It is a fact that summer this year officially ended Sept. 24.
Never mind all that hoo-ha about Riot Fest being the last blowout of the season or that deceptive and cruel heat wave that hit the city in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The only signpost that really matters is the resurrected Hideout Block Party that took place Sept. 23-24 at The Hideout Inn and managed to turn itself into an anti-festival.
This time out, owners Tim and Katie Tuten not only managed to reshape the idea of a festival but repurpose it as well. The clear point about this particular festival is that it has always been about the music and not the spectacle. In fact, the now annual block party feels exactly like its title implies, but with more bonuses.
As other big-ticket fests get bigger and longer, they feel less personal and that comes at a cost. At monstrosities like Lollapalooza, Riot Fest or even Pitchfork, the sense of community is all but forgotten while the feeling of corporate coldness pervades and the festival itself feels like product. The only thing that the thousands of attendees have in common at these events is that they burped up oodles of hard cold cash to gain entry.
Ironically, this edition of the Block Party came with a "donate what you can" ticket price, with all proceeds going toward Foundations of Music, which directly supports music education in the cash-strapped Chicago public-school system. And if that's not homey enough. the entire weekend saw Tim, Katie and an army of volunteers running around constantly making sure everything went as planed and that everyone had a great time.
Also, Tim and Katie are big on anniversaries. The first day commemorated the Sputnik launch of 1957 ( I have no idea if this was actually meant as a sharp poke in the ribs to our current president, who has a morally questionable love for everything Russian ) while the second celebrated the 20th birthday of producer Steve Albini's Electric Audio Recording Studio. There were cake and free hot dogs for everyone, lots of tabling for worthy causes, fountains of chilled beer to stave off the heat, hundreds of friendly people mingling around and some of the most exciting music in town served up outside the modest Hideout Inn.
What blew me away at the 2017 Hideout Block Party were the oddles of surprises amid a killer line-up.
The first set on the first day was the Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, which featured a mob of artists ( among them Jason Shanley, Travis and Michael P. of ONO, Annette D'Anna and Jose Bernal ) camped in front of the stage for a 15-minute spoken-word improvisational tribute to the legendary Sun Ra. It was, to say the least, a big loud fun mess.
Hideout mainstays Jon Langford and band Skull Orchard closed their rowdy set with cameos by John Mohr, John Szyanski and Sally Timms ( who grabbed a shruti ) and then went and torched everything in sight with a muscular "Memphis Egypt." Earlier in the day, Condo F*cks opened its set with a snarling rip through Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror," which served as an inside Chicago joke ( the song was used as the theme music for the old Creature Feature movie hour on Channel 9 back in the '70s ) and there were blistering sets by the newly formed FACS, old-school rockers Antietam and DIY darlings Meat Wave. The funniest set belonged to Danielson Famile, who displayed some rich harmonies and Pepsodent bright smiles but managed to upstage themselves by dressing like overgrown Girl Scouts looking for a cookie sale.
Shannon Wright became the belle of the ball by freaking out the entire audience. Attacking her guitar with aggression she presented a stunning sight: an explosion of auburn hair, a scar of red lips and a supple body that seemed to glide and jerk like a manta ray. I couldn't understand a word she said, but the intensity and commitment invested in her performance was griping.
Intergalactic surf punks Man or Astroman? ripped through a balls-out, sloppy set that was close to vintage slapstick comedy. With bassist Coco the Electronic Monkey ( Robert Delbueno ) leering like a crack-addled sailor and guitarist Avona Nova ( Samantha Erin Paulson ) careening on and off the stage while fiddling with cool-looking '50s retro sci fi gizmos, they gleefully whipped out a searing mix of surf, rockabilly licks and punk fury with a grin.
Festival closers Screaming Females' latest full-length, Rose Mountain ( on Don Giovanni Records ), sounds like mainstream radio rock but the way frontwoman Marissa Paternoster went at it the songs came across like punk with hair and spit flying everywhere. Funnier still was the dynamic between Paternoster, who spent the set shrieking, growling and clawing her way through the set while the comparatively statuesque King Mike stood with his curls flopped over his eyes while noodling on his bass like a sleepy Gollum. The hordes of queer women who showed up for this set loved it.