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Photos: Nine Inch Nails, Ministry Bring Industrial Catharsis To Riot Fest's Day 1 Scorcher

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 16, 2017 4:20PM

In case your social feeds haven't been swamped by people either checking in or begging for tickets, Riot Fest kicked off on Friday. After a couple years of turbulence and being forced to move around, the fact that the layout in Douglas Park remained more of less the same felt a bit reassuring. It was the first fest this summer where I looked at the folks awaiting VIP entry, then looked at the general admission lines, and chose to wait in the latter. Because at its heart Riot Fest is about the people. Sure, it sells upgraded tickets for a "premium experience" but in the end the only people the organizers are truly trying to impress are the fans. And despite a stretch of 80-plus-degree temps, yesterday proved a great day for a couple thousand fans of good music to gather. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Much-anticipated headliners Nine Inch Nails delivered a set I found surprisingly cathartic. I watched most of it from the back, or in the midst, of the massive crowd, and Trent Reznor and company's choice to stick with a stark lighting design, draped over his own brand of punishing industrial pop, felt so right. Was there anything revolutionary about the set? Not really. Aside from the lovely David Bowie cover they did last night ("I Can't Give Everything Away"), there were no big surprises. (The setlist included "Head Like a Hole," "Closer," "Hurt" and newer gems like "Copy of A.") But every Nine Inch Nails concert feels like a force of human will, pushing against the constraints we all feel bound by, and by the end I always leave feeling like there's a chance, one day, we will escape those bonds. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Synth-pop legends New Order might have been the surprise "winner" of Friday. Everywhere I looked people were either singing along or bouncing up and down. I actually think a large portion of the audience didn't know the band outside of one or two '80s hits, but every person I saw probably went straight home and started buying the band's back catalog. As one girl standing near me said, "I didn't realize it, but I think I love New Order!" — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Despite spending so much time spent in Logan Square over the last few years, The Cribs seemed slightly upset to be playing to a smaller crowd in one of the more far-flung stages at Riot Fest. I looked at singer Ryan Jarman and said, "Man up, man, it's rock and roll." He looked at me like I was an idiot. But man up he did, because when the band took the stage they tore it apart. And the crowd loved it. I'm still not sure if everyone, or anyone, on that far flung stage knew who The Cribs were going in, but they exited as fans.
— Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Ministry are the sonic personification of thunder, and that’s what they delivered. Though I've loved the industrial pioneers for more than two decades, I never got to see them. Suffice it to say, the 20-plus year wait was worth it. Shortly after a brilliant open with “Psalm 69,” singer Al Jourgensen gave a nod to Chicago, telling the crowd, “It’s good to be home...some of y’all probably ripped me off on cab fare.”

While the band ripped through an incredible set, saving their choicest hits like “NWO,” “Just One Fix” and “Theives” for the end, they threw down a new track early on called “Anitfa.” As Jourgensen stalked the stage, two persons masked up entered from either side, each waving flags half red and black, a symbol often associated with antifascists and anarchists. Ministry could’ve just trotted out the hits from their decades long catalog and called it a day. They did that, but then upped the ante by including a glimpse of something new, which will eventually become a classic. — Aaron Cynic

Chicago rapper Vic Mensa flirts with corniness—he admitted as much while professing music’s power to heal in times of hate during stage banter on Friday night. But if he drops the occasional groaner pun (“I wanna open up my parachute but it's cold playing this role") or strains his range during stabs at singing (“We Could Be Free”), they stem from a laudable commitment to ambition, sincerity, or both. And as he dropped heartfelt tributes to fallen friends (“Heaven on Earth”) and wore his Chicago love on his leather sleeves (with his “Project Runway meets projects” outfit silhouetted all dramatic in minimalist backlight), you could feel a power coursing through the crowd—which was hefty despite full time slot overlap with New Order. Also, the crowd went nuts for the Joey Purp cameo (“Down For Some Ignorance”) and “16 Shots” remains (sadly) potent as ever. Far more stripped down than his famed Lollapalooza performance, but memorable still. — Stephen Gossett

“Conventional” isn’t really a word you can throw at a guy who stomps into the midday heat with a wedding dress, sleeves and veil strewn over his 6-foot-6 frame, howling and mumbling across some of the most diversely agitated avant-rock of the last 15 years. But there was nevertheless something comfortingly familiar about Liars’ set. Flanked by a powerhouse drummer and a noisenik guitarist/keyboardist, singer Angus Andrew (now the band’s sole original member) tore through a series of fan-favorite highlights from the band’s notoriously hyper-varied catalog, hitting art-damaged electro-pop (“Mess on a Mission”), art-damaged biker rock (“Plaster Casts of Everything”), art-damaged post-punk (early-days fave “Mr. You’re on Fire”) and, well, other wonderful art damage. Yes, even raging experimentalism can feel like an old friend. — Stephen Gossett

The crowd itself was a prefect visual metaphor for the music of Death From Above (now sans “1979”), with a rollicking mosh pit in front of me and fevered dancing all around. The Toronto duo’s much-loved You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine notably split the difference between oughts-indie dance punk and noisy hard-rock sleaze, and much of the music they’ve recently released, after a 10-year gap, sounds remarkably of piece with that album, finally belying its lightning-in-a-bottle one-off nature.

Still, the pair— drummer/vocalist Sebastian Grainger and Jesse Keeler, who handles (maximum-overdriven) bass and synth—leaned hard on the hard rock side of the coin, almost to the point of one dimensionality, at least to these ears. (Grainger’s louche persona can definitely grow wearisome over an hour.) But there was no denying favorites like “Romantic Rights” and how easily the newer stuff complements its aesthetic. Qualms aside, they certainly don’t play like a mere relic of the era of “scene” and then-ironic facial hair from which they emerged. — Stephen Gossett

“When I hit the high notes I feel like I’m gonna pass out,” said singer Christian Holden of acclaimed Worcester emo-revival heroes The Hotelier, and indeed the early-afternoon swelter (not to mention a surprising relegation to the side stage) did no favors. But they powered through for what felt like a Friday highlight. Their MO—verbose reckonings of grief and trauma, marked by some linguistic gymnastics and textbook emo histrionics—might seem like a strictly love-it-or-hate-it proposition, but it casts a big tent, with melody and dynamics to spare. When the mighty “Your Deep Rest” (get it?) hit, the crowd duly helped it play like high drama. — Stephen Gossett