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Review Sun Jul 26 2015

Wicker Park Fest - Saturday in Review

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Unlike Pitchfork last weekend, the sun shined during Wicker Park Fest during its Saturday lineup. Better yet, the festival is free (with the option of donating $5), offering plenty of opportunities to get up close to see some of the upcoming bands of tomorrow, and the classics of today.

The smell of pulled pork and Jamaican jerk wafted Milwaukee Avenue--the diagonal artery of Wicker Park. As food trucks and vintage vendors lined the middle of the street, this year's Fest felt especially bohemian. It felt like a place where Robert Mapplethorpe would have found his long coats and necklaces among the nooks in this historic neighborhood.

Sponsored by Wild Turkey and Lagunitas, the festival includes three stages with plenty of options in between. People who waved signs that read "FREE HUGS" welcomed festival-goers, big canvasses and colorful paints entertained some who mingled among the site's stages, and plenty of beer and wine tents resupplied the attendees on this sunny day. In short, Wicker Park Fest feels like an adult playground.

One of the afternoon's highlights included Beverly, an indie-rock outfit fronted by guitarist Drew Citron and backed by Frankie Rose, who had played in Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls. With ample reverb and fuzz, they played in the pocket, not missing a note nor a beat.

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Afterward, on the far side of the festival, the Chicago-born but Boston-based musicians of Krill performed new material. With guitar bends and neurotic lyrics, they sound like early Modest Mouse, but with more prog-influences in their shifting time signatures and tempos. New material or old, seeing the energy move on stage made their performance a spectacle--especially as their drummer gleamed with a smile each time they transitioned between different sections of their songs.

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Open Mike Eagle said he doesn't like dancing, but he wanted everyone's hands in the air, "because this shit's important." This Chicago-born solo-artist has toured with Aesop Rock and was featured as Impose Magazine's Rapper of the Year for 2013. Cracking jokes and a smile in between or in the middle of songs as he rapped over his recordings and loops onstage, this artist has been called a rap's comedic genius by Vice Magazine.

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Yoko & the Oh No's played rock 'n' roll while their lead singer dressed in a skimpy outfit with a spiked collar. And down the festival was the local band The O'My's playing Chicago soul. They showed off their blues roots as well as more contemporary hip-hop influences. Their horns helped lift the melody above the festival grounds while they played feel-good music that isn't saturated or sugarcoated.

Grand Rapids natives Heaters played a set that could be at a Ken Kesey acid test. Fast, psychedelic, and with wet reverberated vocals, they sounded very like a quintessential rock 'n' roll band beneath their guitar effects. One of the guitarist's face was obscured by his long black hair before signing into the mic from too much head-bopping. Fans at the front moved to the beat while lighting cigarettes, as if creating a smoke screen in front of the band's hazy vocals.

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But the sound at Wicker Park Fest wasn't top-notch, and toward the evening the crowd got a too chatty to hear some of the bands well. The Fest's location between the buildings of Milwaukee Avenue didn't help, as they narrowed the crowd while not containing the sound well. It's worth noting that some of these more psychedelic, spacious bands--like Heaters--often sound better with indoor acoustics.

Nonetheless, it's a free festival, so there isn't much to complain about.

Besides sporting a great band name, We Were Promised Jetpacks revved up the crowd with classics such as "Quiet Little Voices." This Scottish post-punk band sounds reminiscent of the last decade's Interpol and the Killers, or like their label mates, Frightened Rabbit. At the end of their set, crowds waited for Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires to fill up the neighborhood with soul.

Once the sun had set, the 66-year-old man delivered funk and R&B as if we were witnessing the early '70s. Echoing Motown, his vocals emulated the delivery of Otis Redding. He looks like a dour man, but perhaps he borrows this look from James Brown after he saw him perform in the early '60s as a child. He began as a James Brown impersonator in the '90s, but while he is singing an older style of music today, it is uniquely his own.

Horns and Hammond organs spruced up the sound in one direction with classics such as "Lovin' You, Baby" and "Heartaches and Pain," while in the other, toward the stage where Blonde Redhead was getting ready to play, was the silhouette of the Willis (Sears) Tower illuminated by the city's skyline.

And if Bradley awoke the souls of Wicker Park, then Blonde Redhead lulled them with dreamy vocals and lush textures. With equal parts noise and pop, the band played songs old and new, such as "23" and "Dr. Strangeluv" off of their 2007 release 23, and "BarrĂ¡gan" from their last album of the same name in September.

The festival covered a lot of ground, especially with a lot of indie-rock acts. With a few touches of soul and funk, the festival kept the city's historic blues and R&B sound in mind.

The Wicker Park neighborhood may have a young vibe, but the crowd was diverse in every way. Neighborhood families gathered as well as the young locals, and people from other sides of Chicago trekked their way to see free bands. By nighttime, the streets were packed, and shuffling from stage-to-stage took a lot of following the lines of people. It wasn't just the bands who made the night electric, but also the people.

 
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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.

Read this feature »

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