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Taste of Chicago music preview: Feed your ears, not your gut

Chicago Tribune
Taste of Chicago has food for the ears

So here's something that's startling: In the midst of the gargantuan gustatory gathering that is Taste of Chicago, there will be people there who are uninterested in turkey legs — barbecued or otherwise — people who even might have (shudder!) already eaten. These crazies are at Taste for the music.

There was a time, long ago, when Taste of Chicago had a music lineup that could be compared fairly to Milwaukee Summerfest. But now that the latter has become a colossus featuring every band known to mankind, the Taste has had to make its own, quality sonic space. Times were dark for a while but have started to pick up again. This year offers quite a few treats for those who are considering the best way to get around the folks slathered in the detritus of their food exploits. We can't help you with that, but we can give you help on who to hear, and where.

Wednesday

• Here's the problem with Weezer: "Getchoo." That song, from the group's "Pinkerton" album, is almost three minutes of stupefying perfection. It clangs, bangs, snarls and out-Nirvanas Nirvana. The hooks are irresistible, frontman Rivers Cuomo sneers like a disillusioned arena rock deity, and that instrumental break — man! Everything. That was almost 20 years ago. Weezer has been rolling along since then, but it's a band defined by a very specific era, the '90s. Weezer is also hyperintelligent songcraft and great tunes, something that's easy to forget. This has a chance to be the best show of the Taste. 5:30 p.m., Petrillo; $25-$50

• The Bud Light Stage has its own monster offering in Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. This octet from the South Side will be one of the hardest-hitting outfits at the fest, yet with not a distortion pedal in sight. It is brass, fueled by beats that bump with a fury that has attracted the attention of hip-hoppers such as De La Soul and Mos Def. A simple characterization for what Hypnotic does would be precision, verging on martial, dipped in the funk. Technique is such that you don't get those weird weak notes and quavers that plague many a lesser brass outfit. These brothers storm in like a contemporary legacy of that great jazz classic, "Blowin in From Chicago." An essential set. 6:30 p.m., Bud Light Stage; free

Thursday

Blah Blah Blah is anything but. These guys are purveyors of a musical genre that the band labels "ballroom rock." As near as can be discerned, this means dynamic, irresistible power pop that swings for the fences, performed by dudes wearing nice suits. A 2011 EP, "Thank You," brought the group's sound, fully fledged, onto the scene. Frontman Solomon Burke reminds you of Prince from back in the day, complete with a voice that goes for the stratosphere. The music has a foot in a number of camps, even shoegaze. Should be a wonderful show. 3 p.m., Bud Light Stage; free

Erykah Badu is, as they say, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. She's like opera icon Maria Callas in that Callas wasn't the greatest singer in a technical sense, yet was masterful at exposing the heart of any character. Badu won't belt a song in the way that many of the modern R&B screamers will, but she always gets at the soul of a song. You might have to put up with some mercurial stuff if Badu gets into full diva mode, but forewarned is forearmed. When she wants to give you a soul music show, stand back. That quality makes this show worth your time: that potential for the "holy cow!" moment that happens when a performer nails it. We can only assume Badu won't bring her DJ alter-ego, Lo Down Loretta Brown. If that happens, leave. Thank us later. 5:30 p.m., Petrillo; $19-$40

July 10

The Chieftains defy all attempts to say anything cogent about the band. This venerated ensemble is really like a deep-lying pump that taps into the essence of music. You see its members collaborating with someone and think, "Ricky Skaggs? That's stupid." "'Cotton Eyed Joe' in Nashville, complete with step dancers? Come on." But every last one of the efforts works because the Chieftains have a fundamental brilliance that allows its Celtic music to be effortlessly malleable. Things have reached the point where, if you saw them guesting on a 50 Cent recording, the result would probably be interesting. 5:30 p.m., Petrillo; $15-$30

• It's always seemed that White Mystery is what you'd get when you stripped the vastly more famous White Stripes down to its essence, like pulling the heart out of a band. It's noise, volume and hair, a looseness that nonetheless sounds right. Sometimes guitarist-singer Miss Alex White is on a different beat than her drummer brother, Francis, but that's OK. The siblings get caught up eventually. The music is garage rock or punk, depending on what kind of mood you or they are in. Guitar and drums are all you get, but that's plenty, as they buttress music that doesn't care about you in its frenetic quest to say something. 4 p.m., Bud Light Stage; free

July 11

• Go get something to eat. You must be hungry by now.

July 12

• Back in the day, Frankie Beverly and Maze would come out and throw down. Beverly didn't just sing songs, he owned them. But you'd be hard-pressed to name a huge hit by the ensemble, even as you know exactly what's going to happen when you go to see it: dat funk. If you're at Taste and see a lot of people wearing all white, follow them to this show. The groove is a hard thing to define, but you know it when it hits. Feet start tapping, heads start bobbing as if by reflex. The beat is just right, and the vocals surf it like a part of the music. And this happens even if you don't like Frankie Beverly and Maze, an ensemble that is one living, breathing groove. The band has always been great and still is, even if in the here and now most of what Beverly does is vamp over the melody. Just sit back and let it happen. 5:30 p.m., Petrillo; $25-$50

kmwilliams@tribpub.com

Twitter @TribuneKevin

When: Wednesday-July 12

Where: Grant Park, Petrillo Music Shell, Columbus and Jackson Drives

Tickets: All tickets for Petrillo shows at ticketweb.com

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