I missed the first day and a half of the Hideout Block Party this weekend — I was in Louisville for the Cropped Out music festival — but I got back into Chicago on Sunday afternoon and caught the final few hours of the Hideout’s fun shindig, which I was glad to see making a return after a gap for the past couple of years. Here are my photos from Sunday night, which capped off daylong celebration for the 20th birthday of Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio.
As I’ve said before, the Hideout Block Party is one of the Chicago outdoor concert season’s most enjoyable events. For the past few years, it has merged with the Onion/A.V. Club’s festival, and this past weekend’s lineup seemed to reflect the tastes of that publication as much as the usual fare you’d expect from the Hideout.
Friday’s shows were dampened a bit by the rain that fell early in the evening, with some occasional sprinkles throughout the night. Weather delays shortened the sets — I especially wish that the Handsome Family had been given more time, but their gothic alt-country songs were actually a perfect fit with the gloomy weather. Jon Langford presented the first gig ever by yet another Jon Langford band, the cleverly named Bad Luck Jonathan, playing songs that seemed to hark back to early rock ‘n’ roll. Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser played a solo show — or rather, a show backed by a new band, all of which sounded very much like the Walkmen. And Death Cab for Cutie closed out the night, playing for the last time (ever?) with departing lead guitarist Chris Walla.
The weather was perfect on Saturday for the festival’s second day, which kicked off with a Hideout Block Party tradition: the droning of massed guitars known as the Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, featuring anyone who brought a guitar, all of them joining in the din from the parking lot in front of the stage. Other highlights on Saturday afternoon included the old-timey acoustic blues and gospel music of Valerie June, the electronic pop songs of Sylvan Esso, and the jamming of the Funky Meters (including a bit of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”). The appeal of Mac DeMarco escapes me, but his fans seemed to be enjoying his performance. The Dismemberment Plan is another band I don’t really get. But Saturday’s headliner, the War on Drugs, gave a strong performance, filled with electrifying guitar solos by frontman Adam Granduciel. The War on Drugs was a stripped-down trio the first time I saw the band, at Schubas in 2008; last night, Granduciel had five musicians backing him up and fleshing out the sound, but the group is still basically his voice and his guitar.
Almost without fail, the Hideout Block Party is one of the summer’s most entertaining festivals — and that hasn’t changed over the past couple of years, when it combined with the A.V. Club’s A.V. Fest. It feels like a gathering of old friends — in the middle of an concrete-block and corrugated-metal cityscape, with a whiff of trash wafting over from all of the city garbage trucks parked nearby.
The banner on this year’s stage, created by the great Chicago poster artist Jay Ryan, depicted garbage trucks tumbling in midair. And on Friday night, the Streets & Sanitation odors were stronger than usual. As Kelly Hogan wryly noted (during Neko Case’s concert, where she was providing her delightful-as-usual harmony vocals): “That breeze feels great even though it smells like dumpster juice.” The smell was worth putting up with because of all the great music, and thankfully, the wind was blowing in another direction on Saturday.
Unfortunately, the crowd was chatty on Friday night during the sets by Case and Mavis Staples. Wandering around the parking lot, it wasn’t easy to find an area where you could hear the music clearly without being distracted by nearby conversations. As usual, the audience members closest to the stage were the most attentive, and a hush finally fell over most of the crowd when Case daringly performed “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” an a cappella song from her new album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder IFight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. The song delivers a fairly stunning emotional impact in the studio version, and it was only heightened in the live performance. That was the highlight of the night, but the rest of Case’s set was lovely, too — such a subtle mix of tough and tender. The final song of the night was her 2002 classic “I Wish I Was the Moon,” and she performed the opening verse a cappella (or nearly so) — the same way she did the song during the Solid Sound Fest this summer. And once again, Case’s voice rang out with clarity. See more of my photos from Neko Case’s performance.
Earlier in the evening, Mavis Staples ably demonstrated the power of her own voice. The matriarch of Chicago gospel recently had knee surgery, and she told the crowd, “This is my very first concert with the new knee. So I’m going to call this knee ‘the Hideout.'” Staples, who recorded a live album inside the Hideout, does genuinely seem to love the place, and the reception that she gets whenever she plays there.
