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Riot Fest Chicago 2023 Review


Altosaxo News Riot Fest Chicago 2023 Review

Riot Fest is an annual three-day punk rock music festival based in Chicago, Illinois, at Douglass Park. It is known for booking reunions, guest performances, and full album performances. Riot Fest remains one of the largest independently owned music festivals in the United States.


Riot Fest Chicago 2023 Day One - September 15, 2023

Foo Fighters, Turnstile, Tegan and Sara, Say Anything, The Breeders, Kim Gordon, The Interrupters, Bayside, Ani DiFranco, Silverstein, Parliament Funkadelic ft. George Clinton, Code Orange, Fake Names, Quicksand, The Wrecks, Hawthorne Heights, Braid, Yard Act, Screaming Females, Sludgeworth, Quasi, Origami Angel, Just Friends, Oso Oso, Bearings, Pinkshift, Olivia Jean, Calva Louise, The Aquadolls, Fea, The Bobby Lees, Young Culture.


Riot Fest 2023 kicked off with a day of sunshine and sing-alongs in Douglass Park on Friday, September 15, 2023. The festival has been delivering nostalgic punk and rock acts since 2005, and Friday’s lineup was no exception with outings from the Foo Fighters, the Breeders, Kim Gordon and Parliament-Funkadelic.


While their apparel was a sea of black, the crowd’s bright spirits mirrored the weather. Festival goers applied sunscreen to the back of strangers’ necks, helped up attendees who tripped in the crowd, and made new friends while watching sets solo. Everyone’s energy was on-point to savor the last splash of Chicago’s summer festival season.

Ani DiFranco performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
Ani DiFranco performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.

Parliament-Funkadelic

By early afternoon, the Rise Stage was already packed as Parliament-Funkadelic transported Riot Fest to the Mothership. At 82 years old, George Clinton commanded the crowd while wearing a bedazzled red captain’s hat. P-Funk shredded, blew, and shook around the stage in celebration of Clinton’s career. The crowd matched their spirit with big hair, small skirts, and funky vibes, singing along with the closer “Atomic Dog.” “Y’all have been real groovy,” Clinton beamed while waving farewell.


Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon took the stage looking every bit the alt-rock icon that she is in silver shorts and black sunglasses, a t-shirt, and studded booties. The Sonic Youth alum’s set started with the industrial fuzz and poetic simmering of “Sketch Artist.” Gordon stalked the stage, wrapping herself in the mic cord and crouching on the amp, ready to pounce. The tension built until a few songs in, when the band launched into a cathartic explosion.

Kim Gordon performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023.
Kim Gordon performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023.

Quicksand

One of Riot Fest’s fun hallmarks is having artists play a full album from start to finish. On the Roots Stage, NYC post-hardcore quartet Quicksand made 30 years feel like nothing as they played through their 1993 debut Slip. Launching into “Fazer,” every member of the band was having as much fun as the crowd. They flawlessly played in lockstep, offering an equally joyful and powerful set. “If I had known I’d be here all these years later I’d say that’s crazy,” said frontman Walter Schreifels. “I love it.”

The first set of three for New York hardcore legend Walter Schreifels was with his recently reunited Quicksand. This is a post-hardcore band where elements of emo, hardcore punk, and alternative rock all fuse for a quietly popular but very insular genre. Riot Fest is one of the few festivals where this type of band makes it to the main stage, and Quicksand were given a prime spot on the schedule to perform their 90’s breakthrough album Slip. Sludgy bass riffs dominated the sound, with some guitar noodling and spacey moments flushing out the slightly constricting parameters of their genre. Schreifels’ melodic vocal delivery didn’t always come through in the mix, but hey, it’s a festival. Solid tracks like “Head To Wall” and “Fazer” got the crowd going, but the energy never reached the heights of “Dine Alone.” This is the quintessential Quicksand track, with chunky riffs, and an unmissable grunge palate. The best part about that set was, if you enjoyed it, you’ll have two more chances to see the frontman for the Rival Schools and Gorilla Biscuits sets later in the weekend.


