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A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party 2014: From Worst to Best

Festival Review

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    Call The Hideout Block Party & Onion A.V. Fest the anti-Lollapalooza. Whereas the Chicago festival juggernaut has been criticized for choosing fads over talent in recent years (an accusation that’s not completely true), the Block Party values longevity over buzz. Only that’s not completely true either.

    Sure, this year had a latter-day incarnation of funk legends the Meters, but it also had trendy electropop from Sylvan Esso and the otherworldly Appalachia of Valerie June. Death Cab for Cutie and The Dismemberment Plan gave the weekend some much needed populism, and The War on Drugs are the indie kings of 2014. I’m not sure if the festival promoters considered longevity, buzzworthiness, reviews, or anything else really when curating the lineup, other than just inviting musicians they liked.

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    And that’s what a Block Party is, right? A shindig where you invite all your friends and see who shows up. It’s crowded (but never too crowded), everyone gets drunk (but never too drunk), things get messy (but never too messy), and maybe Travis Morrison accidentally breaks something. But he feels really bad and apologizes for it. So it’s all good.

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    These traits could apply to any of the Block Parties, not just this year’s, and that suits us just fine. Unlike Lolla and even Riot Fest, it’s a Chicago institution that always stays the same size — after all, The Hideout parking lot is only so big. It’s reliably ramshackle. It’s a tension-free festival. Everyone’s welcome, even though there’s no way everyone will come. In other words, it’s a block party.

    Missed it? Here’s the whole weekend, from worst to best.

    –Dan Caffrey
    Senior Staff Writer

    Mac DeMarco

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    How chill is too chill? If his Saturday set was any indication, the answer is Mac DeMarco. Although his Epic Stage Dive proved worthy for hundreds of Instagram accounts, the surrounding 50 minutes was fully stocked with Jimmy Buffett noodling, tepid stage banter, and half-baked covers that may or may not have been laced with irony — that was the problem. For a guy that has the craziest sense of humor in music today, the afternoon set was a confusing snooze fest. What the hell happened? –Michael Roffman

    Bad Luck Jonathan

    jon langford steven arroyo A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party 2014: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Steven Arroyo

    Jon Langford is a Welsh-born, Chicago-based musician and longtime friend of the Hideout who has performed there with various bands for several years, but early arrivers (and early-ish arrivers – the fest’s start time was pushed back 50 minutes due to vicious afternoon storms) got to see him perform with a brand-new outfit. Bad Luck Jonathan, whose name is a fittingly shit-eating nod to the president of Nigeria, ground out a few songs of professionally belligerent, lampshade-on-head punk for the fest’s opening, designated Hideout-insiders’ set. “We will only play again when it rains,” Langford signed off, despite having just seen rain shorten and repel people from his set. –Steven Arroyo

    Handsome Family

    handsome family steven arroyo 1 A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party 2014: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Steven Arroyo

    As storms swept through the Chicagoland area on Friday, a friend remarked that the Handsome Family’s somber, gothic folk might sound excellent against roaring thunder. Sadly, the band’s early evening set felt more soggy than ominous, perhaps due to the lack of stand-up bass, which co-founder Rennie Sparks revealed was a victim of the evening’s frustratingly intermittent downpours. Still, the band finished strong with the beefy “All the Time in Airports” and “Far from Any Road”, as haunting here as it was in the opening credits of True Detective. Blame it on the rain, cuz’. [Gotta blame it on somethin’.] –Randall Colburn

    Hamilton Leithauser

    hamilton leithauser steven arroyo A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party 2014: From Worst to Best

    Photo by Steven Arroyo

    Every act on Friday night was hampered by the inclement weather, but none as much as Hamilton Leithauser. For starters, the former Walkmen frontman was forced to whittle down his set to less than a half hour, allowing for only a handful of songs off his one and only studio album, this year’s Black Hours. Surprisingly, the record’s quieter, more minimal melodies were best suited to the sound issues and moody clouds above, with a small string section and Leithauser’s gutter-Sinatra vibrato delicately pushing through the gloom on “5 AM“. Like other bands in the evening, though, his more distorted tracks, such as “I Don’t Need Anyone”, sounded muddy due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. We know it’s not your fault, Hambone, and look forward to catching you next time. –Dan Caffrey

    funky METERS

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Note: This entry was written by 55-year-old guest reporter Gunther Guthrie.

    Wow, here I am again, on the music beat, covering one of the last festivals of the summer. Consequence of Sound enjoyed my Lollapalooza coverage so much they invited me back! Looks like I’ve come a long way since sitting cross-legged on the floor in the family den, listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer’s first record with my Uncle Dave. He doesn’t get out to shows very much these days on account of his gout, but he’s a monument of a man and is solely responsible for getting me into classical crossover. Love ya, Uncle Dave!

    Anyway, this festival was called The Hideout Block Party & Onion A.V. Fest (try saying that 10 times fast). Even though I hadn’t heard of most of the bands, I’ve got to say, these guys know how to put on a show: a single stage, polite crowds, and an MC who stresses the importance of safety and education. I’d like to meet him! Okay, there were some teenagers, but they were dressed respectably — none of that midriff or highlighter paint crap (seriously, girls, no one wants to see your belly button, okay?). And what is with the guys and their hats? Bend the brim. I don’t care if some guy named Mack De Marko does it; that doesn’t mean you have to, too. That is, unless you like looking like you’re getting eaten by a giant duck. Oh, you do? Well okay then!

    FunkyMeters3_Hideout_Koellner

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    But I digress. CoS Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman (hi, Mike!) tells me I need to focus on the music at these festivals, not the idiotic fashion of today’s youth, and he knew the perfect band for me to write about: the funky METERS. Back in my day, these guys just went by the Meters, but hey, what do I know? Gotta change with the times, man.

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    Now, I have to admit, I didn’t actually get to see the METERS (jeez, I should just keep my caps lock on for the rest of this review!), thanks to that pastrami on rye I got earlier from Jersey Mike’s. Right as that nice teacher guy introduced the band, the pastrami hit me, sending a rumbling across my gut that I knew wasn’t going to end well. I don’t want to get gross or anything, but let’s just say I had full-blown diarrhea.

    Luckily, A.V. Fest’s port-o-johns were right near the stage. Even better, they were clean. This was toward the end of the day, but the seat was dry, and there was plenty of room in the bowl for more waste. It didn’t even smell! Without hesitation, I pulled down my swim trunks and did my business. Now, most of the time when you’re in a port-o-john, you can’t wait to get out. You feel the steam of a thousand other peoples’ bowels rising from beneath you, like some sulfurous portal to Hell. Not the case here. I felt as comfortable as I would have in my bathroom at home, so I decided to make the most of it. After I was sufficiently evacuated (it didn’t take long) and the METERS started to play their delicious second-line grooves, I pulled out my Louis L’Amour novel and began to read. As I flipped through the pages of my sci-fi Western, a light breeze passed through the vents of my new private restroom. I felt at ease. The METERS played on (I could hear them perfectly through the ventilation), and all was right with the world.

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Until they started playing Bob Dylan.

    I’m sorry, I know the METERS are legends and all, but did they really have to cover a song whose chorus is “Everybody must get stoned“? What kind of message does that send? I tried to ignore it and finish the next chapter of The Haunted Mesa, but it just wasn’t happening. Look, I get it. Rock stars like to party. We all know that. But the kids at this festival were so upstanding and impressionable, a far cry from the debauched youth at places like Lollapalooza and North Coast. I seriously began to question the effects this “classic” song would have on them.

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    I couldn’t take it anymore. I hiked up my swim trunks, put my novel back into my backpack, and stormed out of the port-o-john, letting the door slam behind me. I’m pretty sure the METERS heard my message loud and clear. Hopefully, they’ll reconsider their setlist at the next gig.

    After hitting up The Publican’s food stand for a spicy Porchetta sandwich with pork loin, sweet mustard seed, cucumbers, and onion, I felt a lot better. And two funnel cakes later, I heard that a band called The War on Drugs would be playing eventually that night. That sounded more up my alley, as they surely hate narcotics and Bob Dylan. At least someone’s got their priorities straight! –Gunther Guthrie

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