Click past the jump to see a whole lot of photos from Day 3 of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. You can see photos of Yuck, Kurt Vile and the Violators, OFWGKTA, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Baths, Superchunk, Deerhunter, Cut Copy and TV on the Radio.
Tag: pitchfork music festival 2011
Click past the jump to see a huge number of photos from Day 2 of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Artists in this photo set include: Julianna Barwick, Woods, Sun Airway, Cold Cave, No Age, Wild Nothing, Gang Gang Dance, Destroyer, The Radio Dept., The Dismemberment Plan, Twin Shadow, Zola Jesus and Fleet Foxes.
Click through the jump to see a large assortment of photos from Day 1 of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. There are photos of EMA, tUnE-yArDs, Thurston Moore, Guided By Voices, Neko Case and Animal Collective.
What a weekend. If you’re a music festival purist and committed yourself to attending as much of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival as possible, you likely wound up tired, aching and several shades of red. Temperatures steadily rose all weekend long, the sun never vanished from the sky, save for the final 90 or so minutes each day, and if you weren’t careful, heat exhaustion could easily have taken you down. Thankfully festival organizers along with a crack security and medical team all worked hard to ensure that people were safe as well as having fun. I never officially checked with the medical tent to see how many people were treated for heat-related issues, but I did spot a few people getting visits from the EMT fairy off on the sides of a couple stages. There were maybe two times all weekend I also heard ambulances drive off the festival grounds with sirens blaring. Hopefully nobody had any serious health issues. Particularly helpful over the weekend, but especially on Sunday, was the ample availability of water. If you weren’t bringing your own in, there were a handful of water fountains you could fill up at for free (even though the lines were almost always long), and for the truly devoted fans that refused to leave a certain stage, bottles of water were being distributed by security between sets. On Sunday they reportedly gave out over 13,000 bottles of water, and no doubt many needed it. Even if you couldn’t get a free one, the price of bottles of water was reduced to $1 for Sunday as well to make it that much more of an enticing option. In other words, things were made that much more manageable by everybody at the festival, from the organizers and security through the crowds. This is a festival in which community matters more than anything else and everyone takes care of everyone else. So whether you wound up in a mosh pit at No Age, OFF! or Kylesa or were simply joining in as Odd Future asked everyone to throw their middle fingers into the air, there was a bond and a kinship going on between indie music lovers that is unlike any other vibe in the world.
Part of what makes the Pitchfork Music Festival so special is how small it is. Capacity at Union Park is 18,000 people, and while the festival sold out all three days (only Sunday in advance), it was never difficult to get around. Three stages organized well enough so it’s only a couple minute walk between each makes it that much easier to absorb as much music as possible in an extended weekend. The size also makes it easy enough to meet up with your friends or run into old acquaintances you didn’t expect to see. The lines are never too long for anything either, save for water or beer depending on the time and temperature. Even then you’re likely not waiting for more than 10 minutes. Restrooms were in ample supply too, and if you went to the right spots lines could very well have been avoided almost entirely. There seemed to be a lack of hand sanitizer to use post-restroom though, which would have been a bigger problem had the weather not been so hot that your entire body was probably feeling very unclean already. The crowds at the individual stages can be a bit much at times though, depending on what artist you’re seeing. Some of the biggest crowds of the entire weekend were at sets by The Dismemberment Plan, Odd Future and Cut Copy, making them all difficult to get a good vantage point unless you staked out a spot early. The smaller Blue stage in the back also saw packed crowds on most days, and while some of the heavy traffic was dependent on the artist performing, the primary goal seemed to be to find a place with heavy shading where it was also close to the music. The Blue stage offered that, so in some cases it didn’t matter who was on stage when. But how did the bands fare overall this past Pitchfork weekend? With my day-by-day-by-day recaps on the books, let’s talk best of fest and worst of fest.
With Friday boasting a smaller array of bands and a later start time, there were fewer highlights from that day. Those that showed up early were rewarded however, because sets by tUnE-yArDs and Battles were exceptionally special in their own, unique ways. Merrill Garbus enchanted so many people at the small stage with her really fascinating looping technique married to one incredible singing voice. Battles, on the other hand, went nuts with percussion and pieced together some goofy instrumentals that were as much fun to watch as they were to dance to. As they’ve only got a couple of “original lineup” reunion shows left, Guided By Voices proved yet again that age is just a number. A cigarette in one hand and a bottle of liquor in the other, Robert Pollard continues to be a genuine rock star. This between his wild kicks into the air and the other guys pulling off the windmill guitar moves convincingly. They played what can best be described as a greatest hits set, and it was yet another reminder that once they’re done they will be missed. As to Friday’s headliner Animal Collective, they impressed simply by keeping everything together and not venturing off on strange psychedelic flights of fancy. Lots of actual songs were played, a few new and some old favorites. The set was suspiciously lacking in material from their last and most essential record “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, but things were still very engaging and enjoyable anyways.
Cold Cave was one of the wildest things on what was ultimately a pretty wild Saturday. Temperatures were in the upper 80s and they came out dressed in heavy, long sleeve black leather. Despite looking like a motorcycle gang in sweltering heat, they moved and danced around the stage like they were on fire (perhaps they were it was so hot). Their stadium-sized synth-pop anthems soared into the atmosphere and truly engaged what would otherwise have been a listless crowd. They were a big part of turning a slow moving start to the day into something better and more fun. The immediate follow-up to Cold Cave came courtesy of No Age, who only expanded upon the enthusiasm they brought to the table. Dean Spunt and Randy Randall like things fast and furious, and by the looks of a heavy mosh pit, so did the crowd. Destroyer’s late afternoon set didn’t quite possess the energy that was key to the earlier bands’ success, but Dan Bejar & Co. came on at just about the right time for a cool down. The smooth and rather jazz-infused tunes off the new album “Kaputt” made for some of the best moments of that set, ultimately perfect for just hanging out with your friends in some nearby shade. There are no more shows listed for The Dismemberment Plan right now, and as a result their set at Pitchfork may very well have been their last as part of a “we’ll see how it goes” reunion. The band was all smiles almost their entire set, looking like they were having the most fun in the world together on stage. The crowd completely ate it up too, as they ran through a host of the best songs in their excellent catalogue. If that really was their final show, it’s pretty safe to say they went out as one of the top sets of the entire weekend.
For all the anticipation and early sell-out crowds of Sunday, there appeared to be a certain weakness in the artists performing that’s not apparent on paper. Even the controversial hip hop collective OFWGKTA put on a relatively tame show after attracting so much attention for their insane performance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” a few months back. But in spite of sound issues that eventually resulted in a pretty epic meltdown, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti made for a seriously wild time. He took his frustrations out through much of the performance by head banging, crawling on the ground, playing air guitar and a host of other halfway nuts things that made the set extremely rich in entertainment value. And despite the vocal issues that plagued the set (and caused the set to be aborted), nothing appeared to be too amiss, unless what was taken at face value as “weird for the sake of weird” was actually not supposed to be that way. Like Guided By Voices on Friday and The Dismemberment Plan on Saturday, the “veterans” of Superchunk very much proved that they’ve still got plenty of fight in them. Theirs was a high energy and blistering set that paid proper lip service to their newest album while also reaching back for older highlights. They may take some long breaks between recording and touring, but Merge Records isn’t going to run itself. There was something about Cut Copy’s set that felt like it was the tipping point for the entire weekend. One final burst of energy and celebration before the more relaxed vibe of TV on the Radio. The crowd for Cut Copy was massive, and in turn created one gigantic dance party. It wasn’t quite dark enough for their light show to be completely effective, but even as the sun dipped below the horizon you understood the main idea: this is a band on the verge. Expect them to be reaching the same heights as an LCD Soundsystem or maybe even a Phoenix sooner rather than later. Last but by no means least, TV on the Radio brought their multicultural sound to close out the festival in a classy fashion. By all means they were the best of the three headliners and ran through a set filled with old and new favorites. Capping it off with a cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”, it was the exclamation point on what had already been a great weekend.
