Over the weekend, the annual music festival known as Riot Fest made its first of three stops. From Aug. 28-30, the National Western Complex in Denver, Colo. was transformed the Riot Fest & Rodeo; into a punk rock playground filled with music, food, carnival games and merriment.
This marked the third venue in as many years for the Colorado stop of Riot Fest. With a change in scenery came a myriad of issues. Dust filled the air, glazing concertgoers in a layer of dirt. There was also the issue of the venue itself, which surrounded the actual complex, which was flanked on each side by a pair of stages. In the middle was the smallest of the stages; and a walkway that proved necessary to move from side-to-side. The location of the venue itself was also less than ideal.
That being said, those issues are all secondary to the quality of the entertainment; which was high. The lineup contained an array of artists so diverse that anyone could have found something to please them aurally. The carnival rides served their purpose, and the food selection (which included several local food trucks) was on-point. The libations, while overpriced (though not in comparison to similar events), were cold.
In all, as it should, the music was what stood out most. Though the bands varied in sound, style and approach; they were united by a common theme. While not necessarily embracing the sound, every act embodied the spirit of punk rock.
With Denver in the books, Riot Fest will have two additional stops. The festival will next head to its original home of Chicago from Sept. 11-13 for the Riot Fest & Carnival. It will then conclude north of the border in Toronto from Sept. 19-20 for the Riot Fest & Exposition.
What to relive Denver’s Riot Fest & Rodeo? Continue reading to find a review, broken down by day.
Hip-hop reigns supreme during day 1 of Denver’s Riot Fest & Rodeo
On Friday Aug. 28, Riot Fest made its way into the Mile High City; heading to Denver for the first of the stops on the annual festival. Known primarily as a punk rock festival, it was the collection of rappers on the bill that stole the majority of the spotlight on day one.
With enough acts assembled to make it worthwhile, hip-hop was awarded its own stage (the Roots Stage) for Day one. That being said, it was a relatively unknown MC and DJ combo on the small stage located in the heart of the National Western Complex that made the first waves in the pool of rappers. The local combo of Input (MC) and Broken (DJ) brought with them a band, and also a surprisingly large amount of talent on both the mic and the turntables. They finished a memorable set by admitting the “jacked a beat” from M83 and inviting their humble audience to an end of the world party.
Though the aforementioned newcomers impressed, it was left to some O.G.’s in the game to really get the party going. De La Soul took to the Roots Stage for an early evening set. Hyping up a crowd has become somewhat of a lost art in hip-hip, but they did a masterful job of riling the audience up. They had the crowd chanting, they even got the gathered photographers to momentarily put down their cameras and put up their hands. They pitted the sides of the audience against each other to see which was better. In the end, everyone won. They played with a precision and timelessness. Needless to say “Me, Myself and I” were not the only ones to enjoy the performance.
Perhaps the most disappointing of the Hip-Hop acts was Death Grips. Their sound was a jumbled, sludgy mess that stunk worse than the dog food factory nearby. As precise as De La Soul was, Death Grips was the exact opposite; offering more noise than music.
Airborne Toxic Event is far from rap; but they got into the fun. At one point, they even covered Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.”
Cypress Hill followed, cementing their rap superstar status. As they began their set, a cloud of smoke engulfed the audience. Naturally, they added to it, providing plumes of their own from the stage. This should come as no surprise, seeing as half of their songs are about marijuana. In perhaps the best set of the night, they blazed through their hits, such as “Dr. Greenthumb,” Insane in the Brain” and “Rock Superstar.” Despite possibly being under the influence, they kept the energy high and dealt a dose of dopeness.
The final rapper to take the stage was the incomparable Ice Cube. He hit the stage with a vengeance, and even brought out N.W.A.’s MC Ren and DJ Yella to run through some of the legendary acts classic songs. He also brought out his son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who inherited some of his father’s skills on the mic. The set did feel a bit like a promo for the move Straight Outta Compton (in which Jackson Jr. plays Ice Cube), but it still more than delivered musically.
It would be unfair not to give props to the two non-hip-hop acts that stood out. Iggy Pop has still got it at his advanced age. System of a Down also closed the show with a hard-hitting set. That being said, it was still the MC’s that reigned supreme on this day.
The music gets cranked up to 11 during day 2 of Denver’s Riot Fest & Rodeo
When compared to the day that preceded it, there was something noticeably different about Saturday’s lineup at the Riot Fest & Rodeo in Denver, Colo. On this day, rap was no longer the focal point. On this day, the people were given a chance to thrash, rage and rock hard.
