Sometimes you reach a point in your life when something inside of you just breaks and no matter what you do, you can't fix it. You hate your job, you hate your apartment, you hate the city you live in. I had currently reached that point in my life when I decided to move from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Seattle, Washington. Why? Because I could. I wasn't sure driving a car full of my belongings roughly over 2,500 miles on I-90 was going to necessarily fix everything wrong with my life, but I was certain it would be the kick in the ass I needed to change.
So here I am, a week later, typing this from Seattle with a bad headache from lack of sleep and a cold—but I'm here goddamnit. Looking back, the mountains in Montana were mesmerizing, the hills in the Badlands were hauntingly beautiful, but I'm not sure anything compares to seeing Jawbreaker at Riot Fest 2017. Here's some insight to the weekend trip in Chicago I managed to fit in while moving my whole life across the country (because if that's not an excuse for posting this article late, I'm not sure what is).
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
These guys were amazing for two reasons: nostalgia and fun. Plus, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch them just to hear “The Impression That I Get”. I’m not afraid to admit I had a ska phase, and seriously, I know you did too. Ska is loud, bold, and proud—love it or hate it, you can’t really ignore it. Especially when the kings of ska are performing in suits in 80+ degree heat in a Chicago park with a sea of people surrounding them. Maybe it was all the sun I got that day or all the skanking going on around me, but watching the Bosstones made me feel like I was inside a 90s teen movie and I loved every minute of it. Oh, to simpler times and better movie soundtracks.
Say whatever you want about the Menzingers, “Oh, they’ve changed” or “They’re not punk anymore”, but you can’t deny they put on a hell of a live show. I’ll admit their music does seem more mature and their sound more refined, and yes they wear form-fitting t-shirts without holes, but get over it. Punks are allowed to grow up. I wouldn’t label The Menzingers as dad-punk rock quite yet, but they gave off cool summer vibes and drew in a decent sized crowd. One of band members mentioned the crowd was the biggest they’ve ever played to, and although I find that hard to imagine, I remind myself that they’re still relatively small in the music world. Although a small band, they remain mighty and full of heart, and goddamn if they can’t produce a catchy chorus in almost all of their songs.
Minus The Bear
Of course I watched Seattle-based Minus The Bear to prepare me for the weird, yet surprisingly entrancing atmosphere of the city. They’re slightly dad-rock, slightly indie, slightly electronic, and yet overall, very musically pleasing. This no-frills band is what music should be about and I can’t help but wish the festival had more acts like Minus The Bear throughout the weekend. I wish their sound had been a bit more amplified and the early evening crowd a little less chatty, but I can’t knock the band for things out of their control. Overall, if you ever get the chance to catch a Minus The Bear show outside of a festival setting, do it. You won’t regret it.
Built To Spill
You’re probably aware by now that I’m very into the grungy, alternative mood Riot Fest had going on this year (makes sense why I moved to Seattle), and hearing Built To Spill’s Keep It Like a Secret in its entirety only added to the vibe. Sure, Peaches had naked girls on stage and Danzig was yelling onstage without a shirt on, but give me some sweet and simple chords and that’s all I’ll ever need. This northwestern band had the simplest stage setup and yet were one of the most memorable acts. Maybe music’s not dead after all.
It’s tough being the opening act of a 10 hour music festival, but RVIVR comes from a scene of cramped venues and intimate crowds. Seriously, I saw them play in an attic once. Despite the tough time-slot, the band was full of energy as usual and seemed overly stoked to even be playing the festival at all. The crowd was decently sized, and although not as energetic, there were no other bands to distract their attention away from RVIVR. I saw this as a little victory for a band that might not have attracted as big of an audience otherwise. The band seemed to take advantage of this by playing a few new tracks, mixed in with the classic punk songs they’re known for. Again, as a band from Washington, I’m not surprised they manage to mix the perfect amount of catchy with gritty in their performance.
I haven’t seen The Flatliners live in years, and as I’ve said before their live shows tend to get a bit lackluster, but they killed it at Riot Fest 2017. They drew in a huge crowd despite playing one of the tiniest stages at the festival and playing right after The Menzingers set finished. I’m giving credit to their new album, which hearing it live only further validates my love for it. It’s the perfect mix of maturity and punk rock, a fine-line that others often butcher. These Ontario natives appeared heartfelt in their performance; they seemed genuinely happy to be there and to be sharing their music with everyone. Sometimes, even in punk music, it’s all about keeping up with appearances and staying “cool”, so it’s refreshing to witness a band just stoked to be playing music in a park.
I’m not sure a more perfect band could have played in Douglas Park as the sun set. Best Coast were everything I wanted them to be and more. They were dreamy, dazzling, and darling. Not to mention, they were just really freaking cool. I’m pretty sure they were the only band with personal fans blowing their hair during their performance, and with the heat that weekend it was not only practical, but just made them appear hands down magical. Their vocals were just as good live as they are recorded and despite drawing a large crowd, their dreamy sounds still carried well over the park.
The Lawrence Arms
When I think of Chicago, I think of The Lawrence Arms. You just can’t have one without the other in my mind. Playing Oh! Calcutta! live was good in theory, and still was amazing to see live, but it felt like the band had no backup plan for finishing the album early. They ended up playing newer songs after their album set, which maybe it’s just me, but the newer songs seem lackluster compared to their classics. On a higher note, “Great Lakes/Great Escapes” and “Are You There Margaret? It’s Me God” were spot on and made me remember falling in love with the band. Plus, it’s impressive the band pulled the album performance together 11 years after its release date in their hometown. If you’re going to see The Lawrence Arms play Oh! Calcutta! live, it damn well better be in Chicago.
The Smith Street Band
Speaking of heartfelt, I’m not sure any band can compare to Australian natives Smith Street Band. On the metro to the festival I met an Australian girl who bused from Toronto and bought a Riot Fest ticket for Saturday just to see Smith Street Band. If that’s not dedication, I’m not sure what is. It reminded me that these guys have strong ties to their home country, and even stronger ties to their die-hard fans. It’s not shocking when you see them play live, they literally give it their all on stage. Lead singer Wil Wagner sings like he’s on the verge of a breakdown, like he’s digging up his past and brushing off the dirt with every word he sings. It’s mesmerizing as hell to watch them play; it’s no wonder they have such a dedicated fan base. These guys are true underdogs and like any great 90s movie, you gotta root for the underdogs.
Okay, so everyone was exited for Jawbreaker, right? And despite however they played, we all would have been stoked just to say we saw Jawbreaker play live, right? Right. Here’s the thing though, they definitely lived up to the hype and even surpassed all of our expectations. I couldn’t help but smile through almost their entire performance. For an hour it felt like I was living my perfect 90s grungy, alternative dream; sure, everything I owned was packed up in a car and I didn’t have a bed, but hearing “Accident Prone” and “Kiss The Bottle” nearly made me tear up. I’ve listened to Jawbreaker records, I’ve watched videos from the 90s of the band playing live, and that night in Douglas Park, Jawbreaker played like they just finished recording Dear You. Looking around me, that night was full of sentimental punks. When I left Chicago that weekend to embark on the rest of my trip to Seattle, all I kept thinking was “What’s the farthest place from here?”