Day 1 of this festival debut featured a rare live set from Champaign's Hum as well as live music from Disappears, The Thermals and more...
I love The Onion's A.V. Club because unlike Pitchfork they manage to let me know what's good without being overly pretentious. The Hideout is one of my favorite live music venues in the city for the same reason. So when it was announced that A.V. Fest would take place outside The Hideout (near Elston and Wabansia), I couldn't help but be excited.
What made the festival fun (aside from great booking) was the festival's loose atmosphere. For only $10 per day, festival patrons were treated to a Saturday and Sunday that featured eighteen solid hours of live music on what may very well turn out to have been Chicago's final, gorgeous summer weekend. Outdoors, concertgoers had plenty of room to take in the music, peruse tables dedicated to several charities (like Rock For Kids and several others), drink a beer or grab food from an assortment of fine, local restaurants. The Hideout itself was also open for those looking for a bit of shade, conversation, or a drink.
Having never been to The Hideout Block Party, I wasn't sure what to expect of the festival in this very urban, outdoor setting. But festival volunteers couldn't have been more pleasant and now I can't wait to attend the Block Party (Mavis Staples, Booker T., Andrew Bird, Kids These Days and more) on September 24. I only wish I could've attended both days of A.V. Fest instead of just the first.
Onto the music...
Eef Barzelay (plays the music of Journey) - I arrived at the festival from work in time to hear the Clem Snide singer close out his Journey set with interpretive, solo versions of "Faithfully" and "Don't Stop Believin.'" Could've been worse. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a set of untitled, solo ukelele songs. When did the ukelele become the instrument of choice for aging hipsters? In one bad song about ecstasy, he stole part of Christopher Cross' "Sailing." The song fell flat. This may have marked the first time I would've actually preferred to hear Journey covers. And then Barzelay started to complain about the crowd noise (a festival pet peeve of mine). He seemed annoyed and sneered "Who's ready for a beer?" It seems he felt the crowd wasn't attentive enough. Any act that signs on to play at an outdoor, summer festival (early in the day no less), needs to expect some level of that crowd behavior. Like it or not, it generally seems to come with the territory and a good act can manage to overcome it. Instead, Eef told boring, pointless, rambling stories in a stumbling manner between songs. He had no stage presence whatsoever and was entirely unentertaining. Perhaps if he had given the crowd something to pay attention to (like the bands that followed him) there wouldn't have been a problem. But he failed to do that and people retreated to The Hideout interior instead.
Disappears - Wow was this band loud. And that was by no means a bad thing. Chicago's own Disappears played a solid hour of their brand of distortionladen, feedback drenched garage rock. And it was a pleasant departure from the sleep inducing sounds of Eef Barzelay. While I could hear definite shoegazer influences in this band (I couldn't help but wonder if they were fans of Hum), their sound was more shoegazer on steroids. Not content to simply let the guitars drone, Disappears held a fast and steady pace throughout (maintained by Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums) with virtually no between song banter opting instead only to rock... relentlessly. When he wasn't singing, frontman Brian Case was hunched over, playing in front of his amp while guitarist Jonathan Van Herik maniacally worked his effect pedals. The bar for the day had been set... high.
The Thermals - Fun and melodic with really cool riffs. The Portland trio surprised fans by playing their 2010 Personal Life album in it's entirety from which the highlight was the one-two punch of the bass propelled, new-wave influenced "Never Listen to Me" followed by the sweet sound of "Not Like Any Other Feeling." "Alone, A Fool" took a step back featuring primarily guitar and vocals with moderate help on drums and evoked the desperation of The Replacements' "Answering Machine." The band finished their set with older material like 2003's gritty and punchy "No Culture Icons."
Hum - Champaign's own ultimately paved the way for the Smashing Pumpkins and The Deftones... two bands' whose successes ultimately eclipsed that of Hum. But a funny thing happened after the band played their final show in Chicago on December 31, 2001. Fans continued to find the band's music and occasional reunion gigs since 2003 became sought after events that have seen the band play some of their largest venues (last summer, the band performed at Jay Prtizker Pavillion in Millennium Park). Following a gig earlier this week in Champaign, Hum played an hour and a half set at A.V. Fest (a destination performance that people around me drove from as far as Ohio and Minnesota to witness). From the opening riff of 1995's "Suicide Machine," the band built their set working in more droning tracks early ("Little Dipper") and then faster/heavier tracks as the show progressed ("Comin' Home), eventually hitting on their lone hit "Stars" before finishing with "I'd Like Your Hair Long." The thing that always amazed me about this band was how they how could make Matt Talbott's nearly spoken-word vocals work despite the layers and layers of shoegazer guitars. True to form, the vocals were entirely secondary at A.V. Fest as Talbott dug further and further into his guitar. Upon completion of "I'd Like Your Hair Long," Talbott offered a fitting understatement to end the night as he dryly told his bandmates simply "Good job, guys."