This year’s Riot Fest featured a day of thrash metal with Slayer’s last show ever in Chicago.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019
Place: Riot Fest at Douglas Park (1401 South Sacramento Drive; Chicago, Illinois 60623)
Ticket price: $64. 97 ($49.98 ticket, $8.82 in fees, $6.17 tax)
This year was the 15th anniversary of Riot Fest, which does a three-day outdoor music festival mainly with punk, alternative, hardcore, metal and some hip-hop/rap too. I didn’t feel like spending the entire weekend there this year. Being outside for over 10 hours for three straight days felt like too much. Based on the lineup I probably wouldn’t have even gone if they didn’t get these metal bands like Slayer. Blink 182 headlined on Friday night and is just not for me. I saw Jawbreaker in 2017 for their reunion show., who played again on Friday. A lot of the bands are just not my thing or I don’t know much about, especially for the price of each day. A three-day general admission pass was $149.98 plus taxes and fees. Single day tickets were $49.98. Two-day passes were $99.98 plus taxes and fees. They also had VIP, Deluxe and Ultimate passes that were just ridiculous in prices, which came with all sorts of crazy perks and stuff.
I do like discovering new bands and music but I just wasn’t feeling Riot Fest this year. Many of the bands you end up missing anyway because of timing conflicts. You do only end up seeing a handful of the bands or missing half the set. I actually would have liked to see H20, the Descendents, Rancid and probably Jawbreaker again on Friday. Sunday would have been cool to see Bikini Kill, Patti Smith, the B-52s and the Village People. Yep, the Village People were at Riot Fest this year.
On Saturday night Slayer played their final Chicago show ever. I figured their last show in the Chicago area was for their farewell tour in Tinley Park at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre last year on May 25, which I also was at. That was a sick show too. The band is ending for good. Slayer formed in 1981 and released their first full-length album Show No Mercy in 1983. That’s 38 years of being a band, putting out music and touring the world.
Depending on where you’re at in Chicago, getting to Douglas Park is terrible. It’s on the west side of the city in North Lawndale, which isn’t that great of an area. Basically the neighborhood surrounding the park is in an area that deals with economic issues and gang problems. The walk from the Pink Line train station is filled with several boarded up homes/apartments, which sucks to see. You can tell the neighborhood needs help in fixing its current situation. There’s also this weird deal with this huge, money making festival taking over this park in a predominately lower income black neighborhood and how that impacts the people that actually live there. There were a lot of small vendors on the streets outside the park and people selling stuff outside of their homes so hopefully they made some good money during the weekend. There was no way I was doing the increased Uber fare or driving there because of the big crowds. I ended up taking two trains and walking to the park.
All the metal bands played on the same Riot stage. Saturday was definitely a metal day. Riot Fest getting three of the biggest thrash metal bands of all time, two of them being considered part of the “Big Four” with Metallica and Megadeth, was a great signing. The way they had the metal bands set up was good. The Hu, this Mongolian metal band, opened at 1:05 p.m. GWAR came on right after at 2:45. The band is at Riot Fest every year and I still haven’t seen them. I meant to see GWAR this year but I didn’t end up leaving early enough to head there. I saw some people covered in red, so I figured GWAR did their usual thing with their stage theatrics and spraying the crowd with “blood.” Based on the lineup I think many people came this year specifically for this thrash metal set. I don’t think this was the typical Riot Fest crowd.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore the actual Riot Fest much. I got to the park at around 4:05 p.m. and didn’t want to miss Testament, so I went straight to the Riot stage after getting past the entrance. I ended up staying there and up front near the stage the whole day. If I would have left to check out other stages or gotten something to eat I would have lost my spot and ended up all the way in the back of the crowds. There must have been tens of thousands of people all over the park. Who knows. I can’t count. It was nuts. It was also pretty warm outside with a clear sunny day, so it added to a great environment for the music. There were already people chanting for Slayer even during the ten minutes or so I waited for Testament to start.
Testament killed it. They had a strong setlist, with nine songs that flowed together well. They started playing at 4:25 p.m. Gene Hoglan kicked it off with Chuck Billy humming. He’s one of the best drummers ever. They opened with “Brotherhood of the Snake,” the title track from their most recent 2016 album. Chuck Billy still sounds fantastic. Immediately a big circle pit opened up in the center of the crowd. They followed that with “The Pale King” from the same album, which is another great song. The circle pit kept going strong for these songs. Hoglan was just a beast on drums during this song too. These two new songs were just as heavy as the old thrash stuff from the ’80s. The third song they did was “More Than Meets the Eye” from The Formation of Damnation (2008). Steve DiGiorgio is just an amazing bass player, especially coming from bands like Sadus and Death in the past. There was a pretty consistent circle pit the entire time Testament played. Since it was at a park, people in the mosh pit were kicking up dirt, sand and a cloud combination of both, which carried over into the crowd.
