Summer Breeze 2007: MAB and WHPK bring the scene to the UofC

By Sam Feldman and Dave McQuown

The Major Activities Board lands the Roots and Spoon
This Saturday, Summer Breeze returns for its umpteenth year of big names and loud music. As always, festivities will begin in the morning as the Council on University Programming (COUP), WHPK and other RSOs present face painting, Moonbounces, music and dance performances, a hypnotist, wall-climbing, a mechanical bull, the winners of DKE’s Battle of the Bands, and, of course, free food and drinks. The Major Activities Board (MAB) takes over in the evening, as doors open at 6pm for the main show at 7pm, featuring pioneering hip-hop band The Roots and indie rock sensation Spoon.

Students at the University of Chicago played a greater role in the band selection process this year with the introduction of a poll on MAB’s website. In addition to the Roots, options listed included Interpol, the Decemberists, Modest Mouse, the Flaming Lips, Cake, and the Arcade Fire, although the last three turned out to be too expensive. According to MAB Chairperson Justin Fleming, the MAB board originally came up with the options after gauging the student body’s musical taste through word of mouth, Facebook’s “Favorite Music” section, and the board members’ own preferences. Consideration was given to hiring two headlining acts, as MAB has done for some years, but the board felt the average of $90,000 spent annually on Summer Breeze’s performers could be put to better use by hiring a lesser-known opener.

“Lesser-known” is a relative term. Although both the Roots and Spoon have played Lollapalooza and both are playing it again this August, neither band could be described as exactly mainstream. The lack of overlap between their audiences is no coincidence. Fleming explains, “We look for more diverse acts that will bring in the most students possible.”

The Roots are certainly one of the few hip-hop bands to have played both Lollapalooza and the Montreux Jazz Festival. By now an established name in alternative hip-hop, the group was formed in Philadelphia in 1987 by high school friends Black Thought (vocals, real name Tariq Trotter) and ?uestlove (drums, real name Ahmir Khalib Thompson) along with a few others who have since left.

After five years of success on the club circuit in Philadelphia and New York, the Roots left for Europe in 1992, where they released their first album, “Organix,” in 1993. Taking their pick of major-label offers, the Roots chose DGC to release their second album, “Do You Want More?!!!??!” The album was recorded live, heavily influenced by jazz, and without any samples. After playing Lollapalooza in 1995, the Roots found themselves with at least as many fans among the alternative rock crowd as among the traditional hip-hop crowd, which should come as no surprise after hearing a few of their songs. The Roots are unusual in adopting the “hip-hop band” idea pioneered by ‘80s rap group Stetsasonic.

This fusion of hip-hop, rock, and jazz brought the Roots increasing success on their subsequent albums “Illadelph Halflife” (1997) and the Grammy-winning “Things Fall Apart” (1999). After 2002’s more rock-influenced “Phrenology,” the Roots announced the end of their contract with MCA, the major label that had released their past three albums. 2004’s “The Tipping Point,” edited down from a series of jam sessions to give it a relaxed and expansive feel, was released on Okayplayer, a record label spinoff of the Roots’ online community of the same name. They returned to a major label, Def Jam, for 2006’s challenging and highly political “Game Theory.” Their next album is expected sometime in the next year.

Spoon was formed in 1994 by core band members Britt Daniel (vocals, guitar) and Jim Eno (drums), both hailing from Austin, Texas. Although not as well known as The Roots, Spoon is respected among those in the know for their solid musical abilities and slight air of intrigue–the band is currently banned from the state of Wyoming, for example, most likely for an incident involving an ex-drummer named “Eggo,” but Eno says in interviews that their lawyers don’t permit them to discuss it further. Incidentally, Eno (no relation to Brian Eno) works as a semiconductor chip designer while not drumming.

