Hideout Block Party

[24 October 2008]

By Rory O'Connor

The Hideout has long been considered a Chicago institution of the highest order. The first time I encountered the venue/bar I had the same approximate epiphany as the first time I stepped into Wrigley Field: “This is how it is supposed to be.” Whether you are attending your annual concert or if you are a daily drinker is of little consequence as it greets you with the same warm tone, one of familiarity. So it really comes as no surprise that their yearly festival exudes that same inviting atmosphere for people of all ages. Considering some of the more high profile festivals that passed through Chicago this summer, the Hideout Block Party is refreshingly relaxed and easy to manage. This particular year the 12th annual Hideout Block Party teamed with the World Music Festival, resulting in the most eclectic lineup to come to the city this festival season. 

Day One - Saturday

Giant Sand was the first band of the weekend for me and it was a good starting point in many ways. Giant Sand serves as the musical vehicle for Tucson based singer-songwriter Howe Gelb. The backing musicians have changed often over the years and at one time included two that went on to form the band Calexico. Of all the music that would pervade the festival grounds over the next two days, Giant Sand’s sound was probably the closest to the normal Hideout aesthetic, with Gelb’s slightly skewed take on dusty, desert country. It was a shame that the set occurred so early in the day when most of the festival crowd had yet to arrive.

Hailing from Budapest, Hungary Little Cow gave the crowd their first taste of the World Music Festival inclusion and a slightly dubious intro it was. Their music was sprinkled with hints of the band’s origin but, by and large, they came across like a fairly bland American rock band. They provided ample energy to grab on to, but it ended up feeling like some glorified bar band and left me wondering just where they fit in to the Budapest music scene.

The highlight, in terms of crowd banter, was supplied by England’s Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, which features the collaboration between rapper Scroobius Pip and producer Dan le Sac. A recent 0.2 album rating doled out by a Chicago based music website provided ample fuel for Scroobius Pip to rail against. The first half of their set was interspersed with excerpts of other reviews by the critic responsible for the duo’s scathing review. The crowd was then asked to guess which band the critic was reviewing by the quotes provided. While a 0.2 seems incredibly exaggerated, I had a little difficulty finding a sincere interest in anything past the comedic element of the band.

While there is much to be said and respected about the existence of Prague’s The Plastic People of the Universe (some of which includes years of government persecution under Soviet rule that resulted in jail time for a couple of members) their performance failed to hold my attention and I slowly made my way out of the area.

As I made my way back for the next performance I noticed the drums and amps were set up on the ground rather than the stage and there was a definite sense of something permeating the air. Shortly before the set was to begin people slowly began to creep in close around the band, creating a little circle in which

Monotonix was to play, but they had no intention of allowing us to determine their stage. Monotonix is a three piece from Israel, consisting of drums, guitar, and vocal, and from the moment they started pandemonium struck the entire festival lot. They not only blurred the lines between band and audience, they trampled it into submission. The music almost became an afterthought to the pure spectacle; in fact, thinking back, I can hardly recall the music at all. The audience became a battle zone, as one had no idea what direction the show would be taken next. After the singer crowd surfed in a garbage can and the band relocated the drum set several times, the show culminated with the drummer hoisted up on his kick drum to perform a crude solo in a crowd surfing fashion. It would be the standout performance amongst several bizarre performances of the weekend.

The tone of the day changed along with the sun, which began to recede and cast a red hue across the stage. The imagery that might be evoked from Black Mountain’s name actually serves as a suitable primer for what this Canadian group delivers. Their songs are steeped in dark, heavy riffs that can be equally atmospheric as they can be aggressive. No matter what the tone, though, the music has a way of lulling you into its brooding presence. While this music thrives best in dark cavernous spaces, it was an interesting contrast to see and hear it placed out in open air with daylight still lingering.

While repression seemed to be ingrained in the history of many of the world music musicians featured over the course of the two days, none of it hit quite as close to home as it did for African musician, Vieux Farka Toure. Vieux, the son of African great Ali Farka Toure, was actually forbidden by his father to become a musician himself. Not until after the insistence of other musicians to allow his son to play did it fully come to fruition. Vieux plays guitar with an ease and smoothness that seems to come from an innate understanding of the craft.

The first night closed with a homecoming of sorts as Neko Case, the reigning queen of alt-country, took to the stage for her first of two weekend performances (she was also set to perform with the New Pornographers on the following day). Not only was Case a one-time resident of the city but she also spent time slinging drinks behind the Hideout bar. With a voice that is capable of being angelic or dark, elegiac or uplifting, it never fails to captivate and leave its mark. Her voice always seems to soar and fill whatever space it is given and she had a lot of space to fill as the festival crowd swelled to close out day one.

Day Two - Sunday

Oklahoma’s The Uglysuit kicked off my day on Sunday, and their well-polished songs came as a complete surprise. With the help of three guitars, the band casts a rather large, anthemic sound that seems above their stature as a band and ready-made for stadiums.

I am not quite sure where to begin in describing Tim Fite. Hailing from New York, he combines absurd hip-hop lyrics, often comical but sometimes just absurd, with found music samples, all the while looking like some early 20th century Southern salesman selling tonic. While the show can be entertaining—it is hard not to crack a smile—it slowly starts to feel like pure novelty and begins to lose its appeal with each successive song.

It really wouldn’t be the Hideout Block Party without Chicago’s Mucca Pazza making an appearance. A self proclaimed circus punk marching band, they can be found gracing the Hideout stage at regular intervals throughout the year. About 20 or so members strong, the show began in the audience as little pockets of the group could be seen and heard throughout the festival grounds. They eventually all made their way to the stage to perform what could best be described as choreographed chaos. Like Tim Fite before them, they are a bit of a novelty item themselves, but the sheer magnitude of the group and choreographed routine is more than enough to hold an audience for a full set.

Similar in tone to Black Mountain the day before, but a bit more sprawling and ramshackle, Dark Meat took the stage following Mucca Pazza. With the members all donning face paint they played a set of intensely trippy rock.

After a set by Robbie Fulks, which turned out to be some peculiar Michael Jackson tribute that I wish I had not subjected myself to (although the collection of zombies decked out in full costume for the “Thriller: performance did make me wish I was up closer to witness the mayhem for that song), the The New Pornographers took to the stage. Surely the most successful band in the lineup, at least commercially, I am not entirely clear why they were not in the final slot for the day. Their positioning was of little importance once they began, though. The lineup included Neko Case in her second performance of the weekend, but was without Dan Bejar, which left me with no regrets on the matter. The collective’s seasoned sound really stood out among the days acts and it is impossible to not be pulled into their hook laden songs.

Closing the weekend out for me was New York’s Ratatat, a guitar and bass duo that combine electronic music with hard rock riffs to create a serious groove. Their live show consisted largely of both musicians cloaked in darkness while playing in front of a huge screen projecting video images. Flitting from feeling like a DJ set one moment and an‘80s metal show the next, the band’s musical mix provided the perfect kind of closure to a summer of varied outdoor festivals that brought an abundance of different musical styles to Chicago.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/hideout-block-party/