Monday, September 26, 2011

The Hideout Block Party with Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples and more

By Andrew Hertzberg

(Photos by Shannon Shapiro)
We are officially into autumn, but that doesn’t mean the outdoor music season is over just quite yet. The Hideout celebrated its 15th Block Party this past weekend with a killer lineup, primarily featuring local artists and a myriad of genres. The rains splashed early, but promptly exited right on time as the Guitarkestra headed by Plastic Crimewave Sound (aka, psychmaestro Steve Krakow) filled the cement space between the Hideout and a garbage truck parking lot with a cacophonous drone from 25-30ish guitarists, bassists and at least one violinist (not to mention Dosh on the floor tom and crash). The set lasted about 20 minutes, the musicians underneath a few tents that allowed listeners to walk around. On the surface, the noisy jam may have been a turnoff to some, but conceptually, it broke the conventional barrier between not only audience and performer, but between audience members themselves: with amps facing all different directions, no two people were listening to the same thing, while simultaneously witnessing the same performance. Wrap/warp your mind around that one.

As soon as the experiment was over, White Mystery took the stage with the 1-2-3 punch of "White Mystery," "Power Glove," and "Blood & Venom." The crowd was still filling into the lot, but the siblings White were rocking out the same as if it were a packed basement. Closing with "Take a Walk" (a love letter to Chicago), Francis dropped one of his sticks, only to pick up two and effectively doubling his power, as if he was purposefully trying to destroy his already beaten and battered drumkit. I swear he’s going to play that thing until it falls apart (and maybe a show or two after that). Likewise, with the set finished, Alex ripped off all of her six strings, feedback let loose, before curtsying and exiting the stage.

The Mysterious Whites

Up next was quite the change of pace. Tim Tuten, Hideout co-owner and Chicago Public Schools teacher of 17 years, gave enthusiastic (if not complete on his knees praise) of every artist before they went on. He liked to comment how White Mystery are a product of CPS, as well as the following act, Kids These Days. The group, composed of all recent high school graduates (18-19 year olds), combines elements of jazz, blues, hip-hop and rock into one of the greatest explosions of youthful energy that’s ever combusted. Seriously, no one that young should have the confidence they do. But they have it for good reason. The seven-piece throws in keys and brass, beatboxing and multiple vocalists over the conventional guitar, bass, and drums outfit. Even with all of that going on, they still manage to find unique ways to play with time signatures, in a look-ma-no-hands kind of way. I’ve often wondered what music will sound like created by the generation that has always had everything at the fingertips (via downloading, Spotify, etc.) and this may be one of the first steps. Unrestrained? Maybe. But the talent is there and I’m looking forward to see them develop. If you’re not familiar with them yet, do yourself a favor and check out their EP Hard Times recorded earlier this year.

(The More You Know: all of the people working were volunteers and all proceeds [after costs] go to benefit Rock for Kids and Literacy Works Chicago.)

There are a lot of legends that are still performing today, and it's pretty awful that I don’t really listen to them regularly. That said, Booker T. Jones’ set was fantastic. From "Born Under a Bad Sign" to "Green Onions" and the drummers’ extended rapping breakdown during "Take Me to the River," that set hit on all levels. The sun had finally confirmed it would be out the rest of the day, the blue skies playing in time with Booker’s keys. And what could possibly be put into words about Mavis Staples, the 72-year-old soulstress, opening with the gospel a capella "I Am His and He Is Mine," bringing Andrew Bird on stage to fiddle along to a cover of the Band’s "The Weight," and closing with an extended version of her family’s staple song "I’ll Take You There." My evasion, no, rather, unaccounted for ignorance to soul and blues aside, these were two of the best performances of the day, the classics still holding their ground alongside the contemporaries that can only hope to achieve the respect these artists still hold.

Booker T.

