Saturday, September 29, 2012

Riot Fest Chicago

The bands:
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls
Larry & His Flask
Minus the Bear
Coheed & Cambria
Dropkick Murphys
Imagine Dragons
Less Than Jake
... And so many more

The venue:
Humboldt Park, Chicago

September 14-16, 2012

Riot Fest was an all-around great experience.  I had a 2-day pass and had planned out an ambitious schedule for myself. I failed pretty miserably at following it but I did hit my three must see bands: Frank Turner, Larry and His Flask and Imagine Dragons. I caught a few other acts, as well.
I still feel like a bit of a novice when it comes to music festivals so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve definitely never been to a festival like Riot Fest. While I didn’t make it through the whole day either Saturday or Sunday, I was there long enough to know that the vibe was really excellent. 

We started Saturday with Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and we weren’t disappointed. There’s nothing like watching one of your favorite musicians perform live and up close. But it’s also a special moment to be a part of a whole crowd of people who feel the same as you. That’s one of the most remarkable things about Frank Turner – his ability to connect with his audience, both through his songwriting and his performance. Each of his songs tells a story and his set feels more like a conversation than a concert.

Next up was Larry and His Flask. You might think “Whoa, didn’t you just see these guys and Frank Turner the Tuesday before Riot Fest?” This is true. But they were both so awesome, that I couldn’t pass up the chance to do it all over again. LAHF once again amazed me. This was the one set, though, where the crowd was more irritating than inspiring. I’ll never understand what motivates someone to elbow their way to the front of a crowd only to stand stock still and not pay attention to the musicians who are playing their asses off in front of them. 

Following LAHF was Minus the Bear. Fortunately for MtB, the crowd was huge. Unfortunately for us, we were getting nowhere near the stage. We listened to a song or two then left in search of food and rest. I'd seen Minus the Bear before, and they were phenomenal so I both wished to stay and also felt okay about missing their set. We came back to the same stage awhile later to see Coheed and Cambria who sounded great and put on a great show. I didn’t know any of their music and haven’t listened to them since but they sounded good enough that I’d recommend giving them a listen. 

Our energy was flagging so we left Coheed and Cambria before the set was over and hit Dropkick Murphys. Again, we were miles from the stage but it was cool be a part of such a big crowd. I could see on the screens that the band was having an awesome time. Unfortunately, the sound wasn’t great and sounded a little garbled. I’ve always liked the little bit of Dropkick Murphy’s music that I’ve heard but ultimately fatigue dragged us away from the show and back to our hotel. 

Sunday we were back at it, earlier this time because Imagine Dragons had the first slot of the day. Imagine Dragons was Win’s must see and since she showed nothing but enthusiasm at being dragged to my shows the day before, I geared up, despite only knowing one of their songs. 

They were awesome! They started the set a little late, and the lead singer was sick but they put on a really great show. You could almost see the music coming from within them and the response from the crowd was actually moving in its enthusiasm. 

I wanted to stay the whole day, especially to see AWOLNATION, Alkaline Trio and Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, there’s this annoying and terrible voice of responsibility in my head that wouldn’t stop screaming that I had work and a job interview the next day so after lounging around and listening to the first part of Less Than Jake’s set, we cut the day super short and hit the road back to Michigan. 

Overall, I would absolutely go to Riot Fest again. It was a great lineup this year, laid out pretty well in a very suitable location and had plenty of porta-johns, which is pretty crucial, in my opinion. I’m curious to know how popular the carnival aspect was. It seems like a fun idea but loading a bunch of adults full of booze and fair food onto carnival rides sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Music: "Wise Up" by Curse in the Woods

If you follow me on Twitter, it's not new news that I love Curse in the Woods. They were kind enough to point me in the direction of this post on YouTube. I'm a sucker for sweet piano intros so I was hooked right away. Jeannie Taylor does lead vocals for the band and her voice is unique and rich and carries the melody along with the music in a way that almost feels tangible. That's a trait of all of their music and they're definitely worth checking out.


Monday, September 24, 2012

New Music: "We've Been Here Before" by Old English

I was skeptical about this song for the first twenty seconds or so. It's slow to start but what it's really doing is luring you in. Then the beat kicks in and the exceptionally pleasing-to-the-ear vocals start up and you're sunk. It's a 5-minute song and when it ended I was left thinking, "Wait, that's it? I need more of that!" So I've been listening to it on repeat for a few cycles and I'm ready for the rest of the album, for sure. How long will they make me wait?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Frank Turner, Larry & His Flask, Jenny Owen Youngs

This is going to get long so I'll do my "tl;dr" up front:

Nonstop energy from the first set through the last, this trio of bands was a brilliant combination that had the crowd dancing and singing all night. A must-see.

