Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Piñata Recording Artists Go To Hideout Block Party in Chicago: Saturday

Black Diet's Jonathan Tolliver and Southside Desire's Damien Tank went to Chicago last weekend for the annual Hideout Block Party (also called AV Fest, due to its recent synnnergy with the AV Club). They both wrote about their experience, so we'll publish both of them. Here's what they witnessed on Saturday.
Jonathan's Saturday:

Day 2 started with a bang. And by that I mean Damien woke up early to take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood, and I threw up a lot after getting out of the shower. The Flat Iron shan't be trusted. After a short recovery period, we met up with my old roommate Frank for brunch at my favorite spot, The Silver Cloud.

Chicago doesn't get enough credit for their bikeability.

As I trepidatiously danced around my eggs, Damien and I came up with a plan for the day. We knew the first band we wanted to check out, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s new project, The Both, hit the stage around 5, so we budgeted time enough to do some window shopping and check out another Walgreens, cause that’s a hobby of mine. Damien isn’t weird like that. He probably is, just in other ways.
That Walgreens had a concierge.
Weed snack truck on Wicker Park.

When we arrived at the grounds, we noticed that it was far more populated than when we’d arrived around the same time yesterday. Certainly Aimee and Ted are a big draw, but this amount of people was a surprise, especially considering that this was a new project. And boy did it come off that way.

I like both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, but they struggled that day. Songs sounded under-arranged and there were sound issues throughout. While at first their jokes about their own errors were playful and relieved some tension, after a time it became upsetting to watch two longtime performers have what equated to a lackluster rehearsal in front of a crowd of thousands. I ain’t really that mad, it was just kind of disappointing.

Next up was The Walkmen, one of New York City’s finest rock bands. I’ve been a big fan ever since I heard their breakout single, “The Rat,” back in 2004, and I was really pumped for their set. Hamilton Leithauser may be the best singer in rock. For real, though. It felt like I was physically being pushed back every time he opened up, red faced and squinting, to belt out an absolutely unreal note. Did he write those parts that high? Jesus.

The set was tight and all too brief. While Leithauser neglected to interact with the audience for most of the show, near the tail end he displayed some wit, taking jabs at one of the Block Party’s hosts over an elongated intro to a song I’d never heard before. The highlight of the set was their newest hit, “Heaven”, which, with its simple guitar riff and choked out vocals, really got my feels going. This was the last date of a very long international tour for these guys, and I’m sure that led to some of Leithauser’s early set fatigue. Didn’t matter. They were still tremendous.

Up next was the act Damien had gotten me most hyped up about, Superchunk. The band is touring behind their latest album I Hate Music, which is out on Merge Records, the seminal label founded by vocalist Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance. Ballance is sadly not in the touring lineup, having developed hyperacusis, a condition which makes one sensitive to certain sounds. Deep bummer.

I had never heard anything by these folks, and my curiosity made me antsy. Set up already! Thankfully, they were great. They’re gifted songwriters, penning punchy, taut, sardonic power pop tunes that roused the steadily growing crowd. I suffered from not knowing any of their material, as plenty of people around me knew just about every word. But I caught the drift.

My favorite tune was the band’s first ever official single, “Slack Motherfucker.” It felt bloody and virile. I even caught enough of it to be able to sing along near the end.  I am currently listening to their entire catalog. Chunk wins.

The next act was Brooklyn by way of Minneapolis band The Hold Steady, about which I have sat through countless diatribes. Outside of a bit of YouTube diddling, I had no real knowledge of them, though. Just the disparate opinions of friends.

Lead singer Craig Finn has a strong, raspy yelp of a voice. With his barrage of lyrics and his constant slipping in between barking and singing, he comes off like an indie rock slam poet. While I was, in fact, feeling their jams, I hit a wall somewhere during their set, and had to make a few high-ABV beer runs to keep myself engaged. Or at least jovial.

I’m proud of anyone from the Midwest who breaks out, so I’m happy for these guys. I’ll probably give them some spins the next time I take a road trip with someone from Southside Desire, which, Gloria, I believe you’re next.

We left the grounds after The Hold Steady, missing out on Young the Giant, who, even in this moment, I refuse to Google. I’ll bet they’re great.

The rest of the night resembled our sojourn from the first night. Drinking in Wicker Park. Our server at Estelle’s was kind of mean. A Chi town bro down offered me marijuana, which I would never, ever indulge in, obviously. A couple more IPAs with friends and we were done. We moseyed back to our host’s apartment, where Damien broke in through the back window. He was quickly arrested, and is awaiting sentencing.

Damien says...

I slept (and woke up) on the floor of Jonathan's friend Bobby's spare room. It was a wonderful night's sleep, and I woke at 11 happy and hearty. I snuck out of the apartment and bought a hot dog and Coke at Sam's Red Hots. After pulling the unchewable bits of sport peppers from my mouth and carefully wiping them on the sidewalk behind Sam's, I walked toward town on Milwaukee Ave to meet Jonathan and his friend Frank for brunch. I would order a side of one biscuit and gravy for $3, because I'm not rich and Jonathan looked green enough that I thought he wouldn't finish his eggs anyway. And he didn't, so I ate them.

