Ramblings, Reflections, and Tiny Confessions
(Concise Music Journalism this Is Not…)
Back in MY day, music festivals TOURED, dammit. None of this all day-weekend 80 hundred bands kinda thing. I went to the first four Lollapalooza tours from 1991-1994, a period spanning high school into college. I stayed in Kalamazoo in the summer of 1995 for theatre stuff, and then didn’t Metallica headline at one point? I mean, no offense to Metallica (I dig ’em), but Metallica? Whatever. I’ve not gone back to Lolla even though it sits in my own backyard.
I would’ve last year. For The Cure of course. Alas, I was unavoidabley out of town, and that post-Lolla Monday, I sulked on my hotel bed in Stratford, Ontario while my husband and his parents went swimming. I watched the video of the entire set on my phone. I wished I’d been there, despite all the…people.
So when Riot Fest announced The Cure as a headliner, it was a no brainer that I’d go. If I missed them AGAIN for this their second summer in a row in Chicago, then I’d officially suck and have to turn in my Cure card. I bit the bullet and got a 3-day pass (thank you, honey!) as they hadn’t announced each day’s line-ups (that’s how they get ya!) and I didn’t want to stress over single-day ticket stuff. No VIP thing for me (I was tempted by the better bathrooms and lounges…) For the last September of my 30s, I thought I’d “slum it with the kids” and just deal with the mess. Didn’t imagine how messy it was going to be. But we were all in this together: the “babies” (literal babies and teen-and-20-somethings both) and the more vintage of us. And really, there was something for everyone based on age and styles. I had an awesome time, and now that my bones are like Oh, you’re not going to be standing in mud all day? and they don’t hate me so much, I get back into the groove of my week and take some time to reflect on my adventure.
The early weather forecasts for this first Riot day had called for cloudy and 72. Yeah, not so much. Ever the Boy Scout, I packed my satchel with essentials including a travel poncho, sanitizer, earplugs (!), water bottle, sunscreen (for later in the weekend…), my ticket folded into a plastic bag, and Cold-Eze to fight the cold I picked up on Monday after my dentist appointment. I was actually feeling better by the weekend, but ya know, keeping myself in check. Properly layered with my outer jacket good for any light to moderate rain. I made it to Ashland after work and took the bus down to North. Was going to take the North bus, but kept waiting and waiting and, eff it I’ll walk. I joined up with others doing to same thing and talked with Javier and Kristie (??) along the way. We parted ways at the gate. Hope they had fun.
Okay, so here we. My goal was for a 5:00 arrival, and I made it with time to spare. My first band of the weekend was The Hotelier over at the smaller Revolt Stage. Found a tree on the edges of the healthy crowd to hold off the rain that was somewhere between a mist and a light drizzle. Good opening act for me! They describe themselves as a anti-pop anarcho punk band, but they still have some catchy pop sensibilities. In the best, accessible way if I’m making sense. I preferred when the vocals were melodic and clear over when they got screamy. The inner sanctum of the crowd was way into them, and they had their fans who knew the words and communally thrashed their heads. My favorite was the dude in the pink plastic hat thing. Looking forward to listening to more of their recordings.
After a little time to peruse the spiky jewelry and t-shirts with cool stuff on them that I’d never buy or wear and getting better acquainted with the lay of the land, I was back at the Revolt Stage for From Indian Lakes. They brought a more chill Northern California vibe. A slightly cleaner sound, though I felt like the bass levels were way up in general on this stage. Listening to them as I type, and I dig how they can switch from Fleet Foxes mellow (but not as wispy if that makes sense) to punk rock heavy without missing a beat. Again, I look forward to listening to more of their stuff.
