Wow, what a festival. I’ll have my complete wrap-up of Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 coverage in one last post (complete with dozens of photos), but I would like to say that it was another strong year for the fest, despite a few minor issues (which, again, I’ll deal with later). Here’s a list of the music I saw on Day 3, along with some brief thoughts on each.
Upon arriving a little later than usual on Sunday afternoon, I was greeted with a long line to get into the festival, longer than any of the other days. I guess that just goes to show you how big Sunday is and how excited people are about the stable of bands playing. It was, after all, the first day to sell out. But I got through the line just in time to see Best Coast. Bethany Cosentino is far more charming on stage than you’d might expect. She’s got a winning smile and the help of a guitarist and drummer on stage, but the banter was what helped to sell the songs. Many of them were sunny melodies that tended to stick with the topics of boys, summer, and weed. Cosentino even told the crowd as much as she introduced many of the songs off her brand new album “Crazy For You” which will be out later this month. In all, Best Coast was a fun, relaxing way to start the day.
The chatter in the crowd before Girls went on seemed to be all about singer Christopher Owens growing up in a cult. When he came out on stage wearing a very colorful and altogether loud shirt completely unlike the rest of his bandmates, somebody next to me said, “Yeah, that dude had to have been in a cult.” Really none of that matters, but the disappointing thing is how often everyone makes reference to it when talking about Girls. Anyways, their set, despite the relatively upbeat and bright melodies on their debut record “Album”, felt a little too sun-baked for the early afternoon hours and sweltering heat. There wasn’t nearly enough toe-tapping going on to make the songs seem worthwhile on stage, though the beginning of the set was decent and the end was as well. The middle part was what hurt things. Playing the lengthy “Hellhole Ratrace” without a whole lot of emotion or additional energy causes things to stagnate out in the crowd, which they did until things descended into guitar-crunching madness at the end. Only “Lust for Life” really smacked hard with everyone, but that’s the big single off the album anyways, so that was sort of expected.
Washed Out is a big part of the whole chillwave/glo-fi movement, and armed with simply a laptop and a sequencer, he gave the crowd some sweet grooves you could relax to. Given the heavy shade surrounding the Balance Stage, there were people plastered down on blankets and just having fun with their friends watching the set. Those who were standing weren’t so much dancing as they were having a pleasant and enjoyable time. That about summed up how Washed Out did, because outside of a couple of clearly “practiced” moves, a guy behind a laptop isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to watch. He did an admirable job with what he was given.
Local Natives aren’t ones to disappoint. The band has only been on the radar for a few months now, but in that time they’ve managed to build an exceptionally strong following. The overflow crowd at the Balance Stage would appear to agree. Clearly Local Natives should have played one of the two larger stages. Still, they charged through their set playing tracks off of their debut “Gorilla Manor” and hitting every single harmony dead on along the way. You knew the big song “Sun Hands” was going to be last, and the crowd went nuts, releasing a huge burst of energy just when it was needed. Chances are Local Natives won over another few thousand fans just from that great performance alone.
While waiting for Surfer Blood to start, I felt like taking a moment to see what Lighning Bolt was doing on the big stage would be a good idea. Well, what was initially a good idea turned into a GREAT one. See, I had never seen Lightning Bolt before, and I’m guessing much of the surprisingly sparse crowd hadn’t either. What they missed could only be described as life-changing. For a band whose music is basically just a bunch of noise with little rhyme or reason, Lightning Bolt proved those rhymes do have a reason. That reason is drummer Brian Chippendale, who, while wearing a creepy looking cloth mask with a microphone built into it, absolutely destroyed everything that came into his path. We’re talking about scorched earth drumming that was on par with the greatest of all time. Words can little express how jaw-droppingly good Chippendale is, except to say that it was the only time all weekend my mind was completely blown. Just when it seemed like he had rolled through one of the toughest drum solos around, he ups the ante and goes for something even wilder. The guy is more than a pro, he’s a superstar, and one can only hope he eventually gets the attention he so righteously deserves. The noise from the guitar helped to give their “songs” a purpose, but the drumming is what turned a mediocre set into one of, if not THE best set of the entire festival. Seriously, you may not like Lightning Bolt on record, but given the opportunity to witness them live is an animal that will tear you apart from the outside.
Annie Clark has been back in the U.S. for less than 2 days, but she still showed up at Pitchfork no matter how bad her jet lag might be. With the sun beating down in one of the hottest parts of the day, St. Vincent came out and played a generally delightful, if not somewhat underwhelming set. Given that many of her songs are more slowly paced, the festival atmosphere wasn’t entirely the best place to hear them. What Clark and her band tried (and only somewhat succeeded) to do was offer up a few reworkings of some album cuts. As the set progressed however, it became clear that despite all the preciousness early on was gone and in its place was a roaring guitar goddess who had no problem whipping out a loud and effective solo should the moment so require. It’s just a shame most of those deft guitar moves didn’t come sooner, and things were somewhat problematic anyways because the mixing was a little favorable to everything but Clark’s voice and guitar. Having seen St. Vincent before, I know she can do better, so whether it was heat or jet lag or a combination of other factors, something wasn’t quite right for this Pitchfork set. Maybe next time, Annie.