Turnstile

Sandwiched between two nostalgia acts like Breeders and Foo Fighters, this group of twenty-somethings from Baltimore took the stage with limitless energy and effortless cool. They took the stage with a prolonged, synth-washed intro, which the hordes of youngsters knew would result in the blissful “Mystery.” The circle pit was going as soon as the first guitar was strummed. The entire crowd seemed to know every word, which shouldn’t surprise given the immense popularity of the infinitely spinnable Glow On, which is their breakout album from a few years ago. After one song, the set already felt like a triumph.


Turnstile is a hardcore band that’s crossed over into the mainstream with sleek production and an expanding sonic palate. They’ve scored collaborations with Blood Orange and BADBADNOTGOOD, so this is a new look for a hardcore band. They’ve played just about every type of festival there is, showing up on hip-hop lineups and even Nu-Metal events. In an increasingly genre-less musical landscape, Turnstile has managed to maintain its cohesive musical vision while appealing to a broad spectrum of fans. One such group of fans that have been devotees since before their breakout smash Glow On, is the Riot Fest faithful. Just a few years ago, this band was playing an early afternoon set in Douglass Park. Now they’re sharing the stage with Dave Grohl.

Brendan Yates of TURNSTILE performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023.
Brendan Yates of TURNSTILE performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023.

Turnstile thrashed through their set of familiar favorites “Don’t Play” and “Blackout” to massive responses from the crowd. More tender cuts like “Blue By You” and “Underwater Boi” cut through an otherwise rager of a set. People were talking about the moshpit before it was even happening, and songs like “Real Thing” and “Don’t Play” whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that it somehow exceeded the hype.


Turnstile ended their set with a few of their standard closers. “Holiday” and “T.L.C.” which they’ve been closing shows with for a while now. It’s an exciting and possibly terrifying time for this band. They are due for another record, one which has more expectations built up around it than in previous projects. The Glow On era will be ending soon. Who knows what will come next? One thing is for sure, the Riot Fest crowds don’t move on from things quickly, and with such an incredible display in 2023, they might be minted for the rest of their careers with this festival. Headliner in 2025. You heard it here.


Turnstile ended their set with a few of their standard closers. “Holiday” and “T.L.C.” which they’ve been closing shows with for a while now. It’s an exciting and possibly terrifying time for this band. They are due for another record, one which has more expectations built up around it than in previous projects. The Glow On era will be ending soon. Who knows what will come next? One thing is for sure, the Riot Fest crowds don’t move on from things quickly, and with such an incredible display in 2023, they might be minted for the rest of their careers with this festival. Headliner in 2025. You heard it here.


Foo Fighters

“Without you I don’t think I’d be doing this,” Dave Grohl thanked the massive crowd assembled for the Foo Fighters’ headlining set on Friday. If you’ve seen the band play Chicago before, you’ve heard him tell the story of seeing his first rock concert, Naked Raygun, at the Cubby Bear at 13 years old. “That shit changed my life forever.”

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023.
Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023.

The story never gets old, and neither does the band’s hit parade, charismatic banter, or torch-bearing rock and roll. From the first riff of “All My Life,” the Foo Fighters captivated the crowd through extended takes on tracks like “The Pretender,” sing-alongs “Times Like These” and “My Hero,” and deeper cuts like “Breakout” and “White Limo.” A camera aimed at drummer Josh Freese’s feet showed his patterned socks pounding away at the kick drum during “Best of You,” while guitarist Chris Shiflett, pianist Rami Jaffee, bassist Nate Mendel, and guitarist Pat Smear all had their moment to shine.

“Auora” was late bandmate Taylor Hawkins’ favorite song, and they promised to play it “every night for the rest of our lives” before asking the crowd to scream for him. Loathe to say goodbye, Grohl departed with one final sing-along during “Everlong.” Here at summer’s end, the crowd wondered if anything could ever be this good again.

