the national

An Oral history of 2014’s Riot Fest as told by random people

Posted on by Ricky in Everything | 1 Comment

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Riotfest happened last week, we weren’t going to cover it but over the course of 48 hours, we, along with some friends, felt suddenly entranced by the festival. Maybe it was the North York air. Anyways, this is the story.

As told by:

Ricky (Panic Manual contributor/contest winner)
Paul (Panic Manual contributor)
Kristian (Concert photographer and GIF enthusiast.)
Caroline (Long time listener, first time caller)
Gary (Was not actually there)
Kim (Guest contributor, check out her music blog For The Trees)

Initial Thoughts

Paul: I remember it was late Sunday night when Ricky first brought up the idea of doing an oral history for Riot Fest. At first i was like, “I dunno about this idea. It all sounds a bit goofy.” I really wasn’t sure how it would all turn out but he was really into it, so sure, whatever. Let’s do it.

Gary: When I was assigned an oral history of something that didn’t occur personally and yet I have to tell in an epic fashion, I immediately thought of Homer. And the Great Book. And a lot of other important events in human history whose origin is still debated, like The Apollo Moon-landing. Ok. Maybe not that last one. But regardless, I started to research the origins of Riot Fest. It turns out, like Second City, it is an import from Chicago. Kinda injects more than the intended meaning into the term Second City. But I digress.

Ricky: Digress or egress. I had always been interested in RiotFest’s lineup. The Cure is band I love and you can’t go wrong with The National and some of the other small font bands. I didn’t want to cover it and in complete honesty, I thought I could win a contest to get free tickets to the show. I won tickets to the show, so I invited Paul.

Paul: Ricky loves free stuff. i do too. I mean, who doesn’t?

Kristian I attended Riot Fest its first year in Toronto. I was drawn to the lineup not because of current musical leanings, but instead it’s nostalgic appeal. The headliner was NOFX, and they were supported by Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music and The Lawrence Arms. The festival could have been called Kristians grade 11 mini-disk player-fest. Even then I got tickets via a contest, and it was the same this year. I’ve never paid for Riot-Fest.

Kim: For the past two years, I managed to attend Riot Fest without ever paying. Last year, I covered the fest for Tribe.ca and spent most of my words gushing over the return of the Replacements. This year, I won tickets and spent my thoughts bidding farewell to Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla.

To me, Riot Fest is a mega festival that has really struggled to establish its niche and has largely chosen acts based on who’s available.

Caroline When I heard of RiotFest and some of the bands attending like Alkaline Trio and Taking Back Sunday, I recoiled a bit. Then I saw that The Cure was playing and immediately thought that would be cool. $200 seems steep for one great band and a bunch of others I don’t have any interest in. A lot of other people must have thought so too because thousands of tickets were given away a few days before the festival. Two of my friends had won and one invited me as her +1 after I had abandoned all hope of seeing The Cure.

Gary: Anyway, I had no prior experience with Riot Fest. I thought first of where best in Toronto to start a riot. Downtown? No, the history of G-20 protest will likely invoke a strong Police response. How about the middle of nowhere? Downsview airport? Fabulous! And since it’s right next to Canada’s first “urban” national park, they are advertising its benefit to the community.

The Day of (AND THE RAIN)

All outdoor festivals are faced with the same x-factor issue: weather. The night before Riotfest featured torrential downpour thus jeopardizing the enjoyment of some people at the show.

Ricky: Your outdoor festival experience can be hampered if you don’t have proper attire. Given last night’s downpour, I decided to go with flip flops as my footwear. My reasoning was simple: I’d rather wash my feet then my shoes. Also, it’s really gross when you are wearing shoes and it gets wet on the inside. It’s somehow less gross when your feet is all muddied.

Paul: I wore pretty much brand new shoes (not to be confused with Brand New the band) on the first day. Not the brightest move, but I got them for cheap so I don’t really care.

Caroline: I was warned about the mud on the way there, but it was too late. I made the poor choice of wearing ballet flats which got ruined. So the show actually ended up costing me $80, not $0 like I had hoped. Mistake #1. Clearly, I am not experienced with outdoor concerts.

