Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Final Thoughts
Before I start posting the many, many photos I took this past weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival, I want to take a moment to reflect with some words detailing the best and worst things that happened over the three days. If you haven’t read my detailed day-by-day recaps of the music I saw, here are links to Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
There are many great things about the Pitchfork Music Festival, and those things expand even beyond the music being performed there. It’s held in Union Park every year, which might not be the absolute safest neighborhood in the city, but the space is ideal for its size and the parking is pretty ample if you need to drive. They spent the first couple years of the festival perfecting some of the issues that plagued it early on, such as the stages not being loud enough and a lack of restrooms. Vendors, sponsors and other features have come and gone too, but the last three or so years have seen a serious consistency develop with the festival and the atmosphere as well that works extraordinarily well given its size. Organizers have also done well with ticket prices, ensuring it’s still one of the most affordable festivals in the world to attend. They didn’t even raise ticket prices this year. Where they did falter a bit though in 2012 was with the lineup. I’m not trying to suggest that this year’s batch of artists was bad, just not quite as strong as years past. They can’t all be winners, and this year will probably go down as one of the more muted affairs. Overall ticket sales were a little weaker than normal, as Friday was a couple thousand tickets short of selling out, though Saturday sold out and Sunday came very, very close to doing the same. If you looked at my daily recaps and compare them with the schedule, you’ll notice that I did a lot of skipping around from stage to stage, not often taking in full sets. My issues either involved a restlessness out of sheer boredom with who I was watching at the moment, or a panic because there were too many good artists performing at the same time. A great example would be on Saturday, when I really wanted to see Sleigh Bells, Chromatics and Hot Chip. They were ploaying at 6:15, 7:00 (listed start time delayed due to soundcheck issues), and 7:25, respectively. I ran between stages and caught as many songs as possible from each. On the opposite end of the spectrum, on Sunday I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing Kendrick Lamar, Chavez and Oneohtrix Point Never, yet I went to two out of the three just to see if they’d surprise me somehow (they didn’t). While we’re on the topic though, let me give credit where credit is due and hand out some praise for the artists that did inspire me over the weekend.
When I saw A$AP Rocky back at SXSW in March, he and his A$AP Mob showed up an hour late for their set time. When they did finally arrive, the place went nuts, though I was only able to see part of the set because I had to be at another show. This past Friday, not only was he on time, but I was significantly impressed with how he and his crew handled every aspect of their show. They got the crowd fired up, ran through all the hits and more, broke up a fight in the crowd, stage dived and performed in the rain like it wasn’t even an inconvenience. In other words, they did everything a great live performers are supposed to do. When he finally hits the big time, and buzz is saying he will, hopefully he doesn’t change a thing about his live show. It was really enjoyable. Japandroids are arguably one of the best rock bands performing today, and they write and record their songs specifically to get the most out of their shows. They are like a two man tornado trying their hardest to lay waste to everything and everyone in their path. The best part is they succeed with flying colors. Brian King isn’t afraid to bang his head or move around the stage should the mood strike him, as it does often. David Prowse hammers the drums with such violent urgency he probably breaks sticks more than other drummers. He actually broke his kickpedal early on in their Pitchfork set as a testament to that.
I think my overall favorite moment of the entire festival came when I first arrived on Saturday. Cloud Nothings were playing, and a few songs into their set it began to drizzle. That drizzle slowly developed into a full-on downpour – one of the heaviest of the weekend. It was right around then that they launched into their nine minute opus “Wasted Days” from their latest album Attack on Memory. With the crowd getting soaked to the bone but not moving to seek shelter, the band played to the storm like they were looking to pick a fight. This went on for several minutes, during which it was quite likely the band members were risking their lives being out there. Eventually the rain won though, shorting out the main set of speakers and leaving only the on stage monitors active. They kept going even if only the people closest to the stage could hear them. When they finally finished, they threw down their guitars and left the stage. Watching it all happen sent an excited shiver down my spine. If only every artist was so dedicated to their art and putting on a great show. The main goal of Nicolas Jaar was probably to put on a great show too, which is why he took an extra 20 minutes for his soundcheck. I stood there during that time, panicked because I was only going to be able to see 30 minutes of his set and the longer he took the less time I had to see him. When he finally did start playing, it was nothing short of excellent and transcendent. At least that’s what I took from the 10 minutes I was able to stay. I wish I could have stuck around longer and seen the whole thing, but Wild Flag beckoned me across the park. I had almost the exact same problem for Chromatics, who were also delayed by Jaar and whose four songs I was able to hear were even better than their recorded versions, which I already love. I hope to see both artists again soon, should they come through Chicago.
