Despite the creeping threat of COVID-19 and our federal government's ineptitude in handling it, springtime in Chicago arrived with a jolly vengeance in March.
The idea of a "spring awakening" got a whole new definition, as some local concerts felt more like pageants and seasonal celebrations. All of the packed shows that I saw proved that Chicago audiencesqueer and straightwere more than happy to shake off the winter blues and venture out for a night of ass shaking.
First up was The Black, Brown, and Indigenous Collective's BIPOC Punk Takeover at The Art Institute of Chicago on Feb. 21. The crew have, in years past, held weekend long DIY queer punk festivals, but this above-ground event was designed to accompany the exhibition "Vaginal Davis: The White to be Angry" at the museum. A well-behaved mob of queer individuals and allies filled the Chicago Stock Exchange Room to enjoy swirling pop from Mermaid N.V.; and hardcore thrashing from The Breathing Light and You Guys Suck Like Really Hard Shut the F*ck Up Thanks; while Uhuruverse and Blacker Face, the closers for the night, pushed artistic limits.
Uhuruversedraped in a macabre outfit with fake blood oozing down their facedelivered a solo set steeped in horror film trappings because, as they said, "As a Black LGBTQ person I am terrified by what I see around me in this country every day..." If their appearance enticed the crowd, the scathing music ( which included the songs "Eat the Rich" and "The Gentrifyers Are Coming" ) had them dancing frantically. Blacker Facewho have, in a relatively short period of time, garnered a reputation for evolving drastically as a bandpresented a set that smoothly embraced punk, soul, and gospel.
The quartet of stage director Jesse Morgan Young ( formally of queer boy band BAATHHAUS ), producer Paul Scudder, and performers Alex Grelle and Andrew Sa took inspiration from the late David Bowie ( specifically, his 1974 television special The 1980 Floor Show ) for a throbbing, theatrical and shapeless spectacular simply called Floor Show.
This event not only paid homage to the rocker but also found a way to throw in an army of dancers, glam rocker Gary Glitter, a live band, queer icons Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, a near-blinding light show, and innumerable costume and wig changes into the mix. The show, which ran on weekends Feb. 20- March 1 at the Chopin Theater, was not the typical Bowie tribute parading the hits ( no "Let's Dance," no "Jean Genie," no "Space Oddity" ) but a mix and reworking of lesser-known recordings ( "Kingdom Come," "Win," "Time will Crawl" ) as well as some theatrical jabs ( Grelle and Sa doing a jaunty do-see-do through "Rebel Rebel" in drag as Minelli and Garland, for example ).
As if all that weren't enough, psychedelic pop star Kevin Barnes and his band Of Montreal played The Bottom Lounge on March 12 in support of their new album, UR Fun ( on Polyvinyl Records ). For Barnes, it has never been enough to merely come out and play some songs. As usual, he pulled out all the stops, with oversized face masks, dancers in billowing chiffon, an almost overpowering light show and an Aztec-style motif used to striking theatrical effect. Barnes, ever the goofball, bounced about like a puppet without its strings singing new songs like "Peace to All Freaks," "You've had Me Everywhere," "Don't Let Me Die in America" and the insanely catchy "Get God's Attention by being an Athiest."
Heads up: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, upcoming live shows, large events and gatherings have either been postponed until further notice or canceled all together.