Gary: Upon skimming through the lineup, I decided that one would need a sports coat, dress pants and colorful socks in order to blend in, possibly back stage. Perhaps I would sport a monocle in order to examine my own ego in between sets.

Kristian My day of preparation is never too extensive. Wear the crappiest shoes I own. On the bus home I counted a ratio of converse to other, and Converse was in the lead 8/2. I guess those punks are onto something. I’m not the kind of guy who dresses up to a punk show. The last one I was at I wore penny loafers and my work attire.

Ricky: The journey there was long and painful. As a downtown person, you know you have travelled too far when the subway somehow ends up outside and you are faced with the blinding glow that is the sun.

Paul: We played a game on the subway ride there of guessing which people were on their way to Riot Fest. Once on the festival grounds, we played a much easier game of “which of these people are here mostly just to see The Cure?”

Ricky: I’m not sure what RiotFest’s business model is, but when your contest winner list comes in a binder, you might want to do a better job selling tickets.

Riotfest loves lineups. Here are the lineups that were required:
– pick up tickets
– get beer wristband
– get ticket scanned
– go through security
– buy beer tickets
– get beers.

I don’t know what kind of crime they have in North York but it was the most fierce security I have encountered. The girl was responsible for patting me down touched so many of my body parts, I thought I had to slip her a twenty or buy her champagne.

Kristian Security was top notch. I only say this because they let me take in my half consumed bottle of water. They the real MVP.

Caroline: After walking past the grope-y security, I felt like I was transplanted into another world. Coming from Queen west hipsterville, it seemed strange but refreshing to see a huge crowd of suburban emo punks. Brand New was on the stage and they screamed a lot. I regretted not bringing my earplugs for fear of having decibel damage to my ears. Mistake #2

Day 1 Acts

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Ricky First act that I paid attention to was Paul Weller. His band as expected, came out all primp and proper. Points to one of the guitarists for wearing a full suit. Paul Weller himself looked like one of those guys who have spent too much time in Fort Lauderdale.

Paul Weller’s an odd act, especially if he only has an hour to play. The man has so much material to pick from, yet I bet most people just want to see The Jam stuff. The age difference between was the Paul Weller crowd and the AWOLNation crowd was probably twenty years. I enjoyed the fact that he played My Ever Changing Mood.

AWOLNation was awful, but if I lived in boonies, I would probably have liked them.

Gary: The last time I saw Paul Weller was in 2008, at the Virgin Festival. Glad to hear that he’s still producing soulful music. He is one of those musicians who I would only listen to live, so there’s an opportunity lost. I feel old knowing that I would be much more entertained watching Weller and the Lips instead of Metric or City and Colour. And the “LIKE” buttons on Riot Fest’s lineup page confirms this…

Caroline My friend and I explored the food choices as we counted down to the Flaming Lips. We opted for a Collosal Onion, which is a battered, deep-fried onion. It was tasty, but after just a few bites, it was nauseating because it was so greasy. Mistake #3.

Ricky RiotFest had a strong food game. I hate lineups so I went to the roti place. I immediately regretted my decision when I saw some white dude handing me the roti instead of some middle aged Caribbean women. Never trust white people to make ethnic foods.

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Ricky I still don’t get the pandemonium that arrives whenever DFA plays a show. I liked Sebastian Grainger for making fun of the crowd by saying they are all from Barrie. He was probably right. I don’t think I can pull off the no-shirt white overalls look that Grainger was earing.

Check out this dude. Why bring sunglasses and put them on the back of your neck:

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Paul: Wayne Coyne did his usual Willie Wonka on acid routine.  It was good, but it seemed a little lacklustre, perhaps because of the time constraints of their non-headliner slot.

Ricky You know you’ve been to too many concerts when a Flaming Lips concert comes off as a bit meh. Without their usual gigantic stage, the Lips seemed off. At times it felt like a Japanese arcade on mdma. Some people were losing it, but I thought it was just average. Maybe I’m dead inside.

Caroline After a visually interesting but lacklustre Flaming Lips show, the sun went down and The Cure came on. It was freezing at this point and I was glad to have brought a sweater and towel. Success #1.

