Back from my two-week culture tour of the Midwest and I'm bursting with things to share. My impressions of Chicago have changed dramatically. Perhaps it's my age, or my desire to live in a city where the staggering architecture is cleanly and lovingly displayed, devoid of tacky neon, obtrusive signage, and ugly facades that would block their unencumbered vantage, thus allowing them to be witnessed in all of their man-made glory. But beyond the clean sidewalks and way friendly pedestrians and workers is a modern city that beckons to culture-savvy travelers far and wide.
As much as I enjoyed the Lake Michigan shore bike rides and wonderful restaurants, and deep dish pizza, I was happiest when I dragged the kids to the Art Institute of Chicago. (They were exhausted, as we'd just spent most of the day hanging out with "Sue" (image below, right), the most celebrated T. Rex skeleton in captivity, at the Field Museum of Natural History.) The AIoC affords visitors an effortless exploration of art masters past and present that rests comfortably next to the beautifully designed Millennium Park and Chicago's favorite outdoor sculpture, "The Bean" (image above, left), actually titled Cloud Gate by its British artist, Anish Kapoor. Composed of polished steel, it reflects and refracts all of Chicago above, around, and below it; it is both comforting and terrifying all at once, almost as if it is a portal to another more humane dimension or a black hole threatening to absorb all matter around it.
I was equally impressed with The Crown Fountain, designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. Imagine two 50-foot glass block towers that display rotating video images of 1,000 residents. Every few minutes water shoots from a pipe situated in the smiling mouths of two of the video images. Special kudos as well to the Shedd Aquarium, with its eco-driven fishy diversity, sound architecture and layout, and their current trance-inducing jellyfish exhibit.
But ultimately I would get back to my (music) roots in my hometown of Akron, Ohio. (Also in Cleveland as I cruised the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame a few weeks earlier. Read about it here.) Not only did I get to see plenty of friends, I played a solo set at the annual Art in The Square in Highland Square on Saturday, September 3rd, featuring over 150 local artisans and musicians, weathered the blistering sun, and gathered curious natives and counter culture folks alike to imbibe in homespun arts, crafts, and plenty of live music on strategically spaced stages. On the Conger Street stage, members of the legendary Tin Huey gathered to share their eclectic and infectious art rock music with old fans and new. Billed as Ralph Carney & Friends, the horn and reed master winged in from his home in San Francisco to lead his sweaty but brilliant brigade of musicians, which included Huey members Harvey Gold (image left), Chris Butler (founder of The Waitresses), Stuart Austin, Michael Aylward, guest bass player Debbie Smith (formerly of Chi-Pig, one of my favorite Akron bands), and sax master Terry Hynde (of The Numbers Band). Mr. Butler then pulled double duty drumming with his fab instrumental twang and surf-a-billy outfit from New York Purple kniF, featuring Gretsch guitarist John Teagle, Fender Jaguar guitarist Ted Lawrence, bassist Bob Basone, et al. If you weren't properly hydrated, then you may have passed out from the sweat-soaked energy on display in the late afternoon sun. But hey, that's how we roll in Akron -- where the rubber meets the road!
And just a few hours later I'd make the trek north to the Nautica outdoor stage in the Cleveland Flats to catch my favorite guitarist, Derek Trucks, obliterating the remaining heat index with his 11-piece touring outfit with his wife Susan, aptly titled the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They are currently sharing the majesty of their new Sony CD, Revelator. Sitting there I couldn't help but think that this must have been what Delaney & Bonnie with Eric Clapton delivered so many years ago. Plenty of rockin' R&B that made you jump to your feet every single song. The gospel-fueled track "Bound for Glory" was revelatory indeed. And their encore of Sly Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher" tore the roof off the mutha sucker; a fitting send off for my 16-day holiday. Catch them immediately as they remain on tour through December.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't work in some new music that is currently being added to my bursting computer hard drive. Given all the driving I've done the last two weeks, I had plenty of quality drive time to afford me quality listening time. I finally get the buzz of Bon Iver's latest offering Bon Iver. It really is a quiet and sustaining folk-rock record that requires keen ears and reverential patience to ingest its pastoral beauty. Best absorbed late at night or during traffic jams. For open-road hauling, I couldn't help but smile every time I played the quirky, folk-jazzy pop-rocky stylings of Sweden's duo Next Stop: Horizon's latest offering We Know Exactly Where We Are Going (Tapette Records). Hard to categorize, but easy to ingest and certainly worth seeking out. Finally, Mister Heavenly makes divine alt-rock music infused with elements of Modest Mouse, The Shins, Man Man, and Islands on their debut Out of Love (Sub Pop). Given that it boasts members from the aforementioned bands, it's easy to hear those influences. "Diddy Eyes" is one of several stand-out tracks, a twisted doo-wop mid-tempo ballad boasting an early David Bowie vibe. Extra bonus points and props: Actor Michael Cera often tours with them on bass.
As summer gives way to fall, look for more smart culture. - Dusty Wright
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.