The majority of the acts I saw all weekend were solid but not necessarily noteworthy. If you don’t see something mentioned in the best or worst sections, chances are I either missed the set or it was neither good nor bad enough to warrant a comment. Unfortunately not every act can be amazing, or even mediocre. Call it a bad day or a bad environment or blame it on something, but there were a couple acts that might best be referred to as “bad pennies”. There were no complete failures, but if I walked away out of boredom or disgust then something went tragically wrong with the set. Thurston Moore did himself no favors in a late Friday afternoon set. He chose to keep it acoustic most of the time, and worked out a bunch of long and sluggish instrumental passages before finally breaking out his vocals. In the meantime the sun was beating down something fierce and you don’t really think about it until your mind goes there out of boredom. Saturday afternoon’s set by The Radio Dept. was easily my most anticipated of the entire weekend. I love their records and had never seen them live before. Overly mild-mannered might be a good way to describe their set. It was like they were those three shy guys you knew from high school who just sat in the corner and never talked to anybody. No real personality went into their live show, nor was there much in the way of energy. It sounded to me like the volume on the speakers had been dialed back a bit for their performance too, because standing about halfway back in the crowd I could barely hear the songs. With a little more gusto it would have been okay. Most likely they’re just no good in the festival setting. As for Sunday, I can’t quite say that any of the artists I saw were exceptionally poor, even if Twin Sister’s set came relatively close. Also, while I genuinely admired Shabazz Palaces’ set, it lost some serious points by delaying for 20 minutes due to sound issues. It would have been nicer to have heard what they could have done with those extra 20 minutes.
Writing-wise (photos coming soon), this wraps up my coverage of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. If you went, whether it was for a few hours, a day, or the entire weekend, I hope you had a blast. I know I did. Upon looking back at the entire 3 days as a whole, my one comment might be that while the same ethos and spirit endures at this grand boutique festival, there was just a little something lacking this year. The likely cause is with the lineup, which while diverse didn’t quite feel as strong as the last couple years. A band like Fleet Foxes doesn’t quite deserve to headline, at least not yet, and there didn’t seem to be quite as many freshly hyped acts this year. Still, the talent pool they did put together may have been the best options available, and if you run a music festival for long enough you’ll realize that every year can’t be a home run. So in keeping that baseball analogy going, color this year a triple. The festival has gotten to a point where it’s functioning exceptionally well with the location, food, security and other facilities, but if there’s not a whole lot for people to get excited about, they’re not going to show up anyways. Part of the proof in this pudding is how ticket sales went this year, with Friday and Saturday not selling out in advance, which is what the last couple years have brought. Call the slower sales economy-based if you like, but people are willing to spend more if you provide them with a higher quality product. They don’t quite need to go to the lengths of seducing the 10.0-winning Kanye West to perform (at what would likely be a significant pay cut for him), but pulling a Portishead or a My Morning Jacket rabbit out of their proverbial hats would most assuredly have a significant impact on ticket sales. If 2011 was them making the best of a somewhat bad situation, they did extremely well for themselves. I can safely say that I’m already excited for next year, even if the lineup once again just misses the high watermark already established for one of the best music festivals in the world today.
It seems we have come to the end of the road for this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. It was a supremely fun 3 days filled with dozens of interesting artists that ranged from incredible to incredibly disappointing. My overall ruminations on the weekend will be handled in a different post. In the meantime I want to continue in the same tradition of the last two days, in which I keep up with the day-by-day recaps. Here’s what I bore witness to on Sunday (Day 3):
The goal was to make it to Union Park by 1:45pm to see Yuck‘s set. That was at the latest. I got stuck writing my recap of Saturday night on Sunday morning, so that caused a bit of a delay. Then traffic on the highways continued to pile additional delays on top of that. I was a mere couple blocks away from the festival and the time read 1:40pm. A band I thought may have been The Fresh & Onlys was playing off in the distance. Turns out Yuck started their set just a tiny bit earlier than scheduled. So I missed about a song. They put on a very good and energetic set, or at least crafted accurate representations of studio tracks. Smiling isn’t exactly Yuck’s thing, but they also appeared to be having a good time despite the blistering heat. The crowd pretty much did the same.
Seeing Kurt Vile & the Violators was by no means my genuine intention. It was more a matter of convenience and the safety of knowing that How to Dress Well was likely not doing so…well on the smaller Blue stage. Really it turned into a way to pass the time while waiting on Twin Sister about 20 minutes later. Quieter acoustic folk music hasn’t done so well this weekend, particularly with the sun feverishly beating down on everyone, which is why I felt like Vile was going to nosedive. To my pleasant surprise, he did not nosedive, but rather pretty much the exact opposite. Whether it was the fans blowing his amazing mane of hair around or just a very well put together backing band, there was energy and plenty of other compelling reasons to watch that set. Even a slower, more difficult song like “On Tour” was smartly played with the larger crowd in mind. I was so entranced, I forgot about Twin Sister and finally jogged my memory about it 10 minutes into their set.
In terms of Twin Sister, it was at that point, around 90 minutes into my day, that I felt like the heat was just starting to get to me. Loading up on water and shade became essential, and Twin Sister on the Blue stage was a good location to do both. I found a spot in the back corner of that area and downed a couple bottles of water with friends while trying to cool off. Twin Sister absolutely helped with that, providing a fun and energetic set of songs that made you want to get up and keep going with your day. Calling their set prolific or revolutionary is definitely too excessive, but remarkably pleasant bordering on excellent might be how I best describe it. Part of me wishes I was motivated enough to get up off the ground and actually watch what was happening on stage, but there was a certain sense of contentment just turning off that mode for a small period of time.
The set clearly most people wanted to see on Sunday was Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All aka OFWGKTA. Women’s rights groups and anti-abuse organizations were up in arms about the hip hop collective’s booking, and were threatening to do an all-out protest of it as a result. The festival organizers instead cut a deal with them, providing them with their own tent to raise awareness. They also were handing out plenty of paper fans that mentioned domestic violence and provided contact information for those in need of help. This was all to provide counter-programming to the inane ramblings of OFWGKTA, given that so many of their tracks appear to advocate rape and abuse and other unseemly things. Just prior to their set, the Odd Future boys went out to the abuse awareness tent and brought the women there cupcakes. This was all in an effort to show there were “no hard feelings”. Then they did their thing, often complete with catchy choruses that included lyrics like “smack that bitch” and “suck my dick”. The crowd appeared to be eating it up, throwing hands (or middle fingers) in the air as instructed, while the boys on stage took turns interacting with the crowd/crowd surfing. One of the more amusing things about their set was how they’d finish a horribly abusive or angry song against women, and would follow it up by telling everyone to go by and visit with the women’s advocacy group. “We hope they’re listening to our set right now,” one of them said seconds before launching into an extremely vulgar track about rape. In other words, the whole thing was counter-intuitive and just a bit confusing. But it was still fun, and those guys are talented even if they’re not the cleanest or friendliest hip hop group around. Mostly I’m just glad there wasn’t a riot.
After getting about 45 minutes into Odd Future’s set, I thought I’d go for a change of pace and see how Shabazz Palaces were doing. It was definitely a quieter vibe on that side of the park, and the lighter crowd made it nicer as well. They had some sound issues that delayed their start time, but once things got going it was definitely strong hip hop that was very much the anti-OFWGKTA. More minimalistic and subdued in nature, the duo made the most of what they had brought with them, including a number of live instruments (as opposed to the DJ sample-fest that was Odd Future). There was something about that set that had all the class and dignity you could ever want. The 20 or so minutes I heard were a good palate cleanser before I allowed my curiosity to pull me in the direction of another stage.
