Riot Fest is over and so is the summer of 2014. Yes, it rained on the first day of the festival and there was confusion and muck aplenty in Humboldt Park. The resulting mud, chilly humidity and constantly swarming bees may have haunted the festival for the remaining two days, but for all of the discomfort I wouldn't have missed it for the world. There were many things that made this years festival memorable, but I will list just the top seven that will stay in my brain for the remainder of my existence.
1. ) Rockford's golden boys, Cheap Trick, ripped through "California Man" with cement-shredding fury. ( Yeah, they've still got it, and will kick your butt if you doubt it. )
2. There was Billy Bragg's incendiary set of Brit folk with a hard-edged punk anger. ( Working-class blues, folk, and punk? Bragg spoke directly to the masses about the struggle of just getting by day to day. It didn't matter if you were gay, straight, Black, white, trans, bi, male or female ... struggle was all the same to him. ).
3. ) There were the quieter performances that defied the "Riot" moniker of the festival. Headliners The National, newbies Tokyo Police Club and pioneers Television played music that demanded attention and it paid off in spades.
4. ) Patti Smith opening her set by snapping photos of the crowd with a Poloroid Land Camera while joyfully waving to the throng and celebrating being able to perform on her home turf. ( Smith mentioned in her set that she was born in Chicago and that her parents took her to Humboldt Park when she was a toddler. )
5. ) Local Netherfriends' goofy, rancorous, set made this one-man band look like a pelvis-thrusting vaudeville-era punk. Goofy, sweet, a bit cranky, and wholly original, people should watch out for Netherfriends.
6. ) There were the looks of revulsion and horror plastered on the faces of the rock fans waiting to hear hot band Wavves as they had to endure Macaulay Culkin's Velvet Underground joke band Pizza Underground. The offended fans looked like someone had pried their jaws open with a crowbar and shoved a tablespoon of flaming crude oil down there throats.
7. ) Tegan and Sara smacked down a "punk purist" who heckled them because they strapped on acoustic guitars. Sara cracked, "Uh-oh, them bitches got guitars...," while Tegan was having none of it. After taking a moment to explain that the duo got their mojo from listening to their parents punk albums she told the heckler, "Eat shit ... 'kay?'"
Not more than a week after Riot Fest, who should roll into town but Fishbone. As the pioneers of afro punk, this band has been in the habit of bashing musical genres, bluntly challenging notions on racism and political correctness, and force-feeding the world a stew of deranged humor for more than 35 years. Its no surprise that Questlove nearly lost his gig as bandleader on the Jimmy Fallon Show when he used Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" as the intro music for right-winger Michele Bachmann when she guested on the show. The irony, of course, is that Bachmann liked the then-unidentified groove so much that she literally danced onstage to it.
Now we have a new Fishbone EP from the current version of the band, Intrinsically Intertwined ( CSSL/Zojack World Wide ), and it is pretty much what you could expect from such an unpredictable crew. To put it precisely, the EP is a glob of infectious weirdness mixing musical flavors ( acid jazz, country, rockabilly, hard funk ) and influences ( Sun Ra, Earl Scruggs, Gil-Scott Heron, The Bus Boys, Gene Vincent ) with a sense of humor that smells like Red Foxx after he got into the catnip. As if the recording were not enough, Fishbone blew into town for a sold-out two-night stand at the intimate club Martyrs' for what can only be described as a holiday for nutters.
Of the five new songs on Intrinsically Intertwined, "Whipper Snapper"with its out-of-control rockabilly propulsion and over-the-top velocityis the cut that sticks with me. If the song is insanely memorable on the CD that says nothing for what went down at Martyr's. The career-making "Everyday Sunshine," with its languid but jolly groove, may have come mid-set, but by the time the band slipped into it Fishbone had pretty much annihilated the club with the start of a three-hour set loaded with classics and old-school jamsnone of it delivered with a straight face.
"Crazy Glue, " the new "Kung-fu Grip," "Date Rape," "Party at Ground Zero," "Alcohol ( with its inane chorus, "Oooo-Oooo...make you throw up!!!" )," "Let Dem Ho's Fight" and, of course, "Lyin' Ass Bitch" turned this respectable North Side club into a body-shaking crash palace. ( I saw far more body surfing and slam dancing in the three hours of Fishbone's set then I saw in the entirety of Riot Fest, this year and last year combined. )
Between vocalist/sax player Angelo Moore, geriatric joker/trumpeter "Dirty" Walter Kibbey II and acid-fingered guitarist Rocky George, I can't say that the effort to keep the groove within the bounds of sanity ( and the ass slamming in the audience ) was not attempted, but it hardly mattered. From the street there was no way to see inside of Martyr's 10-foot-tall windows. The glass was fogged and dripping from the humidity, while the pavement was actually vibrating.