Features | Festivals

CMG at the Intonation Music Festival 2006 Part 2

By Dom Sinacola | 1 July 2006

Day Two: June 25th

Sunday, June 25th, was an even sparser affair than the day before, crowds staying away from Union Park because of foreboding clouds and esoteric first acts. When the temperature finally climbed to summer degrees around 6, just in time for Jon Brion, the audience slightly awoke, scraping the dolor of a gray morning out from under their eyes. Granted, Panthers exercised some raucous fuzz, introducing themselves by alienating preceding performer, Chicago indie wunderkind Bill Dolan: "Alright, assholes, we're Panthers. Let's start things right." Apparently, starting things "right" means sporting kerchiefs and dabbling in berating, cocksure epithets. Later, the Constantines put on a precise and tempered set, announcing Intonation as their 500th show, to cheers from a swath of fans. Bryan Webb's voice was as ashen as ever, nice un'gritty, and the bright spots of the set included Tournament of Hearts cuts like "Working Full-Time" or "Hotline Operator," not because they're the band's best, but because McGregor's drums sounded godforsakenly sonorous. Thwomping. Huge. Enough for Thax Douglas to introduce them, that laconic penguin of a man. And wouldn't you know it, but there was Thax eagerly awaiting Annie's appearance. He had also introduced Erase Errata the day before, proving that there's just no telling where Thax will rear his enormous head next. And Annie's appearance was loopy and diminutive, the Park bringing out the bare essentials in her candy pop. Damn, did "Wedding" and "Me + 1" sound crystal clear, fantastic, and then she played all the songs she was hired to play, and that was that. She is a tiny person.

Chicago touring duo Rhymefest and Lupe Fiasco put on the most exciting shows of the day, their acts limned in barbeque beats and cozy audience rapport. Rhymefest adopted the role of gravel-toned uncle figure, assuring that, "We are all from Chicago," by implying a unity in the city's ambiguity, fleshing out porcelain from paper doll diatribes. Without much of a chorus here nor there, slipping his preacher's intro into freestyle (something like "...Hummer bumping Chingy / Attract the flies to honey"), snapping out a stripped "Bullet," skipping stones off the audience with Kanye doped "Brand New" and "More," Rhyme rode walking basslines, chewed the scenery like so many cars made of bread. Later Lupe, more style than proffered message, filled the stage with a skateboard crew from Humboldt Park.-ish, the West Side, which is a big Side, but the crew was big too. Sideman Bishop G barraged the audience with tee-shirts, Cubs references, and a steel-brimmed hat plucked off the shaggy head of a skinny skater boy at the back of the group. Lupe's fare was Touch the Sky and then the giddy "Kick Push," a climax for the short set, where wavy hand gestures became slick invitations to course the stage with ollies. "Smooth" works to describe his flow, which is nothing original, but in essence he became a prophet for the modifier. I wanted his sweatshirt, his jeans; I wanted the crew to grin and rep behind me. I wanted his infallible charisma. In fact, the whole deal, including brief "openers" Qualo, was an oiled machine, a product more than Rhymefest, especially when Lupe tricked the audience into admitting they'd heard the Food and Liquor leak, and then joking about calling security. Even so, such a sense of humor carried the festivities that any quandaries became boring. The mix felt right. The clouds were parting, the crowd boisterous, I stood on the yellow shell protecting the wires running to the sound booth.

And suddenly, Devin the Dude's lyrics about smiling female genitalia and weed floundered in the face of two sweetly executed outdoor sets. These so-called backpackers never pimped social awareness like flashy ultimatums, and I'm pretty sure marijuana's entered the lungs of both Chicagoans, but the difference between Sunday and Saturday was a striking sense of balance during the second. Rhymefest spoke of our segregated city with honor and disdain, as if a middle was a compromise and a betrayal at once. Lupe straddled the line between image and substance, and for all the garish lipsmacking, made shit just plain fun. And maybe the two have less in common than I'm claiming, but the conceit's simple: They put on truly satisfying festival sets. Loud and flanking, wordy and bright. Devin, Ghostface, they couldn't do that and didn't much care. Jose Gonzalez was too sedated. The Stills were too well-dressed and lethargic. The 90 Day Men too fucking deadpan and bleary eyed.

