Kids These Days, Booker T. Jones, Mavis Staples, Andrew Bird and more performed as The Hideout Block Party returned from a two year hiatus to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary…
On Saturday, the Hideout Block Party served as a fitting end to the 2011, Chicago, outdoor festival season, featuring a lineup of acts with various ties to the local club (Kids These Days shot a video at the venue earlier this year, Andrew Bird honed his skills there for the past several years while Mavis Staples’ career was rejuvenated following 2008’s acclaimed Hideout live album Hope at the Hideout).
What struck me most was the varying audience demographic. While performers onstage ranged anywhere from eighteen (various members of Kids These Days) to seventy two (Mavis Staples), the audience fell anywhere from twenty-something hipsters to parents playing with their infant children off to the side. And that’s another unique element of the Block Party: its family friendly vibe. Jon Langford’s mother watched from the crowd and Chicagoan Mavis Staples had several family members in attendance (like her brother and original Staple Singer, Pervis).
The Party also featured a refreshing independent spirit. Merchandise at the festival was handled by one of the city’s finest indie record stores (Laurie’s Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square), beer was served from a variety of competing, regional craft brewers (Three Floyds in Munster, IN, Great Lakes in Cleveland OH, and Founders in Grand Rapids), and food was available from several local, mobile food trucks (Flirty Cupcakes, The Tamale Spaceship and more). Corporate sponsorship of the event was nowhere to be found and, like earlier this month at A.V. Fest, the Hideout itself was open for business as a way to stay dry and enjoy a drink early on.
Attendance early in the day (live music ran from noon – 10PM) was sparse (due in large part to the early rainfall) but was packed later on (in fact, though beer was to be sold outside until 9:45PM, the festival appeared to have run out of it when I went looking for one at 9PM. At 7:30PM, beer lines were unbearably long… as was the ATM line and the line to get into the Hideout itself).
But for music fans, this day was an unparalleled success that featured one of the best start to finish, daylong music lineups of the summer.
White Mystery – A very interesting, punk/garage rock duo who, as Jon Langford later put it, “… has more hair than my entire band.” The brother and sister sport an interesting Raggedy Ann/Andy sort of look with their bountiful red locks. They also channel a more seventies influenced version of the White Stripes (on their facebook page, they cite Gary Glitter, MC5 and Black Sabbath as “artists we also like”). Francis Scott Key White drums in a simple but effective, straightforward manner that accompanies Miss Alex White’s fuzzladen guitar and vocals nicely. To finish the set, Alex crouched down for a frenzied solo that saw her rip strings out of her guitar amongst waves of feedback. As the rain subsided (never to revisit the 2011 Block Party), this was one heck of a way to kick the day into gear.
Kids These Days – One of the more heavily hyped bands of the day, it was a bit surprising to see them scheduled for such an early slot. Nevertheless, the local band of predominantly eighteen and nineteen year old Chicago Public School products (as emcee and Hideout owner Tim Tuten stressed repeatedly when he introduced the band) capitalized on it for one of the strongest sets of the day.
These guys were good not just for their age, they were good generally.
The seven piece band (prepping for a few tour dates supporting Trombone Shorty) is one of the more unique local products I’ve seen in quite some time, featuring three vocalists (one who raps), keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and two horns (at one point the duo covered the horn part in OutKast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious”) for a sound that is impossible to pigeonhole (their soulful sound crossed into rock, jazz, hip-hop and everywhere in between). “Standin’ when yer tryin’ to fly is hard / cause dreams can be demandin'” rapped Vic Mensa over gorgeous backing vocals from Macie Stewart to start “High/Dreams” (a song that, like many, was propelled by the relentlessly enthusiastic pounding of drummer Greg Landfair, Jr.).
In a summer that saw the fast rising band perform at Lollapalooza, the Hideout Block Party served as a great way to cap a productive season. I can’t say enough good things about Kids These Days and can’t wait to see them again. They more than lived up to the hype. So green and yet so good.
The Eternals – Specializing in house, electro and techno (no guitar), the band was a bit of a letdown following Kids These Days. Then again, most acts would be.
Booker T. Jones – Jones’ calm demeanor was the epitome of cool on this day and the polar opposite of the funky, Chicago blues influenced whirlwind that he and his band (Vernon Black on guitar, Darian Gray on drums and Jeremy Curtis on bass) whipped up onstage. The interplay between Jones and his band was outstanding and they appeared to be having a blast (much more so than at their June set at the Old Town School).
Jones opened with “Walking Papers” (from his May release The Road From Memphis) and really got the party going with a number of Booker T. & The MG’s classics like “Green Onions” and “Time is Tight” (which closed the main set). It was amazing to watch Booker and his band put a contemporary spin on these timeless tracks that was fresh without being disrespectful to the songs’ rich history.