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Ricky The Cure. They did not disappoint. Rummaging through their entire discography, fat Bob not only played all the hits, but sounded absolutely fantastic. The set list had everything you could ask for including Just Like Heaven, Boys Don’t Cry, Lovesong, Friday I’m in Love and Close to Me. I wanted Crystal Castles to show up to do Not in Love, but Crystal Castles are probably lost in a field somewhere.

Caroline The Cure was the highlight of the show. It was great to hear all their hits and I was amazed that Robert Smith sounds essentially the same since so many aging rockers lose their voice. I was happy that they played Lovesong which may be my favourite song of theirs.

The most memorable moment of the night was Pictures of You – but not because it was such a great live rendition. Partway through the song, an inebriated young lady broke my Cure reverie by coming over and asking me if she could pee where I was standing. I said no but she pulled down her pants and peed on the metal barrier, tainting the vicinity and forever creating a new association with the song for me.

Ricky Caroline has always said she was a weirdo magnet and today I witnessed it first hand, but we are friends so maybe I too, am a weirdo.

Day 2 Acts

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We asked Gary what some lessons learned would be from day 1
Gary: Ricky would be able to tell you the precise GPS coordinate to stand your ground in order to have a panoramic view by 3PM. And then, he’ll have a poorly drawn but weirdly accurate bird’s eye view breakdown of the venue to go along with commentary by 6PM. (Tip: you’re supposed to look at it while mildly inebriated). My projected lesson after the first day would probably involve the number of drinks before I look like an asshole while using a tripod to hold the telephoto lens among 10,000.

Caroline: The next day, I was better prepared. I wore running shoes and brought my earplugs.

Kristian: I felt the bands this year lacked identity. The festival is called Riot Fest and City and Colour was headlining. Stars, Death Cab and the National are hardly bands that people who want to mosh would identify with. Seems to me it could have done better as a single day, mostly punk festival.

Ricky: By the time I arrived, The New Pornographers had already played for 10 minutes. Dan Bejar actually looked somewhat sober. New Pornographers are so good and vastly underrated as a band. I didn’t run into the same security girl who groped me the day before, if it had happened again, I might have changed my relationship status to “It’s complicated” on facebook just for her.

Paul: I’ve always wondered what Dan Bejar does when he goes offstage during the times that he doesn’t have to sing one of his songs.  I assume it mostly involves drinking.

Ricky: Die Antwoord gets the award for most energetic and weirdest band of the day. They seem to be a band that people who subscribe to Vice magazine listen to. They were quite visually amusing to watch, even if every song of theirs sound the same. The rapper seems like a South African version of Riff Raff.

Paul: Dropkick Murphys had my favourite onstage banter of the festival, with singer Al Barr offering up some friendly sports-related trash talking in his Boston accent.  “Go Leafs?  I’m tawkin’ about baseball here!”

Ricky: Riotfest and Stars seem like an odd combo. The band made the best of it by sticking to their rockier material and also by covering Alvvway’s Marry Me Archie. Torquil went on his usual political schtick and I’ve concluded he’d probably be that one asshole who ruins every conversation at dinner parties.

Paul: I’m not a big Stars fan, but for some reason I really enjoyed their set.  I feel like they probably made an effort to make it as “punk” as a Stars show could possibly be. Torquil kept to his standard dramatics, including his use of overemphatic swearing throughout the show.  Also, great Rush tribute/putdown during the early part of their set.

Ricky: Death Cab was a lot louder then I had anticipated and they definitely had one of the biggest crowds. It wasn’t until this show where I realized I only know like four or five Death Cab songs. My highlight of this set was this girl who wore a Jack Bauer/24 hat. What’s your thought process when you buy this hat?

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Kim: Beyond my reservations about Downsview as a venue, attending shows at the former airforce base around sunset is actually quite charming. Death Cab played just before sunset and played a surprising number of tunes off of Narrow Stairs, an album I love, but I imagine Transatlanticism fans love to hate.

Caroline The day was fun but nothing was particularly memorable. RiotFest was all about The Cure.

