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Transmission
« Hideout Block Party & A.V. Fest: Day One Review Riot Fest Day Three: Up the Punx »

Hideout Block Party Tue Sep 18 2012

Hideout Block Party & A.V. Fest: Day Two Review

Day 2
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Day two of the Hideout Block Party and A.V. Fest. Seventy-five degrees and sunny, the sky wide and blue, like in those ads for Montana. I arrived at 11:30 a.m. when doors opened, and killed time in the VIP lounge with free bottles of Fred water, which aren't round but flat like a flask, and so resemble liquor that during his set Lawrence Peters looked out at the crowd and said it looked like we were all drinking straight vodka.

Given that this is Chicago, Wilco was always going to be the weekend's main deal. Friday night's headliner, Iron & Wine, is great, and folks swarmed Millennium Park last summer when they played a free show at the Pritzker Pavilion. But Wilco is Chicago royalty. Cooler than Rahm, nicer than Kanye, more loyal than Oprah. Plus, the band has made no secret of the fact that they love the Hideout, and vice versa. Until Wilco, though, Saturday was a day of kick-ass women -- Corin Tucker, Jenn Wasner, Kelly Hogan, Natalie Bergman (who, along with her wolfman brother, Elliot, easily won Sexiest Brother/Sister Act).

The main thing to know about the Hideout Block Party is that to enjoy it, you really have to appreciate music. It's not a place to dance -- electronic, hip hop, and rap are noticeably absent from the lineup -- and the acts usually aren't trending on Twitter. You either have to love good music or really enjoy the act of trading things for other things. Your bike for a valet ticket. Your bag for another. Your PIN number for cash, your cash for beer tickets, and those beer tickets for beer. You trade your place up by the stage for a seat in the shade and give that up when you want to see the next band. The cycle ends only after the final note soaks into the pavement, and you reclaim your bag and bike with empty pockets and sail down Elston, like a grifter into the night.
-Timothy Schuler

Early on Day 2
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Lawrence Peters Outfit

Fellow reporter Sarah Brooks and I spent the majority of Lawrence Peter's Saturday set lamenting the number of people privy to it. I counted 34, including us and the photogs. Maybe I'm biased, too faithful to the honky-tonk in me, but this brand of "unruined country" music should've brought more folks out. Peters is a native of Kansas, like me, so even without being familiar with him, I knew his music. It's what I played every Tuesday night at my friend Nick's house, with his dad and all his dad's friends just 80 miles from where Peters originally made a name for himself as a songwriter and washboard player.

Peters and his "outfit" mostly played songs from What You Been Missin', their 2011 self-released album. At least one of the appeals of this type of music — a type of country that has little in common to that stuff being played by Kenny Chesney or Taylor Swift (who isn't even trying anymore, let's be real) — is its simplicity. Between Peters, his two guitarists, and the bass player, they only used about 15 strings, two wire brushes, and one drum. That's about 20 strings, countless piano keys, tons of prerecorded sound effects, and about fourteen hundred drums less than what Wilco would use later. It was a great way to start the day, if only more people had been around to hear it.
-Timothy Schuler

Waco Brothers
Photo by Joshua Mellin

The Waco Brothers featuring Paul Burch

Saturday appeared as glorious a day as ever. Not a cloud was in sight with near perfect average temperatures, as festivalgoers slowly gathered to the Hideout Block Party & A.V. Fest's lone but monumental stage. While at the start, as previously mentioned, the venue appeared hollow, yet as time went on individuals began to gradually fill the void, until the sound was reverberating from body to body, rather than bouncing off of the industrial spaces in the background.

