Ah, early June in Chicago. The magical time of year when summer crests the proverbial horizon, and everyone applies for that second part-time job with the hopes of raising enough money to buy a 3-day pass to Lolla and/or Pitchfork. While these major music festivals are no doubt staples of the Chicago summer scene, last Monday at Millennium Park proved that the sub-mainstream show is still alive and well in America's best music city. (You heard me, New York)

For the last three summers Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays (DTS) has provided Chicago music enthusiasts with a multitude of free concerts featuring fringe indie acts ranging from Caribou to She and Him to Tony Allen. The brainchild of visionary program director Mike Orlove (Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture) and co-curated by Mike Reed (At Pluto LTD) and Jack McLarnan (Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture), this truly homegrown concert movement was initially received with hesitation by Chicagoans in its infancy. Crowds at early DTS shows were, at times, sparse despite the quality of the line-ups and the exceptionality of the venue (Pritzker Pavilion). It seemed that while Chicago was providing this unprecedented and unparalleled city-funded concert series, DTS was doomed to be unappreciated by a city overflowing with larger summer shows. 

However, recently, DTS has gained significant steam with this summer's installation, culminating last Monday with a record 20,000+ crowd coming to a watch a meteoric performance by Iron and Wine. Easily the most anticipated date on the 2011 DTS calendar, this show certainly lived up to the hype as the park hit its maximum capacity an hour and half before the opener - The Head and the Heart - even took the stage.  

Hailing from Seattle, The Head and the Heart acted as a perfect compliment to what was to come from Iron and Wine. Via an excessively warm and powerful sound rich with multi-layered harmonies, The Head and the Heart managed to flawlessly combine the intelligence of folk with the strength of rock, ultimately creating an intense artistic amalgamation that effortlessly washed over the crowd like a much needed summer breeze.

Highlight of the set: "Lost in My Mind" (download below)

Around 7:15, Iron and Wine took the stage for what proved to be a truly outstanding 90 minutes of music. Originally the solo project of recluse singer/songwriter Sam Beam, Iron and Wine blends rock, folk, and indie grooves to create intricate songs full of lyrical imagery that come out in soft, but extremely powerful melodies layered on top of genuinely emotive instrumentation. 

While Beam often performs on his own, through this current tour he is accompanied by a large backing band that includes a full horn section. Due to the fact that Beam is no longer performing solo, many Iron and Wine classics were performed in a near unrecognizable manner in order to fully feature the larger accompaniment. Fans who attended the show expecting/hoping to hear their favorite tunes performed exactly as they are on the album may have been initially disappointed, but were no doubt pleasantly surprised as to how sonically rich, lustrous, and generally pleasing the new arrangements came together. Ultimately, the entire band served to highlight, rather than detract from, Beam's comprehensive musical genius, which consistently echoed through the warm summer night and into the depths of the city.  

Highlights of the set: "Boy with a Coin" (download below) and "Freedom Hangs Like Heaven"