Kristian: My half day take-away is that the festival was pretty good, but the barrier down between the two stages created a log-jam in between sets. Why not just have it open, and let people cycle back and forth?

Ricky Caroline sums it up pretty well. The National were their usual great self and even did a sax solo from a Sufjan Stevens song. Not wanting to ruin my Sunday by listening to Metric or City and Colour, I made the long journey back home.

Kim As a massive fan of the National, I was sad to find that despite my efforts to move as close to the stage as possible, I still had people yaking behind me during the band’s slow burn ballad “I Need My Girl.”

Gary: With the downtown core packed and the islands difficult to access, it looks like Riot Fest found a fairly open space to grow. And from what I can tell with my telescopes in Baltimore it is becoming an important event on the Toronto calendar. Perhaps next year – or maybe I should just drop by Brooklyn.

Festival Review Part 2: St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Detroit, September 14, Sigur Ros, The National, Savages, etc

Posted on by Ricky in Everything | Leave a comment

national

Part 1 is here

I shall waste little time continuing on with my Detroit food and beverage based music reviews for the Laneway Festival in Detroit on Saturday. Just like Ne-Yo said, “Let’s go!”

Drinks

Savages aka Whisky- Powerful, different, great in short bursts and channeling memories of the past, whiskey is a great drink. Similar to whisky is Savages, a four piece band from London who channels all those qualities as well. Their post-punk offerings reminds me of music from the late 70’s and early 80’s, back when I was just a toddler. Jehnny Beth is an electrifying and intense front woman who reminds me of Annie Lennox for some reason. Their set was during the daytime, which I found to be a bit odd. Just like whisky, I think I prefer them in the darkness of the night. Still, the very color coordinated band wasted no effort in delivering the crowd with a fist full of rock including two tracks I enjoy – Husbands and She Will.

Killer Mike and EL-P (Run the Jewels) aka Vodka – Easily the most chatty act of the day, the duo delivered a steady dose of hip hop to the festival. EL-P actually opened up a bottle of Grey Goose on stage and passed it through the crowd before realizing there were probably a lot of minors he was feeding hard liquor to. Instinctively, he got the bottle back. Not bad for effort. The pair were super chatty and slightly hilarious and provided a nice raw hip hop feel to the show.

Entrees

Sigur Ros aka Brisket – Sigur Ros is basically great brisket – impossible to replicate on your own, looks great and tastes spectacular. Having seen them in March, I was already familiar with their current stage and it still blew my mind. Giant projection screen, blasting strobe lights and little cute light bulbs on pole all add to the visual aspect of a Sigur Ros show. It’s a feast on the eyes, just like brisket is a feast on your stomach, just look at this:

brisket

Currently on tour for the album Kveikur, Sigur Ros was one of the two headliners of the night and their show was at the absolutely lovely Pavilion on the Meadowfields ground. Their eighty minute set was a mixture of new and old tracks accompanied by gorgeous videos you want to be your screensaver, and all of them highlighted by Jonsi’s out of the world voice. Seriously, nothing sounds like that guy. The band seemed to have endless members on stage, with percussion, horns, keyboard and others all taking the spotlight at one point or another. The highlight for me is always Untitled #1 and it’s gas masked video set. It’s one of the few songs out there where everyone just shuts the fuck up and appreciates and it always gives me chills. Much like when you are eating a lovely piece of brisket and then you discover theres a bit of fat in the meat and suddenly you have this tasty explosion in your mouth. We should give Iceland the Winter Olympics one of these years just so I can watch an opening ceremony with Bjork and Sigur Ros. Set of the festival, easily.

