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Nine Bands Actually Worth Seeing at North Coast Music Fest

The Roots, Macy Gray, and D’Angelo swoop in to spruce up this year’s jam fest.

At North Coast 2014, probably watching somebody worse than D’Angelo.   Photo: Joshua Mellin

If you can hardly believe it—a week out from CPS starting and another from the Bears’ season opener—we’re still in the throes of festival season. This weekend is North Coast, the jam/EDM/hip-hop fest that packs four stages into tiny Union Park each Labor Day weekend, and for what seems like the first time in its six-year history, the lineup is borderline well-rounded. Peppering this year’s lineup of stock brosteppers (Knife Party, Steve Aoki) and Grateful Dead-descendants (Widespread Panic, Joe Russo) is a healthy dose of jazz, soul, and indie rock, to the degree that the roster reads like a downright rebranding of the festival. Neon tanks will, of course, still abound, but if you’re in the neighborhood, these sets are worth popping into Union Park for.

Wale

When: Friday at 5:30
Where: 312 Stage
Why You Should Go: Without North Coast’s requisite big-box hip-hop star this year (Snoop in 2014, Wu-Tang Clan in 2013, Big Boi in 2012, Wiz Khalifa in 2011, and Nas & Lupe in 2010), DC emcee Wale is as close to party-rap as you’ll get at this year’s North Coast.

Lili K

When: Saturday at 1:30
Where: 630 Stage
Why You Should Go: The local singer’s nu-jazz debut Ruby showcases pipes previously restricted to others’ projects (ever heard Chance’s “Good Ass Intro”?), and she deserves a wider audience.

The O’My’s

When: Saturday at 1:45
Where: 773 Stage
Why You Should Go: That the self-proclaimed “rock & soul” collective overlaps with fellow Chicagoan and sometimes-collaborator Lili K is infuriating—but given the 15-minute gap between their start-times, you can and should catch a solid half-hour of each.

Galactic with Macy Gray

When: Saturday at 5:45
Where: 773 Stage
Why You Should Go: If you’ve wondered what Macy Gray was up to at any point in the past 15 years, your answer lies partly with New Orleans funk-jam band Galactic, whose recent LP In the Deep she sang the title track of. Here, she and the band will play an entire set together, which could mean anything from a soul/funk free-jam to a scripted set of Gray hits. Either way, it’ll be weird.

The Roots

When: Saturday at 7:45
Where: 773 Stage
Why You Should Go: It’s increasingly rare to catch Questlove and Black Thought off the Fallon bandstand, but the acoustic hip-hop collective’s 2014 LP …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is as headily tight as anything they’ve penned.

D’Angelo

When: Saturday at 8:45
Where: 312 Stage
Why You Should Go: North Coast will probably never land a headliner as good as R&B Jesus again (nor will Lolla, or Pitchfork, or Riot Fest, for that matter…)

Ne-Hi

When: Sunday at 2:30
Where: 847 Stage
Why You Should Go: The Chicago garage-rockers aren’t doing anything wildly different than their peers (like fans and compatriots Twin Peaks, their sound is sepia-tone ’60s pallor and reverby twang), but even from within the mold, Ne-Hi’s songs are catchier than their competitors’.

Portugal. The Man

When: Sunday at 6:30
Where: 312 Stage
Why You Should Go: Up until 2013’s relatively tame/Danger Mouse–produced Evil Friends, Alaskan outfit Portugal. The Man was one of the freakiest bands in alt-rock, and they’ve retained their jagged instincts live.

Atmosphere

When: Sunday at 7:30
Where: 773 Stage
Why You Should Go: It’s been a hot second since the Minneapolis hip-hop duo’s heyday (say, a decade), but its 2014 LP Southsiders is sharp if slightly tapped for lyrical fodder—and a long career means a long back catalog of bangers to play live.

North Coast runs Friday, September 4 to Sunday, September 6 in Union Park (1501 W. Randolph). Tickets: $70–$110.

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