“Into the Pit” from 1988’s The New Order was the fourth song. Before it started Billy told the crowd he wanted everyone to go crazy and get the pit going, hence the song name. The crowd got really into it. Alex Skolnick ripped it on guitar. His soloing during “Electric Crown” was just fantastic. The whole song just sounded so good live. It’s actually one of my favorite Testament songs from the underrated The Ritual (1992), which was less thrashy than their previous albums but still had fantastic music. Skolnick was one of the highlights of Testament’s set. He’s such a phenomenal guitarist that goes beyond just metal music. He had a great stage presence too during his guitar solos across the set. After the song was done Billy said they’ve been rocking Chicago for over 30 years and every time they come here we kick their ass. They went into “Practice What You Preach” (1989) and then “The New Order.” Billy joked that a shark came over the barricade wall during the song and that now he’s seen everything. Some teenager in like a shark outfit was crowd surfing and then got picked up by security onto the ground. The kid was pretty excited he got called out by Billy. They finished the set with “Over the Wall” from their debut album The Legacy (1987) and “Disciples of the Watch” off The New Order. During Skolnick’s solo on Disciples, Billy stood next to him and played air guitar with his mic stand. It was pretty funny becauser he mouthed something like “forget him!” and tried to increase his air guitar intensity.
Testament ended their set at 5:09 p.m. Afterwards Skolnick and DiGiorgio threw a lot of guitar picks into the crowd. It was an overall pretty tight set. The band did seem to lose their place a bit with the lyrics to Over the Wall but other than that they were great. Slayer and Anthrax definitely have more mainstream name recognition to the average person going to Riot Fest. The crowd was really into Testament though. The concept of the “Big Four” excludes bands just like Testament and Overkill, who were just as great during that same time period. The crowd dispersed a bit after Testament was done. After Testament was finished, The Story So Far started playing almost immedietely on the nearby Roots stage. The way Riot Fest is set up, all you had to do was turn your head to the left and you could catch any set on the Roots stage. The first song from them came with the whiny, lame, pop punk vocals. Again, this is one of the bands that isn’t for me but they sounded bad either way.
Anthrax played a full fan-requested setlist that people could vote for online leading up to the show. They played nine songs. The whole band was wearing custom black and red Chicago Bulls jerseys with their names on the back, which was pretty cool. Scott Ian was rocking Jordan’s jersey, Charlie Benante had Scottie Pippen’s, Joey Belladonna had the Steve Kerr, Frank Bello had John Paxton’s number 5 and Jonathan Donais wore Dennis Rodman’s. At first “The Number of the Beast” from Iron Maiden played from the stage before the band came out but kept getting cut off. The crowd booed every time it stopped. I’m pretty sure that is Anthrax’s intro song, so they just cut it short and took the stage at 6:18 p.m.
They opened the set with the intro riff to Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell.” They went right into “Caught in a Mosh” from Among the Living (1987). This was a great opener and is always awesome to hear live. Joey Belladonna was full of energy. He kept pumping up the crowd from the start. The guy still looks like he’s in the ’80s. Anthrax always brings a ton of energy at their shows. All the guys were playing hard. The second song they did was “Got the Time,” which is another one that’s always great live. Bello’s bass intro sounded awesome on it and Ian was moshing around on stage as he played. They followed that with “Madhouse” from Spreading the Disease (1985) and “I Am the Law” from Among the Living. I Am the Law has this great pivot in the middle of the song where the drumming and riffing picks up tempo then goes into the guitar solo section. Benante was awesome on this one. “Now It’s Dark” from State of Euphoria (1988) sounded killer too. Donais ripped it on the song’s guitar solo. Benante is one of the best drummers out there. He’s such a great player, especially seeing him drum so up close. I saw him up front at the Metro last year drumming for the old thrash band Powermad when they opened for Mastadon. He’s a phenomenal player and hasn’t lost a step at all.
Some dude in the crowd right near me had a nude blow up doll that was covered in what I assumed was the GWAR blood (hopefully), which he kept bringing up above him. It was funny, weird and sad all at the same time. There was also a guy in front of me with a shirt on that said “I just came here to get my dick sucked” on the back of it, so apparantly that was his sole reason for coming to Riot Fest and not to see one of Slayer’s last shows.
