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Pitchfork Music Festival 2011: Day 3 Recap

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.

Album Review: Yuck – Yuck [Fat Possum]

Considering the reverence with which everyone speaks about the 90s, it should come as little surprise that they’re experiencing a bit of a revival right now. Of course these various decade genre revivals are coming quicker than ever these days as more acts are paying close homage to their influences rather than adventuring out of the box a bit more and attempting something new. The 80s sprung back to life courtesy of The Killers and the host of other bands that rode the same wave to success. There hasn’t really been a singular trigger for this “return to the 90s” movement, but a whole bunch of reunions probably has something to do with it, as much if not more than 90s-leaning bands like Japandroids, Surfer Blood, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and No Age have these last couple years. At the very least, those of us that lived through the 90s and loved the music from it are now given a chance to in some senses re-live a lot of those things once again from an older and wiser viewpoint. Also, those significantly younger kids born in the 90s now have a good introduction to an era that they probably never knew in infancy. So long as we’re giving the 90s a second time over though, let’s try to be just a little more critical and careful about what bands thrive and which ones can go ignored. By now most of us should know better, right? It is with that mindset you’re invited to have a glance at the world of Yuck. Here’s a group of young guys from the UK that have clearly obsessed over guitar squalor and art-pop of the 90s and their self-titled debut album not only proves this but on that same token smartly elevates them to nearly the level of the greats they’ve learned so much from.

From the very first notes of energetic album opener “Get Away”, Yuck have instantly transported you back to a time when the fuzzed-out electric guitar was king. There’s a heavy crunch of a melody that envelops you as singer/guitarist Daniel Blumberg’s vocals come filtered through a layer of grittiness and crackle that has an almost Malkmus-esque Pavement feel. Additionally, there’s a squiggly, high-pitched guitar solo that emerges above the fray a number of times on the track that’s eerily reminiscent of J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. Not a lot of bands can pull that off convincingly, but Yuck do it not only on “Get Away”, but also on “Holing Out” and “Operation” as well without even blinking. Distortion pedals take over in full on “The Wall”, a pretty jangly number that’s quite catchy with a Guided By Voices/Pavement vibe to it. The vocals are so buried and undercut that at times the guitars just completely overtake everything standing in their way, much like the proverbial “wall” in the song’s title and lyrics. Acoustic guitars, crisp vocals and harmonies on “Shook Down” do a lot to change the vibe of the record and display some sonic diversity from Yuck in the early goings. It’s one of those sad-sack teenage ballads with just a hint of pep in its step despite the yearning aspects. It’s also a nice change of pace between the loud (but fun) guitar sandwich of “The Wall” and “Holing Out”. Teenage Fanclub meets Elliott Smith courtesy of the acoustic “Suicide Policeman”, just as an almost sunny melody complete with harmonies, xylophones and horns meets some not entirely upbeat lyrics. Still, the track is one of a handful of exceptional standouts that also includes the song that follows it, the classic Yo La Tengo-baiting “Georgia”. The male-female harmonies are used exceptionally well next to the energetic, distorted electric guitars and a stronger-than-usual rhythm section that really carries the track. For a song like “Stutter”, you get the impression you’ve heard a number of ballads just like it before from a number of different bands in a number of different places, but can’t ever quite put your finger on just when or where. That’s actually a big part of Yuck’s charm, in that they’re able to bring a whole lot of fond memories to mind but never so explicitly that you feel like they’re ripping somebody off. It’s just original and dynamic enough to work in their favor. There’s something R.E.M.-ish about “SUnday”, and most likely it’s the way the guitars function in the song because it’s definitely not the vocals. Either way, the song is just another one of the many late album delights hiding out where you least expect them. Just before closing things out, Yuck throws an instrumental our way courtesy of “Rose Gives A Lilly”. It does what any lovely post-rock inspired instrumental should do, which is hold our attention for the duration. Things move organically then into the 7+ minute post-rock/shoegaze finale of “Rubber”. The song trudges along in slow-burn fashion, like watching a house engulfed in flames via slow motion. There’s a dark and sinister quality to the sheer squalls of noise that wash over you time and time again, but it’s immensely beautiful too. If you’ve not yet seen the music video for “Rubber”, which is “dog-gone” interesting, it brings a new-found appreciation to oddities that you can’t erase from your head but kind of don’t want to.

A big part of what makes Yuck so interesting and impressive is the variety of sounds that they explore on their debut. Sure, every song is 90s-centric in one way or another, but other than that it’s a small challenge to box them in a sonic corner. One minute they’re doing a high energy fuzzed out rock song, the next an acoustic-driven ballad and the next a gob smacking post-rock jam. None of it is particularly upbeat or happy, but when you really think about it, the 90s weren’t either. The grunge movement, among other things, was born out of frustration with growing up. Hell yes it’s tough to be a teenager today, because until they can create a pill that gets all those crazy mood swings and relationship difficulties under control, it’s going to remain tough. Yuck may not have the grunge sound, but a lot of their songs do focus on breakups and other adulthood struggles. Just barely out of their teens themselves, a lot of what’s on this self-titled album may be drawn from autobiographical experiences. The only real problem with the lyrics are that there’s the occasional clunker in there that just doesn’t quite work despite their best efforts. Those moments are few and far between though, and instrumentally things are so strong and sharp that the words matter just a little bit less. Of the many artists reaching back to the 90s for inspiration, Yuck turn out to be among the strongest thanks to those seriously great musical chops. At the end of last year, a number of publications named Yuck among the crop of fresh new artists to watch for in 2011. The good news is that they were right, and the band’s debut record is one of the stronger things released in these first couple months of the new year. Whether it can sustain such momentum and stick with people all the way through the best of’s in December, we’ll just have to play a game of wait and see on that.

Yuck – Georgia
Yuck – Rubber

Buy “Yuck” from Amazon

Click past the jump to see the music video for “Rubber” (NSFW)

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