Sunday at Riot Fest brought the closing ceremonies to one of Chicago’s best independent homegrown events as well as the true end to festival season. Already Riot is thinking of next year with banner ads running all weekend to get fans to sign the petition to bring ABBA to the grounds in 2022 and other promos for the other announced headliners, the original Misfits and My Chemical Romance. If the past four days are any indication, many are already counting down the days until the day Riot returns.
We might never know if Health and Nine Inch Nails had planned to join forces on Sunday at Riot Fest for their collaborative track “Isn’t Everyone,” originally released in May to critical applause. The two acts also previously toured together. But of course NIN canceled its upcoming concert schedule and Riot Fest appearance that was slated for Sunday out of concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake, Health emerged, giving the summer goths in the crowd a hearty dose of the industrial-tinged noise rock that many were still craving. The experimental trio out of L.A. creates a real mood with its voluminous sound, a passive-aggressive mix of frontman Jake Duzsik’s ethereal vocals finding nooks within the brutal beats of drummer BJ Miller and bassist/noise tinkerer John Famiglietti’s feverish assault. In a flash, they can flip the switch from chilling cinematic scenescape to harsh existential dread while always sounding cohesive. They are a prime example of why it’s always good to get to the festival grounds early to catch the rising stars and unexpected gems.
Chicago’s fuzzy noise rockers Melkbelly took a minute to acknowledge another one of the big gaps on Sunday’s lineup with a tribute to the Pixies (who canceled their appearance a few weeks back), effortlessly covering their song “Gigantic” by bringing on stage a trio of friends only known as Wendy, Linda and Liz to help frontwoman Miranda Winters on the backup vocals. The strong female force was something Winters was quick to point out by the end of the short set as the rockers ripped through “Kissing Under Some Bats” from their April 2020 album “PITH.” Winters introduced the song by dedicating it to the ladies in the crowd or “anyone who wants to play music but is afraid.” Melkbelly — also featuring Bart Winters on guitar, Liam Winters on bass and James Wetzel on drums — upholds the lineage of noise-blaring rock acts from Chicago, showcased well in the performance. The Rebel Stage where they played was a frontrunner for some great local talent over the weekend, and also featured Chicago act Airstream Futures earlier in the day. Though Melkbelly claimed to have “dropped the ball” on merch for the festival, the band members did encourage the crowd to meet them by their van in the alley to pick up T-shirts and copies of the new album, and hopefully people were brave enough to do so.