Hideout Block Party

Tim Tuten

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.

White Mystery

White Mystery

White Mystery

White Mystery

White Mystery

Kid These Days

Kid These Days

Kid These Days

Kid These Days

The Eternals

The Eternals

The Eternals

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones band

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. Jones




Jon Langford's Skull Orchard

Jon Langford's Skull Orchard

Burlington Welsh Men's Chorus

Jon Langford's Skull Orchard

Jon Langford's Skull Orchard

Mavis Staples

Andrew Bird with Mavis Staples and Rick Holmstrom

Nora O'Connor (singing with Mavis Staples)

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples


The Opera-Matic whale

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird in Church

A beautiful setting can make a concert feel extra special — and that was the case on Monday night (Dec. 14), when Andrew Bird played the first of four shows this week at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church. I’ve seen Bird play four times in the past year and a half, and each venue was pretty cool — the intimate, comfy room at the back of the Hideout, the sweeping skyline views of the Pritzker Pavilion, the opulence of the Civic Opera House. And now, the towering cathedral backdrop of Fourth Presbyterian.

Bird played all by himself, although as usual, he used looping pedals to build what sounded like an orchestra or at least a string quartet with his violin. As promised, Bird played a fair amount of instrumental music at this show. He said it was sort of like the sessions where he plays at his barn in rural Illinois. “I don’t have the crickets here tonight, but I’ll do my best,” he added. Bird played a few works in progress, introducing one piece by saying, “This isn’t a song. It’s just an idea.” Bird played a couple of songs from Useless Creatures, the companion EP to his most recent album, Noble Beast, “Carrion Suite” and “You Woke Me Up.”

Bird, who was limping because he twisted one of his legs in a concert the other night, sat down throughout the performance. He didn’t use any P.A.s, piping all of the music through his trademark horn-shaped speakers. Unfortunately, some of Bird’s equipment picked up bits of radio from the John Hancock Tower across the street, and a few snippets of WNUA’s New Age jazz broadcast surfaced at times during the concert, most noticeably in between songs. “Let’s just pretend it’s a transmission from another world,” Bird suggested.

The most extraordinary moments of this show were the very quiet ones — Bird making a little clicking noise with his music to build a rhythm track, or plucking at his violin strings. In addition to the instrumental performances, which demonstrated Bird’s chops as a classical musician as well his folkier and rock sides, Bird did sing. The songs included “Natural Disaster,” Self-Torture,” “Nomenclature,” “Scythian Empires” and the Handsome Family cover “Giant of Illinois.” Bird also played one really cool cover, the original Sesame Street song “Capital I.” Bird revealed that he wanted to record that tune for his “Weather Systems” album, but the people at Sesame Street wouldn’t give him permission, so he ended up writing his own song about the capital I.

For the encore, Bird turned off some of his equipment to play the songs “old-school” — and he did a lovely version of the Bob Dylan-Jacques Levy song “Oh, Sister,” making it sound almost like an Andrew Bird song, with one perfectly sung a cappella verse. For his very last song of the night, Bird played one of his older tunes, “Some of These Days.” Those fans who are lucky enough to have tickets for one of the other Bird concerts this week are in for a treat.

Photos of Andrew Bird.

Andrew Bird redux

Little did I know that a New York Times Magazine reporter was at the same Andrew Bird concert I attended last month at the Hideout… Catching up the other day on some of my magazine reading, I realized that the magazine’s Jonathan Mahler covered the show as part of his nice profile of Bird in the Jan. 2 issue. Here’s my original blog post about the concert, and here are my photos from the concert.

Bird’s new record, Noble Beast, comes out Jan. 20, but you can stream the whole thing now on the NPR web site at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98649962. (NPR is also streaming one of the other records I’m eagerly anticipating, M. Ward’s Hold Time.)

Andrew Bird at the Hideout

It wasn’t long ago that Andrew Bird played at little clubs like the Hideout, but lately he’s been getting popular enough to draw big crowds at places like Millennium Park and to book a concert tour at opera houses. So it was something of a rare opportunity to see him playing last night (Dec. 15) back inside the comfy confines of his hometown Hideout.

