When the line-up for Riot Fest Toronto 2014 was released back in the spring I died. I dropped dead on the spot. The Cure… ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THE NATIONAL?! SALIVATING. Fellow punk rockers at heart, it did not disappoint. Ok, the MUSIC did not disappoint. Riot Fest organization? The worst. I won’t harp too long as I don’t want to focus on the negative but man from the line-up just to get your ID checked for an over 19 wristband, to the separate lines for Ticketmaster and Ticketfly, to the over zealous security at the gate (IT WAS ADVIL FOR GODS SAKE), the first 30 minutes of the Riot Fest experience was frustrating to say the least. Once you made it through the iron gates of hell (which as I write it, perhaps fitting for Riot Fest, enrage all the youth!) you were greeted with a mud pit, no complaints there actually as my awesome roomie was all like “dude wear your boots, it tots rained last night) so I was prepared. The first order of the day after getting the lay of the stages was to figure out the booze situation. This lady was again like “what man! This is not the bomb!) First off, you had to buy drink tickets in one line and then move to another line DIRECTLY BESIDE THE FIRST LINE to procure an icy beverage. Second of all it was Budweiser sponsored. At least reach out to a local brewery right? Mmm I right? I lived in Calgary for twelve years, so as a former Stampede Guuuurrl I have drank enough watery warm Bud to last a hundred lifetimes. Strongbow had run out by 3pm on Saturday and was never restocked. I mean I don’t mind drinking a beer or two but sometimes a girl just needs some white wine to get her punk on. So a note to organizers, Next time, get some wristbands, ease up on security and get your booze selection up to par. I’m sure it was a licensing issue and it shouldn’t (and isn’t) all about the drankin, but surf bort y’all.
Now onto the positive! There were plentiful loo’s that remained with paper until the late hours and a good selection of festival grub. Little slim on the veggie lovin’ side but any good vegetarian doesn’t get angry, we just deal. Peace and love right? The stages were laid out well and the second day the mud cleared up and boards had been laid to save those expensive gladiator sandals from probable death. The crowd, as one could expect was dripping in tattoos and was overall cool, chill and respectful (or one might say… Canadian).
Day one started with Manchester Orchestra, I wasn’t familiar with them but definitely enjoyed the show, just heavy enough with a filthy deep bass that delighted my ears. Next up we caught Alkaline Trio. They were a bit “eh”. It was generic but still enjoyable. We then caught up with some more friends who were super stoked on Brand New so we trucked over to the Roots stage. My buddy was really into them and I was like “when did I miss this train and how do all these people around me, my age, know every word?” Anyway, a good vibe in the crowd and enjoyable head bopping baby punk. (disclaimer, my brother is a super grindcore sludgy guitar player so I may have a slightly skewed view on what “real punk” is and I have a tendency to describe everything that doesn’t make your ears explode as baby punk, forgive me). We then caught a bit of Rise Against on the Rock stage (awesome obviously) and headed back to the Riot stage through the mud bog to catch Death from Above 1979.
THEY BLEW MY MIND. I have obviously, especially in the last few weeks been hearing a lot of hype about Death from Above but I was not expecting what I saw. It is rare for me to really get into a show when I am unfamiliar with the material but this was different. These guys are heavy, fast and crazy talented. I am a little sad that I have lived so much of life without them in my ears.
We then devised a plan to get as close to the stage as possible for the Cure so waited for the Death from above crowd to shift over to the Roots stage for Flaming Lips and waited in heavy anticipation for the gods themselves to bless our ears. It was pretty cool the way they had the Roots and the Riot stages constantly changing off on bands. As soon as one ended on one stage the next started on the other stage so even if you wanted to wait to see your next favourite on one stage you could still see and hear the other stage. So we hung onto our spots super close to the Riot stage and watched a side view of the happy, beautiful spectacle that is the Flaming Lips.
The Cure. I have been into The Cure since brother introduced them to me sometime in the 80’s. They came on in a blur of smoke and the crowd went nuts. They played everything you wanted to hear and more, with some epic solos and interludes that made it feel like you were really experiencing a moment in history.
Then I smoked a bit of a weed. This is not something I ever do anymore and especially not in public. Mostly because I can basically read minds when I am stoned, it’s alarming. I felt like I was in Robert Smith’s mind every time he took a step back from the microphone to do his traditional shimmy. I could hear him think “haha watch this, ‘little shimmy… crowd goes wild!!!’ facking idiots”. Roger O’Donnell, keyboardist was the best though. He was so Mod and so unemotional like “been playing this shite since 1969… facckk good year that was though” Then there was johhny rocker guitarist who hopped around the stage for the entire 80 minute set in his skinny jeans and red bandana. I hear the bass player thinking “what a wanker, hopping around in those stupid jeans, oh god, oh wat is he doing now?” So needless to say it was a super awesome experience and one I won’t easily forget. Robert Smith you rule my world.
Day two dawned (early afternooned) without a cloud in the sky. It was a tough day ahead though as the line-up was so good that it was hard to decide which stage to hit next as to not miss anything. Decisions were made and it was off to Bob Mould, The New Pornographers, and then drrrumm roolll Die Antwoord. I have only recently been introduced to these insane kids by a friend and was stoked to see just how crazy the show would be. I was not disappointed. The energy this South African duo brought was electric. I am not usually a fan of the EDM scene but this was different, this was heavy, fast and powerful. It was somehow the angriest, the most punk of all the shows we saw. I wanted to jump and scream and just let the thick noise take me away. They were the only ones to tell security to f off and let the people do what they wanted. It was powerful stuff and I was loath to leave to split my time with Drop Kick Murphy’s. But then of course, they are a different kind of energy. They are fun and crazy and I was glad I got the chance to finally see them. We then caught a bit of Social Distortion and Death Cab but for me the highlight was easily The National. There is something awesome about seeing a band that you count as your current favourite. It was an amazing experience. Everyone knew every word, everyone swayed and worshipped the songwriting gods that they are in unison and it was a beautiful thing.
We finished off the night with the Buzzocks, Metric and City and Colour. City and Colour was for sure an odd choice for Riot Fest but Dallas Green addressed it and made the lovely comment that in truth Punk is about being true to yourself and he does that like no one else. He thanked the crowd for sticking around (in truth I think everyone was thinking Alexis on Fire might happen, sorry Dallas) but it was a nice way to chill out the night before the hour long FREE (big ups city of Toronto) TTC ride back to my safe haven on Queen West. The only thing that could have made this weekend any better would have been if Kurt had risen from the dead for one last Nirvana show while I sipped a white wine spritzer. Rock on Riot Fest, can’t wait for next year.