Once upon a time there was a little guy with a big gift of gab who loved this teeny-tiny bar tucked away in the warehouse district. He loved it so much that he took his wife and best friends as often as he could and they loved it, too.
"Oh, the things that I could do with this place!!!," he would say. When the owner, the widow of the previous owner, decided that she did not want to run a bar for the rest of her life she told the little guy, "Either put up or shut up!" So the little guy, his wife and best friends bought the teeny-tiny bar and lived happily ever after.
More or less, that is the story of The Hideout and its owners. Tim Tuten ( the little guy ), wife Katie, and Mike and Jim Hinchsliff have since turned a hidden, nondescript, working-class shack into one of Chicago's most revered musical institutions.
The Hideout has played host to Andrew Bird, Jeff Tweedy, Rich Nielson, Kelly Hogan, Robbie Fulks, Thomas Dunn, Kevin O'Donnell and innumerable others. It is the place where icon Mavis Staples recorded her Grammy-winning live album and where Billy Corgan premiered his new band after the demise of Smashing Pumpkins. It has also been home to several philanthropic events including the queer space Chances Dances and is the site of the now retired Hideout Block Party which routinely drew a crowd upwards of 10,000 people.
On Sept. 10, The Hideout threw itself a 20th birthday party; however, unlike the Block Party, which was a victim of its own success, this event was intimate and had the feel of a summer barbecue. It also had some of the best music in the city and put larger festivals to shame.
There were Alex and Francis White of White Mystery ripping through a set of furious rage rock; magic tricks and corny jokes from The Amazing Mr. Ash; a history lesson on the of the city and bar by local historian Tim Samuelson; a fiery reunion set from storied rock trio Mr. Rudy Day; a recitation of Carl Sandburg's The City; and a bonkers set from local vets Eleventh Dream Day. There were also any number of musicians who weren't performing and were there because they had ties to The Hideout. Ultimately, it was an anti-event, a warm friendly gathering that was big on humor ( Samuelson got a lot of good natured flack for his legendary gift of gab ) and warmth, and saturated by a neighborly rather then corporate vibe.
On top of all that, three sets by wildly differing bands showed why The Hideout has become an institution and why Chicago is one of the nations musical treasures.
First was a "round-robin" set featuring Nora O'Conner, Robbie Fulks and Kelly Hogan. Although they've been pegged as the masters of alternative country, people tend to downplay the fact that they also have the finest voices in the city. O'Conner and Fulks had a high old time adding tongue and cheek to "Parallel Bars," then Hogan joined Fulks for "Open Bar" and the sweet winsome "Watermelon Time." O'Connor, Hogan and guitarist Andy Hopkins followed with a gentle "Sugar Bowl" and a snappy "No, Bobby Don't" and the impact was nothing short of sublime.
As much as I love twang, it was refreshing and bracing to hear Jon Langford and the reunited Skull Orchard tear through a brutal set that combined the working class scruffiness of pub rock with the intensity of punk and the sincerity of hardcore soul. "Pill Sailor," '1234 Ever," "Drone Operator" and a numbing "Deep Sea Diver" were dirty, foul-tempered, sloppy rock at its best.
Out vocalist JC Brooks brought his Uptown Sound and also proved why he is one of the hottest soul artists in a city that literally created the form. ( Brooks also brought the best outfit with his bolero/Lawrence of Arabia mash-up in black with sparkles. ) "Edge of Night" had a hard rocking groove that locked onto itself and kept building upwards. "Rouse Yourself" and "Heartbeat" gave the band the chance to run wild and they almost stole the show. Brooks is clearly the only singer who could front this unruly bunch and, as a bandleader, he guided them through the passionate "You're the Fool" and "Don't be Afraid of Love" with precision.
Heads up: Out vocalist Susan Werner hits The Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 22, and tickets are going fast. Queer performance artist/personality hits The Empty Bottle on Saturday, Sept. 24, for a show with special guests.