After a bite to eat and not much interest in seeing the spectacle that apparently was Major Lazer, I heard the strains of Here We Go Magic’s “Fangela” coming from the Balance Stage and was attracted to it like the Pied Piper. What I saw upon arriving was an extended version of that song and “Tunnelvision” that were both surprisingly great. When it was just Luke Temple recording those songs in his bedroom that was one thing, but now as a full band Here We Go Magic is allowed to explore the melodies with as much space as they require. Not only that, but they infused some extra energy too. There were descents into noise rock basements, but every time the main part of the song came back again to rescue a freight train of music out of control. Though I only caught part of this set, I was impressed enough to want to see Here We Go Magic again. They may have finished 10 minutes late, but it almost seemed worth the cost for such excellence.
With Here We Go Magic ending late on the Balance Stage, Neon Indian started 15 minutes late as a result. Armed with a collection of keyboards, synths, and other sonic bits and pieces, Alan Palomo was prepared for a dance party. I saw Neon Indian several months back around the release of his album “Psychic Chasms”, and the experience was a little off-putting. Not anymore, because Palomo has really grown as a performer these last few months. The band ripped through a set that includes the new single “Should’ve Taken Acid With You” and “Deadbeat Summer”, during which Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells did a huge stage dive and crowd surfed while lighting up a cigarette. On the whole Neon Indian was a very fair amount of fun and the crowd seemed to agree the way they put on their dancing shoes.
By this point in the festival, things have built up to a fever pitch. After 3 days of hot hot weather, people are looking for a release. The light is at the end of the tunnel and with the knowledge that Pavement is in the house, it’s taken the excitement to a whole different plain. Enter Sleigh Bells. Are you looking for a true rock and roll cure that hits harder than a pile of two-ton bricks? That’s what the extremely packed crowd got, though some fine tweaks needed to be made along the way. My worry early on was that the band wouldn’t sound so good with the small speakers at the Balance Stage. When security rolled out a line of amps that stretched across the back of the stage, I felt better. That didn’t stop one of the stage speakers from getting blown out less than 2 songs into the set. Alexis Krauss also had some microphone trouble early in the set that didn’t help matters, but once everything got cleared up, there were sweaty bodies jumping like I’d never seen before. Suddenly the Pitchfork Music Festival was the greatest party in the world and bumping, grinding and everything in between was not just an option but an essential. With people packed in tighter than sardines, Krauss worked the stage like the badass she is while Derek Miller ripped through some killer riffs. Who knows how long the band’s hard-wired guitar destruction is going to last, but for those moments during the Pitchfork Music Festival, not much else in the world mattered more than those great songs off their debut album “Treats”.
Finally, at the end of a weekend worth remembering, the Pavement set had arrived. But first the tired but thrilled crowd had to sit through a brief pre-Pavement comedy bit that very few people actually understood. There was an initial surprise when Rian Murphy first showed up on stage and began to hype Pavement before asking the crowd if they were having a good Lollapalooza (as if he didn’t know what music festival he was at). Well, several more “misunderstandings” followed, where Murphy riffed on the 90’s alternative rock scene, Chicago alt-rock station Q101, and the suggestion he’s been waiting “20 years” for this Pavement reunion, even though they’ve only been broken up for 10. To clarify, Rian Murphy is the president of Chicago’s own Drag City Records, who signed Pavement to their first record contract. He knows not only where he is, but made up that entire speech just to get the crowd riled up. All the “boos” and general anger directed towards Murphy sprang from those who had no idea none of what was said was truthful but was poking fun at Pavement’s history with Lollapalooza, the Smashing Pumpkins, and of course Q101. To be clear, you’ve got to be old enough or musically savvy enough to have seen through such a ruse, so don’t blame yourself if you were left wondering exactly what happened there.
Now then, the big moment with Pavement. While they were 90’s indie rock heroes and remain revered as such today, the fact of the matter is that Pavement have never been known for exceptionally strong live shows. Great yes, but life-changing probably not. So to expect them to step back onto that stage and somehow be that amazing band you envisioned in your head is unrealistic. Going in with the lowered expectations of simply hearing the band play a (purposely) mangled version of “Cut Your Hair” is far more the speed things worked at. And the good news is that Malkmus and the rest of the guys all seemed to be in very high spirits. Whether they’ll continue to feel that way across the gigantic tour they’ve scheduled for the rest of the year remains to be seen.
But in terms of the music, Pavement hit on all the necessary bits they needed to to satisfy moderately casual fans. If you own the band’s greatest hits album “Quarantine the Past” you probably never got too lost with tracks like “Frontwards”, “Range Life” and “Silence Kit” being played with the sloppy irreverence Pavement specializes in. That is to say these guys are slackers, and between Malkmus constantly cracking smiles at his bandmates and multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich going nuts most of the time, perfection is kind of their enemy. So the crowd, who seemed pretty laid back (or tired) anyways, went along with Pavement for the night. Most seemed to have a good, if not great time. There wasn’t anything revolutionary about what Pavement did or said during their Pitchfork set, but it was still a thrill to see them playing together again and going over the classics. Should you have an admiration for Pavement and the legacy they’ve left us, seeing them perform is a gift at this point, a way to either bring back your past memories or to finally get the chance to see one of the greatest bands of the 90’s. Do yourself a favor and try to make the most of it.