Continuing onward with Pitchfork Music Festival Week, today I’m happy to present my guide to Day 2. The first full day of bands brings up only a couple of difficult choices when considering what to see. The real challenges arrive on Sunday. I’ve positioned the schedule in pairs, pitting band against band playing similar time slots. As it gets later in the day, the gaps between bands and stages gets larger, but that’s because balancing out 3 stages where only two can operate at once requires more space. So just be aware that while I am choosing one band over another in these spots, moving from stage to stage or only watching half of one set and half of another isn’t very difficult in reality. So take comfort in that. My personal picks in each pairing are marked with an askterisk (*) to help guide you along. Good luck, and I’ll have a preview of Day 3 for you tomorrow! Oh, and if you’d like to download songs from every artist playing this year’s festival, just click here.
SATURDAY MUSIC GUIDE (Gates open at 12PM):
*Free Energy [1:00pm, Aluminum Stage]
Netherfriends [1:00pm, Balance Stage]
The matchup of Free Energy vs. Netherfriends to start off your Saturday afternoon isn’t too difficult of a choice. Free Energy is a nationally recognized band that is largely deserving of the hype they’ve gotten in the past several months. Their debut album “Stuck On Nothing” might not be exactly revolutionary on the sonic front, but it is a slice of down-home American rock that tends to skew towards the fun and toe-tapping variety. By contrast, Netherfriends plays up the psychedelic pop card and does so with style. The group is essentially a one-man project of Chicago’s own Shawn Rosenblatt, though in their live incarnation he’s got some friends performing with him. If you’re a loyal Chicagoan or just happen to like your songs drenched in a drug-induced haze you may want to check out the Netherfriends set. Of course you don’t need to be on drugs to enjoy Netherfriends, the songs are relatively catchy without the need for illegal substances. As much as I love the little guy, I think that not only will Free Energy deliver a better set, but their songs are more tailored to the festival environment. They should be a very welcome start to Saturday.
*Real Estate [1:45pm, Connector Stage]
*Sonny & the Sunsets [1:55pm, Balance Stage]
Considering their star is on the rise, the name Sonny and the Sunsets attains a fresh irony given the circumstances. They probably wouldn’t have it any other way themselves, as their laid back and charming songs tend to have a thread of humor in them. That’s one of the many delights the band’s debut album “Tomorrow Is Alright” has to offer. Fronted by renowned singer, playwright and author Sonny Smith, the band’s songs are great sunshine melodies that are ironically drenched in darkness and despair. That balance between dark and light, in other words the hazy glow that appears when the sun meets the horizon, is what has gotten Sonny and the Sunsets a fair amount of attention in recent months. In a similar tone, the band Real Estate have been the benefactors of hype since last fall, when their self-titled debut album came out. That contained a track titled “Beach Comber”, which succinctly distilled everything that was great about the band into a singular song. The melodies are for lazy days on the sand where there’s not a cloud in the sky and the tide is just about to roll in. Given that Union Park is not exactly within blocks of a beach shouldn’t matter, because you can just chill out and enjoy Real Estate’s summery songs while laid out on the grass. The choice between these two somewhat similar-sounding bands is actually a little tough, but when pressured I’d say go with Real Estate. Don’t be surprised if you hear nice comments coming from people on both sides of the park, and you might consider splitting your time between the two bands.
*Delorean [2:30pm, Aluminum Stage]
Kurt Vile [2:50pm, Balance Stage]
It’s battle of the Matador-related bands for this part of your Saturday. The good news is that unlike the last pairing, these two couldn’t be more different. Delorean has been pulling in major praise from people ever since they released their “Ayrton Senna” EP last year. Their debut album “Subiza” came out a few months back and that was met with nearly equal enthusiasm, people getting completely sucked in by this hook-filled dance party. Delorean both are and aren’t part of this glo-fi/chillwave movement in that they’re often lumped in with those groups but their songs are far too clean-cut and energetic to really earn that tag. That’s perfectly okay though, and for those looking for an early afternoon dance party, Delorean have the Balearic beats to feed your hunger. Of course if pure rock and roll is more your style, Kurt Vile has got you covered. When armed with a guitar of any sort, the guy has delivered a string of albums that defy any rigid genre aside from the hghly generalized tag of rock. Whether he’s getting all confessional with a quiet acoustic song or bringing down the house with some heavy electrics and his backing band the Violators, Kurt Vile puts on an impressive live show that only gets better the more familiar you are with his music. The guy is something of a legend in his own right, and there’s maybe only one other artist performing on Saturday with more live experience than him. When choosing between these two it all comes down to your mood, and while I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Kurt Vile, the prospect of having a really fun time dancing to Delorean is almost too good to pass up.