As the house band at Stax Records in Memphis in the sixties, Jones wrote and recorded with blues musician Albert King and the band’s cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign” (featuring Jones not on organ but rhythm guitar) was one of the highlights of their set (as was Jones’ story preceding the performance about taking the City of New Orleans train from his home in Memphis to 49th and State on Chicago’s south side as a young man). It was here where Vernon Black’s many skills as a solful, vitruoso blues guitarist were on full display without being overbearing.
Jones ended his show with a cool cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya” (originally recorded in 2009 with the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young on the Potato Hole album). A great set from a legendary artist who remains both in great skill and musically relevant.
Jon Langford and the Burlington Welsh Men’s Choir – Langford fronted a seven piece band that featured violin, fellow Waco Brother Alan Doughty on bass and backing vocals from Tawny Newsome and fellow Mekon Sally Timms. The band was backed by the Burlington Welsh Men’s Choir (who apparently drove down from Canada just for the Block Party) which made for some impressive harmonies. In Langford’s typically unpredictable style, the set featured everything from a moving cover of Tom Jones’ “Delilah” (dedicated to his mother who was in the crowd), to the 1998 Langford solo track “Sentimental Marching Song,” and even more punk/rockabilly leaning fare (at one point Langford even managed to kick his entire mic stand offstage and into the crowd). As always, a fun and engaging set from Langford and company.
Mavis Staples – What started in 2008 when Staples released Hope at the Hideout (a live album chronicling her June 2008 performance at the club where she first met Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy), continued with her Tweedy produced, Grammy winning 2010 effort You Are Not Alone (and iconic 2010 Lollapalooza set) came full circle on Saturday with Staples’ return to The Hideout. Staples has been touring since 2008, and at seventy two years old, this show was billed as her last for a while. Her and her band gave it everything they had. After seeing Mavis in November at Park West, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in store for at the Block Party. But I wasn’t. Nobody was. Staples commands the stage with a presence that performers half her age couldn’t hold a candle to. She sings with a passion that is invigorating. Last night’s set was a triumphant return home for a performer who has encountered a lot since first performing with her father (the late Roebuck “Pops” Staples) and siblings (sister Cleotha, brother Pervis who was in attendance last night and sister Yvonne who provides backing vocals as a member of Mavis’s band) in The Staple Singers in 1948.
Staples welcomed Andrew Bird to the stage to join the band for a rousing version of The Band’s “The Weight” (revisiting her 1976 rendition of the song with The Staple Singers on The Band’s iconic film The Last Waltz). Bird didn’t appear to know the song very well (and nearly jumped in for a lyric at the wrong time) but provided adequate backing on violin.
It remains amazing to me that the massive wall of sound produced by Staples’ band can come only from a three piece. Guitarist Rick Holstrom is the band’s secret weapon. With his reverb drenched wails, he guides Mavis and she thrives off of his playing throughout. The band has grown incredibly tight over their three years on the road. Nora O’Connor (as she did in November at Park West) joined the band on backing vocals for “You Are Not Alone.” The Tweedy-penned lyrics couldn’t be more appropriate for the invigorating way that Mavis performs it. This was my favorite of the evening.
Performing several Staple Singers songs (the band finished with a rousing nearly twelve minute version of “I’ll Take You There”) it was amazing to hear Staples tell stories about her father Pops and his friendship with Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and the songs that relationship inspired during the Civil Rights Movement. And Staples still isn’t afraid to get political, something she showed as the talked about her feelings on today’s political climate following a cover of The Impressions “This Is My Country.”
Seeing Mavis Staples in concert isn’t merely seeing music performed live, it’s witnessing history. Another uplifting evening of music from one of not only Gospel’s finest but music’s finest.
Andrew Bird and Dosh – Bird took the stage following an impressive half hour performance from Martin Dosh. Dosh moved deftly from drums, to keyboards to other electronic elements as a one-man-band who would record a drum part, loop it, move to keyboards, loop that as well, eventually putting together a fully realized song on his own, on the spot. This was all pretty unreal to see one man pull off live onstage.
But I remain unimpressed with Bird. People whose musical opinions I trust implicitly, all love Andrew Bird. Bird had by far the largest crowd of the night, so clearly people get Andrew Bird. I really thought Saturday evening (my first seeing him perform live) would be that moment that everything finally clicked for me and I “got it.” But that didn’t happen.
Bird started his set with an impressive song that saw him essentially play both lead and rhthym parts on violin (lead via bow and rhythm via pizzicato). It sounded good and was impressive to see. From there he whistled his way through a set I simply couldn’t sink my teeth into. I understand what a good musician Bird is (it’s obvious). I just couldn’t get into it.
The performance also saw a visual art troupe called Opera-Matic pedal through the crowd on bicycles moving a giant “whale” over the crowd as the band’s atmospheric stylings gave concertgoers the feel of being inside an aquarium. That was cool. Bird covered Kermit’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” It was an interesting set. I didn’t vehemently dislike the set. But while I realize I’m very much in the minority on this, I simply could take or leave Andrew Bird.