Riot Fest 2010, the annual five-day festival inaugurated in 2005 by Mike Riot as an excuse to have a really cool punk show in Chicago, arrived much to the delight of punk and hardcore fans the world over on Wednesday, October 6th.

Spread out across numerous venues in the Windy City, conflicting times and distance between venues made picking which acts to see the first obstacle for ticketholders eager to see their favorite hardcore acts. With veteran bands such as Propaghandi, Bouncing Souls, The Toasters, Less Than Jake, Pennywise, Bad Religion and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, just to name a few, the choices were very difficult, and often quite painful, to make. The biggest venue of the festival was the historic and cavernous Congress Theater, which was built in 1926 and originally intended as a movie palace. I chose to focus my attention on the bills at the Congress on Friday and Saturday nights, as it was where the biggest acts such as Bad Religion, the Circle Jerks and Bouncing Souls were going to be.

Early Friday night act Off With Their Heads who hail from Minneapolis proved to be a nice change from the standard Epitaph artist, blending old-school fast punk, as opposed to the new norm of screamo and other ear blistering genres. From the back of the balcony their sound was unfortunately lost in the huge space that is the Congress performance space.

Next up, the Bouncing Souls ripped through a manic 30-minute set andsurely could’ve gone on for more. Lead singer Greg Attonito moved around with ease and didn’t look like he was in too much pain with his broken toe, even jumping on to a riser between the crowd and the stage at one point during the too-short set. The Souls dutifully blasted through all of their most popular songs including crowd favorites “Lean on Sheena” and “Hopeless Romantic.” Overall I think they put on a great show and the audience appreciated it the effort. Had Attonito’s injury not plagued his ability to let loose, it would’ve been hard to convince them to stop playing.

After a quick set change it was time for The Circle Jerks. Considering these guys formed in 1979 before the majority of the crowd was born, they put on a great show, sounding tight and effortless. They joked in between songs about the cops and punk music and seemed like they were having a great time. Even though the majority of the crowd was young they clearly knew their punk history and I think the Jerks and frontman Keith Morris felt the love too.

Next up were Chicago natives the Lawrence Arms who strolled on stage like they owned the place, and after the first song they did. They looked like they were having a blast and regardless what frontman Brendan Kelly intimated to me earlier in the day about not being good in a venue of this size, the band absolutely rocked. The crowd responded by working themselves into a sweaty mass of moshing, slamming and frenzied circle pits.

The grand headliners of the evening, Bad Religion, took to the Congress stage as the final act of the night, owning all the legendary 30 years that they have been a band with set opener “Do What You Want.” Touring in support of their latest album, The Dissent of Man, you’d never know these guys have been playing for 30 years. Frontman Greg Graffin was all over every inch of the huge stage, commanding attention wherever he went, and killed with “20th Century Digital Boy.” With his piercing gaze and conductor-like hand gestures, you quickly understood why these guys still put on one hell of a show — it’s the intensity! Take note, young folks!

About a mile away and tucked off of Wicker Park’s main drag is the AAA club. Tiny and intimate still make this place sound huge. At midnight, The Dopamines took the tiny stage and rail-roaded the crowd with down-home, old fashioned in-your-face, sweaty punk rock. The lighting was nothing but a couple of red light bulbs screwed into the ceiling and the sound was distorted, but for the Cincinnati natives it was perfect. One after another they blazed through tracks off of their latest release Expect the Worst. They sounded great but after a while the songs started to sound the same and the crowd was ready for the main attraction.

Shortly before 1am Gainesville, FL’s Less Than Jake took the stage for a capacity crowd that couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred people.  Even they seemed a little overwhelmed by the response, this was LTJ at their finest, how they are meant to be seen, in a tiny club with only the die-hard fans. The guys took requests, screwed with crowd and joked around throughout the set. Since they were playing their landmark album Losing Streak in its entirety at the Congress the next day, they opted to not play any of those tracks, deciding upon back-catalog gem “Liquor Store” and tracks from their most recent effort, TV/EP, including an ace take on the Animaniacs theme song.

–Dennis McLennand, Photos by Dennis McLennand

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