Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 11/16/2019, King Diamond brought The Institute North American Tour to the exquisite Palace Theatre in Louisville, KY. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats and Idle Hands were the support bands for this incredible evening of diverse styles of heavy music and dramatic visuals.
Both opening bands were handpicked by the King and they brought headliner worthy performances to prime the capacity crowd for the main attraction.
Idle Hands started the night with a great set of goth tinged melodic hard rock. Their singer, clad all in black, resembled a spookier Joey Ramone, and impressed me with his voice and his stage presence. Of course, the stage itself is marvelous, as is the elegant theater that hosted this collection of thrilling artists.
The Louisville Palace opened in 1928 and seats a capacity of 2800, making this an intimate experience for everyone in the theater. I don’t know how many metal acts have played there, but this place was tailor made for the King Diamond experience. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats took advantage of the high ceiling by use of a large screen hanging above them on which they projected an ever-changing barrage of trippy imagery to accompany their sludgy brand of doom metal. The four piece band from Britain were energetic and resembled classic ’70’s hard rock bands with their long hair flying and their twin guitar attack set to take no prisoners.
As good as the warmup bands were (and they were both great!), there was no confusion about who the crowd was there to see, and King Diamond’s arrival was greeted with a thunderous ovation as he was wheeled out of a door in the center of the gigantic stage set which was designed as a multiple leveled interior of a mental institution. Songs from a number of Diamond’s best albums provided a loose thread of continuity for the visual dynamics that King Diamond excels at, and favorites included Funeral, Arrival, Halloween, A Mansion In Darkness, Out From The Asylum, Welcome Home, and The Lake. One new song, Masquerade Of Madness, held its own among the classics, and an encore of Burn and Black Horsemen (dedicated to the recently departed Timi Hansen) brought the night to a thoughtful and deeply satisfying close.
Diamond’s band was phenomenal throughout, with guitarists Andy LaRocque and Mike Wead delivering consistently jaw dropping playing. Diamond’s eerie falsetto (ably assisted by Livia Vita) sounded glorious in the flawless acoustics of the venerable Palace Theatre. The entire set built up a palpable anticipation of the upcoming double album, which is certain to add to King Diamond’s already supreme arsenal of music, both as a solo artist and as the singer of Mercyful Fate.
Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 11/11/2019, my girlfriend and I traveled to Kentucky to see Slayer one last time (or maybe not…who really knows?) as part of the Final Campaign.
This concert was held at the KFC (Yum!) Center, a terrific venue with both visual and audio superiority. Along for the show this time around were Primus, Ministry, and Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals (performing a Vulgar Display of PanterA).
I have now seen Slayer 4 times in 4 different states on this farewell world tour, and I have written about each show believing it was the end. Well, I guess I knew at Riot Fest that I still had this one lined up, but at any rate I knew the end was getting close.
First things first: Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals opened the festivities with a blistering set of PanterA classics, including A New Level, Strength Beyond Strength, This Love, Fucking Hostile, Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit, and Walk. They also slid in the verse from Goddamn Electric that name checks Slayer, “Your choices are whisky and weed and Slayer, it’s Goddamn Electric!” to great effect.
Anselmo’s voice has undergone a lot of changes over his years of smoking and other forms of abuse, but he still cuts an impressive presence on stage, and had the assembled metal masses pretty hyped throughout the Illegals’ admirable job of covering the mighty PanterA.
Next up was the Industrial Metal fury of Ministry, a band I last saw in 1992. I was ecstatic to discover that Al Jourgenson and co. haven’t mellowed in the least, and they delivered a virtual greatest hits beatdown complete with a light show that threatened to put the entire crowd in seizures.
Among my personal highlights were Stigmata, Just One Fix, N.W.O., Thieves, and an absolutely ballistic Jesus Built My Hot Rod. I sincerely hope I get a chance to see Ministry again real soon.
Primus brought their unique brand of quirkiness, odd lyrical concepts, and staggering musicianship, along with some of the best bass playing (and bass SOUND) I have ever experienced. I hadn’t seen the Primus experience since the late ’90’s, and, like Ministry, they reminded me forcefully of what a thrilling live act they can be.