After the Lawrence Peters Outfit got the crowd grooving with their honky-tonk feel, the legendary native Waco Brothers took the stage. Wearing varying shades of red to support the Chicago Teachers Union, this exuberant fighting spirit continued throughout the set. One of the many reasons I love the Hideout Block Party is its emphasis on everything local. Most of the bands at the fest each year are either from Chicago, or have their roots here. John Langford, hailing from various outfits as The Mekons and Pine Valley Cosmonauts, clearly displays the spirit of being truly in his element when the music is playing, especially in this city. Right from the get go, their set can only be described as addictively fun. Each of the band members looked as they were just having the time of their lives, from standing on amps, to headbanging, to thrashing around on stage, their alternative rock sound got everyone dancing and clapping to the beat (and, might I mention, this was the loudest set of the fest perhaps, but no one minded).

Paul Burch
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Nashvillian Paul Burch joined them for their set, and his collaboration with the Brothers on "Great Chicago Fire" and country croon made a great addition for the set. Their take on George Jones' "White Lightning" had everyone yelling an exuberant "woohooo!" along with the Brothers. It was a return to a modern day saloon, a country western dance party where all were invited, and I could not think of a more delightful way to start the day off.
-Sarah Brooks

Kelly Hogan
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Kelly Hogan

The Hideout Block Party and A.V. Fest is immensely different than most other festivals I've been to. There's just something in the air. Opportunity, innovation, emerging local talent. Maybe it's the passion I hear in Tim Tuten's voice every time he introduced an artist during the fest's two-day stretch, or the spirit of the Hideout's founding that makes it one of, if not the most, eccentric venue we have in this town. But beyond that, at this festival you truly get a sense of the Hideout family. A community of artists that truly care about each other, and the betterment of the music scene in Chicago and beyond.

Kelly Hogan is a close member of the Hideout family. As a bartender at the Hideout for 10 years and a performer with many ensembles including jazz group The Wooden Leg, and a backup singer for Neko Case, Hogan's powerful voice compelled her into the music scene. Her set was special and precious, as the audience watched her triumphant return home to a place she loves so much. She emerged onstage wearing a black long-sleeved dress (it was 75 degrees and sunny, mind you) and high heels with socks (ouch). Self-deprecating humor regarding her new album title I Like To Keep Myself In Pain in response to her outfit got the audience chuckling, and we soon became captivated by her sardonic wit. Her voice was just as enchanting during the set. Booming far past the barbed wire fence, past the rows of garbage trucks, and into the main streets bustling with passersby, I'm sure you could hear Kelly Hogan when strolling by that day, and let me tell you, it would stop you right in your tracks. I actually got chills during many of her songs, as her voice reached a pivotal note that was so laden with feeling that you knew she was giving the song her absolute all, such as in ballad "Golden," soulful and moving.

Kelly Hogan 2
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Singing many songs off her new album, including ballad turned sing-a-long "Haunted," she also delighted the crowd with a cover of Vic Chestnutt's "Ways of the World." Her conviction and passion for the music that she creates filled the air, coaxing a smile upon many faces in the crowd. Her powerhouse set caused the lot to fill until there was just enough room to sway. It felt like a family reunion, as each one of us were invited into her world, with the Hideout our makeshift home.

There's no better way to express the Hideout spirit present in the crowd during that hour Saturday afternoon, so I'll let Kelly Hogan speak for herself: "I've always said that my goals in life is to 'make the world smaller.' Make it so all kinds of folks can be in the same room together, knit ourselves together with music and alcohol -- forget race, politics, sex, religion -- and find common ground in our universal weirdness. Our humanness. The Hideout is that place for me."
-Sarah Brooks

Corin Tucker
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Corin Tucker Band

Every Hideout Block Party has its diva. Last year's was gospel legend Mavis Staples, who even had a throne. (I'm happy to report the throne still exists, in all its gold-lacquered glory.) This year's diva was Corin Tucker, with her purposeful lack of presence, her non-prancing, her refusal to woo anybody who wanted anything other than her music. Case in point: When the sound guy had to swap out a cord, Tucker was armed with zero banter. A few cliché lines about the smell of the tour van and a lame joke about a jalapeño was all the group could muster. The Corin Tucker Band plays its music -- nothing else. Which is a bona fide diva mentality. Not that anyone minded; they were beside themselves about seeing the former guitarist of Sleater-Kinney, the riot grrrl band that also gave us Carrie Brownstein, now famous for "Portlandia" and the band Wild Flag. Tucker certainly didn't disappoint Sleater-Kinney fans and earned some new ones in the process, peddling that '90s punk sound and drummer Sara Lund driving every song, playing defiantly, daring anyone to say this music's no longer relevant.
-Timothy Schuler

