Music at its Most Artistic at Midwinter

The Art Institute of Chicago, February 15th, February 16th, February 17th, 2019

Mar 20, 2019 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


Outside, Chicago was in the nucleus of another gelid winter. Inside The Art Institute of Chicago for three consecutive nights, the interaction between artists and onlooking attendees was reaching intimate levels.

Midwinter was a weekend of live music spread throughout an art museum, broken up by five different venues: delicacy in Fullerton Hall; socializing at the Grand Staircase; full-band excursions in Rubloff Auditorium; the most popular, loudest at Griffin Court; and outgoing, diverse expressionism in the Chicago Stock Exchange.

With all types of art and music to experience, and plenty of area to explore, it was probably a legitimate excuse to take LSD. On Friday night, a guy named Chris offered up a half-hit of acid on the Grand Staircase, but this writer declined. One full hit would have been a better offer.

Calyton Bahr, who sells wine and booze in Oklahoma City, was in Chicago for Midwinter's initial reveal. Midwinter is an experiment between The Art Institute of Chicago and Pitchfork (music media mogul); Bahr loves that.

"It looked really interesting, and both of my kids live in Chicago; seemed like a good time to visit," said Bahr, who has been going to concerts with his kids for years. "It's very nice to walk through and see certain exhibits have sound pieces by artists that were made from inspiration from the artworkthe music is playing while you look through the room. In general, the acoustics [in the museum] are insane."

Madison McFerrin, Marisa Anderson, Haley Fohr, Daniel Bachman, and Mary Lattimore played stripped-down sets on all three nights at the Grand Staircase, mixing up their set times throughout the weekend. Three levels, and at the forefront of the museum, the Grand Staircase became the hot spot for drinking and talking. Whether a person was blatantly trying to ignore an artist or not, the incredible sound engulfed the space.

"There was lots of reverb in there, and I don't use reverb, so it was an adjustment to not be too boomy," said McFerrin, who describes her music as a capella soul; she has two EPs (Finding Foundations Vol. 1 & 2) and a third on the way. "I don't think people knew it [Grand Staircase] would be such a hangout spot; it was a welcome challenge, and it was wonderful to be included. I am used to telling stories during my set...I had to eliminate that. The crowd was not most attentive, but I felt confident with the attentiveness."

McFerrin, the daughter of 10-time Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin, and a personal friend to Questlove, parted her hair to make it look like trees were sticking out of her head. She wore a feathery, red gown on Sunday, and said that she brought "black girl magic" to Midwinter, which was conjuring all weekend: Sudan Archives, Jlin, Yves Tumor, JPEGMAFIA, serpentwithfeet, Joey Purp, Kamasi Washington, and Le1f.

"Black music makes the majority of music history, and I want to take a stance on who I am wearing and who I collaborate with from the visibility of a black stylist and African Tribes," said McFerrin, 27, who started singing at five years old because everyone in her family is a musician. "It was a really fun time, a different experience. I got to play dress upI was art in an art museum."

Pacing in low purple light in white heels and a tight, bedazzled yellow dress, Sudan Archives made it rain in Fullerton Hall. Long legs, small fiddle, mini guitar, and a loop station at her feet; she is a tall, proud woman. Beats came in as the lights slowly brighten from shades of pink and purple to red and orange; Sudan Archives starts rapping. "This is my life, don't mess it up/this is my life, don't block the sun." She points her bow to the sky.

Signed to Stones Throw because producer Matthewdavid thought she was "lit," Sudan Archives (real name Brittney Parks) was impressed with Midwinter. Crossing paths with her after she played, she was twirling around with a sizable grin on her face. Parks had to travel to Canada the next day, but her family (she's originally from Ohio) was at Midwinter to bask in the fun with her.

"The total vibe was really cool, and I was surprised by how mature everything was," said Parks. "People were really there for me...I was nervous, first show of the year, but I did my thing. I play a lot of clubs, so I didn't know if a theater would be washed out, but it sounded great, and the lights were all around. It was well thought out."

The Fullerton Hall audience was sitting, and maybe Sudan Archives wanted people to dance, but "it is nice to have people sit and be attentive," she said. Parks did a pop-up set in the middle of a gallery on Fridayartists were popping up all weekend in random roomswhich gave her a chance to freestyle.

"I was tied up with my family...I hadn't seen my Chicago family in years [been living in Los Angeles for five years], and some had never seen me play," said Parks, who hopes to release a new album in the heat of summer. "My dad was so excited that he videotaped the whole thing."

