Even though a sanitation vehicle parking lot may not be the most ideal setting for a summer music festival, the Hideout Block Party is one of the best music weekends in Chicago. This year as part of the World Music Festival, the Hideout's lineup featured acts from Hungary, Czech Republic, Israel and Mali, among others. Last week in Transmission we mentioned some acts that we thought would be highlights. Today we look back on what happened during the last weekend of summer.
The British garage duo Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip hyped up the crowd, especially after comparing them to the previous night's motionless crowd in Ames, IA. After that humbling, the crowd got some energy and bounced along to the UK hit "Thou Shalt Always Kill", "Beat That My Heart Skipped" and "Letter From God to Man" that samples Radiohead's "Planet Telex." (The first recognizable notes of "Planet Telex" may have actually received a bigger cheer than for the song.) Following them was the Czech psychedelic rock band Plastic People of the Universe in front of a much larger crowd than their Hideout gig earlier in the week. Clearly inspired by Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground, the Plastics also sound at times like a coarser and heavier West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Unfortunately, they didn't really keep the audience's attention as people drifted in and out of the lot at an alarming rate. But when they were on with the more rock-influenced songs, they sounded fresh, as if the songs hadn't been from nearly forty years ago.
Israeli metal band Monotonix has been discussed more for their insane live performances than their music. And that may be warranted since their record Body Language is pretty good, but their shows are total chaos. Instead of setting up onstage, they set up among the crowd. A few songs into their set on Saturday, they moved 20 feet. After another few songs, they moved again. Singer Ami Shalev made Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington look tame while disrobing, crowdsurfing, humping an elephant sculpture and screaming at the top of his lungs. Guitarist Yonatan Gat played a heavy dose of Sabbath-like riffs while drummer Ran Shimoni spent significant time hovering over the crowd on top of his bass drum as his kit was carried around by dozens of hands. Again proving that good bands can become great bands in the right moment, Monotonix was by far Saturday's most entertaining set.
Headliner Neko Case played an 80-minute set spanning music from across her discography, even tossing in some songs, including a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me", from a forthcoming album. Her voice was tremendous, strong as well as ethereal when needed, as she rolled through crowd pleasers such as "Deep Red Bells" and "John Saw that Number." On Sunday night, with the New Pornographers, Neko was just as powerful in her supporting role. Their set was loaded with songs from Twin Cinema and Challengers, though early tunes like "Mass Romantic" and "The Laws Have Changed" received huge ovations. Ending their set was a cover of "Don't Bring Me Down" that embodied E.L.O.'s original with some special touches from Canada's finest power-pop supergroup.
Also on Sunday was a kid-friendly hip hop set from Tim Fite ending with him doling out watermelons, typically crazy shows by the confined marching band Mucca Pazza and ex-Neil Young cover band Dark Meat, and the ridiculously loud bass-thumping Ratatat.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was Robbie Fulks' Michael Jackson covers. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Thriller, Fulks and guest singers dug deep with "Ben" (I had totally forgotten about that song's existence), "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "Billie Jean", "Man in the Mirror", "Black and White", "The Girl is Mine", as well as a "Thriller" that featured the Hideout staff and zombie-attired guests doing the legendary dance.
While all summer festivals are worthwhile, there's just something about that Hideout Block Party that feels different. Maybe it's because you can misstep in oil slicks or take breaks sitting on concrete barriers between bands. Or maybe it's because the Hideout's integral place in Chicago's music scene lends itself to pulling one of the most eclectic lineups decided by the venue's staff and regulars. It's by the people for the people.