What happens when everyone's favorite musical snobs take over a park in the West end of Chicago? Why thousands of indie hipsters, curious onlookers, freaks, weirdoes, know-it-alls and stay-at-home moms converge for three days of rocking and rolling, hipping and hopping, boozin' and bruisin', of course. For three days in the middle of July the children of the underground ruled the roost at Union Park, staking out ground early in hopes of seeing Stephen Malkmus take a leak, Cat Power eat a vegan burrito or the New Pornographers do something at least the slightest bit pornographic. Of course, if any/all of those things occurred it was backstage in the VIP area, so there was really no hope of actually seeing it, but that didn't stop huge throngs of folks from huddling together in the blazing sun to watch it all go down.
Friday night's festivities, curated by the fine folks at All Tomorrow's Parties, included the first American performances of their Don't Look Back series, which features artists performing their most well loved albums in their entirety. While it would have been a bit more exciting to see, oh, Melvins do Houdini front-to-back, the groups that signed up for this round were all deserving in their own right.
Things started off on a somber note with reunited post-rock icons Slint performing their watershed Spiderland, and while this is indeed a landmark album in the indie rock lexicon, as well as one that the collected throng had clearly played ad nausem over the years, the subtle nuances that make the album so stunning were completely lost in the open air venue. All of which left the Slintsters sounding like little more than occasionally angry background music as non-plussed punters searched for food and beer in the foreground.
Wu-Tang Clan's GZA was up next, performing his solo, RZA-produced opus Liquid Swords without, you guessed it, the RZA. Despite the Wu's producer du jour not being in attendance, the performance was an unqualified success, splicing together lyrical kung-fu whimsy, Bruce Lee samples and diamond-hard beats into a pugnacious treatise on life in the streets of Staten Island as seen through the eyes of a night stalking, coke-slinging Ninja.
GZA "4th Chamber"
It was powerful stuff, if not always totally audible, and rapid-fire guest appearances from U-God and Cappadonna only helped reinforce to the masses that the Wu Tang Clan are, after more than fifteen years in the game, still nutt'in to fuck wit.
Then came the evening's headliners, the group people had flown in from around the globe to see, the inimitable Sonic Youth, performing what many consider to be their finest hour, Daydream Nation. Everyone waited with baited breath to see if the NYC art-punk institution could do live justice to an album so many of us in attendance have played in our bedrooms at ear-destroying volume over and over and over again. Luckily, they didn't let the throng down, blasting through the flaying "Teen Age Riot" and "Silver Rocket" with boisterous aplomb, and sending the crowd into rapturous frenzy with inspired renditions of "Eric's Trip" and "Total Trash", a symphony of feedback and grimy distortion.
Sonic Youth "Teenage Riot"
Ever the visual spectacle, Thurston Moore thrashed around like a mad Muppet, while Kim Gordon once again proved herself the queen of cool, acting just the slightest bit aloof and disaffected as she handled her bass/vocal duties. Their performance ended in a hail of burning amp tubes and caterwauling feedback, the perfect ending to an inspired performance of album that, over a decade later, remains one of alternative rock's most revered accomplishments.