Rain Doesn’t Dampen the Rock at Riot Fest 2023

There was an influx of leather jackets, mohawks and excited fans on Chicago’s West Side over the weekend, as thousands flocked to the city’s Douglass Park to catch the dozens of bands, rappers and artists performing at Riot Fest. The annual festival, which was held Sept. 15-17, is celebrating its 18th year running, and its eighth at the West Side park. 

The three-day long event had multiple headliners, including a show-stopping set by the Foo Fighters on its opening night, a raucous and star-making performance from Turnstile, a nostalgic and emotional reunion from The Postal Service and an unforgettable set by legendary goth band The Cure.

The festival wasn’t all smooth sailing—due to excessive rain the third delay was delayed by three hours. Riot Fest put together a revamped schedule, which ultimately left bands like Microwave and Hotline TNT off the bill entirely. Once Douglass Park was opened up, it was slick with mud and dirty puddles, but that didn’t take away from an awe-inspiring set from The Cure that, despite the rain delay, lasted more than two hours.

Day One

The Breeders

One of the best live album plays of the weekend, indie rockers The Breeders performed all of their 1993 album Last Splash, one of the best alternative albums of the early ’90s, and that’s saying something. Just like The Cure a few days later, The Breeders sounded just like they did in the band’s original recording. The smiles on twins co-frontwomen Kim and Kelley Deal’s faces throughout the band’s set were palpable, and the crowd and band had a blast throughout the late afternoon set.

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen


Some people might have wondered why Turnstile was one of Riot Fest’s headliners, alongside legends like the Foo Fighters and The Cure. I, too, was a little confused. Admittedly, I am not a member of the Turnstile tribe. Beyond the band’s most popular songs, I haven’t listened to much of their work. Anyone who was confused at their placement must have had some questions answered by the time the band wrapped up its hour-long set. The hardcore band first formed in 2010, and in the decade-plus since then have amassed a massive following—the only crowd that was larger on the festival’s first day was the Foo Fighters’. The band’s set was one of the more raucous of the festival, with multiple mosh pits breaking out all over the large crowd in front of the stage. 

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen and Jason Pendleton

Foo Fighters

Hands down, the Foo Fighters are legendary. Fronted by rock superstar Dave Grohl, they’re one of the biggest active bands in rock music. They’re a band that you see live and earnestly lift up some hand horns because, well, for lack of any better words, they just rock. They have rocked for decades, and after the tumultuous year the band has had after the loss of drummer Taylor Hawkins, and their honorable return, it’s safe to say they’ll continue to rock for decades. Even still, seeing them feels a bit like an honor.

The Foo Fighters set was two hours long, and just about every song played was a complete hit. It’s amazing to witness. The parts of the set that weren’t the band playing its countless (and I mean countless) hits, were filled with Grohl’s crowdwork, something he’s perfected over the years, like teaching the crowd how to scream as effectively as him.

Grohl reminded the crowd that his first show, ever, was seeing Naked Raygun at Wrigleyville’s Cubby Bear. He told the crowd that Foo Fighters wouldn’t exist without Chicago, and even if it was possible to time travel and prove if that would be true or not, it didn’t matter, it was fun just to know for the night that the city, and the crowds that form together in the city for Grohl and his respective projects are important and inspiring, because that’s what the band’s set was for the crowd that was watching.

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen

Day Two

Head Automatica

A staple of Riot Fest is that there’s always at least one band that’s recently reunited and playing the festival. This year was no different. Of course fans were excited to see The Postal Service, who reunited for the tour they were currently on with Death Cab for Cutie, but several hours before the Ben Gibbard-fronted band took the festival’s Riot stage, fans were hit with a nostalgia wave straight from the aughts with Head Automatica’s set. The band, fronted by Glassjaw frontman Daryl Palumbo, went through their mid-’00s hits, like “Graduation Day” and “Beating Hearts Baby,” to a crowd excited for a chance to see them once again.

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen and Jason Pendleton

Eshu Tune

One of the most surprisingly fun acts of the weekend was Eshu Tune. If you’re in the know, it’s no shock that seeing comedian Hannibal Buress would be fun, but I wasn’t in the know! Last year, Buress started rapping under the name Eshu Tune. When my friend filled me in that the rapper was actually Buress, we hurried over to the fest’s Rebel stage to catch his set. Eshu Tune doesn’t take himself seriously — the songs are about fake teeth, knee braces and being the tallest person at a party, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good. The crowd was grooving right along with Eshu Tune throughout the rapper/comedian’s whole set. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a (partial) comedy show at Riot Fest, and for a festival that fluctuates between political punk acts, blistering metal sets and heartbreaking emo groups (yes, I saw Death Cab and The Postal Service) it was a really nice reprieve in the middle of the day to dance around and laugh for 45 minutes. 

Photos by Rachel Zyzda

Death Cab for Cutie

Each year, Riot Fest has some bands play through an entire beloved album. Whether it’s to celebrate an anniversary, or just to celebrate an album that fans really love. This year, it was co-headliner Death Cab for Cutie’s turn. It was an easy call to have Death Cab for Cutie do this—they’re already on tour with The Postal Service, celebrating and reminiscing on both of the albums that frontman Ben Gibbard released in 2003. This wasn’t my first time seeing Death Cab for Cutie live, but in the years that have passed since my last Death Cab concert, I had forgotten what an incredible showman Gibbard is. Death Cab’s music might be melancholic and reflective, but that doesn’t reflect in the band’s stage presence. Gibbard never stops grooving through the band’s entire set, even during slow-paced, emotional songs like “Tiny Vessels.”

