ChiChronicles

notes from a journey through Chicago's cultural landscape...

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

...this is not about me, this is about my city - a living document of Chicago's art's scene, a memoir of concerts I've been to & performances I've seen, a jaded scribe's small sampling of the many offerings of this vibrant cosmopolitan city that I'm lucky enough to call home. I work the city as the city works me, all of us connected in varying degrees, here i pay tribute to our evolving soundtrack, I plug praiseworthy endeavors & try to give a little back... Together with my peers we paint this crossroads with every shade we can find, in your mediums & mine, i run with deep house deviants & wrinkled blues cats, youngun' b-boy crews & quirky circus brats, snobby eclectic DJs & electric painters laboring on projected displays, film makers armed with mini-DVs & picky chefs sculpting tricky masterpieces out of vegan grease... i kick it with slam poets & theater geeks, powerbook producers & fashionista freaks, photoshop fellowships & choreographer hips, while jazz cats blow digital epics through pursed bebop lips... i'm at the nexus of the next wave of Chicago sound - this is where i share the stories of all the beauty I've found...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Belmont Harbor Yacht Club

Visited an old friend at Belmont Harbor, spent an hour chilling by the boats, as she was in town to assist her father & brother who were competing in an elite regatta on Lake Michigan. Sat at the lakefront and watched the water darken as the sun set over the city behind us... That was my first visit to the actual pier of the Chicago Yacht club, I've passed it on rollerblades a million times but I've never actually been inside. They're hosting a North American Championship Regatta over the course of this week, and a horde of sailing professionals from around the world were there in force. It was nice to see folks who are serious about their skills congregated around some world-class boats...it was a little slice of the waterfront I don't sample much these days, since I moved inland to Logan Square a year ago... Must...get...more...LAKEFRONT...

Related Links:
http://www.etchellschicago.com/

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Cuban Love

Had dinner with some friends from out of town at Cafe Laguardia in Bucktown, which features fantastic Cuban food, live Latin jazz, beautiful people, & a great vibe all around. We had some great Mango Mojitos & Capirinhas while slinking down into some comfortable couches, then had an outrageously tasty meal in the dining area while listening to the music of Angel de Cuba in the Solar System.... If you're in Bucktown, this spot is HOT and well worth a visit...

http://www.cafelaguardia.com/

Friday, June 17, 2005

Africa Hi-Fi @ Sonotheque

Worked the Africa Hi-Fi merchandise table all night. Had the wonderful chance to meet a few amazing people: the artist Chadwick did a live installation at the gig, painting a huge canvas over the course of the evening, and I was working in a room that had three of his masterful paintings on display. I highly recommend checking out his work. Also talked to Angel Luis Figueroa, the guest artist of the month, a magnificent Puerto Rican percussionist/producer based out of LA, and he was kind and generous enough to spend a few minutes talking to me about politics in music and the subtleties of sending a message through the intricate interplay of rhythm and words. I dropped some Six Degrees CDs in his hands, and my most recent DJ mix, but I think I got the better end of the deal just by having the chance to talk to him for a few minutes. There is something incredibly powerful about veteran percussionists schooled in the Afro-Caribbean tradition, they carry in their presence the awareness of the Yoruba powers underlying the music we make, and that awareness bleeds out of their very pores. They are links to a neglected realm, and beneath their hands a tapestry of beats emerges that wraps any who listen in the folds of powerful old ceremonies that tap deep into the collective memory. Angel's set, at the very peak of the evening, was a blissful overwhelming event for some, and an annoyance for some of the House kids who "just want to dance." I suppose we receive what we are open to receive... To those who can't get into a conga/DJ set, filled with chants & calls & response, it's their goddamn loss...
The evening was the 1-year anniversary of Africa Hi-Fi, it's been a year since I met Sonia Hassan and began to appreciate the incredible aesthetic & skills of my favorite DJ, the inimitable Ron Trent. Sonia outdid herself this month with gifts for the staff, an array of sustainable plantain chips from Equador, and with custom strings of beads from Africa for her legion of club friends who can't seem to scare up the willingness to part with $10 to get down all night long. She maintained a general air of goodwill and celebration that colored anyone who crossed her path. However, she pushed herself hard, and was short of breath at the end of the evening... To be a conduit for a community is a taxing, thankless job that milks the most generous souls dry... Sonia gives so much of herself in everything she's involved in, and it's frightening sometimes to see how oblivious people are to her health. For every party that works, there's an overworked, undercompensated promoter whose blood, sweat, and tears are woven deep into the mix. I've learned so much from Africa Hi-Fi, the least of which is what it takes to really make sacrifices for what you want to achieve. I hope to spend another year working with Ron & Sonia, because they're truly surfing the leading edge of Afro-centric futuristic sound, which taps into the source and looks to the future all at the same time...

