might not get another chance.

Waited a lifetime to see this band. It was worth the wait.

Fleetwood Mac was an enormous part of a memorable night. But they weren’t the only part …

Talk about a lifetime meeting

Once upon a time, I had this friend named Molly. We met when I was still wet behind the ears, still trying to figure out who I was gonna be as a freshman away from home for the first time at the University of Iowa.

Molly when I first met her … and me when I first met her.

 

I met her when I was taking freshman rhetoric (which is strange, because she wasn’t a freshman), one of those classes that are interactive and encourage people to share ideas (I always justified her being in this class as her being awesome enough to say, “Fuck it. I’m just gonna take my rhetoric requirement when I’m a sophomore because I can do whatever the fuck I want.”). Anyway, instead of just lumping myself in with the other kids I assumed were like me, this blonde bombshell locked eyes with me and motioned for me to come on over. What the actual fuck? Girls like this who didn’t already know me from before do NOT seek ME out. But for reasons I still don’t understand, this girl wanted to be friends with me, not the other way around.

As I got to know her, she just killed me. She was funny. She was inclusive and engaging. Witty and articulate. Intelligent. And oh yeah, hot. Always with the black leather jacket. I seem to remember she liked to drink whiskey and take shots of Jager. One day, some dude picked her up in front of the English-Philosophy Building on his motorcycle, like she was the bad girl in Grease or something, and I just remember saying, “Jesus Christ, she’s so fucking bad-ass.” I shook my head and chuckled and just kept walking to class, realizing I had some work to do in life if I ever wanted THAT.

We were never the kind of friends who called each other or made plans together. But for the next two years, we didn’t just keep walking if we saw each other on the street. Every single time, we stopped and talked. If we saw each other out and about, we ended up getting drinks and ignoring everyone else we went to the bar with. Because of her and who she is and how she acts and because she invited me over upon seeing me in that class after 25 seconds, I’ve never really been afraid to approach anyone if I felt like I wanted to know them, even if they were “out of my league.” That was Molly.

In the fall of 1994, I remember seeing her on the street between Van Allen Hall and the Que Bar. We talked. I remember I was holding a poster I had just bought for my first apartment (I think it was of Janis Joplin at Woodstock). After a few minutes, we said, “see ya later.”

Then … whoosh, she was gone. I never saw her again in the entire time I was at Iowa. I figured she must have graduated. Or transferred. Whatever …

And then 14 years came and went. I mean, there wasn’t always Google. Or Friendster or MySpace. Once she was gone, I had no idea how to find her. She was gone.

I hate giving it too much credit, but what’s true is true – Facebook changed it. Mark Zuckerberg will always have my eternal gratitude for that. I found her there six years ago, in an exchange that will always makes me smile when I think about it. Ever since then, we share birthday greetings. We talk about the Hawks. I see photos of her doing BTN fun runs in Iowa gear, complete with knee-high gold Hawkeye socks. She sees me posting links to my blogs at Music or Space Shuttle? and blathering on about whatever movies, TV shows or records I’m currently loving or hating.

But we still never talked, let alone actually saw each other.

What does this have to do with Fleetwood Mac?

Friday night, for the first time in 20 years, Molly and I hung out again. In person. The Mac brought us together. We had drinks. We caught up. I got to hang with her and her girlfriends, one of which went to Riot Fest like me … however, she did NOT skip Slayer for Jane’s Addiction like I regretfully did (which, by the way, when she said it, was the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard. Chicks who dig metal … swoon).

So it was a glorious night. I just hope I don’t have to wait 20 years to do it again.

Let us know what you think. Sound off in the comments here at Music or Space Shuttle? Have your say on our Facebook page. Yell at us on Twitter.

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…

Text

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)