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Another year, another venue, another Riot Fest


With the sun blazing on Denver’s National Western Complex on Friday, festival-goers made their way in for the first of three frankly incredible days of music. Sun block was a must and beer consumption had to be regulated, as the heat and dust created a hard environment but, with a little bit of smarts, a beautiful one.W

After a quick glance at the impressive Crobot, our weekend really kicked off with hip-hop heads De La Soul, who ran through crowd faves old and new, the highlight naturally being the excellent “Me, Myself and I” from the classic 3 Feet High and Rising. The Black Lips blasted through a set of rough and rowdy rock ‘n’ roll, before we made our way across the site to see thrash metal vets Testament take no prisoners. Reformed punks 88 Fingers Louie turned the energy up with some Face to Face-esque melodic ‘tude-ridden noise, and then we were at the business end of the day.

Anthrax were simply superb, and any disappointment at learning that Motorhead had cancelled due to Lemmy’s altitude sickness was forgotten. The old thrashers played “Madhouse,” “Indians,” “Antisocial,” “Got the Time,” “Caught in a Mosh,” and many more, winding back the years and forcing smiles onto the most cynical of faces. Coheed & Cambria were on top of their game back at the Riot Stage, but the real action was happening at the appropriately named Rebel Stage, where Iggy Pop opened with the Stooges’ “No Fun” and went on to play a set of crowd pleasers, both solo and Stooges tunes, including “Real Wild Child,” “Lust For Life,” “The Passenger,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “1969.” Amazing. There was still time to see Ice Cube performing the NWA album Straight Outta Compton, joined by fellow NWA men MC Ren and DJ Yella. After a couple of solo tunes, including a manic “Natural Born Killaz,” that NWA title track was intense. That just left System of a Down to end the night with some typically frantic, experimental nu-metal, and Friday was done.

Our Saturday began with some typically joyous pop-punk-ska courtesy of Less Than Jake, before wandering over to see Brit post-punkers Swervedriver ease us into the day with some challenging and ultra-cool hard rock. Any calm was lost when Gwar came on stage, all blood, pee and monster suits. The fun of their metal tunes can be lost in all of the mess, but they did promp this editor’s four-year-old to say,”Gwar are amazing – they dress as monsters and sing songs.” Perfect.

After that, we got the punk double-whammy of The Vandals and The Damned, which meant “My Girlfriend’s Dead” and “People that are Going to Hell” from the former, and “New Rose,” “Smash it Up” and “Neat Neat Neat from the latter. Glorious. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones turned up the skank factor, the Eagles of Death Metal provided some groovy hard rock and, over at the Radicals Stage, Joyce Manor and Pears impressed. A reformed Drive Like Jehu sounded a hell of a lot better than white reggae band Iration.

The Alkaline Trio excited fans young and old, especially with the songs from the masterpiece Good Mourning album, particularly “This Could be Love.” Then it was time for one of the bands of the weekend, Run DMC, who paid tribute to fallen comrade Jam Master Jay and ended with a killer run through “Walk This Way.” The Pixies were excellent over on the Roots Stage, with an early run through “Debaser” a highlight, and that left Rancid to close out the night, playing the …And Out Come the Wolves album in its entirety. The crowd was rabid for the 1990s punks, and they let nobody down.

On Sunday, we got there in time to see young riot grrls Skating Polly (will be making an effort to hear more of), before heading over to the Roots Stage to see Andrew WK party hard and really kick off the festival’s last day. “It’s Time to Party,” “Party Hard,” “She is Beautiful,” and just about everything else from the I Get Wet album, encourages a huge circle pit and manic smiles from Mr. WK himself. Eyes right to the Riot Stage for the GZA, and the Wu-Tang man informed us in no uncertain terms that the “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f**k with.” The first of two reformed riot grrl bands, Babes in Toyland, sounded fresh and angry, while the Reverend Horton Heat preached the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll with gusto and vigor.

For us, the highlight of the whole weekend, the absolute peak, was the reformed L7. The girls sounded amazing, they’ve lost none of their no-nonsense attitude, and songs like “Fuel My Fire,” “Everglade,” “Sh*tlist,” and “Pretend We’re Dead” were frankly incredible. Firey, obnoxious and heavy as hell, L7 ruled the Riot Fest this year. Flogging Molly kicked up a dust storm with some Irish punk, before we wandered back to the Riot/Roots stages in time to see Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band inject some funk into the proceedings. The thing with Tenacious D is that they’re not funny enough to be a comedy act, and the songs aren’t good enough for a straight rock act. “Tribute” is a good opener though. That left The Prodigy to close the night for us, and they were awesome. Kicking off the “Breathe,” the UK electro-punks played an intense set that took in “Voodoo People” and “Firestarter,” and left everyone literally breathless.

And that was it. Denver Riot Fest is over for another year. The people left happy, the sun shone all weekend, and lots (and lots) of cash was spent on merch, beer and greasy food. That’s a festival, y’all.


Brett Calwood
Brett Callwood is an English journalist, copy writer, editor and author, currently living and working in Los Angeles. He is the music editor with the LA Weekly. He was previously a reporter at the Longmont Times-Call and Daily Camera, the music editor at the Detroit Metro Times and editor-in-chief at Yellow Scene magazine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brett_Callwood

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