concept gatherings and spicy plantain chips
amnesty pamphlets & hordes of shaking hips
live installations & funky dreads
the next generation of conscious house heads
deep throbbing bass & Fela onscreen
some of the flyest people i've seen on the scene
dub & bailefunk & boricua riffs
weave it all together and the center of gravity shifts...


Related Links:
http://www.pawsmusic.org/angel.html

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bombay Beatbox @ Sonotheque

This month's Bombay Beatbox evening had a surprisingly large turnout. In the middle of my set, I turned away from the decks to select a track to play, and when I faced the crowd again the room had somehow filled up and there were people dancing. It was 10:15, and usually it doesn't get crowded or inebriated enough for folks to start getting down till at least midnight. So I played some more floor-friendly cuts and relinquished the tables to DJ Warp, Baseshot Scenario, and Adheesh Sathaye on tablas. Spent the rest of the evening chatting with new and old friends. Turns out a business conference had sent their delegates to Sonotheque to party the night away, which was why a whole lot of "normies" (aka normal people in dockers & casual business suits) outnumbered the usual hipster set. It was a good vibe all night long, though, the dancefloor never emptied, I met some amazing new people who I hope will become friends for life. The music has its own inertia, and I believe we might be starting to attract a steady stream of Chicago regulars who understand and appreciate what we're trying to do, which is cultivate a scene of connoisseurs who have cosmopolitan tastes in sound. It's not an easy scene to break into, though, Chicago is filled with hedonists & music snobs, and the club world is filled with heads who've been spoilt over the years by getting so much good music from so many different directions that it's difficult to convince them of the worth of something they've never heard before. On Bombay Beatbox nights I generally try to spin music that's fresh off the presses, or overlooked albums from the near past, I stick to playing tracks that the crowd hasn't come across, which is a test of their patience & willingness to be led in new directions. There aren't many occasions when a DJ has that privilege, and it's a blessing to have that opportunity to share underpublicized gems under the tutelage of DJ Warp & Radiohiro, who are old hands at working a room with futuristic worldbeat. I hope next month goes as well as June's monthly night, perhaps the momentum has begun to shift in our favor...

Related Links:
www.radiohiro.com

Saturday, June 11, 2005

BluesFest - Day II

spent the majority of the afternoon @ BluesFest, catching some rays and checking out the scene. I'd planned on staying to watch Buddy Guy headline the mainstage @ 8 pm, but ended up cutting out a little early. I did see elder veteran Benny Latimer throw down a hot set @ the CrossRoads stage, using his keyboard and voice to lead the crowd through a series of great jams and entertaining songs. Lyrical highlight of the day: "I may be an old dog, but i still know how to bury the bone..."
:-)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

BluesFest - Day 1

Picked up some flyers at Hot House and since I was right next door I swung through Grant Park for the first evening of BluesFest... This is now my 8th year of catching Bluesfest, in 1998 it was the singlemost important factor in making me decide to spend the summer in Chicago... Since that first encounter with the city's muddy electric soul, I've never really left... Every Delta guitarist eventually finds their way to Chicago, seeking to plug in and wail out a magnified testimony of the polluted streams from which we've emerged... My blues-singer dreams, however, have been deferred, re-routed through turntables till they no longer resemble the initial impetus... I come from the blues, but all shades find their way into the mix, a growing motley tapestry of cultures, rhythms, and methods lifted from every tongue i've ever encountered. I wouldn't have it any other way...

