Riot Fest: My Chemical Romance Usher in the Return of Punk Rock

Riot Fest is always a bit of a shit show. It’s where Warped Tour kids went once they began contributing to a 401(k). But there is a draining magic to the event that draws us back year after year to brave the heat and feet for 10 straight hours a day. But this time, just this once, it felt different.

This year’s first day was held beneath clear but milky skies, the sun slowly peeling away sunscreen and shade to provide attendees with painful and splotchy souvenirs they’ll carry with them all weekend. While everyone’s experience at a festival is different, I spent Riot’s opening day shepherding a group of people who have never attended the Fest before from stage to stage, making it even more impossible to review the event as a whole. 

Instead, I have snapshots of the day burned into my brain. Anthony Green ditching his mic and launching himself into the crowd during L.S. Dune’s intense debut show. Singer Stubhy Pandav of Lucky Boys Confusion wiping away tears of joy as the crowd that showed up early to see them shouted “LBC! LBC!” after telling them about his recent struggles with muscular sclerosis. Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years brimming with an earned confidence as he introduced “Low Tides”, a song from their upcoming album The Hum Goes on Forever, before announcing that he was dying from the heat of the blue jumpsuit he wore on stage. 

Pioneer skate punks Lagwagon slaying the stage, as well as a man accidentally trebucheting a tub of cheese fries onto the grass after throwing his hands up in excitement to yell “Tony Hawk!” when they played “May 16”. A girl in a large hoop skirt running across the open field of grass to see Anberlin, only for her foot to catch in her clothing and faceplant into the dirt. A girl sitting alone on a swing hanging from a poorly lit plastic arch, watching Portugal. The Man with a gentle kick of her feet. A man in full face paint of the classic Misfits skull logo giving a resigned “Fuuuuuuuck,” when he realized that they were actually playing on Saturday, and he was watching Friday’s punk legends The Descendents. 

The question everyone seemed to be wanting to ask, though, was how My Chemical Romance would play, considering they were booked on the stage tucked furthest away in the corner, with the worst view and nowhere for the monolithic crowds to go. Seemingly every third attendee wore a different MCR shirt, some even in the blue leather Danger Days jacket. People flowed through the ever-swelling crowds in fluid rivers to a single stage. Considering MCR’s headline gig (and reunion tour) had been postponed a full year, it was hard not to consider their set something entirely different from the rest of Riot Fest.

A close friend of mine said that seeing David Bowie’s 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live was an event. The 80’s were just days away, but Bowie’s spellbinding performance in the last moments of the decade was Bowie himself allowing the 70’s to end and announcing, “Okay. Now the 1980’s may begin. Now, you may have new wave.” Forty years later, he swears that seeing that single moment of television was a monumental moment of his life.

Bands like Descendents and Lagwagon taught us what punk rock was. Alkaline Trio and Taking Back Sunday showed us what a new generation of punk rock could be. The Wonder Years and Anberlin redefined punk rock entirely. My Chemical Romance somehow managed to naturally encapsulate all of those sensations into one tidal wave of energy that even people who don’t pay attention to the genre can still sing along to. 

My Chemical Romance at an offensive distance from the stage

As the lights flared, Gerard Way stepped on stage in dark glasses, a shawl, and a dark coat over a dress like a vampiric babooshka. The image stood haunting, iconic even, as the opening notes of new single “The Foundations of Decay” swept over the fields. The image of My Chemical Romance on stage together bore a palpable energy for anyone standing below that seemed to say that punk rock itself was re-energized. 

My Chemical Romance said, “Okay. Punk rock is back.”

Was it the best show I have ever seen? Simply put, no. Gerard’s vocals seemed stunted at times, pronouncing each syllable so startlingly disjointed from one another at times, and lacking some of the trademark swagger of his elegantly disheveled vocals. Despite that, the drama he brought to the stage was a power on par with a relaxed David Bowie. Between every song, Way took the time to check on the sea of people mushing themselves together like an ocean wave to be as close to the stage as possible.

Frank Iero and Mikey Way moved little on stage, but the sound they expelled was a force of nature. Hearing those guitars again was an event. Whether MCR makes new music or not, just knowing the band is a ruling force of music again feels like it is singlehandedly ushering in a new era of the genre.

The next night, I was able to see one of the Drive-Thru Records bands I thought were gone forever, Midtown, reunited and preparing to tour with MCR. Their sloppy but thrilling set was cobbled together allegedly at the request of Mikey Way himself.

The Academy Is…, performing together for the first time in seven years, headlined the Concord Music Hall with a passion and fury that had been missing from pop punk for over a decade. William Beckett may in fact be the best frontman in all of pop punk, in utter control of the stage and sounding better with age.

Pop punk royalty Yellowcard, playing Riot during the day Saturday, were reunited after years apart.

L.S. Dunes, courtesy of Alice Wiltgen

Speaking of Frank Iero, the other big takeaway from Riot was the debut of L.S. Dunes. Composed of Iero, Anthony Green, and musicians from Coheed & Cambria and Thursday, the new supergroup is one of the few times such a team-up seems to not just succeed, but astound. Bringing together the best parts of post-punk hardcore, L.S. Dunes threaten to compete with the best the scene has to offer, shining as a particular high point in Anthony Green’s already astounding discography, comprised of some of the best and most influential bands in the genre. 

As previously stated, Riot Fest was a shit show. There was no shade. One of the biggest bands in the world performed in a corner. The line for artist merch was an hour and a half long. Beer was a felonious $14. But it’s our shit show. Its very existence is a symbol of the thriving perseverance of punk through ages and eras, as well as a beacon of inspiration for bands on the rise. I can’t wait to be told “Holy shit, the sunburn on the back of your neck is impossible,” again next year.

Punk rock is back. Now, we may see it evolve.

by Kyle Schultz

Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and almost spent $7 on a water bottle. There was a sign saying they were $4 in the distance, but he was first in line at a cart and just wanted to look cool in front of his friends. What a fool he is indeed.

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