The bands:
Jenny Owen Youngs
Larry & His Flask
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

The venue:
Saint Andrews Hall (Detroit MI)

September 11, 2012

A little background: On May 23, 2012, I heard my first Frank Turner song ("Reasons Not To Be An Idiot"), I bought my first Frank Turner album (Love Ire & Song) and I bought tickets to this concert. That day was kind of a game changer for me, so to say I was looking forward to this concert is an enormous understatement. I had very high expectations. I was not disappointed.

I rushed over to the Detroit after work, nervous about going to another new venue alone but damn determined to get there and to be cool because I'd been waiting for this for months. It turns out that Saint Andrews is really easy to find and parking is even easier. I rolled in with ten minutes or so to spare before Jenny Owen Youngs took the stage.

I got reasonably close to the stage but ended up standing behind some tall dudes who were drinking and laughing and I know that's what you do at a show, I couldn't fault them for that, but I've had some bad experiences with people being really douchey during opening acts (see forthcoming Airborne Toxic Event post) so I felt wary.

I need not have worried. They boys were so enthused to see Jenny, it was actually pretty adorable. They toasted her when she came out on stage and in fact were so obviously and loudly into her that I thought she'd spit beer out her nose laughing. She seemed genuinely flattered and surprised and it ended up being really fun. She's great on stage, too. She's got a great voice and songs that draw you in and she's gorgeous, which is irrelevant but still true. I didn't know any of her stuff before the show but she got us new kids singing along to a nice cover of "Ring of Fire" and overall, I really enjoyed her set and I've put a few of her tracks into my main playlist.

Next up was Larry and His Flask (LAHF from here on).

If you're not moving when LAHF starts playing, I assume one of the following scenarios applies:
1. You have died/are in a coma.
2. You suffer from full-body paralysis.
3. You are standing in a state of shock at the sheer awesomeness in front of you.

There is no other legitimate excuse. I'd only listened to a few of their songs before the show but was sucked right in to it from the moment they began playing. Then when they started playing "Beggars Will Ride", I thought I'd lose my mind. Dancing and clapping and stomping my feet with a bunch of other crazy people doing the same thing was beyond my wildest expectations. Finally getting to dance the crap out of that song was a relief as I had previously been listening to it at work where busting a move is frowned upon by management.

I'm not sure what to say about LAHF. They're the real deal. The (upright) bass player will blow your mind. Straight up. The mandolin and banjos solos give you the sense that all is right in the world. There's harmonica and drums and sometimes even trumpet and trombone. There's so much going on that it's almost impossible to keep track of, especially when they don't keep still for even a second. They lay out soulful, solid harmonies over this well-constructed wonderful punk rock jamboree. I had this thought that I was just happy to be a human being who could experience their show and appreciate it.

Too soon, it was over. But the best was yet to come. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls took the stage and the show pretty much blew me away. You have to understand that LAHF was a wild ride but I'd been living in Frank Turner's music for months. It's attached itself to my heart now, which made seeing him live kind of a Big Deal. The combination of the music being such a big part of my life, of being caught up in the crowd singing and dancing and Frank and the band sounding great and playing their hearts out on every song... it was one of those moments that stick with you. Amazing.

It's obvious that Frank Turner loves what he's doing. He's solidly connected to what he plays and he invites the crowd to connect as well. He calls for a sing-a-long but makes sure everyone knows what to do because he's "not all about the in crowd" or only long-time fans. His call to dance during "Four Simple Words" pushed the crowd to a new level of awesome from which it never descended through the rest of the show.

The Sleeping Souls really rocked. They were a lot of fun to watch. Had my bass-player gauge not just been thoroughly destroyed by LAHF, Tarrant from the Sleeping Souls would have made the top of my list of fun-to-watch bass players. I guess he can still top the list of bass guitar players because he was really beautiful to watch. I got a chance to say hi to some of the guys after the show and even got a copy of the set list (thanks Matt!).

I'd heard that Frank is known to hang around after a show and I was thrilled to find that was, indeed the case. Now, I'd been practicing for this moment all summer by meeting other musicians that I really admire after shows and I thought that since now I'm so cool, meeting Frank would be no big deal. Wrong. I totally pulled a deer in headlights act! Thankfully, he's a pro and he signed the things I proffered and even took care to spell my name correctly without once giving the impression that he thought I was a total tool. He did call my 30 Things To Do While I'm 30 list a "bucket list", which I hate, but he didn't know any better and since I was incapable of giving any real explanation, I choose forgiveness.

I was bummed that I didn't get to meet Jenny Owen Youngs or the guys from Larry and His Flask but hopefully I'll be able to catch them on their next trip through the Mitten.

All in all, bump this one to the top of my favorite concerts list. The energy, the awesome performances, the enthusiastic crowd that was there to sing and dance and rock out, it really came together, start to finish.