Not to be outdone by the vibey supernova that was the Turnstile set, Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters took the stage a few minutes before their scheduled start time to thrash through two hours of lovable arena rock. The legendary frontman literally sprinted on stage to begin the show. Such is the enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from Grohl, but his infectious positivity can’t be ignored. Watching a Foo Fighters show is like watching someone’s dream come true in real-time. Dave Grohl, being the mayor of rock and roll that he is, would probably agree. They wasted no time in getting to the hits. In the first half hour, they played classics like “Learn to Fly,” “My Hero,” and “Times Like These” and even teased Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.


More hits were to come, with “Monkey Wrench” and “Best Of You” enthralling the masses of disparate fanbases that Riot Fest draws with one of rock music’s true spectacles. Foo Fighters aren’t necessarily a shoo-in for what Riot Fest tries to do, but these pros got the job done, and a lot of moms and dads went home happy. Perhaps even some of the impossibly young Turnstile fans went home with a new appreciation for these living legends.

Aimee Interrupter of The Interrupters performs live at Riot Fest 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
Aimee Interrupter of The Interrupters performs live at Riot Fest 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
James Smith of Yard Act performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
James Smith of Yard Act performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
Ashrita Kumar of Pinkshift performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
Ashrita Kumar of Pinkshift performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
Melissa Brooks of The Aquadolls performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.
Melissa Brooks of The Aquadolls performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 15, 2023.

Riot Fest Chicago 2023 Day Two - September 16, 2023

The Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, Queens of the Stone Age, Mr. Bungle, 100 gecs, Death Grips, 070 Shake, Viagra Boys, PUP, Sleep Token, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Pennywise, Insane Clown Posse, Head Automatica, Nothing, Nowhere., White Reaper, Eshu Tune, Enter Shikari, Bowling for Soup, Spitalfield, Jehnny Beth, Drain, Snapcase, The Exploited, PLOSIVS, Steve Ignorant Band/Crass, Warpaint, High Vis, Rival Schools, Corey Feldman, Enola Gay, Cassyette, Pool Kids, CK Vassi, Total Chaos.


A little afternoon rain didn’t deter fans from flocking to Douglass Park on Saturday for the second day of Riot Fest. Half arrived for the nostalgic indie rock album plays of Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service while the Juggalos turned up in force with painted faces ready to be blasted with Faygo during Insane Clown Posse’s set. Add in performances from Corey Feldman and the Viagra Boys, and you’ve got a lineup that only Riot Fest can deliver.


White Reaper With their infectious garage punk and preppy attire, White Reaper made the Riot Stage feel like one big house party. The Louisville quintet launched back and forth across the stage as they kicked off with “I Don’t Think She Cares” and didn’t let up for the rest of the set.


Viagra Boys “We’re Sweden’s third worst band,” announced Viagra Boys frontman Sebastian Murphy before starting their post-punk set with “Ain’t No Thief.” He lost his shirt shortly after and careened with the mic stand to “Slow Learner,” a cigarette dangling from one hand. Just watching all six musicians is entertaining, from Elias Jungqvist manning the keyboard in skimpy cutoff jean shorts to Oscar Carls vamping on guitar and sax, also while smoking. Behind Murhpy’s spitting Bud Light during “Punk Rock Loser” is dark humor, witty lyrics, and satire of toxic masculinity. “I’ve never seen a crowd this big for us in America,” Murphy said before inciting a dance party to “Sports”—complete with pushups onstage.

Sebastian Murphy of Viagra Boys performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Sebastian Murphy of Viagra Boys performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.

Death Grips The crowd surfing turned up a notch for Death Grips’ aggressive, experimental hip-hop. Frontman Stefan Burnett (aka Ride) didn’t need stage banter, his grip on the crowd was as tight as the closely clutched microphone from “System Blower” all the way through “The Fever (Aye Aye).”


PUP “There’s a lot of freaks here today,” Stefan Babcock announced as the Toronto quartet Pup took the stage in front of a banner displaying a drawing of the band and their pets. Starting with “Totally Fine,” their raucous punk performance was a shot in the arm to anyone whose energy was waning by evening.