Many didn’t quite make it that far however, succumbing to the onstage slaughter that was GWAR. These Scumdogs of the Universe, engaged in an epic battle in front of the audience’s very eyes. They decapitated, mutilated and violated all kinds of different kinds of creatures; covering those closest to the stage in blood, bile and a bevy of other bodily fluids. Oh, they also played a little music.
The crowd then was treated to a punk rock history lesson, with back-to-back performances by the Vandals and the Damned. The Vandals kept things light, even when singing about their dead girlfriend. While slightly more gloomy, the Damned also rocked hard, delivering plenty of Music for Pleasure.
The Eagles of Death Metal lightened the mood some. Offering a dose of straightforward rock-n-roll and comic relief, the only thing that rivaled their sound was their singer’s ridiculous outfit.
Next up was the metalcore/post-hardcore outfit Thrice. Coming off of a three-year hiatus, the band showed no signs of rust. They got the crowd, and the circle pit going; offering a blend of music that was visceral, ambient and complex.
To the delight of pop Goths everywhere, Alkaline Trio took to the stage. Musically they sounded alright, but their performance lacked energy and they fell flat vocally, at points.
Next up was the night’s lone hip-hop offering. The lights dimmed, and the legendary Run DMC took their turn on the mics. Run then repeatedly asked for the lights to be turned up, then dimmed again repeatedly. When they were playing, they sounded great. The issue with their set was the lengthy banter between songs. Though, perhaps you cannot blame them for that. Perhaps, it’s difficult to find the proper balance. One might even say that “It’s Tricky.”
Noticeably missing from Run DMC’s performance was their departed DJ Jam Master Jay. Much like Ice Cube the night before, they decided to turn the show into a family affair. Taking Jay’s place on the turntables was none other than his son: Jam Master J’Son. The talent must be in his blood, as he masterfully scratched and mixed during a marijuana-themed medley that may have been the highlight of the night.
On opposite sides of the venue, Rancid and Modest Mouse were tasked with closing out the night’s festivities. Catching part of each, Modest Mouse played too slow of a selection and failed to establish any stage presence. Rancid on the other hand, delivered. It was a full moon on Saturday, and out came the wolves. Needless to say, it was a howling good time.
There were good times aplenty as Denver’s Riot Fest & Rodeo came to a close
After two days of rocking, the Riot Fest & Rodeo in Denver, Colo. came to a conclusion on Sunday; offering attendees one more opportunity to rage. The final act featured a promising and eclectic bill; one that did not disappoint.
Andrew W.K. really got the party going during the afternoon. Wearing perhaps the same exact white t-shirt he has donned throughout every other appearance in his career, he riled up the crowd for some raucous fun. Surprisingly adept on the piano, his set solely focused on one thing: Partying. He even brought out a pizza-shaped guitar for a moment, as every good party has something to munch on (what better than a tasty riff?). Every song he offered sounded pretty much the same, but that song was epic.
Returning for the second straight year, GZA then made his way to the stage, this time without the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan. He offered his critically-acclaimed solo album Liquid Swords, much to the delight of the gathered hip-hop aficionados.
Riot Fest then got a blast from the past, as the Lawrence Arms offered a little more straightforward punk to the masses. They are the one and only band from the festival’s inaugural lineup in 2005 that appeared on the bill for the 2015 Denver stop. For as hardcore as they may sound, they were surprisingly polite onstage; dedicating songs to Reverend Horton Heat, L7 and some guy in the crowd wearing a corn shirt.
Yelawolf and L7 both failed to impress. As did the Moth and the Flame, who sounded like a cheap rip-off of the Cure.
After that, the show headed into the meat of the lineup. Flogging Molly threw back a few Guinness and hit the stage. Their set was upbeat, turning the crowd into a bunch of hooligans, as they soaked in the band’s unique offering of Celtic punk.
Speaking of upbeat, the rock Gods (if only in their own minds) known as Tenacious D took to the stage next. Seamlessly, blending comedy and metal, the self-proclaimed “Barry White of rock” seduced the audience with timeless loves songs such as: “Low Hangin’ Fruit,” “Double Team” and their finale “F*ck Her Gently.”
Across the venue, the Prodigy then kicked things into high gear. The only electronic act of the weekend, they won over the audience with their infectious energy, frenetic playing and pulsating light show; rocking just as hard, if not harder than any band at Riot Fest.
For the festival’s final act, the incomparable Snoop Dogg took to the stage. He was scheduled to play his classic album Doggystyle in its entirety, a plan that was quickly abandoned. Though he did perform many of the LP’s cuts, he also mixed in a myriad of his other hits. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, as he had them all rapping, singing, dancing and screaming along the entire time. The fitting finale more than ensured that people ended their Riot Fest experience on a high note.