Staples’ voice sounded tentative during the first song, her cover of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” (from her excellent new album One True Vine), but there was nothing uncertain about her vocals in the rest of the set, as she gave full-throated glory to songs new and old. Closing with the Staple Singers’ classic “I’ll Take You There,” she exhorted the audience to sing along, taunting that the crowd’s first attempt at joining in was “weak.” See more of my photos from Mavis Staples’ performance.
Friday also featured the scrappy garage rock of Nude Beach and the acoustic jamming of Trampled by Turtles.
Saturday was a festive day in the garbage-truck parking lot. I just barely missed the opening set by the Guitarkestra (though I heard the roar of its chord in the distance as I walked up to the Hideout). I arrived in time for a fabulous set by Girl Group Chicago — five singer and 15 musicians, if I counted correctly, playing big renditions of classic girl group songs, joined onstage by the dancing gals known as the Revelettes. See more of my photos from Girl Group Chicago’s performance.
It wouldn’t be a Hideout Block Party without a performance by Jon Langford, and for this one, he played with a new lineup of his Skull Orchard band, playing a new song on the timely topic of “endless war” and closing with a cover of the Faces’ “Debris.” He also played “Haunted,” the song he wrote for Kelly Hogan’s album of last year. “The royalty checks are flooding in,” he joked. “They almost match the parking tickets.”
Next up was the Both, a duo comprising Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. They’ve recorded an album together, and their musical styles blended with surprising ease during this set, despite some technical difficulties with the mix during the first couple of songs.
The Walkmen sounded as intense as ever during their late-afternoon set; lead singer Hamilton Leithauser was unrelenting.
It was bittersweet to see Superchunk for the first time without the band’s longtime bass Laura Ballance, which is still recording with the group but has retired from touring. But Jason Narducy did a fine job of handling duties on bass, even getting into Superchunk’s bouncy, jumpy spirit. It seemed like lead singer Mac McCaughan’s feet were a few inches above the stage at just about any given moment during the show, and Superchunk was as lively and exciting as it ever was. New songs, like set opening “FOH,” sounded terrific alongside oldies like “Slack Motherfucker.” And in some comments to the crowd, McCaughan paid tribute to all of the Chicago people and institutions that helped Superchunk over the years, including the Lounge Ax, Steve Albini and Touch and Go Records. See more of my photos from Superchunk’s performance.
As darkness fell, the Hold Steady launched into a loud and raucous set. The fans along the barricade by the stage clearly loved frontman Craig Finn’s shout-singing and wild gestures. Since keyboardist Franz Nicolay left the band, its sound has been all guitars, all the time. The nonstop riffing in the first half of the set was a bit much, but when the Hold Steady dug into its back catalog for some of its catchiest choruses at the end, all was well in Hideoutville.
Saturday’s headliner was Young the Giant. Who? … OK, I had heard of this group, but I’ve just barely heard its music. And I knew plenty of other people who turned out to see Superchunk or the Hold Steady and who were largely unfamiliar with Young the Giant. Judging from the people who crowded near the stage at the end of the night, most of Young the Giant’s fans are in their late teens or early 20s. And well … to my ears, Young the Giant’s music was rather bland and generic pop rock. It paled in comparison to the other music I’d been hearing all day. But I can’t complain too much, given how much fun the whole weekend was.
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)
The Hideout celebrated its 15th anniversary in true Hideout style, with a day full of top-notch music. Even the weather turned out pretty nice on Saturday (Sept. 24) — a little chilly at times, but without the downpours of rain or hail that had been predicted. It was a perfect day for the Hideout Block Party, and the diverse concert lineup was a superb representation of musicians who consider the Hideout as their home base, stars who have played there in the past and simply great musicians.
During his set (the final one of the night), Andrew Bird reminisced about sleeping in the Hideout’s upstairs offices a few times! “I don’t know what would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Hideout,” he said, echoing remarks a lot of people on the stage made throughout the day. Bird played several of his most popular songs, but he also tried out several new tunes, bringing out Nora O’Connor to sing harmony vocals (and a verse on one of the songs). His encore was a lovely cover of the Handsome Family song, “So Much Wine” — an apt choice.