That other stage was the Green stage, where Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti were playing. The past show reviews I’ve read from people who’ve seen Ariel Pink before appeared to describe him as moderately pensive, often with an attitude that suggested he’d much rather be someplace else doing something else. That was NOT the Ariel Pink we met at the Pitchfork Music Festival. This version was completely nuts. Like, serious screw loose in the head sort of nuts. Depending on how that dynamic works on stage, it can lead to rousing success or total meltdown. It actually turned out to be a mixture of both. The great parts came in the early going, with Pink singing/manipulating his vocals through a headset connected to a small soundboard. The headset was needed because of all the jumping around, head banging, and wacky gestures he tended to make. The guy had more energy than he knew what to do with, and channeled as much of it as he could into his performance. The crowd ate it up. But as time went on, he kept leaving the band and retreating back stage for one reason or another, always to re-emerge and crank out another song. Yet simultaneously you could watch his mood go from crazy happy to crazy pissed, and it eventually erupted into a meltdown that had him walking off the stage for good, once again leaving the rest of the band there to politely end the set about 20 minutes early. Sound issues were to blame, apparently, as Ariel was reportedly not happy with what was going on with his vocals. For the 40 or so minutes that the set lasted, almost all of it was of an exceptionally high quality, vocal problems be damned.
Compare Ariel Pink to Baths, the 1 man DJ band. The words “DJ band” are probably used incorrectly here, but Will Wiesenfield uses a laptop and a sampler on stage. No actual instruments there, but he does do a fair amount of singing via the tracks he composes. That was one of those legitimately fun dance sets where despite the temperatures you can just let your hair down and have a blast. What makes Baths so engaging outside of the music is how Wiesenfield runs his show. He legitimately seems excited about playing these songs, and rather than just carefully mix together that might appear to be a lot more beat than melody, he dances, head bangs (sorta), makes wild flailing motions with his arms, sticks his tongue out Michael Jordan style, and overall turns boring and normal on its head. It was a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be.
Then there’s Superchunk. Here’s a veteran band that’s been around for ages, but there have been significant breaks due to a number of different factors. Somehow though, Mac McCaughan and the rest of the band don’t seem to have aged much. I think I spotted a grey hair or two, but otherwise they’re still on the right side of youth. They played like it too, seamlessly blending a lot of their classic catalogue with a bunch of material off their latest record “Majesty Shredding”. The crowd totally ate it up, and there was much singing and jumping around. Superchunk has always been one of those bands that delivers each and every show they play, and this one was no different. They put themselves out there and got enduring love and respect in return, as they should.
Deerhunter is an interesting sort of fish. The sun was beginning to set when Bradford Cox, Lockett Pundt and Co. took the stage, and immediately something felt a little weird. That is to say, the guys in the band appeared to be a little stand-offish and difficult. It didn’t help that the first thing they did was dive into a huge squall of white noise. They looked like they were sweltering in the still overly hot temperatures, but the great news is that once they’d finally gotten some legs underneath them, they were solid as ever. Deerhunter hit all the hallmarks they’re pretty much required to at this point in their careers, making an epic spectacle out of “Nothing Ever Happened” or settling into the grooves of a “Revival”. And hey, they even threw in a little bit of amusing banter to continue to charm us. For a band that, in my opinion, got off to a rocky start, they really kicked into high gear and things turned out as good, if not better than hoped.
My most anticipated set of Sunday was Cut Copy, and that’s almost entirely because of how much I love their music yet have never seen them perform it live. Apparently a lot of people were also looking forward to Cut Copy, as it wound up being one of the most heavily attended non-headliner sets I saw all weekend. They had an interesting lighting set up behind them which is likely more effective in a pitch black venue but worked well enough as the sun was beginning to drift below the horizon, casting a large shade over much of the park. With the cooler temperatures too, things became ideal for a dance party. A dance party is exactly what Cut Copy gave us, cranking out one hot cut after another. Leading early on with “Where I’m Going”, the highlights were spread smartly across the duration of the set. There was a point about halfway through the set in which they “announced” that the show was over and that they were saying goodnight, something that would have been a lot more effective had they legitimately left the stage instead of immediately confessing it was a joke. But from “Hearts on Fire” to “Lights and Music” through “Need You Now” and “Take Me Over”, there wasn’t a single key moment they missed, and I had a blast. It was a cathartic release, a celebration of everything the festival had been and done up until that point, and a very nice warm-up for TV on the Radio.
Let’s do a brief recap of the headliners at this year’s festival. Animal Collective on Friday night was good, if not great, but their extremely experimental psychedelic bent makes them a bit difficult to truly get into and enjoy (from a very mainstream perspective). Fleet Foxes are far more pleasant and easy to love, but they’re also much quieter and still new enough to where they might not yet be ready to headline a festival. But when you talk about TV on the Radio, that is a band with enough time in existence and an impeccable/energetic/appealing catalogue of music. In other words, they’re the real deal. They also wound up being the purveyors of the best headlining set of the festival. Naturally, there was a bit of an emphasis on their newer material, so “Nine Types of Light” got a fair amount of play across their 75 minute set, but there was plenty of time for highlights galore. Starting with “Dear Science”‘s opening energy burst “Halfway Home”, things jumped off right from the start. There was the 1-2 punch of “Young Liars” moving into “Staring at the Sun” that was simply excellent if you love the band’s older stuff. The way that songs like “Will Do” and “Caffeinated Consciousness” fit in amongst “Wolf Like Me” and “A Method” was pretty seamless too. The one song I personally missed hearing was “Golden Age”, but I’d like to think in place of that they chose to cover Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”. When they hit the first notes of the song, I thought it would just be a tease before launching into something else. They were not kidding around, and it turned out to be a remarkably great cover. I love that song, and while it may not have the same ferocity from which Fugazi would have performed it, the sheer force and technical accuracy was all it needed and was given. That provided the perfect cap on a weekend-long journey that was more fun than I’ve had in quite awhile. Thanks, TV on the Radio.
This wraps up my day-by-day recap of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. My coverage is not yet complete though. I’ve got several hundred photos to weed through and edit for your consumption, along with a look back at the full weekend that was, complete with a bunch of “superlatives” directed at many bands that I bore witness to. So keep your eyes peeled, I’m hoping to have everything taken care of within the next day or two.
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.
Ugh. It has been a long day for yours truly. Didn’t anticipate my day/evening going so late, so this initial recap of Day 1 of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival is going to be a little shorter and more to the point than much of everything else I plan on writing about over the course of the weekend. But fun was the name of the game today, and to call it a great day would not be an incorrect statement. Let me tell you a brief bit about the music I bore witness to, as well as maybe a couple other quick notes about things that went down on Day 1.
Due to an unfortunate vehicular mishap, in which my car broke down and refused to start, I wound up arriving at the Pitchfork Music Festival about 45 minutes later than I had originally planned. Still, it left me just enough time to see the last couple songs from EMA. Erika M. Anderson is her full name when not being referenced in acronym format, and she had a couple friends backing her up to handle much of the instrumental work. The two songs I saw her perform were solid renditions, in particular her single “California”, in which she did a lot of the same hand gestures that can be found in the video for said song. Fun isn’t the best word to describe what I saw, but very capable and strong are probably two solid descriptors. A few hours after her set, I was being taken on a brief tour of the backstage area and stumbled upon EMA. She was sitting in the grass by herself with a guitar and was making notes on some pieces of paper. In all likelihood she was writing a song, and hopefully something at the festival inspired her to do so.
My most hotly anticipated act of the day (and essentially the weekend) was tUnE-yArDs. After the massive number of raves I heard about Merrill Garbus and her intense performances, there was a little chill that went down my spine on the quite hot day when she began to belt her vocals into the microphone. Creating all sorts of vocal and instrumental loops, watching her put together songs like “Gangsta” and “Powa” was thrilling enough even if you threw away the actual songs. She didn’t do much to actually improve upon the recorded versions of the stuff on “w h o k i l l”, but then again she didn’t need to. That record is still amazing, and just seeing the songs come together live was the treat. Hopefully many were won over by her stellar performance. While I skipped seeing Battles in favor of tUnE-yArDs, all my friends chose to abandon me, claiming I made the wrong choice. They came away with nothing but raves for Battles’ set, and given to how they are dynamite live, the reaction felt sensible.
