Mamby on the Beach is where you go when you live in Chicago and are looking for a fun festival in the middle of June. Three-fourths of the month was gray and the air was lukewarm at best. Mamby on the Beach tends to fall on the most pleasant weekend of the month, when the sky is blue, the air is warm and breezy and the grass… well, the grass is still wet from the 48 hours of rain that just fell.
All joking aside, this is one of the best summer festivals produced by React Presents thanks to its comfortable setting. One of the best qualities of being on the beach to listen to music is the mere fact that these artists are working for you.
I stuck towards the Beach stage for most of the beginning of the day, planting myself in the warm sand to enjoy the opening acts. First up was Joshua’s Troop, a huge ensemble of 16- to 22-year-olds blending hip-hop sounds with contemporary gospel. It took a little while for them to get going, starting well past their scheduled time, but once they were in formation the fun was palpable. The combination of music styles worked perfectly as the group of what was dozens of members jumped, danced, and belted out joyous songs. They were a ball of energy that honestly wouldn’t and possibly couldn’t be stopped. They radiated positivity. Whatever your creed, it was impossible not to join along in their celebration.
grandson took to the Beach stage next with an energetic, but very on the nose set. grandson’s sound, a mix of bluesy rock, hip-hop flows, wavey synths and political lyrics takes quite a few cues from past groups, particularly Rage Against the Machine. The influence is incredibly apparent as their set goes by and while it produces some great songs, the similarity often was a detriment. There were way too many times where it felts like I was watching a lite version of Rage, especially when lead singer Jordan Benjamin felt the need to explain his song’s lyrics. Time and time again it happened when the songs could have (and definitely do) stand on their own. Despite these stage presence mishaps, the rest of grandson’s cathartic and explosive performance was a treat.
Joseph Chilliams took stage with his unique Chicago style like a fish to water (yes, a water pun in a Mamby on the Beach review). Playing songs off his latest EP The Plastics, based off characters and situations found in Mean Girls, Chilliams looked like he was having the time of his life. Bringing out Sen Morimoto and Saba for songs, Chilliams had the crowd dancing and vibing off his relaxed flow and and sublime energy. One wonderfully absurd highlight came in the form of a cover of “Ripped Pants” from Nickelodeon classic Spongebob Squarepants. It was a sweet cover that was readily appreciated by the crowd.
“If you’re a virgin, you may want to get out of here.” This seemed to be the mantra of Cupcakke’s balls to the wall, sexual odyssey of a set. Cupcakke has more personality, effortless dance moves, and downright crowd-pleasing songs than most of the artists on any festival bill. Her songs look at the TMI line and ram through it, going into such detail about sexual encounters that you cant help but shake you butt along to her extremely sex positive lyrics. Cupcakke is likely the most entertaining set of the day and it honestly whizzed by. There is no such thing as too much Cupcakke.
While a sun-happy audience has an opportunity to dig their feet in cool sand, Towkio graces Beach Stage with his stage presence built especially for his fellow Chicagoan music lovers. Towkio—sometimes more conspicuously than others—incorporates his Japanese roots when writing, but his sound also emanates a Baltic flare. Paired with his long braids and a pierced septum, Towkio epitomizes diversity in Chicago. He and his sound are exotic and a perfect fit for the summer day!
Tune-Yards was a fantastic follow up to Towkio as I ventured over to the south side of Oakwood Beach. The dissonant chord progressions heard from Park Stage came from the mallet and voice of Merrill Garbus, and Nate Brenner, the bassist who sewed it all together. But the vibrant, tribal sounds weren’t what set this set apart from the rest. It was a sound engineer who began fading the music out one minute past Tune-Yards’ scheduled closing time. In spite of the happiness and cheer that defines Mamby on the Beach, someone in the sound booth came to this set to disappoint. It was like nothing either I, nor my colleagues at 3CR have ever experienced at a festival or concert. Though Garbus powered through. completing her set mic- and amp-free to the cheers of a supportive and energized crowd, it was hard not to acknowledge the frustration and embarrassment Tune-Yards must have felt.
THE FESTIVAL GROUNDS & GRIZZLY BEAR
Following that memorable occurrence, there was downtime to check out the booths Chicago businesses had set up on the Mamby camp. Colorful pashminas, a disco headphone tent and flower-cat-ears graced the festival grounds in a nostalgic nod to last year. There was plenty to see, eat and buy, including one of my favorites—the hot dog. Service was slow and drunk dudes waiting on their oh-so-important orders shouted, “One star!” And then smiled artificially, shaking hands with the poor guy trying to keep up with the demand for the dogs.
The dogs were fine and worth the wait.
A full stomach was all that was required for the next two, or three, or four acts I prepared to see. Grizzly Bear prepared the audience for Spoon with a no-fuss presentation, giving them the raw musical experience it deserves. And of course, fan favorite “Two Weeks” made the cut on the setlist, about two-thirds in.
Ok, so I might as well lay it out there: Spoon is my favorite band and I have never seen them live. Whether it’s been illness, bad timing, or being completely broke, every opportunity to see them live has passed me by. So you better believe I took this opportunity to heart.
Their set included songs spanning between Kill The Moonlight and Hot Thoughts (as much as I love Girls Can Tell, I knew tracks off that album were unlikely, especially at a fest). I was surprised they only played three songs off of their latest Hot Thoughts, opting to focus on They Want My Soul by playing five of its fantastic tracks. “Inside Out” that album’s ethereal centerpiece came early in the set and set the tone for Spoon’s excellent performance.
The band was in full force and Britt Daniel’s performance was every bit as commanding and the enthralling as I could have hoped. From extreme facial expressions as he belted out songs to the theatrically of laying down at center stage for an instrumental, it all felt and sounds perfect.
They capped off their set with an encore featuring an impressive take on “Small Stakes,” a reworked verison of “The Way We Get By,” and a rousing finish with “Rent I Pay.” Hearing these songs together and live gave them greater context and were a highlight of the day.
Though the headliner I would eventually choose and settle into the night with was up in the air until about 9pm, I’m glad I stopped by Beach Stage where Chicago Rapper Common performed as his namesake backdrop shined red to the black sky. He sang of love and praised his audience for being Chicago.
Smooth piano riffs echoed from the stage, all the way back to the sound booth where I stood, as Common capitalized on his stage space. He moved from left to right, shared hugs with his loved ones and even welcomed Chance the Rapper to the stage.
This set was purely Chicago—it’s a call to action, a phrase Common used to describe his music’s purpose in an interview with “The Breakfast Club.” The beauty is in his harmonies, which wash through the ears of his fellow Chicagoans. It makes us wonder if positive change will come for all, all the while giving purpose to the sounds.