North Coast 2011 Recap: Day Three

Photo Credit: Andrew Hertzberg

Even on the way to day three at North Coast I knew it was going to be an entirely different atmosphere. The bands were more up my alley, and the weather was comfortable and seasonal, not the sweltering heat of Friday or the scattered rains of Saturday. Instead, we were able to take advantage of a 70-degree day, a beautiful blue sky and non-threatening puffy clouds with perfectly timed breezes throughout. As I entered Union Park for the final day, I was treated to the afro-soul sounds of the Budos Band. The repetitive basslines are trancelike, there’s an excessive but necessary amount of percussion, and the snake-charmer horn section proves you don’t need “dance music” to want to dance. They discussed their love of cobras before they went into ‘Black Venom’ — I wonder if they were aware of Cobra Lounge around the corner on Ashland Ave.

Next up on the North Coast Main Stage was Chicago’s Van Ghost. Blankets dotted the park next to lawn chairs, nobody really seeming to expect anything too wild. Sure enough, Van Ghost play very safe, classic rock inspired, Midwesterny tunes and are somewhat of an anachronism to the festival. It was pleasant enough and all the musicians are loaded with talent, but it wasn’t anything too gripping.

Back over to the Groupon stage was the Swedish downtempo band Little Dragon. I’d seen them live before and couldn’t get over how tight their drummer was, throwing in drum pads and extra percussion over just a normal kit. The standout in the band is singer Yukimi Nagano, who started her own little dance party on stage, playing with a scarf, and always adds a beautiful voice to the often ominous music. Unfortunately, the crowd wasn’t really having it and began to filter away, either for ATB who’s set started midway through Little Dragon’s or Of Montreal at the other main stage. I hate to admit that I was part of the latter group — Little Dragon are so good, but I knew Of Montreal is best experienced up close.

I could very easily spend a couple thousand words on Of Montreal. And although every single one would be worth it, I’ll spare your time. Not to mention, it’s literally impossible to translate the live experience into words. Yes, I could mention the ridiculous outfits they wore, the staged wrestling scenes, the people on stage who played no instruments but would dance around as skulls in pajamas or flameheads. I could mention the one-eyed monster frontman Kevin Barnes rode on stage at one point or the multiple teenage girl outfits he wore. I could mention the character of Georgie Fruit he created, a Ziggy Stardust-esque alter ego of a cross-dressing African-American who has had multiple sex changes. There are the sexually explicit lyrics and imagery, and the fact that Kevin Barnes is actually married and has a kid in real life. There were five guitarists at one point, and multi-instrumentalist K Ishibashi got to perform lead on the reggaeton jam ‘Just the Tip’ which as far as I know has not been recorded. There was the strand of what must have been a few hundred balloons tied together, spiderwebbing over the audience. There was the time when Barnes got in a raft with a patriotic lucha libre wrestler and floated over the crowd.

They ranged their music over the last four major albums, relying mostly on the hits, but they got the party going. ‘The Party’s Crashing Us’ was a treat and ‘She’s a Rejector’ was chaotic. Surprisingly, they only played one song, ‘Do You Mutilate?,’ off of this year’s False Priest, focusing more on material from 2007’s incredible and inimitable Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. And what better way to close out the set? K Ishibashi comes out with a violin to perform ‘America the Beautiful’ before ending the whole thing with ‘Turkey in the Straw’ with the rest of the band and cast doing a jig on the stage. Needless to say, everyone who witnessed this had their minds blown, particularly those first-timers at an Of Montreal live show. As far as I was concerned, they shut down the festival.

Of course, that’s not to say I was done. Gogol Bordello was next, who I knew to be madness as well. Craziness from start to finish, and more than likely the only band at North Coast to inspire a circle pit. Although best known as an Eastern European punk rock group, they throw in some Rastafarian inspired jams as well. Visually, they look like the world-weary wanderers hanging at all times at North/Milwaukee/Damen, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them later that night playing at the crotch. Frontman Eugene Hutz teased the crowd with excerpts from ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ and the Beatles’ ‘Girl’ before going into their trademark tune ‘Start Wearing Purple’ and closing it all down with the vicious and wild ‘Think Locally, Fuck Globally.’

Sunday had already proved itself to be the best day. Since none of the headliners were anything I particularly cared for, I kept a fair distance from Bassnectar, not feeling any need to join the rave that Union Park had turned into. It was a jam-packed event and one of the biggest gatherings of people I have seen for live music. As the American DJ’s name implies, he likes to favor the low-end of the human hearing frequency spectrum. There were neon glowsticks and fingertipped gloves illuminating the park that night.

Final Thoughts

For me, North Coast is the closest thing to a Woodstock that can happen in Chicago — people are free from self-consciousness, wear (or not wear) whatever they feel like, and just be and dance and party or zone out and nap. Not a particular fan of the environment myself, it’s nothing I would dissuade anyone from attending who is curious and wants to check out. For me, it’s still about the lineup vs. the experience. The Chicago festival scene is already so dense and by this time of the summer, it’s hard to want to keep up for those of us that try to hit it all. I’m not gonna ignore it completely, but we’ll have to wait and see if it’ll continue to be as great as Pitchfork or as popular as Lollapalooza.

So there we have it. I’d say I’m sad to see the summer go, but its been a great one, and everyone knows autumn in this city is the best. It’s time to move things indoors, but there’s still plenty left to come. Until next summer, I’ll see you at any of the various venues, clubs, basements, and loft spaces around the city.

Andrew Hertzberg

About Andrew Hertzberg

If identity is an illusion, I’m a magician in training. And although Emerson was right in pointing out that “with consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do” the one constant I don’t mind in my life is Chicago. Yes, even the boredom of her suburbs couldn’t suppress the glow of the city, my attraction as a moth to flame. The future is unwritten, the characters are ever-expanding, and the plot is a perpetual foray through rising actions, conflicts and falling actions; the setting, however, remains the same.

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