BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
The Taste of Chicago includes a healthy side of pop music to accompany its main course of local cuisine. Running from July 9-13, the festival features headlining acts at Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. Recent line-ups have included veteran talent like Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Ray Davies of the Kinks, in addition to breakout talent like this year’s Janelle Monáe and Gary Clark, Jr.
Monae made an impression at the United Center last September, both as an opening act and performing a show-stopping duet of “Take Me With U” during Prince’s “Welcome 2 Chicago” tour. The artist formerly known as The Artist declared Monáe’s “The Electric Lady” to be the best album of 2013. Fans and critics provided strong support for the statement, embracing Monáe’s fusion of hip hop, rock, soul, jazz, funk, and gospel styles. In October, she returned to perform for a capacity crowd at the Vic.
Monee’s “Dance Apocalyptic” was an infectious, acoustic pop shimmy on nightclub floors, and even on David Letterman’s desk, where Monáe hoofed following her Late Show performance. The snappy funk of “Q.U.E.E.N.” was an empowering testimonial featuring guest Erykah Badu.
Gary Clark, Jr. also visited the United Center in March as opening act for Kings of Leon. The Texan blues-rocker with the smooth R&B croon was fresh from earning a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B performance with his tender “Please Come Home.” Like Monae, Clark has a deep bag of tricks, drawing from blues, rock, soul, folk, doo-wop and more.
“You’re gonna know my name by the end of the night,” sings Clark, dreaming big during the tense and soulful rocker “Bright Lights.” “Travis County” is a raver nodding both to originator Chuck Berry and his acolytes Taj Mahal and the Rolling Stones. “The Life” is a soul-searching blend of R&B and hip hop.
Next Thursday promises a summer night of engaging and eclectic music in Grant Park – one of the best tastes Chicago has to offer.
Janelle Monáe, with Gary Clark, Jr., 5:30 p.m. July 10, Petrillo Music Shell, 235 S Columbus, (866) 777-8932. Tickets $0 (lawn) $25 (seated); cityofchicago.org. SPOTIFY playlist: http://tinyurl.com/Taste-JMGC