Riot Fest is the gift that keeps on giving. Each year, the festival boasts one of the best line ups in the country, attracting an older, matured audience that has appreciated their music for years. All the more reason then, to be excited for Mest’s recent show in Chicago at the Concord Theater, sponsored by Riot Fest. Five solid hours of punk rock punctuated by a nearly sold out house supporting Chicago-based and local bands. If there was ever a way to feel the love of the genre, it’s seeing homegrown bands receive the groundswell support of the very city they helped establish the sound for.
I’ve worried for quite some time whether Riot Fest would return to Chicago at all, given the bullshit hassles the festival has had to go through over the last couple of years finding a park to house them for the weekend. How wonderful then, to see the festival sponsoring one-off shows throughout the year as a special treat to keep anticipation high. Much like the main festival, the crowd was filled with a range of ages, from teenage punks, to those in their mid-thirties reliving their youth in the circle pit.
Although all the bands playing were local punk bands, the three stand outs where the last half of the show- Much the Same, Showoff, and Mest. All three bands became success stories in their own way, paving the sound of Chicago punk in the late 90’s and early 2000’s before eventually breaking up sometime near 2005 (coincidence? I think not!). Ten years later, the bands had reformed in their own ways, much to the delight of the city’s thankful fans, who came out on their weekends off of work to see the music they worshiped in their youth.
I’ve made a big deal about Lucky Boys Confusion being the sound of Chicago, but the fact is that any of these bands could have held that title, and depending on who you/ ask, they do. It’s an odd thing to see a show where each band is just as loved as the one before it, all the while the crowd becomes more and more excited just to see any of them play one more time.
Much the Same was the first band to cause a pit to form. I’m fairly unfamiliar with their music, unfortunately, but their brand of high intensity punk shook the room. The band’s stage presence was quiet, maintaining minimal movement while letting the music speak for itself. The more energetic in the crowd made their way deep into the crowd to jump and use up their energy. It felt like a classic punk show, in that there was genuine love for the music regardless of the scene. Maybe it was age, but the band stood firm for the most part, looking out over the crowd calmly over churning guitar chords and the rampant drumming.
Showoff took the stage second to last to roaring applause. Going back to listen to bands that made it big in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, it can sometimes be hard to see why the band made it big when they did. Seeing them live, it entirely made sense before the end of the first song. A smooth mix of pop punk, skate punk and ska, Showoff blasted away to the sound of the entire audience reciting every lyric back to them.
They’ve had ample time to learn; Showoff just released their second album after 15 years. Their fans are a loyal bunch, dancing to “Ralphie” and “Bully” the way they did when they were kids. “Falling Star”, the band’s biggest hit, was a definite highlight of the evening.
Showoff’s appeal is how easily they sway through genre. What can be a common pop punk song can just as soon become a ska fantasy or hard rock. Vocalist Chris Envy peppered in rap elements amongst his singing, perhaps the only feature to remind you that the songs were written in 2000. “The Anti-Song”, one of the fastest songs on their Self-Titled album, closed off the set, sending the crowd into a frenzy before walking off.
Mest headlined the evening, shredding the night away with classic pop punk. A good portion of their set came from their Self-Titled album, as “Until I Met You” and “Jaded (These Years)” met the audience to deafening noise. The band commanded the stage, raging through hometown classics. Lead vocalist Tony Lovato crawled onto a sea of outspread arms, singing while standing on platforms of hands.
Being unfamiliar with Mest for most of my life, I enjoyed the show as another pop punk concert. The people near me though, jumped to each song as though it were their favorite. One man, beer in hand, jumped from group to group, encouraging everyone he saw to dance while shouting, “I love Mest!” while couple of obnoxious fans kept calling for an early hit, “What’s the Dillio?” at every opportunity between songs (this request thankfully never became fulfilled). Closing out the night was “Rooftops”, a song reflecting on the good times and listening to punk rock.
One of the highlights of pop punk is that it finds you in the formative years, and although there is a drop off with age, the songs you grow up with retain their rebellion and youth for as long as you’re alive to hear them. Mest’s show was a tsunami of nostalgia for the kids who grew up on Chicago’s chugging punk rock, and the basis for which countless bands based themselves on.
Seeing a concert hall packed from the outset, and not just to see the headliner, is something that rarely seems to happen, much less followed by the entire room falling in love with their rebellious spirit again. It’s the perfect spirit to be honed in on by Riot Fest, and the perfect bands to represent Chicago as a city.
by Kyle Schultz