About 25,000-30,000 people came out to Union Park to see the 2006 Intonation Festival on Saturday and Sunday to see 26 musical acts play on two stages. Last year’s attendance was a bit higher, but the new competing Pitchfork Festival undoubtedly siphoned off some of the acts and audience members.
Yet, this year’s show even more diverse than last year’s festival. The Intonation Festival once again focused on new underground rock acts, but several of this year's most potent performers were hip-hop artists and veteran rockers.
The highlight was a blisteringly hot performance by Roky Erickson, who has not performed outside of Texas since 1982. The reclusive godfather of American psychedelic rock performed a savage version of the 13 th floor Elevators hit, "You're Gonna Miss Me,” as well his newer solo classics such as "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog), the immortal “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators,” and of course the irresistibly poppy, “Starry Eyes.” His encore was a tough version of “I Walked with a Zombie” (based on Val Lewton’s classic horror film from 1943), and earlier he performed “Creature with the Atom Brain,” which was based on a more obscure ‘50s horror flick. Fans also went wild over a great poem about Roky recited by the Chicago spoken word legend, Thax Douglas, who introduced half the bands (for a transcript of the poem see http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=822603.
Erickson sounded like a ‘50s rockabilly singer possessed by Satan. His inspired singing was reminiscent of the best work of Little Richard and Buddy Holly (on record he sounds more like Jim Morrison or Mick Jagger), but most of the songs he performed dealt with demonic visions, horror movies, or monsters.
The British hip-hop headliners on Saturday gave two of the most terrific performances. The U.K Garage performer, The Streets (actually one man named Mike Skinner) demonstrated his superb rapping skills, but most of the best material was from his first CD, “Original Pirate Material.” The extremely short and young Lady Sovereign (she’s only 18 and 5’2) took complete command of the stage with a highly charismatic delivery and delightfully cheeky lyrics, showing why she is considered the queen of grime ( a new urban experimental dance music from the U.K.)
Most of the American rappers also delivered the goods. Former Wu Tang Clan member, Ghostface Killah, performed potent selections from his solo work as well as a surprising rendition of Pink Floyd's Another ”Brick in the Wall." He also called out over a dozen women to dance on stage at the end of his set.
But Chicago rapper Rhymefest gave Killah a run for his money, previewing terrific material from his new CD, “Blue Collar. Dead Prez may have taken on the political rap mantle of Public Enemy, and they delivered a powerful, angry set of protest raps that which took aim against the President Bush and racism.
Some of the best performances were by more obscure artists. The post riot grrl band Erase Eratta, did a terrific set of ambient, atonal songs peppered with Gang of Four like guitar. The Chicago based Tyrades delivered a devastatingly powerful set of punk songs at a blindingly fast pace before destroying their instruments at the end. Chromeo’s spicy set of disco/funk fusion recalled many cheesy ‘70s/early ‘80s dance acts like The Gap Band and Average White Band.
There were other memorable performances. The hard rock Sword were so powerful on stage that they may even convert some heavy metal haters. Former Guided by Voices vocalist, Robert Pollard delivered a set that was just as energetic but more melodic and hook filled. . Icelandic singer Annie’s lyrics may be lightweight and frothy, but her spacey and sweet pop songs presented a pleasant alternative to the louder acts. Everyone I spoke to disliked her but she struck me as being the missing link between Sun Ra and Britney Spears (but that’s less horrible than it sounds.)
Not everybody was up to those high standards. One of the headlining bands, the British Bloc Party had fine instrumentation with tons of texture, but the lead singer’s singing was a bit too derivative of The Cure’s Robert Smith’s vocals. Blue Cheer may have helped invent heavy metal, but they were slow, bombastic and monotonous on stage (The audience reacted very negatively and one young woman proclaimed aloud “The corpses of Blue Cheer are on stage right now.”). The Stills, The Panthers, and the Constantines weren’t bad but they sounded indistinguishable from dozens of other bands. Jon Brion’s set went on about 20 minutes too long, and failed to impress. The Boredoms and High on Fire had some razor sharp instrumentation, but their songs often devolved into painfully chaotic racket (but the boredoms music may be too challenging to absorb for the first time in a festival rock setting.)
Despite these low points, Intonation Festival was once again a triumphant success, offering a wide variety of good acts from different musical genres for a reasonable price. But seeing 26 bands in two days was exhausting, and the festival may have given us a little much of a good thing.
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