Concert Review: North Coast Music Festival, Day 3 (Sunday, 9/3/12 at Union Park in Chicago)

Concert Review: North Coast Music Festival, Day 3 (Sunday, 9/3/12 at Union Park in Chicago)

Pretty Lights, Big Boi, the Rebirth Brass Band, Steve Angello and more all took the stage Sunday in Union Park as the 2012 North Coast Music Festival wrapped up it's final day of live music...

Now in its third year, North Coast Music Festival provided live music in 2012 by 120 artists across four stages.  As the festival has continued to grow, so has consumer demand.  This year, three day passes sold out quick as did single day passes for Sunday.  Billed as "summer's last stand," the festival generally denotes the city's quick descent toward fall and winter.

What I've always found intriguing about North Coast is the fact that they were light years ahead of other local festivals when it came to booking electronic dance music.  In it's innaugural year of 2010, the lineup was heavy on DJ's and electronic artists.  While Lollapalooza did dedicate one stage solely to electronic music that year (Perry's Stage), North Coast outdid them by booking major headlining acts like The Chemical Brothers, Paul Van Dyk, Moby, Benny Benassi and Pretty Lights.

While North Coast has certainly spotlighted some of the biggest and best electronic artists out there, they've also carefully chosen a handful of acts each year that cross into the jam band, alternative, rock, and rap realms often with massive followings.  Umphrey's McGee has performed multiple times and artists like Nas, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Mayer Hawthorne and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band all stuck out as unique bookings in 2010.  And while the festival has clearly leaned more and more electronic each year, the same could still be said for Thievery Corporation, Common and Of Montreal in 2011 and Umphrey's, Big Boi and Yelawolf this year.

This was my first year at the festival and what struck me on Sunday (aside from the flamboyant costumes, body paint and unique attitudes) was how freely I was able to move about the festival grounds despite the declaration of a "sell out."  I love the Pitchfork Music Festival which also takes place annually over three days in Union Park.  Pitchfork only has three stages.  North Coast crams in one more and sports a bigger VIP section.  And yet, Sunday night, the road that runs from east to west and seperates the two main stages on the north end of the park from the Red Bull stage on the south end was easily traversible despite a bevy of beer stands.  That is never the case at Pitchfork and as a concertgoer, it's a concept I'm fond of.  North Coast was laid out well.

Onto the music...

Big Boi - One half of Outkast performed Sunday on the North Stage... the same stage he graced at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2010.  But unlike two years ago, I had no problem entering the festival grounds and walking immediately to within ten feet of the stage.  While a solid crowd, it seemed that many were indeed preparing for the Pretty Lights set to follow.

That said, Sunday's show featured a mixture of Outkast tracks, songs from Big Boi's 2010 solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty, as well as music from his forthcoming solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.

Big Boi was accompanied by a DJ, a live drummer and Atlanta rapper BlackOwned C-Bone.... That set of drums doubling as the only actual musical instrument that I saw played all day (turntables and computers not withstanding).

Outkast classic "Ms. Jackson" followed solo hit "Follow Us" early and kept the party going.  The Stankonia hits continued with "B.O.B." where the live drums truly drove the song's frantic pace.

"Fo Yo Sorrows" (Big Boi's collaboration with George Clinton and Too $hort) was appropriate considering Clinton was in town for a performance Saturday at the African Festival of the Arts.  And as good as the Outkast material was, Big Boi's solo stuff was some of my favorite of his set.  The new tracks sounded good but my personal favorite Sunday was his 2010 hit "Shutterbug."

While seeing Big Boi team up again with Andre 3000 would certainly be a treat, I have to say, this set left me excited to hear more of Big Boi's upcoming solo material.

Pretty Lights - A significantly more laid back and mellow vibe on the festival's main stage following Big Boi as Steve Aoki finished up across the park.

As is typical, the crowd went crazy as Pretty Lights took the stage for a set of soulful electronic music amidst a blazing light show that could be seen from across the park.  Watching a DJ spin outdoors from hundreds of feet away amidst the cramped, often oderous surroundings that makeup the typical summer festival may sound less than amazing... but set against a skyline backdrop, this was one of the more creative light shows that I've seen all year.

Sampling artists like Radiohead, Pretty Lights managed to appeal to more than just those in attendance for electronic music and to those that stuck around on Sunday following artists like Umphrey's McGee earlier in the weekend.

And while that may have been true, Pretty Lights certainly tried his best to appeal to the fact that despite attendance numbering in the tens of thousands, this is a music that is still largely ignored by the mainstream, embraced instead by a culture unique, different and misunderstood by conventional music fans.  "We're getting together right now!  They can't stop us right now!  Come on Chi-Town!"  said Derek Vincent Smith embodying the sense of "us against them" that used to fuel rock n' roll.

Steve Aoki - I walked up to the Red Bull stage on the festival's south end just as Aoki introduced his last song.  Focusing more on electronic house music, he mixed more contemporary pop in amongst his beats, ultimately elevating the audience energy level compared to what I saw on the north end of Union Park during Pretty Lights... And for the first time all day, I saw one concertgoer crowdsurf atop outstretched fist pumps... in an inflatable boat.  It may have even been Aoki himself but I was too far back to tell with certainty.  Regardless, good times!

Steve Angello - Not skipping a beat, Angello took the stage literally the moment that Aoki left it.  You see, at North Coast, the party doesn't stop.  Even when the music stops, the party continues.

Focusing on a mix of house and techno, Angello kept things moving on the south end of North Coast, closing out the final day of the 2012 festival.

One third of EDM supergroup Swedish House Mafia (Axwell performed on Friday, Sebastian Ingrosso did not), Angello spun as glowsticks flew, costumes malfunctioned and smoke and pryo streamed forth for one of the more impressive stage sets that I saw on Sunday.

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    Jim Ryan

    Jim Ryan has written about music in print and online for a variety of Chicagoland publications for over fifteen years. In addition to duties filling in as Traffic Anchor on CLTV or in the helicopter on NBC 5, you can also catch him Sunday nights at 6PM central as host of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" on AM 1420 WIMS and AM 1060 WHFB (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet). Jim has also worked locally for WXRT-FM, lives within walking distance of the Metro and is an avid White Sox and Blackhawks fan whose first live concert experience came at Comiskey Park in 1984 during the Jacksons' "Victory" tour.

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