Two of the summer’s last big music festivals in Chicago vied for attention this past weekend: the Hideout Block Party, which is always one of the season’s most neighborly musical shindigs, and Riot Fest, which expanded beyond its usual indoor confines to become a truly major event in Humboldt Park. I was at the Hideout on Friday and Saturday, including a two-hour Wilco concert, and then I spent Sunday at Riot Fest, culminating with a stunning show by Iggy & the Stooges.
The Hideout Block Party combined forces this year with the Onion’s A.V. Club (which held a separate fest last year at the same location). But it largely felt like a typical Hideout Block Party, with a heavy emphasis on the sort of alt-country and roots-rock music that is the club’s mainstay, though hardly the only genre you’ll hear within its friendly confines.
The two best bands of the night on Friday played early: Cave got the crowd moving with tight krautrock grooves, and then the War on Drugs channeled its rootsier songs into similarly cycling rhythms. The biggest names on the bill for that first night were Glen Hansard and Iron & Wine — both of whom played perfectly pleasant and respectable sets that were a tad too mellow for a headlining festival slot.
It was worth showing up early for Saturday’s Hideout lineup, which started off at noon with a sterling set of old-fashioned country music by the Lawrence Peters Outfit (led by one of the bar’s regular bartenders). The crowd was still sparse at that hour, but some dancing broke out.
Next up were the Waco Brothers with Paul Burch, all of them wearing red shirts except for Burch, who made up for it by wearing red shoes. Not surprisingly, given Waco Jon Langford’s history of outspoken support for labor unions, the band was showing its colors in support of Chicago’s striking teachers, and the Wacos played the timely song “Plenty Tough and Union Made.” The Wacos kicked out their catchy riffs with their usual sense of reckless merriment.
Kelly Hogan’s been on a roll lately, finally releasing a terrific album, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, after years of keeping her fans waiting for a recording that would match the splendor of her live performances. And she was in top vocal form Saturday afternoon, soulfully singing much of the new album as well as the older song “No Bobby Don’t.”
The Corin Tucker Band’s set marked the welcome return of the singer-guitarist who was one-third of Sleater-Kinney. The other two members of that band have been rocking out as part of their excellent new band, Wild Flag, but hearing Tucker’s banshee wails and spiky riffs on songs from her new record, Kill My Blues, was a reaffirming reminder of Tucker’s own riot grrrl credentials.
Performing in the late afternoon, Wild Belle played mellow, reggae-influenced indie pop. More impressive was the solid, driving sounds of the next band, Wye Oak, the Baltimore guitar-and-drums duo. And even better was the act after that, Lee Fields, a soul singer with a sound and songs that evoke the classic tunes of the 1960s. Fields, who released a smartly written and beautifully arranged record this year called Faithful Man, delivered one of the weekend’s best sets with able assistance from his backup band, the Expressions, and a lot of audience members waving their arms.
As darkness fell, Wilco took the stage, which was set up in a city parking lot normally occupied by garbage trucks. “For so many years, they’ve looked past us with the Hideout Block Party,” Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy dryly noted. “What’s up with that? This is one of our favorite places in Chicago. This parking lot. Love the place.”
This Wilco set felt like a bit of a throwback. While the band played the requisite songs you’d expect from its most recent couple of albums, it bookended the show with songs from Being There, and there was plenty from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, too — including moody, tricky songs such as “Poor Places” and “Radio Cure.” The performance ebbed and flowed from dark moments of meditation to intricate prog guitar solos and rousing, foot-stomping rock — the full range of what this remarkable band is capable of. The eight-song encore included one of the Woody Guthrie lyrics that Wilco wrote music for on the Mermaid Avenue records, “Christ for President” — an apt choice in this election season. After dedicating the song to the Hideout impresario Tim Tuten, Tweedy sang Guthrie’s words: “The only way we can ever beat/These crooked politician men/Is to run the money changers out of the temple/Put the Carpenter in.”
WILCO SET LIST: Misunderstood / Company in my Back / I Might / Sunken Treasure / Either Way / Hummingbird / Impossible Germany / Born Alone / Radio Cure / Handshake Drugs / Wishful Thinking / Whole Love / Kamera / I Must Be High / Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again) / Heavy Metal Drummer / Poor Places / Art of Almost ENCORE: Dawned On Me / A Shot In the Arm / Passenger Side / Christ for President / Walken / I’m the Man Who Loves You / Monday / Outtasite (Outta Mind)
More on Riot Fest in my next post…