Good starting at this smaller stage. Got me acclimated to the festival, the crowds, the people watching opportunities, and I didn’t feel like the world was pressing in on my organs. That would be later. From there, I made my way to the main Riot Stage and saw my friend Anna. Cool! I helped lead her to the left side of the sound booth where her friend Trish said to meet her. The weather was getting worse–colder and rainier. But I was good. Anna not as much. Trish arrived, and we were there in time for Gogol Bordello. They obviously have a large fan base, and I know they’ve been around, but they’re new to me. A Gypsy punk band with a Ukrainian lead singer (Eugene Hütz from Everything Is Illuminated!) The music is exactly what you’d expect, and it was awesome! One song intro sounded very traditional, and I said to Anna, this is the part of the show where Ernie’s mother starts dancing a traditional Romanian peasant dance. Loved every second! So now I’m sold, and I’ll listen to them more. During the show, the rain fell harder, but Trish had an umbrella even though they were on the No-no list. Since were further back, I didn’t feel so bad. From my angle, I loved watching the Pokeman and lit-up Mario on sticks bouncing in the crowd. The girls were done and over it for the evening after GB. So as the crowd moved out, I moved up and got a pretty sweet spot for Jane’s Addiction.
The rain continued, but never so torrential that I was like I hate my life. My poncho never did make it out of my bag, though it probably should have. My layers and Makers Mark baseball cap kept me decently dry, but I asked a lot of them. Got to talking to folks waiting with me. A few of my vintage who also remembered seeing Jane’s headline the first Lollapalooza tour. Tim and Desiree. And nutty Jean from Pensacola, Florida who flew up here primarily for Jane’s. She wasn’t letting anything rain on HER parade, yo. She loved how everyone in Chicago was so nice to her and made her feel like a part of the city. Glad we’re doing our part to be hospitable.
So Jane’s: effin rad. A handful of bands were set to play an entire album in its entirety. Jane’s played all of Nothing’s Shocking from “Up the Beach” to “Pigs in Zen,” and including of course “Jane Says” (when they brought out the kettle drum), “Mountain Song,” and “Standing in the Shower…Thinking.” I hadn’t listened to it straight through in a while so I had fun listening and remembering. Perry Ferrel was crazy and cooky as ever and I loved him for it. Dave Navaro was tank- topped and rocker-hot as usual. Perry would just start monologuing about whatever, including how he could take a bubble bath on stage with all the rain water. A few times, a bass note would hit and it felt like the who city shook, like something was off with the sound booth (guess bass is a tricky wicket). Glad I had my earplugs. Looked like Dave yelled at one of the stage guys about it after the second time it happened. Perry did make his way into the crowd on my side. I was just out of reach, but I was so close. Jean freaked out, and was very explicit about the brick she shit. Ha! I grabbed a couple photos that turned out decent enough. Pretty awesome! The closed with a couple songs of Ritual de lo Habitual which is the album I got into them with, really based on my age and time of life and all that. “Been Caught Stealing,” where at the first Lolla, Perry introed the song by asking the crowd, “Do you like my pants? Well, why don’t you steal ’em?!” The closed with “Stop!” which is one of my faves. No “Classic Girl” unfortunately. In fact they stopped a few minutes early, I think cos of the rain. Looked like the fire marshall was on stage there. Perry was afraid we’d all catch pneumonia. With all that rain (among other rules…), there were of course no bonfires behind me like on the hill at Lolla where when I looked back during Jane’s, I counted at least 14 of them. Listening to Shocking as I type. I only have Ritual on cassette with the censored cover. Of all my old faves, that one never made the digital transition. Not even a CD from the South Bend library. I should fix that. Jean and I walked part of the way to the gate together. We gave each other a big wet hug before parting ways. I hope she had a fun rest of her weekend!
Getting home. Best way really was the North Ave bus to the Red Line. I waited in line to get on one of the extra long CTA buses, and managed to snag the last seat across from the back door because the couple sitting there kept smiling at folks so no one sat next to them. I didn’t even notice their moves and saw the empty seat. Getting out of the way plus getting off my muddy (!) feet were my motives. Very friendly folks. Didn’t catch their names. But the guy, a cute buzz cut Latino was jovial and conversational. He asked a number of questions including what art form I’d perform on (he named a plaza) in Madrid, and how many wash cloths I could stack on my erect penis (we got a little more in depth about the varietals involved, but I’ll spare you all that as perhaps I’ve already gotten a little TMI here, ha.) We all talked about our experience so far, comparing notes and commiserating/celebrating the rain and mud.
