Saturday marked the opening of Labor Day weekend with performances by Kid Cudi, Talib Kweli, STS9 and more on the second day of the popular fifth-annual hip-hop and electronic dance festival known as North Coast Music Festival...
Located once again in Union Park on the near West Side of the city, North Coast has steadily raised its profile and production quality over the last five years and it still has a decidedly younger crowd packed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Even the lowest profile of the five stages at North Coast this year -- a tent tucked away in the corner of the festival -- was a live and enthusiastic atmosphere for the mostly DJ-driven music that the festival has to offer.
But some hip-hop acts and live bands were also an attraction on Saturday as action truly got rolling as the festival filled out in the 3-4 p.m. range after a 1:30 p.m. start.
Hip-hop veteran Talib Kweli enjoyed a strong afternoon set on the 312 stage (the five stages were named for Chicago area codes; Ludacris would be proud) that maintained a high energy and a lot of switching between bass-infused backing beats, acapella Kweli verses and some DJ-backed instrumentals to keep the crowd going.
While you can't fault Kweli for going with some tracks off his mediocre recent album, Prisoner of Conscious -- of which "Upper Echelon" and its slowed-down, haunting bass-driven beat was a standout -- the older Kweli songs from Reflection Eternal and some select songs from his Black Star days were the best part of his set.
Although Kweli lost the crowd a bit during a stand-up-for-yourself-and-your-community themed rant, he quickly roped people back in with infectious verses from Black Star's legendary debut album and closed with one of his biggest hits, "Get By," which got a nice response from the crowd.
From there, Chicago natives and electronic jam band Future Rock drew a decent crowd on the 773 stage. The trio uses live drums, keyboards, synthesizers and a bass to generate its very danceable, upbeat electronic rock.
Future Rock wasn't as tight and cohesive as some of the other acts on Saturday, but that is also part of the enjoyment of hearing live instruments melding together to form electronic dance music and they were generally strong during their hour-long set.
Before the co-headlining Saturday night finale of STS9 and Kid Cudi, I bounced around a bit and took in some DJs and spoke with some festival goers throughout Union Park. Besides the five stages of music, North Coast officials have done a nice job of getting street artists and unique, sponsored elements into the mix to entertain the crowd.
There were a few graffiti-inspired artists painting live on giant murals for people to watch and the Heineken House had a very cool shipping container that people could go into and paint on a black-light mural for a little bit as well.
These current set-ups certainly beat former North Coast cross-promotion tents like the Groupon Silent Disco, which fell flat and never matched Bonaroo's similar stage.
But as day turned to night, Sound Tribe Sector 9 (better known as STS9) hit the 773 stage as part of its co-headlining evening with rapper Kid Cudi. One of the nice things about North Coast is the 773 and 312 stages are right near each other allowing the festival to close the evening with two big-named acts performing with only minimal downtime. The crowd from one stage can just turn and move only a few feet to see and hear the other stage.
As STS9 played a very good hour-and-a-half set, they drew a very big crowd, some of which laid in the grass towards the back of Union Park and just relaxed to the music.
Although a helicopter flying over the festival was annoying and detracted from the sound quality of STS9 towards the back of the park, the group played a tight set of electronic-inspired instrumental rock that had the crowd going from start-to-finish. By the time STS9 finished their set around 8:50, the crowd was buzzing about their performance and rearing to go for Kid Cudi, who promptly and enthusiastically hit the stage at 8:57 to a tightly-packed crowd.
With people wearing his shirts and singing along to many of his sing-songy hooks, Kid Cudi drew a massive crowd response to close the evening, even though he didn't bring his strongest performance. Cudi is a talented and thought-provoking storyteller as an emcee, but his vocals were too quiet for a big festival crowd -- a downside of playing a DJ-driven festival in which minimal vocals come into play -- and at-times Cudi let the crowd do too much of the singing.
It also didn't help that Cudi fainted later in his set during "Pursuit of Happiness" when he entered the crowd and was running back-and-forth in the photo pit trying to engage fans. Cudi thankfully recovered from his fainting incident and blamed it on a lack of nourishment, but what kind of headliner faints on-stage when the festival crowd watching him has been partying in the sun all day, with many of them embellishing in alcohol and more? That's not a good look for a headlining act.
Still, Cudi had some standout tracks, many of which were songs coming off of his debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day and the fans that were packed in tight to see him really went berserk during his entire set.
Sunday will be the final day of North Coast Music Festival as artists like Snoop Dogg and Dada Life take center stage to close the festival.
- Scott Phillips
(Scott Phillips lives in Chicago and has contributed freelance writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, NBC Sports and CSN Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @phillipshoops)