After stopping into Reckless Records for some window-shopping and a photo booth session, we walked back to the festival grounds. I'm embarrassed to say that after all of the previous day's walking, my legs were very sore. I consider myself fit, but I guess I don't walk and stand around all day very often. We missed the following local acts: Guitarkestra (a 20-piece guitar improvisational drone thing from Chicago); Girl Group Chicago (a 20-piece girl group from Chicago) and Jon Langford (a Bloodshot records rockabilly artist). I'm sad we missed them, but I wanted to save my weak little body for my current favorite band Superchunk.

The first band we saw was a trio selfishly called The Both, as a reference to the 2 indie rock luminaries who stood in front of an able and always smiling drummer. Aimee Mann (of the superlative letters I, E and N) and Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) toured together recently and decided to form a band. Mann played bass and sang when guitarist Leo was not singing. From the way they performed, I would guess they have not been a band for very long. They would later clarify that it was their sixth show ever. They seemed a little greener than that to me. There was one song in particular, perhaps their second or third of the set, that started with such a haphazard intro/ solo thing that I can't believe it was possibly meant to go that way. They both had lovely voices, and I enjoyed the intra-song verse-trading, which is an underused musical bit. And their between-song banter was brilliant.
The Walkmen were next. Here's another band I knew very little about coming in. I knew that they almost always get good reviews for both their records and their concerts, and that they are often well-dressed. They were excellent. Their music reminded me in a positive way of a great breadth of musical history, from The Cure to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Singer Hamilton Leithauser's voice was frequently jaw-droppingly powerful, with as much dynamic range as his influences. I am very glad to have seen them. They didn't play "The Rat", but it didn't seem missed. Their set was heavy on music buoyant and jaunty with lyrical longing. They were a superb choice for the event and brought the musicianship back up to the standards of the previous day.
Sorry, but Superchunk and I have a long and important history. As a fifteen year-old, they were the first band that I ever saw at Minneapolis' club First Avenue. They were on the 1997 tour behind their sixth albumIndoor Living. I bought my ticket from a scalper on 7th Street for $5 (it was a complimentary ticket that a homeless guy was selling). The show shook me. I later learned that by 1997, Superchunk was running out of steam. They had been steadily touring the world for 8 years and were running their own record label at the same time. They endured intermember relationships and break-ups. Fifteen year-old me didn't know all that, and just saw a band in their musical prime that totally fucking rocked. Their drummer, Jon Wurster, was especially inspiring to little me, also a drummer. I still remember learning about the dramatic drumming trick of accenting on the floor tom and snare at the same time from that concert. Over the next couple years I bought a lot of Superchunk CDs, and though their newer albums never seemed like they were written for teenage brains, there was a whole big punky, bratty back catalog to slog through. Those newer albums Come Pick Me Up and Here's to Shutting Up were still there to understand as I became more mature. In 2001, Superchunk came back to Minneapolis on their last tour before stopping for 9 years. And they were the opening band. For The Get-up Kids. No slag on The Get-up Kids, really, but that should not have happened. Superchunk seemed cranky and tired and it was kind of disheartening to watch. Through my twenties, I stopped spending as much time with my old Superchunk CDs.

In 2010, they came back from hiatus with Majesty Shredding, a new album that you could pogo to. It still had all the horns and organs featured on the most recent albums, but it all hung together with the distorted guitars and fast tempos in a much more sensible way. It felt right. And by then I was an adult and a dad and listening to wistful songs like "Digging For Something", "My Gap Feels Weird"  and "Learned to Surf" resonated in a surprisingly emotional way. It was my favorite album that year, and I found myself throwing inOn The Mouth and Here's Where the Strings Come In and pogoing around the kitchen with my son, just learning to walk. I don't think it was intentional on their part, but Superchunk have really done a good job of timing their releases to coincide with important parts of my life. Last year I co-founded a record label based largely on the business model and ethos of Merge Records to put out my band's records and those of my talented friends. So I've been really excited to see them play again. They weren't playing in Minneapolis, and so I went to Chicago.

Superchunk behind great hat.
Jim Wilbur shuffled onto stage in an ill-fitting not-quite-green T-shirt and set up his guitar pedals. Wurster putzed around with the drums. Bassist Laura Ballance was not accompanying the band on tour due to worsening of her hyperacusis, and was replaced by Jason Narducy. I don't usually feel like an idol-worshiping kid no that I'm a cynical adult who spends too much time researching the music industry, but when Mac McCaughan walked on, I was right back to being the neck-craning goon that I was at First Avenue sixteen years ago. The band was introduced and they went straight into "FOH" from their new album I Hate Music. Fuck yeah. I won't say much more except they were just as good as I hoped and even more inspiring. They played a lot of songs from their last two albums as well as "Skip Steps 1 & 3", "Package Thief", "Water Wings" (dedicated to the parents out there) and finisher "Slack Motherfucker".
Minneapolis ex-pats The Hold Steady played next. Honestly, if they'd been before Superchunk I would have enjoyed them a lot more. They really are a great rock band, and their new songs had the same Thin Lizzy swagger fans hoped for from Heaven is Whenever (which was entirely absent from this set). They are a perfect festival band, with Craig Finn gesticulating and barking to the back rows. During "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night", Finn conspicuously altered the lyrics to "Chicago was fucking awesome tonight!" They finished with "Southtown Girls". 

Jonathan and I opted not to stick around for the odd headlining choice Young, The Giant because we were tired and not in the mood to experience a new thing. We walked back to North and Milwaukee and drank some more. Bus in the morning and back home again. PEACE.