By Tom Lynch
In a summer stuffed with overcrowded and steaming street festivals and art fairs, any self-respecting Chicagoan has to pick his battles. When considering which of the sweaty messes to attend, there’s one indisputable fact that’s unavoidable—there’s always gonna be assholes. Double-fisting, shirtless men, uncontrollably high-pitched gaggles of girls, young children that, let’s face it, do not want to be there. Fucking strollers.
Can the live music save you? Of course not. Usually the music is the worst. How can a city so enriched in audible culture and history so painfully book each street fest with such musical sludge? If it’s not Hello Dave and A Girl Named Craig at the Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival, it’s morbidly bad cover bands at the Wrigleyville Summerfest, or Mr. Blotto at the Retro on Roscoe, or, oh lord, any festival with Liquid Soul. Jammin’ at the Zoo? We get Collective Soul. Taste of Chicago? I’m surprised Liz Phair is even let back within the city limits.
An argument can be made that these sort of meaty congregations of mix-and-matched, guzzling socialites and families are not solely about the music, and that’s fine, but if you’re gonna have it, make it worth the trip. Say what you will about the Wicker Park neighborhood—it’s an easy target for mockery, just as easy as Lincoln Park—but the Wicker Park Summerfest is the best street festival of the summer. Always a solid music lineup, a limited amount of unwanted altercations and, the best part—you don’t feel trapped.
With two different stages, this weekend’s fest features more than ten bands each day, and get this—they’re actually each worth seeing and hearing, for one reason or another. Here’s a rundown of the highlights, what you won’t get at other street gatherings this summer:
Named after Burgess’ slang for female in his “A Clockwork Orange,” DeVotchka (Sat, 9pm) fuses Spanish-influenced melody with Eastern European bobbing and weaving—an intriguing match, certainly to behold live. On the Boulder, Colorado band’s recent EP, “Curse Your Little Heart,” the outfit daringly covers Siouxsie and The Banshees, Frank Sinatra and The Velvet Underground and comes out of the tunnel alive. Oakland duo The Coup (Sat, 7:55pm) mixes soulful beats and argumentative hip-hop with biting political and social commentary on “Pick a Bigger Weapon,” the twosome’s first record in half-a-decade. Toss in a bit of funk and dance, and this record bests the group’s previous outing, 2001’s equally sharp “Political Affairs.”
Local band Walter Meego (Sat, 4:40pm) released its “Hollywood” single a few months ago, a promising look to the future for the indie-electronic scenesters, definitely its best work yet. A full-length, titled “Romantic,” hits shelves this fall. Kill Rock Stars’ Slumber Party (Sat 5:45pm) joyously matches riot grrl sensibility with all-girl, bubblegum sixties pop. A revolving door of members has kept the Detroit band alive for nearly a decade, and a new record is to be released this year.
The psychedelic drug-fare that is The Gris Gris (Sun, 9pm) reached its pinnacle with last October’s “For the Season”—leader Greg Ashley’s feedback-fueled, insistent folk draws you in and scares you senseless. Live, it could be a total disaster, but a disaster worth experiencing. Matador Records’ Dead Meadow (Sun, 7:55pm), one of the great live acts to behold, offers doom-and-gloom stoner muck with Sonic Youth-inspired noise exploration—gorgeous and ugly, paced and pretty. 2005’s “Feathers” wasn’t quite as explosive as “Shivering King and Others,” but it’s well worth checking out. Chicago hero Tim Kinsella and his Make Believe (Sun 6:50pm) provide their spastic, math-junked seizure—last fall’s “Shock of Being” was one of 2005’s best local releases with its incredible assault of angular guitars and Kinsella’s whimper and howl delivery. A new record, titled “Of Course,” comes out in October on Flameshovel.
The orchestral candy-coating of Oklahoma’s Starlight Mints (Sun 5:45pm) comes in full force in support of “Drowaton” (Barsuk), a surreal space oddity that keeps getting weirder and weirder as the record progresses. Despite that, the hooks are quite catchy—feverishly spontaneous and charismatic. Likewise, the East Coast’s Apollo Sunshine (Sun 2pm), delivers advanced power-pop song-structuring laced with freak-out space-harmony ranging from silly to bluesy without much transition. The trio’s self-titled record from last year was surprisingly effective—the pop shines on and on.
The Wicker Park Summerfest takes place July 22-23 on Damen Avenue, from North to Schiller. A $5 donation benefits the Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce.