Morrissey and the Misfits at Riot Fest review old punks creak out hits

A tardy Morrissey cruised through a setlist that all but ignored the Smiths, while the reformed horror punks provided a flickering jolt of energy

Booking Morrissey to end your festival is the same as betting on George Jones or Axl Rose or Lauryn Hill or any other artist from both the past and present known for not owning a wristwatch. For them, time is an illusion, to paraphrase Einstein. The audience, hapless chumps.

It turns out that Morrissey did show up at Riot Fest in Chicago on Saturday, but the audience was held in suspension. Thirty-five minutes of videos were broadcast on the big screen featuring Morrissey favorites the Sex Pistols, Clash, New York Dolls, as well as Anne Sexton reading a suicide poem and some mild gay erotica. The booing started 10 minutes in, followed by groans each time a new video started. When the singer did appear, the videos had sucked up about a third of his scheduled set-time, leaving a brisk 70 minutes. That would have to do.

Morrisseys 17-song set drew heavily on his solo work of the last 10 years. He sang, not as if his life depended on it nor as if, in light of a recent cancer scare, they promised any new revelations. Instead the singer cruised through the setlist, his voice solid but not robust. He nodded to his Latino audience with a Spanish version of Speedway and, maybe just a habit now, ending every song with gracias.

Then, midway through the set, he offered a tour through international relations. In England, we have a new prime minister who nobody voted for, he said before launching into Irish Blood, English Heart. Then, in introducing World Peace is None of Your Business, he chided the failure of the Bernie Sanders campaign, saying the Democratic presidential nominee was the only one who said no more war. Finally, during The World is Full of Crushing Bores a comic stock photo of Prince William and Kate Middleton sat overhead with the inscription, The United King-Dumb.

His five-member band, powered by Chicagoan Matt Walker on drums, played with drive and ferocity but their singer, aside from one or two lassoings of the microphone cord, seemed not as charged up as the material. A single Smiths song (What She Said) was reserved for the closer but only after he assured the audience that a time restriction forced him to end his set after the next song. Not taking responsibility for holding things up? This guy could run for US president.

Omitted from the set was Meat is Murder, the Smiths signature that he continues to revive in support of his avowed veganism. Maybe playing the song in Chicago, once home to the Union Stock Yards for nearly a century, would have hit too close to home. The people here like their sausage. But then again, Morrissey did demand that all food vendors end meat sales for two hours during his scheduled performance, which meant food lines were swelled up to his set by people not wanting to go home hungry.

The focus of Riot Fest, which is held in Douglas Park on the citys Southwest Side, is punk: old punk bands, new ones, bands with punk sensibilities, punk veterans gone solo, and artists who simply have a peak level of insurgency in their music. The annual festival, also held in Denver, is now the bookend to Chicagos summer music season and deserves credit for finding new ways to stay true to its unifying theme. This year, about 45,000 people attended the three-day festival that, unlike most, was filled with bands that mostly operate outside the charts but instead have achieved success by grooming loyal audiences for years.

Earlier on Saturday were tighter, leaner sets, most notably by Bob Mould who fired through his catalog, ranging from his recent album to five Hsker D tracks, a total of 18 songs in an hour. Dressed in a checkerboard suit, Pelle Almqvist of the Hives suggested a kind of Swedish Iggy Pop as he strutted, jumped and crouched low, bringing high theater to such minimal rock. The band that easily complemented the wide-open parkland environment was New Yorks Brand New. The band played against expectations as an emo originator and instead emerged as a mixture of U2 and Modest Mouse due to anthems that sounded tailored to the masses but with still enough idiosyncrasies to keep the music shifting through different moods and time signatures.

Sundays headliner was billed as the <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/may/13/misfits-reunion-glenn-danzig-jerry-only-pop-punk” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Original Misfits surely a name thought up by a legal team as the band featured only Misfits lead singer Glenn Danzig, original bassist Jerry Only and later guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. The horror punk originators have dealt with decades of incarnations and legal battles, which gives this final phase a sense of closure, even though it was a strange one.

For their first seven years, the Misfits were an underground band that played adolescent punk about UFOs, alienation, the Kennedy family and fantasy violence while dressed as ghouls straight out of Universal horror films. Now as men hovering around 60, they still dressed as ghouls, with Danzig encased in black leather, but there was creakiness in the music. Despite long pauses between songs that gave the band a chance to regroup, the band ran through a crisp 26 songs in just 75 minutes, each one a jolt of manic energy. Two giant-sized pumpkins flanked the band as they ripped through classics Horror Business, We Are 138 and Skulls that reflected not just why this band created its own subgenre back in the day, but how they set the stage for Metallica and others to bring it into the stadiums.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/sep/21/morrissey-the-misfits-riot-fest-review

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