Les Claypool guided the trio through epic Primus material including Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers, Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, Sgt. Baker, Mr. Krinkle, Too Many Puppies, My Name Is Mud, and Jerry Was A Race Car Driver.
As much as I loved all the opening acts and the sheer diversity in musical offerings; the evening belonged to Slayer. I don’t know what I can add about Slayer that I haven’t already said before, but their level of consistency and intensity during this long journey to the end of their touring life has been astonishing.
Tom Araya, Kerry King, Gary Holt, and Paul Bostaph are going out in glorious fashion, maintaining the monumental legacy of Slayer at each stop of the tour, performing like a hungry upstart band with worlds still to conquer, and the adoration that radiates between the band and the fans is a palpable force.
As I have said before, at the end of each show, Tom Araya lingers longer and longer, storing up the love and the memories, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that he is truly the one who is retiring, but as the voice of the band, Slayer goes when Tom goes.
In rock and metal, most bands that retire wind up returning after a time…so as I do in real life, I won’t say goodbye…I’ll just say “See Ya!” I hope you guys have a wonderful retirement. You’ve certainly earned it…but if you want to come back in a few years, us Slayer fanatics won’t be mad…and we’ll be ready!
Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “ The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 11/2/2019, Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago hosted a superb triple bill show featuring John 5 And The Creatures, Jared James Nichols, and Reverend Jack. The Invasion Tour 2019 was packed with amazing performances and featured one big time surprise guest artist.
First things first…Reggie’s Rock Club is a really small, intimate and nicely set up place to witness live music, complete with top notch sound and lights. The visibility was excellent and contributed to the entire crowd being treated to that wonderful feeling of energy exchanged between performers and audience.
Reverend Jack started the night with an absolutely KILLER set of original bluesy Southern hard rock. These guys have so much potential to really break big. They are young, have great songs and energized stage presence, but most of all they have this singer named Eric Harmon, and he has one of the best set of pure rock vocal pipes I have heard in years. I knew before the first song was over that this guy has a special gift, and the fact that the lead guitarist and bassist add strong harmony vocal support just adds to the magic.
Near the end of their set, they played a cover of Midnight Rider by The Allman Brothers Band and made it a streamlined muscular slab of modern rock, complete with 3 part harmony a capella vocal intro…Bravo, guys! I expect them to do big things for a long time to come.
Next up was Jared James Nichols and his fiery blues based hard rock. Performing as a power trio, Nichols and company wasted no time in keeping the momentum going with tight playing and Nichols’ passionate vocals. His voice was a pleasant surprise for me, because I had only heard his guitar work prior to this show. I follow him on Instagram and knew he was a blazing lead guitar player, but his voice fit perfectly with his larger than life soloing. Nichols is a tall guy with a great head of hair that brings to mind the lion’s mane of Robert Plant in Zeppelin’s heyday, and between the hair and the animated faces he makes when he is soloing makes him super entertaining to watch.
At the midpoint of his set, Nichols brought out a young man named Peter to play a song and it was a beautiful thing to see the joy radiating from Peter’s face. He proved to be a pretty good player, too, trading leads with Jared James and receiving a thunderous ovation from the appreciative crowd. This simple gesture of kindness, coupled with his obvious talents gained Jared James Nichols a big fan (me), or possibly a whole room of them.
John 5 And The Creatures finished the night with a jaw dropping display of musical muscle, navigating through a dizzying myriad of styles including metal, country, bluegrass, funk, and even a little jazz.
John 5’s playing is breathtaking, full of precision, flash, and passion…and always emanating the man’s obvious love of the guitar featuring lots of Halloween themed stage props and a properly sinister light show.
The insanely tight trio kept the pace moving at a breakneck pace. Midway through their show John spoke to us in several humorous song introductions and proved himself to be the humble and likeable person that could give Dave Grohl a run for his money in the Nicest Guy In Rock Music Category.
To our delight, Charle Benante, the supernaturally gifted drummer from Anthrax was at the show and joined the guys on stage for a crusher of an improvised jam session.
John 5 delivered a fun filled medley of classic song intros featuring songs by Rush, Van Halen, Rage Against The Machine, Metallica, Kiss, Megadeth, White Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Motley Crue, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, The Police, PanterA, and even The Knack (remember My Sharona? lol).
