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Feature Mon Jul 16 2007

Review: Pitchfork Music Festival 2007

We went, we saw, we listened. Here's some of the Gapers Block: Transmission staff's impressions in words and pictures of this year's Pitchfork Music Festival.

Along with what's seen here, we've got loads of pictures for your viewing pleasure from Saturday and Sunday at our Transmission flickr site. Thanks to George Aye for lugging his cameras around all weekend!

Pitchfork 2007 Sunday-34125

Dan Morgridge's Pitchfork:

Saturday

Beach House:
For my first start-to-finish full attention viewing of a performance, my friend and I decided on Beach House, mostly due to our proximity to the stage and the nice breezy spot we'd found. Their last time through Chicago, the duo played one of the final sets at Gunther Murphy's. The venue's small windowless room with candles and a low stage was perfectly suited for a such a hazy, sleepy set. After a night of GZA and Co.'s growling flows and Sonic Youth's walls of guitar feedback, Beach House was more hangover than dream. Add in almost ten minutes of false-start sound checking and a bad guitar crackle that appeared halfway through the set, and you finally had to admit the best part of it was when Kid Sister introduced them as being from "Bodymore, Murderland."

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33235
Battles (photo by George Aye).

Battles:
A swarm of dragonflies flew through the crowd, dipping, looping, diving — they would hover for a moment in one spot until they suddenly flew off in an entirely new direction. In a convenient analogy, the music did the same thing.

As summed up in text messages:
Anne: Woo Pitchfork!
Me: This is amazing
Anne: Totally battles rox

Anon. Pitchfork writer: OMG BATTLEZ
Me: SWOON
Me: Even their equipment failures sound good
Anon. Pitchfork writer: I wanna battle them but they're good at everything.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33465
Professor Murder wants to turn it up (and so does everyone else) (photo by George Aye).

Professor Murder:
After having our energy levels skyrocket from the triumphant equipment-defeating finale of Battles, I was ready to dance like I meant it. From memory of a few singles and good buzz, I headed in the direction of the Balance stage yet again, this time to catch the giddiest drummer since Greg Saunier of Deerhoof. Michael Bell-Smith had an infectious grin on his face while he played, and the music only helped. Thick bass, disco drums, and a whistle that more than earned it's keep got the kids dancing with at least three exclamation points, if you catch my drift. A friendly circle of kids waved over anyone dancing to join them, and made quite a mob — but the standing still party still held a decent majority of seats in the house.

Clipse/Dan Deacon
I decided to make my way through the lunch maze during Clipse and Dan Deacon, but managed to catch bits of both in the process. The Thorton brothers were unfriendly neighbors — their bass bled so hard that Dan Deacon was probably standing ankle deep in it for the start of his set. But they didn't get this far being nice, now did they? Malice and Pusha spat fiercely, falling prey to none of the lukewarm habits rappers can fall into on stage (Does anyone remember Ghostface actually rapping at last year's Intonation, or did he dance with the BBC girls for the entire time?) Dan Deacon drew a huge crowd, eventually claiming his high-register sonic territory above Clipse's deep thunder from the other side of the tents. With his DJ rig right in the crowd, the fun-lovin' nerd elite danced their dance around ol' Danny — and when the set finished, they didn't move a muscle. The man, the myth, the legend was next: Girl Talk. You may as well have booked the original line-up of Guns n' Roses after a Velvet Revolver show.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33672
Dan Deacon (photo by George Aye).

Girl Talk:
The Mastodon crowd was sweaty, dazed, from their furious (but safety-conscious) mosh pit. The Clipse crowd wasn't about to stick around for Yoko. Cat Power was fine to eat to, but pretty much everyone in the festival with a pulse was converging on the increasingly tight alley that was the Balance Stage (god help them if this had still been a tent). The crowd stayed thick all the way back to the beer booths, with anyone trying to escape shimmying along the fence. The basketball courts and the WLUW Record Fair tent were pressed against the chain link, trying to get the best view. Someone even climbed on top of the Fuze truck, only to be knocked down and arrested. Agile fans even filled the tree branches. For 20 minutes, the crowd chanted and clapped to the giant inflatable spider that held the stage, awaiting their much-hyped dance party. At about 8:50, the entourage took the stage, the music began to play, and a tuxedo-clad Gregg Gillis took three steps onstage before immediately launching himself into the audience. But the crowd began to chant for the volume to be turned up. Either due to the unforeseen depth of the crowd, the dampening effect of hundreds of densely packed bodies, or the police's stern glances, the volume just didn't reach beyond the first third of the crowd. A dozen or so got creative and just started crowd-surfing forward. After pushing forward to the audible area, Girl Talk was indeed delivering the goods — Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear could be spotted on stage, singing his hook on "Knife." "Can't Touch This," "Sweet Child of Mine" and other classics good and evil were welded together with love and winks until about 9:20, when after a previous warning was disallowed, the sound was cut completely and everyone had to go.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33774
Girl Talk (photo by George Aye).

