Wicker Park Festival 2005

JULY 30, 2005
WICKER PARK FESTIVAL

This was the best lineup for a street festival this summer in Chicago, probably because the nearby Subterranean nightclub booked the music. Sunday featured the esteemed Reigning Sound, but deciding to attend one day only, Saturday was the obvious choice.

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Head of Femur was also very good, bringing its big-sounding set to a raucous conclusion.

Turing Machine, from Brooklyn, will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for instrumental heavy-guitar rock music, it was pretty impressive.

  

Okkervil River was just as excellent as it was in May at Schubas, bringing fierce passion to its music. It’s interesting to see how much the nonsinging band members sing along with the lyrics off-mike. Even if they’re not contributing to the vocals, the songs obviously mean a lot more to them than a paying instrumental gig. I wonder what the people standing up on the nearby Blue Line el platform thought about the music they were hearing and seeing from a distance.

  

Olivia Tremor Control hasn’t toured for quite some time, so the group’s arrival in Chicago for two shows was pretty noteworthy. I was hoping the band’s live show would trump some of the problems with its studio recordings — which have a lot of good melodies and playing, but way too much lo-fi psychedelic wankery. It was fairly exciting and humorous to see Olivia Tremor Control going through its sound check, with a bewildering variety of instruments and noise makers: tuba, saw, banjo, reel-to-reel tape machine … even a typewriter???

Unfortunately, the set started off with a surprise mini-concert by the Tall Dwarves. Their songs might be fine, but this was the wrong time to hear them, and one of them went badly awry with off-key guitar playing and/or singing (by one of the OTC horn players).

When Olivia Tremor Control finally took the stage, it became clear the band’s pretty much the same in concert as it is on record: brilliant at moments, annoying at others, a shambling mess with bits of beauty.

Lollapalooza 2005

DAY ONE (July 23)


The Redwalls


M83

 
The Warlocks

  
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead


Ambulance LTD


Billy Idol press conference

     
Liz Phair

  
Kaiser Chiefs

  
The Brian Jonestown Massacre

 
The Bravery

 
 
Blonde Redhead

 
 
The Black Keys

 
 
The Pixies

 
The Walkmen

  
Digable Planets

DAY TWO (July 24)


The Ponys

 
Kasabian

 
Dinosaur Jr.

  
Tegan and Sara

       
The Drive-By Truckers

      
The Arcade Fire

  
The Dandy Warhols

 
Death Cab For Cutie

Intonation Music Festival

JULY 17, 2005
INTONATION MUSIC FESTIVAL
Union Park, Chicago

I missed all of Day 1… Decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Van Cliburn last night at Ravinia, and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to do both in one day. I’m certainly not the best judge of classical piano performances, but I can say Van a rivetingly peculiar presence onstage…

I thought I would see all of the Intonation Fest today, but after getting an early start, the heat and long lines got to me, so I bailed out after Andrew Bird.

Lines were actually quite short for most of the day, but after 5 p.m., the lines for food, beer and water all got humongous and I didn’t feel like standing around in line to get those essentials.

I enjoyed everything I saw, to some extent: Thunderbirds Are Now! seemed pretty good, but I need to hear more of their music to say how much I’d recommend it.

I like bands that sing in their native tongues, so I was keen of the Swedes in Dungen… who even trotted out a flute for some Jethro Tull-like moments. I was expecing ’60s-style garage rock, but it sounded more ’70s to me. Good,
in any case.

Xiu Xiu were slightly abrasive, but made nice use of autoharp (?) … I’d like to hear more of their stuff. I liked the sound, though I don’t know if the songs were all that strong.

Out Hud’s dance music wouldn’t normally be my kind of thing, but I liked the funkiness of it. Seemed more “live” than a lot of electronic concerts.

The Hold Steady were great. I was a little skeptical about these guys a year ago, but they’ve grown on me a lot. The lyrics are smart enough that the songs work as more than jokes. Is this band in a genre by itself? Who else is like them? It’s sort of like a mutant strain of white-guy rap that bears almost no similarity to hip-hop rap.