The band came out for an encore, and apparently had run out of songs, resorting to having to do one they hadn’t rehearsed (of course they nailed it!). I love shows like this one, with new discoveries and new venues.
I first saw John 5 back in 1999 when he was with Marilyn Manson, and have seen him many times with Rob Zombie, but it was incredibly satisfying to see him stretching his wings and demonstrating his full potential as a guitarist and band leader. I will definitely be back for more of all three of these bands if I get the chance.
Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 10/24/2019, I finally got to see UFO again! It had been 41 years since I saw the venerable English hard rock stalwarts open for Rush back in 1978, at the old Market Square Arena in downtown Indianapolis.
This time around, they played a fantastic show at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, IN. Opening the show was Last In Line, featuring songs from the late Ronnie James Dio, as well as originals from the band’s 2 albums.
Last In Line is comprised of Vinnie Appice on drums, Phil Soussan on bass, Vivian Campbell on guitar, and Andrew Freeman on vocals.
I was impressed with the songs that they composed together, and blown away by the Dio songs, particularly Holy Diver, We Rock, Rainbow In The Dark, and the song the band got their name from, The Last In Line. One minor criticism; I felt that Freeman spent too much time getting the audience to sing the songs, especially considering the fact that the guy has a really strong voice that does ample justice to the legacy of the great Ronnie James Dio.
All three of the musicians delivered outstanding contributions; Campbell’s lead guitar work was blazing, Appice’s drum sound was huge and his playing was right in the pocket, and Soussan sang some nice backing vocals in addition to his solid bass guitar style. All in all, I was thrilled to have such a great opening band for UFO’s final tour.
As I mentioned before, it has been a long time since my 16 year old self saw UFO from the 10th row at what was only my 9th concert ever, and I was curious to see if they still had that magic I remembered so fondly. It took mere seconds to confirm that they did indeed retain that signature sound that made me an instant fan upon release of their magnificent live album, Strangers In The Night. Over the course of their set on this most satisfying night of music, UFO served up song after song of powerful riffs, tantalizing melodic hooks, singalong choruses that get stuck in the listener’s head for days, absolutely glorious guitar solos, and the charming presence and still fantastic voice (at 71 years old) of Mr. Phil Mogg, who has fronted the band since its formation in 1968. Pretty much all of my favorite songs were on display…Too Hot To Handle, Cherry, Hot ‘n Ready, Mother Mary, Only You Can Rock Me, and Rock Bottom (complete with Vinnie Moore’s display of guitar wizardry). UFO returned for an encore of Doctor, Doctor and Shoot Shoot and wished us a Happy Halloween and Merry Christmas, never making a big deal of this being their final tour, but for me and many others it is definitely a major event.
As I told my friend on the way out, “They just don’t make bands like that anymore!” Thanks for the music UFO…you were great when I was 16, and you’re still amazing to me at 57. Respect!
Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 10/12/2019, I saw a trio of bands for the first time at a venue I had never visited before. Jinjer, The Browning, and Sumo Cyco performed at Riverfront Live in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Riverfront Live was pretty impressive, with great sound, lights, and overall visibility. It had a friendly atmosphere and provided a high level of intimacy between bands and patrons.
Sumo Cyco kicked things off with a high energy attack full of movement and punk/metal riffs. Led by the dynamic Skye “Sever” Sweetnam. The Canadian band utilized their limited stage space and set time to the fullest extent, opting to get the crowd participating early. Sweetnam went into the crowd several times and at one point got everyone in the pit area to get down on the floor and wait for her cue as the band vamped away on a mosh inducing riff. When she gave them the sign, the eager fans knew what to do and the singer was suddenly back on stage as the circle pit swirled in front of her.
On a critical level I felt that their guitar player had a tinny tone to his amp, but that may not have been his fault. The opening acts are sometimes prone to not getting the full use of the PA. I also got the impression that their stage moves were a little contrived at times, as if they had practiced hard to look spontaneous. At least they were constantly moving…the effort paid off as their crowd response testified.
