Photographs by Sarah Rix.
This time last year, the pop punk lovers of Toronto trekked through the public transportation system with muddy shoes and tattooed bodies. They attended the carnival of their dreams: Riot Fest. This festival combines the togetherness of the upbeat-yet-aggressive community with a pinch of variety. Last year we had The Cure and The Flaming Lips chucked into a line up consisting of Social Distortion, New Found Glory and more. It isn’t exclusively for the famous stars and straps crowd, but they get a good exposure to some great acts whilst sticking to their guns. This year isn’t any different. Well, it’s a little different. Mix in the fake blood and guts from a Gwar set along with the usual mud, some CNE festival rides to go with the carnival feel and a DJ booth to expand the crowd’s taste. Riot Fest is the same but it is even bigger this year, and day one had some great stories to bring home.
Thurston Moore was meant to play at last year’s featival but he backed out at the last minute. He finally made it this year, and his tall stature cranes over the entire crowd over at the Rock stage. He had a supergroup with him, including fellow Sonic Youth member Steve Shelley (on drums) and My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe (bass). To see such a legendary musician play so early with a crowd that was only starting to build up was kind of sad, but I think Moore was fine with the manageable surrounding. Each song twanged into the stormy sky above, with not quite the kind of dizzying spell a Sonic Youth song would make but enough to remind us of Moore’s roots. Moore loved the awful weather, as he gave both it and the band DOA a widely smiled shout out. It was a humble set, and one that was full of the kind of things that make a veteran noise musician still cheerful.
The crowd blew up quickly for Against Me!, especially after all of the attention Laura Jane Grace has made over the last few years. Their pro-positivity stance on anything has always been a staple of the band, and Grace’s transgender headlines have sent the band distances they have never reached before. “We are pro fun, though!” Grace said with a thumbs up after telling us that she and her bandmates are against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and more. That was the bulk ot what the band had to say politically, as their music said it all. They had fun, and we all sure did too. It’s nice to see some of these songs, of which are so full of hurt, being turned into strong anthems live. With a shirt that said “Gender is Over”, Grace was just as happy as the rest of us at Riot that we can all get along and trump hate.
Coheed and Cambria have been around fof quite some time and their fan base has yet to die down. While their album releases have been a bit more quiet, their devoted legion makes sense after finally seeing them live. On album, they tell complex stories and concepts. Live, they play to be Rush, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. The amount of showmanship and talent poured off the stage and onto the ground below as it flooded the crowd. With their biggest single Welcome Home closing things off, guitarist and singer Claudio Sachez pulled off a Woodstock coup de grace. He played a solo behind his head, on the ground and then by his teeth. If anything, their live show may talk more about passion and power than their in depth story telling, but their two different entities are both successful and thriving. It’s never too late to see Coheed and Cambria live.
All Time Low kept the intensity up in their own way, and this was more akin to the common Riot Fest attendee than it was for me. Maybe I’m not fun, because everyone else was having a complete blast. The music was catchy and fit the setting perfectly, especially with a ferris wheel and zipper beside the stage. The banter was quite frat based, though, with talks about wet t shirt contests (based on the crowd being drenched by the rain) and female orgies. It was all in fun, though, as they pulled on many crowd members to sing along to their music. Crowd surfers were high fived as they were shoved past the barriers by security, so even when the party was over did the fun keep going. The crowd loved All Time Low, and that’s what matters to them.
Weezer have not gone anywhere in a while, but even they had a nostalgic run with a two day celebration of their past. The first day had their album Pinkerton played in full (the second day would have their self titled debut, known as The Blue Album, performed). I’ve seen Weezer before and they usually put on a whacky show. Here, however, they were set on doing this Rudolf album justice. It was first hated but is now celebrated. Every tiny detail was included not as a wink but as a service (including the weird El Scorchio call at the start of the song of the same name). There was very little banter this time, because Pinkerton says it all about Rivers Cuomo’s youth. As we all awkwardly agreed with his lyrics, I don’t know about anyone else but I certainly forgot how great at guitar Cuomo is. With a few songs performed after the album, Weezer did Riot proud the first day. Their performance of The Blue Album should not disappoint.
Alexisonfire capped off the day of youths and revitalization quite well. Dallas Green came to Riot Fest last year as his own man in City and Colour, but he came back as part of the reformed Canadian post hardcore outfit. Everyone looks older and different, and you can see the different avenues people have taken from within the band. However, the music was almost identical to how it sounds on album. Everyone on stage was going ballistic and the passion from within the band was brewing once again. If any band could cap a day of community and love, it was the reborn Alexisonfire. They started off with the song Accidents, which contains the lyric “let’s redefine what it means to heal” . They did just that.