Tucked into the corner of Midwinter was the Chicago Stock Exchange. Never a packed room throughout the weekend, it housed the forward-thinking black artists that drop serious beats: Yves Tumor, Le1f, serpentwithfeet, Jlin, JPEGMAFIA, and Joey Purp.

Riding the coattails of 2018's acclaimed Safe in the Hands of Love, Yves Tumor (Sean Bowie) was the hype Midwinter needed. In a red wig, a pink plastic coat, heels, and sunglasses, Yves Tumor ditched the stage (it was too boring for him), starting a pit of musky excellence. There was no control, but there was not supposed to be.

"I was cock-teasing," Yves Tumor addressed to the crowd when the track on his recorder messed up. He seemed to be having the time of his life, and he may have been lip-syncing at times, but Yves Tumor knows how to start a party.

Half of the people seated in Fullerton Hall were probably crying as Mount Eerie (Phil Elverum) carefully plucked his black, Fender electric guitar. With a set list tucked into the breast pocket of his green and black checkered flannel shirt, Elverum rambled ruminations. Closing the eyes, it was as if Now Only and A Crow Looked at Me were spinning out in a lonely room.

Mount Eerie's shadow on the drape behind him could be seen as his other half; the ghost of the wife that was taken away too soon, killed by cancerous nonsense. Cancer continues to destroy lives at a rapid pace; it is captivating to see Elverum carry on in his soft echo, not being broken by the disaster, but staring it straight in the face.

Every time Mount Eerie swayed left, the reflection off his Fender blinded me. He was having a deep conversation with everyone in Fullerton Hall without directly talking to any of us.

Of course, no new festival event would be complete without attendees who complain. Indeed, high quality is expected with a collaboration between Pitchfork and The Art Institute of Chicago, but it was the first night of a brand new affair...relax.

Michael Ledajaks and Azi Khastoo were sitting in the back row of seats in Price Auditorium, the lower level space where Pitchfork Radio was broadcasting live all weekend. To get to Pitchfork Radio, you followed the stairs down below the Grand Staircase, which entered into gallery space. Follow the signs and go to the end of the hallway, and see an artist getting interviewed, or DJ'ing their favorite music.

Khastoo and Ledajaks were hanging out at Pitchfork Radio because they were bored and disappointed. They had tickets for Bill Callahaneach individual performance throughout the weekend had an individual ticketbut could not catch most of Callahan; they were stuck in one of the "drinking areas," trying to finish their beer. Ledajaks told Under the Radar that his brother had a hard time figuring out the Midwinter ticket system.

"That's fucked up...there is no routine, and nothing is written," said Ledajaks. "I think the entire concept was misrepresented...I am not trying to bitch, but..."

"Everything is scattered; there is no clear understanding," said Khastoo, mentioning that she had experience as an event coordinator. "Also, there is no reference to the music in the Gallery Soundscapes, just a speaker playing music."

Not pleasant, and maybe Midwinter has some ironing out to do in the future, but, overall, Midwinter was a fantastic development; it was an obstacle course by design. Maybe you were supposed to get lost and navigate? However, it will be known that having the stage along the side wall of Griffin Court makes the space too narrow. Next year, the stage should be moved to the end, so that the crowd can funnel the long way, instead of being choked out.

Slowdive brought the amps, and the pastoral beauty. Looking down on Rubloff stage from the balcony, it was time to gaze into a dream. But time might not matter when a band sounds as incredible in a live setting as Slowdive at Midwinter. Slowdive treats their guitars very well; is this the best Slowdive has ever sounded?

Flower pedals over guitar pedalsMidwinter's stage lighting sequences were spot onspinning, mind spinning. Staring at Rachel Goswell's aluminum foil dress, the head floats away from the body.

Saturday, February 16   

Set-time conflicts on Day 2: Deerhunter vs. serpentwithfeet; Kamasi Washington vs. Grouper; and Panda Bear vs. Jlin. You do as well as you can as a music fan, being pulled in the direction that intrigues you the most.

Tortoise walked onto the Rubloff stage amongst steady applause of a full venue, ready to play the entirety of 1998's exotic TNT, front to back, which was something the band had never attempted in a live setting. Two drummers with identical kits faced each other; impeccable rhythm ensued. Never fully understood the double-drummer situation (many bands do it), especially when the drummers play the same beat, but Tortoise was in a special moment of semi-improvisation.