This show and one on the previous night were announced quietly just a week ago, a sort of holiday surprise from the Hideout. As Bird explained from the stage, these last-minute shows happened when he discovered he needed to shoot a video for the song “Fitz and Dizzy” from his forthcoming CD. Bird and his band, along with Mucca Pazza, spent much of the day filming in and around the Hideout, and then the video crew filmed two performances of the tune during last night’s concert, with the Mucca Pazza marching-bands folks playing amidst the crowd.

The show included every song from the new album, with Bird apologizing a few times for the fact that the band is still learning how to play the songs. There were a few glitches when Bird’s looping pedals did not work as planned as always with Bird concerts, such imperfections only draw your attention to all the craft that goes into constructing this music. The new songs sounded nice, not too drastic a departure from Bird’s previous two records if my ears weren’t deceiving me, but it’ll take a while to absorb them fully. Bird sprinkled a few oldies into the set, including “Imitosis” and the encore “Tables and Chairs.” And although it isn’t on the set list I photographed, he also threw in “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.”

Dosh (a.k.a. Martin Dosh) performed a brilliantly creative opening set of his own sequenced, looping music, in addition to playing drums and keyboards for Bird.

Photos of Andrew Bird and Dosh.

Andrew Bird at the Riveria

Before heading over to the Empty Bottle later that night to catch some Mono, I saw Andrew Bird and Apostle of Hustle April 20 at the Riviera Theatre in Chciago. Here’s the review I wrote for The Daily Southtown:

As he played Friday at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre, Andrew Bird looked a little less lonely than he used to. A few years ago, the Chicago singer-songwriter played concerts all by himself, functioning as a one-man orchestra. It was always impressive, but you couldn’t help wishing that Bird had a few other musicians to help him rock a little bit more.

In the midst of a tour to support his excellent new album, “Armchair Apocrypha,” Bird came back home Friday for a sold-out concert at the biggest Chicago venue he has ever played — backed this time by drummer/keyboarist Martin Dosh and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker. And at times, they did rock, but Bird still sounded far removed from a conventional rock or pop artist. A gifted writer of beguiling melodies and complex, pun-filled lyrics, Bird has many musical talents: violinist, guitarist, glockenspiel player, crooner and whistler. In concert, all of those talents are on display in a sort of show-and-tell performance that constructs the songs right in front of the audience’s eyes and ears. Using an effects pedal that loops segments of music, Bird plays one part after another — a few plucks on the violin, a few strums the guitar — and layers them higher and higher.

Having two musicians onstage with him meant that Bird did not have to create every song from scratch on Friday, but the concert still had the feeling of a chemistry experiment in a musical laboratory. These weren’t note-for-note reproductions of Bird’s studio recordings. Instead, they exposed all of the little building blocks that go into each song, eventually reaching crescendos of almost symphonic beauty. Bird was not just a cerebral experimenter at the Riviera concert, however. He also displayed a fair amount of passion, especially when he would let loose on one of his spiky guitar solos, whipping his head back and forth.

In the music’s most serene moments, Bird’s voice gracefully swooped and his pitch-perfect whistling hovered above the lovely arrangements that Bird and his collaborators had created. Following the lively opening set by Canada’s Apostle of Hustle, Bird played most of the songs from his new album and a few from his previous record, “The Mysterious Production of Eggs.” As he looked out at the Riviera’s packed auditorium, filled mostly with fans in their late teens or early 20s, Bird sounded sincere as he remarked, “I don’t know what to say. I’m a bit overwhelmed.”

See my photos of Andrew Bird.

See my photos of Apostle of Hustle.

Wilco and Andrew Bird at Summerfest

JULY 5, 2006

This was my first time at Milwaukee’s famous Summerfest. Seems like a nice festival, and they certainly book a lot more music than the typical summer fest. That means the festival invariably has some noteworthy acts, like this night’s double bill of Wilco and Andrew Bird, as well as a fair amount of shlock. How weird that Wilco was playing on one stage tonight, while Nickelback and Foreigner were playing elsewhere in the park.

