There were a surprising number of people in Union Park at 1:45pm on a Sunday, but I suppose that’s what happens when quality acts are booked to start the day. Porches kicked things off on the Red stage with what can best be described as dance music for lonely people. Indeed, Aaron Maine and his band used synths, bouncy bass lines and the occasional saxophone assist to settle into a groove, and the modest crowd shuffled around entranced while staring at their feet. Many of them may have been nursing hangovers or were simply tired from the previous two days, but at the very least they were moving. While the songs would undoubtedly have sounded even better under the cover of night, Porches still managed to inspire and help people get motivated for one more full day of music.
In case you missed all of the action out at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I’ve certainly written plenty about it, but haven’t SHOWN you what it all looked like. Well, this and the next couple of photo posts should change all of that. Join me past the jump for a bunch of photos that I took on Day 1. In this set, you’ll find photos of Bjork, Joanna Newsom, Wire, Woods, Angel Olsen, Mac DeMarco and Mikal Cronin.
Most things about Day 1 at the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival could be considered challenging. Or, perhaps described a little differently, most things except the performances. The main factor on Friday was the weather. A glance at the temperature would tell you the heat index was in the upper 90s, and therefore it bordered on oppressive. Then again, it’s nothing particularly new for this festival or mid-July in Chicago. Still, the volunteer staff could be credited as doing a fair to good job of distributing bottled water to the sweaty masses, even walking around with cases of it through the crowd during sets. Yet if you went to one of Union Park’s few water fountains, the lines were long. The same could be said for all the beverage tents. Everyone was in need of some fluids. And while outside of the heat it was a nice and sunny day, it became less so when severe storms rolled in during the evening hours and effectively shut down Bjork’s set 30 minutes early. It hadn’t rained a drop when organizers pulled the plug on the evening, but there was a pretty great lightning show that could hypothetically have put people in danger. The actual rain, as it was reported to me, started about 30-45 minutes after the park was cleared. Hopefully it won’t be a soggy mess for the rest of the weekend. Beyond weather and lines though, let’s talk about the music itself. Here’s a recap of the artists I saw:
As the weekend wears onward, I only wind up more and more tired at the end of each respective day. In other words, if I was super tired when doing last night’s Day 1 recap, today is a whole other level of pain. Still, I shall push past the sleep demons to provide you with a play-by-play of all the action I absorbed on Day 2 of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival.
Normally I’m a full set kind of person, as I am also a full album kind of person. It’s the sort of feeling like once you start something you need to see it through to a full conclusion. Well today I went a little schizophrenic and watched a lot of half sets. Too many great bands to see and too little time will do that to you. But to start the day, I strolled in past the gates and caught Julianna Barwick in the earliest stages of her set. Yes, Chrissy Murderbot was across the park on the smaller stage, but you could hear his beats pumping all the way where Barwick was playing. Not her fault, though the fact that her songs aren’t the loudest, most upbeat things in the world didn’t help matters. I immediately started to sweat in the 80+ degree temperatures, and a few times during Barwick’s set I felt like the sun had purposely increased in intensity. But in spite of the sweltering heat and noise interruptions, Barwick put on a great set. It likely would have been much better off in a small, dark venue than at this festival, but such is life. The songs were absolutely gorgeous as she worked at looping her vocals over and over and over again until there were these haunting harmonies that just spoke to you.
Woods was next up on the list of bands to see, but I didn’t plan on sticking around for long. That was partly because word on the street was that they were very boring live, and also Sun Airway seemed like they could be good. The first thing I noticed about Woods was that prior to starting their set they spread incense everywhere on stage. Then one of the guys in the band used a pair of headphones as a microphone, with one earpiece on his mouth and the other wrapping around to the back of his neck. Keep in mind this was NOT the singer Jeremy Earl, but rather “tape effects technician” G. Lucas Crane. The best part is that in the title “tape effects” they mean cassette tapes. With all this going on, it’d seem maybe Woods wasn’t a boring band live after all. But once the novelty and strangeness wore off, everything else about the band seemed old hat. Five tracks into their set, I skipped out.
Sun Airway was a band I had high hopes for. They’ve only got one record out, but it’s a good one and there was something about it that felt like they were hungry to succeed on every possible level. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case, as the first part of their set was beleaguered with bouts of normalcy. They were bringing a little more energy to the stage than their cross-park time slot rivals Woods were, but not a whole lot more. At least they seemed like they wanted to be there. Being such a young band, maybe a couple years’ worth of touring experience will help turn their somewhat pedestrian set into something that grabs your attention and refuses to let go.
One of the more amusing moments of the festival came when Cold Cave began their set and emerged on stage wearing thick black leather jackets, among other things. They must have been hotter than hell in those outfits, given the extreme temperatures outside at that hour. The interesting thing is, Cold Cave absolutely went all-out to put on a lively and entertaining show. The trio danced, shimmied, shook, and every other crazy move while their synth-pop melodies soared through the air as if they were so big no room could fully contain them. The bass shooting out of the speakers was nothing less than intense to the point where it put all of your internal organs on vibrate mode. It was heartening to see a band truly give 110%, in particular as a pseudo-response to the general malaise of the sets that came before it on Saturday.
Not willing to be outdone, the crowd was clearly primed for No Age. After a few minutes of technical issues, the mosh pit started almost immediately when they started to play. Things got super intense super fast, and security was just a tiny bit overwhelmed trying to keep it all contained. Water started to get passed around at a fast and furious rate, and people started to open the bottles and whip that water over the crowd to try and keep everything cool. Meanwhile, Randy Randall was and Dean Spunt were laying it all out there, giving back to the crowd what the crowd was giving it. After chatting with a security guard later in the day, he told me that while things got wild during that No Age set, injuries were minimal and everyone took care of one another. That is what this festival is all about, having a good time while showing some love for your neighbor. I left No Age’s set mid-way through to go see Wild Nothing, but came back before the end. Spunt had abandoned his drum set and was climbing the barricade in front of the stage. Best set of the day? Quite possibly.
In terms of going to see Wild Nothing, my hopes were not that high. Their album “Gemini” is great, and most assuredly it’d translate well to a live show, but after two bands in a row that were seriously kicking ass, I didn’t think they could muster up that same sort of energy. Turns out I was right, though Wild Nothing’s set was in no way poor in quality. Their vibe was just totally different, in a more laid back and relaxed sense. If you were hanging out in the shade over there with a light breeze blowing through, I’m sure it made for a nice time. Personally, I was still on an energy high and after a handful of songs had the strong urge to go back over to No Age, which I eventually did. Still, Wild Nothing, if the situation were different, I’d absolutely recommend their live show.
Then came Gang Gang Dance, a band that I like but am still struggling to fully comprehend. Much like Woods earlier in the day, GGD had a guy come out and spread incense all over the stage. Unlike Woods though, that guy was not a member of the band, outside of the fact that he stayed on stage the entire time, dancing around with a flag and more incense. If the band feels like they need a full time incense guy, well, then that’s their preference. When budget constraints hit you though, I’d think the incense guy is the first one to get fired. Anyways, outside of the crazy incense, the band put on a very interesting set. It was less energetic than I anticipated, but more technically sound. Lizzi Bougatsos played her frontwoman role to a T, and surrounded herself with percussion instruments of every sort. Whenever she wasn’t wailing into a microphone, which was often, she was banging on something or teasing some chimes. Percussion is an essential part of Gang Gang Dance’s live show, and I’m pretty sure every band member had drum sticks and was beating on something at one point or another. Not that I expected them to be bad, but I’d call the set surprisingly good. I was initially disappointed at what it appeared to be, and then once I had accepted what it was, learned to love it.
After really wanting to check out OFF! but finding myself unable to break away from Gang Gang Dance, I held up and just went straight to Destroyer. Dan Bejar has got plenty of albums to his name under that moniker, and most of them, while great, are not what’d best be described as “energetic”. I was expecting with the heat and late afternoon sun to just be bored out of my mind with his set. OFF! was likely giving a scathing, old school punk rock set, and here was Bejar and his band of saxophone and horn players ready to break out most of the soft rock stylings on his most recent effort “Kaputt”. Upon opening with the single “Chinatown” though, things seemed perfectly okay. There was something infinitely engaging about the performance, an almost indefinable quality to it that charmed in spite of its relatively subdued nature. Maybe it was the passion with which the band played. Maybe it was Bejar’s odd performance style of wandering and singing with his eyes closed. Whatever it was, there was magic involved. It only would have been better had I found a shady spot to sit down and just listen.