Next up were The Browning, from Kansas City, Missouri. I had to do a little research on them to see what musical style they were described as playing. They are listed on Wikipedia as Metalcore, Electronicore, Deathcore, and Crunkcore. That’s a lot of cores, but I must admit I hated their sound within the first 20 seconds they were on stage. The EDM stuff just didn’t seem to fit with the metal stuff, and then there was the super annoying visual aspect of the spinning guitar player. I have to hand it to the guy; he had stellar equilibrium without a doubt. But his playing was monotonous and tedious. If he practiced his instrument as much as he practiced his stage moves, perhaps the band’s music would be more interesting. I found the singer’s constant hype attack pretty pointless, too. The crowd was into it, though, and they had some great pit action going.
I’ve been to enough shows to know that when an audience is in the mood they will mosh to Justin Bieber (just kidding…or am I?) so crowd response is not always synonymous with the quality of the music.
Speaking of quality music, Jinjer saved the night with an electrifying, outstanding display of talent, confidence, and inspired song craft. Jinjer hails from Donetsk, Ukraine, and features a blend of many different styles, making their music both progressive and unpredictable. Front woman Tatiana Shmailyuk possesses a set of seemingly indestructible vocal chords, and uses them to alternately sing beautiful melodies and switch to demonic gutturals in nearly the same breath. Jinjer’s musicians (guitarist, bassist, and drummer) all provide enormous amounts of dexterity on their respective instruments, weaving emotional landscapes that change in subtle and sometimes jarring combinations to suit Tatiana’s flights of vocal fancy.
From the opening blast of Teacher, Teacher to the final chords of Cloud Factory, Jinjer had the place bouncing.
They played a song called On The Top for the first time live and from the sounds of the response, it will become a regular fixture on their play list. Several other songs that really impressed me were Judgement (And Punishment), I Speak Astronomy, Retrospection, and Outlander. Jinjer returned for an encore, playing Pisces and Captain Clock, leaving the stage to a huge and well deserved ovation. Like the time I recently saw Avatar for the first time, I left this show feeling like I had just witnessed a band on the verge of blowing wide open.
Jinjer is poised on the brink of some huge success…mark my words!
Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 9/20/2019, Willie Nelson brought his Outlaw Music Festival to Deer Creek in Noblesville, IN for a diverse night of musical magic.
Nelson has used the Outlaw Music Festival format for the last couple of years, bringing a package of artists on tour that fluctuates from city to city. On the night of our show, the lineup included Katie Pruitt, Jamestown Revival, Allison Krauss, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, and Willie Nelson And The Family.
By the time I arrived at the venue, Katie Pruitt had already finished her set, and I listened to only a small portion of the Jamestown Revival’s performance, which was pleasant sounding old fashioned country music.
Allison Krauss continued the laid back and stripped down approach during her time on stage. Her band all sounded fine, but Krauss herself sang like an angel; a really glorious voice that is undeniable. I make no claims to being any kind of expert on this more purified country music, and Krauss only performed one song that I recognized, “I’ll Fly Away” from the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I recognize quality in any style of music and I have to say that Willie Nelson had nothing but high quality acts on this tour.
I was thrilled that Indiana got the one tour date featuring Robert Plant, as it made our show even more special and unique, and because Plant fronted my favorite band of all time, the legendary Led Zeppelin.
Plant and his band (the aptly named Sensational Space Shifters) kicked off their set with Zeppelin’s What Is And What Should Never Be, but they tweaked the arrangement to make it more country influenced, and it was a spectacular effect. This rootsy gumbo approach found most of the songs crossing all sorts of genre boarders, including rock, blues, cajun, jazz, electronica, and of course, country.
Several other classics from the Zeppelin catalogue, including Black Dog, The Battle Of Evermore, and Gallow’s Pole, all were transformed into fascinating new shapes, and Plant’s vocals were simply incredible. Like a baseball pitcher who no longer has a reliable fastball, but has developed a wicked change-up and a deadly curveball, Plant has transformed his vocal style to match his age. The high notes are still within reach (as he dramatically proved conclusively on several key moments), but Plant is a cagey veteran who knows when to strike hard and when to remain subtle. Adding to the majestic vocals were his charming anecdotes and insights into the influence that country music had on his musical taste while growing up in Wales. The capacity crowd ate it all up and gave Plant and his band several thunderous ovations.