When my new friends got off at the Blue Line, another couple sat next to me. A New York couple where the fella was very tattooed and I think ear gauged. We got to talking, and then they asked me the best way to get back to Lincoln Park. I started to suggest they take the Red Line one stop up to Fullerton, but then I didn’t know which part of LP they needed to go. Further up to the Halsted and Diversey area. Since the Red Line station is right at Halsted, they I think asked if they could walk, and I said Yeah, that it was only a half mile up. BUT. As I rode up the train toward Fullerton, I realized I had them walking up from Fullerton and not North, which adds another mile to their walk. Ugh! I felt SO bad. Like Mortified at my dingbattedness. My brain did not reboot from the earlier part of the conversation. So yeah, I should’ve had them come with me to the train and then they could walk from there. Here I was trying to be nice and helpful and welcoming to our fair city and I totally bombed. I was like They hate me! I am cursed! If they see me the rest of the weekend they’re going to kick my ass. I knew where they were staying and even thought of calling the hotel to leave a message apologizing. But that would’ve been weird, eh? So, I Tweeted my apology along with sending it through the more traditional Through the Universe route. My Tweet was randomly re-tweeted by a couple folks with not very many followers. Not sure if they were trying to help or laughing at me. I deserve both I guess. At least my new friends who probably hate me got to pass such Chicago cultural institutions such as Steppenwolf and Kingston Mines. So there’s that. Again, SORRY! I obsessed about it some, but as I started thinking about how I’d write about it (here and through more creative means), I calmed down. The power of turning ridiculousness into art. 🙂
Saturday Wait, Sunday Always Comes to Late (Click “more” for the rest! Scroll Down for The Cure.)
My day started with an awards luncheon downtown with Ernie as he was the recipient of the Illinois Theatre Association’s 2014 Award in Excellence in Theatre for Young Audiences (“It’s like a TYA Tony!”) So proud of him, and his speech was a tearjerker. Thanks, honey… 🙂 After the ceremony, I changed into my mud-tinted jeans, and then Ern drove me back to Humboldt Park for the day’s festivities. I changed into my muddy shoes in the car.
I got there around 2. I didn’t make it in time for Rose’s Pawn Shop, a bluegrass-tinged band I wanted to check out. Ah well, I’ll have to give them further listening on my own. I wandered around in the now muddy mucky destroyed lawn and caught some of the Dandy Warhols from the edges of the crowd. Good, but didn’t quite grab me. One of these bands that’s been around and I was like Oh, this is them, okay. cool, but ya know. The next band I really wanted to catch was City and Colour on the Roots stage across the way. New to me, but I listened to them some during my prep week (thank you, Spotify!) Awesome set! And DW didn’t quite stop on time, but they started anyway. Good for them! (Wish The Cure would’ve done that…) I loved the bluesy rootsy feel to their music while still fitting into a punk fest. A new band for me! Thanks, guys!!
A moment about the bees. With the clouds and rain gone (if a bit on the cool side), the bees were out with a vengeance. I hate bees. They belong in flowers or behind glass, but not anywhere flying around me. Many a-folk ducked and dived out of their way. While waiting at the Roots stage, one landed on my t-shirt, on my stomach, and I sucked in my gut to avoid it getting me through my shirt. Not that it would, but still. A moment of petrification, and this girl tried to help get it off me, brushing at it, but it stayed put. Still I think we did some damage, but it stayed. I got it off me with my phone, and it landed in the mud, a victim of the day. I did feel bad for killing it. Lawd knows we’re having a bee-killing problem in the world these days, which ain’t a good thing cos of you know, their pollination gig. But it was self defense or something. She landed on the wrong guy.
Next up at Roots was the Afghan Whigs, one of those early 90s bands I knew of, but never got into for some reason. Another awesome set, and I was like Where have I been?! At one point they played the intro to “Jesus Christ Super Star.” Rad. I will have to fix my neglect of them. (Okay, sorry that’s all I have this morning on that…this is a multi-day process you know…) But these two Roots Stage shows were the perfect Saturday afternoon, not too crowded crazy with room to move and rock out a little and totally added to the worth of getting a 3-day pass.
