Thursday, June 5, 2008

Do Division Street Festival, Chicago, IL

You know its summer in Chicago when you’re standing outside in the middle of a street that’s usually packed with cars, and you’re surrounded instead by people in shorts swigging from cans of PBR, chowing down on funnel cake, and craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the next band about to play on a makeshift stage. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, street festival season is now upon us in Chicago and seeing as this will be the first full summer that I’ve lived in the city, I knew I owed it to myself to see what this tradition was all about. Plus, what person in their right mind would miss a chance to see Ted Leo & The Pharmacists for free?*

The 1900's performing at Do Division. Photo: Anna Deem.

The Do Division Street Festival happened on May 31st and June 1st, but because I could really care less about Saturday’s line-up, I decided to show up just for Sunday. The sun was still shining as I walked onto Division Street early Sunday evening. I could hear local Chicago favorites, The 1900’s, playing on the festival’s sole stage at the corner of Damen and Division, so I waded through the sea of drunks and vendor booths selling everything from jewelry to hookahs, and made it into the large crowd of hundreds gathered in front of the stage. I managed to catch the last four songs of their set and noticed their ‘60s-inspired melodies winning over the crowd, as people nodded their heads and danced along. They closed with “Two Ways,” a three minute blast of pure pop from their latest album, Cold & Kind.

Gil Mantera’s Party Dream was due to play next, but I had more important things to worry about, like getting food and finding an unoccupied curbside to sit on. One hotdog, an order of fries, a lemonade, and too much money later, I was satiated and ready to see what the Party Dream was all about. Although I remembered hearing that they were a gimmicky band and kind of categorized them in my brain as Har Mar Superstar-esque, I was definitely not prepared for the ridiculousness that Gil Mantera and Co. unleashed that evening. First off, their music was fairly unimpressive dancey, vocoder shit that found me leaning against a brick apartment building and people-watching more than listening. But their music wasn’t even the worst part, oh no, it was the two main dudes stripping down to Speedos and humping instruments (among other things). Or, how about all the profanities that the singer apparently felt were necessary to hurl out when there were clearly an abundance of children in attendance? Maybe I’m just too cynical for music this silly, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists performing at Do Division. Photos: Anna Deem.

After what felt like an eternity of watching the Party Dream, it was finally time for Ted Leo & The Pharmacists to close out the festival. Even though this was my third time seeing Leo and I clearly knew what to expect, I was still anxiously anticipating their set. It doesn’t matter if they’re performing in a tiny club or an outdoor stage, Ted Leo and his Pharmacists always know how to bring it. Leo and the three members in his band strode on-stage a little after 8:30, kicking things off with Leo’s solo version of “Bleeding Powers.” From there, things proceeded to get even better, as they tore into tracks from 2007’s Living With The Living (“Sons of Cain,” “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.,” “Who Do You Love?”), among older classics like “Counting Down The Hours,” “Me and Mia,” and “Biomusicology.” The crowd seemed to lose interest during a block of four new songs (which all sounded excellent, by the way), but things picked backed up again with crowd favorite “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” later on. The foursome walked off-stage after their fifth new song, only to return a minute later to blast through a Mekons cover and a scorching version of “Ballad Of The Sin Eater,” from Hearts of Oak, the latter of which found Leo setting his guitar down, grabbing the microphone in hand, and commanding full attention of the crowd.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists performing at Do Division. Photos: Anna Deem.

Soon enough, the last notes of “Sin Eater” were fading away, and I was following the rest of the masses down Division. As my sneakers crunched discarded beer cans and plastic cups on the way out, it was clear that I was just one of the many that had a fantastic time at Do Division.

*Okay, it was a $5 donation, but I may have bypassed the entrance point by accident. Whoops.

--Anna Deem

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