Riot Fest 2011, Chicago's annual multi-venue punk party, opened this week with a sunny, SoCal streak -- Orange County's Social Distortion are back in town Thursday night, various incarnations of Los Angeles-rooted pop-punk bands the Descendents and All start Thursday and will continue into the weekend, and the architects of L.A. punk, the band X, performed their debut album "Los Angeles" to kick off the festival Wednesday night.
It's the 31st anniversary of the album; X also toured in 2008 on the 31st anniversary of their formation. (See you next year for the "Wild Gift" tour?)
Barreling through nine songs in 25 minutes, the band's original lineup -- bassist-singer John Doe, singer Exene Cervenka, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake -- quickly dispatched that pioneering platter and then kept going.
"All right, so there's that record," Doe said as the chords from "The World's a Mess, It's in My Kiss" faded away. "Now we're gonna do a bunch of other stuff, and we're gonna have a good time."
He didn't say much before or after that, just heaved into his bass looking and barking like Buck Owens' evil twin. For the album run, the cool-creepy Riff Raff/Columbia dynamic between Doe and Cervenka was particularly tight during "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" and the wincing wails of "Nausea." (Cervenka bounded about with energy. She announced a multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2009, but has since said doctors remain confounded by the actual source of her illness.) Through the whole set, of course, the coiffed Zoom pumped the neck of his guitar and grinned his trademark, unsettling mannequin grin.
The concert was preceded by a screening of the 1986 documentary "X: The Unheard Music." It's not a great film, but it tries to tell an interesting story about the band's beginnings -- their merging of punk and poetry, of punk and rockabilly, of the music's British working-class roots with America's fixation with movie stars. Near the beginning of the film, we see the iconic Hollywood sign blown up. That may have been their attitude, but much of this film was staged and performed, and an argument runs throughout that X deserves to be Hollywood famous.
Didn't quite happen, but at least they're now headlining a shiny, corporate punk festival. Riot Fest 2011 -- sponsored this year by an energy drink, and lousy with logos and "partnerships" -- continues through the weekend with its "largest lineup ever," including notables from the history of punk as well as the festival's trademark special reunion events.
Mike Ness and his Orange County punk veterans are still out supporting this year's new album, "Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes." Opening: the Tossers and Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band.
-- 6:30 p.m. Thursday @ the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee
All and the Descendents
In most bands, the singer isn't the interchangeable one. But fans of one particular group can enjoy all three versions at this year's fest. The Descendents carved out the pop-punk genre early on with Ramones power chords and punk aggression; when they went on hiatus late in the '80s, the band kept going as the ironically named All with a new singer (Scott Reynolds), and then in the '90s vocal duties changed again (Chad Price). The sound didn't differ much, but fans love to quibble. Reynolds' night this week sold out, after all ...
-- All with Chad Price (opening: the Pavers, Banner Pilot, the Neutron Bombs), 9 p.m. Thursday @ Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake
-- All with Scott Reynolds (opening: Down by Law, Chinese Telephones, Holy Mess), 9 p.m. Friday @ Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake. Sold out!
-- The Descendents (opening: Suicide Machines, Leftöver Crack, Strike Anywhere, the Flatliners and more), 2:30 p.m. Saturday @ the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee.
Each year, Riot Fest organizers strive to create a happening, usually a reunion -- something on stage you likely won't see anywhere else. Previous years included reunions of Naked Raygun and the Blue Meanies. This year's howjadoo involves more lineup shuffling and genealogy: Misfits founder Glenn Danzig will reunite with members from his post-Misfits band, Samhain, for one set, then with guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (Paul Caiafa) from the Misfits for several Misfits songs, and that's in addition to Danzig's own set -- all in one night. Danzig and other Misfit folk have been feuding for years, and he's largely shunned his foundation material -- a significant milestone in the shock-rock, horrorcore genres. Danzig and Doyle have trotted out this reunion gig before elsewhere, billing it as "Danzig Legacy." (Meanwhile, the Misfits sans Danzig, with bassist-singer Jerry Only et al., just released their first new album in 12 years, "The Devil's Rain," and are on their own tour now.) Opening: Youth of Today.
-- 7 p.m. Friday @ The Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee
These professional gents are often another study in punk family history. Helmet has toured and recorded with a variety of lineups, and the last album, 2010's "Seeing Eye Dog," featured yet another new crew. But, hey, they're heavier and harder. Opening: Bitter Wigs, Admiral of Black, Electric Hawk.
-- 9:30 p.m. Friday @ Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
The Smoking Popes
What local pop-punk gathering would be complete without Chicago's own Smoking Popes? The Morrissey-blessed quartet is once again a going concern after years off, supporting a new album this year, the high school drama of "This Is Only a Test." Opening: Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. This is a free show!
-- 9 p.m. Saturday @ Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
This a veteran Oi/hardcore band from London's '70s slings streetwise songs about football (er, soccer) and drinking with the occasional send-up of social issues. Opening: the Crombies.
-- 10:30 p.m. Saturday @ Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland
Yes, Weezer. In addition to the considerable hand-wringing over whether Rivers Cuomo & Co. are punk enough to play Riot Fest, there was also a decision to make: which of the first two albums should they play? Yes, they're still touring shows performing either "The Blue Album" debut or the "Pinkerton" follow-up. A WXRT-sponsored poll last month picked, no surprise, "The Blue Album." Two Chicago notables are also on the bill: Urge Overkill, the '90s darlings back with a new album, and White Mystery, a young duo of garage-rock carrot-tops not to be missed.
-- 5:30 p.m. Sunday @ The Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee
Entering its fourth decade, Nevada hardcore band 7 Seconds haven't recorded in a while but still rage against the machine on stage.
-- 7 p.m. Sunday @ Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake
Riot Fest drops a few secret shows during the festival -- anything could happen, anyone could show up. Great shows in the past have come from D.O.A., Naked Raygun and more.
-- 11:30 p.m. Friday @ Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland
-- 11:30 p.m. Saturday @ the AAA Warehouse, 2105 W. Caton
-- 10:30 p.m. Sunday @ the AAA Warehouse, 2105 W. Caton
Tickets are available for individual shows, or there are two passes: one for just the Congress shows ($135), and one for the whole festival ($145). Look to riotfest.org/chicago for information.