Earlier, Bird and O’Connor both made guest appearances during a rousing set by Mavis Staples, who raved about how much she loves the Hideout. “If I could be, I’d be here every day,” she said. “They treat us like royalty.” Staples also made some cutting remarks about the turmoil in today’s American politics, adding an even more passionate edge to her songs that evoke the civil rights movement of the 1960s. That “tea” that’s become a symbol of conservative Republicans? Staples said it’s Kool-Aid. Bird joined in when Staples played the Band’s “The Weight,” and Staples called Nora O’Connor (who did backup vocals on the last Staples album) her “sister.”
Another highlight was the set by the legendary Booker T. Jones, who played some of his recent material as well as the most famous songs he wrote back in the ’60s: “Time Is Tight,” “Born Under a Bad Sign” (originally recorded by Albert King, written by Jones and William Bell) and, of course, “Green Onions.” Jones played guitar on a few songs, but the Hammond organ (played through the Leslie rotating speaker cabinet) is truly his instrument, and those thick notes sounded as cool as ever.
The set by Jon Langford’s Skull Orchard was deepened by the inclusion of the Burlington Welsh Men’s Chorus, who added their strong voices to Langford’s songs inspired by his memories of Wales. Earlier, White Mystery rocked with typical abandon for the small crowd that showed up at the start of the day, with their red hair flying. Kids These Days played a lively blend of musical styles (hip-hop, indie rock, horns). The Eternals were even funkier than usual. Andrew Bird’s drummer, Dosh, also played a short set of his multilayered instrumental compositions, which led into Bird’s set and the appearance of an illuminated whale coming through the crowd, courtesy of the musical performance art group that calls itself Opera-Matic. That’s just the sort of thing you’d expect to see at a Hideout Block Party.
As some of that coverage notes, the Hideout’s actually much older than 15 years. That’s just how long it’s been a music venue. The bar itself has been there since 1934, or longer. (Prohibition? What’s that?) Curious, I hunted through the searchable archive of Chicago Tribune article, looking for any references to the old Hideout. I didn’t find any, but I did find a few stories about happenings near the corner of Wabansia and Elston, which is the Hideout’s neighborhood.
According to this story, from Dec. 7, 1899, the area was known as “The Valley” back then, and it sounds like a rather ramshackle sort of place. If you wanted to demolish a building in that era, you could just put up a sign saying “HELP YOURSELF,” and the neighbors would promptly tear it apart. And there was a character in the neighborhood known as “Jack the Ripper.” Note that the address of this house and stable is shown as 55 Wabansia. This was Chicago’s old street numbering system, which changed over to the current system in 1909. 55 Wabansia would have been very close to where the Hideout stands today, at 1354 Wabansia, maybe a few doors away. According to this story, the house had once been a saloon run by “Old” Keating sometime around the late 1860s or early 1870s.
On Jan. 20, 1925, the Tribune published this reminiscence of what the larger area including Wabansia was like in the 1880s and 1890s:
Not surprisingly, the area near the Hideout saw its share of crimes over the years. Here’s one from Feb. 27, 1902, when a man was robbed of 20 cents.
The industrial neighborhood around the Hideout included a beer warehouse, which suffered this unfortunate incident, reported on Jan. 8, 1940:
Crime struck again when $25,000 worth of “soap products” were stolen in a hijacking at Wabansia and Elston, as reported on July 18, 1963:
Too bad there isn’t more in the archive about the Hideout itself. But then again, guys hanging out in a bar isn’t the sort of thing newspapers generally write about … unless something bad happens.
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?”
Moonshine Willy was the band that started it all for Bloodshot Records, and the group reunited for its first show in 10 years Saturday, playing some old-timey country-folk.
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.
It was a busy weekend of concerts, and I didn’t even go to Farm Aid. It was a pretty remarkable three days of music, with at least three performances that rank among the year’s best.
