Radical Riot 


'Be happy, Denver," squeaked pixie rapper Yo-Landi Vi$$er, in a voice that makes Dolly Parton sound like Paul Robeson, as the spectacle known as Die Antwoord brought its Riot Fest set to a close.

The distaff half of the South African duo — along with her lanky partner-in-rhyme Ninja — put on a show last Friday evening that was 10 times more impressive than their 2012 Denver debut. You'd have to go all the way back to Led Zeppelin to find an act whose sound is as impossible to replicate.

Following the patently offensive "DJ Hi-Tek Rulez" (I'll let you look up the lyrics yourself), the two amped-up emcees fast-rapped their way through viral favorites like "I Fink U Freaky" and "Enter the Ninja."

Factor in an arena-sized stage show, sub-bass that shook the tarmac, and the most squelchy synth-lines this side of acid house, and you could see why a huge throng of fans and converts responded with a devotional frenzy normally reserved for much bigger acts.

It was also easy to see why Die Antwoord is not for everyone, including at least one local musician.

"There are very few bands I can't understand on any level, and they are one of them," says singer-songwriter Joe Johnson, who reluctantly stayed through the entire set. "I hated listening to that high-pitched, shrill voice and all the wooops and woooos. The dude's rapping is annoying, and the music made me feel anxious. I just wanted them to stop and Gogol Bordello to begin."

We Are Not a Glum Lot frontman Sam Erickson was more impressed. "They definitely are an acquired taste," he admits. "That being said, I thought their set was one of the best of the weekend."

Since I'd already seen bands like the Flaming Lips and the Cure, I decided this year to focus on lesser-known artists. Like, for instance, Clutch, who scored the award for Most Improved Set. After two unpromising openers that found Neil Fallon stuttering and moaning like some white guy who's listened to too much Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the band hits its stride with an engaging mix of Southern, stoner and just plain rock. Extra points for cowbell.

Acts I never expected to see live included British post-punk icons the Buzzcocks. Revered by next-generation bands like Green Day, they offered up solid renditions of signature songs like "What Do I Get" and "Orgasm Addict." But the real revelation for me was Hot Snakes. A garage punk band with ties to Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt, they could have taught a few lessons to earlier Saturday acts like Face to Face.

The same can't be said, unfortunately, for the reunited Failure, a '90s cult band whose lackluster set lived up to its name. The group actually sounds pretty great on record, at least until someone mentions that they sound like Nirvana, after which you can't stop thinking how much they sound like Nirvana.

The much-anticipated Dum Dum Girls, meanwhile, suffered from a plodding rhythm section that was way too far up front in the mix, and their girl-group harmonies became repetitive just a few songs in. "Coming Down," a droney waltz with a heavy Mazzy Star influence, would have saved the set had it not been cut off mid-song due to time constraints.

In terms of new discoveries, my vote goes to the ultra-obscure Baby Baby. The Atlanta band surprised the crowd with a fun and funky set of well-crafted workouts that often suggested a less pretentious Red Hot Chili Peppers.

As for the event itself, this year's Riot Fest had some definite advantages over last year's, including the addition of a third day and fourth stage, fewer ironic mustaches, and better weather. Plus, Denver's Sports Authority Field is a much more convenient location than the little town of Byers, which hosted last year's inaugural event.

On the minus side, a huge parking lot isn't the most idyllic setting for a music festival. Not that organizers had much choice, after being forced to relocate when Byers pulled the plug at the 11th hour.

Maybe its time for Riot Fest to make its move to Memorial Park.

Send news, photos and music to reverb@csindy.com; follow our updates at tinyurl.com/indyreverb.

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