From there I wandered around and found the Rise and Rebel stages. In part cos I didn’t want to deal with Die Antwood or WuTang Clan. Wandered into Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies during their cover of “Straight Up.” Ha! Also covers of “I Believe I Can Fly” and “End of the Road.” I guess that’s their thing? Never knew too much about them. Wasn’t sure what do from there, but I saw my writerly friend Randall who writes for Consequence of Sound. I knew he was going to be there. So I went with him and his friend to the Get Up Kids show. Now, they were a part of a new wave of emo (yet rather perky) punk that I was a little too old for. I was in a different place then. In 1999 when the whole album they played came out, I was knee deep in folk singers (Dar!), boy bands, and Roscoe’s dance music & pop (Ray of Light, anyone?), along with my more vintage alt-bands. Not that that’s a bad thing, that’s just where I was. Maybe also the Kids and their ilk were kind of a straight thing? But then I was all over Green Day when they broke, so who knows. Randall, who’s maybe not quite 30 yet, is at the right age. Which again, something for everyone depending on when you grew up and all that. I didn’t know any of the songs, but thought it was fun music and the guys were great. Randall knew all the words. I knew words to other songs at other shows. 🙂 I left before they ended as I wanted to get back to the Riot Stage.
One of the highlights for me was catching Metric, another new to me band that’s been around. (Have you maybe guessed that one motive was to find new-ish music for myself?) Metric is a hard-edged synth pop group lead by the fabulous Emily Haines. Striking Blondie hair and a silky perfect voice. Danceable with grit. Awesome! Been going through their catalogue bit by bit this week. Had a middle of the field spot. Close-ish with room to move. A new fave! Emily lead the crowd in a singalong of the chorus to “Breathing Underwater.” Awesome.
After their set, I moved up much closer in the transition to wait for The National, the headliner of the night. The Flaming Lips played across the field at Roots. But then like 30 seconds in the whole stage blew power! A guy near me suggested that Wu Tang Clan broke the stage. So that was intense. All was dark and quiet and another dude was like There’s no recovery from that citing how Green Day played in California (I think) when basically a tidal wave of torrential rain crashed on the sound board and crushed it. But they re-booted, and all the crazy acid driven colors abounded (wow that word is awkward past tense. Whatevs.) All the pix I tried to grab look like the stage was engulfed in flames. From the lips. See what I did there? Those of us waiting for the National had to keep waiting as we learned that they were late arriving. They were stuck in Ottawa and had to hop on some puddle jumper to get here. Okay, who planned their itinerary? You give yourself TIME for Chicago. They were maybe 15 minutes late, and my bones were starting to be like Dude, you’ve been standing in the mud way too long… But whatever. When the guys arrived they apologized and then got to it. Now, The National is one of those bands I’m pretty sure I really like. I mean, I do. The music is amazing, and I THINK I’m into Matt Berninger’s mumbly English teacher vocals. It’s like it 99% gels for me, but not quite there. Ya know. I’ve felt that they’d be more dynamic live vs. than on record. And yeah, I’m right. I didn’t know any of the songs, but I loved the set, and the Dessner twins are kinda hot.
Another awesome Riot night, and I was one of the last on the North Ave bus I wanted to get on. Had to stand near the from this time. But made some new friends. A young man talking to an older couple (early 50s?) and he’s like “You’re old. What have been the craziest concerts you’ve been to?” And I’m like Ballsy, dude for that “old” comment. But the guy did see Judas Priest in the late 70s so there’s that. 🙂 When folks got off for the Blue Line, I was able to sit down, and that was the best feeling in the world. My bones were cursing me for realz.
Finally, I’m getting to Sunday a whole week later. The point of my being there. Sheesh. After brunch with Ernie, he dropped me off again. I caught some of Billy Bragg on the outer circle of the crowd. Just him and his electric guitar. Don’t know much of him except for “Sexuality” his US hit from when I was in high school, which he didn’t play. Still a great set.
Spent part of the afternoon wandering and also chilling under one of the trees near one of the rows of potties. Sounds gross, but actually a very relaxing area to be in. I needed to save my strength and not be around too many people.
