Intonation Festival / June 24-25, 2006 / Chicago (Union Park)
Drawing thousands of indie rock fans to an obscure park on Chicago's west side is no small feat, yet as so many other stationary fests (Coachella, Bonnaroo, et al.) have shown, a good lineup knows noLast year's inaugural Intonation Festival boasted the element of surprise and curiosity, but even without those factors working in its favor, the two-day concert would probably have been an unqualified success. Drawing thousands of indie rock fans to an obscure park on Chicago's west side is no small feat, yet as so many other stationary fests (Coachella, Bonnaroo, et al.) have shown, a good lineup knows no bounds and attracts fan to even the most unlikely of places.
If last year's Pitchfork-curated Intonation Festival proved it could be done, this year's Vice-curated festival tried to show it could be done differently. The promoters intentionally played up hip-hop's higher profile, and hoped a remarkably diverse bill would draw a similarly diverse crowd. In this sense, Intonation 2 failed, as not only was the audience overwhelmingly white and college-age, it was noticeably smaller than last year's, too.
But ultimately Intonation 2 came down to the music, and in that regard it, like its predecessor, was a massive success. There may have been slightly fewer people, but they were all clearly having a blast, with the near-perfect weather further fostering a smile-inducing state of music nerd euphoria.
As a sequel, Intonation 2 actually had more than its share of firsts. There was Roky Erickson's first-ever Chicago performance, Blue Cheer's first Chicago performance in more than 25 years, Bloc Party's first festival as headliners and Jon Brion's first performance since getting sidelined by tendonitis last April. And then there were, for many, first glimpses of acts potentially primed for stardom, such as witty grime imp Lady Sovereign, Chicago rappers Rhymefest and Lupe Fiasco and Canada's the Constantines (celebrating their 500th show).
Not every act was equally well received. While the greyhairs and hipsters flocked to Erickson (who was in shockingly strong spirits and voice), some younger audience members sat befuddled on the sidelines, one wondering aloud why "this guy is some sort of psychedelic-rock pioneer when all he's playing is blues" (if Erickson's ragged, fuzzed-out version of "Before You Accuse Me" didn't answer that for him, "You're Gonna Miss Me" probably did the trick).
Other highly-touted acts came off weaker than expected. Ghostface Killah (who allegedly missed three flights on his way to the fest) was indulgent and unfocused, Blue Cheer looked like they never left the late '60s and Jose Gonzalez's Nick Drake-isms floated off anonymously into the ether.
But then there was the Boredoms, still crazy after all these years in a drum-circle formation, with frontman Yamatsuka Eye the mad conductor. Or High On Fire, the loudest band on the planet, taking what Blue Cheer helped invent and pushing it ever further over the top. And Brion, aided by Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, not that he needed it. A pop genius, Brion wowed the crowd with the one-man-band routine he perfected at his L.A. haunt Largo.
With a major-label debut right around the corner, Chicago's Rhymefest appeared poised for big things. His set was as funny as it was forceful, and even though he was hoarse from non-stop touring, he found time to tailor a hilarious freestyle rap for the audience at hand. "Like Michael Jackson, it don't matter if I'm black and you're white," he quipped to the crowd.
As headliners, both the Streets and Bloc Party seemed odd choices. But Mike Skinner and crew made up in spark and self-deprecating wit what they may have lacked in big hits, while Bloc Party (equal parts atmosphere and anthems) proved almost Coldplay-like in their eager desire to please the crowd (the bigger the better, thank you very much).
It remains to be seen whether Chicago can support three big summer festivals -- Intonation, the spin-off Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza are spread over a combined seven days. But whether the ambitions behind each fest are prideful, financial or truly adventurous, it all boils down to the quality of the music.
The idea of Robert Pollard following Dead Prez, Brion following Blue Cheer, the Stills following High On Fire or spazz punks the Tyrades kicking off a day that ended with Bloc Party is a great one that probably reflects the way people really listen to music in their private lives. In this way, Intonation was a kind of packed real-life MP3 player programmed for shuffle play.