Wild Belle
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Wild Belle

Alright readers, I'm going to be honest. I had never heard of Wild Belle or listened to their music before coming to the fest. Sometimes it's more fun to be caught off guard, surprised, with no expectations present, no wheels turning in my head before their music began.

Wild Belle completely subverted my rather nonexistent expectations. I could tell they seemed a bit nervous on stage and new to performance in a festival setting. Despite this, once lead singer Natalie Bergman began the first song's opening lyrics, her confident voice was reminiscent of Amy Winehouse's soulful vocals, with the reach of Adele and the funky vibe of Santigold, all mixed up into one interesting and dynamic sound. Her jazzy style combined well with the band's backing, combining her brother Elliot Bergman's riffs with calypso beats and reggae rhythms. This created an interesting juxtaposition between her sultry lounge style vocals with their hybrid electronica-tribal beats. If you're looking for an interesting new band to take a listen to, this would be it. The fresh, breezy vibe given off by this group was enough to keep us smiling throughout the duration of their set, and I'm sure that they will be sticking around for quite some time.
-Sarah Brooks

Wye Oak
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Wye Oak

Baltimore's dark dream-folk duo Wye Oak had a tough slot on Saturday. An evening start time means a bigger audience, but it also means you have to follow ladies like Kelly Hogan, Corin Tucker, and Natalie Bergman, all of whom have voices that could seduce the deaf. Luckily, Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner didn't have to go it alone; she had Andy Stack, who plays drums with one hand and keyboards with another. Wasner once told NPR that the first few shows the band played, the audience didn't realize how many things Stack was doing (he sometimes adds bass and operates electronics and loops, while still playing drums and keys).

Wye Oak 2
Photo by Joshua Mellin

That's what happened to me. For one reason or another, Wye Oak was midway through its set before I actually looked up at the stage, and I couldn't believe how full a sound two people were able to make. That sound is dark, like those mornings you wake up to find a storm about to hit, and it's melancholy like the rainy day that follows. What it's not is sappy, or self-pitying. The band prefers the thunderstorm and knows how to push the boundaries of indie rock, manipulating time and song structure until each tune has at least one surprising moment. I'll definitely catch Wye Oak the next time they come through Chicago, hopefully late at night at a small, musty club.
-Timothy Schuler

Lee Fields
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Lee Fields & the Expressions

A big fan of the soul genre, I was really looking forward to Lee Fields & The Expressions' near headlining set. The crowd had filled, many Lagunitas beverages had been consumed by festival attendees, and it was the perfect time to bust a move with Lee Fields as our leader.

Emerging after a lengthy instrumental intro, Lee Fields was all smiles, clad in an outfit featuring a yellow and black plaid vest, with matching jacket. He brought the energy the second he stepped on stage and asked, "Chicago, are you ready to party!?" Apparently, by the fact that people were dancing intensely the entire hour of his set, we absolutely were. He expressed his love for this city, and after seeing the crowd's reaction to his performance, this city loves him, too. The space that was available and unclaimed at the start of the day was minimized, leaving just enough room to sway, wave our hands in the air and head nod along with the Expressions' funky beats.

