This year’s Hideout Block Party, which took place Saturday (Sept. 12), was scaled down from the two-stage, two- or three-day festivals of the last few years. It seemed almost like a return to the old days, when the Hideout hosted an annual party out on Wabansia Street in front of the bar. And the theme of this year’s festival was the 15th anniversary of Bloodshot Records, an alt-country record label whose artists have played at the Hideout many times over the years. It was beautiful, sunny day — some of the best weather Chicago’s had all summer — and a perfect time to celebrate two great Chicago institutions, the Hideout and Bloodshot.
I showed up just in time to hear the last song by the Sanctified Grumblers, a new acoustic-blues outfit featuring Rick Sherry of Devil in the Woodpile. Then came three of the Mekons — Jon Langford, Sally Timms and Rico Bell — doing a casual acoustic set. A reunion set by the Blacks was one of the big draws for me, and these guys sounded as good as they ever have. This may have been the last time we’ll see the Blacks for a while, though one can always wish.
Bobby Bare Jr. delivered the goods with his set, which featured a strong band including David Vandervelde on guitar and a quick run-through of Bare’s best songs as well as a cover of America’s “I Need You.” (!) Like most of the performers on Saturday, Bare thanked Bloodshot for everything the label has done. Or as he put it, “I’d like to thank Bloodshoot for putting up with all my bullshit … and making us feel like big shots in Chicago. Why are all you people staring at me? I don’t understand. Do I owe you money?”
The least country-sounding band of the day was next, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, who have a fine new record coming out this week called …And the Horse You Rode In On. This “choir” is from Chicago, but as its name indicates, it’s a very British-sounding band, with lots of influence from Belle and Sebastian, the Smiths and other UK pop geniuses. Elia Einhorn’s lyrics are almost amusingly frank on the new CD, and he sprinkles in several Chicago-specific references. SYGC was lively on Saturday, bouncing through a set of lovely pop ditties. (I’m using “ditties” in the best sense of the term.)
Scott H. Biram calls himself a one-man band, but he’s basically a guy who plays the blues on acoustic guitar and cranks up everything really loud and dirty-sounding. A little bit of Biram goes a long way for me, but I see that he made some new fans Saturday. He was followed by the Deadstring Brothers, who sound a lot like the Rolling Stones doing country-rock in the “Dead Flowers” era. This Detroit group’s lineup has changed a bit since the time I saw them a few years back, and I wish they’d played more of the songs I know from that era, but it still sounded pretty strong.
I was really impressed with the set by Alejandro Escovedo. I’ve admired his music for several years without fully joining the Escovedo cult, but after Saturday night’s riveting performance, I can see why he inspires such fervent worship in some fans. During the first few songs of the set, his band blended rock with chamber strings in a driving style that isn’t typically for orchestral pop, and I loved the way Escovedo roamed the stage, staring intently at the various musicians as they were soloing. Thanking Bloodshot, Escovedo remarked, “They gave me a break when I couldn’t buy one.”
Was there any way the party could have ended other than a set by the Waco Brothers, replete with leg kicks, guest singers (Rico Bell and Escovedo), rocking covers of songs like “I Fought the Law” and the Wacos’ most rollicking hits? I don’t think so. The party really felt like a party.