Willie Nelson is a national treasure, and so is his guitar, Trigger. This was my first time to witness these legends, and I was in awe of the man’s vitality at the venerable age of 86. Nelson’s singing voice literally sounds like it hasn’t changed or aged since the 1970’s…and that wonderful tone that Trigger produces when Willie plays it is magical and makes me smile just remembering how great it was to experience. I was thrilled that Willie paid tribute to some of his peers, fellow legends like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams during his set. All the iconic songs were played; On The Road Again, Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, Georgia On My Mind, and the Family played excellently throughout.
The shows at Deer Creek are supposed to end at 11:00 pm, but Willie played until 11:30, because although he is old, Willie Nelson is still a badass! In conclusion, I was thrilled to be at this show.
It was the first concert I’ve ever attended where there were not one, but two vendors selling cowboy hats, and for less than $30 I heard an angel (Krauss), a golden god (Plant), and a national treasure (Nelson)…not to mention witnessed the most legendary guitar outside of B.B. King’s Lucille. Thanks, Willie!
Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
My ongoing series of concert reviews, or “On this date in history” as I like to think of them, have been relatively straightforward pieces of work so far…until now.
Over the course of 3 wonderful days, my girlfriend and I attended Riot Fest in Chicago, IL. This was the 15th anniversary of the annual explosion of musical diversity, reunions, guest performances, and full album showcases.
I have been pondering how to tackle this enormous task, and have decided that this piece will serve as the introduction, and each day of the festival will receive a separate write up in order to fully explore all that we saw and heard. Part of the beauty of Riot Fest is that no two attendees will experience the exact same things.
With 5 stages spread out in the expanses of Douglas Park, often with 2 or more bands playing at the same time (with sets staggered so that viewers can sample multiple bands in any given portion of the day), the possibilities are wide open, kind of a musical buffet.
Upon entering the main gates, a map of the park and listings of performers and set times is available for all attendees, and then the fun begins.
The performers for Riot Fest 2019:
Friday – Blink 182, Dashboard Confessional, Neck Deep, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me, Yours Truly, The Flaming Lips, Violent Femmes, Hot Snakes, Caroline Rose, The Garden, Jawbreaker, Descendents, Lucero, The Get Up Kids, Hot Water Music, No Parents, Rancid, Pennywise, Cock Sparrer, Senses Fail, Anti-Flag, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Glassjaw, H2O, Hot Mulligan, Angel Dust, Mat Kerekes, Thin Lips, Can’t Swim
Saturday – Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, GWAR, The HU, Rise Against, The Story So Far, Avail, Turnstile, Masked Intruder, Bloc Party, Manchester Orchestra, The Struts, Turnover, Cursive, Surfer Blood, Cherry, Glazerr, Wu-Tang Clan, Pyris, Grandson, The Selecter, Prof, Lando Chill, Andrew W.K., Senses Fail, Microwave, The Damned Things, Elder Brother, Drakulas, Cleopatrick, Monarchy Over Monday
Sunday – Bikini Kill, Patti Smith And Her Band, Against Me!, The Beaches, Skating Polly, The Raconteurs, Bob Mould, Ride, White Reaper, Dead Swords, Taking Back Sunday, The Starting Line, American Football, Streetlight Manifesto, Less Than Jake, Frank Iero And The Future Violents, Save Ferris, Ultra Q, Ween, The B-52s, Guided By Voices, Village People, Nick Lowe With Los Straitjackets, Ganser, The Ergs!, Teenage Bottlerocket, Dave Hause And The Mermaid, Sincere Engineer, This Wild Life, Kali Masi, Ramona
On this date in history, 9/13/2019, Riot Fest opened its annual run in Chicago’s Douglas Park to kick off the 15th anniversary of the 3 day music festival.
I must give total credit to my girlfriend for initiating the conversation which ultimately led to us attending this event (and entering into a romantic relationship…Thank you, Riot Fest!). We had met at a mutual friend’s party and started a discussion on Facebook in which she mentioned that Slayer would be performing on the 2nd night of the festival. Plans for a trip for just that day quickly blossomed into purchasing the 3 day passes and our excitement grew with our American love story.
When we arrived in Chicago (my first time driving in the Windy City) we quickly determined that finding a parking spot for this event was going to be quite tricky. Eventually we found a great lot (which we used for all 3 days…run by some really cool people) and started walking to the main gate.