*Titus Andronicus [3:20pm, Connector Stage]
Dâm-Funk [3:45pm, Balance Stage]
On pure critical acclaim alone, Titus Andronicus wins in this matchup. That’s something you should know right off the bat. That’s not meant to be a knock on Dâm-Funk, whose gloriously funky and fun songs should provide some welcome enjoyment to those who go check him out, but Titus Andronicus just have so much going for them right now. Their latest album “The Monitor” is one of the absolute best albums of 2010 so far, and its mixture of Springsteen-esque American rock and razor sharp punk rock into long-form songs can only translate into a great live show that’s high on energy and content. Of the many hotly anticipated bands playing on Saturday, Titus Andronicus are probably high up there on the “must see” list. Don’t let that stop you from going to see the culturally vibrant and very danceable set from Dâm-Funk, who’s sure to bring up memories of great past artists like James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Parliament. It’s not exactly my sort of thing, but I totally get why there’s an appeal there and wouldn’t blame you for turning down some heavy guitar rock and roll in favor of the boogie. Perhaps an even better option, since they don’t start at the same time, is to maybe watch the first 20 minutes of Titus Andronicus and if you’re not completely sold on them after that time, go get some Dâm-Funk.
Raekwon [4:15pm, Aluminum Stage]
*The Smith Westerns [4:45pm, Balance Stage]
Given that these sets start 30 minutes apart from one another, there’s not a ton of choice you have in who to go see, though if you’re already at one stage or another you might just go with the flow of the crowd. As it stands in this matchup though, your choice is between hip hop and 90’s-inspired rock. The two are on sort of opposite planes from one another, but if your tastes are diverse enough, this might be a tough choice for you. On the one hand you have Raekwon, who’s essentially a hip hop legend. The guy was a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, and has put out a couple of highly influential rap records on his own too. There’s probably not a high likelihood he’ll bring some of his Wu-Tang buddies like Ghostface and Method Man with him, but there might be a guy or two handling all the guest roles your average hip hop album has (a lot). The Smith Westerns call Chicago home, and that’s just one of many reasons to see theim perform at Pitchfork. The songs off their self-titled debut album are fuzzy, lo-fi rock that’s amazingly dynamic and in many senses classic. I’ve seen these fresh-faced youngsters live a couple times now, and can guarantee that they put on a solid and fun show. If you’re weighing your options and are having trouble with this one, my personal selection here is The Smith Westerns. Of course I’m not the greatest Raekwon fan, so there may very well be something I’m missing.
*The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion [5:15pm, Connector Stage]
WHY? [5:45pm, Balance Stage]
I call the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “The Original Black Keys”. The reason is because Jon Spencer has been around longer and may have even inspired The Black Keys somewhere long the line. Here’s a band with a handful of classic, blues-inspired albums under their belt, who are veterans on stage. They’ve opened for such notables as Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones anad Tom Petty without so much as breaking a sweat. Not only have their albums been called great, but their live show is also extremely well regarded, some might even call it bordering on legendary. Between the incredible guitar work and the way that Spencer works the microphone, these guys are performers through and through. They don’t do a ton or recording and touring anymore either, so that they’re playing Pitchfork is something of a special treat. While on the other side of the park you have Yoni Wolf’s band WHY?. Why would you go and see WHY?? Well, to start, their lyrics are among the weirdest and most fascinating things I’ve heard in a long time. They also have a number of catchy songs, in particular on the album “Alopecia”. They used to be a group of white guys doing rock-infused hip hop, but with their last album “Eskimo Snow” they all but stopped rhyming and started singing. “Eskimo Snow” isn’t their best work, but it’s still pretty interesting on multiple levels. Still, you should stick with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. WHY? is good and all, but there’s really no practical reason to go see them given the force they’re up against.
