Stranger Danger Festival at Abbey Pub – Day Two

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Got a little bit of a late start to this day, so I missed a few of the bands who started the day. My goal was to see everything at Stranger Danger, so I was a little disappointed in myself. I walked into Abbey Pub‘s Green Room to find Wisconsin’s Wook in full swing. Their sound is a prototypical jamband sound with a little bit of a prog rock edge. Nothing particularly stood out to me in this set, but it was nice to start the day with an easygoing jammy energy.

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Tonal Caravan

Moving over to the main room, I encountered yet another ¬†swift change of pace. Tonal Caravan had a little jam in them, but these guys were much more of a Southern rock sounding group. My favorite part was the richly textured organs that created a lively & colorful angle to their overall sound. Again, nothing really jumped out at me, but it wasn’t like it turned me off either.

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Spare Parts

The first two bands of the day were ok but the mood changed with Spare Parts — this band meant business. They were without their regular drummer, Mike Bruno, but they had Greg Fundis to replace him. In other words, they were in good hands with one of Chicago’s best drummers. Fundis is the drummer chameleon and he absolutely killed it with these guys. Spare Parts was just about as funky as jazz can get — extraterrestrial jazz — with some stretches of seriously energetic playing that would leave your mom & dad’s ‘jazz’ in the dust. A sit in from a saxophone player added another thick helping of sound and closed out the set in a strong way. Go see Spare Parts, this band is ridiculously good.

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From one of Chicago’s best homegrown jazz bands to one of our best bluegrass bands. Shit, THE best; Sexfist is an institution in this city. The only weird thing is usually you see Sexfist playing a nighttime set, with their stunt doubles the Henhouse Prowlers taking the day-grass. But nope, it was Chuck Oakton, Jeffrey Chestnut and the rest of the sharp dressed men cutting up some strings in the afternoon. This set was cool because I’ve seen this band close to 20 times, but never with a saxophone before. You wouldn’t think that a sax would go well with a string quintet, yet they seemed right at home together. I particularly appreciated this new twist on a band I’ve loved for a while.

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Ultraviolet Hippopotamus

Oh Hippo, what can I say about this band that I haven’t said a thousand times? Yes, they crushed it. Big time. It was still somewhat early in the day when the set began and a lot of people were still milling around outside, but it didn’t take long for just about everybody at Abbey to get their ass in the main room. There were a few major highlights of this set. “Head In The Trees” has become somewhat rare, so it was great to hear it open. “Miss Brown’s” was particularly sharp, moving from happy go lucky to really weird in a hurry, showing the range that this band has. Then out of “Miss Brown’s” they segued with surgeon’s precision into “Run Rabbit Run,” something they’ve dialed in from a number of songs. But the big gun of the set was the best Talking Heads cover I’ve heard from them yet: “Slippery People.” For whatever reason, this version just exploded and really surprised me in a great way. Hippo is the shit. Ok, enough gushing.

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Strange Arrangement

Er, wait, I think the gushing is just going to continue… When bassist Kevin Barry told me that the second night was going to be better than the first I was surprised. Overconfidence, I thought. The first night was incredible with the horn section, fantastic flowing segues, and an overall badass set composition. It just didn’t seem like they were going to be able to step up much farther from that. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t completely blow night one to pieces. The entire approach was different. It was more aggressive, more energetic, bolder, stronger, bigger. One of their newer songs, “Destination,” is a perfect example of this. It’s a pure dance rock tune, with the electronic influence on Joe Hettinga from Digital Tape Machine coming through in his synth playing. But that was just a warm up for Strange’s very newest song: “Corner Store.” This one pushed the boundaries of what I thought this band was even capable of. The jam section took off on an insane improvisation that was progressive jam-electronic at its finest. Damn. And then they ended the set with “Siete,” their 10 minute instrumental cornerstone and one of my personal favorites. Strange is another band I’ve seen many, many times and I left this set as impressed as ever. It’s been an awesome thing to see the evolution of this band over the last couple of years.

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If Sidewalk Chalk was day one’s ‘Chicago band I’ve never seen but only hear good things about,’ Genome was day two’s. And they lived up to the hype as well. These guys just piled on my list of extremely pleasant surprises of the weekend. They were firmly rooted in a deliciously funky sound, but were more electronic that I anticipated, which I really enjoyed. It really felt like full band EDM, sort of like Thievery Corporation. Their funk ranged from some flashy disco funk to some slow baby makin R&B funk. Hell, I went over to see Dr. Fameus for a bit but was compelled to come back for the end of Genome’s set. These guys might be in the running for most underrated band in Chicago right now.

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Dr. Fameus

As you can tell, I didn’t stay for this whole set, Genome sucked me back in. But honestly, Dr. Fameus didn’t do a whole lot to keep me in his side of the venue. I enjoyed the first 15 minutes of what I heard, but a one man electronic project that centered around drums got monotonous in a hurry. Don’t get me wrong, dude is a phenomenal drummer, but I think it would be better if there was someone else paying a little more attention to the subtleties of the other parts of the sound. Had there not been competition, I likely would have hung around for longer — Allen Aucoin’s drumming skills are definitely incredible, but Genome was killin’ it son.

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Well, it took until the very last band of the weekend until there was any sort of late start or delay in the action. After an awfully long soundcheck, Dopapod (on their first ever trip to Chicago) jumped into their set of jam-funk music. The organs were in full effect giving it an old school energy, but they had an edge that was definitely a bit more modern. It was like The New Mastersounds and The Twin Cats got in a high speed collision and Dopapod is the result. They definitely sounded fun, but by this point, I was starting to yawn and get the sleepy eyes. After two long days of music, I was ready to cut bait and head home. I’ll be looking forwards to Dopapod’s 2nd trip to Chicago (hopefully) soon.

For the first attempt at a venue based festival in the summer, the Abbey Pub did an admirable job. Everything ran very smoothly and there was only one noticeable delay in start time. The attendance certainly could have been stronger, but during Strange’s sets on both nights the main room was nicely filled, the perfect amount of people for that room really. A lot of credit goes to Dan Rucinski for putting together a great lineup that brought people indoors for a summer festival. If there were a few more food vendors, it actually kind of would have felt like a street festival. Which brings up an interesting thought… that little street right outside Abbey seems kinda perfect for a stage and a whole bunch of people… Stranger Danger Street Fest 2013? Wouldn’t that be the shit.

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Jeremy Frazier is the editor-in-chief of Soundfuse.