Thurston Moore was next, as I was intrigued to see what he would do. His backing band consisted of one guitar, one drummer, one violinist and one harpist. Yep, he had a harp with him and its lilting melodies were built into a lot of the songs. Moore also had a music stand with plenty of sheet music on it, which begged the question of how well he knew the songs he was playing. And virtually the entire thing wound up being a flop. Standing out in the hot sun and watching Thurston play slow acoustic numbers was not a good time. Early on in his set, he jokingly asked if everyone was ready to hear some songs about rape and other dark things, clearly trying to make light of the fact that OFWGKTA would be performing on that very stage in a couple days. There will be protesters for that, and come to think of it, people should have protested Moore’s set as well for being rather pedestrian and boring. Everything was capably performed, and much of the material came via his latest solo effort “Demolished Thoughts”. No Sonic Youth was played, but to close out his set, Moore told the crowd, “my band is saying that we should play a rock song”, a statement that was met with applause. The spark that ignited within the last few minutes of that set was what the entire thing should have been made out of. There’s always next time. If you went and saw Curren$y, consider yourself lucky.
The great news is that Guided By Voices were up next, and the very first thing that Robert Pollard asked the crowd was whether or not they were ready to see a real professional rock show. Hell yes, the crowd was ready. And GBV gave everyone exactly what they were looking for. Chain smoking on stage, wielding a bottle of alcohol, windmill guitar work, Neko Case on tambourine, jumping around like a madman, salutes, the hoisting of guitars high into the sky, the pointing of the necks of the guitars out at the crowd in a threatening and stabbing motions – all these things happened during that set. To call it awesome would be putting it lightly. These guys are all music veterans, and instead of slowing down their set was filled with visceral energy – the sort of which is missing in so many rock bands these days. Not only that, but they did all this while running through “hit” after “hit” (the quotation marks are used because despite a long career the band never achieved massive success to justify anything of theirs being a hit according to today’s standards). They hit up “Hot Freaks” “Tractor Rape Chain”, “Kicker of Elves” and “I Am A Scientist” (among many others) from their seminal album “Bee Thousand”. Their other big record was “Alien Lanes”, and tracks like “Game of Pricks” and “They’re Not Witches” sounded even better now than they did back in the day. So to recap: Guided By Voices put on one hell of a great show. And in that same way it’s sad, because there’s only a couple shows left with their “classic” lineup in place. They’re probably never going to do this again, so if you saw them at Pitchfork consider yourself lucky.
Neko Case is such an effortless charmer of a woman. There’s a certain sweetness to her, and maybe the down-home alt-country bits of her music are big contributors to that. One of the more interesting things about her is the backing band she surrounds herself with. The guys in the band were all older gentlemen complete with beards and a few extra pounds, and that alone was enough to make you think they belonged in a country band you’d stumble in and catch one night at some random bar. Who knows, maybe that’s where she met them. In spite of their appearances, they’re also excellent musicians, which is likely the reason why Case picked them in the first place. But that syrupy sweet voice of hers is in as good of shape as ever these days, and the set list mixing old songs, newer songs, and the newest of the new gave it plenty of workout. Case is currently hard at work on new material, so she did play a couple new ones during her set which were on par with everything else she’s done to date, if not better. The biggest crowd responses were for “Hold On, Hold On” and “People Got A Lotta Nerve”, and given their radio single status it’s no wonder why. There was no real reason for me to leave Neko Case, but after awhile I chose to wander over and at least check out James Blake‘s set for a few minutes. My concern initially was that his very quiet and minimalist self-titled debut would not translate well in an outdoor park. Outside of some seriously heavy bass, I’m pretty sure I was correct on that one.
Last but certainly not least, Animal Collective closed out the night in the headliner slot. It seems they got the love note I left them criticizing the very fluid and ever-changing dynamic of their live shows. The last time I saw the boys, they spent their festival time slot noodling around with psychedelic textures rather than playing most of the songs that appear on their albums. Think of it like one long acid trip in which many songs are teased but little to none are actually performed. They were on their best behavior at Pitchfork 2011 though, actually playing songs all the way through and even adding a few brief moments of silence from when one song ends and another begins. Call it common courtesy, and it made the set very bearable and remarkably fun. There was plenty of dancing going on, not to mention the glowsticks and an inflatable Spider-Man that became a part of the party. There were a handful of new songs sprinkled into the set as well, all of which sounded more than fine but with fewer harmonies than their last album “Merriweather Post Pavilion”. Between those elements and the neat stage setup complete with light-up rock-like structures and hanging shapes attached overhead by strings of lights. Animal Collective took their headlining job seriously and left the crowd in a better place compared to how they found them.
In case you couldn’t gather already, the entire day was nothing short of great. I’m very much looking forward to Day 2 tomorrow, but at this very moment sleep beckons. I’ll have photos for you as soon as I’m able. Check back for my Day 2 Recap overnight tomorrow night.
After two days of hardcore festival-going, you start to really feel run down. Too much sun, too much heat, too much sound destroying your eardrums, too much alcohol, not enough water. Weather reports are saying the temperatures are only going to get hotter as the weekend progresses, and Sunday could feature heat indices in the 100 degree range. That’s sort of the way of life in July in Chicago though, so I advise you to be careful, watch out for your friends or just random strangers that don’t look like they’re in good shape. Stay safe while having fun. There’s plenty of first aid and most assuredly somebody will get you water if you need it. Don’t hesitate to ask for anything. The vibe at the Pitchfork Music Festival is not about being the biggest asshole or music snob you can be. Rather, the goal is community. Good people, coming together to celebrate good music. We’re all friends, whether we know each other or not, and you may call that some hippie bullshit if you like, I don’t care. If you happen to find me or meet me out in Union Park this weekend, I’ll buy you a drink, shake your hand and maybe even give you a hug, just for being you. So come on out and have some fun with us. If you don’t have tickets already and are super late to this party, there are still some single day tickets available. Check PitchforkMusicFestival.com for more details. Have a great weekend everyone, and keep up with the insanity by streaming the sets online or read my commentary via Twitter. I’ll also be posting day-by-day recaps and photos (when I can) of all the weekend’s insanity. I hope this preview guide has helped you out in choosing the acts you’d like to see this weekend. See you out in the park!
SUNDAY, JULY 17 (Gates at 12pm)
1:00 The Fresh & Onlys* (Green Stage)
1:00 Darkstar (Blue Stage)
Sundays are a day of rest. They’re reserved for sitting back and taking in the scenery rather than outright hard work or even expending any heavy energy out in the hot sun. As standing around watching bands all day isn’t exactly resting, you’re probably in good shape by starting your day with something that’s a little lower impact energy-wise. The Fresh & Onlys have you covered with their songs that are perfect for a day at the beach. Given that there is no beach in Union Park, the lawn will do just fine. If you can find some shade and have a blanket with you, spread it out and lay down for a bit. You’ll probably be tired from two days of fun anyways. Should you choose to violate doctor’s orders and want to bust a move to start your day, Darkstar is who you should go see. Pretty true to their name, moody techno music is what they make, though maybe it’s closer to synth pop. OMD is a good reference point for them, as are the 80s in general. Darkstar aren’t the sort of guys who function well in the sunlight, but they’ll do so here to likely serviceable results. You’re far better off catching them in a club after midnight. So The Fresh & Onlys are my pick. Their albums are better too.