Mavis' Big-Ass Throne
The Block Party nailed things musically, however it still does have some kinks to work out in the food and drink department. Long lines for the latter combined with short supply of the former (food trucks does not for satiation make) turned what could have been the best fucking festival of the year into just a really great festival. By the time Dosh took the stage to play his avant-percussion, experimental set, you could tell the crowd was really just waiting for Bird to play at that point. And then it happened. A 20-foot mesh-gauze whale swam through the crowd (via Opera-matic) with Andrew Bird providing swirling violin in the background. The whale fought its way through the throng and Bird launched into "Dark Matter," Dosh continuing on the drums with full band backing Bird as well (including Bowl of Fire guitarist, Bird's original band, Colin Bunn). A loopless "Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" followed, a song that has never been performed live as it was recorded, as it never should be, the spontaneous tics determining what Bird should sing as opposed to a recreation of the album. The natural cover of "It’s Not Easy Being Green" as Bird became awash in the official Hideout’s color of green light was followed by a looping "Plasticities" and I couldn’t help but think a thought that should have hit me sooner: Andrew Bird’s loop pedal, the Loop: is Andrew Bird the defining Chicago musician?

Birds' Whale
Switching things up, Paloma Carrasco, the winner of last year’s Rock For Kids scholarship came on stage to perform "La Cigarra," a Spanish folk song, with Bird and Bunn. Following, we were treated to new material such as "Give it Away" and "Lusitania," mellower, folky tunes that don’t quite hit the peak of his catalog (Mysterious Production of Eggs in my opinion) or branch too far out, but were pleasant enough, if not too complacent. The new record is supposed to be out in March of next year and feature longtime cohort Nora O’Connor on vocals as well. More new material featured another original Bowl of Fire member, drummer Kevin O’Donnell who played his kit on the opposite side of the stage from Dosh. Bird closed his set out with "Tables and Chairs" before encoring with a cover of the Handsome Family’s "So Much Wine." By that time, the crowd had begun to dissipate quite a bit, the folk tale lingering between the garbage trucks, power lines and industrial wasteland that surrounded us that day. 

With so many festivals in this city over a summer in so many different capacities, with such different philosophies, it’s impossible to decree a "best." But needless to say, the Hideout Block Party did its job by maintaining a unique atmosphere, providing diverse music and attracting some of the coolest people around. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never been to a show at Hideout proper. But going to this festival and better understanding the working-class and artistic philosophies the proprietors expound, I am certainly making it a point to be further involved. If like me you are unfamiliar with Hideout, I hope reading this has kindled something in you or at least piqued your curiosity enough to want to check it out. I will for sure make it a point to support a wonderful Chicago establishment, and I hope you will too.


  1. What, were you standing in line for a taco and a beer when Jon Langford performed? Langford, Sally Timms, and the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus were flipping fantastic. Great write up!

  2. Admittedly, I wasn't in a line, but I was in the back of the lot only half paying attention, felt it was better to say nothing than just a line like 'Langford played 'Delilah' with a choir, that was cool.' He's definitely also on that list of artists that I should be more familiar with by now. I was getting food and drinks for the Eternals though. Great band, but sometimes a writers' gotta eat!

  3. Nice write-up, dude! You pretty much took the words out of my mouth when you said "we were treated to new material such as 'Give it Away' and 'Lusitania,' mellower, folky tunes that don’t quite hit the peak of his catalog (Mysterious Production of Eggs in my opinion) or branch too far out, but were pleasant enough, if not too complacent."

    Also: sorry you missed the Eternals; they were awesome, just as great as anything else that happened all day.

    And also: seriously dude, you should go to the Hideout for shows! It's probably my favorite place in town.

  4. Hi...

    I figured that fans of Andrew Bird would want to know that on the NORMAN movie Facebook page, there are two exclusive Andrew Bird tracks from the upcoming soundtrack release. These tracks are not available anywhere else and will only be posted until October 3.

    NORMAN is an award-winning film; a funny, yet intelligent and deeply felt portrayal of a troubled high-school teenager. We're working with To Write Love On Her Arms and others to use the film as a way to raise awareness about teen depression and suicide, the 3rd leading cause of death for 18-24 year old Americans!

    Here's the link to the tracks:

    Thanks so much.

    the NORMAN crew

  5. I've got a recording up of the Andrew Bird set from Hideout Block Party 2011 at I should be posting some of the other sets (Enternals, Langford, Booker T, Mavis) over the next few weeks.