Features | Festivals

CMG at the Intonation Music Festival 2006 Part 1

By Dom Sinacola | 1 August 2006

Day One: June 24th

Digging into VICE is a dangerous dalliance -- alright, I can already hear their excess-tinged voices, Alliteration is for fags! or something openly crass like that. Maybe they have a better idea than I do about what is or isn't for fags, and maybe they can say that word because, ya know, they have a gay friend. Nope (since when is it a good idea to just throw around these shit slurs as the slap-happy slag of progressively unafraid takes on censorship?). VICE has never been bashful, or respectful, and I'm bound to be on their bad side anyway.

Despite the fact that the magazine and label is characteristically New Yorkian, or at least not Chicagoian, and befriended Chicago by basically making fun of most of it, really only concentrating on Wicker Park/Bucktown, the city's dirty hipster locus, it's hard to attack, either with vitriol or humor, an outfit whose mission statement has been attacking everyone and everything for ten years. Successfully, they've persevered, through drugs and urban decay and legal hornswoggling, building something amounting to an impenetrable rep of "cool"; make friends with Joe Strummer, court all manner of fringe somebodies, empty out vulgar sarcasm in barrels, disseminate an endlessly readable, free mag that's like USA Today for shit-eaters, and you have a fantastic Fortress of Solitude.

It makes sense then, assuming Pitchfork stepped away gracefully, that the Intonation Festival would adopt VICE into its sanctum of tastemakers. For the better, I think, because if Intonation is meant to be singularly Chicago's, singularly Midwestern, then last year's festival, while a huge success, was unable to scoot past the trappings of mostly-indie rock. Sadly, a Chi-less entity must step up to represent the Windy City, and oh well so what: Chicago artists (the Tyrades, Bill Dolan, 90 Day Men, Rhymefest, Lupe Fiasco) aren't exactly more abundant than last year's, and VICE's roster isn't limited to their label, but the degree of inclusivity for the festival has strengthened exponentially. Intonation 2006 dealt out noise, metal, hip-hop, radio rock, dance, psychedelia, folk, garage, grime, and a hefty dose of improvisation to create one of the summer's most effortlessly diverse festival lineups. And why not represent Chicago through inclusivity, through diversity, togetherness, whatever? It is, in fact, the City of Big Shoulders. Simple conceit, but something Pitchfork, for all its clout and influence, hasn't really addressed more than as a matter of well educated obligation. And yes, I know Os Mutantes will surely kick ass, and maybe I'm contradicting myself, but such was the spirit of Intonation.

July 19th, Rhymefest held an in-store at the Borders on State Street, near Chicago's Magnificent Mile. He spoke in sweeping tones, "Chicago hip-hop isn't about a sound, it's a sensibility. Chicago is a microcosm of America," adding, "what Chicago hasn't figured out is how to organize itself." Still, I'm struggling to discern how Chicago stands over the U.S.'s other major cities as a bastion of Western Human Harmony, moreso than a "sensibility," but I guess that works. There's a feel here, amongst the steel and excellent hot dogs, something gloriously in limbo. Both accessible and monolithic, cornered and sprawling, politically royal and markedly vulnerable, the city carries inexplicable weight. After all, it was half-decimated, once, by a cow. At the least, manifesting contradiction and hypocrisy, VICE hit the nail on the motherfucking head...er, Vagina Building.

So, here's how it went. On June 24th, no one really arrived until, say, Roky Erickson, which meant that Union Park was shockingly open for lounging. No need to squash against one of the two stages (Vice or Virtue) because the lawn was dry, sitting was comfortable, a breeze kept up around everyone's feet, and from below a stage a group gathered around a dusty blanket could see rather well. For the guys: BBC America sent voluptuous gals in American Apparel rompers around with cardboard fans and double ponytails, accompanied by a referee fellow and a fat wink to Benny Hill. For the ladies: Sparks Energy Drink, a fucked-up mega-dose of caffeine, taurine, and alcohol -- 6% by volume -- that seemed so incomprehensibly indulgent, I had five. Not that energy drinks are gender specific, but in comparing gender ratios between the Sparks tent and the Goose Island tent, females favored the twinkly orange. Thus, sans music, the park was already a breezy hive of activity; from the BBC Tent with French maids, flat screens, fans, skeletons holdng bras, and free water, to the tent of local wares and a huge collection of artists displaying concert posters, absurdity and chic abounded. Together! What's more, I could actually bend over a crate of records at Hi-Fi's tiny area without someone shimmying past my back and heeling me in the tailbone. Simply put, there was room, for once, with 10,000 people, and maybe that speaks detrimentally of Intonation's coffers and profit, of its split with Pitchfork, whose Intonation was a bustling frenzy of 15,000, but for a concert-goer, it was all remarkably serene. Better for it, I'd say.

For Chromeo, Montreal's supposed representatives of melodramatic dance funk, out-of-tune Flying V guitars, goofy drum triggers, and magnificent white pants, the crowd was thin and malleable. They danced when Dave 1 told them the songs were about "dancing and girls," and the girls in big sunglasses and leaky noses cheered when keyboardist/beat-ist Pee Thug took cues from drummer "Nate Dogg" to abuse the vocoder. When technical difficulties warranted Dave 1 a chance to rap with the crowd, the seams showed; my girlfriend's brother, scoffing at how much of their set was pre-recorded, laughed that it all was "held together with gum and boogers." True. Anyway, it was still early in the day, and not even a bland, schlocky 90 Day Men set could taint Saturday's second half. But really, c'mon, Rob Lowe's been touring with TV on the Radio, and finally the Men get back together for one of the few shows in the past year or so, in their hometown, posed before excited fans, and they somnambulantly tic off "favorites." And they butcher "We Love Chicago," which, up until that point, I thought was a really difficult thing to accomplish, considering the song's eezy-peezy melody. Lame and Boo.