I made my way over to the Riot Stage to wait for Tegan and Sara. Didn’t have the strength to go over there for Superchunk. Sorry, guys. One girl in front of me commented, “There are too many dudes here for Tegan and Sara.” Of course we all have our reasons for being there. Many of us were there for The Cure. Here’s when I met Dylan and Lizzy from Minneapolis. Dylan wore a Smiths shirt, and they were both way rad. Talking life and music, and I showed them my Lovecats t-shirt under my new Riot Fest Cure t-shirt. They liked my Wish necklace. So, I new of T&S, but didn’t know their stuff. And I must say I had a lot of fun during their set. Catchy and infectious in a good way, and they were cool, and I must stay they win the Hottest Support Band a Riot Fest award. For real. Models all of them. 🙂 I’ve been listening to them this week along with all my other new favorites.
During the break, there was another surge toward the front of the stage. Dylan and Lizzy followed me as best they could, but we did get separated. Next up: Patti Smith, who D&L were there to see before heading out to Weezer. As Patti started, Dylan and I shared a salute from across the crowd. I hope they had a fun rest of their time in Chicago. So, Patti was awesome. Started with “Dancing Barefoot.” A great way to kick things off! Makes me think of the Pump Up The Volume film for some reason. Okay, also, so the throngs of photographers in the area between the fence and the stage was a little ridiculous. There weren’t there the whole time, though one lone dude was there later on, and Patti totally shooed him away. Nice! She was personable and happy to be back in Chicago where she was born “during the great blizzard of 1946.” And her mom would take her to Humboldt Park as a little girl. Nice! The band (which included her son) played “Beautiful Boy” for her grandson on this her late husband’s birthday. Gorgeous. Of course she played “Because the Night,” a highlight. I’ll admit to first hearing the song via the 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged album, but I’ve since acquired Patti’s version and love both. Hearing it live was a favorite moment of the whole weekend. She closed with “People Have the Power” and got us revved up. At least for the moment, but hopefully we can carry that energy onward. Thank you for being the fabulous punk rock hippy chick that you are!
Another crowd surge after her set for THE CURE. I didn’t get to the fence, but I got close. 3-4 people back give or take. Audience left center corner as best I could. The big decision was Reeves Side or Simon Side? A center aisle leading to the sound booth made us choose. The last time I saw them, there were only 4 of them and I guess I still and that stuck in my head. It’s now really a Reeves and Robert Side vs. Simon and Roger side. With Jason in the center of course. I chose Simon and Roger. I’d been on the other side the last two nights.
Some thoughts about the crowd/festival nature of the whole thing. SHEESH. Much more crushing than the other two nights. But then I was further back, and it wasn’t The Cure. 🙂 To make matters worse, a woman tried to bring someone in a wheelchair to the fence and the folks in front were having none of it. This was just to my right. At one point, the stage guys looked into lifting him over so he could be in front of the fence. Probably safer for all. But then they gave up. And the woman kept pressing it, and the sweet guy with the sweet girlfriend totally lashed out at her to not touch them and was like Fuck you! and the negative energy was just not cool. The dude in the wheelchair himself, from what I could tell wasn’t just physically disabled.I couldn’t hear how he was responding to all this. And you want him to have a good time, but I thought it pretty ballsy for the woman to expect a front row seat like that. I second guessed my choice of sides, but too late, and you can never predict who you’ll be around. You try to stand your ground and get a good view despite the guys as tall as you are in front of you, and the short girls next to you don’t want to elbow in the head. I could’ve lingered back (some) and not dealt with quite all this crazy. But I was like Fuck it, I’m gonna just do it and get up there and be close and have a blast. Comparing the two venues, I was as close to the band as I was during the Detroit Dream Tour show in 2000. But then I had a seat and room to move.