1:45 Yuck* (Red Stage)
1:55 How to Dress Well (Blue Stage)
This is a proverbial Battle of the Hyped Bands. It’s going to be fascinating to see how each one fares. How to Dress Well earned a lot of press thanks to last year’s amazing “Love Remains”, but since that time the commotion has died down. Tom Krell, the man behind the name, isn’t one to do a lot of press or even a ton of live shows, and in turn that makes it tough to keep attention focused. Having a record that’s tough to get into doesn’t help either. Early reports said that HTDW shows were rather boring and somewhat unpleasant given Krell’s lack of stage experience, but more recently the talk has been more positive. Still, his songs don’t exactly scream “energy” or fun, so that might be a problem come his set at Pitchfork. Yuck, on the other hand, are still riding the hype they earned with their self-titled debut early this year. Their sound is uber-cool 90s rock, and they’re at home with references to Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement as focal points. They’ve managed to keep the talk going pretty well courtesy of a number of carefully timed singles and music videos that are most definitely NSFW. Yuck is playing the bigger stage, and with good reason. They’re set to be an early highlight on Sunday.
2:30 Kurt Vile & the Violators (Green Stage)
2:50 Twin Sister* (Blue Stage)
In case you were keeping track, Kurt Vile & the Violators did play last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. They were on the small stage and while I heard positive things about their set, I personally chose not to go see it. It was nothing against the man himself, but rather just the mere coincidence of being pitted against some tough competition on the other side of the park. What Vile has done in 2011 is far more remarkable than what he was best known for in 2010, which was not much. His album “Smoke Ring for My Halo” is one of this year’s highlights, and it makes him a much more desirable act to see vs. a year ago. To hear those new songs performed live will likely be a treat. And while Vile is certainly not lacking in stage presence, his songs aren’t the best for a mid-day sun-soaked bit of enjoyment. His quiet-ish brand of folk, like last year, probably won’t be any easier to deal with on a larger stage where the intimacy yet again gets thrown out the window. Plus, Vile is pitted against Twin Sister. Twin Sister’s couple EPs were very good but not quite on the level of great. They’re another 80s revivalist pop band, with a touch of quirky experimentalism. What’s clear though is that with their debut full length on the way this fall, they’re no longer messing around. Twin Sister are ready for their close-up, and it’s probably advisable that you give it to them by catching their set.
3:20 Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All* (Red Stage)
3:45 Shabazz Palaces (Blue Stage)
Here we go: hip hop showdown. In so many ways, the entire weekend boils down to this time slot and these two acts. Shabazz Palaces are bound to be the losers in this face-off, and it’s totally understandable why. Their record “Black Up” is arguably the best hip hop album that has been (and likely will be) released in 2011 thus far. It’s intelligent and experimental and unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. What it lacks is fun. That’s not to say Odd Future’s tracks are fun – the clear intention of the hip hop collective is to provoke more than anything else. Their cuts about raping and killing and every other unspeakable evil act have resulted in many a protest, in some cases riots, and some women’s rights groups have said they’re planning to protest outside against Odd Future. Whether or not these guys actually believe the words they’re spitting out is open to interpretation. Most likely they just want to rile people up. If you caught their performance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” a few months back, and it became something of a viral video for how insanely good it was, then you know you can expect the unexpected from these crazy kids. In other words, you kind of NEED to go see Odd Future, less because of their songs and more because nobody has any idea just what sort of crazy shit they’ll attempt to do.
4:15 Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti* (Green Stage)
4:45 Baths (Blue Stage)
This is a challenging set to analyze, because unlike virtually every other hour all weekend long, neither Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti nor Baths are particularly great bands in a live setting. Okay, that’s not entirely the case…they’re just not great for a festival setting. Baths isn’t, at least. It’s easy to argue though that the chillwave style of Baths can make for a lightly danceable cool down period in the later afternoon hours. His debut record “Cerulean” was a summer highlight last year, and his counterparts are other bands playing the festival, such as Toro y Moi and Twin Shadow. Where Baths differs is really in how chillwave is trending these days. A lot of the chillwave artists that emerged in the last couple years have since put out sophmore efforts that adapted to become brighter, dancier and more produced. Baths isn’t there…yet. Maybe live it’s a different story, I don’t know. Could make for a fun set though, even if he does stick to all “Cerulean” material, it’s kind of a joy to watch him work. But in terms of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, they’re well known to give largely crap performances. Every now and then the sun shines in just the right direction and sheer brilliance will emerge on stage, but the rest of the time you’re in a bad spot. Given how I’ve just trashed the band, why then am I recommending you go see them? It’s all about the catalogue. Ariel Pink may deliver a subpar version of “Round and Round” off the last album “Before Today”, but even a bad version of that song nearly beats to death anything Baths can come up with. Not that the Baths record is bad, it’s that Ariel Pink is so good. Do with that what you will, and if you choose to take a trip to the Baths, that might be a great time too.
5:15 Superchunk* (Red Stage)
5:45 Kylesa (Blue Stage)
Fact: Kylesa is the only metal band playing this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Outside of Mastodon, there’s not a ton of metal-related acts that can draw an indie crowd, but hopefully Kylesa is one of them. They’ll be playing the Blue Stage, which is amusing because that tends to have the weakest speaker system out of the three stages in Union Park. Will you still likely hear them across the park over at Superchunk? There’s a strong possibility of that happening. The thing is, Kylesa’s most recent records have been far less heavy and loud than their back catalogue might suggest. They’ve been drifting closer to a psych-rock direction as of late, and it sounds good on them. Don’t be afraid to throw up your devil horns if you go see their set though. On the other side of the park you’ll have Superchunk, and if you already know and like the band then you know nothing needs to be said. They deliver a great set each and every time they walk out on stage, and there’s nothing to suggest that’s going to change on Sunday afternoon. They’re pretty much a quintessential 90s band, heirs to the Pavement crown even if they were never able to fully grasp it. Last year they put out “Majesty Shredding”, their first full length in nearly a decade. Not much has been lost, and you’ll gain oh so much by going to see them play live. You don’t even need to know a single song to fall in love with Superchunk.
6:15 Deerhunter* (Green Stage)
6:45 Toro y Moi (Blue Stage)
This matchup is most definitely tougher than it appears on paper. On any given Sunday, Deerhunter would take Toro y Moi around back and make him their bitch before either went on stage. That’s me saying that Toro y Moi tends to be proverbial weak sauce. I was not a supporter of Chaz Bundick’s chillwave project when last year’s “Causers of This” came out. It showed up just a minute late and a dollar short compared to the dozens of other similar artists that had already gotten the attention of so many bloggers and critics in the preceeding months. Yet Bundick smartened up, and with a quick turnaround for a second album, Toro y Moi’s “Underneath the Pine” changed the game (and sound) for the better. Clarity and melody were the two biggest improvements, not that they were lacking before, but now they shone through like a torch in the night. Toro y Moi rose, and Toro y Moi conquered to craft one of this year’s finest albums thus far. Yet you’ve still got Deerhunter, and what Deerhunter have going for them is a commendable streak of excellent albums that dates back to 2007’s “Cryptograms”. They even got away with putting out a double album in the form of “Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.” and suffered no consequences for it, unlike so many other bands that tried and failed miserably. So in a pissing contest, Deerhunter wins. But Toro y Moi is bound to have a fun, highly danceable set, which plays better than the swirling and darker psychedelia of Deerhunter.