I remember remarking that we would be doing this only once (a decision that was quickly replaced with “We need to make this our annual vacation spot”), and suddenly we were inside the park, exploring the grounds and locating the 5 stages.
It was mid afternoon by the time we got in, so we missed a bunch of the earliest performances, but we found our way to the Radicals Stage where Senses Fail were launching into a frenzied cover of Institutionalized by Suicidal Tendencies.
Next up was a punk band from England called Cock Sparrer. It was bizarre to me that these guys have been around since 1972 and I had somehow never heard of them…and they were great.
I realized that I have this weird irrational idea that punk bands are young and frozen in time. The reality is that they grow older just like any other band, so seeing these guys in their 60’s playing these rousing working class punk songs with drinking chants was pretty revolutionary for me.
Pennywise were next and it was more or less the same feeling. I knew the name, but had never taken the time to listen to them, and I fell instantly in love with their energy, their positivity, and their connection to their fans. Pennywise had converted me and made me realize I have been missing out on a lot of music.
We checked out about 20 minutes of the Descendents’ set, which amounted to around 9 songs…no lie, their songs are short and fast. Their singer mentioned that they have played at 11 of the 15 Riot Fests and it was apparent to me that their style really represents the core of the festival.
Flaming Lips were our unanimous choice for the Friday night headliners. They played the album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots in its entirety. Singer Wayne Coyne was mesmerizing throughout, just emanating warmth, eccentricity, and charm; looking dashing in his white suit and making his obligatory appearance in the plastic ball that rolls around in the audience. Near the end of their set, Coyne delivered a heartfelt tribute to troubled singer Daniel Johnston, who had passed away on September 11.
The Flaming Lips played one of Johnston’s songs, and it was lovely and touching, but Coyne brought a touch of humor into it at the perfect spot, saving the tune from becoming too maudlin. Coyne also talked about the importance of living in the moment, effectively uniting all of us and elevating an enormously entertaining set.
On our way out, we heard a bit of Jawbreaker’s performance, and they sounded fantastic, too. I read another review of the festival that mentioned some problems with the sound for some of the more acoustic based acts, but everyone we heard on the first day sounded phenomenal, mix wise…great bass, crisp drums, crunchy guitars, and vocals clear & loud. As the evening grew dark, the lights were excellent, too. The Flaming Lips, in particular, had a wonderfully trippy light show which totally enhanced the psychedelic nature of their music. Well, that wraps up the first day…to be continued!
On this date in history, 9/14/2019, Riot Fest entered its second day in Chicago’s Douglas Park with our most eagerly anticipated acts, culminating in the final Chicago appearance of thrash titans, Slayer. But first, I must backtrack slightly, because I failed to provide the names of all the stages in my initial report.
The 5 Riot Fest stages were the Rise, Radical, Rebel, Roots, and Riot stages. All of these stages had set times so that festival attendees could sample performances non stop throughout the day. Saturday was the one day that we actually planned out, and it worked to perfection. As luck would have it, the Roots and Riot stages were adjacent to each other, and all the bands we wanted to see were on those 2 stages.
The first band of the afternoon was Masked Intruder, and they were simply my favorite discovery of the entire festival. My girl had told me about them, having seen them previously. She was really excited to see them (and for me to see them, too) and I soon found out why. These guys have this underlying concept to their songs, their show, and their personas (all the band members wear color coded ski masks to match their respective instruments). There is a guy dressed as a policeman who plays an important role in the show and provides tons of energy and humor to the act. Masked Intruder has a pop/punk style and high energy songs played with hyper enthusiasm. My belief is that some bands are better studio bands while others are best experienced on stage, and Masked Intruder definitely needs to be seen live. Take my advice and go check them out!
Next up were an intriguing band called The Hu, a Mongolian Folk Metal band. Their debut album was released the day before we saw them, and their music and delivery was truly outstanding, original, and deeply moving. Along with electric guitar and bass, they also utilized the morin khuur (also known as the horsehead fiddle), a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument.
The Hu spoke very little English and still managed to communicate with their American audience through Mongolian throat singing and hypnotic tribal drumming.
Another great discovery of a band I want to experience multiple times. While we waited for GWAR to set up, a band called Turnstile played on the Roots stage and failed to impress us too much.
