Riot Fest East – 2011 Riot Fest East – 2011

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“I’m not too old for this shit.”

I have to keep telling myself that or I will find myself turned into the haggard, bitter, disconnected white man burden who always stood between youth and nihilism, glory and disorder, hope and the iron hand of the man always trying to keep the righteous mouth clamped when it only spoke to truth, to liberty, to power.

But maybe I am. Christ, that’s hard to confess. But standing in front of a barricade, protected by big, black gloved men who I used to spit on and scream at feeling thankful for the chance to not be knocked senseless trying to document eleven hours of punk rock excess (which is, admittedly, a little hard to achieve in a fortified festival setting where a Miller Light will set you back eight clams with tip) I can’t help but concede that, in many ways, I’ve grown up and out of it.

I don’t know most of the bands playing today and the ones I do are grayed and wrinkled, certainly pudgier than I remember from my days at hardcore matinees when eleven bands dedicated to bar chords, sweat, shouts and amplifiers didn’t leave me with a backache.

Or maybe I’m just being too hard on myself. Sure, punk is the product of a young man’s angst and folly (the only woman on this bill is Exene) but, goddamnit, it’s still fun. It’s still loud. It’s still fast. It’s still desperate.

And so am I.


Well, here it is: Riot Fest East. Band by band (with theoretical set times) documented for eleven fucking hours as soberly and objectively as humanely fucking possible with special thanks to Mitzi Dodge for taking notes when I was losing my head and for reminding me to do things like drink beer and eat hotdogs.

The Heels – 12:00pm

There’s little shittier than being the opening band unless you’re the opening band for a punk rock festival who have to go on at noon inside a tent. Man, that sucks, The Heels. I’m glad I got to be a body for your performance (sorry, though, that your pictures sucked) and I’m pretty sure that if you played a basement bill kids would be breaking bottles on the floor. You’re just not a stage band though and I never cared for the thug/chug of the Pagan Babies.

Lionize – 12:20pm

Every punk excursion has a band that has nothing to do with the three chord monte but gets lumped in on the off chance that the kids still like the reggae/funk/shout-the-white-ass-out. Actually, I know a lot of folks who do. I don’t. Still, this band could play their instruments like crazy so if you go in for that sort of groove/noodle thing they’ve got your number and would totally let you let them sleep on their couch. They’re in Clutch, right?

Brothers from Another – 12:40pm

I have absolutely no idea what this band sounds like kinda like my girlfriend still has no idea what the fuck Ke$ha (ugh) looks like. I saw them. I heard them. I even remember thinking that they were much more rock and roll than I expected but even a few hours later that didn’t mean dick. I don’t want to say they were forgettable because I’m pretty sure that one guitar player could kick the living shit out of me AND my dad.

The Claw – 1:10pm

YEAH, DUDE! Fucking FLYING V! ROCK ME! YEAH! Yeah. Yeah? Oh, right. The Claw are thrash. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love some thrash. The last time I saw Anthrax, I almost broke my neck stage diving off a giant stack (and am currently listening to Skeletonwitch for some reason) but it’s just not the sort of the thing meant to be enjoyed outside, this early on a gray day with a 60% chance of rain. Let alone, that high above a spare audience. Also, my new friend, Event Staff Bob has informed me that that Flying V is a knockoff. Goddamnit.

Population Zero – 1:40pm

Street punk. Yay. This band put little banners up over the speakers and the stage. S.P.P. and something else. I don’t remember, Their name, maybe? Probably. Something having to do with a squat or a crew or whatever the disgruntles do in Philly. That’s condescending. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m consistently surprised that a music as base and stylized (that singer’s hair, dude…seriously) as street punk continues to survive despite it being so easy to play just about anything else. Give the kids what they want, I guess. Cynicism wins again.