And the band playing before Andrew Bird and Wilco was an incredibly annoying cover band called Sweet Tarts. Bad enough that I nearly ran from the venue with hands over my ears. Another band playing a short distance away, the Yonder Mountain String Band, would have been a much better fit with the Bird/Wilco lineup. These guys had a big audience dancing to their bluegrass picking, with a nice encore of “Goodbye Blue Sky.” (Now that “The Wall” has been covered in its entirety by Luther Wright & the Wrongs, is Pink Floyd becoming standard fodder for bluegrass bands? How odd.)

First, a note about the venue. While Summerfest is a fine place to hang out and get some beer and carnival food, it’s not exactly the smartest set up for watching a concert. The Miller Lite venue where Andrew Bird and Wilco were playing has long metal bleacher benches set up on the pavement in front of the stage, without any aisles – the only entrances being on either end of the long rows. That made it all but impossible to get close to the stage by the time I tried. And then everyone stood up on the benches as Bird started playing. I don’t know, but standing on a narrow metal bench isn’t my idea of how I want to spend a few hours during a concert, so I moved farther back. I found myself feeling a little misanthropic, an impulse I have to hold in check, as I was surrounded mostly by high school and college-age kids. Actually, it’s rather encouraging that young people are excited and interested in Wilco. I’ve heard a number of teens talk about Wilco as if it were some great musical secret they’d discovered. Still, when you’re standing in the middle of a bunch of teens, it starts to feel like being trapped at a prom, where the girls squeal and point at boys. Not my crowd, I guess…

I did eventually find some good vantage points, standing farther back and contenting myself to watch the concerts on the video screens.

Andrew Bird was as amazing as ever, creating some incredible pop symphonies with his looping pedals. He played a few new songs, which sounded pretty good on first listen – nothing seemed like a radical departure from the music on his last album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. I always wonder how well Bird’s precious music (and I mean precious in the best sense of the term) will go over with a big festival crowd, but this audience seemed to be appreciative – and I heard a few people shouting out requests for specific songs, so he obviously has a growing fan base.

Wilco put on a good show, not the best Wilco concert I’ve ever seen by a long shot, but probably the right sort of performance for a place like Summerfest. Jeff Tweedy was pretty talkative, trying to get the crowd to chant the names of various band members at different points of the night. And the band offered up a good sample of songs from its last two albums, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, plus a few oldies. Two new songs were played. One of the them sounded just OK to me as Tweedy was singing the first part, but when Nels Cline’s guitar solo came in, the song really picked up. Tweedy mentioned another new song called “Let’s Fight,” which the group was not ready to play in concert yet; he jokingly suggested that this Summerfest audience should reassemble at another time to sing that song’s chorus like a soccer chant. We’d all have to join the musicians union, though, he pointed out. “Misunderstood” sounded great – I counted 56 calls of “Nothing!” this time. I wonder how fans would react if Wilco played this song and just did a couple of “Nothings”?  In the final encore, “A Shot in the Arm” segued into the electronic notes of “Spiders (kidsmoke).” As usual, that song sounded fantastic, with the audience going wild whenever that descending chord progression kicks in.

Intonation Music Festival

JULY 17, 2005
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.

March and April 2005 concerts

The Underground Bee has been out of commission for a month or so… I was too exhaused by the big SXSW 2005 extravaganzato pay much attention to updating this site. It’s time to catch up. But first, here is an actual letter to the editor I received recently. (The authenticity of the signature is open to question, however.)


I have perused the “Underground Bee” Web site, and I have to admit I am quite disappointed. There is much blathering on about Rock Bands and nary a mention of honey, beeswax, hives, drones, queens and such. I found a reference to something called “Bee Thousand,” but did not understand its meaning. In the future, please try to add items that might be of interest to the striped population.

Buzz Aldrin

Well! I must admit I keep promising to expand this site’s purview beyond the aforementioned “blathering on about Rock Bands,” without fulfilling said promise. One of these days… I promise. I am far behind on my bee research.