I was stoked to see GWAR for the first time, but was caught a bit off guard by how physical the experience would become.
We were pretty close to the front of the stage, meaning we were in the “blood zone” and although the cold stage blood felt pretty good in the relentless heat of the sunny day, everyone behind us kept pushing forward and sideways in every direction in an attempt to get in on the action. It got a bit scary a few times as it felt like the entire crowd was going to collapse in upon itself. We survived and found ourselves grinning and covered in red at the end of GWAR’s onslaught. Their show is terrifically fun, but next year if they play Riot Fest again, we plan to observe from a bit further back from the stage.
As we recovered from the exertion of staying alive, Avail played an energetic and highly entertaining set from the adjacent Roots stage. I was impressed with them and look forward to seeing them again.
Next up on the Riot stage was the mighty Testament, and they delivered some old school, pulverizing thrash metal mastery, eliciting an utterly seismic circle pit from the moment they hit the stage. The entire band are like ninja assassins, with lead guitarist Alex Skolnick just burning down the place with insanely scorching feats of scalpel sharp lead guitar. I hadn’t seen Testament since 1990 and was utterly overjoyed to discover that they are better than ever.
The Story So Far followed on the neighbor stage and fell far short of Testament’s delivery.
We held our ground near the front as Anthrax brought their insane energy, good cheer, and Big 4 level thrash mastery with a set of songs voted on by their fans, so we heard a killer crop of Anthrax classics.
A personal highlight for me was a moment where lead singer Joey Belladonna and I made direct eye contact and he made sure I knew he was noticing my enthusiasm. In a pure moment of being in the right place at the right time, as Anthrax ended their fantastic performance, 2 people directly in front of us vacated their spot on the barricade and my girlfriend and I quickly secured our spots in the front row and began our wait for the band we planned our entire trip to see…the immortal Slayer! But first we had to wait through an admittedly pretty good set from Rise Against as they headlined the Roots stage.
Rise Against has had a 30 year career so far and they had a great crowd of their own. I gained a whole lot of respect for them when their singer took a couple of minutes to acknowledge the importance of Slayer and their rabid fan base. We collectively gave them a roaring sample of that power in response. Finally, Slayer took the stage and delivered a show for the ages. Standing directly in front of Gary Holt (the frenzied lead guitar player who has been on loan from Exodus since the death of original Slayer member Jeff Hanneman) was a dream come true.
Holt and Kerry King unleashed a furious barrage of vintage Slayer riffs and the psychotic back and forth lead guitar sorcery that is the band’s trademark. Throughout this magical set, Tom Araya was in the zone vocally, letting his mighty roar fill the air repeatedly on a set of all the iconic songs we have adored for decades.
The lights and flames were massively intense from the front row and we could feel that scorching heat from all that glorious fire every time it erupted from the stage. When it inevitably had to end, Tom Araya wandered from one end of the stage to the other, lingering a long time in several spots, obviously full of emotion as he absorbed the enormous outpouring of love directed at him and the others…but most of this is about him, because we all know it is Tom who is retiring. Holt, King, and drummer Paul Bostaph will carry on in other projects.
Tom eventually made his way to his microphone, thanked us briefly, and said he will miss us…then he said a simple goodbye.
I have now seen Slayer 3 times in 3 different states during this farewell tour, and Araya’s goodbye time grows longer at each show. It fills me with sadness, pride, love, and happiness that this iconic man (and band) have given us so much, and that they are leaving the game on their own terms, and as kings of their domain. Cheers, Slayer…I have one more show coming up, but nothing will ever top this one…thanks for everything, Tom!
On this date in history, 9/15/2019, Riot Fest returned for its final day of fun, sun, and musical exploration.
By the 3rd day we felt like Chicago’s Douglas Park was pretty familiar territory (although we never did find our way to the Rebel stage) and we took a little extra time to explore more of the vendor areas. Having survived the intensity of all our metal bands throughout Saturday, we made a mutual decision to begin Sunday with a much more laid back approach.
Save Ferris was the first band we checked out, and it was from a distance this time. We sat back in the shade and listened to the female fronted Ska band deliver quite an enjoyable set with a couple of surprises at the end. The singer talked to the crowd quite a bit and seemed to have a great rapport with the people up front. She informed us that they were going to play Too Drunk To Fuck by the Dead Kennedys and that was super entertaining to hear Save Ferris re-imagine that one. After that they launched into Come On, Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners…needless to say, my Ilene was less than thrilled! It was still pretty funny and awesome in my opinion!
Moving on from the Rise stage where Save Ferris was winding down, we made our way to the Radicals stage to sample a bit of Nick Lowe With Los Straitjackets and determined that we weren’t quite feeling their style. Just a bit too mellow for us, although they sounded fine, so we wandered off again in search of the Village People. I never saw them, but there was another female fronted band playing on the Riot stage as we passed by. I just looked them up and it turns out the entire band was women. I wanted to mention them because I thought the singer sounded fantastic and well worth checking out later.
The illustrious Village People performed on the Radicals stage in front of a pretty impressive mid-afternoon crowd. We didn’t plan to stay long, lingering for one song and wondering if any of the costumed singers were original members. I’m guessing probably not too many, but not curious enough to research it at this time.
As fate would have it, near the end of their set, a spontaneous circle pit and Wall Of Death broke out as they played Macho Man and Y.M.C.A.! Classic stuff, and there is video of the event out there if you are interested in checking it out. We weren’t in attendance when that happened, but we were content to be seated again for a bit as Ride played a pleasantly hypnotic set on the Roots stage. Apparently they originally formed in 1988, but this was my first encounter with them. Their music reminded me of early U2 in a good way with its pulsating, driving, vaguely psychedelic rhythms and intensity. The vocalist didn’t sound anything like Bono, so it kept their sound in that cool spot where it sounds familiar, but still freshly unknown. As we wandered off in search of food and drink, we passed by the Rise stage as Streetlight Manifesto captivated a huge crowd with their high energy Ska sound. I loved their horn section, which stretched across the entire front of the stage. They sounded fantastic and fun was literally bursting out of their sound. I will hopefully catch a whole set from them in the future.
After we chowed down, it was time to prepare for the bigger names towards the late afternoon and early evening headliners.
We arrived back to the adjacent Roots and Riot stages where we had spent our day Saturday in time for the end of a rocking set by Against Me!, and they sounded fine, but nothing I would probably go out of my way to see, honestly. Next up was Bob Mould, performing as a power trio, and delivering a blistering set of punk energy and hard rocking songs. The former Hüsker Dü and Sugar singer, guitarist, and songwriter really impressed me on all levels, and as a bonus, his drummer looks like Peter Dinklage’s taller brother! Patti Smith And Her Band followed, and we truly should have stayed for more than the two songs we witnessed, because the legendary singer/poet just sounded amazing. Patti’s voice sounded exactly as it has since her ’70’s heyday; totally glorious and full of character. She looked fantastic, too…long white hair looking like the light was emanating directly from her spirit…and perhaps it was.
We had decided (on the advice of some friends) to go check out Ween, so we regretfully left Patti (sorry Patti…hope to rectify this grave error someday!) to go see the Ween show. I have to try to carefully explain my position on the Ween experience. Ween sounded great…sound was on point, lights were adequate, but nothing revolutionary. Our problem was the crowd. The best I can explain it is that it felt like being at a party where you don’t know anyone. It was like everyone had this secret language and knew the inside jokes and gestures they were not willing to share with us outsiders. 45 minutes into a 2 hour set we started to hear loud music coming from one of the other stages. Someone yelled out, “Damn you, Jack White!” and Ilene and I looked at each other and immediately decided to bale on Ween and go seek out The Raconteurs.
Jack and the boys saved us with a blistering set of raucous, blues drenched jams just as we had reached the edge of exhaustion after 3 days of glorious good times and vibes.
My girl wanted me to hear Bikini Kill, the final headliner on the Riot stage (perhaps to torture me? lol), but I apparently don’t have the ears or patience to endure the caterwauling garbage dump of the sound coming out of their singer’s mouth. Maybe it wasn’t their night (although they had and enormous crowd who may have more of a taste for what they were hearing), and maybe it was just time to make our exit, so we did.
All in all, Riot Fest has gained two new hardcore fans, and we plan to go back for more next year. Riot Fest Rules!