Death Cab for Cutie

Speaking of waning energy, Ben Gibbard appeared to be conserving his for his second show of the evening as he ended Death Cab for Cutie’s set 15 minutes early. The deal was a full album play of 2003’s Transatlanticism and the band delivered that beautifully. Yet some extra songs to round out the time would have been a treat for many of the fans who attended Saturday just to hear Gibbard’s bands. While “A Lack of Color” was a mellow note to close on, it was gorgeously rendered on the Riot Stage.

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.

100 Gecs

If you don’t get 100 Gecs it’s ok because their fans do. St. Louis “hyperpop” duo Dylan Brady and Laura Les entered the stage in wizard robes, announcing This is our Eras Tour, their voices Auto-Tuned. Launching into “Dumbest Girl Alive,” the Dumbest Girl Alive, the Auto-Tune continues over crashing drums and glitchy blips. “We’re in our 1,000 Gecs era,” said Les before singing “Stupid Horse” from their 2019 album featuring the song to the glee of the headbanging teenage crowd. “It’s crazy, Chicago is the only place that you can find frogs,” Les mused ahead of “Frog on the Floor.” What’s not to get?

Laura Les of 100 gecs performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Laura Les of 100 gecs performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.

The Postal Service

Earlier gripes about Death Cab’s sleepy and abbreviated set were laid to rest by the Postal Service’s spectacular headlining turn. Dressed in all white, the band played Give Up in its entirety, celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. Wait, does that mean that Ben Gibbard released Transatlanticism and Give Up in the same year? He had a lot of feelings in 2003, and so did the crowd, reminiscing and bopping along to indie-pop hits like “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and “Such Great Heights.” Gibbard swapped duty between guitar and drums, and Jenny Lewis stole the show with every vocal and swish of her vintage-looking dress. After the album play they fulfilled our encore wishes with an upbeat cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” Saturday at Riot Fest was all we ever wanted, all we ever needed.

Jenny Lewis of The Postal Service performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Jenny Lewis of The Postal Service performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.

Queens of the Stone Age

Breaking the chain link connection Saturday night between Death Cab for Cutie and the subsequent Postal Service set at Riot Fest was the heavy rock hammer from Queens of the Stone Age. With 11 electric saucers flying in a million different music directions on tracks like “No One Knows” and “Negative Space,” it was a welcome reprieve from the emo-indie onslaught that bookended the rest of the night on the main stages. From the pretty piano intro rework of “Go With the Flow” to the punishing guitar slides on new track “Emotion Sickness” to the percussive “Little Sister” (“It’s got a lotta cowbell so watch your ass,” Homme warned), it felt like Queens brought their studio to Douglass Park. The set was not only a great promo machine for the band’s newest album, “In Times New Roman…,” but also a perfect reminder to dive back into its entire catalog.

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
070 Shake performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
070 Shake performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Warpaint perform live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.
Warpaint perform live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 16, 2023.

Riot Fest Chicago 2023 Day Three - September 17, 2023

The Cure, The Mars Volta, The Gaslight Anthem, AFI, The Used, The Dresden Dolls, Flogging Molly, Finch, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, L.S. Dunes, Gorilla Biscuits, Ride, Cults, Balance and Composure, Thursday, H2O, The Bronx, Microwave, The Black Angels, Nothing, Smoking Popes, Free Throw, Just Mustard, Hotline TNT, Earth Crisis, Empire State Bastard, Fleshwater, Fade 'em All.


Patience paid off for Riot Fest goers after a rain delay got things off to a slow start on the final day at Douglass Park. Around 10 a.m. Sunday, organizers announced a timing setback due to the weather, but later decided that doors would open at 2 p.m. and salvaged most of the acts planned in a last-minute shuffle. Crowds showed up early, with massive lines traversing Ogden Avenue and bending over to California. The first people in line ran into the park like it was a victory lap, staking a spot over at the main stages for the night’s final act, The Cure.