The National aka Pulled Pork – Whenever you are ordering food from the menu, you can always order pulled pork and you can never go wrong. It’s always good and consistently tasty no matter the time. This is the National in a nut shell. They are just consistently damn good and you are in great hands when you have them as your set closer. One of my favorite things about the Laneway Festival was how easy it was to get to where you want. We arrived at the stage mere minutes before they started and was still able to make our way up to the front. What a festival. Even Matt Berninger had to comment on how great the festival was. He seems like a hard man to please. Starting with the first song off 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, the track I Should Live in Salt set about a nice reflective “hey yeah this is awesome” homestretch part of the night. The band played songs from their impressive discography and told stories of how they were playing the track Abel to only the janitor not too long ago. Having barely seen them at NXNE in June, I was taken aback by how much more “singing” Matt has on the new album versus the screaming, growling nature of some of the earlier music. Maybe he is chilling out. You would never know it by watching him on stage, as his constant pacing and general body language always reads as someone who is on the verge of exploding. We decided to head out early to beat the crowd, but I guess we forgot that this wasn’t your typical festival where traffic jams dominate the night. We were able to get out right away, a final reminder of just how organized and well operated the Laneway Festival was.

I’ll be back next year.

NXNE Review: The National, Ostrich Tuning, The Death Set, June 14

Posted on by Brent in North By Northeast | Leave a comment

Ostrich Tuning

Friday night started off with a trip to Yonge-Dundas Square to check out The National. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I knew a freebie at a large public square in the middle of downtown on a beautiful Friday night would bring out loads of fans but unless you showed up early there was no possible way of seeing the stage. They sounded really good though. Sigh.

Following a quick jaunt across Queen and stops at the Horseshoe to check out Still Corners and then up and across Dundas to May to see Tokyo’s Round Face and finally ending up at my primary destination which was the basement of Creatures Creating to catch Ostrich Tuning.

I had first heard about them the previous night when I was told by a friend that I “had to see this band playing up the street” because “they were the best musicians in the city” and that they were “better than Godspeed You! Black Emperor.” Some of this was confirmed by a random stranger beside us who agreed. He may have been planted. Regardless, I wasn’t going to not go. It was at a neat little second floor art space of a house in Kensington called The White House. I got there while three-piece  Rituals were pounding out distortion to a packed little room while images from a projector were displayed on a side wall. As I waited in anticipation for Ostrich Tuning to set up, those that were in charge began to quickly scramble: hiding the cash box, getting rid of their beer sign, etc. The cops showed up (apparently about a noise complaint and/or open cans outside) but even though the show would go on, time was ticking and I needed to make it to The Silver Dollar for Mikal Cronin in 15 minutes. It wasn’t until Friday night that I would be able to experience their show.

Creatures Creating is a neat little art collective space on Dundas. They had a comedy show happening on the mainfloor with bands playing in the basement. Ostrich Tuning are different and unconventional because they tune all of their guitar strings to the same pitch. For example, all strings would be tuned to ‘D’ which makes it an entirely new instrument that one would have to re-learn chords and chord progressions. You’d probably never know it unless you were watching their fingers though which makes them such talented musicians. The few songs that I heard were five to six minutes full of drone and psychedelic effects. According to their website they’ve customized their instruments and pedals. They were well received and based on the praise given to them the night before I’ll be checking them out next time they play.

The Death Set

Following a quick stop at Wrongbar to see Bear Mountain and BLK BOX where Gold & Youth played the sweatiest show of the night, I made it to the Shop @ Parts and Labour at 2am for one of NXNE’s “secret shows”. Not so secret considering @urbanoutfitters was letting everyone know who was playing two hours in advance. The Death Set are from Australia but transplanted in Brooklyn and were the headliners. I’d read a review and seen a couple videos of their live shows and knew them to be aggressive and interactive. The audience and band pretty much became one as they played at our level. At one point lead singer and guitarist Johnny Siera entangled his microphone cable in a willing lady’s shirt in front of him, later having trouble getting it out at the end of the song. On purpose? Hmm. They bounced around like Mexican Jumping Beans and the crowd followed suit. It was one of the more unique shows of the festival as I’d never seen a punk band play samples of Jackson 5 and old hip hop between their songs. Confusing, yet unique. Head scratchingly unique.

Best of 2011: Ricky’s Favorite Concert Moments in Awards Format (pt 2/2)

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts, Year End Reviews | Leave a comment

Everyone likes awards right? Especially when they are random and whimsical..right? Here’s the rest of my favorite concert moments. Since it’s my blog, I’m just going to call these awards The Panickys. I would call it the Rickys, but that oozes of ego boasting.