The beloved emo band moved quickly through the album, and even though Death Cab was allotted one hour, their set wrapped up much quicker and the band didn’t come out for an encore or any extra songs. 

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen

100 gecs

After releasing one of my favorite albums of the year, 10,000 gecs, there were few bands I was looking forward to seeing more than 100 gecs. There was no front lighting on the stage throughout the set—band members Laura Les and Dylan Brady appeared as mere shadows on the stage as they performed songs from the new album “Frog on the Floor” and “Hollywood Baby,” as well as fan favorites from their first album, closing with “gec 2 Ü.” While casual festival goers might have been turned away from the group’s overpowering autotune, minimal lighting and chaotic fans screaming along and dancing maniacally, it was everything a fan of 100 Gecs could ever want.

The only downside of 100 gecs set was that they were playing the Radical Stage— not a bad thing in itself, but the final five minutes of 100 gecs’ set was a bit drowned out by the overwhelming loudness from Queens of the Stone Age’s stage as soon as the rock band launched into the first song of its set “No One Knows.”

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen

The Postal Service

The highlight of the entire festival was getting the opportunity to see The Postal Service live. Some may have doubted the headliner placement of the band who only released one album, Give Up, 20 years ago, but any naysayers were proven wrong with the band’s nostalgia-packed runthrough of their sole album. The band played as part of their co-headlining tour with frontman Ben Gibbard’s other, and more well-known group, Death Cab for Cutie, and their set consisted of all 10 songs off of the band’s first, and only, album. Gibbard’s and co-vocalist and guitarist Jenny Lewis’ vocals sound just as flawless and go together just as well as they did on the album, that’s now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The Postal Service ended their awe-inspiring runthrough of “Give Up” with a few minutes to spare before their set time was up, and they came back on stage for a tremendous cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” It was a perfect send-off, and left the thousands of people in Douglass Park dancing all the way out of the festival. 

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen

Day Three

L.S. Dunes

Last year, L.S. Dunes, the supergroup composed of members of My Chemical Romance, Circa Survive, Thursday and Coheed and Cambria, played its first-ever show at Riot Fest. The band’s crowd was shockingly large for a group who had never performed live together before, but fans were already passionate about the group at the 2022 festival. This year, they were back, and after a year that consisted of regularly touring and releasing an album, the crowd was even more passionate. The band ran through songs on their 2022 release Past Lives, and when fans weren’t crowdsurfing (which was rare), they were crowdsurfing up food like pizza slices and funnel cakes to singer Anthony Green as a way to show their dedication. If they’re back again next year, I can only imagine the crowd will be even bigger, and the band will be receiving even more slices of pizza.

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen

Gorilla Biscuits

Another of the festival’s album playthroughs was hardcore legend Gorilla Biscuits, who performed the band’s 1989 album Start Today in full. The band’s guitarist, Walter Schreifels, was performing his third set of the entire festival, as his bands Quicksand and Rival Schools also took to the stage earlier in the weekend. The band’s set was a celebration of love and unity, as well as a way for the band to use its platform to preach about their values—veganism, straight edge lifestyle, compassion, and having a good time listening to music. In between all of that, they even had time to throw in a Minor Threat cover—something that the already eager crowd went nuts for.

Photos by Rachel Zyzda

The Used

The Used may be on tour for their 2023 release, “Toxic Positivity,” but their set was pure nostalgia (for the most part), as the band played old hit after old hit, like “All That I’ve Got” and “The Taste of Ink,” much to the joy of their audience, which was overwhelmingly composed of people in their late 20s and 30s. Any fan of the band during its mid-aughts run left the band’s set feeling delighted.

Unlike most bands, The Used’s set ended with a rapturous booing, after performing the 2001 song “A Box Full of Sharp Objects.” The booing was self-inflected, another way of The Used showing their edge, as McCracken instructed the crowd to boo as loud as possible once the band finished.

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen and Jason Pendleton

The Cure

Only one band played at the same time as The Cure — Through n Through, a hardcore band based out of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Originally, no one was supposed to have a competing slot, but the rain delay led to a last minute schedule switch up. Because there was only one competitor, The Cure’s crowd was massive — arguably the biggest of the weekend, but I’m willing to bet it wouldn’t have been much smaller even if there were other draws at the festival. The word iconic is thrown around pretty loosely nowadays (I’m including myself in this — I called the peanut butter and strawberry smoothie that I drank during L.S. Dunes’ set iconic), but there are few words that better describe The Cure at this point. Around since the late ’70s, The Cure had one of the biggest concert tours of this summer, successfully took on Ticketmaster and have been releasing incredible music for close to 50 years. 

Seeing The Cure is kind of an unreal experience. It’s similar to how I felt when I saw Paul McCartney at Lollapalooza in 2015. You stand there and think “these songs have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I’m seeing them performed live! Right in front of me!” Not only is the band’s music timeless, it still sounds incredible. The Cure are arguably one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen — Smith’s voice never faltered throughout the band’s 135-minute set. Riot Fest knows how to close out a festival, and despite some bad weather, Riot Fest found a way to close out its 18th year expertly, leaving festival goers in awe of the performance that they had just witnessed.

Photos by Anthony Linh Nguyen

Check out our previous festival coverage here.

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