Concert Review: 2013 North Coast Music Festival (Sunday, September 1 in Union Park)

Concert Review: 2013 North Coast Music Festival (Sunday, September 1 in Union Park)

For the second time this past weekend (and what feels like the umpteenth time this summer), inclement weather had an impact on the ending of a major Chicago, outdoor music festival.  Nevertheless, performances by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Danny Brown, Datsik, Rebelution, Gary Clark, Jr., Purity Ring, JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Wu-Tang Clan and more powered the third and final day of the 2013 North Coast Music Festival Sunday in Union Park... 

Friday night at North Coast, impending weather caused a temporary evacuation of the Union Park grounds forcing thousands of festivalgoers into the city's west side without an official evacuation destination designated by the festival.  A set by Capital Cities was cut short, and while the festival was extended an extra hour once the weather had passed, Friday's headlining set by alt dance-pop outfit Passion Pit ultimately became a live DJ set after much of their equipment was reportedly destroyed by the storms.

Rain was in the forecast again on Sunday and held off for most of the day though it did force an early end to the festival closing, headlining set by seminal hip-hop ensemble Wu-Tang Clan with concertgoers once again advised to prematurely evacuate festival grounds.  A Sunday night set by local soul-punks JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound was halted after only one song.

For those of you keeping score, coming on the heels of last year's full Lollapalooza evacuation, Chicago concerts this summer that were evacuated due to weather now include Björk at Pitchfork, Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field, Phish at Northerly Island, Capital Cities/Passion Pit on day one at North Coast and Wu-Tang Clan on day three.  At the very least, such a summer ought to dictate at least a discussion with the city in regards to establishing some sort of well documented evacuation plan, unique to each festival, that is established and easy to access for concertgoers in advance of each fest - because it's starting to feel like we've been awfully lucky the past few years.

That said, early on Sunday, Union Park was surprisingly dry considering the rain that fell on Friday.  Wood chips soaked up standing water in a number of areas and guard rails kept fans from frolicking in the muddier portions of the softball infields.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band Live at 2013 North Coast Music Festival in Chicago - Sunday, September 1, 2013 (Photo by Jim Ryan)

(Photo by Jim Ryan)

A funk arose from in front of the "Last Stand" stage early Sunday even before the Dirty Dozen Brass Band got rolling shortly after 3PM (the oderous biproduct of still drying mud).  Starting about fifteen minutes late following what appeared to initial sound problems, New Orleans' finest brass ensemble got my day started with their patented blend of funk, soul, gospel and more.  Performing at North Coast Music Festival for the first time since 2010, the band got fans moving (some fans even joining them onstage for twerking and drunken dancing during "Dirty Old Man") before hitting on a spirited rendition of "When the Saints go Marching In" later on.

Sunday featured the most diverse array of artists of any of the three days at this year's North Coast Music Festival, a trait that was on full display following back-to-back-to-back performances on the two main stages by uniquely hysterical rapper Danny Brown, Canadian DJ Datsik as well as the reggae-rock of Rebelution.  For his part, Datsik, attracted the second largest crowd that I saw all day during an hour long set - second only to Wu-Tang Clan (who he's remixed).

Diversity continued though as hip-hop, dubstep and reggae gave way to blues guitar in the form of Gary Clark, Jr. who turned in, without question, the day's most impressive performance.

Clark is the type of artist that translates much better in the live setting than on recorded album.  "When my Train Pulls In" opened the set - a drawn out, rollicking affair that began as a slow churn, moved to include long chunks of blistering guitar that channeled Neil Young, ultimately culminating in several minutes of feedback enhanced jamming.  Those around me who didn't leave the stage following Datsik looked at each other in awe, scrambling for their phones to see who exactly it was they were watching.

I caught Clark's set in 2012 at Lollapalooza and since then, he's developed an indelible groove with his three piece backing band.  The best example of that seemingly effortless interplay between members was most clear on "Don't Owe you a Thing" (from his eponymous 2010 debut).  The pace kicked up throughout until striking upon a dualling guitar frenzy between Clark and rhythm guitarist Eric Zapata to close it.

Moving along from blues-rock, Clark and company took on some old fashioned rock and roll courtesy of the Chuck Berry influenced "Travis County" and the slowed down, falsetto pleadings of "Please Come Home."

Gary Clark, Jr. Live at 2013 North Coast Music Festival in Chicago - Sunday, September 1, 2013 (Photo by Jim Ryan)

(Photo by Jim Ryan)

From there, I watched as Cherub sprayed those up front at the cozy Dos Equis stage with the bubbly as the electro-pop duo blended live guitar and electronic elements during "Doses and Mimosas."  But it was back to the main stage to try, in vain, to secure a decent spot at a ridiculously packed north end of Union Park before Wu-Tang.

Hip hop is always at its best in the live setting when it's powered by a full, live backing band (especially in the massive expanse of a city park in the festival setting).  Past performances I've caught by artists like Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg and Public Enemy have soundly proven that point.

And while it would've admittedly been difficult for Wu-Tang to fit much else on stage, Sunday at North Coast the band members were flanked by no more than a live DJ.  So as good as their set was, especially given the weather situation, it lacked the extra punch that a live band could've packed, pushing the performance over the top.

Initially billed as a full performance of the band's 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Sunday's performance, while featuring a strong set list, didn't exactly turn out to be that.  It's probable the band was aware the weather evacuation could be looming and Method Man made reference to such early on as he casually mentioned the band's effort to pack a lot into what he called a short set.  As he was at Double Door in January, the affable frontman was at his best acting as animated master of ceremonies throughout, keeping the ensemble moving through a tight, albeit storm shortened, forty-five minute or so set.

The band wasted no time hitting on their seminal debut with "Clan In Da Front" coming early and "C.R.E.A.M." following shortly thereafter but one of the highlights of the set actually started as they tore into a tribute to deceased former Wu-Tang member Ol' Dirty Bastard - a tribute that started with his "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and miraculously sparked the weekend's only mosh pit.

"Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothin' ta f--k wit!" reminded Raekwon repeatedly.  Judging from the size and reaction of the North Coast Music Festival Crowd in Union Park Sunday night, it'd be pretty hard to argue otherwise.

- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

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