The last act worth mentioning is the already hyped Jon Brion overload. Sure, it took him forever to get on stage, and yeah, his voice slowly found strength, but the man can and did concoct a masterpiece from cheese-whiz and beach balls. Thoroughly excited to greet the impending dusk, Brion grabbed the ululation of the audience from the get-go, running into the Grays standard "Same Thing," implying that, shit, he'll take requests, but only after a pretty little version of Billie Holiday's version of "Foolin' Myself." One of Tom Petty's Heartbreaker's, Benmont Tench, and Glenn Kotche (Wilco drummer, multinstrumentalist, and beautiful Chicago male) joined Brion on stage when he wasn't jumping from drumkit to toy keyboard to surf guitar, looping that scree with amazing ease. Then he did a "country" song about "14 days on crack" and smirked, "Billy Joel requests have started. Welcome to later in the night.prone to depression, drinking, giddiness." But maybe the true testament to his talent and communion with the crowd was the moment Bob Pollard's soundcheck sent bass booms over Brion's head, and Brion yelled back for them to continue, syncing up the intrusion with a cover of the Zombies' "Tell Her No." Time slipped by, fucking up Intonation's carefully aligned schedule, and then the Largo regular even created his own encore, inviting his ramshackle players back on stage for a rendition of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset". Ashland behind, the dying sun behind that, Brion made his performance a reward for whatever patience was strained in the initial minutes. And so, his set clashed with Pollard's time.

But, oh, let us not dwell too long on indie god Bob Pollard, mostly because he's kind of an asshole, and partly because he was introduced by Neil Hamburg who, when not clearing his disgusting throat, let fly such intellectually stimulating jokes as, "Why did God create Domino's Pizza? To punish humanity for their complacency in letting the Holocaust happen." In fact, I have nothing against Neil Hamburg and his lookitme! shock value, but it's not like Bob Pollard couldn't cut a song or two, or three, out of his set to compensate if time really was that strictly regulated, and it's not like Intonation officials couldn't possibly tell Brion to stop if curfew really was a problem. Pollard just had to be ornery about it, unwilling to even figure out who cut into his set, and still managed to play like thirty songs, including a bunch from FACE and a smattering of newbies. His voice was wearied but potentially strong, and even though years of legendary drinking obviously took its toll, the man could still dance it up, could still whip the mic around his head without smacking himself in his pug-nosed, grizzled face. I relent; the guy had it in him, and his backing band was a woozy feast. By "it" I mean irreducible punk force and a corn beef sandwich.

So, for all the labyrinthine statements about Chicago as the gray, the contradiction, the model of both harmony and degradation, of both progress and oppression, Intonation has confirmed itself as a relaxing, even surprising, time. The crowds were loose and unencumbered by severe weather or severe space constrictions. The concessions were quick and tasty. The bands, especially those falling into the "Monumental" category, seemed unfazed by thin crowds or poor promotions or ignorant MCs or terrible mixing problems, and maybe that in itself is contradictory. Perhaps it's naive to imagine a festival as anything but a hive for contradiction and hypocrisy, especially when it comes to VICE's stupendous reputation for all that, but maybe it's just more constructive to consider the possibility of what we have.

We have a thriving Chicago festival as muddled as the city itself.

*****

Further Interactions of Note:

- Standing stolidly in Annie's crowd, Thax Douglas is approached by a springy dude who says, "You make me feel emotions like I've never felt before." This dude can't be serious, and, of course, doesn't sound serious, but Thax takes the comment in stride. Thax is a typically sedated fellow, but at that moment there's a twitter of rage behind his whiskers. Later, he tries to give the guy standing in front of him a wedgie.

- My girlfriend's brother on Jose Gonzalez: "His voice is the mathematical average of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young." She laughs and looks great in a sun dress.

- One of the members of Erase Errata seems thoroughly disinterested with Rhymefest's set, and one wonders why she doesn't stand up and move away from the stage. The Stills fail to do a lot of things, except for physically manifesting their own band name.

- A cadre of middle-aged men in tight, worn 13th Floor Elevators t-shirts wanders to the Boredoms set. Agog hilarity ensues.

- An infant in massive headphones is held next to eYe as he screams and opens the Boredoms set. The baby looks like an adorable cosmonaut. eYe doesn't use a microphone, he just grapples
tiny yellow globes that appear to be microphones but are actually motion-sensitive sound manipulators. Fucking AWESOME.

- Rhymefest claims that crack and Mike Jones are two prime causes of the oppression of African Americans.

- Lady Sovereign ignores United States law and drinks gallons of 312.

- A pick-up whiffle ball game sees a home run at the beginning of the Dead Prez set. White people cheer their persistent illusion of athletic ability. Snap! The crowd waves stern flags of black and red.

- Bob Pollard, honorary curmudgeon, makes the obvious choice to call us all "kids." He breaks his hip trying to do a high-kick, and everyone laughs at him. Buzzards circle the stage.

*****

Hey, remember Day One?