Larry and His Flask – 2:10pm

Holy…fucking…shit. This band stole the festival. Frantic down home meth-paced country with the best goddamn showmanship I’ve seen since I decided it would be a good idea to get my face melted by Gogol Bordello and even they seemed somewhat tame to the endless sweat of that upright bass player and hardcore…mandolinist? I can’t say enough positive things about this band. They got the day’s first (and, I think, only) circle pit going.  All good times. No broken bones. They’re from Portland. See them any and every chance you get from here ‘til kingdom come.

The Holy Mess – 2:40pm

I’m not really sure why I was excited to see this band. I just was. Had a friggin’ sense, I guess. Maybe I was just stoked that they found representation in the good men of Bear Trap PR but they delivered hard on the punk rock promise of fast, fun, beer. No frills. No bullshit. Sure, the singer had blonde, mohican dreads and you know I hate that shit but the crowd was there an INTO IT! so who gives a damn about my passing aesthetics. This band is why kids still crowd surf.

Shot Baker – 3:10pm

I was talking to some dude with an All Access pass about how much he fucking loved this band and how he was so psyched they were playing again that he was actually traveling with them (in tandem, not in the van). I thought the singer might be tone deaf. Everyone else too. Again, this might just be the result of suddenly having to play like rock stars but since I’d only ever heard but a few notes from this band before this their lackluster performance (despite the singer’s best intentions) made me feel like breaking up with myself.

The Menzingers – 3:40pm

The Holy Mess were talking about these guys and I can well understand why. If I was sixteen and I’d stumbled onto them playing some shit show with my friends, they totally would’ve made my life (until I became one of those foaming NOFX fans [how glad am I that never actually happened?]). Same expeditious melody but with a whole lot more sweaty meaning. Loved it. Don’t know that I’ll really listen to it but I’d totally see these kids play ABC any given Saturday.

Weston – 4:10pm

I saw Weston when I was…sixteen? Jesus. They were one of innumerable bands opening for Down By Law at Wetlands (which I still contend was one of the most dangerous and bullshit venues in NYC circa 90’s that did all-ages shit). I was sold on the song “Retarded.” That’s what they opened with. Yeah, I loved it. LOVED IT! One punkasfuck photographer looked at me during the set and shouted “Dude! It’s high school all over again!” And it was. Only the good times. The smiling, silly, nonsense that kept all of us punks together in a field of jocks and pretty girls who didn’t know any better.  Also, the guitar player is a total Angus Young rock star. Good times, man. Here AGAIN!

Samiam – 4:40pm

I keep forgetting that I saw this band. A lot of people I was talking to during the day kept mentioning how Samiam were such talented musicians which is why they were never fully appreciated in their day and that I should really give their new record another try because it’s got such great…yeah. I did. Still don’t care for it. Samiam takes the wan, melodious approach set forth by Lookout! and Fat Wreck Chords and makes it…complicated? I only ever liked that one song any way and I didn’t hear them play it and all I could wonder while watching them is how many bands vainly hide their baldness with a baseball cap.

Excitebike – 5:10pm

Man, this singer gave good face. Too bad the music was boring as sin. If there weren’t so many other better bands to consider I could argue that this band was pushing the proto-emotive wagon that made so many beards famous but I think that might be a little generous. Think Texas Is the Reason without the bite and slightly tighter plaid button up shirt. Dismissive, yes. But there’s loads more to see.

7 Seconds – 5:40pm

This band was awesome. No way around it. Proud to be playing. Happy to be alive. Kicking the fuck out of the same manner of material that’s been slumming around the Bowery since Dee Dee stopped turning tricks. Sure, it’s simple. Every song has a “WOAAAAH-OH!” but who cares? One of the passing pleasures of hardcore is that you don’t need to think about it no matter how obscenely vulgar the sentiment is. You just get beat up and sing along. Done and done.

Larry and His Flask – Improvised “Busker” Set

Yeah, they played again. Just for the hell of it. Just because, fuck you is why. And they were just as potent as when they were amplified. I should’ve shelled out some dough for the record but I was hungry. Sorry guys. Next time…

Naked Raygun – 6:10pm

Can we just pretend this never happened? We can? Awesome. Seriously, though…I think Jeff Pezzatit has MS. Does he need a fundraiser? Can we make that happen? Santiago Durango doesn’t give a shit who lives or dies.

Suicide Machines – 6:40pm

AHAHAHAHAH!!! Oh, man. Oh, MAN! I USED TO LOVE THIS BAND SO MUCH! Wait. Is anyone still in this band? Yeah, that’s singer. Of course it is. He’s over the stage and into the audience and I’m finally getting to hear “The Real You” live which is a total fucking treat but…yeah, no I think it’s just him. That’s cool. Man needs his payday. Guitarist’s sporting a Bauhaus shirt. They came out and introduced themselves as Minor Threat. If The Holy Mess is why kids crowd surf, Suicide Machines is how they break their neck. Every song is a SKAPUNK! anthem (at least on the first record and a half). Then the singer had to go and start getting preachy on Barack Obama’s internship history and I had to leave. Inchoate politics are no place for me.

Plow United – 7:10pm

So, it turns out that my friend not only went to prom with Plow United’s singer but she also prommed the bassist. I don’t know what happened on those magical evening but looking at the HUGE crowd it would appear that Jill has won punk rock. This band is a whole lot better than I thought. A clear forerunner of the screaming passionate now exemplified by skinny kids from Florida complaining about their rent. What a sad decline. I’m still sorry I missed this band when they were in their roaring prime but save the distance between the band and the stage and the relentless fog machine I imagine the experience to be much the same.

Hot Water Music – 7:50pm

I never cared for this band. When it comes to Florida beard rock (as my dear friend David of the sadly defunct Criminal Class USA once put it…beards or not), the angst pool is just too deep to give a shit about everyone who comes around no matter how desperately your friends encourage you to embrace their favorite. I’m an asshole. These dudes were incredible. More raw, unbridled rock than any and/or all the bands I’ll see today and, seemingly, genuinely humbled by the opportunity to still be on a stage eighteen years since their initial formation. Take my advice, though. Learn the words to every song. Even if you don’t like the track they’re playing it’s sooooooo much better to be singing along.

Dead Milkmen – 8:30pm

They opened with “Nutrition” and then they played “Punk Rock Girl” followed swiftly by “Serrated Edge” (which despite “Punk Rock Girl” being, perhaps, the best song ever [they TOTALLY played “Stuart” too!] may be one of my all time Dead Milkmen faves for it’s Charles Nelson Reilly reference) though my friend (the aforementioned) Jill contends they played “V.F.W.” but, you know, WHATEVER! Rodney Anonymous can’t stop moving. Joe Jack is the shit (and, it should be added, made a point of watching every band of the day) and yeah…YEAH! PUNK ROCK GIRL! “Bitchin’ Camaro” too with the Green Party candidate for Philadelphia sheriff (???) providing the intro. Sweet, dude.

X – 9:10pm

X are fucking amazing. I didn’t think they would be. I have to be honest. I expected a half-hearted rendition of punk rock seminality but not only did X provide, perhaps, the most inspired performance of the day but they got the crowd to freak the fuck out. Who knew I’d ever get to see a skinhead surf and scream to “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline”? Certainly not X. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. I’m fairly confident they’ll be touring on this record for a while. Buy it. Learn it. See it. Live like you’re finally witnessing the decline of western civilization.

The Descendents – 9:50pm

Oh, fuck. The Descendents. I love The Descendents. Who don’t? Without The Descendents, punk, as we know it, wouldn’t fucking exist. I give them that. They’re a phenomenal band. They might even be geniuses. But here’s the thing about The Descendents…they have a whole bunch of songs you love, a whole bunch more songs you pretend you enjoy but could give two shits about and then a whole lot more songs on top of that. And they’ll play them all. At least, it feels like they will. Maybe they do. I’ve never seen The Descendents without blacking out. Especially once they start into “Allogistics” (which they always do…though this time there were little kids involved so as insufferable as it was, at least it was cute). Still, the crowd was clearly there to see them and they did play “Bikeage” and “Suburban Home” and…I think we might have left a little early.


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