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.
I missed Catfish Haven and Baby Teeth, but showed up in time for the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. The band practically invited comparisons to Belle & Sebastian with its name, and its orchestrally twee pop music featuring alternating male and female vocals. But, hey, the songs are strong, so who cares if it’s not totally original? The band fits in well with the other big, quasi-orchestral ensembles of the moment, like Head of Femur (who played next on the same stage) or even the Arcade Fire.
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.