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15th Annual Hideout Block Party
by Vern Hester

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To call the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, simply "Chicago's alternative rock nucleus" is a bit misleading since it represents so much more.

When Tim and Katie Tuten with longtime friends Mike and Jim Hinchsliff bought the bar back in 1996 it was a hangout/lunch spot for steel workers from local factories and had been since 1933. The new owners didn't change much, apart from adding live music and longer hours. But as the old clientele and their employers moved to the suburbs the little hangout morphed into an entirely new entity. The Hideout is still a "hangout," a cluttered looking impersonal shack obscured by warehouses and alleyways.

However, it's also one of the few venues in Chicago that defines this town, on a par with the Checkerboard Lounge on the south side and the Metro to the north. It's where The White Stripes made their headlining debut, where Billy Corgan debuted his first post Pumpkins band, where the legendary Honey Boy Edwards brought the blues to a whole new audience, where the queercentric "Chances Dances" took flight as the premier monthly bohemian hootenanny, and where talents like Ellen Rosner, Kevin O'Donnell, The Homoticons, Andrew Bird, The Mekons, John Hasbrouck, Thomas Dunn, Cynthia "Plaster Caster," Robbie Fulks, Wilco, Mavis Staples and a whole lot more more call home. The Hideout always has and always will matter.

This brings us to the Sept. 24 sold-out Block Party, this summer's last sweet kiss. With a line-up that included White Mystery, Mavis Staples, Jon Langford's Skull Orchard, Kids These Days, Booker T. and the MGs, Dosh, The Eternals and Andrew Bird with friends Nora O'Conner and Kevin O'Donnell, the idea that this festival couldn't possibly be as grand as the menu suggested seemed likely. Was I wrong? Well, yup.

So here's what happened. It rained and got cold, and the concrete under my feet got harder by the hour—but it didn't matter. Alex and Francis White (aka White Mystery) bitch slapped the weather with their ferocious set, and it behaved for the rest of the day. Kids These Days (fresh out of high school) spewed an intoxicating mix of jazz/rap/rock while The Eternals wallowed in a psychedelic funk stew. Soul icon Booker T. Jones led his MGs through a set which culminated in a tortured take on Al Green's "Take Me to the River," while Jon Langford's Skull Orchard and The Burlington Welsh Male Chorus performed an equally extreme but far rowdier take on Tom Jones' "Delilah" (yeh, that Tom Jones).

Bird joined Staples and The Staples Singers for a furious version of The Band's "The Weight," and then Mavis spoke about the Tea Party ("...for some reason they won't invite me") and marching with the Rev. M. L. King during the Freedom March in '63 before pulling the whole audience into a cyclone powered rave up of The Staples' classic "I'll Take You There." Bird, as the headliner and Chicago's current favorite son wisely didn't try to top what came before instead grabbing the show and bouncing it like a beach ball with humor and frisky lightness. "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" wasa lark but Bird's embrace of The Muppets' "It's Not Easy Being Green" oozed personality and charm. (Kermit would have been proud.) As if all of that wasn't enough Moby Dick, courtesy of Operamatic Theater, kept swimming through the crowd looking for a bite to eat.

Thanks, Hideout, for closing my summer out with such a flourish...

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