Two xylophone rigs (one on each side of the stage), horn section, and keyboards; never realized how much xylophone was on TNT. The players in Tortoise are multi-instrumental, able to perform with an array of abilities. Tortoise has held its particular fusion for over 25 years, and it showed.

  

"We love art," yelled Bradford Cox, exuberant lead dude of Deerhunter, to the stuffed Midwinter crowd in Griffin Court. "Please turn up the vocals, like, 100-percent more. Thank you."

Josh McKay and Cox traded instruments between the second and third song, Cox taking the bass and McKay taking the Dijon mustard Fender guitar with white pickups. Moses Archuleta, the underrated drummer in a Batman T-shirt in Cox's shadow, started hammering away. Deerhunter stirs up a rush that could combat any chemical-infused charge.

Deerhunter created that feeling where you think your heart might burst from jubilation and adrenaline. Too amazing, had to walk away. It was too much for the bloodstream to take.

With slight baggage under her eyes, Grouper (Liz Harris) set down her cup on the wooden stage of Fullerton Hall, making an echo throughout the room. Alongside a grand piano, jet-black Epiphone guitar with silver pegs that glistened in the dark blue hue, and many wires, Grouper built a soundscape.

Looping a field recording of someone breathing in company with crawling, stretching guitar, noise and loudness started to creep in. Literally, we could hear Harris sip her drink and swallow, but then, out of left field, a Boenig 787 took off, creating an earthquake. Grouper twisted her knobs, did her thing, and walked off the stage after 50 minutes. Just another day at the office.

Despite a lame horde, Jlin (Jerrilynn Patton) performed a set of footwork science. Did I need to act like a hype man? At least the security guy, back to the large PA, was feeling the pulse coming from Jlin's fingers.

Jlin was brainstorming on the spot. We could see her thinking of her next move. But we should have moved a little more, shown more respect for a beat scientist.

Sunday, February 17   

Piano-singer vocals carry very far in Fullerton Hall. Executing her first show of 2019, Weyes Blood (Natalie Mering) probably was the most elegant artist at Midwinter. A sparkling, silver gown; capo on the fourth fret of her acoustic guitar, no pick; a less debaucherous Billy Joel with a voice as good as Adele.

Weyes Blood covered The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," hugging the microphone close. It is going to be an important year for Weyes Blood.

If a maestro with wings, Perfume Genius, is going to play in Griffin Court, the space needs population control. Partially invisible, Perfume Genius sounded fantastic from the restroom.

Five large screens in tile form, one resembling the shape of Oklahoma. Seizure-inducing visuals as each musician works at their personal stationdrum kit, keyboard, computers, mixing boardslined in a row. Oneohtrix Point Never is the more far-out Bon Iver, his art enhanced by video screens.

Flood lights cast across Rubloff Auditorium. We're deer in the headlights as a comic depiction of Chicago is viewed on screen.

  

Ending Midwinter with Queen Zola Jesus made perfect sense; she might be the most passionate, sweet musical artist in the business today. Zola Jesus can scream one thousand years of pain and suffering, but her electro-goth magnum opuses tantalize in aural grace.

Zola Jesus said that she is currently trying to make a new album, and that the Midwinter performance was probably the final Okovi (her 2017 Sacred Bones album) show. Charmingly, Zola thanked her guitar player (Alex DeGroot) and viola player (Louise Woodward) for all they have done for her. "They are compassionate souls," Zola said.

"Witness," from Okovi, is about her uncle that attempted suicide; it is a song filled with hope. "The next song is about my own depression," said Zola (real name Nika Danilova). "Pass it around." Then, she randomly jumped into the audience, a fuse running to an explosion.

"I am not really thinking," said Zola after the show when asked about her burst into the crowd at Griffin Court. "It is the physics of the brain, primal and animalistic. I don't think about it, I just do it."

Zola Jesus might have been a bit shy, but she was coming down from a hallucinatory performance. We're glad to have been there with her.  

www.midwinter.pitchfork.com

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.




Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

rajesh kurana
March 20th 2019
10:38pm

love to listen this music while playing and watching sports.

Dennis Rodman
March 28th 2019
8:16am

“Never fully understood the double-drummer situation”

...I suppose you don’t understand the double-guitar situation either…

360 Total Security Key 2019
April 3rd 2019
6:38am

Nice post. It was a great music event.