2011 Panicky for Concert Where I Saw the Most Friends

Sloan, December, 2011 – The Great Hall
Before I joined this cultish indie blogger group I am now apart of, I rarely knew anyone at concerts. Since that fateful day, I seem to run into at least a few people at shows. While I’ve seen a lot of friends at a lot of shows, the Sloan show was by far, the one I went to with the most amount of people I knew there. I didn’t talk to most of the people I knew there, because I had a good spot. It helps that the show was phenomenal, and a nice cap off to a phenomenal concert year.

Sloan – Everything You’ve Done Wrong (live 2011-12-21) by panicmanual

2011 Panicky for Concert with the best backdrop/environment

The National, Llevant Stage, Primavera Sound, June, 2011
Brooding band, sun setting, beautiful weather and the Mediterranean Sea at my back. Even Matt Berninger mentioned how amazing it was for The National to play a set at that particular time at that particular place. Pure magic. Second best sunset show I’ve seen (after Coachella 2004, where Belle and Sebastian played a sunset show).

2011 Panicky for Concert where I formally gave up on a band

Interpol, Llevant Stage, Primavera Sound, June ,2011
I used to love Interpol, their brooding, atmospheric debut was one of the better records from the past decade. Sadly, the band has failed to consistently improve/expand on their sound and seeing the band go through the motions and play their inferior new tracks was a tough pill to swallow. Maybe Carlos D left at the right time, but I’m pretty sure that the sixth time I saw these guys was my last, until of course, the Interpol reunion in 2019.

2011 Panicky for Best Unexpectedly Great Concert

Erasure, Sound Academy, September 2011
The 80s synth-pop band put on one of the best shows I saw in Toronto this year, delivering a hits filled set at their show in September. The track selection for this set was perfect, building momentum slowly and then exploding in an outburst of color, melody and hook filled choruses, instantly transforming yours truly into a big time Erasure fan.

2011 Panicky for Best Unexpectedly Great Local Concert

Allie Hughes, NXNE, Wrongbar, June, 2011
Given the amount of large shows I go to, it’s probably not fair to group them with the smaller, more intimate local shows. So Allie Hughes gets the Panicky for the local version of best unexpectedly great show. Catching her on a whim at NXNE, I wasn’t expecting too much but came away awfully impressed by Allie’s theatre meets indie music mashup. Fun, original and filled with good music. A definite highlight of NXNE.

NOT THE STARS by AllieHughes

2011 Panicky for Best 1 Song Show

The Walkmen, Primavera Sound, June 2011
I only caught the tail end of the Walkmen (who Allison confuses with the Watchman, 9 times out of 10) set at Primavera Sound, but they sang the only song I would ever want to hear – The Rat. Seriously, listen to it. It’s one of the best tracks from the past decade and should have launched the band into the stratosphere. It didn’t, but that doesn’t make it a great moment to hear that song live.

2011 Panicky for Best Show I Do Not Remember

Yeasayer, Microsoft Party, Austin, March 2011
As chronicled in my article here, the PM crew indulged a bit too much at the free booze fest and as a result, I missed/forgot what happened at the Yeasayer show. Still, this was better than my performance at the Woodhands show in 2010. I didn’t have to review the Yeasayer show, I kinda had to review the Woodhands show and instead ended up making references to Fast and Furious in the article.

2011 Panicky for Show with the Highest Dancing Crowd/Collapsed Floor Potential

Sheezer, Sneaky Dees, NXNE, June, 2011
While they didn’t dress up as Spice Girls aka their Halloween show, Sheezer’s Sneaky Dees show was the perfect storm of great music, amazing crowd and really small space. The crowd was more than amped to see the Weezer cover band at 2 am at the height of NXNE and the result was a venue long mosh pit which was literally floor shaking. Great show.

Sheezer – Only in Dreams (Live) by Pop Montreal

2011 Panicky for Best Concert

Pulp, San Miguel Stage, Primavera Sound, June 2011
Was there any doubt? Favorite Concert Ever.