MCA Prime Time feels as familiar as it is different with every passing show. The three times a year event has local artists and musicians come together to take over the Museum of Contemporary Art. The setup tends to follow the same orientation, but what fills the evening is constantly evolving and entertaining. Past Prime Time events have given their themes to “Vibes”, “Refresh”, and “Purple”, each one taking full advantage of their overarching subject. This third and final MCA Prime Time of the year centered around the theme of “Ascend”, the general idea of rising up through growth, renewal, ritual, and harmony.
As people walked into the MCA they were greeted by a colorful backdrop adorned with cardboard gems and stones. This entry way, which would later act as the Glitterguts photo booth, set the stage for local experimental rock goddesses Homme. The duo of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart have been busy this year as they played at Pitchfork Music Festival, opened for Tortoise at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, toured Europe and the US with shows that have highlighted their wonderful performances. The duo’s chemistry is unparalleled and it shows best when their presence balances between explosive instrumentation and ethereal vocals. Homme look as if they fall into a meditative state as they perform tracks off of their Woman E.P., which have reached a familiarity that makes them all the more intense. Every song feels essential and their performance was an expectional way to kick off this edition of Prime Time.
Exploration is crucial to MCA Prime Time as nearly every floor has something new to discover for even the ardent MCA supporter. On that same ground floor, toward the back was The Clarity Room, where attendees could go in and have their tarot read and create their own smudge sticks. This theme of varying ritualistic activities was also apparent on the fourth floor where Ouija boards were placed throughout the seating areas, one of which was a chair adorned in hundreds of flowers. Even Adachi Taiko, the multi generation trio who performed over on the second floor balcony overlooking the crowd, had a ritualistic sense to them. Although having them perform so high above the crowd seemed odd at first, but their rhythmic drumming and zealous movements looked more iconic as the bright lights silhouetted the trio. One couldn’t help but look up at them as their booming drums grew louder and more impressive as their time went along.
Jamila Woods was the first artist to take the main stage and did so with the utmost grace. Joined by a full band and a pair of back up singers, Woods took the stage with an unmovable confidence. Within moments of her first song, it became incredibly clear that the beauty of her tender odes were going to be the main focus of the set, letting the large looming screen behind remain empty. Woods’ songs can be as personal as personal gets or push off as compositions of protest, but always harness a passionate empowerment. As she serenaded the crowd with an unbelievably powerful voice, they quietly sang along back. It was hard not to as her stage presence felt intimate and selfless, making her set incredibly inviting.
Noname, the musical pseudonym of Fatimah Warner, had the difficult job of following Woods on the main stage especially since the crowd on the second floor at this point was overwhelming. It’s not surprising that Noname attracted so many people to her set. Having transitioned from poetry to hip hop where she has been heralded by Chance the Rapper and opened a few shows with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Noname has been on the rise. Other than a few select overseas tour dates and a secret show in Chicago, this event would be the first time many of the crowd would be seeing her live. Noname lived up to the pressure and deliver an ecstatic set. Behind her the screen was occupied with familiar movies rushing by as Noname let the majority of her debut album Telefone flow. She beamed brightly throughout and definitely feeding of the crowd fervent enery. Telefone features plenty of guests (of which theMIND and Ravyn Lenae made an appearance) but for “Shadow Man” Noname went with a stripped down version that certainly highlighted her innate prowess on the mic.
Once Noname finished her enthralling performance, a good chunk of the crowd started their way out. Sets had run long and it was getting closer and closer to the evenings end time of 11:00pm. It wasn’t surprising, especially if you had been dancing and running around all floors of the MCA to catch every aspect of the night. Those that stuck around where treated to one of the most energetic experiences of the night.
The area previously reserved for front row spectators and a walkway for passersby shifted into something grander. A dance circle was carved out at the front of the stage, with footwork masters already making their presence known, gleefully staring each other down as DJ Audio Jack was spinning tunes. The battles began before RP Boo even had a chance to set up, but they ramped up once he got on the tables. The music shifted to the frantic sounds of the house offshoot footwork, giving the dancers more than enough substance to completely destroy the dance floor. RP Boo introduced those in the the groups participating battle and bounces at his spot along with everyone else. The atmosphere hit a high during “Bangin’ no King Drive”, where the familiar flow of the beat drew the crowd in closer and had the dance battle at its most engaging.
MCA Prime Time has been one of the most interesting events Chicago has to offer and this first full year of the show has been stellar. Let’s hope the series continues in the coming year and maybe even adds a few more dates because more people should experience this excellent series.