7:25 Cut Copy* (Red Stage)
7:40 HEALTH (Blue Stage)
Battle of the dance crews. Both Cut Copy and HEALTH are essentially electronica dance bands, but they craft their music in almost completely different ways. Cut Copy are the clean boys. Their synth-based dance pop is shiny and fresh and fully club-ready. HEALTH are divisive. They like noise and they like beats, pretty much in that order. It gets loud. There’s static sometimes involved. They’re basically a noise rock band using dance music as a disguise. They’ve drawn comparisons to Liars and Excepter but with a strong synth bent. HEALTH is also not the most critically acclaimed band in the world, even if they do get a lot of credit for being inventive with their sound. There are plenty of people who appreciate HEALTH for what they do or what they’re trying to do, and in their live sets there’s an intensity that will keep your eyes glued to the stage. What they don’t have though is an army of strong singles. Look for everything from “Lights and Music” to “Heart’s On Fire” to “Where I’m Going” and “Take Me Over” to emerge from Cut Copy’s set and slay crowds. Their new album “Zonoscope” is one of 2011’s best, and if the sun’s setting and you’re not dancing your ass off then something is wrong with you. No matter which set you go and see though, you’re virtually guaranteed a great show. The night could essentially end once these two bands leave their respective stages and I think everyone would go home satisfied. As it stands though, there’s one more act left to cap off the entire festival.
MP3: HEALTH – Crimewave
8:30 TV on the Radio* (Green Stage)
Within the span of 5 years, Radiohead put out 3 albums that changed music forever (this point is NOT debatable). Those three records were “The Bends”, “OK Computer” and “Kid A”. By that same token and within that same time frame but a decade later, TV on the Radio pretty much matched that accomplishment. Their three records were “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes”, “Return to Cookie Mountain” and “Dear Science”. Each of those records were pretty much the pinnacles in the years they were released, in that no other artists put out anything better. Earlier this year they put out their fourth long player, “Nine Types of Light”. You could very well say that it breaks their streak, but a dip in quality was inevitable sooner or later. Only the greatest of the greats, your Zeppelins, Beatles and Stones have pulled off longer runs of greatness. And “Nine Types of Light” is absolutely a wonderful record, just not on par with the near perfection that came before it. That’s okay though, and it should do little to harm what looks to be a rousing and excellent show from TV on the Radio to close out the entire festival. The band belongs there. In fact, they probably belong on a bigger stage with a bigger crowd. All it’s really going to take is a massive hit single and they could be selling out arenas. That sort of stuff needs to happen organically though, without the sacrifice of any integrity. If there’s one band playing this entire festival that knows what integrity is all about, that band is TV on the Radio. Expect greatness from them, and greatness you shall receive.
Faronheit’s advance coverage of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival continues today with my analysis of the music you’ll bear witness to on Day #2 of the weekend. Check out my preview of Day #1 by clicking here Friday was to help get your bearings straight, figure out where everything is at, or if you’ve been before what has changed. By Saturday you should be energized and ready to go. Unless you’re still in bad shape from Friday for whatever reason. The decisions on all that are yours and yours alone, though I do encourage you to have the best time possible. If that means stopping by the beer tent every hour on the hour, so be it. Just know that like most festivals around the world, bringing in contraband like drugs is often frowned upon. I’m not going to get preachy and tell you to say no to drugs, but instead will tell you that passing through security with a smile on your face and a stash of drugs up your ass is not 100% advisable (well, the smile part is). Best of luck to ya if you’re smuggling something in. You can learn more about what you’re allowed to and not allowed to bring into the festival by clicking here. It’s gonna be a fun weekend, so try not to spend it in a jail cell. That’s my introduction dealie, let’s get on with the preview of Day 2 at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival!
SATURDAY, JULY 16 (Gates at 12pm)
1:00 Julianna Barwick* (Green Stage)
1:00 Chrissy Murderbot ft. MC ZULU (Blue Stage)
Say you had yourself a wild time on Friday night. Perhaps you partied late with friends, or maybe went to an aftershow. Either way, you’ve dragged yourself out of bed, not wanting to miss a moment of the fest on Saturday. The good news is that easing into the day is super convenient thanks to Julianna Barwick and her unique brand of atmospheric/beautiful songcraft. Ethereal is a great word to describe what she does, very subdued and just a touch haunting. In the heat of a Saturday afternoon it may make you feel like you’re roasting alive, but if you can find some shade and sit down with some cool water you’ll be just fine. On the other hand, maybe you’d like some energy to get you pumped for the day. The great news is that Chrissy Murderbot has you covered. He will almost definitely put on a hugely entertaining and wild set spinning records while his pal MC ZULU rocks the mic. The intense club beats with some hip hop thrown in could be great, or it could also give you heat stroke, bouncing around amidst a sea of sweaty bodies. It’s the first set of the day, and you probably don’t want to tire yourself out. She may not be in the best of circumstances, but Julianna Barwick is my pick in this matchup.
1:45 Woods (Red Stage)
1:55 Sun Airway* (Blue Stage)
Woods make pretty great music. Their last couple albums have been critically acclaimed slices of lo-fi folk with a strong pop bent. Their newest album is titled “Sun and Shade”, which is a great descriptor of both the music on it as well as the environment in which it sounds best. Naturally then, Union Park should be a remarkable location to see them perform. Here’s the issue though: Woods are not the most exciting live act. It’s not exactly right to call them boring, but there’s a solid chance you’ll be disappointed that their songs aren’t quite so dynamic when performed on stage. Sun Airway, on the other hand, will likely fare far better. They’ve got a more experimental, psychedelic bent to them, and their debut album sounds remarkably informed by Animal Collective. Yet Sun Airway are very much their own band with their own style, and arguably approach their live sets differently too. Expect a fair amount of energy and the sort of hunger a young band has trying their best to impress. If you go see their set, you’ll likely walk away feeling exactly that: impressed.
2:30 Cold Cave* (Green Stage)
2:50 G-Side (Blue Stage)
Like most portions of the schedule from Friday, here’s another rap vs. rock matchup. The shared audience between Cold Cave and G-Side has got to be nonexistent, and in fact you may find this to be no quandary at all if you dislike both acts. The thing is, both have put out great albums within their respective genres. Cold Cave’s “Cherish the Light Years” is a fantastic piece of 80s glam rock maxed out to stadium-sized proportions. The songs soar and the synths roar and there’s hooks galore (sorry for what I just did there). By contrast, the hip hop duo of G-Side comes out of Alabama and they’re set to be one of the bigger surprises of the weekend. If you enjoy some immensely creative wordplay and a whole bucket of energy, these guys will likely tear it up. There’s a grand sense of experimentation with some of their beats, and they’re very 2.0 connected when it comes to rhyming about surviving 9 to 5 jobs and blogging about things. I’m giving the recommendation to Cold Cave, simply because I like their record more and know they’ll deliver a solid show, but for all you hip hop fans out there, you’ll hopefully be talking about those crazy dudes in G-Side should you choose to go see them.
3:20 No Age* (Red Stage)
3:45 Wild Nothing* (Blue Stage)
Is this the toughest choice to make on your Saturday? Arguably, yes. Wild Nothing made a pretty big impact with their debut album “Gemini” last year, and that along with a follow-up EP made for a great year for the band. There’s a relatively solid and passionate fan base surrounding their hazy, psychedelic version of indie pop. Contrast that with No Age and their scuzzy, lo-fi brand of rock and roll and you’ll find a couple similarities. No Age has had a run of excellent records the last couple years, and their live shows have been nothing short of raucous. They get loud, they bring the energy, and they leave everything on stage. Last time I saw the duo, guitarist Randy Randall had a broken arm courtesy of doing crazy shit. The pluses of No Age are their strong performances, while the negatives are their often harsh and difficult (but relentlessly catchy) sound. On Wild Nothing’s side, it’s far easier to like the material, but their live show might not quite be on the same level that No Age’s is. In other words, this is a tough call to make, and perhaps you’d best be served by spending 30 minutes with No Age and then 30 or so minutes with Wild Nothing. I give my full support to both bands.