My experience of the sun-drenched arrival of summer each year is marked by BluesFest, but it's meaning has changed to me. The sound that once felt like a revelation has grown increasingly familiar, bringing with it a banality that taints my appreciation of this form. But regardless of how many times I've heard Muddy Waters covers, the spectacle of BluesFest, the sight of the Petrillo Shell against the skyline, the intimacy of the Front Porch stage, the raw gritty feel of the Juke Joint stage, these are signature Chicago moments, musical snapshots that are fundamental to my aesthetic and identity. I saw Chris Thomas King, the actor who played Robert Johnson in "O Brother Where Art Thou" on the CrossRoads Stage a few years before he was really famous, and the litany of artists I've encountered through BluesFest makes for quite a list... Every year I am reborn in Grant Park, listening to old wrinkled guys from Fat Possum Records and young upstarts like Jonny Lang or veterans aces like Larry McCray. These guys don't play...this is not a game, this is the infinite pain of the transplanted plugged in and bent till it trembles like a breaking human voice...
anyhow.
Today I trudged through the park with a 30 lb bag full of flyers, doffed the shirt and lay half-naked amongst the masses while drinking in the June sun, sitting in the grass and soaking in summer. Moved from the Front Porch stage to the Petrillo shell, where they just recently added a huge live video screen to magnify the happenings onstage for all the folks lounging in the field... Talk about a fantastic addition... I lay down in the far fringes and napped while people-watching... 86 degrees and sunny, tank-tops, tattoos, skirts & sculpted bodies out in force... God I love this city... I forget sometimes, but once BluesFest comes around and summer in Chicago calls its beautiful children out to play, it all becomes clear...
come on
baby don'tcha wanna go
come on
baby don'tcha wanna go
to the land of california
my sweet home
chicago....


Related Links:
For a complete line-up of the 4 day festival's 5 stages & highlights:
http://www.chicagoreader.com/music/sidebars/BLUES2005.html

