Intonation captures independent spirit


July 15, 2005



Most of the headlines this summer concert season have been grabbed by Lollapalooza, which has been remade as a destination festival in Grant Park next week. But a more artistically challenging event that better captures the breadth of underground music circa 2005 will be held this weekend in another city park 3-1/2 miles from Hutchinson Field.

Presented under the aegis of the hipster Web site (along with its own roster of corporate benefactors), the Intonation Music Festival comes to Union Park at Randolph Street and Ashland Avenue starting at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The name may not have the same recognition factor, but promoters have certainly tapped into the eclectic and independent spirit that powered the best Lollapalooza tours in the early '90s, with a promising lineup of diverse and challenging bands presented on two stages, both at the Lake Street end of the park, for the bargain price of $15 per day. (Two weeks out, promoters already had sold an impressive 15,000 tickets for the weekend.)



  • 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
  • Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph
  • Tickets, $15 per day
  • (800) 594-8499;

    Fest facts


  • Public transportation to the Intonation Music Festival is suggested. Located at Ashland Avenue and Randolph Street, Union Park is near the Ashland stop on the CTA's Green Line and it is serviced by several bus routes.


  • Tickets will be sold at a temporary box office on Ashland Avenue south of Lake Street. Admission is $15 per day, and there is no re-entry into the park. The event will take place rain or shine.


  • Park and festival restrictions prohibit coolers, alcohol, outside food and beverages, professional cameras or video equipment, lounge chairs (though folding chairs are permitted) and laser pointers. Food, clothing and art vendors will be set up on site.


  • Concurrent with the music, independent radio station WLUW-FM (88.7) will sponsor its annual Record Fair on the tennis courts at the eastern end of the park, offering record collectors a prime forum for finding new, used and rare recordings.


  • Parents are encouraged to bring their kids (admission is free for those under age 10), and the Chicago Children's Museum will hold a Vinyl Art Workshop from 1-5 p.m. on both days, allowing kids to design their own album covers.


  • More information is online at


    Intonation kicks off Saturday with one of Chicago's finest up-and-coming acts, the orchestral pop combo Head of Femur (1 p.m., Holiday Stage), which was profiled in this column in May, around the time of the release of its stellar second album "Hysterical Stars." Driven by a trio of relocated Nebraskans, Ben Armstrong, Mike Elsener and Matt Focht, the group can balloon to a dozen members or more onstage, evoking "Pet Sounds"-era Beach Boys or the Left Banke filtered through emo heroes Bright Eyes.

    The flavor stays local with Pelican taking the Decimal Stage at 1:30 p.m. to deliver its crushingly powerful instrumental stoner-rock, and the jangly garage band the M's following at 2 p.m. on the Holiday Stage.

    A.C. Newman (2:45, Decimal Stage) is the red-headed singer and songwriter best known for leading the New Pornographers, though he also has released a strong solo album, "The Slow Wonder," strongly influenced by old-school Britpop such as the Zombies and the Kinks.

    Led by Jason Molina and hailing from Bloomington, Ind., Magnolia Electric Company (3:30, Holiday Stage) has recorded its raw, violin-laced roots-rock with Chicagoan Steve Albini, while at the opposite extreme, Fourtet (4:30, Decimal Stage), aka one-man band Kieran Hebden, is a champion of "laptronica," delivering twisted loops and broken beats via computer.

    Rounding out Saturday afternoon are the Canadian indie-rock supergroup Broken Social Scene (5:30, Holiday Stage), Memphis noise-rockers/indie popsters the Go! Team (6:30, Decimal Stage), hip-hop innovator and sonic terrorist Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73 (7:20, Holiday Stage), and the Canadian synth-rock duo Death from Above 1979 (8, Holiday Stage).

    Capping the evening: another of Chicago's own, the ever-evolving instrumental (don't call them "post-rock") masters Tortoise, who take the Decimal Stage at 9. The group is gearing up to release an album of diverse covers with vocalist Will Oldham, and the buzz is that he will appear with the band at the festival.

    Getting the party started on Sunday at 1 p.m. on the Holiday Stage are Detroit wild men Thunderbirds Are Now!, followed by Swedish ork-popsters Dungen (1:30, Decimal Stage) and two frenetic post-punk combos from the California Bay Area, Xiu Xiu (2, Holiday Stage) and Out Hud (2:45, Decimal Stage).

    The Hold Steady (3:30, Holiday Stage) draws inspiration from the hearty Midwestern punk of the Replacements and the Grifters, while Chicago's violinist and songwriter Andrew Bird (4:30, Decimal Stage) takes his musical cues from all over the map, as evidenced by his recent album "The Mysterious Production of Eggs."

    San Francisco's Deerhoof (5:30, Holiday Stage) is a purposely naive and childlike (a la the White Stripes) noise-pop band, while the Secaucus, N.J.-based Wrens (6:30, Decimal Stage) deliver old-school '80s-style jangle pop.

    Wrapping up the festival Sunday evening are Les Savy Fav (7:30, Holiday Stage), a Rhode Island-based emo band, and the Decemberists (8:30, Decimal Stage), a Portland ork-pop quintet profiled in this column last summer. The Pitchfork gang may have been hurt by the defection of their much-loved Arcade Fire, which will perform at Lollapalooza, but for my money, Colin Meloy and his mates in the Decemberists are just as strong a booking, if not better.

    In addition to the two main stages, Intonation will feature a DJ stage hosting a series of hot underground turntablists. Saturday's lineup includes Rob Lowe (1:30 p.m.), Laurent from Pelican (3:30) and Will Oldham and Jean Grae (5:30 and 7:30). Sunday's lineup features Peter from Baby Teeth (1:30), Reine from Dungen (3:30), El P vs. James McNew of Yo La Tengo (5:30) and Diplo (7:30).