4:15 Gang Gang Dance* (Green Stage)
4:45 OFF!* (Blue Stage)
Clearly defining the sound of OFF! is remarkably easy. Punk rawk are the two words to use, and the alternate spelling of “rock” is there to tell you that these guys kick ass and take names. A couple years ago, Jesus Lizard played the Pitchfork Music Festival, and their set was of the classic variety in which shirts were removed, bodies were surfed, and there was self-abuse on a microphone. OFF! bear a similar ethos while skewing a little younger than Jesus Lizard. Keith Morris is a punk legend, courtesy of Circle Jerks and Black Flag, and the punk bastions that are part of this new band only aid him in creating the purest of mayhem and chaos on stage. OFF!’s set will undoubtedly be the craziest of the entire day, if not the weekend, and to miss it is to deprive yourself of a head-bangingly good time. Gang Gang Dance is, coincidentally, also know for their live show. Their songs aren’t as driving and hard-hitting as OFF!’s, but what they lack in punk spirit they make up for in mystic energy. Lizzi Bougatsos is easily a spiritual cousin to Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the way she owns the stage, and the band’s weird, freak-out experimental sound lends itself well to that temprament. The rebel side of me says that OFF! is where you should spend your time, but the music lover in me likes Gang Gang Dance and their great new album “Eye Contact” so much that it’d be such a pity not to hear those songs live. So again I push for the split decision. You don’t have far to walk between stages, so divide your time wisely and you can see great amounts of both bands. They start a half an hour apart from one another anyways.
5:15 Destroyer* (Red Stage)
5:45 The Radio Dept.* (Blue Stage)
Dan Bejar has put out a LOT of albums under the Destroyer moniker. The official number is 9 full lengths, and while there are bound to be some misses in there, ultimately there are far more hits. That’s not to say those records have been successful, but rather that they’ve merely been smartly constructed and ever-evolving. “Kaputt” is his latest opus, and it finds the troubador exploring the soft rock side of his personality. Saxophones and slow jams are the new hot thing, trying to make that cheese from the 80s your parents listened to cool again. The thing about that cheese is how well Destroyer does with it. “Kaputt” is one of this year’s finest albums, and to see that and a number of classic Destroyer cuts performed live would be nice. As nice as The Radio Dept. though? The Swedes know their pop music, and in particular this band knows fuzz pop extremely well. Their first album “Lesser Matters” is one of my favorite records of all time, and their last (third) album “Clinging to a Scheme” was one of the best things released in 2010, and in many ways signaled a rebirth for these guys after struggling by the wayside. They’ve never toured all that much, and in support of that newest album they’ve gone farther and won over more people than ever before. Shows from The Radio Dept., while not perfect (they could use a drummer), are still special no matter where you see them. They’re coming back to the U.S. almost specifically to play this festival, and they deserve your love and attention. Tough call once more, and I promise this is the last “double” recommendation I’ll make for Saturday.
6:15 The Dismemberment Plan* (Green Stage)
6:45 Twin Shadow (Blue Stage)
Have you been so fortunate to have seen The Dismemberment Plan before? They broke up in 2003, but were very prolific in their time together. Apart though, things weren’t so good, in particular for frontman Travis Morrison. He embarked on an ill-fated solo career that is legendary for having his album “Travistan” receive a jaw-dropping 0.0 rating from Pitchfork. When a publication does that to you, the words “enemy for life” come to mind. Of course money can make even the worst of enemies the best of friends, and with The D Plan reuniting for a bunch of shows under the thought that they’d “see where it goes”, there’s not a whole lot of doubt that the Pitchfork Music Fest organizers put a bucket of cash on their doorstep and asked them to play this year. I’m sure it was tough to say yes (/sarcasm). The great news is that The Dismemberment Plan have a stellar catalogue and a stellar live show, so that’s not something you want to miss if you’ve never seen it before. And for those that have seen it, get your kicks now because it might be the last time they come around to Chicago or most anywhere else. Time will tell on that one. As for Twin Shadow, his debut album “Forget” is wonderful, and he puts on a very engaging live show, but he can’t beat The Dismemberment Plan. Not many acts could. Still, if rock and roll is less your thing and synth-pop/glo-fi/new wave is more your thing, maybe Twin Shadow is worth your time.
7:25 DJ Shadow (Red Stage)
7:40 Zola Jesus* (Blue Stage)
What is there that can be said about DJ Shadow? The man’s a pioneer. He’s considered to be one of the creators of a genre known as instrumental hip hop. It’s a lot like how it’s written, in that you could pretty easily throw some rhymes over the heavily creative beats he’s throwing out there, but by no means is that essential. Shadow’s music stands up just fine on its own. He hasn’t put out a new record in 5 years, and hasn’t done a whole lot of touring recently either, so there are two benefits to seeing him live. First, there is a new album on the way, and it will be out this fall. Chances are he’ll be playing a bunch of new tunes and they will be awesome. Second, it’s a rare opportunity to see this club legend in action, mixing crazy obscure samples together better than a Girl Talk could ever hope for. He doesn’t have the full showmanship that Girl Talk does, where there’s costumes and toilet paper cannons everywhere, but what he lacks in sheer spectacle he more than makes up for in crazy-cool musical concoctions. Check him out if you’re down for some later evening, sun setting dancing. Here’s a hint: Fleet Foxes immediately following his set will not be great for glowsticking to. Playing close to the same time as DJ Shadow will be Zola Jesus, and she’s more for the rock crowd. Well, technically most of her songs probably classify as gothic synth pop, but some of the more industrial rock textures require the heavier guitar sound. Zola is probably best known for her powerful voice, one that suits darker melodies exceptionally well. You’ll likely find it difficult to pull yourself away from her set once you start watching, and that’s a great sign. She’s got a new album out this fall too, which means you can expect to hear some new songs as well during her set. The way I view it, while there are good and bad DJs all across this great globe of ours, the talent of mixing together vinyl records achieves pretty much the same result every time – smart and inventive dance music. To have a full band and to craft songs from pure scratch though, that takes just a touch more talent. Not to knock the legend of DJ Shadow, I’m sure his set will be pure bliss for the dance crowd, but Zola Jesus is where my ears are gonna be.
8:30 Fleet Foxes* (Green Stage)
If you’re asking me, and you certainly didn’t, Fleet Foxes do not deserve to be headliners at this or any music festival. That distinction is something you earn with time and brilliance, of which Fleet Foxes only have one going for them. The two albums to their name? Both are amazing, excellent works of art that are among the best things released in their respective years. But we’ve known these bearded dudes for how long? 3 years? 3 years and 2 albums and suddenly they’re headliner material? Look at Animal Collective, more than 10 years old with nearly as many full lengths to their name. Even TV on the Radio have been around for exactly 2x as long and have put out 2x as many albums as Fleet Foxes. Then you give close analysis of the material. As sparkling and gorgeous of music these guys make, energy isn’t exactly their strong suit. Their songs tend to be on the sleepy side. Lay down in some grass in the dark and soak it in, because that’s going to be the best way to experience Fleet Foxes’ set. Now I apologize for bitching, but when they were announced my reaction was (and remains), “WHA?”. Will I still stick around and relish every single second that Fleet Foxes are performing? Absolutely. Will I sing along with the songs and mess up the harmonies for the people around me? Why not. Will I praise this band to high heaven for putting on a show that completely soothes my ears and aching body? Without a doubt. Just don’t expect me to be happy about it unless they rise to the challenge and fully prove themselves to be worthy headliners. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that’s how it works out.
Welcome, my friends, to Faronheit’s annual coverage of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Yes, for one week out of the year, this site becomes dedicated to one of the most exciting and innovative music festivals in the world. Taking place in Union Park on Chicago’s West Side, one of the hallmarks of the Pitchfork Music Festival is that it is a “boutique” fest, catering to smaller crowds and fewer artists. Three days with three stages is the scope of it, and each day features a smorgasbord of unique indie talent from all different genres of music. This year’s festival happens this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 15th-17th. Friday is a shortened day, starting later to help accomodate those that have jobs and might be working. Of course if you’ve already been before then this is nothing new to you. For any newcomers, I hope you’re ready to have a lot of fun and see a lot of great music coming up. Over the next 7 days, it’s my intention to provide you with a hands-on guide to the festival, starting with day-by-day previews of the acts with recommendations on who you should go see. Once things kick off on Friday, I’ll have daily recaps of the good, the bad and the ugly for you, along with some photos. Things wrap up on Monday with a final look back at what will surely be one wild weekend. So get your birkenstocks ready, grab some hummus and dive right in to a preview of the music you’ll be exposed to on Day 1 of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival!