Despite taking their name from a hit by ‘70s krautrock band Can, the foursome (rounded out by a rotating cast of bassists and guitarists) have developed a concise, reserved style of indie rock over their thirteen years of existence. Their first album “Telephono,” released in 1996 on respected indie label Matador Records, garnered Pixies comparisons and enough success to catch the eye of troubled major label Elektra Records, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

Spoon signed to Elektra in 1998 and released their third full-length album “A Series of Sneaks” the same year. Almost immediately after its release the band was dropped by Elektra, notorious for having dropped more bands than any other record label. Fortunately Merge Records, another indie label, was around to snatch them up, and after a few scattered EPs and singles, Spoon found critical acclaim with 2001’s “Girls Can Tell.” Together with “Kill the Moonlight” (2003) and “Gimme Fiction” (2005), it formed a trio of popular and well-received albums. Speculation is that the forthcoming and horribly-titled “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” due out on July 10, will continue this trend.

Golden Bear, Plastic Crimewave Sound, and other rockers let loose with WHPK on the University of Chicago quads
Before reading, take a quick trip to the Reynolds Club basement bathroom for a look in the mirror. If the figure looking back at you is clad in plaid, paisley, denim, or an ill-fitting sweater, you’re expected this Saturday at noon sharp in front of the WHPK stage at the Summer Breeze Festival. Known as the other Summer Breeze show, WHPK’s yearly outdoor concert features insurgent rock and roll from sub-genres galore. Whether you prefer garage rock, sweater rock, indie rock, or wish to eliminate such labels entirely, come for music more delicious than a chocolate-covered waffle-on-a-stick.

Hailing from Austin, headliners Golden Bear were raised on a diet of hearty American music from Willie Nelson to CCR to Built to Spill. Their music, which they describe as “Galactic Forest Rock,” is rooted in these traditions, yet forward thinking and original. Golden Bear is lead by lyricist and principal songwriter Chris Gregory, but their work is truly a full band effort, depending on contributions from bassist Brent Pennington, keyboardist Matt Gardiner, guitarist Jamie Reaves, drummer Andy McAllister, and multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs. Gregory describes Golden Bear as “honest to God normal guys with real jobs and normal behavior,” but he eagerly admits his appreciation for the bearded, flanneled, blue-jeaned classic rock style. The band’s unpretentious appearance and participatory approach to music-making lends an earthy feel to their songs that is well complimented by Gregory’s lyrics, which forgo rock-and-roll’s usual angst in favor of more positive themes. According to Gregory, “The message is to rock and make the most out of being a human being.” Such a positive approach has built an excellent rapport among band members which is reflected in the energy and enthusiasm of their live shows, described by some as “unpredictable.” Golden bear has released two albums to date, “Golden Bear” and “To the Farthest Star,” both available on C-Side Records.

Next up, sideburned Chicago visionaries Plastic Crimewave Sound corrupt your sons with a molten set of mind-numbing acid punk. Eponymous frontman Plastic Crimewave conducts daily business as poorly disguised alter-ego Steve Krakow, Chicago native and Renaissance man. The band is rounded out with bassist R. Mark Lux, drummer Lawrence Peters, guitarist Cat Chow, and keyboardist Andrew Lord Ortman. To Krakow, rock and roll is “a kind of urgent primordial noise.” The nature of the creative process often goes beyond simple human comprehension and “nothing ever gets too complicated…sometimes its two chords into oblivion…sometimes its pure exploration of mists.” With one foot in “the classics” of rock music and the other light years beyond Hawkwind’s orbit, Plastic Crimewave Sound has spent the past half-decade playing packed shows in Chicago and beyond. Presently, they have two albums to their name–2003’s “Flashing Open” and 2006’s “No Wonderland”–as well as a host of CDRs, 7″s, and splits. Their third LP will arrive in a few months on Eclipse Records, and another is currently in the works for release on Italian label A Silent Place.

Chicago garage punkers Vee Dee are next on the bill. The band’s debut LP, “Further,” appears at first glance to be some kind of DIY doom album with a cover featuring an image of a solar eclipse, rendered in monochrome. As it turns out, their music is much more difficult to classify. Vee Dee’s sound is clearly rooted in the raw garage punk of the 1960s, yet its bleak mood is undeniably a product of more immediate and angstful decades.

Also playing at this year’s WHPK Summer Breeze concert are Pink Reason and Psychedelic Horseshit, two excellent minimalist rock bands who will be playing several May shows together throughout the northern Midwest. Pink Reason and Psychedelic Horseshit come from Green Bay and Columbus, respectively. Chicago poppers The Fake Fictions complete the Summer Breeze lineup with their jangling guitars and catchy hooks.