Riot Fest Denver – Day 1

I attended both days of Riot Fest here in Denver – or “Riot Fest Almost Kansas” as I like to joke, because it took place at May Farms in Byers, which is an hour east outside of Denver and 2 hours west from the Kansas border.
Riot Fest ahoy!

I was especially looking forward to this for a few reasons – first, THE REPLACEMENTS. I mentioned that in my last post. Also, I was taking my teenagers to the show with me – they were excited to see Blink-182. I had already seen Blink before, with New Found Glory, Sum 41 and Fenix TX, I think. 3 days before 9/11/01, actually. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the song I heard just before the news that day.) ANYWAY.

So, we rolled in to the Riot Camp on Friday afternoon (which I guess would actually be Day 0), parked in the dusty lot, had dinner & walked around some to get our bearings and meet some of our neighbors. Chatted with Don who was staying in the camper behind us. He and a friend had flown in from California specifically to see The Replacements, but to see some of the other bands as well.

Roughing it for dinner

The kids and I walked back to the camper, they did some  homework and I read some and we all went to bed, listening to the dulcet tones of partiers and other campers arriving. (I heard the same sounds at 12:30am when I woke up. And 2 as well. People were having fun.)

One of my favorite moments of the weekend occurred at about 7:30am on Saturday. I heard a little bit of Seal’s cover of “Fly Like An Eagle,” but not all that loud. Moments later, the opening strains of “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits filled our RV as if it had an incredible sound system inside, playing at full volume. My kids later told me that they thought it was the next RV over. The song starts off with Sting singing “I want my…I want my MTV” over the swelling arpeggiated synth, and it’s loud…and then the booming drums start…and I start cracking up. I cannot believe they’re doing this at 7:30am! They had to test the speakers sometime, I guess, and I’m just hysterically laughing thinking about every camper  – in tents or RVs – waking up to this song. I go out and look at my kids and they are not amused, but I just keep laughing, and they eventually started laughing about it as well.

We had breakfast & listened to the bands soundchecking on the various stages that morning and left at around 11:30 to head in to the festival. I wanted to scope the merch situation & then get to the Riot stage to see local Denver band Potato Pirates. (I’d link to their website, but it seems dormant since last year. Their FB page is updated)

Vinny, Stebe, & Scott – Potato Pirates

I had checked them out on Spotify and they had a bit of a Screeching Weasel vibe and that’s a good thing. I told my kids about their songs “We’re Faggots” (anti-homophobe song) and “Fuck The Radio” and that piqued their interest. I’m glad we made it out to see Potato Pirates, it was a great punk rock start to the weekend, circle pit, bagpipes, and all!

Matt Emrick – Potato Pirates

I had then wanted to get over to the Rock stage to see Tera Melos, but met up with a friend by the VIP section at the Riot stage during the Potato Pirates and ended up missing the Tera set. I’ve liked what I heard on Spotify, though. Bummed I missed them.

Next up was Off With Their Heads on the Roots stage. Found their cover of “Goddamn Job” by the Replacements on Spotify, it’s a pretty straight cover, no Bob Stinson guitar wails, though. They’re good hard, fast rock.

I guess some would call them punk, that’s probably accurate, I guess. It’s not pop, and with shouty vocals but the distortion on the guitars is pretty sustained & dirty. They kind of remind me of Dropkick Murphys, but without the accordion or banjo. So maybe not Dropkick Murphys, then. Maybe just the vocals. Anyway.

Ryan Young – Off With Their Heads

Up next was Touché Amoré, a band I was really looking forward to seeing after checking them out on Spotify as well. (Notice an online music service theme here? They’re not paying me, I just use their service a lot to discover new music.) I was not disappointed, not in the least. They were easily a top 5 act of the weekend for me, and I saw and/or heard 26 bands over the two days. And I would have said that even if their guitarist Clayton Stevens hadn’t been wearing a Cocteau Twins shirt. But he was.

Clayton Stevens – Touché Amoré

Their music, at least on the new album Is Survived By, sounds to me like post-rock with vocalist Jeremy Bolm shouting/screaming the lyrics, which are very raw, emotionally. I’m not sure how someone could scream banal lyrics, but I’m sure it’s been done. Not here, though. Great music & words, and I’ve never been much of a fan of the screaming, but it works really well here.

Next we caught some of This Will Destroy You at the Roots stage before setting off for some food & free water (which was promised but didn’t materialize until later that scorching day).

