Riot Fest Day 1: The Cure, The Flaming Lips, Death From Above 1979 & More


The Cure had the right melodies and remedies to pick us all up on the damp and muddy first night of Riot Fest at Downsview Park in Toronto.

The crowd knew we were in for a treat when during the intro of the first song, “Shake Dog Shake,” a smiling Robert Smith treated us to some shoulder shakes of his own. The absolute wonder of The Cure is that they sound exactly as they always have, even after nearly 40 years as a band. The set was stacked with great songs spanning their many decades but focused on songs from “Disintegration” and “Head on The Door,” much to my glee. They played including “Fascination Street,” “Pictures of You,” the haunting “Lullaby,” “Push,” “Min Car,” “Wrong Numbers,” the ever-popular “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m in Love,” as well as many other tracks. The crowd was so locked in I did not see a single crowd surfer, just over 40, 000 people enthralled with The Cure.

Smith kept the talking to a minimum, mostly just thank yous, saving the time for music. The Cure usually play for approximately three hours at a time, but were given just under two on this night. He did however speak up as they returned for their encore. “Apparently I signed a piece of paper that said if I broke the curfew I retire tonight… we’ll see,” he said cheekily. The masters of goth-rock could not have closed it out any better delivering “Close to Me,” “Why Can’t I Be You” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” Boys may not have been crying on this night, but I am sure they brought many men and women to tears, mostly joy, with their incredible set.
Before The Cure, there was the spectacle known as The Flaming Lips. Where to begin? Well, lead singer and guitarist Wayne Coyne walked on the stage wearing a skin-tight green man suit, but instead of being green, it was showed all the human muscles and veins as if his skin had been removed. Joining him on stage where two people wearing inflatable mushroom suits and two more people being each end of an inflatable rainbow. As the set began with “The Abandoned Hospital Ship,” confetti cannons littered the crowd endlessly while the video screen behind the band was not epilepsy friendly. (See the video above at your own risk.) The set also featured people dancing in inflatable queen bee outfits, a sun-man, aliens, a smiley face sun and much more chaos & confetti.

The Flaming Lips are not all show, really, they do actually play some pretty sweet songs. They played crowd favourite “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and Coyne was underwhelmed by the participation in the karate chop portion, so he had the band stop. “Come on guys, the karate chop is the gauge for the whole show. It sets the tone, you gotta get into it!” The crowd did not disappoint and neither did the Lips the rest of the way, including Coyne singing from his signature human hamster ball, while standing on the crowd. They closed with “Do You Realize” and a cover of the Beatles’ classic “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” as LSD, I mean confetti, showered the crowd through colourful flashing lights.

Rock duo Death From Above 1979 gave the festival main stage some local flavour. Unfortunately, the set sound at the beginning of the set was really off, but they powered through. Fresh off their first release in ten years, the boys were on a mission. They played a bunch of songs off their new album Physical World and seamlessly worked in their older material.  Drummer Sebastian Grainger spoke up before they played on of those new songs, “Gemini.” “Gemini is about my wife and today is our five-year wedding anniversary. I know it  might not be punk rock to talk about anniversaries… love her, she’s the best yo.” They capped off the energetic and noisy set by having everyone put their arms in the air and playing “Romantic Rights.”

Brand New did what they always do: play a super solid set and take care of business. Flowers covered the mic stands and they were ripped apart as the show went on. What blows me away about this band is the occasional use of dual drummers during the set. This was on perfect display during their smash hit “Sic Transit Gloria” which featured perfectly in-sync drumming to the point of passing drum sticks while lead-singer Jesse Lacey wowed the crowd by yelling into his guitar making it sing the final chorus. They played songs off all four albums including the moving “Showing Session,” “Jesus Christ,” “Sink,” and “Seventy Times 7.” The band may not have released an album in five years, but with performance like this they almost don’t need new material, although there is talk that it’s in the works. As Lacey walked off the stage he thanked the crowd and said “start your own band.”

The adult in me didn’t want to watch New Found Glory, but the teen in me, said give them a chance. The bubble-gum pop-punk rockers from Florida do still put on a very action packed show. The crowd was in a frenzy with non-stop circle pits and crowdsurfing. Lead-singer Jordan Pundik sprinted and stomped around the stage the entire time and bass player Ian Grushka still made gumba-like grimaces. Whatever they had, they still have it and fans sang and clapped along all set. The treat for me was hearing their hit from my high school days “Better Off Dead.”

Rubblebucket get down and funky at Riot Fest in Toronto.
Rubblebucket get down and funky at Riot Fest in Toronto.

Riot Fest provided me with three excellent discorveries, which is why you should always try to show up early. Kicking off the festival was Laura Stevenson. I never got the chance to see Bomb The Music Industry! so watching their former keyboard player now turned singer-songwriter play guitar and sing with a full band backing her was a lot of fun. It was happy, up-beat music with hints of accordion and xylophone. Definetly worth checking out. Another very entertaining performance, maybe one of the most entertaining for reasons other than music other than the Flaming Lips, was Mounties. Mounties are somewhat of a Canadian super group, with Hawkley Workman on drums and  Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat on keys, and other musicians rounding it out. They played kick drum driven synth pop and it was fun and dancy. But what caught my attention was when Workman appeared to possessed during a song as he stood up from his drums and started screaming about “oh the sun, I just want to drink it straight,” during one of the songs. The last of the discoveries was the best of them all, Rubblebucket from Brooklyn. The seven-piece was absolutely hypnotizing with their funky get-off-your-feet-and-dance music. Their two-man horn section were spot on and also nailed all their coordinated dance moves, while lead singer Annakalmia Traver sometimes plays sax and always dances around like no one is watching. The band had played a gig about ten hours before they took to the stage and showed no signs of fatigue. Go see them if you ever have a chance, I know I will.

Lastly, through out the day I checked out a smattering of punk and hardcore thanks to Circa Survive, Glassjaw and Title Fight. I had forgot how much I enjoyed Circa Survive, and how much they sometimes sound like what would happen if Mars Volta played punk rock. Glassjaw and Title Fight both played great high energy, loud thrashing sets, perfect on the muddy gross afternoon.