As it stood though, I was overly excited to check out The Radio Dept., so yet again I abandoned another artist mid-set. Having never seen The Radio Dept. live before but desperately wanting to, this was my big chance and I was not prepared to waste it. Imagine my shock then at finding out the trio was not very good live. Maybe it was the outdoor festival setting, or maybe they’re just plain inexperienced (prior to the last year or so, they had barely played any shows despite releasing 3 full lengths). The way I saw it was that their set lacked the showbiz word known only as pizzazz. It’s the indefinable quality that makes somebody engaging. Those three guys looked awkward on stage, like putting the spotlight on the shyest guys in a room. The keyboards didn’t bounce with any sort of vigor, the guitars lacked ferocity. The song “Keen On Boys”, perhaps my favorite Radio Dept. song ever, limped along, lacking any real muscle. The volume sounded like it was turned down to its lowest level too, and I almost wanted to stand at the back of the stage area to see if I could still hear the band. All this translates to The Radio Dept. sucking. My most anticipated set of the day, and it turned out to be one of the worst of the entire weekend thus far. Too bad, because I still really like the band. Maybe next time in a small, dark club it’ll be much better.
The Dismemberment Plan was next up, and having seen them already once earlier this year, I was intrigued to see what they’d do in front of a festival crowd. Turns out they’re just as, if not more exciting than ever before. They pumped through their classics like a band fresh off their first album and eager to please. They also looked like they were having a blast doing it. The huge smile on Travis Morrison’s face said it all. Naturally, the stage banter was overly witty as well, even at one point having Morrison attempt to do a verse of “You Are Invited” in the same heavy Cuban accent as Al Pacino in “Scarface”. Hilarious? You’d best believe it, even if much of the crowd had puzzled looks on their faces. Reports say that The D Plan also covered Robyn’s “Dancehall Queen”, but I skipped out for a short bit to go see some Twin Shadow. Still, I loved and continue to love The Dismemberment Plan. Their set was one of the top highlights of Saturday for me.
Early on in Twin Shadow‘s set, frontman George Lewis told the crowd that he was amused by his band’s placement in the day, playing opposite “my favorite band from when I was 18 years old”. The D Plan were still playing one hell of a show, but Twin Shadow seemed to both know that and want to equal or best it. The crowd was dancing up a storm, Lewis was pulling all sorts of rock star moves with his guitar in hand, and fun naturally came along with that. The high degree of energy served the whole band well, and the songs from “Forget”, along with a couple new ones sounded nothing short of great. It was technically unfair to put Twin Shadow up against the Dismemberment Plan, because that made it impossible to see two super great full sets. I feel privileged to have caught a majority of both bands.
I hung out at the smaller Blue stage for a bit to wait on Zola Jesus because DJ Shadow is NOT my thing. I wasn’t anticipating sticking around longer than a few songs for Zola Jesus though, lest I waste too much time and wind up in a super bad spot for the evening’s headliner Fleet Foxes. So the few songs I saw Zola and her band perform were solid. Great doesn’t quite define it, but very good and interesting probably do it justice. Zola’s a strong live performer, wearing a lovely ruffled dress sans shoes and dancing around from end to end of the stage. She played a couple new tunes in the time I was there, and they sound like a good continuation of what she’s accomplished on her last two efforts. I’m genuinely excited to hear her upcoming album now. The only fault I really found with her live set was that I’m not a huge fan of her music. As I’ve already stated, seeing her live made me have a greater appreciation for her records, but I didn’t have much of an appreciation in the first place. I was there because I had nothing better to do, and it turned into something more worthwhile. I’m quite happy it worked out that way, and if you saw her set, I hope you walked away liking Zola Jesus more too.
Finally it was Fleet Foxes time. The first thing I noticed when they came out on stage was how the entire band (save for the drummer) was lined up in a straight line across the stage. Yet instead of setting up on the front of the stage like every single other band, they only occupied the back half of the stage. It was like they were trying to distance themselves from the crowd. Don’t ask me why they chose to do it that way. As you may or may not be aware, I’ve said some not-so-nice things about the fact that Fleet Foxes were headlining a night of this festival, in particular because I felt like they were not yet worthy of headliner status. Two albums and 3 years shouldn’t earn you such privileges, even if those two albums were both completely amazing. What still consistently amazes is how they’re able to pull off all those dense harmonies in a live setting. It’s incredible to watch and to hear, even as the guys do nothing but stand in the same place the entire set. They rolled through their requisite great songs, from “Mykonos” to “Grown Ocean” and “White Winter Hymnal”, all the way past the “Blue Ridge Mountains” before finally ending with “Helplessness Blues”. I’d call the set triumphant if only it were just a little more engaging. As it stood, everything was very nice and pleasant, but the band could use just a little more spark in their performance in order to fully justify their headliner status. After a very long day in the hot sun, it was extremely nice to kind of relax and let Fleet Foxes take you away. THAT was the real benefit of their night closing set.