Chris King – This Will Destroy You

This is the real post-rock deal, y’all. Although I understand why Riot Fest couldn’t schedule TWDY in a nighttime slot, music like this really deserves to be heard in the dark, IMO. And it got dark out in Byers. I would have loved to have had TWDY playing in a middle slot with no other bands playing – like where they had AWOLNATION scheduled to play on Sunday – with the huge music and light show. But they played in the day, and while the music was great, something was lost on me, not having had an emotional connection to their music beforehand. That emotional connection would surely have been cemented in the dark. By the way – when I took that picture above, I couldn’t quite see what was on his guitar – I thought they looked like autographs. Turns out, it’s blood. So.

Next on our must-watch list was Best Coast. I had played their first album for my daughters and they liked the summery music vibe and songs about boys & broken hearts.

Bethany Cosentino – Best Coast

The songs were good, that aforementioned summery vibe fit the searing heat of the day.

There wasn’t a lot of shade (hopefully something they’ll fix next year) but you kind of felt a little cooler shaking your head to the tunes. I did, anyway.

Bethany was fairly talkative onstage – my kids laughed at her stories about being scared to ride Moby Dick (one of the carnival rides at the festival) and about being attacked by a duck.

Next, we took a break and headed back to the RV for some water and food. They had great food trucks there set up to serve people both days. I hear that they were operating for breakfast as well, but we just ate there for dinner.

I made it back out for Superchunk. I didn’t know that Laura wouldn’t be on tour with them, but after reading this Rolling Stone article, I understand why she wasn’t. Superchunk is a legendary indie band that I had never listened to much until lately, and I had expected some folks bashing out some sweet tunes onstage. What I didn’t expect was the springy whirlwind that is Mac McCaughan.

Mac McCaughan – Superchunk

One of the highest energy acts of the weekend, he bounded around, windmilling, singing, wailing on the guitar, blazing through new songs like “FOH” and “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” from their new record I Hate Music, and old favorites like “Crossed Wires,” “Detroit Has A Skyline,” and, of course, “Slack Motherfucker.”

Jason Narducy & Mac – Superchunk

Loved seeing Superchunk finally. I look forward when they return to Denver to play a headlining gig.

After Superchunk came Tough Decision #1 of Riot Fest: Guided By Voices vs. Against Me! GBV’s set was 5:05-6:05; Against Me! 5:15-6:15. Ouch. However, I figured I had 10 minutes to watch GBV, which would be about 7 songs, and then I could make my way over to watch Laura Jane. So that’s what I did.
Guided By Voices
I like GBV, but listening to Against Me! in the weeks leading up to Riot Fest and reading about Laura Jane’s transition, I was compelled to check her & the band out. 
Atom Willard & Laura Jane Grace – Against Me!
I’m very glad I made that choice, as Against Me! was probably my 2nd favorite set of the whole weekend. Very tight, great passion, devoted fans, great songs.
Laura Jane Grace – Against Me!

The littlest Against Me! fan at Riot Fest
Somewhat spent after Against Me!, we went back to the camper to chill a bit & listen to Alkaline Trio, who we could hear just fine. My kids wanted to hang out some more but also wanted to be back in the festival for AFI. I had business in the meantime with Speedo, Atom, Petey X, ND, JC 2000 & Apollo 9. Rocket From The Crypt.
I lived in San Diego from 1988 – 1994 and never saw Rocket live there, which, looking back, was kind of ridiculous. I worked at KCR, was in a couple of bands, wrote for a fanzine, and Rocket were the kings of the county. How I never saw them is beyond me. I liked them as much as the other popular San Diego bands at the time – Creedle, Inch, fluf, Lucy’s Fur Coat, and my personal favorite, aMiniature. So I was surprised to find out that John Reis is fucking hilarious. From his “It’s great to be in Byers!” to “Make some noise for the band! Aw, come on, it’s pretty good…” exhortations, he held the crowd in his hand like a smartass James Brown.
Speedo & Petey X – Rocket From The Crypt
I had wanted to see Brand New but my kids were back in the RV and they wanted to see AFI, so I went back and heard some of Brand New in the trailer. I like them OK but I don’t know their songs that well, so I think it was kind of lost on me. Moving on.
Hung out for some of AFI. Heard them play a cover of The Cure‘s “Just Like Heaven” which was pretty straight and pretty good.
This is the only halfway decent picture of Davey Havok of AFI that I got.
I left after the Cure cover to go see The Airborne Toxic Event. I like AFI ok, but I felt like I was missing something by not seeing Airborne Toxic. One of my friends in San Diego really likes them, and I just wasn’t feeling AFI for some reason. So I walked from the Riot stage to the Rock stage.
Riot Night
I didn’t know any of the songs Airborne Toxic Event played, but I did enjoy the experience of seeing them live.
Airborne Toxic Event
Anna Bulbrook & Noah Harmon – The Airborne Toxic Event

I walked back toward the Riot stage and met up with my kids because it was now time to see one of the acts I had been telling them about since we bought tickets.