Friday, June 03, 2005

Saul Williams @ Manifest - Grant Park

Columbia College hosted Manifest today, a 12 hour marathon arts showcase featuring a tremendous array of talent at various venues along a small stretch of Grant Park, @ Michigan Ave & 11th. I had to work the 9 to 5 but heard that Saul Williams was performing at 6 pm for FREE, which is quite the deal since I'm too broke & too busy at the moment to make his set @ Hot House later tonight. So I finished up at the day job, and walked down Michigan Ave to catch what promised to be a truly great way to start the weekend...
Got to the park @ 5:40. There was a nice graffiti showcase leading up to the stage, and a horde of beautiful Columbia hipsters lurking around in various states of casual lounging... The spot wasn't crowded, and I found a nice place to sit on the grass about 50 feet from the direct middle of the stage. I basked in the grass for awhile and people-watched, till DJ Ad Lib (aka Fabian???) started soundchecking his gear. It was hard to sit still when he started toying with those bass frequencies... It didn't look like he was using turntables, but some kind of trigger-oriented sequencer-like gear that spat out loops and had its own effects rack built in. Regardless of his gear, soundcheck was over quickly and I soon spotted Saul at the side of the stage, relaxed and stretching his arms out while in conversation with some stage folks. To be completely honest, although I've been following Saul's career for almost 7 years, this was actually the first time I've been in his presence. The man has an undeniable glow, and carries with him a tangible energy that radiates off his body... He stood in the wings as Terri Hemmert from WXRT got up in front of the crowd to introduce him. She made a few brief remarks about the importance of spoken word in the rock and folk traditions and then introduced Saul. The crowd greeted him with a brief but rather tepid bout of applause...
His first words: "y'all are sitting down..." Then he launches into a slam poem, which I believe was featured in the 1998 documentary SLAMNATION, an epic poem which i last heard performed by Saul alongside Beau Sia, muMs the Schemer, & Jessica Care Moore... It's an awesome piece, but for some reason, framed by the sunlight slanting off the skyscrapers on Michigan Avenue, it feels a little bit like Saul's B-game, an old familiar text that's just a warm-up for him at this point in his career. I should point out that these days Saul is one of the most hyped MC's in America, with a veritable torrent of worshipful press following him, and he's arguably the most legendary hip hop poet to come out of the Slam Poetry scene. My expectations are high, and they are legitimately so - I'm familiar with enough of Saul's recorded catalog, read enough of his poetry, and have heard interviews with the man to be aware of the breadth and scope of his consciousness and the magnitude of the intentions underlying his work. He's a pioneer and a true embodiment of the hip hop aesthetic in its organic, pre-bling state, and the potency of his reputation raises the bar for his performances. The audience demands a lot from such folks, as they are torchbearers for the rest of us...
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After the opening slam poem, Saul intones an undeniable command: "STAND UP", and the crowd gets to its feet and moves closer to the stage as DJ Ad Lib drops the first powerfully thumping beat of the evening. Over a deep rumbling bass and a spacious break, Saul begins chanting the refrain to "African Student Movement" off his latest CD. The poem's all about "African People", (the chorus is "where my niggers at?) and after the song concludes Saul explains its meaning to him. He offers a concise, eloquent rational linking the labors and trials of "African People" to the lives of privilege we live in America. It's a compelling argument, and although you can feel the crowd is with him in spirit, it's still early, the sun hasn't set yet, no alcohol has been consumed, and the collective mood is still stiff. Unfortunately, although the crowd loosens up over the course of the show, it never really lets loose and I think Saul came away feeling a little disappointed in us. There wasn't much bouncing, there wasn't much chanting, and the overwhelming mood was of diffident inspiration. Yeah, he rocked our worlds, but we didn't give him much back... That's probably the fate of any artist trying to work a sober Loop crowd at the end of a long week, beneath an overcast Chicago sky, before the weekend mood has really had time to settle...
But again, I'm ahead of myself. After "African Student Movement," Fabian & Saul go into "Black Stacey," a second heavily racial song about skin consciousness, and given the crowd's mostly white constitution, it felt a little confrontational. The whole set, in fact, was a little detached from the audience. From where I stood, the crowd was full of largely silent listeners, soaking in Saul's infinite lyrical gifts, but absorbing them in the receptive position, disinclined towards any outward show of support other than polite applause and some reserved head bopping. This was no failure of the music, as the beats were intricate, the bass was incredibly loud and a tangible presence, and the lyrics were suitably profound and well-syncopated. Still, something was missing, and it didn't feel like the absent element was missing from Saul's presence...
Perhaps the strangest moment in the show came immediately preceding "Act III Scene II", during a brief stretch between songs when Saul was talking about the validity of the underground, and what it means for an artist to go mainstream. He was talking about the reality of being part of the silent majority of America, and made a humorous little comment about hip hop kids rocking backpacks, when out of the blue some random chunky white guy blew by me on the right side screaming, "FUCK YOU YOU IGNORANT MOTHERFUCKER" at Saul. I thought the guy was some kind of staged act at first (cause the only people i disingenuously call ignorant motherfuckers are my friends, of course) but this dude was SERIOUS. He approached the stage real militant-like, cussing at high volume the whole time, before he was re-directed by the booing crowd towards the side of the stage away from the action. It was a really strange moment, because nothing precipitated the guy's outburst, and it was so out of place in what had been a pretty positive experience up to that point. (To be perfectly honest and betray my northside roots, it felt a little like redneck WhiteSox rage, like when those two random fans charged the field & beat up the 1st base coach for no discernable reason...) Saul was a little put out by the incident, but quickly got things back on track, shrugging off the guy's bad vibes saying "ahh, that wasn't me he was thinking of, it was that OTHER nigger..." (which was damn funny, but maybe you had to be there...)
Anyhow, the show got on track again, but the sound was a little bit muddier, and although there were some incredibly profound moments, it finished up pretty fast. Saul ended the show with a funny line, something along the lines of: "Remember that God is an infant that we just beget, and now he's crying, and his diaper's wet..." I might have that little wrong but you get the jist...
The performance was truly powerful, but it did feel like he was saving some energy for his sold out show later tonight. You can't blame him - the crowd was standoffish and the venue, although a beautiful backdrop to the lakefront and the South Loop, wasn't really conducive to the evolved progressive hip hop consciousness Saul manifests so well. Still...a free Saul Williams show on a Friday afternoon is nothing to turn your nose up at... The future of hip hop is unfolding before him, and his lyricism is setting the standard for MCs everywhere. 'Twas a pleasure and privilege, no matter how short his set or how stiff the crowd...

It seemed like a lot of the folks at the show hadn't heard the songs before, so I highly recommend anyone who hasn't checked out Saul's recorded aesthetic to have a look at his albums. The first is a juicy little nugget produced by Rick Rubin and the second, which I just purchased last week is a crazy hip hop/jungle/atmospheric soundscape journey into electronica and charged militant rap. They're both worth a listen, or ten, if you're interested in the art of the WORD...

Related Links:
www.saulwilliams.com
http://manifest.colum.edu/