Flogging Molly

The crowd surfing didn’t stop over on the Rise Stage, where Flogging Molly might have been having the most fun at the festival. “I’m Irish Catholic and it’s Sunday, so we’re going to have a good time,” said frontman Dave King after opening with “Drunken Lullabies.” Guitarist Dennis Casey cracked open a Guinness before high-kicking during “The Likes of You Again.” The crowd reveled in the Celtic punk party complete with accordion, banjo, violin, and tin whistle. Before starting “Swagger,” King tossed a can of Guinness into the crowd saying, “I’m 62-years-old and I don’t give a fuck.”

Dave King of Flogging Molly performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.
Dave King of Flogging Molly performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.

Cults

The Riot Stage was a dreamy spot for attendees to land as they entered the grounds featuring the indie-pop sounds of Cults. Frontwoman Madeline Follin was one of many performers who shouted out the Cure during her set. “There were only like ten people in my high school, but I was the ‘Cure girl,” she said before playing “Bad Things.” As the first sparkling notes of “Go Outside” floated through the park, the sun perfectly timed its entrance.

Madeline Follin of the indie rock band Cults performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.
Madeline Follin of the indie rock band Cults performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.

The Mars Volta

The fun thing about Riot Fest is the variety of bands and genres, but this year the festival really pushed the boundary with progressive rock band The Mars Volta.


At times, the band provided energetic bossa-nova-like grooves, with lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala singing and moving around like a happily deranged lounge singer. Some of the songs were in Spanish, and although many in the crowd may not have known the words, they jammed to the international language that is music. On the flip side, as the set went on, the progressive side came out more with extended songs that sounded like a mix of a jam band and the video game Space Invaders, seemingly confusing the crowd.


Often the band would start songs with a jazzy beat and then guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would abruptly take it into a different, often harder direction, only to return to the smooth groove that began, with Bixler-Zavala wailing in between.


The band had a huge audience because many were marking their spots for festival headliner The Cure, scheduled to go on five minutes after the band’s set at the adjoining stage, but it is doubtful that they converted any attendees to become new fans. Instead, the set, which began as a welcome break from the more aggressive punk rock bands, lulled the crowd and turned into an ordeal to overcome rather than to enjoy.

Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.
Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.

The Dresden Dolls

Sept. 17 will be a day Amanda Palmer remembers for the rest of her life. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because I just met Robert Smith of The Cure,” the Dresden Dolls singer-pianist said, sharing how much the U.K. band has meant to her and drummer Brian Viglione.


“In the year 2000 we bonded over many things: We were the weird kids, but we also bonded over bands and our love of The Cure. It’s the greatest pleasure for our band to play the same stage.”

There are some throughlines of the two groups: Palmer and Smith wear nearly the same amount of eyeliner and also dabble in dark arts, with The Dresden Dolls taking it a step further in their punk-cabaret suite of music and carnival makeup.


Much of the purpose of the band is to act as a vehicle for Palmer’s beautiful prose, while Viglione provides even more heart and soul on the kit — and picks up guitar here and there. Like when he slung one over his shoulders and took over vocals to lead a cover of Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.”


For that number, the duo became briefly a trio with guest Melissa Auf der Maur joining in; though she has flown off the mainstream radar in recent years, Auf der Maur holds a special place in the alterna-rock era as the bass player in Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins. “I heard the band needed a bass player,” she joked as she entered the stage.

Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.
Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.

“You and me and this bass have cosmic history, Chicago,” she added. “The Smashing Pumpkins changed my life and they changed rock history.”

(Curiously, Auf der Maur was a guest on the same night the Pumpkins are staging a 30th anniversary performance of landmark album “Siamese Dream” at Madame Zuzu’s in Highland Park.)


The Dresden Dolls had one more cover to offer, this time as a duo, with a take on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” done incredibly sans guitars. Though the Dolls abstained from any new songs, Palmer confirmed they are working on a new album: “We’re too scared to play them but we’re touring soon so we hope you come out to see us.”


Gorilla Biscuits

New York City hardcore band Gorilla Biscuits brought Riot Fest back to its roots Sunday afternoon in a hard-charging set that made the smaller Rebel Stage feel like a punk rock club, if only for 50 minutes.