Andrew Bird was as brilliant as always. I love this guy … and I overheard a lot of comments from impressed concertgoers who’d never seen him before.

I was hoping to stick around for the Wrens and Les Savy Fav (not the Decemberists, though — I still don’t care for that band), but five hours of enduring that heat was enough… I don’t know anything about the other band that was playing, Deerhoof.

In any case, I hope the Intonation Music Festival is back again next year.

Chicago Folk & Roots Festival 2005

JULY 9-10, 2005
CHICAGO FOLK & ROOTS FESTIVAL
at Welles Park, sponsored by the Old Town School of Folk Music

I could have spent the whole weekend hanging out at this fest, which is always one of the most enjoyable in Chicago… Alas, other duties called… and in the interest of maintaining some semblance of sanity, I limited my time at the festival to just a couple of performances.

On Saturday, I caught the headline act, Alejandro Escovedo, whose set was interesting and enjoyable, if a little low-key for the festival setting. Twas nice to see him with a full string quartet, plus good old John Dee Graham on electric guitar and lap steel guitar, offering some very fine solos. It’s too bad the festival schedule didn’t also include a separate set by Graham. Escovedo got everyone to sing along when he played “All the Young Dudes” in his encore, and then the show ended with nothing but the string players on stage, going on surprisingly long in a gentle coda to the evening.

On Sunday, I showed up in time to hear the last several songs by Funkadesi. I liked the mix of reggae and Bollywood vocals. But the main reason I was there was the band playing next, Tinariwen. The two records by this group of Tuareg nomads from the Sahara are among my favorites of the last few years, very hypnotic bluesy desert chanting.

Tinariwen played once before in Chicago, in a gig that was poorly publicized at the Chicago Cultural Center. The vibe at that show was all wrong, with a screening of the documentary “Festival in the Desert” delaying Tinariwen’s performance in a claustrophrobic concert hall, and then many audience members walked out during the show, seemingly because it was so late, not because of any deficiency in the performance.

Better vibe this time. The Folk & Roots Fest was a perfect setting for these guys. They don’t speak much English, but they knew how to say, “Welcome to the desert,” at the beginning of their set, aptly setting the tone for the concert. It was exciting to see Tinariwen’s music inspiring rhythmic clapping, dancing and some enthusiastic whoops and hollers from the Chicago crowd this time.

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF TINARIWEN.

American Music Festival

JULY 2, 2005
AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
at FitzGerald’s

I always try to make it to this fine festival for at least one day. As Robbie Fulks said during his set tonight, it’s like a little bit of Austin, Texas.

The discovery of the day was the Lee Boys, a Florida “sacred steel” group that plays a rousing blues-gospel-rock. The blazing star of this band is pedal-steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier. The minute I heard this kid playing, it was obvious he’s something special. And the crowd knew it, too. I’m guessing few people in the room knew anything about the Lee Boys before today, but they certainly have some new fans.

The Kinsey Report also impressed with their blues, and Tributosaurus pulled off a nice tribute to the music of the Band.

Robbie Fulks was as entertaining as always  — of course, there are those who are put off by his sarcasm and tomfoolery, but I just find it amusing. He’s one of those great showmen with multiple talents  — in his case, singing, songwriting, guitar playing and comical emceeing. “Georgia Hard,” the title track of his new CD, already sounds like a classic. The short set came to a rather abrupt end becase of the midnight curfew, as Fulks joked about not wanting to tick off the “Berwyn gendarmes.”

Just as Fulks finished up, the Gourds were getting ready to play inside the club. I’m woefully behind on my knowledge of this Austin band, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about them (despite the fact that President George W. Bush is apparently one of their fans … I guess you can’t blame the band for that). All I can say is they sounded good, but I didn’t know the songs and I was tired.

SEE PHOTOS FROM THE AMERICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL.