Riot Fest Chicago Sunday review

Weezer wrapped up Riot Fest Chicago 2014 with a performance of their classic self-titled Blue Album, but it was punk legend Patti Smith who delivered the most remarkable set on the final day of the event.

Performing before throngs of people packed into a cramped side stage area, Weezer opened with their new single, “Back to the Shack,” then proceeded backwards through time, playing hits like “Pork and Beans,” “Island in the Sun,” and Pinkerton‘s “El Scorcho,” a big fan favorite. After a brief intermission, a giant blue banner was unfurled and the group launched into “My Name is Jonas” as much of the crowd screamed along. Aside from allowing guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner to sing “Holiday,” Weezer replicated the Blue Album exactly as it was recorded.

But something was missing. The energy, the intensity, and the connection with the crowd just weren’t there. Because the first portion of their set took a little too long, the band had to hurry through the Blue Album in order to get it all in. Closing track “Only in Dreams,” in particular, felt rushed, which was a shame because its dramatic, slow-building climax is a high point of the record.

The guys were also bothered by technical issues with their in-ear monitors. Perhaps that explains why they seemed to be going through the motions during “Say It Ain’t So” and “In the Garage.” The performance was by no means exceptional, but still, it was the Blue Album, one of the great rock records of the past 20 years. The fans who witnessed the show left mostly happy, even if Weezer have played dozens of better concerts in their careers.

Patti Smith, on the other hand, could never be accused of a lack of intensity. The 67-year-old icon took the Riot Fest ethos to heart by punctuating “Beneath the Southern Cross” and “People Have the Power” with spoken passages imploring fans to exercise the power of their vote to take back control from corporations and warmongering government officials. “A new world is coming and you will create it!,” she shouted. “You are f—ing free!”

Smith spoke at length about her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, who would have celebrated his 65th birthday on this day. “I never play this song without thinking of you,” she said to Fred while introducing “Because the Night.” She dedicated John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” to their 10-month-old grandson. Both touching and inspiring, Smith’s call to action was the strongest set of the entire weekend.

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Riot Fest’s decision to schedule Weezer and the Cure in the same headlining time slot was a near-criminal offense, but at least the Cure began their set before Weezer, allowing ambitious attendees to see the first 40 minutes of the Cure before heading over to hear the Blue Album. The Cure did not cater to these festival nomads, however. Quite the opposite — the early portion of their concert was full of older album cuts. No well-known tracks were performed during that time, although those who chose to stick around for the whole set were eventually treated to gems like “Lovesong,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” and “Close to Me.”

Earlier in the day, America’s bar band, the Hold Steady, provided a dose of adrenalin with a show heavy on their best material, including “Sequestered in Memphis,” “You Can Make Him Like You,” “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” and “Stay Positive.” The group’s biggest hit, “Stuck Between Stations” was also a highlight, even though it will never sound quite as fun without the twinkling keys of departed pianist Franz Nicolay.

Kurt Vile & the Violators may sound like a punk band based on their moniker, but instead they played a technically-impressive set of straightforward, searing rock and roll that ranged from acoustic passages to high-octane electric guitar solos. The Dropkick Murphys’ unique blend of Celtic punk won over the audience, while eternal ball of energy Andrew WK got the party started as only he can with songs like “Party Hard,” “I Get Wet,” and “I Love NYC.”

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