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SEPT. 16: LAURA VEIRS started off the weekend at Metro with an excellent set of her spacey folk rock, mostly drawn from her new album Year of Meteors. In concert, it becomes clear how much of her music’s odd charm is rooted in her guitar playing, with its peculiar sense of rhythms and unorthodox finger-picked chords. Viers has a lovely deadpan voice, and a tendency to smirk a lot … as if she can’t believe she’s actually up onstage in front of a crowd.
She was just the opening act, followed by the impressive spectacle of SUFJAN STEVENS and his seven-person backup band/cheerleading squad. The songs from Illinois sounded great in concert. If listeners hadn’t already realized these are complicated and well crafted compositions, it became obvious watching Stevens and his band pull it off in concert. The mostly young crowd was wildly enthusiastic. Who’d have thought we’d see a crowd of 20-ish rock fans whooping at a trombone solo or the unfurling of an Illinois state flag? The band, dressed in Illinois shirts, with the three female musicians decked out as cheerleaders, performed cheers in between the songs and even formed a human pyramid onstage. It was a strange mix of the seriousness of art rock with giddy silliness.
SEPT. 17: The Hideout Block Party is always a great event, and this year’s featured a couple of especially noteworthy shows. ELEVENTH DREAM DAYplayed a set of new songs, which will be on a just-recorded CD. This band plays only once or twice a year, but whenever it does, it’s one of the best rock shows of the year. The new material sounded great, and the members of Eleventh Dream Day again showed that they’re all outstanding musicians. The band’s core trio was supplemented by keyboard player Mark Greenberg.
The headline of the day, however, was the first gig anywhere by the reunited original lineup of THE dB’S. They look a lot older than I remember, but then, I saw them twice back in the mid 1980s in Champaign, so I probably look a lot older, too. The dB’s played a couple of new songs, which sounded good, but the set focused on the classic power pop songs from their first two albums. It still sounded fresh. The band came back for a rare festival-set encore, “Neverland.”
I also caught sets at the Hideout Block Party by Kevin O’Donnell’s Ensemble General, an intriguing big group led by drummer-around-town O’Donnell. His monologue during one song about blue states invading red states was a highlight. And with his between-song banter, O’Donnell revealed himself to be one funny guy.
I’m not sure what to make of the Sam Roberts Band, from Montreal. The songs were OK, but the sound was too jam-band for me.
The always-excellent Ponys were going strong when I had to depart the block party for…
BOUBACAR TRAORE, a Malian guitarist and singer who played a spellbinding set at Park West. (I also saw him the following night at Logan Square Auditorium.) Traore plays a style of percussive acoustic-guitar music that will remind American listeners of the blues. Using just his thumb and forefinger to pick the strings, Traore rarely plays actual chords, essentially soloing throughout each song, even as he sings. Traore was the opening act for…
AMADOU & MARIAM, a married couple of blind singers from Mali, whose new album is one of the best of 2005. The music sounded great in concert, too, with Amadou taking the chance to stretch out with some pretty amazing guitar solos. Another difference from the studio recordings was the stronger emphasis on percussion, one of the reasons the crowd was dancing almost nonstop. (Why no photos of Amadou & Mariam? Because I idiotically left my camera in my car, thinking the Park West does not allow photos, though it turns out I could have brought it in.)
SEPT. 17: After another exceptional opening set by Boubacar Traore, Brazil’s SEU JORGE played tonight at the Logan Square Auditorium. Like last night’s concert by Amadou & Mariam, this was part of the Chicago World Music Festival. Jorge is a commanding singer, and his songs (which I wasn’t familiar with) sounded excellent. At times, he sang softly with gentle guitar or ukulele rhythms carrying the beat. At other times, the music was heavy on percussion (the band included Jorge on guitar, a bass player and three percussionist) with Jorge growling, rapping or singing full-out in a more rock-music style. After Jorge left stage, the three percussionists led the crowd for a while in some clap-alongs, then Jorge returned for an acoustic set, including three of the David Bowie songs he covered for The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. At the end of the night, Jorge stood before the crowd and gave an impassioned speech about the people of his generation trying to make Brazil a better place.