Lee Fields had a smirk plastered on his face the entire time, exasperated during "Ladies" in which his Casanova spirit shined through, as he pointed at women in the front row of the crowd, asked their name, and used improvisation to create new sections of his familiar soul ballad. Wailing into songs like "I Got It," until an almost pained expression reached his face, Fields brought the soul vibe and kept it coming. Real subjects present in "Money is King" and "Faithful Man" hit me at my core, and I wished his set would go on longer. Its no surprise that his career has spanned almost four decades as he has toured with various soul greats, collaborated with many more, and inevitably, created music that is a legacy all his own.
-Sarah Brooks

Wilco
Photo by Joshua Mellin

Wilco

I'd seen Wilco once before, five or six years ago at Austin City Limits, but I was excited for Wilco in Chicago, especially Wilco in Chicago at the Hideout. I figured there couldn't a better venue, and at the first boom of the cannoning drums, my heart rate about doubled. Glenn Kotche's powerhouse lead-in to "Misunderstood" is one I have memorized beat for beat, every cymbal crash and fill. It's one of, if not my favorite Wilco song, and there's a live version of it recorded at the Vic in 2005. As on that recording, on Saturday the line "You still love rock and roll" got cheers and applause and a thousand voices singing along when he sung it again.

Things only got better. The set list spanned the past 18 years, from recent single "Born Alone" to "Kamera" off the acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to "I Must Be High" from their 1995 debut. A woman puked next to me and then collapsed in it during "Impossible Germany." I spotted two of my friends dancing during "Handshake Drugs." And it was during the Theremin-like warbling on "Sunken Treasure" that the lighting design began to steal the show.

During the day, the weird stage backdrop seemed morbid. Ropes hung straight down from the roof of the stage, maybe fifteen across and several rows deep, cut at different lengths. Fastened to the ropes were white cloths, tied so that they formed a bulb and then hung loose, like a hundred tiny ghost costumes with no one in them, or child-size Ku Klux Klan hoods -- doubly disturbing by the way they swayed in the wind like bodies strung up from a tree. But at night, in the clean, white light, the cloths shimmered, and then they began to glow too. They lit up independently in a spectral array that came and went, like a slow, lazy lightning storm, or like giant fireflies trapped in the jar of the Chicago sky. The power for the lights actually went out during the second set, and the band just kept playing in the dark (the sound equipment still had power). Tweedy's reaction, in this dust-dry tone, "Lights are nice... but we don't need 'em."

That's Tweedy's style. He's an anti-star, performing none of the expected front-man antics; if Mattel manufactured a Jeff Tweedy action figure, the only moving part they'd need is the right elbow joint, so it could strum the interchangeable guitars that came with it.

Wilco's Jeff Tweedy
Photo by Joshua Mellin

I could go on and on, but it's impossible to really capture the evening. How you feel about a live show depends on about 25 factors: previous knowledge of performer, proximity to stage, color of wristband, level of sobriety (closely related to the previous -- orange VIP bracelets meant free drinks), number in party, fullness of bladder, general excitement for live music divided by general excitement for live music at outdoor festivals, and so on. My experience -- mostly sober despite an orange wristband, a modest fan, and decently close to the stage -- was that Wilco's performance on Saturday was unlike anything I'd ever seen. I'm sure some ardent fans will quibble with the set list; others may fault them for sounding too similar to themselves, this show too much like the last. But if you're a reasonable human being with two ears and a brain, then you can appreciate watching six unassuming and yet extremely talented people play a bunch of catchy, cool songs really, really well.

If I had to pick a favorite moment, it would've been the performance of "Art of Almost," off last year's Grammy-nominated The Whole Love. It's probably the most atmospheric thing Wilco's ever written, which meant the song and the lights and the Chicago skyline became this trifecta of sensory experiences, a mesmerizing ten-minute-long interlude that stood out from everything else they played. I'm hopeful that this means future Wilco material still has the chance to be great, and that 18 years is, despite all odds, still just the beginning.
-Timothy Schuler

 
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Matt / October 9, 2012 5:31 PM

I was there with a group of eight or 10 friends and we're all still buzzing from Saturday's fantastic line-up. (And Friday's too!) Thanks to Timothy and Sarah for this great review.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

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