Riot Fest 2014: The highlights of our weekend in Chicago

Held in Chicago from September 12-14, the tenth anniversary staging of the Riot Fest promised to be one of the musical events of 2014.

Our man Mischa Pearlman was beside himself with excitement at the prospect of seeing some of his favourite bands, so we packed him off to Humboldt Park for three days and asked him to document the weekend’s finest performances. Here’s his in-depth report from the frontline.


“If, indeed, there is a band that could arm the masses and effect change, it’s probably Rise Against.”


“The Maryland hard rockers try their best to – almost literally – break the ice, as the wind whips and the rain cascades…”


As they crash through a set focused almost entirely on songs from this year’s Once More ‘Round The Sun, Mastodon deliver what’s surely the heaviest set of the weekend.”


“When the likes ofThe Brews, Linoleum and Don’t Call Me White make appearances the pit turns into a muddy, bloody mess…”

frnkiero and the cellabrations

“It can’t be easy starting again, but it’s clear that Iero is doing this because he needs to.”


“What should have been a celebratory set full of magic and nostalgia and wonder and good times, was anything but.”


“A set of good time vibes and goofy fun, something compounded by the entertaining array of odd-shaped guitars on display…”


A fierce set that invokes the revolutionary zeal of The MC5…”


“This is three-quarters of an hour in which Dallas Green’s abilities as a songwriter, as a vocalist and as a frontman absolutely shine.”


“The band play these songs as if it were 1999, full of the same raw power and emotion that defined them back then…”


“Listening to Hot Snakes isn’t always easy, but that’s precisely the point.”


“The band perform as if it’s for both the first and last time, as if nothing will ever be as important for them as this moment…”

There’s no disputing the quality of the line-up at this year’s Riot Fest.But no matter how many bands you want to see, it’s always impossible to see them all, because of clashes, because of logistics, because of the terrible weather on the first day! Just thinking about missing the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Mudhoney, Buzzcocks, The Murder City Devils, etc,. makes me feel slightly sick. At the same time, there were a bunch of other acts I caught - or caught some of - who are absolutely noteworthy. Here’s a list of the best of the rest…


2014 has been a great year for albums. The self-titled album from Canada’s PUP is one of my favourites, and live they were utterly phenomenal. Bristling with vicious, infectious and intelligent energy, songs like Dark Days and Yukon came alive even more onstage than on record (and that’s saying something). To see what this band already mean to people was very inspiring.


I’m going to be honest - I was a little drunk when I saw Dads, so I don’t remember all that much about their set except that it was great. But then they’re probably a band you should be a bit drunk while you watch them - it’s a mess of conflicted, inebriated emotions and (deliberately) sloppy, Japandroids-style rock ‘n’ roll mixed with bits of noodling, Kinsella-esque emo indie rock. They have bags of talent, a whole lot of attitude and a great sense of hedonistic abandon.


I’ve loved Samiam for many over a decade (maybe closer to two), but hadn’t seen them play for years. Last time was the Underworld in Camden, London, which was a sweaty, intense mess. Their early afternoon set at Riot Fest was a lot more reserved, both from the band and the audience, but the ferocity of their songs was still clear. They didn’t play either Stepson or Full On, my two favourites, but I got to sing along to She Found You, which was better than nothing!

Tiny Moving Parts

I interviewed these guys a little while ago - their new record, Pleasant Living, is another of 2014’s greats - but I’d never seen them live. Probably because they come from the tiny, tiny town of Benson, Minnesota, which has population of just over 3000 and is miles away from anywhere. They write twinkly but shouty, buoyant but sad songs - Sundress is wistful and poignant enough to make Henry Rollins weep - but the trio had the most ridiculously wide smiles on their faces while they were playing it, and it was a real joy to watch.

I Am The Avalanche

When we look at the best albums of the year, Wolverines by I Am The Avalanche will absolutely be up there. I didn’t catch very much because I was reviewing Cheap Trick for the majority of their set, but few live bands can rival the New York five-piece for power or ferocity. It’s also worth mentioning just how strong Vinnie Caruana’s vocals are. By all rights, he should have no vocal cords left, but thankfully he does, and Holy Fuck and 177 sounded unbelievably good as the words tore his throat inside out.

Say Anything

Say Anything’s latest album, Hebrews, might be devoid of guitars, but they were out in full force here. Mixing up new with old, the way in which very different sounding songs coalesced to create one cohesive, commanding set was truly impressive. Even from far back, Max Bemis’ charge of the stage was more than evident, and his voice sounded great. A wonderful slice of idiosyncratic, intelligent pop-punk (that’s really not much like pop-punk at all).