Photographs by Sarah Rix.
Riot Fest Toronto 2014 was destined to be so good that everyone showed up despite the shoddy weather. With everyone attacked by the deepest mud pits, we were all branded with our clothed and shoes ruined. We could see who went to one of the coolest gigs of the year from afar, like their hands were stamped from having been at Canadas Wonderland. With the freakshow carnival theme (I played some carnival games where I had to knock pins over, and I also saw a performer carry a cup of water attached to hooks hanging from his eye sockets), the first day of Riot Fest was, mostly, both fun and intense.
Mounties started the day for me with a fun and feel good set. This Canadian super group was full of music lovers that wanted to be there. Singer Steve Bays expressed his excitement to see The Flaming Lips live, and even joked that singer Wayne Coyne spat in his face (he went on to say that it wasn’t really Coyne but he was sure Coyne sent him). With an accidental microphone drop, Bays smiled it off, as nothing could have ruined the day for him or the rest of the band. With funky bass, filthy drums and catchy lines, Mounties truly made Toronto (and Canada) proud as one of the hosting cities of Riot Fest. Bays got to interview his idol Coyne later on in the day, so his story of Coyne’s disapproval doesn’t check out.
This fun continued with the groovy indie band Rubblebucket. They drove over ten hours to be at Riot Fest, they had the weather and the time slot against them, yet they still had the authentic time of their lives. With a Charlie Brown-like-dance performed in unison, this gang didn’t take themselves too seriously. While this did result in the rare slip up (Annakalmia Traver performed a bit of an odd saxophone solo), Rubblebucket were way too much fun to care, and it is this fun that hss garnered them at least one new fan (yours truly).
New Found Glory have had this idea of fun for the longest time, and they still are having a blast well into their careers. Guitarist Chad Gilbert discussed his band’s struggle to compete with electronic and pop music, and expressed his gratitude for festivals like Riot Fest that would help promote rock music. His band appreciated being there and they had as much fun as the crowd did with their decade spanning pop punk. A band that has changed over the years, however, is Illinois band Alkaline Trio. They have changed from pop punk to wanting to be straight up rock and back again. This worked live because it gave the audience quite some variety. It wasn’t a perfect set, however, as Matt Skiba’s vocals were occasionally flat, especially at the start of their set. Perhaps it was the weather that affected them, but I didn’t see a bad band perform: I saw a band having an off night. Although I’m not a big fan of theirs, I would like to see them live again when everything is polished.
Bring Me the Horizon have also changed over the years. Their latest material have incorporated electronic elements and anti religious themes, and this translated into their live set pretty drastically. Once when I saw them years ago, they were intense and carefree. Now, with Oli Sykes covered in even more tattoos, the focus was more on creating a thematic show. Sykes stood in one place for most of the time with a careful eye and the intention of getting himself heard crystal clear. The band still had energy, but they now had motive, and it was a good showcasing of their developing maturity.
A band that’s already been through these changes is Brand New, who have always had fairly intense lyricism but have gone through different styles over the years. They began with more upbeat and poppy anthems and turned into a more serious alternative rock group heavily carried by emotions. With flowers strapped to their microphone stands, perhaps to resemble their 2009 album Daisy, Brand New also played songs from their different eras. They played songs that were more fun and songs that were sympathetically charged. Vincent Accardi had a field day with his effects pedal board, as it sent soundwaves into the spiritual world and connected us with the paranormal. Singer Jesse Lacey encouraged everyone to start their own band, as he previously told everyone to watch The Cure later on (one of his personal favorite bands). It was a fun set. It was a sad set. It was also one of the best of the day.
I recently reviewed the lastest Death from above 1979 album The Physical World and I was fairly harsh on the duo. I felt the songs were sluggish and lacked the energy they once had. Live, however, these songs translate much better. When the bass is far louder and much more disheveled, their newer songs deliver a greater sense of purpose. With Sebastien Grainger’s drum kit off to the side and Jesse Keeler places square in the middle, it felt like we were in their garage listening to a jam session. Their old performances were much wilder, and while they are more in control now, they feel more like a time bomb on the verge of exploding rather than a continuous barrage. I highly recommend seeing this duo around while they’re still here.
The greatest set of the night, and possibly the year, goes to The Flaming Lips, who had a set made up of rainbows, happiness, love, and the strongest acid created. With a well designed set up, the visuals were a constant trip out, as LCD met LSD. The fog machine made all of the bright lights turn into a warp of the mind, and the joy that came out of the mascots running amidst this dream was sensational. Coyne himself worked as the ringleader as he got into his signature crowd-surfing orb, stood above us all on his cube with a baby, and cast spells with his toy magic wand while dressed up in a muscle suit with silver pubic hair. He even brought out a massive balloon with the words “FUCK YEAH RIOT FEST” inflated, which he sent floating above the crowd. The show did not subsitute fun for control, though, as the music was gorgeous and mesmerizing. With the occasional flaw (the odd feedback and Coynes voice cracking during Do You Realize as it got too emotional for him), we were reminded that this is indeed real, it was happening, and it was somehow conceived by humans and not by gods. The Flaming Lips are by far one of the greatest live bands.
One cannot talk about greatness without mentioning The Cure, and if any band summarized the days themes of evolution and self worth, it was them. With a simple light set up (clear lights, mostly), The Cure are well past the days of trying to create an elaborate stage show. At this point, I’m sure they’re aware that their music does a great job at depicting images alone. They performed many beloved classics, including a large amount of songs featured on their magnum opus Disintegration. The odd thing is that these songs, while nightmarish on album, were pleasant and loving live. It isn’t because we know these songs well either. Robert Smith has gone past injecting his sorrows into his music and instead reminds himself of why he became passionate about music in the first place. The sky was dark and the stars were out, and the city skyline looked like hell fire from a distance. However, The Cure didn’t end the night off in a spooky way but instead with a uniting good time.