The crowd was sad, but most left without a fight — either due to exhaustion in front, or disappointment in back. The saddest sight was the guy who'd crowd surfed all the way to the front with what looked to be a copy of Houses of the Holy — he may never get to hear a trap-hop mashup of Dancin' Days.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33832
Yoko Ono (photo by George Aye).

Yoko Ono:
Thurston took one side of the stage, mauling his guitar, at one point even grinding it against the ground. Yoko stood on the other, retorting with her voice. Turns out they were pretty evenly matched for wailing.

Sunday
The evening in between was a fun time, during which a mythical Dan Deacon party was searched for around California and Augusta and never found, but other house parties sufficed quite nicely instead. Re-assembling in the morning as best able, the park was reached just as the sounds of the Ponys chug-a-lugged over the fence. They worked their way through the finer points of Turn The Lights Out until finally it was time for the only saxophone allowed off the Balance Stage.

Menomena:
Taking the stage to a crowd still vaguely shaped by the entrance gate, the Portland trio started many people's days off right with a fine selection of tunes from their latest LP Friend and Foe including an impressive version of "Weird." Menomena's first album "I AM THE FUN BLAME MONSTER" (see what they did there?) was only represented by "Strongest Man In The World," but the set was a success as gauged by the heartily cheering crowd.

NOMO:
Sunday was full of difficult choices, and I decided to make my way towards NOMO instead of the conveniently close Junior Boys set. Unfortunately, a long set by Brightblack Morning Light, technical difficulties, or other unknown factors caused the stage to be vacant until nearly 3:50. Several friends informed my that the Junior Boys had been excellent, while I gritted my teeth and waited for my afro-beat just desserts. Finally, a slightly weary band took the stage, and kicked in to a military-precise "Nu Tones." The band worked the crowd as best they could, with bassist Jamie Register (Me'Shell NdegéOcello's funkier evil twin) dropping some soulful vocals and engaging the crowd in some call and response with a fiery purr in her voice. She got some smiles and some shouts, but the crowd seemed peeved about their long wait, and couldn't quite get into the groove. Finally, the sound board decided that the schedule had to be adhered to, late start or not, and told them they were on their last song. NOMO played two more instead, abandoning their powerless guitars and mikes and walking to the front of the stage with only the power of their lungs and drums for "Sarvodaya." The crowd finally seemed to appreciate the effort, and sang along, the set fading out into a unified croon.

Jamie Lidell:
After leaving the now rather off-schedule Balance Stage, only a little bit of Sam and Warp Record's finest representative to appear. Nestled in just in front of the sound booth, the sound was superb for his opening tune. Jamie Lidell entered in a golden robe, streamers flowing pure charm from his makeshift turban, and smiling with such a giddy glee that no one could possibly resist. But then, it was time for "The City," and Jamie lived up to his later quote: "I love making noise!" While at times the squelching beats seemed overwhelming, he kept his manic grin and dancing at a peak, and it helped ensure the audience loved every minute of the ballad-acid-freakout-ballad format. At one point Jamie's turban was getting a bit unruly, so a helpful crew member offered to tape him up ("a pit stop" as Jamie called it before shaking the man's hand). Lidell also debuted "Wait For Me," a track he'd composed with Mocky and Gonzales, which the crowd ate up. "Multiply" ended the set (at least in any setlist-definable manner), and the crowd belted out as much soul as they could muster. Lidell warped, looped, echoed and theramin'd the end of the song into a glitched-out coda of nothing, and then with a happy bow, he was gone.

Dinner was needed, and Stephen Malkmus sung as background music. Overheard by the woman on a blanket playing Uno: "I bet I could play guitar better than this!"

Of Montreal:
If you were there, then you know my words can't even possibly begin to describe the spectacle that appeared on stage between 7 and 8 pm. They called themselves Of Montreal, but all I could see were glittery sex-toy monsters ready to destroy Tokyo, skinny eyelinered linebackers wearing bustiers that crawled across the floor, a pink winged-angel grinding his guitar into every inch of the speakers, and Nina Twin playing some sort of Goldfinger sex goddess who rubbed herself while dispensing a red substance to a large, moustached creature (which had previously had five balloon soldiers heads, all popped by a golden Darth Vader). What? Exactly. While my jaw was agape, they apparently played some music too. And just when you thought it was over, Kevin came back out in a g-string and led the band through a quick cover of The Kinks' "All Day And All of the Night."