The seminal band was the last of seven on the roster to play an album in full and for them, playing “Start Today” likely wasn’t a hard choice. It was Gorilla Biscuits’ second and final record and named by NME as among hardcore’s 15 best albums of all time.

The band started the hourlong set 10 minutes late, but considering most of its songs are under two minutes long, time wasn’t an issue. Lead singer Anthony “Civ” Civarelli came out on fire and jumped right into the crowd, while others began crowd surfing and moshing.


Early into the set, Civarelli told the crowd that there should be no fighting or arguing today, adding “this is about love” before launching into the song “Degradation.”

Love for one another was a sentiment that he would go back to several times during the show, and despite the moshing and the constant fist-pumping of the crowd to the band’s songs, the energy seemed all positive.

Anthony Civarelli of Gorilla Biscuits performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.
Anthony Civarelli of Gorilla Biscuits performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.

The band deviated from playing the album’s songs in order, and once they were done dug into their catalog for the remainder of the set. Civarelli dedicated “Big Mouth,” a song from the band’s first album, to several friends who passed away in the last couple of years while also imploring the crowd to “live life.”


Civarelli also threw his microphone into the crowd more than once, allowing the diehards to sing while he watched and smiled. He then played “Time Flies,” which is self explanatory.

Towards the end of the set, he asked those younger than 25 and the women in the crowd to raise their hands and implored them to “not become your parents” before launching into the band’s final song, “Start Today.”


The Cure

On the last day of the rock music festival, it was clear attendees were there for The Cure — and the band did not disappoint. The marathon performance deserves the title of the best headlining set of Chicago’s summer festival season.


The anticipation had been building all day for the grand finale to Riot Fest 2023. Bands from Cults to The Dresden Dolls waxed ecstatic about being able to even share the same stage as The Cure. Festivalgoers wore T-shirts from all eras of the legendary British gloom rockers — including the special design sold just for Sunday’s event.


The rain held off for the two-and-a-half-hour set (though a shower or two would’ve been a total vibe). And when it came time for the goth heroes to plug in for the first notes, they — unsurprisingly — did not disappoint in the marathon performance that deserves the title of the best headlining set in Chicago’s summer festival season as it comes to a glorious close.


“Hello … again,” Robert Smith, wearing an Amy Winehouse T-shirt, cheekily addressed the crowd after the band ripped through “Alone.” It was just three months ago that the six-piece was in Chicago, playing an epic 31-song, three-plus-hour set at the United Center — not that anyone minded the repeat.

The musicianship of Smith, bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Roger O’Donnell, guitarists Perry Bamonte and Reeves Gabrels, and drummer Jason Cooper is unparalleled and best appreciated in the latest concert experience. Together they create a symphony for the solemn, kicking up a bevy of memories and emotions that fans packed with them like baggage for the night.

Robert Smith of The Cure performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.
Robert Smith of The Cure performs live at Riot Fest Chicago 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago on September 17, 2023.

The 45-years-young band heightens feelings, not just the dark cloud of heartbreak the band is often chided as invoking but also a total celebration of requited love. The Cure is the master of puppets that pulls at the heartstrings of anyone with a beating pulse.


From the crowd favorite “Burn” (made popular in the soundtrack of “The Crow” from 1994) weaving into “Fascination Street,” additional hits like “Lovesong,” “Close to Me” and “Just Like Heaven” and sonic sweepers such as “A Forest,” The Cure were instrumental perfection and perhaps the loudest set of the weekend. Whether that was acoustics or the fact that the attentive listeners held their breath and kept a silent lull over the park is up for debate.


Smith, too, was having a ball — making faces at the camera, cracking a few smiles and bringing all of his vocal register to play.

Like other shows on the tour, in which The Cure fought for fans by reimbursing ticket fees and keeping merch costs low, the musicians did what they could at Riot Fest; the special edition T-shirts were just $25, and there’s no doubt they sold plenty as a memento to remember the night.



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