Robert Plant – 9-23-15 – FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

Photo by Chris Sweda – Chicago Tribune

Robert Plant is a divisive figure in rock. He’s both a friend and enemy of the blues (examples here: []), the consistent roadblock for multiple Led Zeppelin reunion attempts (which some thank him for), and, of course, being the mold for future blonde front men that later pervaded the 80s hair rock scene (David Coverdale, anyone?).

However, there’s a part of Plant that is admirable. After his post-Zeppelin career, he made it a point to not sound like Zeppelin. So, while his earlier solo albums may sound dated now (some are more drenched in 80s synth than others…just take a listen to “Too Loud”) he was genuinely committed to going his own route.

His goal to stray from Zeppelin worked…for a bit, at least. But, sometimes (as many of us eventually realize) you just have to make peace with your past. Ultimately, this led to a couple of tours with his former bandmate Jimmy Page. Gradually, he began to add Zeppelin material this his live sets. Still, he kept forging ahead with a critically successful album Mighty Rearranger, and even won a Grammy for his duet album (Raising Sand) with bluegrass maven Alison Krauss. All of this exposition is really just means to document the dynamic change Plant has possessed, while still accepting his past.

As Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters sauntered on stage with the backdrop of a lit Chicago skyline reflecting against the choppy waves of Lake Michigan, the opening keyboard riffs of “Trampled Underfoot” lifted the crowd in unison. And so did the rest of the Zeppelin hits (“Black Dog”, “The Rain Song”, “The Lemon Song”, “Rock and Roll”, “Dazed and Confused”, and snippets of “Whole Lotta Love”, and “In My Time of Dying”). Songs he once didn’t care to play have once again found a home on stage. The difference now is that these songs no longer need the gravity that they once possessed. Many are reshaped but still tailored for the objective to have fun.

Homages to the blues also stretched across his set. It was to no surprise that he mentioned once again the impact Chicago and blues had on him and so many other musicians in England. Chess and Delmark Records were once the epitome of blues on Maxwell Street many decades ago. So, hearing Plant’s renditions of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, or even Bukka White’s “Fixing’ to Die” is part of the narrative in Robert Plant’s musical identity.

Songs off his new and critically acclaimed album Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, still find his love of mending world-beat and folk-rock into something that sounds so much like…Robert Plant now. Ultimately, the fans were more than happy to hear the roar and ceaseless Zeppelin hits, but even in his originality, a sense of joy was certainly present.

This one is for you, Horacio.


Riot Fest Day Three – 9-13-15 – Douglas Park – Chicago, IL

To quote Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: “All this happened, more or less.”

Without a doubt, the last day of any three day music festival fills the soul with a certain amount of melancholy. Work, school, bills, or even the thought of returning to mundane life again begins to flood the mind.

As I walked through Douglas Park with some anxiety slowly building up, I gradually made the realization that…

…I’m still at Riot Fest!

And who was on tap? De La Soul!


This was arguably the most engaging set of the weekend. De La Soul are masters at commanding a crowd, but being twenty-eight year vets can make that look like an easy task. The normally reserved midday crowd were waving their hands, jumping, and imbibing for much of the set. While the old “which side of the crowd is louder” routine became, at times, repetitive, hearing “The Grind Date”, “Oooh”, and “Me, Myself, and I” all but cemented a great set.


Cypress Hill earned some very high marks (couldn’t resist) for their tight and concentrated hit-filled set. As wafts of smoke raised in the air, the sounds of “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That”, “How I Could Just Kill a Man”, and “I Wanna Get High” levitated a huge sunbaked crowd. The vibes were heavy on 90s nostalgia but the crowd still ate it up.

Snoop Dogg

Photo by Brian Nguyen – Chicago Tribune

As fans waited for Snoop Dogg to come on stage that odd feeling of being stood up on date suddenly began to sink in. You check the time. You look around. Nothing. Maybe you order some water and more breadsticks. You check the time again. You look around some more. You assure yourself they must have gotten stuck in traffic. Still nothing. Then you begin to throw stuff towards the stage. Then you start to boo. Then you get escorted out the restaurant.

Semi-exaggeration aside, that’s essentially what happened as Snoop Dogg was nearly a half hour late for his set. The crowd was understandably not happy. (My assumption was that Snoop was late due to tending to a bowl of some kind. Whether it was ceramic or glass, I can’t confirm).

However, when he finally hit the stage the sounds of “Gin & Juice” quickly contented the crowd. But it still felt like it was too little to late as his set was eventually cut off for headliners Modest Mouse (he ended up playing past their start time). Fairly disappointing set due to the tardiness.

I did catch a couple of songs from Tenacious D during the Snoop Dogg fiasco. They rocked and were hilarious as expected. I mean how often can you see Kyle Gass rock out on a double recorder solo? I probably should’ve stayed for the rest.

The Prodigy Riot Fest 2015

Photo by Ashlee Rezin – Sun Times Network

The Prodigy (also starting late!) started their rowdy set with the thumping beats of “Breathe” as a sea of lit cellphones bounced right along. The 90s nostalgia continued as the strobe lights and the wild-haired singer Keith Flint dominated the stage.

Modest Mouse Riot Fest 2015

Photo by Ashlee Rezin – Sun Times Network

After the frenzied weekend, Modest Mouse seemingly soothed their fans to a relatively laid-back set to close the night. It was a nice retrospective of their fairly lengthy career, while still supporting their new album Strangers to Ourselves. Oh…and yes, they did play “Float On.”

So again…”all of this, more or less happened.” Riot Fest 2015 was a blast. Until next time.

