Intonation overcame that
dreaded scourge of all outdoor music festivals on Sunday -- the weather --
to provide some 10,000 to 12,000 Chicago music fans with a second historic
and rewarding day of challenging underground sounds.
After a foreboding and
soggy morning, the skies eased shortly before the first act kicked off the
final day of Intonation's second year at 1 p.m. Actually, Chicago's Tyrades
started 10 minutes late, having declared that their allotted half hour was
too long for punk rock; they only needed 20 minutes.
It turned out to be 20
of the best minutes of the music-filled day. The quartet tore through a
ferocious set of chaotic but anthemic rock, with Jenna Tyrade's frenetic
vocals and the short explosions of song interrupted only by the bassist's
shouts of "Go!" (This group pares down even the Ramones' minimal intros of
"1-2-3-4!") To end the set, the guitarist first smashed and then tossed his
axe into the crowd, prompting the festival's lawyer to panic, and then --
after realizing that no one had been hurt -- question whether he'd have to
retrieve the instrument like a game-winning ball.
Another Chicago artist
who captivated the audience with his dynamic stage presence was Rhymefest,
the well-known battle rapper who co-wrote "Jesus Walks" with Kanye West and
is gearing up to release his debut album "Blue Collar" on J Records on July
11. Fluidly rapping over undeniable grooves that, like West's, sample some
unlikely sources (the Strokes?!), Rhymefest infused his set with humor,
warmth and political outrage. He noted that the song "Bullet" was inspired
by an army recruitment ad to "Drive a Hummer for the summer," and at one
point, he bounded offstage and into the upraised arms of fans, just like a
punk-rock stage diver.
Also pegged for a
national breakout, with his Atlantic debut "Food & Liquor" due in August,
Chicago's Lupe Fiasco wasn't nearly as powerful a performer as Rhymefest,
though the skateboard enthusiast underscored that his single "Kick Push" --
with its indelibly catchy refrain of "Kick, push/Kick, push/Kick,
push/Coast," -- has all the hallmarks of a smash summer hit.
The alternative-rap duo
Dead Prez provided the day's final hip-hop highlight with a set marked by
its musical invention (they covered Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall,
Part 2") and radical politics (the chant of the day: "George Bush is way
worse than Bin Laden"). Florida-reared, New York-based rappers M-1 and
stic.man also invoked a recent local controversy by noting that "we don't
need a city street sign to honor [slain Black Panther leader] Fred Hampton,"
and they urged the mostly white, mostly indie-rock crowd to join in a
protest sign raising on Aug. 30, Hampton's birthday.
The coup of the
festival's bookings, sonic wizard Jon Brion is best known for his production
work with artists such as Kanye West, Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright, as
well as his scores for Hollywood films such as "Magnolia" and "Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." He also hosts a cult-favorite one-man
hootenanny, augmented by surprise guests, at the Los Angeles club Largo, but
he rarely tours, and he had never performed in Chicago before.
jazz-flavored originals weren't much to get excited about, but he has a
knack for picking cool covers -- Sunday's set included a Billie Holiday tune
and the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man" -- and his working method is a
marvel: He would start a groove on the drum set; sample and loop it; do the
same with a melody on the upright piano; then add live vocals and guitar on
top of the instant electronic mix. He also got some help from some
impressive guests, Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench and Wilco drummer
Former Guided by Voices
bandleader Robert Pollard played a tight, concise and awe-inspiring set of
his British Invasion-flavored indie rock; he was relatively sober and
unusually focused, and I've never seen him better. Toronto's Constantines
had much more energy onstage than on album, building to a hard-rocking
climax with a cover of the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner," while the Austin
quartet the Sword filled the role that High on Fire played on Saturday,
injecting a welcome dose of loud, heavy yet fluidly grooving stoner rock.
Unfortunately, one of
the founders of that genre, Blue Cheer, proved to be a let-down, falling on
the wrong side of the Spinal Tap/state fair line of self-parody with its
indulgent, jammed-out, proto-metal blues. Sixties heroes named for what is
said to have been acid chemist Owsley Stanley's "best batch ever," slightly
fried, white-haired bandleader Dickie Peterson, the only remaining founder,
was especially disappointing after the vital, immediate and non-nostalgic
set from fellow psychedelic rock legend Roky Erickson on Saturday.
Ending the Sunday bill
and the festival was the British New Wave of New Wave revival band Bloc
Party, which generated as much atmosphere from its stark white lights -- it
rented an extra $3,000 worth of stage gear -- as it did from its angular,
All told, with 18 hours
of sets by 26 bands over two days -- including a dozen that rank on my
personal tally of the best shows I've seen this year -- the second
installment of the Intonation Music Festival was a gift to Chicagoans who
love adventurous and diverse music, and it set a high standard indeed for
the rest of the summer's festivals, including Pitchfork (July 29-30) and
Lollapalooza (Aug. 4-6).