The sixth song they did was “In the End” from Worship Music (2011). Belladonna dedicated the song to the late Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell. In the End is a much more mellower song than the others Anthrax played. It was a good break in the middle of the set between all the thrashier metal songs. Before going into “A.I.R.” Scott Ian talked about how the band has been on tour for the past three years supporting their latest album For All Kings. He said we hadn’t seen this on the Internet yet but they were in Chicago yesterday trying out some new Anthrax material. He said it would be coming soon. For All Kings released in February 2016 and is a fantastic album. I listened to the album a lot when it first came out and it definitely holds up against their classic material. Ian went on to say that everyone should have voted for the songs they wanted but he was happy that A.I.R. made it into the set. A.I.R. is a sick song from Spreading the Disease so it was cool to see it live. Benante was great on the drums for this song too, which went along with the song’s main riff. They followed that with “Antisocial” from State of Euphoria, which a ton of people were singing along with.
Belladonna was just great the whole set. He seemed like he would be fun to hang out with. The last song Anthrax played was “Indians,” also off Among the Living. At the beginning of the song, Bellodonna said he wanted a big war dance right in the middle of the crowd. Towards the middle of the song the whole band stopped playing after Ian yelled out “War Dance!” for the big mosh section. Ian talked to the crowd and said Charlie stopped playing because he’s from Chicago and he’s always watching. He said that maybe Benante thought we weren’t having as much fun as we should be. He said he wanted a better circle pit going and for everyone in the middle to keep doing what they were doing except just go a little bit harder and faster. As for everyone else, Ian said we could all still have fun too. He said we could jump up and down, bang our heads or do a little fist banging mania. I thought that last line was a funny and an obvious nod to the Stormtroopers of Death song he wrote. When the band resumed playing the crowd went nuts and a big circle pit opened up. They finished at 7:20 p.m. When they were done the band all posed on stage.
By the time Anthrax was done with their set I was getting tired from standing the whole time. It was getting mostly dark at that point too. Nobody left after the Anthrax set. Everyone was still waiting for Slayer to come out. Rise Against started playing at the Roots stage right away. Before that night I never really listened to the band. The first song they did, “Architects,” actually sounded pretty decent and had some good drumming at the start of it. It looked like that crowd by the Roots stage was having fun, with people crowd surfing and their arms in the air. The lead singer talked way too much after every song though. He basically said what amounted to a whole lot of nothing. The crowd by the Riot stage kept breaking into loud Slayer chants, which was hilarious. After one song the Rise Against singer talked about how Slayer was one of the most important metal bands and they were about to play soon. He said that he respected Slayer for being a band for so long and that everyone in Rise Against were Slayer fans. That’s probably true, but it came across as more of an appeasement to all the people waiting for Slayer than anything else. In the last few songs of the set they played “Swing Life Away,” which is one of Rise Against’s biggest songs. It’s just bad radio music. I remember the old Q101 radio station in Chicago played that song all the time back then. I know they’re from Chicago but that song is super lame. There were loud Slayer chants during the song, which cracked me up. When Rise Against did their final song more huge Slayer chants broke out that drowned out the singer as he talked. It was funny hearing all the Slayer chants throughout the set basically drown out the guy.
Slayer somehow crammed 19 songs into an hour and a half. They absolutely crushed. I was right up near the barricades with only a few people in front of me. They sounded fantastic. Slayer doesn’t come across as a band that needs to retire. Before the band came on the stage, there were these crosses and two different Slayer logos bouncing around on it, which looked really cool. When the band came out they opened with “Repentless” at 8.31 p.m., the title track from their 2015 album. Repentless is a great opener. They followed that with “Evil Has No Boundaries” from Show No Mercy and the title track from World Painted Blood (2009). Unfortunately Dave Lombardo, a founding member of the band who played drums on all the classic Slayer albums and more recently Christ Illusion (2006) and World Painted Blood, hasn’t been with them in several years so he wasn’t on this show. It was have been cool to see him close out Slayer’s career. I think Lombardo actually played Riot Fest last year with Suicidal Tendencies. Paul Bostaph was drumming for this show, who has been with Slayer since before 1994’s Divine Intervention and played when Lombardo wasn’t in the band in the years following. I prefer Lombardo but Bostaph did a great job.
Gary Holt was a headbanging maniac the entire set. He’s fantastic in Exodus and probably the best fit to replace the late Jeff Hanneman, especially in the live setting. Slayer didn’t let up at all. After playing their ninth song “Mandatory Suicide” from South of Heaven (1988) they went right into “Chemical Warfare” (1984). My favorite songs from the show were “Evil Has No Boundaries,” “War Ensemble,” Mandatory Suicide, Chemical Warfare, “Dead Skin Mask,” “Hell Awaits” and “South of Heaven.” Really though, everything sounded sick. They played “Gemini” from Undisputed Attitude (1996) as the seventh song. Slayer also did “Disciple” and “Payback” from God Hates Us All (2001) a few songs apart from each other (eighth and eleventh in the set). Even the new songs like “Hate Worldwide” from World Painted Blood sounded fantastic, which they played fifth after “Postmortem” from Reign in Blood (1986). Before War Ensemble and Payback, Araya asked the crowd to chant war and asked what payback is (The answer: it’s a bitch). After “Born of Fire” from Seasons in the Abyss (1990) they played the title track from the same album. Hell Awaits sounded so good live, which was the fourteenth song in the set. There was this cool visual of Kerry King playing guitar by the flames near the drums. When they started South of Heaven after Hell Awaits the crowd cheered loudly at the start. The next song “Raining Blood” had these cool red lights on the stage at the beginning and they killed it live. After the song they went right into “Black Magic” followed by Dead Skin Mask that both sounded awesome. Holt played the solo on Dead Skin Mask really great. They had these cool blue and green lights on the stage for the song too.
The band had a lot of stage pyro, lighting and banners for the show. The amount of flames during the Slayer set was crazy. They had a similar deal during last year’s Tinley Park show but it seemed like there were more flames this year. During the sixth song War Ensemble there was a huge wall of flames towards the end of the song that just engulfed the entire stage. You could feel the fire (shout out to Overkill) from the front. Mandatory Suicide and Hell Awaits had tons of flames too. All the flames shooting everywhere and the walls of them throughout the night were super awesome. Outside of a main circle pit in the center, I somewhat wasn’t expecting there to be a heavy mosh deal near the front. I don’t know why. That was dumb thinking on my part. Early on a pit broke out by me and people were all getting pushed around and scattered. I pulled this kid out of the little pit that was right near me. He was getting banged around and wanted out. He was this small, pre-puberty teenager who must have been like 14 at the oldest. I don’t think he would have survived that long in the pit. Looking back on the crowd behind me there was just a sea of humanity for the Slayer show, which was surreal. It seemed like most people were into the set and having a great time headbanging, moshing and singing the lyrics.
They closed with “Angel of Death.” Araya stopped singing the song’s last parts and the band just jammed out until the end. Slayer finished at 9:57 p.m. When the set was all over Araya stood on stage for several minutes. The crowd didn’t stop cheering. Araya said he was making memories on stage. He thanked everyone for sharing their time with the band. On the side of the stage Frank Bello gave Holt a drink, who raised it to the crowd. Kerry King didn’t do much in the way of interacting besides throwing out guitar picks. Many in the crowd kept cheering and chanting Slayer or “Thank you Tom.” This was really cool. Before he left Araya went to the mic again and said “I’m gonna miss you guys. Thanks for everything. Goodnight.” Slayer doing their last Chicago show in front of such an insane amount of people was also pretty special. I feel like they could still do more tours and even another album based on the energy they have.
Getting back home after Riot Fest just sucked. I started walking back to the train station at around 10:15. I didn’t make it to the train platform until 10:34. The park was littered with trash, beer cans and plastic bottles. Outside the park on the street was this one vendor from the neighborhood dressed in a watermelon cape selling watermelon, which was one of the best things I saw that day. There were a lot of people that lived in the area trying to sell food and drinks to the people walking by. A lot of the food smelled really good. Somebody was even selling ice cold margaritas. This church right across the street from the Kedzie Pink Line stop was going crazy selling tacos. Every year they have the same set up going, which is awesome. One of the guys at the church had a megaphone or something and was loudly yelling out hilarious stuff. He was like, “Don’t raise the roof. Raise your hand with a taco in it.” He also asked everyone, “Taco make you speechless?” I actually really wanted to eat a taco based on this dude’s hype. If I lived in the neighborhood I would be pissed at all the people coming through, the traffic congestion and the noise level. I had to actually take the Pink Line train in the opposite direction because there were so many people waiting for the train heading into the downtown area. The platform was packed with people and would have taken two or three trains to come just to get one I could fit on. After essentially going backwards, I hopped on the train I needed and then later on got off at the wrong stop thanks to the crappy train announcements on the Pink Line not saying the full transfers of each station. I had to go back and forth on the Pink Line just to connect to the Brown Line train I needed. All this added like an extra 45 minutes to my commute back. I didn’t actually get home until around 1 a.m. By the time I got home I was dead. It was worth it though. Sllaaaayyyeeeeeer!