Okay, that wraps up a lengthy Day 2. Day 3 kicks off in another few hours, so if you’re headed out there, best of luck to you. Hot temperatures await, but so does fun. Stay hydrated. I’ll have my recap of Day 3, and one final full festival wrap-up for you once this whole thing draws to a close.
It’s been about a year and a half since The Babies first emerged onto the music scene, and the band was birthed thanks to Woods’ Kevin Morby and Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone. They were sharing an apartment in New York for a period of time, and wrote a handful of songs together. Bringing in drummer Justin Sullivan from the band Bossy, they wound up recording a number of songs and playing some live shows, but had no established plan as to how or when they were going to release them. The first taste of Babies’ recorded material came via their Myspace page back in August of 2009 when the songs “All Things Come to Pass” and “Meet Me in the City” appeared there. Other than that though and the occasional show, The Babies have been relatively quiet. Thanks to Shrimper though, their self-titled debut album will finally emerge from the womb next Tuesday.
The Babies’ sound really carries a lot of the DNA from the two parent bands of Woods and Vivian Girls. Woods has a very lo-fi/no-fi classic and stoner rock-informed sound, and Vivian Girls do lo-fi jangly garage pop. Put them together and it amounts to lo-fi stoner garage pop, which is probably the easiest way to define it. Morby is the chief songwriter for the band, though he shares vocal duties pretty equally with Ramone either in the form of duets, backing vocals/harmonies or switching off tackling full songs solo. The whole thing has a very relaxed and informal vibe to it as well, which helps to not take the songs too seriously when listening to them. Opening track and unofficial single “Run Me Over” is a very bouncy and catchy rock song, pretty perfectly melding some ramshackle grunge-ish guitars with a dose of psychedelic haze. “Sunset” feels a lot like a lost Pixies track, and while Morby is no Frank Black, Ramone does a fantastic Kim Deal with a touch of Kim Gordon. “All Things Come to Pass” is pretty much a Ramone solo cut, but it bears a lot of Woods’ sound in a very nice campfire singalong style sort of way. Then “Meet Me in the City” does a nice job of pulling a Vivian Girls via Wavves sort of thing, with Morby at the lead vocal helm and Ramone providing some nice backup harmonies. “Personality” has a lot of what the title suggests, a raucous punk track that rages for under 90 seconds before flaming out like it should. Everything sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom somewhere, and it bears the marks of a band like The Misfits or The Dead Kennedys, though not quite with the sense of outrage those bands tended to promote. Funny then that a song like “Breakin’ the Law”, which you’d expect to be pretty anti-establishment, is one of the album’s slower cuts that tells the story of a Bonnie and Clyde-like couple that have “retired” from committing crimes. “Wild I” is perhaps the most emotionally raw and beautiful song that Cassie Ramone has ever done with any of her projects. It’s a dark and rather depressing track with layers of electric guitars that speak perfectly to the tone. “I’m so tired of waking up/to the pain that’s inside my head/it’s a pain that you never had”, she sings at one point, channeling a mixture of Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and a half dozen other scorned women going through a bad breakup. The track that follows it is “Wild II”, with Morby taking on the male perspective in this failed relationship. He chooses to take the higher road and a little brighter view of things, essentially saying that he tried to make things work, and though they didn’t in the end, he’s confident that there’s somebody else out there for him. It lacks the conviction and layered melody of its predecessor but still does a decent job getting the point across.
In Woods, Kevin Morby plays bass and doesn’t really do any writing or singing. Courtesy of The Babies, he now has the opportunity to do both. He’s not exactly amazing at either, but he fares just decently enough. When compared to his side project bandmate Cassie Ramone, he’s clearly the weaker link. For a band like The Babies though, with the slacker melodies and lo-fi aesthetic, such things like vocal ability and brilliant wordplay are low on the priority list. Instead, catchy melodies and fun vibes are king, which thankfully The Babies seem to have in spades. This self-titled debut is a nice, low pressure respite from the higher expectations of both members’ day jobs. Treat it with kid gloves and you’ll find that it’s pretty easy to fall in love with something that’s largely still in its infant state. Okay, no more baby puns.