Summer festivals are a hodgepodge by design, but minor themes surface for folks who can only commit to one day. And these things all keep getting bigger, longer and harder to navigate. In its sixth year, Do Division, the street shindig booked by Empty Bottle and House Call Entertainment, has expanded to three days. The cheap breakdown goes like this: Day one brings the fun, day two is for rockers and things get heavy in day three. Or here’s an even easier shorthand: If the band name starts with a B, you’ll want to see it.
Friday sets it off with BBU, which can at last get past its name, Bin Laden Blowin’ Up, and not just because the terrorist is dead. The Chicago foursome’s latest, the free album bell hooks, is so proper (in the MC Hammer sense) it makes that look-at-me moniker moot. With references to Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Crucial Conflict, Twista and There’s Something About Mary, the group is clearly deep into the ’90s. BBU zips through hip-hop’s Cross Colours–clad glory era, bringing to mind Black Sheep and the Pharcyde. Epic, Illekt, Jasson Perez and DJ Esquire are party-minded political rappers, taking shots at Wicker Park hipsters and the po-po over cinema strings and blacktop boom-bap. The group has chemistry. Even the skits are golden.
Headlining that evening are the Black Belles, a bunch of women produced and designed by Jack White to look and sound like witches throwing a beach party. Ubiquitous local soul hustler JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound works the crowd from the other stage.
After smoking the big boys last year at Lollapalooza, underdogs Le Butcherettes get their chance to sit atop a bill on Saturday. The Mexican act is essentially a vehicle for reckless banshee Teri Gender Bender. The 22-year-old holds you in her gaze before destroying you with her howl and guitar. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta, who produced the band’s sophomore album, Sin Sin Sin, has since joined as the bassist. He’s known for his energy, but all eyes will stay on Gender Bender, who thrashes about in a whirlwind of feminism and sex appeal.
Earlier in the evening, the Besnard Lakes spellbind with their big-sky epics, built from high voices and huge drums. The Canadians get compared to Neil Young for their passports alone, but for a balance of grit and grace as well. The Lakes make the Crazy Horse formula dreamier and harder. Local beer-slammers Mannequin Men have matured from debauchery to wistful bar rock. Some of them must have become dads, but they’re always a blast. The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn looks westward in his latest batch of wordy storytelling songs about deadbeats and redemption.
Sunday’s headlining Antlers drew raves for harrowing cancer ballads they recorded in a Brooklyn bedroom, and have since developed into a poor man’s Radiohead with fussy arrangements and frail falsetto. Chicago’s super, super slow and awesomely bottomless Pinebender returns to churn and pound. Its songs are like watching a hurricane crawl across a weather radar, and just as destructive. So the weekend wraps on a blissfully bleak note. We’re always worn out by then anyway.
Black Belles first visit Empty Bottle Thursday 31; Mannequin Men stop by the next night. Le Butcherettes also play Subterranean Friday 1, while Finn hits the Empty Bottle solo Saturday 2.