The New Pornographers:
With another goofy and fun introduction from The Hideout's Tim Tuten, the festival circuit heavyweights took the stage to a fairly polite audience. Dropping some Twin Cinema gems and some classics from beyond, the band managed to have some of the best banter of the festival (Carl explaining how the band had all become Jehovah's Witnesses and a brief excerpt from The Warriors "Can you dig it?" speech were excellent) and even figured out how to end their newly debuted song: by segueing into "We Will Rock You."

Klaxons:
For the final tough call of the day, it was decided that the New Pornographers would be left a touch early to catch the patients zero of "New Rave": The Klaxons. As could have been expected, the stage was still empty by 8:45, with an angry crowd yelling quotes like "stop being prima donnas and play!" Shortly after the bumping bass of De La Soul began to play, the Klaxons took the stage, looking unstable and probably exactly as they wanted to. Jamie Reynolds made some obtuse joke about "everyone on this side of the fence (those of you who are not cars), well you're not coming in!" And thus, sprang into the throbbing "The Bouncer." But whether due to the set-up, the atmosphere, or inhibited playing, the song lacked it's danceable energy, and only fist-pumping jumpers were "dancing." The girl leaning against the lamppost whispered: "this is total dude music." And by god, she was right. Females steadily departed the crowd, and eventually many men too, including yours truly. Whatever charms the Klaxons held beyond their towering wave of hype, they had been replaced tonight by aggro guitars and little else.

Pitchfork 2007 Sunday-34878
De La Soul (photo by George Aye).

De La Soul:
In the face of three days of standing, dancing, and burning up in the hot sun, the crowd summoned up every last bit of energy they had for De La Soul's festival-ending performance. The gents not only summoned up the daisy age for all to enjoy, but super-producer Prince Paul as well. The Plugs worked the crowd, dropping random hip-hop and rap references from a tribute to James Brown all the way up dropping some Lil' Jon (!) into their verses. An inflatable orange couch bounced its way across the crowd, and everyone who wasn't using their hands to hold someone close was putting three's in the air. As they left the stage, they gave a tiny tease of the surprisingly fantastic Steely-Dan-sampling "Eye Know," but it was only the outro music. Nevertheless, a fine finale to a fine festival. Most of the crowd stumbled home, but some made their way to the Funky Buddha Lounge for just a little bit more De La, or to the Lumen afterparty, or to another rumored Dan Deacon house party - 24 hour party people, indeed.
-Dan Morgridge

Anne Holub's Pitchfork

Friday
When the GZA took the stage to perform Liquid Soul there were hundreds of hands flashing the Wu sign back to him with glee. It was an energy-packed set, even as he explained he'd missed a Wu-Tang Clan show in Amsterdam just to be in Chicago that night. Everything to the whisky-swilling hype man on stage to the GZA's tribute to O.D.B. with a performance of "I Like it Raw" charmed the crowd like nobody's business.

Saturday
It was the hip hop on tap Saturday that once again got my attention. Clipse brought the sun-baked crowd back from its dance with tinnitus over at Mastodon for a mainstage lesson in shaking your booty. It was ideal. Call and response? Check! Fly gear? Check! Ill beats? Double Check! Thanks, Clipse.

Girl Talk's set over at the Balance stage wasn't my first experience in the shortchanged sound at Pitchfork this weekend. Earlier, at Professor Murder, standing about 25 feet from the stage, the vocals went from non-existent to tinny and not much further from that for rest of the set. With Girl Talk, the surging crowd couldn't hear hardly anything out of a range of a few dozen feet from the stage, and hands furiously shot up from the middle on back begging for more volume. I bailed after a few songs, not wanting to infuse my Girl Talk experience with so much rage over the sound quality that it tainted it forever. (Note: still love ya, Gregg! I'll just catch you next time around.) The time was ripe to get a spot for Yoko.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33818
The Onochord lights handed out Saturday. (photo by George Aye)

Having already obtained my free "Onochord" mini flashlight, I was ready to experience that which is Yoko Ono: Live. She started her set off with a 15-minute mini film explaining her plan to bring peace and love into the troubled world by encouraging the use of flashlight communication of the words I Love You (one flash, two flashes, three flashes). We followed instructions, hoisting our little lights into the darkening sky and flashing back to Yoko (or at least to her stage). I had a blast. I mean, come on, it's Yoko Ono. She's strange, she's eccentric, she's in her mid-70s for crying out loud! During her performance she screamed, she paced the stage, she rocked out and rambled little anecdotes to the crowd. It was exactly what I expected and wanted out of her.