Riot Fest Day Two – 9-12-2015 – Douglas Park – Chicago, IL

I’d be lying if the name of this blog wasn’t written as an homage to the exact conditions felt at Douglas Park on day two. Abandoned flip-flops were stuck in mud like Popsicle sticks in a freezer. Despite a relatively mild day spent in the low 60’s, the sun beamed onto a waddling crowd in Douglas Park. And of course extortion priced beers, where no doubt omnipresent, as well.

Muddy Riot Fest

Photo by Brian Nguyen – Chicago Tribune

Still, what was the story for Riot Fest day two? I suppose the most appropriate answer was dependent on what part of the park you decided to plop your feet down…but also, there’s a good chance if you where anywhere near the stage for System of Down you might have been fighting for your life.

But before we get too far ahead…

Perennial avant-garde alien metal band Gwar continued their yearly visit at Riot Fest. Yes, much “blood” was gushed into a crowd (along with various alien “liquids”) emanating from mock alien orifices. And yes, the riffs came quickly and with abandon. But it’s still damn fun to watch.

Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

Legendary punk band The Damned played a rollicking set as lead singer Vanian mentioned the odd setting for the band to play in. This was due to the fact that there was indeed sunshine and lollipops in the park. Also, guitarist Captain Sensible continued his reputation as the most sensibly dressed person on stage. Great set.


Bootsy Collins’ Rubber decided to simply funk it up the nth degree and possibly have one of the best sets of the weekend. But then again, what else would you expect from a member of Parliament-Funkadelic. In fact, hearing Parliament’s “Flashlight” live might have caused a ripple in the space-time continuum…or at the very least made a lot of people in the crowd dance with a little more oomph.

Bootsy Collins

Photo by Brian Nguyen – Chicago Tribune

Merle Haggard’s set gave the Riot Fest crowd an opportunity to alleviate itself with some classic country. Despite the rhythmic slow down, this was a man who was part of the outlaw country music movement. (Johnny Cash could have easily have commanded just as big a crowd, if he were still alive.) Listening to “Okie From Muskogee” in front of a crowd that just saw Bootsy Collins somehow felt right.

Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

Although Billy Idol experience some audio “glitches” along the way, no pop fan from the 80’s (or fan of the Wedding Singer) could possibly resist an open karaoke night at Douglas Park. “Dancing With Myself”, “Rebel Yell”, “White Wedding”, and the Tommy James & the Shondells cover “Mony Mony” sent the crowd into a tizzy. That’s how to utilize your hits…

Billy Idol

Photo by Brian Nguyen – Chicago Tribune

System of a Down nearly brought a literal meaning to Riot Fest. Before the band even got on stage, a log jam of people surrounded the front stage. The band started out fierce and the crowd responded.

Unfortunately, things got so chaotic in front of the stage that by the time they started their hit “Aerials” the band clearly became concerned over people passing out and getting trampled.

Accounts of how dangerous it really was were numerous:

In the end, the salient decision by the band to refuse to play until things settled down might have saved multiple lives.

After several songs passed, the band seemed less shaken and launched into another furious streak to a head-banging crowd.

By the time “Toxicity” and “Sugar” ended their potently kinetic set, blood, sweat, and cheers became the true story of the night.

Riot Fest Day One – 9-11-2015 – Douglas Park – Chicago, IL

Which one is it…West Coast rap? California ska-pop? Legit-rock and roll? I was fairly torn up, standing dead in the middle of a smorgasbord of sounds. But standing in the middle of Douglas Park and hearing “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead to my right, “Just a Girl” by No Doubt to my left, and Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” just behind me, I questioned how this cacophony of sounds is allowable. But in the end what does it mean? Not much. As I moved from stage to stage, I did see one thing in common…people smiling and having fun. But privy to the fact that three incredible acts played in a muddy Douglas Park the fans all knew the undercurrent of a musical riot was on.


Photo courtesy of Lenny Gilmore – RedEye

Ice Cube

Photo courtesy of Brian Nguyen – Chicago Tribune

Photo courtesy of Ashlee Rezin – Sun Times Network

But earlier in the day…


The Detroit metal band Death (one of the first protopunk bands well…ever) played a short but energized set as a rain-soaked crowd began soak up some sun. Seek out the documentary “A Band Called Death” online! You won’t regret it!


The eclectic sounds of Fishbone completely made toe-tapping and head banging impossible to abstain from. “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” and their rendition of Sublime’s “Date Rape” where definite highlights. And how many times do you see a guy crowdsurf on an inflatable smiley face?


Living Colour by far played one of the best sets of the day. After starting out with some sound issues the band ripped through a 45 minute guitar shredding clinic. Plus, who doesn’t like hearing “Cult of Personality” turned to 11?


Lee “Scratch” Perry’s set was…interesting and kind of sad. His band essentially played without him for the first 30 minutes leaving everyone scratching their heads. But, in all fairness, Lee is 79 years old and did muster out 15 minutes of music.

Day one was still a success.

Why This Song Matters…In 143ish Words or Less – “I Only Have Eyes for You” by The Flamingos

Should I read further than this?: The first recording was actually from the 1934 film Dames (this was in the midst of the feminist movement people) but become a seminal doo-wop classic by The Flamingos.

Why the The Flamingos made it a hit: Well…just listen to their version:

Why This Song Matters…In 143ish Words or Less – “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke

The sound byte: The classic Sam Cooke soul song that launched him into super-stardom.

The prog-rock solo: One of the “notable” crossover hits during the 1950s. Unfortunately, segration was not only rampant in everyday life but even within the music charts. Fortunately, Sam Cooke continued to proved with this hit that music can transcend any hateful barriers. Music that touches the proverbial soul is universal.