Hideout Block Party 2011, Mavis Staples, Dosh, Andrew Bird | Live review + photo gallery
When introducing Chicago soul legend Mavis Staples, Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten admitted that the Hideout crew was so intent on booking Staples for their event, they decided they’d cater to every wish on her tour rider. So when she requested a “big-ass throne,” they went ahead and constructed a regal, plush chair for the icon, not realizing she was referring to a stool for her drummer. It was still quite fitting, as the pink and red throne was a gesture befitting the 71-year-old, who opened her set with an a cappella gospel number that showcased the enduring strength of her voice.
Staples, whose set was one the highlights of last year’s Lollapalooza, is enjoying a career boost thanks to her 2008 live album recorded at the Hideout and her Grammy-winning You Are Not Alone, produce by Jeff Tweedy. She performed the title track off that album, which plays to Staples strengths, blending the sacred and the secular, spirituality and loneliness. Staples brought out co-headliner Andrew Bird for a cover of The Band’s “The Weight.” Bird and the back-up singers traded verses with Staples as they reimagined the rock standard as a gospel number. “Put the load! On me!” Staples belted, her voice gritty and commanding. She invoked the civil rights era, and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before a rousing versions of “I’ll Take You There” and “March Down Freedom’s Highway.” The singer noted that that struggle continues to this day, defending President Obama and challenging Tea Partiers. Her gospel preaching and call and response might have been a little too earnest for the younger members of the crowd, but by in large her set has a triumphant, familial feel. She took the time to bring out her brother (“to show the ladies how handsome he is”) and test out her throne (which she said she was planning on taking home with her) before leaving the stage to great applause.
Following Maple Stavis, multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh played a short set of his ambient mix of live drumming and looped samples. His set up, including a drum set, keyboards, a mixer and other gadgets, was crammed far stage-right, making him hard to see for much of the crowd. Dosh’s minimal and repetitive sound collages would have been a good fit at the North Coast Festival, but the crowd here seemed to be ready for Andrew Bird.
Dosh, who also plays drums in Bird’s backing band, wore a baseball cap and oversized headphones as he layered live drum loops over recorded samples. The results are interesting, but Dosh was doomed to come off as bit of let-down after the majesty of Mavis Staples. The crowd has filled out by this point, but there is a lot of chatting and beer-fetching as people wait for the headliner.
Bird, who wore a suit with a hoodie and a scarf, conjures sweeping emotions with his artful blend of genres and instrumentations. Many of his songs play like soundtracks to blockbusters of a bygone era. He has a professorial air, and his lyrics are appropriately intellectual. On “Dark Matter”, Bird sang of “the nausea of elation” and on “Effigy” he lamented “pale facsimiles”. The crowd sang along and cheered wildly for the hometown hero. The weather cooperated as night was cloudy but rain-free. Big Freedia, the New Orleans bounce artist who was originally scheduled to perform, had to cancel due to health issues, so DJ Chances Dances spun tunes to close out another laid-back and musically-rich Hideout Block Party.