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BENT NIGHTS: LOCAL/NATIONAL MUSIC The musical year in review
by Vern Hester
2017-12-20

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It's indisputable that 2017 will go down as the pinnacle of skullfuckery in the 21st century.

The shadow of the presidential administration has managed to pervert everything in its path while accomplishing nothing positive. Women's rights, healthcare, immigration, the military, civil rights, education, the environment, tax reform and education: you name it and the "The Donald" has pissed on it. Add in the right wing's freshly emboldened talent for deceit, bullying, media manipulation, scandal and lying and you have a public that seems punch drunk, trying to fight back against all the attacks.

The upside of all this discontent is that the rage it inspires fuels the arts to new levels of creativity and bigger entertainments. In 2017 we watched a multiracial, musically diverse retelling of history called Hamilton grab Tony Awards by the truckload and smash theatrical box office records. At this year's Oscar ceremony, host Jimmy Fallon spent hours bitch-slapping the president while a low-budget all-Black movie about thug life and queer identity titled Moonlight snatched the prize for Best Picture from the glitzy favorite, La-La Land. In popular music, well, that tsunami of outrage has yet to manifest itself—but at least we got those bigger entertainments.

If anything, 2017 saw rapid shifts in the status quo. Locally, the two-year-old Open Air Festival snatched the thunder from older mainstays like Lollapalooza and Riot Fest, which suffered from exceptionally dull and redundant line-ups. Massive shows found a home at Soldier and Wrigley Field hosting the likes of Metallica, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, U2, Coldplay and Green Day.

Two of the biggest tours of the year were buoyed by their queer appeal and managed to turn themselves into major events without hype. The refurbished Queen, fronted by out vocalist Adam Lambert, turned out to be the show everyone and their mother wanted to see while Lady Gaga returned with a vengeance while selling out Wrigley Field and smashing that glass ceiling. To add to that, Sam Smith was back with his second album ( as, predictably ,copies flew off the shelves ) while queer favorite Adele mounted a massively successful tour that found her performing in front of millions in every continent on the planet.

Granted, not everything was peachy this year, as Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington ( of Linkin Park ), icon Fats Domino, Jim Nabors and ex-teen idol David Cassidy passed away. Months before Anthony Rapp blew the whistle on Kevin Spacey, up-and-coming queer duo PWR BTM found their fortunes swirl down the shitter after disgruntled fans launched a Facebook campaign accusing them of sexual impropriety at their shows. And, of course, Market Days regular Aaron Carter came out as bisexual, to no one's astonishment.

Locally, there was much to celebrate, as Lavender Country finally hit town and played The Hideout for a sold out show. Homocore celebrated its 25th anniversary while Glitter Creeps, the monthly queer showcase at The Empty Bottle, sailed into its third year and The Black and Brown Festival restarted itself.

Queer icons Limp Wrist released Facades, their first album in a decade while front man Martin Sorrondeguy seemed to be everywhere: participating in panel discussions at Fed Up Fest and Homocore's anniversary and headlining the Black and Brown Festival with his other band Los Crudos. Local talent in Chicago's DIY scene continued to make ripples as Meat Wave, Absolutely Not, Bad Bad Meow, Mutts, Melk Belly, Myke Deville, The Kick Back and Ne-Hi released well received albums while the much loved queer fronted Atta Boy morphed into Blacker Face and queer friendly Strawberry Jacuzzi reformed as Bash Bang.

And now for the music, events, and other delights that made 2017 special for me:

—Favorite Guilty Pleasure of 2017: A History of Drag by Dorian Electra ( video ) featuring Lucy Stoole, Imp Queen, The Vixen and London Jade

—Book of the Year: Over the Top and Back by Tom Jones ( Blue Rider Press ). Laugh if you want to, but this exuberant, action-packed and enormously entertaining memoir by the small-town hip-wiggling boy who whipped the world into a wet panty flinging frenzy was clearly the best read of the year.

Runner-up: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace ( Hachette Books )

—Best Venue to See a Show:

( tie ) The Hideout and The Empty Bottle

—Best Posh Place: Thalia Hall

—Best Concerts of 2017:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers @ Wrigley Field

Perfume Genius with Serpent With Feet @Lincoln Hall

George Clinton and Parliement/Funkadelic@Thalia Hall

( tie ) Ne Hi and Meat Wave both @ The Empty Bottle

Mutts/ Archie Powell and The Exports/Hemmingbirds @ Lincoln Hall

Midnight Oil @ The Vic

Vic Mensa/DJ Oreo@ Thalia Hall

Ezra Furman/Weaves@ Lincoln Hall

ONO/Moor Mother Goddess @ The Hideout

Green Day @ Wrigley Field

( tie ) Escort and Vail/Real Dom/Pure Magical Love all @ The Empty Bottle

Glad Rags/ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat @ Schubas

—Festival of the Year ( tie )

1. The 2017 Hideout Block Party. Tim and Katie Tuten managed to create a two-day warm, homegrown anti-festival with the feel of old friends gathering and a non-stop musical line-up. Blistering sets by Screaming Females, Meat Wave, Man or Astro-Man?, Shannon Wright, FACS and Eleventh Dream Day, among others, served up with a chill vibe and a strong flavor of welcome and community. This version of the festival was exactly what festivals are supposed to be about.

2. Taste of Chicago. By far, this was the best edition of this 37-year-old city-sponsored event, ever. With a diverse mix of old- and new-school headliners ( The O'Jays, Passion Pit, Ben Harper, Café Tacuba ) paired with explosive local talent ( The Gold Web, Twin Peaks, The Kickback, a volatile mash-up of ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat and Los Vicios de Papa ) offered something for everyone. With newer, more audience friendly attractions ( five dance events, a full scale puppet parade, an art gallery and more dining options ) this time out, Taste of Chicago felt like a tradition rather than a cash cow.

—Other Festivals of Note:

The Black and Brown Festival

Fed Up Fest

The Chicago Blues Festival

amfm Jazz Festival

—What I listened to in 2017 ( in no particular order ):

"To be Swayed," by Meat Wave

"Nappy Black P***y," by F.U.P.U.

Facades, by Limp Wrist

Offers, by Ne Hi

Friends, by The White Lies

Nothing Valley, by Melk Belly

No Shape, by Perfume Genius

The Autobiography, by Vic Mensa

Revolution Radio, by Green Day

"Tin Foil Hat," by Mutts

"The Ground You Walk On," by Marty Casey

Lavender Country, by Lavender Country

"Stress Love," by Elton Aura

"Human Driver," by Avantist

Errors, by Absolutely Not


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