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Review Mon Sep 19 2011

Review: Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements

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Bomba Estéreo (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Last weekend welcomed the inaugural Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements festival to West Town's Eckhart Park, a combination carnival/music festival/circus/vaudeville show. The park was separated with two tents — the Criss/Cross Tent with live music and the Magic City Tent with several circus and cabaret acts. Between the tents lie an assortment of carnival games and rides, a smaller version of the Renegade Craft Fair, and a few wandering jugglers and other performers.

Brilliant Corners certainly didn't lack in entertainment, but was strangely absent in attendees. The crowd was sparse throughout the entire weekend, and Sunday's rain showers certainly didn't help. Over the course of the weekend I mentioned the festival to several people I know who would probably enjoy seeing Shellac or Dan Deacon or School of Seven Bells in a circus tent, and not one person had even heard of it. The festival had two entrances off Chicago Ave, but I did not see any sort of sign facing the street that a festival was going on inside the park.

As I've mentioned before, their ticketing system was a bit confusing and they should have offered some sort of all-inclusive weekend pass. The music tent was $20 per day and $15 per circus act (with the tent being cleared out between acts). If you wanted to check out a couple circus acts and a few music sets, that would set you back $50 per day, not including the cost of rides, games, and food. As it was a family-oriented event, that would have set back a family of four $200, which seems a bit steep for this smaller, more laid-back festival.

Friday, September 16, 2011

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Bomba Estéreo (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Due to having a 9-5 I wasn't able to attend the entirety of Friday's festivities, though I did catch sets from Bomba Estéreo and Sidi Touré, two performances brought to us by the Chicago World Music Festival. Colombian band Bomba Estéreo describe themselves as "electro tropica". Singer Liliana Saumet reminded me of a Spanish-speaking rap-infused Karen O, between her loud outfit (a large colorful knit poncho over black spandex leggings and leopard-print boots) and magnetic stage presence. They drew a largely Latin crowd, who pretty much went nuts over every song. Mali-born songwriter Sidi Touré hit the stage next with a much more mellow set, which at first created a disinterested and bored crowd. Unfazed, the singer and his band soon won them over, between stepping out in front of the mic to dance for the audience and playing their (from what I've read in his bio, mostly handmade) instruments above their heads.

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Sidi Touré (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

According to their website, Brilliant Corners aimed to "create a distinct environment that allows a wide audience to be entertained with the most creative ideas and performers regardless of genre", and that was ever-so-apparent in Saturday night's music line-up. The evening began with the haunting vocals of Dark Dark Dark's Nona Marie Invie, who started the set on the accordion and eventually worked her way behind the piano. With her pulled-back hair and oversized glasses, Nona Marie Invie looks a bit more like a librarian than a musician, but is completely mesmerizing on stage. The band's darker lyrics explore themes of desperation and heartache, and their gloomy music was apropos for an outdoor festival in chilly September weather.

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Nona Marie Invie of Dark Dark Dark (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

The mood quickly shifted as Charles Bradley, the "Screaming Eagle of Soul", hit the stage. Donning a silver jumpsuit and sequined vest, Charles Bradley didn't just entertain the crowd, he made love to us. Charles is certainly a true performer, gyrating and thrusting his hips toward the audience, beckoning certain crowd members, swinging his mic and belting out frequent screams and yelps. He concluded his set by jumping out into the audience to shake hands or hug almost every single person who stuck around for his set. The dance floor saw some more action as School of Seven Bells closed out the night with their electronic-infused dream-pop tunes. Once a trio, now a duo, the band made up for what they lacked in members with textured sounds and stunning lights. This is a band with style, with their futuristic haircuts matching their futuristic music.

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Charles Bradley (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

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School of Seven Bells (photo by Kirstie Shanley)


Sunday, September 18, 2011

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Cloudbirds (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Sunday's rain caused a bit of a disruption in the music line-up. The scheduled second stage, which was not tented, had been canceled. Fool's Gold were supposed to open the tented Criss/Cross Tent, but were mysteriously missing. Instead, second stage headliners Cloudbirds took their place. By their own admission the band typically maps out their set list directly before each show, so their bumped up set time meant they had to pause between each song to discuss what they would play next. Under different circumstances I might have really enjoyed Cloudbirds but I had come to the festival pumped up to see Fool's Gold and Dan Deacon in a circus tent, so I just wasn't feeling their sleepier set. In fact, the most thrilling part of their performance was when a displaced performer from the circus tent rode through the crowd on a tricycle, ringing his bell and hooting.

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Dan Deacon (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

Luckily Dan Deacon sure knows how to elevate the energy level in a room (or tent). He eschewed the stage in favor of setting up shop directly on the grass so he could be on the same level as the crowd. Dan started the night with a dance contest, with one half of the room instructed the dance like characters from James Cameron's Avatar and the other half like the mom in the movie Big. Next we were told that we had all been contracted with a deadly disease, and one person had found the cure. We were instructed to spread the cure one by one, until the entire crowd ended up dancing in a circle. Finally we all formed a human tunnel for people to dance underneath, which led out the exits and ended with the entire crowd outside the tent and Dan playing alone inside. Dan doesn't hesitate to single you out if you are not participating, so eventually even the most smug of characters will get involved.

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"Human Bridge" at Dan Deacon set which stretched outside the tent
(photo by Kirstie Shanley)

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A Lull (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

At this point, the food vendors and craft fair had called it quits for the night, and the lounge area had also been torn down. However, the Criss/Cross tent was hopping as A Lull and Shellac drew the largest crowds I'd seen all weekend. Live, A Lull sounds a lot more rock-oriented than what I've heard of their experimental, almost tribal-sounding recorded music. Somehow I had never seen Shellac live before Brilliant Corners, but what from what I've heard of their live performance, I was expecting to be blown away. They didn't disappoint. The music is brutal and in your face, and the band themselves are maniacally all over the place, bouncing around on stage. Always playful, the band would interrupt songs and start playing in slow motion, or start cracking knock knock jokes between songs. Steve Albini may get a lot of flack for his opinionated outbursts, but the man knows how to write a good song.

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Steve Albini of Shellac (photo by Kirstie Shanley)

It's a shame Brilliant Corners didn't draw larger crowds, because the festival was actually quite fun and, musically speaking, offered a wide variety of acts. I even braved one of the carnival rides to get in the festival spirit, and ended up strapped into a large metal wheel called the 'Zero Gravity' machine. One couldn't help but chuckle a bit when walking through the festival grounds and hearing a singular "Woo! Woo!" coming from the sky, as the rides typically had only one or two paying customers at a time. It is odd to describe a circus tent as an intimate setting, but with the small crowds it certainly felt intimate, which made the experience all the more special. Tucked away and hidden from view, Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements was the Secret Garden of festivals.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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