I also got stuck in front of /next to a couple of very loud and unpleasant singer-shouters. I have been thinking about this this week, especially in light of my Tweet to Craig, uber Cure fan and dedicated Cure nerd site creator Chain of Flowers. He’d tweeted (I read all this when I got home) that he’d let out a celebratory “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” when they played “Before Three” (a favorite off the self titled album) and I’m totally all about that. And I’m all about singing along to or shouting favorite lines, or choruses, or whatever. Because it is a celebration. I had replied to Craig’s “Bananafishbones” tweet that This is when the folks around me stopped singing-shouting along–Bliss. And maybe it came off like I was dissing the singalongs and vocalizing and screaming. But ultimately, I was talking about the girl to my left and the guy to my right who were both shouting in my ears in stereo so horribly that I could barely hear Robert and I kinda wanted to elbow them both in the face. Sorry not sorry as the kids say. But then I guess that’s just me wanting to control my environment in a rather chaotic situation. A Festival Show. Yeah, good luck with that, Michael. 🙂 This period of songs where they weren’t singing along–the darker not so sing-along songs–did make me a happier boy. I looked over to my left, and this one dude who’d been around since T&S was bopping his head all chill and I wanted to be where he was instead of dealing with the twirly girls from Atlanta next to me. But I took my moments to close my eyes and tune everyone out and just BE in the presence of a band who’s meant so much to me for so many years (an understatement we won’t dissect here). And as for ME singing along, I’m from the school of Lip synching is generally more polite because I know no one wants to hear ME “sing” Just Like Heaven, yo. 😀
Here’s the set list (courtesy of Craig): Open, Fascination Street, Sleep When I’m Dead, Push, Inbetween Days, Play For Today, A Forest, Before Three, Lovesong, Just Like Heaven, From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea, alt.end, Pictures of You, Lullaby, Close To Me, Hot Hot Hot, Wrong Number, The Caterpillar, The Walk, Mint Car, Friday I’m In Love, Doing the Unstuck, Bananafishbones, Want, Hungry Ghost, One Hundred Years, End.
No encore. It was weird. A lot of us stayed put, hoping that Robert would break curfew as he often does at these things. But no luck. Thanks to Craig, I learned that Social Distortion went over by 4 minutes, cutting into The Cure’s set. Boo you, SD! Further investigation showed that they’d planned “Give Me It” for their encore. Nice! I haven’t seen BFB live (I don’t think…) and they didn’t play Hungry Ghost in Cleveland in 2008 (my last Cure show!), and that’s a fave off the last album. So that was a first time seeing it live for me. I knew going in that it wouldn’t be a 3 1/2 hour show with single album encores. But I guess that’s okay. One Hundred Years was like That’s what I’m talkin’ about! This was also my first show with Reeves, and it was cool to see Roger back. He was directly in front of me, and he threw out a tambourine into the crowd, but I was just out of reach to try and grab it. 🙁 Anyway, the crowd dispursed when the stage guys basically threatened to throw us out. Ha!
Maybe it wasn’t the perfect set list. And no, I couldn’t get completely lost in the show (maybe I need to invite the band to play for me and 50 of my closest friends with a few set list “suggestions” next time…), and I can’t say it was the best out of my now 7 Cure shows (only 7?!) but you know, a Cure concert is like pizza… Great to reconnect with the band, and how does Simon not age? Craig posted the Denver Riot Fest set. They had more time and there are a few I wish they’d played that in Chicago moments, but I can’t get all jealous and tragic about it. Here’s hoping for full blown proper Cure shows in 2015! Though they’ve made it to Chicago two years in a row, I may have to do some traveling next time. Unless they like Tour for Real? Maybe Someday?? All these shows have been special in their own way and all a part of this journey here on earth to get a little hippy dippy for a second. Thank you for another awesome night, guys!!!
I finally gave up and walked away, high and exhausted, and emotionally all over the place. A parting selfie and then throwing my plastic water bottle on the ground with the rest of the trash. I don’t usually do that, but the act of throwing something helped myself to reboot. At the gate, I reclaimed my metal water bottle they took away from me upon entering (had no troubles with it Friday and Saturday, but I suppose it could’ve been used as a projectile weapon…) Another North Bus, and some chatting with folks. We’d just missed the train and had to wait a while for the next one. I could’ve fallen asleep leaning against the subway station pillar. My tennis shoes still need a good soaking. My jeans turned about pretty well in the wash. And I can’t believe that whole dream of an adventure was a week ago already.
I think I’ve said my piece. BLESS you if you actually got this far (even if you skipped around). Not sure if I’ll do Riot Fest again next year. Maybe a single day depending on the line-up. It might take an REM reunion to get me back. But then a festival is probably not the best venue for that. This “old” man will want a seat, thank you. Ha.