I had impressed upon them that this guy we were going to see was almost as old as their grandfather, but still jumped around the stage like a man with his hair on fire.

Mike Watt, Toby Dammit, Iggy Pop, James Williamson – Iggy and the Stooges

They came out of the gate with “Raw Power” and “Gimme Danger” and the crowd was in a frenzy. Soon came “Search And Destroy” which wound everyone up even tighter. There was an odd vibe in on the ground, not very friendly, actually. A couple of dicks stormed their way towards the stage, knocking people over as they ran up. Some lady to my right was talking to someone through part of the show – not that you could hear her most of the time, but it was distracting.

Iggy called for people who wanted to “dance with the Stooges” and a bunch of fans jumped at the chance. It was actually a really cool moment.

It was about 10pm and I wanted to get a good spot for The Replacements, so while they cleared the stage of the fans, we made our way back to the Riot stage.

My kids and I staked out a place center stage, about 100 feet back. I found my longtime friend Adam from San Diego who had flown out for the two days, but mainly to see The Replacements. It was great to see the show with someone who knew the history and loved the band as much as I did. We heard Iggy work through the rest of his set while the crowd around us became more dense in anticipation of The Replacements.

As mentioned before, I hadn’t read any previous reviews of the Toronto or Chicago reunion shows, and I hadn’t looked up any setlists. I had briefly seen that they had opened with “Takin’ A Ride” off of their first album, so I wasn’t surprised when they opened our Riot Fest with that song. What I was surprised by were the orange hats, western shirts and pink skirts that Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson & the band wore as they came onstage.

Tommy Stinson – The Replacments

Pure fucking Replacements. I loved it. The hats were ditched fairly quickly and the band ripped through much of their older, punk-er catalog: “I’m In Trouble,” “Favorite Thing,” “Shiftless When Idle,” “Hangin’ Downtown”and on and wonderfully on.

Paul Westerberg & Josh Freese – The Replacements

They touched on some of their later albums eventually, playing “Achin’ To Be” and “Merry Go Round.” I was hoping for one of their slower songs and wasn’t disappointed that “Androgynous” made the cut.

Paul Westerberg

The last half of the show was easily my favorite with the band playing many of my favorite songs – “Little Mascara,” “Left of the Dial,” “Alex Chilton,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and ending the main set with an emotional (for me, anyway) singalong of “Bastards of Young.”

That singalong is what live shows are about, for me. When the crowd knows and loves the songs enough to either lose themselves in dancing or singing, with complete abandon. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s someone near me, but that group, shared emotion and feeling…it’s transcendent.

I didn’t know how they were going to top any of that if they came out for an encore…but then they did. Paul got behind the drum kit, Tommy propped Paul’s mic against the drums and picked up Paul’s guitar, Josh grabbed Tommy’s bass and they slopped through “Hootenanny,” as it was meant to be.

Paul & Tommy

Paul joked around a bit, they asked for requests and obliged with parts of “Ace of Spades,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “Substitute,” and then they gave up and walked offstage. I waited somewhat patient, somewhat sore, wondering how they would then top *that*!

The light sculpture behind the stage started to glow brighter and brighter in the silence from the stage and applause from the crowd until it dawned on us what it was: A giant middle finger.

Fuck you.

They didn’t come back out. They left as The Replacements of old might have, stumbling offstage, disappearing into the night. Adam and I laughed in agreement – there was no other way they could have ended the show. I don’t know if anyone else was pissed or bewildered, but I was sated and spent. It had been 24 years since I had seen The Replacements (and waited out by their tour bus to catch a glimpse or talk to Paul), and I couldn’t have been more happy.

Thanks Paul & Tommy. Thanks Riot Fest. Thanks to Against Me!, RFTC, and all of the other bands of Day 1. We walked back to the RV, climbed into bed and fell asleep. Day 2 was 12 hours away.

Here’s my shared Spotify playlist with bands from both days & most all songs listed in this post.

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