Key: Bold + * = recommended acts
FRIDAY, JULY 15th (Gates open at 3pm)
3:20 Gatekeeper (Blue Stage)
3:30 EMA* (Red Stage)
The first matchup of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival is actually a pretty fascinating one. If you’re unfamiliar with either of these two artists, the breakdown is quite easy. Gatekeeper does what is probably best defined as “witch house”, electronica music with a very dark and disturbing side to it. Last year’s “Giza” EP had a very 80s nightmare appeal to it, emphasizing synths with some gothic atmospheres and paranoid electro freak outs. There’s not much in the way of vocals, save for some samples used sparingly in a number of songs. But it’s very danceable, even if it’d most definitely be at home inside a pitch black club after midnight. 3:20pm in an outdoor setting is not ideal for this by any means. EMA on the other hand is probably a little more suited to the time slot she’s in. Erika M. Anderson is now doing a “solo” thing after the break up of her long-running band Gowns, and her debut “Past Life Martyred Saints” is one of this year’s undisputed highlights. Though the melodies may be slower and the lyrics intensely dark, EMA’s anguish is personal and confessional and courageous and compelling in spite of its bleak outlook. You can’t dance, but you will feel, even if it is a numbness. In the roasting temperatures and the Chicago sunlight, perhaps that sort of physical torture will help you relate to EMA’s set that much more. Still, dark energy vs. dark emotion makes for a tougher decision than you might think. If you’re not liking one, perhaps make the short trek to the other.
4:30 tUnE-yArDs* (Blue Stage)
4:35 Battles (Green Stage)
You want tough? This is probably the toughest matchup of the entire festival. Two acts with equally weird pop bents, both of which are known for positively insane live shows. Which one will you get the most out of? That’s nearly impossible to say. Here’s how it breaks down though. Battles are coming off a not-so-great new album, but their back catalogue is nothing short of solid and exciting. Their small issue is having to deal with the departure of Tyondai Braxton, who contributed quite a bit to the band prior to their current record. One wonders if they can still get away with performing an amazing song like “Atlas” without him. Still, their set is sure to be fierce and damn exciting. tUnE-yArDs, on the other hand, has one of the year’s best albums in the form of “w h o k i l l”. Merrill Garbus is a hurricane force to be reckoned with live, as even when her debut album “BiRd-BrAiNs” was not so warmly received people were 100% converted upon seeing it performed. If you’ve seen any videos online of her performing some of the new stuff it’s intense to watch her quietly patch and loop elements together and then simply wail with that incredible voice of hers. Quite simply, there’s just not another artist like tUnE-yArDs out there right now, and if you miss her set that you might miss the best set of the entire festival (headliners and everything included). In their defense, Battles could very well be the second best set of the whole fest, so plan accordingly.
MP3: tUnE-yArDs – Bizness
5:30 Curren$y (Blue Stage)
5:30 Thurston Moore* (Red Stage)
Here’s a choice that’s not tough because it’s based almost entirely on personal preference. The crossover audience between hip hop act Curren$y and Sonic Youth stalwart Thurston Moore is entirely thin, if not nonexistent. On the positive side as well, both acts have a number of great records to their names. Curren$y is one of the more innovative minds in hip hop these days, and his output in the last couple years has been nothing short of impressive. Yes, his favorite topic is weed and his voice takes a little getting used to, but the way that he styles his rhymes and his ability to sound comfortable no matter what sort of backing track is behind him makes him a formidable talent and one to keep a close eye on. Thurston Moore is obviously best known for everything Sonic Youth, but he’s carved out a nice little niche as a solo artist as well. His latest collection of songs, “Demolished Thoughts”, which came out a couple months back, is one of his best solo records in awhile. He may tackle a Sonic Youth favorite or two, but expect the primary focus to be on his own material. It’ll certainly be a quieter set than the assured noise and hype men that Curren$y will undoubtedly bring with him, but from a technical standpoint and from a sheer guitar playing standpoint, Moore brings a unique element to the stage.
6:25 Guided By Voices* (Green Stage)
6:30 Das Racist (Blue Stage)
Another rock vs. rap dynamic is placed in front of you as the sun begins to set over Union Park. This one is arguably more difficult to choose between than Curren$y vs. Thurston Moore, if only for quality’s sake. Guided By Voices are legends with a number of classic albums to their name, and with their reunion tour continuing from last year, the band continues to bring it each and every time. Seasoned veterans of rock can go one of two ways: either you get better with age or let age get the best of you and fall by the wayside. With a catalogue of such amazing songs to pull from, if you’re familiar with their albums then look for the equivalent of a greatest hits set on Friday night. Robert Pollard’s voice hasn’t aged, despite the multitude of cigarettes he continues to smoke, and the band just sounds tighter overall. As for Das Racist, their second long player “Sit Down, Man” was easily one of, if not the best hip hop record released in 2010. These guys are less hardcore rappers and more a few dudes that make hilarious rhymes. They are legitimately funny, and that’s likely even more between the songs than during them. They build their beats from a variety of styles so it’s definitely different than most rap acts, and their lyrics are far more pop culture based than most of what’s out there right now. Das Racist’s set will be most assuredly a lot of fun. As much as I’d love to recommend them, for me personally it’s tough to turn down Guided By Voices, particularly because nobody has any idea how long they’ve got left. This one’s more a case of old vs. new than it is rock vs. rap. Choose wisely, my friends.
7:20 Neko Case* (Red Stage)
7:30 James Blake (Blue Stage)
This is an interesting pairing, but it also makes for an easier choice when you think about it closely. Neko Case is nothing short of amazing. That voice has brought together many a solid solo effort, and she’s also one of the most exciting things about The New Pornographers. Expect her to wear her alt-country solo hat for this set though, and plow through much of the material on her last couple great albums. There is not one bad thing that I’ll say about Neko Case, because really there’s nothing bad to say. Then you’ve got James Blake. He’s blown up huge this past year, and his self-titled debut has made for one of the strongest and best things released so far in 2011. Fascinating only begins to describe what he does on that album, and most assuredly it will be interesting to see him try and recreate it as best as possible in a live setting. One thing you may notice about James Blake though is that about 90% of his songs are very very quiet. His album is an exercise in minimalism and therefore creates the impression that a live set will be more of that quiet restraint. By this time in the evening you might be a little worn down and tired, so finding some shade and watching some James Blake could be a very welcome time – in particular if you need a fast nap. Go see Blake in a dark, small club. I’m sure that’s where he’s most at home. In the sunlight outdoors will likely not lead to good things for him no matter how strong the material might be.
8:30 Animal Collective* (Green Stage)
Remember the days when Pitchfork used to have two headliners each night, and you had to choose big stage or small stage? Yeah, those were good times. They don’t exist anymore though, which is why everyone will be forced to sit through another Animal Collective headlining set unless they’d like to leave. Here’s the deal with Animal Collective – their catalogue is largely brilliant, and they’re still technically coming off of a masterpiece of a record in the form of “Merriweather Post Pavilion”. Excitment is high that they’re going to play a few new songs, which is most definitely a draw. The thing about these guys is that they tend to be hit or miss. When they’re hit, you more or less get enhanced, exciting editions of many of the songs you love from the band. When they’re miss, they will do whatever the fuck they want on stage, not play any recognizable songs, and pretty much improvise next to trippy visuals for the entire set. A formless blob of a non-show will likely leave the crowd upset. At Lollapalooza 2009, they made a wrong way turn and were close to insufferable. At Pitchfork 2008 they held pretty firm to actual songs and it worked wonders. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that they buckle down and focus this time around.