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CONCERTS Activate: Green Room, Alice Cooper, Hozier, Parker Milsap, Hunx
by Vern Hester
2019-08-20

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In case you didn't get enough queer cheer in June, July and August came packed with plenty of treats for every persuasion.

Fairy godmother Barbra Streisand hit the United Center on Aug. 6, just days after Lollapalooza invaded Grant Park, with Janelle Monae and Ariana Grande as headliners. The annual Pitchfork Music Festival took place in Union Park July 19-21, with earth mother Mavis Staples presiding and dance queens Charli XCX and Robyn in tow.

Taking full advantage of the victory of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody at the Oscars earlier this year, Queen ( fronted by Adam Lambert ) came through the United Center for a show Aug. 9. To top that off, there was barely legal and newly out rapper Lil Nas X wearing an orange leather cowboy outfit dancing between Keith Urban and Billy Ray Cyrus at the Country Music Awards in celebration of his song, "Old Town Road" breaking records for topping the Billboard record charts.

As for the shows I was able to catch, there were just as many exciting diversions to keep even the fussiest toddler entranced. On July 18, the Chicago Loop Alliance presented Activate: Green Room—an art and performance happening pop-up celebration behind the Symphony Center. Despite the sweltering heat, participants stayed cool in the shade of the alley while dancing and taking in performances by drag queens as they saluted Broadway musicals. Among the performers were Bambi Banks Coulee, Lucy Stoole, Khloe Park and Kat Sass.

No less theatrical but on an entirely different page, the last of the glam rockers, Alice Cooper, pulled into the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater for a night of music and mayhem. Still spry at 71, Cooper's set featured the hits ( "School's Out," "Under My Wheels," "Poison," "Billion Dollar Babies" ) with rarities ( "My Stars," "Bed of Nails," "Halo of Flies," "Raped and Freezing" ) thrown in for good measure. With the support of his stellar backing band, including guitar goddess Nita Strauss, Cooper not only lived up to his legacy as a macabre showman, but showed the long-term benefits of sobriety and healthful living.

Opener Motionless in White, featuring vocalist Chris Cerulli, started the evening with a dose of murky goth metal. Although the band was heavy on face paint and religious symbolism, musically the performances were compelling and pleasing. Grammy-winning co-headliner Halestorm chose to bash the near-capacity crowd with a megawatt attack light on subtlety and high on volume. Between vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale and lead guitarist Joe Hottinger, the set pummeled the audience into submission.

By contrast, Hozier's sold-out Lollapalooza after-show at The Metro on July 31 seduced a rowdy crowd that wanted to be seduced. Local Kelly Hogan opened the show with a set of ballads and soothed the crowd with her and the band's pristine harmonies. Once Hozier got onstage the crowd would not stop singing along with him to songs from his latest album, Wasteland Baby ( on Rubyworks Records ) which included "Dinner and Diatribes," "Would that I," and "Movement" as well as older hits ( "Someone New," "Jackie and Wilson," and, of course, "Take Me to Church" ).

Oklahoma blues rocker Parker Millsap played in front of an SRO crowd at Fitzgerald's on Aug. 14 in support of his new full-length, Other Arrangements ( on Thirty Tigers Records ). After wowing critics, catching the ear of Elton John and enjoying an Album of the Year nomination for The Very Last Year from the Americana Music Association, Millsap went from relative obscurity to hot buzz artist with a small but fervent following. This show found him flexing his vocal muscles with a rawer, more freewheeling edge on old ( "Hands Up," "The Very Last Day," "Heaven Sent" ) as well as new songs ( "Coming On," "Other Arrangements," "Fine Line," a rowdy cover of Sly Stone's "Everyday People" ) while his crack band gave the songs exactly what they needed in the moment. ( Drummer Paddy Ryan and bassist Michael Rose provided the stinging wallop while violinist Daniel Foulks added a lyrical accent. )

And, lastly, fter taking a five-year hiatus from performing in Chicago, L.A. rockers Hunx and his Punx helped 312 productions celebrate the ninth anniversary of the annual Rock and Roll Market on Aug. 17. The mini-festival, held in and around The East Room, featured venders, Deep Eddy cocktails, organic snacks and a musical line-up featuring White Mystery, queer band Bev Rage and the Drinks, and out vocalist Jolene Whatevr and her band, Darker Face. Hunx—the alter ego of hair dresser/painter/sculptor Seth Bogart— performed an hilariously sloppy set that included "Bad Boi," "Don't Call Me Fabulous" and "Don't be a Pussy."


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