Before we move on, was Houston's Devin the Dude, whose lyrical issues run no further than weed and sex, a success? He ceremoniously lit up a joint with DJ Rappin' Rick, spoke fluently of old Sevilles and all manner of "grinning" vaginas, ran his tongue over his white teeth when he detailed going "poo poo," did a disarming and dopey cover of James Taylor's "Handy Man," and relished in the dirtiest of liquid flows: so, yes? Rick's beats, sunny, pared, and transparent, relegated punch to Devin's charm, and the combination made perfect friends for an outdoor environment. Brief and lovably ugly: so, yes.

Roky Erickson, who, in case ya don't know, used to head the 13th Floor Elevators, one of the "first" truly "demented" acid rock bands, put on one of those sets that, like Bill Dolan's or Blue Cheer's, seemed both special and archaic. The Texas native was introduced by one of the Intonation promoters, not by the diapered and extremely obnoxious stars of "Windy City Heat," that cult film that was on Comedy Central once and was pretty funny, which meant duly noted reverence, as this was Roky's first show outside of Texas in 25 years. He waddled out in similarly dumbfounded glee; possibly surprised by his own cult status, Erickson wore a disoriented and eternally happy smirk across his jowls. Maybe it was just the mythical drug abuse, the legends of mental institutions, or the glow of his Hawaiian shirt. Whatever, his voice was brash and strong, his hair a forgotten mane of feral mulletude. He played a genuinely happy set, in marvelous control, and while "Don't Shake Me, Lucifer" or "Preacher With the Atom Brain" attuned more to neo-twang than anyone could have expected, the set bridged fantastically between nostalgia and rebirth.

On the other hand of heroes, Ghostface's set was a bloated letdown. All charisma and calls for W's, the emcee encouraged his DJ to spin whatever, staying away from Fishscale rhymes to concentrate on reppin' the Wu, building a party for impending dusk, and mourning Ol' Dirty Bastard with garish colors. "C.R.E.A.M." to "...Ain't Nothing To Fuck With," "Shimmy Ya" to one Theodore Unit plug after another, Ghostface had an impressive crowd of devotees and tag-alongs, both ready to move to anything he fired. Somehow, the bass got growling, and maybe the mixing was just atrocious in the first place, but the set quickly devolved into some boring bullshit. Starks pulled a mass of thirty girls onstage to gyrate, and for him to gyrate into, and for those in the audience, the show became a boring cavalcade of things we'd like to do but couldn't. While he humped a raven haired girl with copious jelly, Ghostface stayed off the mic for, what, like fifteen minutes? So it seemed. No guilt in straying away from one of the hotly anticipated acts. Oh, and fuck that white hipster douche behind me that stood stock still with his arms folded, scoffing loudly at the younger white kids putting up the Wu-Fingers.

Or maybe the set was just disappointing after the Boredoms' monstrous drum circle. No one introduced them, they just suddenly existed as if birthed out of Nothing, and were ushered into animation by a succession of eYe's godforsaken howlings, followed by 45 minutes of straight blistering polyrhythms. eYe twiddled with a MIDI controller or something, and the rest of the outfit clamored over three drumkits, alternately fevered and steady. That's it. That's all that happened; improvisational but somehow meticulously aligned, mathematical and illogical both. The Boredoms were meant for festival circuits. Completely fucking awesome. Best show of the weekend. I bought me a lavender tee-shirt.

Lady Sovereign and the Streets were as one could expect, cocky, full of swagger, and surprisingly excited to be there. She made the rounds through her scrappy hits, accompanied by an unusually spry bassist, a doggerel DJ, and a hypnotized graffiti artist doodling a collage of shapes and angry colors along with her flow. Sov, self-referential lyrics and all, is quite tiny, her image cast of mascara'd snark. There was "Ch-Ching" and "Random" and "Orange" and for every dodging of variety with beats and wiry cadence, machismo took hold. Headliners The Streets, while not as viscerally agreeable as Lady Sovereign, dominated the park. Skinner, flanked by a hefty band and smooth sideman, was pleasingly sober, repeating how Union Park wasn't the Metro, the venue he remembered most, and zipping up a tidy bag over expected touchstones. Original Pirate material shined, it's epic arrangements bolstered by the band, and new cuts (opener "Pranging Out" or "When You Wasn't Famous") survived on melody over tightness, skewering A Grand Don't Come For Free tracks into mellow interludes -- except for "Fit But You Know It," the choppy uplift the crowd begged for. If anything, the act's vitality was palpable and clean, which, from what I've heard, and from seeing the sloppy bunch of sods throwing brandy down some dude's throat at Bonnaroo, is something of a high point for the Brit.

Next time, in Day Two: Cokemachineglow ends up in the "DON'Ts" section. Intonation continues with more unholy energy drinks to be swallowed, Dom makes a point he probably started somewhere in the previous prattle, everyone discovers that Robert Pollard really is a cheek-undulating old fart, and difficult matters regarding the relevance of story arcs within music/concert reviews are skirted by means of a cheap section entitled "Further Interactions of Note" which makes fun of Bob Pollard even more.