September 30, 2015 Riot Fest Closes Out With a Bang Denver, CO 8-30-15
How do people survive two days in suffocating heat while inhaling enough dust to make one feel like they fornicated with an ancient mummy? Having a great soundtrack is a great start, and Denver’s Riot Fest 2015 had just that. With two days in the books, so far the masses had their senses and asses kicked to the likes of Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Testament, Iggy Pop, The Damned, and many more while literally pushing their bodies to the extreme. Teaching all in attendance a few very valuable lessons of attending weekend long festivals: First, beer, though a liquid, does not constitute a good substitute for water, no matter how much one enjoys it. Second, wearing long sleeve hooded sweaters is not a good idea in 90+ degree weather, no matter how cool one looks. Third, if one gets lost going to an outdoor music festival in Colorado, just follow the cloud hovering over the venue, it is not smog, just the pot heads sending smoke signals so others can find their way.
With these three key lessons noted, everyone streamed into the National Western Complex for one last hurrah on Sunday, August 30th, determined to send this event off with a bang, ear drums, lungs, brain cells, and all. There to help do so were a stellar list of acts in the final day including GZA, Babes in Toyland, L7, Tenacious D, Snoop Dogg, and Prodigy, among others.
If there was any person in the heat at 1:45 PM who was thinking, “It is just another day at the office,” it would be Reno, Nevada’s own Hardcore legends 7 Seconds. Formed by the Marvelli brothers, who despite numerous lineup changes, have kept the ship on a course of brutality since the ’80s. Since their first cassette (for those unfamiliar it is this plastic contraption that held a brown tape within it, which when put in a “tape player” would spew out music), Drastic Measures, they opened the doors for a whole new brash version of Punk madness. Having survived the hairspray of ’80s Glam, jeans and heroin of ’90s Alternative music, and the reincarnation of manufactured boy bands in the 2000’s, it might be safe to state that when the nukes go off, there will only be cockroaches and good hardcore music by 7 Seconds.
Nevermind coffee, all this audience needed was for the band to step on stage and they were in complete berserker mode. Mosh pits erupted, sending up a sandstorm that rivaled imagery depicted in the new Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) movie as elbows and fists flew in a fury. The band blazed through their set unrelenting and always with a smile on their faces, 7 Seconds demonstrated just why their longevity rivals most bands from the Hardcore scene. Just wrapping up a handful of South American dates, 7 Seconds will be a part of It’s Not Dead Fest held in San Bernardino, CA October 10th for those interesting in getting rattled.
The White Buffalo
Rolling over to the Root Stage at 2:00 PM, audiences were treated to one of the festival’s best surprises, acoustic rocker The White Buffalo. Though formed in 2002, Jake Smith ,known by his stage name The White Buffalo, has recently garnered the attention his unique music truly deserves. His first album in 2002, entitled Hogtied Like a Rodeo, began laying the foundation of music inspired by “relationships, love, loss, and booze with a little murder mixed in.” The White Buffalo’s next four releases have been a rather fresh breath of air in the rather stagnant world of music in the past decade or so. Smith’s most recognized material is from the groundbreaking biker drama Sons of Anarchy, often times setting the very tone for the hit show.
Armed with a new album, Love & Death of Damnation, The White Buffalo may have somewhat slowed things down for audiences versus the blistering Punk lineups, but that did not stop the band from literally captivating their audience. Their acoustic set washed over the crowd, leaving them spellbound. Overjoyed longstanding fans and newly made fans alike were taken back at Jake’s gritty yet soothing voice coupled with haunting melodies. The White Buffalo will be on tour throughout North America starting October 15th in NYC and closing out December 10th in San Diego, CA.
