Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Chicago Neighborhood Street Fests: Do Division feat. Menomena

A neighborhood street fest is one of the best ways to celebrate summer in Chicago. This weekend, West Town blocked off Division street between Damen and Leavitt for a two day party with cool music, good food and not-yet-familiar friends.

Technically, the Do Division fest costs five dollars, but this is merely a suggested donation. If you really don’t want to donate a few bucks to the West Town Chamber of Commerce, you can see Menomena, Flosstradamus and Viva Voce for free.

Chicago hosts free festivals every weekend of the summer. Once Memorial Day passes, it’s always a party in the Windy City. If it’s not neighborhood street fests, it’s an extravaganza at Millennium Park or something even bigger at Grant Park. Blues, Jazz and Gospel of the highest caliber remind Chicago residents why they put up with six months of winter. There’s nothing quite like feeling the sun slowly burn your back while watching a Louisiana blues man soulfully blowing into his harp behind the Art Institute of Chicago.

If I could put Chicago summers into words, I’d have to be God. There’s no way to communicate the joy one feels when they live in this city between the months of May and October.

Hop on the el, ride your bike or walk a few blocks. Forget that Cook County has the highest taxes in the country for a few months, and enjoy life as it ought to be. This is how it goes each year. Every summer memories are made, each new one richer than the last.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of a free Menomena concert. Friend and Foe was my favorite album of the year in 2007, and last Sunday, the band reminded me why I made that pick. These are three guys who really know what it means to put form before function. This is not rock and roll to drink beer to. This is music that asks you to listen. Which isn’t to say that Menomena can’t make you move. On the contrary, this band can really make a crowd stomp their feet. But that’s not their end goal.

Menomena keeps art in music. The audience can make no predictions as to what the next song will sound like. There's no way to know what to expect. Will they play a saxophone in the next one? What about that xylophone? Which one will sing this time? They keep you guessing, they keep your interest.

And even though Danny can bang the drums like a toy soldier on steroids, rhythm doesn’t always carry the band. Tempos fluctuate, notes fall flat often and mistakes are frequent, but Menomena isn’t concerned with perfection. Perfection is for robots. Menomena are human beings, making their own art, with all flaws and imperfections proudly on display.

The result is a feeling of connectedness with the human beings around you. What a perfect choice for a headliner at the city’s first neighborhood festival! Walking through the crowds, you’re greeted by old friends. Hugs and smiles come out of nowhere. A text message tells you that your college buddy is 50 feet behind you by the hookah shop. You turn around and see your friend waving. You smile and wave back as Menomena plays on. The people around you are strangers, but they dance to Evil Bee with you. “Oh to be a machine!” we sing with ironic awareness of our passion and love for music and community. Menomena led a worship service that took our minds off of our troubles for an hour. We came to celebrate life, enjoy good art, and embrace our community.

Until next weekend, and the weekend after that.

(Menomena video for Evil Bee)

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