Now, back to the blathering… Some recent concerts:

MARCH 25 — Orchestra Baobob at the HotHouse. This was the third time I’ve seen this fantastic band from Senegal. The grooves sounded as great as ever. Everyone was moving on the dance floor. PHOTOS.

APRIL 1 — The Kills at the Double Door. I have to plead ignorance about the music of the Kills  — I just listened to a little bit of their new album online as I decided whether to see this concert. I was intrigued when some critics compared the Kills to P.J. Harvey. I’m not sure that I see that much of a connection, but the Kills certainly put on a pretty darn entertaining concert. Guy on guitar, plus girl on vocals (and occasional guitar), plus drum machine. The spare lineup left them room to cavort across the Double Door stage, working up a good sweat. I will definitely be checking out the Kills’ music after seeing this show. Opening act Scout Niblett was simply tiresome. PHOTOS.

APRIL 3 — Dolorean at Schubas. The club was pretty empty as Dolorean took the stage at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, just 25 to 30 people sitting around to hear Dolorean’s lovely, quiet folk-pop. Bad timing, I suppose. Can’t these Sunday-night shows begin a little earlier? Anyway, Dolorean (which is mostly singer-songwriter Al James) sounded good live, and the lack of fans didn’t detract from my enjoyment. In fact, it made it seem more like James and band were playing a personal gig for the few fans in the place. One of the opening acts, Jeff Hanson, had an amazingly feminine voice, though this guy didn’t look the least bit androgynous. His songs sounded pretty good on first listen, falling somewhere in Jeff Buckley/Nick Drake territory.

APRIL 9  — Magnolia Electric Co. at Schubas. I‘m still not convinced that the 2003 album titled Magnolia Electric Co. was actually by the band called Songs:Ohia. That name doesn’t appear anywhere on my copy of the disc (though I’ve seen copies with a Songs:Ohia sticker). In any case, Jason Molina is now officially calling his band Magnolia Electric Co., and it is a first-rate group. Neil Young and Crazy Horse comparisons are inevitable, but Molina has his own distinctive voice. I like its natural quality. While he doesn’t do a Mark Knopler talk-singing thing, I get the sense that his singing comes straight out of his speaking voice. There’s something very conversational about it. And I love those deep-pitched solos that he plays on the lower strings of his guitar. Three members of Magnolia Electric Co. served as the opening act, playing in the incarnation known as the Coke Dares. Their shtick is playing very short songs in rapid succession, always being sure to say the name of each song. It was quite humorous. I’ll have to hear the songs on CD to say how worthwhile they are, but the Coke Dares seemed to pack a lot into each little burst of music. PHOTOS.

APRIL 15 — Paul Westerberg at the Riveria. He smashed a TV, a telephone and a guitar. He played a lot of his recent solo songs and a few odd covers (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Different Drummer”). He took swigs of whiskey. The concert degenerated into a series of aborted songs: one verse of “Like a Rolling Stone,” half of “Substitute,” a few chords from “Sweet Jane,” the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever.” His band anxiously awaited his next move. Someone got up to leave from a balcony seat and Westerberg said, “Hey, don’t you dare walk away!” Westerberg was falling down on the stage as he played his guitar. Was it all an act? He threw the microphone out into the crowd during “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and then jumped off the stage himself. End of show. Would he bother coming back for an encore? Yes! Glorious versions of “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial” ensued. Was this concert a train wreck? Yes, at times, but it also had moments of triumph.

APRIL 16 — Andrew Bird at Metro. I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Bird recently, and it’s always an honor to see him play live. He’s still doing his amazing one-man band act, using a sampler pedal to loop various string and guitar sounds, building a song from the ground up right in front of the audience. That’s fascinating to see and hear, and it helps that the songs are so good. Kevin O’Donnell was with him on drums tonight, adding jazzy percussion. Bird actually slipped up a couple of times as he tried to juggle all of the musical balls  — but in an odd way, that made his act all the more impressive. It makes you realize how difficult it is to pull off perfection. Near the end of the show, one round of applause swelled beyond the typical cheering, and I sensed a genuine outpouring of affection and appreciation from the crowd. Opening act Archer Prewitt put on a fine set, with his soft, jazzy art-pop songs building into catchy grooves. It was nice seeing Dave Max Crawford, who works as a Metro bartender, on the stage as part of Prewitt’s band, drawing a big hand for a trumpet solo.

APRIL 17 — Damien Jurado at Schubas. Somehow, I’ve missed seeing Jurado in concert until now. I was tempted to see Elvis Costello over at the Auditorium tonight (I’ve somehow missed seeing him in concert, other than one show back in 1989), but I just couldn’t blow off Jurado again. Jurado is one of those singers who doesn’t look the least bit like a rock star, which makes him seem all the more real. He sat down for the whole show, getting up once to go back and play drums for one song. A nice mix of Jurado’s quiet acoustic songs and some rockers, like “Paper Wings.” Responding to an audience request, he played “Ohio” from Rehearsals for Depature, noting that he was heavily medicated (from hospital drugs, not illicit ones) at the time he wrote most of the songs for that album, so he doesn’t really remember the experience. I picked up a copy of that CD on the way out  — I owned it once before, but then it was stolen from my car. I wonder if the thieves ever listened to it? PHOTOS.

APRIL 20 — M. Ward at the Abbey Pub. Another musician I enjoyed interviewing recently. And as I mentioned before, I am waging a campaign for the recognition of M. Ward’s current supremacy in the musical firmament. So of course I enjoyed this show, which featured Ward playing with a full band, his pals in the group Norfolk & Western. The concert had its share of quiet acoustic moments, but it also rocked, especially with songs such as “Big Boat,” “Vincent O’Brien,” “Four Hours in Washington” and “Sad Sad Song.” It’s nice how much Ward varies his live performances. “Fuel For Fire,” which he played on piano at Schubas in February, was back to being an acoustic guitar song this time around, but with a really well-played harmonica solo added to the intro. His Carter Family cover, “Oh Take Me Back,” which is just a short ditty on Transistor Radio, began with an extended bluesy instrumental section. Despite his renown as a guitarist, Ward felt comfortable enough with his role as frontman to take his hands off the guitar and just sing at times. And at other times, it was possible to hear a tiny bit of the surprising influences he mentioned in my interview with him: Sonic Youth and Firehose. None of his music would be confused with those bands, but at a few of the concert’s loudest moments, he did make some dissonant noise with his electric guitar. Norfolk & Western had its own slot as the first opening act, playing melodic folk rock, followed by Devotchka, which played artsy cabaret music — a little like Calexico, with whistling, violin and accordion Interesting, I thought, though obviously not for all tastes. The crowd seemed to dig it. …Speaking of which, the M. Ward crowd was quite young, and I spotted a Bright Eyes T-shirt. Maybe he’s picking up some fans from his tours with Conor Oberst. PHOTOS.

APRIL 21 — Yo La Tengo at the Vic. You might take it as a bad sign that I kept nodding off during this concert, but I’d put the blame more on lack of sleep than lack of interesting music. Yo La Tengo started off the concert with a long instrumental drone, three keyboards going at once, bearing some similarity to Wilco’s much-hated electronic experimentation on “Less Than You Think.” Personally, I like this kind of thing, in small quantities, at least, and I thought this was a daring way for Yo La Tengo to start off its show. (Plus, it gave me time to catch a few winks.) The trio kept things eclectic at this concert, with punky garage rock, super-hushed mellowness and tropicalia. They even did a little dance routine. Somehow, it all sounds distinctly like Yo La Tengo and no one else. Responding to very enthusiastic applause, the band played three encores. A reminder of what a great band this is. NOW why was this concert on the same night as Chris Stamey at the Abbey Pub? I would have liked to have seen both, and given the fact that Yo La Tengo plays on Stamey’s new CD, you wouldn’t think they’d book shows at the same time. Oh, well…