At 3:30 PM, also on the Roots Stage, the king of party animals, Andrew W.K., was ready to usher in one hell of a good time. Since the release of 2001’s I Get Wet, a few things were clear about Andrew W.K. First off, one did not have to go much further to find the messiah of the religion known as “party” and secondly, this guy is either really damn happy or completely, utterly insane. His music has taken the entertainment industry by storm, having been featured on soundtracks and even video games such EA’s Madden 2012. Through five releases, Andrew W.K. has not only established himself as a producer, but also a multi-instrumentalist as he sings, plays keyboards, and guitars (and that is just what listeners are aware of).
From the word “go,” Andrew W.K. made it clear to his audience that he was there to rock their faces off while kicking off one hell of a party. As the band kicked off “It’s Time to Party,” the sheer energy and “fun” were intoxicating. The funny thing about intoxication, it makes you forget it is still technically the middle of the day and the exhaustion one feels from two days of music and drinking. By the time the band got into their second track “Take It Off,” it was clear that the last two and a half days were not the “party,” but only precursor to the madness Andrew W.K. was unleashing upon all in attendance. He continues his solo tour through November, so get out and join the party.
As the temperatures started to drop, at 4:15 PM, crowds shifted their attention to an artist who is no stranger to Riot Fest, GZA. A founding member of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan, GZA’s fingerprint can be found on some prolific releases throughout the years. Sure, having built the Clan’s name through the years is an achievement within itself, he also has been a participant in his band mates’ albums since. However, the proverbial cherry on top was GZA’s 1995 solo release entitled Liquid Swords. Hands down one of his darkest and revolutionary releases, Liquid Swords brought out a new sound for GZA and merged it with some of his greatest lyrical content.
Twenty years later, GZA arrived to Riot Fest and delivered a set list primarily focused around one of his greatest works in its entirety, Liquid Swords. The crowd was, simply put, beyond containment as GZA combed through the influential release, and the fans’ reactions only serves to remind how much that album has withstood the test of time. At one point GZA brought up a kid in the crowd wearing a “Wu-Tang is for kids” shirt (a phrase from fellow bandmate Ol’ Dirty Bastard), rare even at a festival such as this for a band to recognize their fan in such a manner. As the set closed out with an Ol’ Dirty Bastard track “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” giving remembrance to one of Wu-Tang’s most memorable core members who sadly passed in 2004, crowds were only beginning to itch for more. Sadly though, as GZA wrapped up his set, giving homage to the great crowd, Babes in Toyland flat out cut him off and despite pleas from GZA, continued with the start of their set. Without a doubt truly a Hip Hop genius, as his name implies, fans can rejoice with the fact that he will be returning with his first full-length studio record since 2008’s Pro Tools sometime in 2016 with Dark Matter.
Babes In Toyland
As mentioned above, at 5:00 PM, though slightly awkward in how it kicked off, crowds were gearing up for one of Grunge’s oldest groups Babes in Toyland. A few things were certain in the late ’80s. First, hairspray/spandex clad bands were losing their crowds, coke was going out of style, and Babes in Toyland were forming to unleash hell on the music industry. One could call the band’s psychosis almost prophecy as one of the earliest lineups featured everyone’s favorite problem starter Courtney Love on bass. Granted that through releases such as 1990’s Spanking Machine through 1995’s Nemesisters featured a slew of revolving members, the core has been and always will be Kat Bjelland and Lori Barbero. While the band stopped releasing full-length albums in 1995 and essentially took time off, they can still kick a crowd’s ass.
Kicking off their set with “Blue Bell,” the weird switch from GZA to Babes In Toyland’s set dissipated, fans were absorbed by the trip down memory lane. It was as if the band had never taken any time off from their performance days as they blazed through the track with a fury. The chemistry between Lori and Kat was, without question, still strong and present as they carved through tracks such as “Swamp Pussy,” “Spit,” and “Oh Yeah.” Fans braced themselves, feeding off wild vocals coming from Kat and the sheer energy of the set. Do not miss a chance to see this under-appreciated act as they wind down the current leg of the reunion tour with a few dates in late October.
Reverend Horton Heat
Across the venue, at 5:30 PM on the Rebel Stage, a flock of fans were chomping at the bit for the Psychobilly madman himself, The Reverend Horton Heat. Since 1985 The Reverend Horton Heat and his band of hellions have defied the odds much to their cult following’s delight. The band’s style was never one to merge with the popular sounds of any specific genre, yet its fan base was always strong, true, and ready to raise hell. Horton Heat’s classic track “Psychobilly Freakout” was even featured on the hit show MTV’s Beavis and Butthead, and despite the cartoon menaces’ often picky taste, they fucking loved it. Through eleven releases, the band has gone from standout to iconic, and a staple of the video game world being featured in games such as Guitar Hero II (2006), Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001), and Redneck Rampage (1997). One listen to albums such as 1990’s Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em or 1996’s It’s Martini Time will testify that in music one does not need to follow the herd to be a signature artist, but just say “screw it” and do their own thing.
As the band kicked off in a flurry, the audience went from chanting to utter mayhem. Jumping, moshing, and kicking dust, the crowd was in a full frenzy. It is admirable how effortless the Reverend makes playing his psychotically sped up music, though try speaking to any guitar wielding madmen about it and they will inform one of the contrary. While many were in ecstatic frenzy over “Psychobilly Freakout,” it is very noteworthy that the Reverend still has it as he got the crowd in full motion with a new track entitled “Zombie Dumb.” Withstanding time and genre specific audiences, Reverend Horton Heat is still one of the kings in Rock, and there is no end to this in sight. Check them out on tour when they kick off a run of shows October 22nd that is scheduled to run until the end of 2015.
As Reverend Horton Heat closed out, the masses were in for a treat at 6:30 PM on the Rock Stage with the reunion of Punk legends, L7. Blasting out of L.A. in 1985, L7 is a band that has always been and will be not interested in “going with the flow.” Their releases since 1988’s self-titled album have made a few things clear, these ladies were going to do it hard, sexy, loud, and their fucking way. That attitude and genius got the attention of one Trent Reznor of a little band called Nine Inch Nails, who included a song that very well defines their attitude, “Shitlist”, on 1994’s Natural Born Killers soundtrack. Much to fans’ discontent, the band called it quits in 2001. While it seemed like the end, thanks to a website known as Facebook, the overwhelming demands of fans worldwide was heard and the band has begun their reunion tour, proving the social site can be good for something more than childish gossip.
Many fans in Denver were disappointed that L7 had no Denver or Colorado dates listed on their tour, little did they know that the band was gearing up to hit the city of weed at Riot Fest. Without even batting an eyelash, the band kicked off their set with “Deathwish,” as crowds went berserk, plenty of time to reminisce later, the ass-kicking fest had begun. The lineup of Guitarist/Vocalist Donita Sparks, Guitarist/Vocalist Suzi Gardner, Bassist/Vocalist Jennifer Finch, and Drummer/Vocalist Demetra Plakas wasted no time serving up a healthy dose of fan favorites with “Andres,” “Fuel My Fire,” “Mr. Integrity,” “Shitlist,” “Pretend We’re Dead,” and more. If one missed this perfectly put together set, they should hope that they can find their local Doc Brown and hop in his Delorean. Though, the band gave a bit of a teaser, suggesting they will return next year.
“BOOZE AND IRISH PUNK AT THE REBEL STAGE” should have been the banner flying at 7:30 PM when Flogging Molly began to take control. Though singer and founder of Flogging Molly, Dave King, was born in Dublin, Ireland, the band itself was formed in L.A., but hell, everyone is a little Irish in one way or another, right? At least in attitude and propensity for good stout beer and whiskey. Hard to imagine that Dave was also the voice behind the ’80s Heavy Metal outfit Fastway (one needing reference may check out the cult classic Trick or Treat), but today he turned in headbanging, hairspray madness for Guinness fueled Punk themed music with an Irish/Celtic twist. Since their 2000 release, Swagger, the band has not only devised a rare breed of music, but coupled it with a live show that fans flock to see in droves.
Flogging Molly’s set began with “The Kilburn High Road.” While slow and melodic at first, it switched pace at a moment’s notice, getting the party started. It is clear why Flogging Molly is a fan favorite as they are not ones to simply play their set and move on. Quite the contrary, they want to be part of the experience with their fans as they cracked jokes and raised their Guinness in tribute to their audience. As the band coursed through their set with tracks such as “Requiem for a Dying Song” and “What’s Left of the Dying Flag,” it is clear to any onlooker why this band has become a favorite for fans everywhere, and more potent than a drink of Jameson. There are only a select bunch of shows scheduled for October before the band take part in the Salty Dog Cruise set to take sail out of Miami, FL March 18th.
With the day’s heat nothing but a distant memory, it was time to get the party started at 8:15 PM back on the Roots Stage with none other than Tenacious D. If one is not familiar with the duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass hailing as Tenacious D, only two things could be wrong; either they just woke from a twenty year coma or they are the living embodiment of the Jungle Book and have just been brought to the mainland. Formed in the mid ’90s in L.A., this is anything but the typical Metal band. Two guys on classic guitars with a full backing band, is that metal? Only one retort to that question, if Dio says yes, then yes it is. All it took was the 2001 release of their first single “Tribute” from their self titled debut album and the world was hooked. Granted the band is laden in humor and early on mired by controversy over an album cover looking the tarot card for the devil (seriously), the band, however, have demonstrated that musically they are as gifted as the Metal titans they proudly hail.
As the band descended on the crowd to the intro track “The Trio” by Ennio Morricone, the audience erupted in welcoming them. One could think that a great deal of the song “Tribute” was almost too good for Jack, Kyle, and company to recreate it; to the fans’ delight, they took it to another level. Chomping riffs and humor to boot, the chemistry between Jack Black and Kyle Gass brings the show to life. The band churned a set that was unbelievable and nostalgic playing a cover of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love.” The atmosphere was much like dating a person with multiple personalities (though with less threat in bodily harm), nothing was predictable. This band is a highlight headliner that should be on everyone’s “must see” list.
As Tenacious D closed out their set, clouds of a more skunkish variety were forming all around the Riot Stage in anticipation for the Snoop D-O-Double G’s 9:15 PM smoke-a-thon. California had already given way to some of Rap’s most influential artists to date, but things got even more interesting when, in the ’90s, Dr. Dre unleashed Snoop Dogg on the masses. The minute fans laid their ears to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, they were in for the ride. The music industry exploded with the follow up being 1993’s debut solo material entitled Doggystyle. To this very day, fans both old and newer still revere the album which contained tracks such as “Gin and Juice” and “Murder Was the Case.”
It should be noted that if anyone reading this has never heard the Doggystyle album, stop and go listen to it. Fans of Snoop Dogg know that it is one thing to have the opportunity to see Snoop Dogg live, but to see him recreate the album that started it all was like a musical birthing process. As Snoop Dogg got the party started with “Gin and Juice,” any observer would have been startled by the audience sounding like an army reciting every word. While most material was from the Doggystyle album, Snoop still mixed in other material such as “Next Episode,” “Bitch Please,” and “Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang.” Adding even more intrigue, Snoop added some tribute songs, notably Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” and The Arrow’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” Closing out the night in fashion, Snoop left everyone without a breath in their lungs, and that is not all the weed’s fault. This was a show for Snoop fans to have not missed, as just the set list alone was worth three days in the heat smelling dog food.
Overall, Riot Fest 2015, the Denver, CO edition, was one of the most diverse mix of acts they have assembled in a decade. Not only did it have diversity, it included legendary acts from respective genres no one would ever in their wildest dreams would expect to see sharing stages. The Chicago edition was held the weekend of September 11th through 13th, and in Toronto September 19th and 20th, so it is a great positive the festival continues to spread out across North America. Heat aside in the Rocky Mountains, anyone who sweat it out for three days at National West Complex will have plenty of musical memories that will last a lifetime.