*Wolf Parade [6:15pm, Aluminum Stage]
Bear in Heaven [6:45pm, Balance Stage]
Separately, Spencer Krug is best known for his band Sunset Rubdown, who’ve released increasingly effective and odd indie rock albums over the past few years. Dan Boeckner is known for the band Handsome Furs, which is the project he established with his wife. The last Handsome Furs album “Face Control” was a sharp advancement in their sound and songwriting, turning the band into one worth watching closely. Together, Boeckner and Krug are members of Wolf Parade. The combination of these two great talents in one band, each of them taking on a few songs apiece across what now amounts to three albums, is almost too much to handle. The debut Wolf Parade album “Apologies to the Queen Mary”, released before Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs were even on anyone’s radar, has gone down in indie lore as one of the best albums of the last decade. They’ve got a new record “Expo 86” that came out a few weeks back that’s really damn good too. Given that Krug and Boeckner are so busy with their other bands, Wolf Parade doesn’t tour too often. Consider their stop at Pitchfork to be a rare opportunity to catch them. On the other end, Bear In Heaven have risen to hypeworthy prominence via their second album “Beast Rest Forth Mouth”, which is a swirling and addictive synth-infused psych-pop record. Yes it’s worth your time, but to ignore Wolf Parade seems almost foolish. So sorry Bear In Heaven, you got put in a tough time slot.
*Panda Bear [7:25pm, Connector Stage]
Freddie Gibbs [7:40pm, Balance Stage]
It isn’t, but it almost might as well be a joke placing Freddie Gibbs in this late time slot against Panda Bear. That’s not meant to offend fans of Freddie Gibbs, but more to acknowledge the prominence of Panda Bear amongst the indie bretheren. See, while Panda Bear is best known as a member of the white hot Animal Collective, he’s also a notable solo artist in his own right. His last record “Person Pitch” is among the most critically acclaimed albums released in the past decade, and listening to it today, it still feels ahead of its time. There’s a new album that Panda Bear has been working on that’s due sometime later this year, and the anticipation for it has hit something of a fever pitch. The first single “Tomboy” was released last weekend and you can hear the masses salivating over it. By contrast, you have Gary, Indiana hip hop star Freddie Gibbs. The guy is good at what he does, and that’s writing honest rhymes about serious situations he’s witnessed in his life. He’s definitely talented and will hopefully hit it big amongst the hip hop crowd, but for the moment he’s not much more than a blip on the radar. Even by underground hip hop standards he’s not quite reached the elite just yet. If you like rap and haven’t heard of the guy before, I definitely advise you to see his set – particularly if Panda Bear’s oddball psych-pop doesn’t float your boat. Otherwise get yourself some Panda Bear and try to force yourself to like it no matter how difficult it might be to penetrate. Let’s just hope he doesn’t pull the stunt Animal Collective does from time to time where he goes off the deep end and improvises his set rather than playing actual songs from his albums.
*LCD Soundsystem [8:30pm, Aluminum Stage]
The tragedy of LCD Soundsystem is that after three solid albums of great dance music, James Murphy claims he’s going to retire. The man has become something of a legend, fronting the great record label DFA and pushing tons of amazing music from other artists out there for the public to hear and love. But as LCD Soundsystem, he moves from label head to a guy who knows better than anyone how to move bodies. One could say that between the last LCD album “Sound of Silver” and the almost equally great “This Is Happening” that Murphy is as prolific as he’s ever been, reaching a creative apex both on record and in a live setting. Why he’d knowingly choose to quit at this point in time seems absurd, but if he’s going out, at least it’s on top. LCD Soundsystem is playing tons and tons of shows this year, including tons and tons of music festivals, but it can be argued that none of those festivals are more important than the Pitchfork Music Festival. The site played a gigantic role in spreading the LCD Soundsystem gospel on the path to worldwide popularity. This is looking like the very last time that Murphy and his band of misfits will ever play Chicago, so you’re probably not going to want to miss their set.