Sunday presented a similar great artist vs. great artist predicament, and the best part is, both of them knew it. John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees asked how many people in the crowd were planning to see Ty Segall’s set, who was starting 30 minutes later. Some cheers went up in the crowd, but Dwyer then explained that he and the rest of the band really wanted to see Segall too, and as soon as they finished their set, they were planning to run over there to catch him. A short time later, they dedicated a song to Segall. Having never seen Thee Oh Sees before and only going by their recorded output, I probably should have guessed how their live show would go. Everybody in the band bounced and moved around to the songs, and Dwyer kept alternating between spitting and sticking out his tongue in between some intense guitar riffs. I’ve become a much bigger fan of the band now that I’ve seen their live show, and that’s sort of why bands do play live. A short bit later Ty Segall would rock harder and faster than any other band on Sunday. Not only was the fuzz and reverb completely in check, but Segall’s scream is just about perfect – loud, piercing and not too throaty. About halfway through his set he asked the crowd to shout out, “Dwyer!” as sort of a kind message to the Thee Oh Sees frontman. A short time later, the band covered AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” which was straightlaced but gloriously appropriate. If only all of Sunday were so exciting. And finally, I’d be wrong to not include AraabMuzik as one of the festival’s best sets. I’m not a fan of DJs or producers performing live, mostly because I think sitting behind a laptop or turntable your entire set isn’t exciting to watch. It’s a big reason why the Daft Punks and Deadmau5s of the world have intense light shows to distract you. AraabMuzik had none of that in his late afternoon set, but surprisingly enough just watching him put music together was exciting. His weapon of choice was an MPC drum sampler, and his hands moved across that thing so fast they were often a blur. But even if you weren’t watching what was happening, simply listening was intense too. I’m not the biggest fan of the dubstep genre of EDM, but I consider AraabMuzik to be one of the only performers to have won me over in that respect.
This section should be a lot shorter than the above one, if only because so much went right at the festival this year. All the staff and volunteers were professional and did their jobs well. I got a bunch of free stuff simply by wandering the grounds at the right time, and elements like the Flatstock poster section, the CHIRP Record Fair and the Book Fort were fun things to do if you felt like the music wasn’t very good. Speaking of which, there were many artists over the weekend that gave very good performances but didn’t quite make my highlight reel. Some unfortunately did make my lowlight reel though, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. The worst thing to happen over the three days was the weather. Mid-July is typically not the time for rain, and the last few years at Pitchfork it has either not rained at all or sprinkled for under an hour. So when severe storms came rolling through on Friday afternoon, the hope was they’d be light and brief. The forecast said there was about a 20% chance of an isolated thunderstorm, but apparently they meant 100%. The rain was not light, and if you want to call a few 20-30 minute sessions “brief,” then so be it. Sets were affected, times were shuffled, and people exposed themselves to potential pneumonia after standing in the rain without an umbrella or poncho. The Saturday rain was just as bad, though happily the skies cleared around mid-afternoon and stayed that way through the end of the festival. The grounds of Union Park were a bit muddy from the rain as well, and I saw more than a few people covered in the stuff, most likely on purpose. But the swampy areas in some of the fields made it difficult to navigate, though thankfully crowds would surround them so you knew where they were and where not to step. Crews did do some nice work cleaning up as best they could, as quick dry, wood chips and platforms were thrown down to either dry up or cover up soggy sections. And you know what? The rain was nobody’s fault but nature’s. It’s a blameless crime with many victims, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Musically speaking, I’m going to try not to pick on too many artists that didn’t do so well in their sets. Atlas Sound is so good on record, and his last two albums have represented huge jumps in songwriting and melody development abilities. The first “mistake” was booking Bradford Cox solo at an outdoor festival. Atlas Sound is best experienced in a small, dark theater on a stage. Outside and in the sunlight just don’t quite work for his version of sleepy psychedelia. Cox is a nice guy with good intentions, but even he looked a little bored with what he was playing (or not playing, in the case of a few formless compositions). I tried to stick around for as much of his set as I could, but after 15 minutes just couldn’t take any more. Ironically, that pushed me into going to see Liturgy, a band I’ve only heard a few times and only on record. Their version of heavy metal resonated with me far less than I hoped it would. They were excruciatingly loud, which I’m okay with, but for the 10 minutes I stuck around watching them I couldn’t make out anything beyond ear-piercing screams. I know they have lyrics because I’ve heard them before, but I sure wasn’t hearing them during the performance. That’s okay though, I’m still pleased I went and watched for the time I did. You’ll never truly know how much you don’t like something until you try it. On Sunday there’s only one band in my rifle’s eyesight: Iceage. I feel horrible for promoting them in my preview coverage and saying it was going to be a “wild time.” The only thing wild about their set was when they blew out an amp. Even that probably connects back to having their gear stolen just a couple days prior. They probably borrowed the amp that broke. But yeah, listening to their album of speedy punk rock songs, and seeing footage of live shows where they crowd surf and somebody “accidentally” gets hit in a mosh pit makes me wonder if it was all just propaganda to generate some hype for the band. They absolutely looked like they didn’t want to be there, and their overly lackluster performance pretty much confirmed it. Rarely has a band disappointed me so much or sounded so unlike their records.
So there you have it, my final thoughts on this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. In a short bit I’ll be posting a selection of the photos I took over the weekend for you to browse through. The best place to see everything though is through the site’s Facebook page, where I’ll have 100% of the pictures available. If you’d like to read all the pieces I wrote as part of Pitchfork Music Festival week last week, all of them will come up if you follow this link. I hope you enjoyed reading and seeing things about the festival this year, and if it were up to me we’d do it all again next year. We’ll have to play a little wait-and-see on that one though. In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me, and we will return to our regularly scheduled music programming in the next day or two.