Sunday
The day started out almost apprehensively with concerns about sound and the lack of stocked TP in the porto-johns (1pm, status good. 4pm, uh oh.). But solid sets from Deerhunter, Menomena, and Junior Boys brought me back from the edge. I even gathered up the courage to hit up the Balance stage again and heard the last half of a bouncing set by NOMO. As witnessed through the fence in a relatively crush-free zone, their horn section was on fire, and the kids sure did love it.

Pitchfork 2007 Sunday-33957
Deerhunter (photo by George Aye).

I'll be the first to say that The Sea & Cake sure did put it out there. Playing through most of the hardest songs in their catalogue, they cranked it about as much as I think they had in them, and the crowd responded favorably. Thanks, boys. Hope you didn't get too sunburnt.

Jaime Lidell didn't hold my attention, and I wish I'd spent the time slot over at the Cool Kids instead. I caught the tail end of their set purely by accident as it seems that by mid-afternoon things were running about 30 minutes behind schedule at the Balance Stage. Following the Cool Kids, however, Canada's own Cadence Weapon brought it like nobody's business. At this point, the crowds had herded over to see Of Montreal play in the main field, so the numbers at the B Stage had dropped to a more comfortable 400 or so. This was probably what producers had in mind when they planned out this space: a much more intimate venue in the middle of the grander festival setting. I only wish that it had turned out that way for the bulk of the weekend. Police shut downs, blown out speakers, near tramplings do not a good time make.

Still, Pitchfork, you were a good time. And thanks for the variety in food, the community tables, the always great opportunities at Flatstock and with Depart-ment, and for the great weather. That last bit I know you can't control, but it's something I'd like to request for next year as well.
-Anne Holub

Dan Snedigar's Pitchfork

Hopefully, this year's Pitchfork Music Festival will go down as the worst Pitchfork ever. With attendance swelling to 17,000 per day, the festival simultaneously marked its arrival as a viable destination festival, and showed signs that it is having some serious growing pains.

Sound problems seemed to be this year's most obvious problem. Friday night's muddy sets by Slint, the GZA and Sonic Youth apparently inspired the promoters to overhaul the PA on both main stages, but by Saturday, both systems lacked the clarity and coverage to sound convincing much behind the front-of-house soundboard positions. Quieter acts such as Cat Power and Stephen Malkmus were lost to those who chose not to wade deep into the crowd. The set up at the smaller Balance stage was laughably inadequate, unfit even for the smaller crowds that promoters must have anticipated for this side stage.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33622
Crowd at Dan Deacon on the Balance Stage. (photo by George Aye)

It is clear that the promoters are struggling with logistics as well. Lines for the bathrooms were long, hand washing stations ran out of water before the openers had finished, and toilet paper was in short supply by mid-afternoon. While lines for beer ebbed and flowed in typical festival fashion, food lines were long enough to indicate that another couple of options could easily be absorbed. At the Balance stage, the set up was almost criminally ill-conceived, as evidenced by the fact the authorities were forced to shut down DJ Girl Talk's set after only 20 minutes due to overcrowding in the narrow space, bordered on both sides by fences.

That having been said, there was still a lot of silver lining. Prices, both for tickets and essentials such as water are still cheap. Booking remains creative and diverse, showcasing old and new in a variety of genres. Commercial presence, in the form of some booths, limited signage, and both the Flatstock poster convention and Depart-ment's handy craft market is still either innocuous, or supportive of the community feel of the festival. And of course, there were still great performances by legends such as Sonic Youth and Yoko Ono, and newcomers like Chicago 's own Cool Kids.

Pitchfork 2007 Sunday-34400
Cool Kids (photo by George Aye).

It is obvious that the festival now has some choices to make. Hopefully, they can continue to find a balance of affordability and non-commercialism with the realities of the fact that they are now a minor cultural institution, held in high esteem.
-Dan Snedigar


Brandon Forbes' Pitchfork


I was basically so perturbed by Saturday's performances that I sold my tickets and skipped Sunday. Here's a couple of reasons why.

1) Sound, sound, sound. While the visuals improved this year with the jumbo monitors, the audio was absolutely atrocious, especially at the side stage. Beach House's set had fuzz through the speakers the entire time, and the lead singer's mic during Oxford Collapse's set kept going in and out. Extremely anti-climactic. On the main stage, groups like Battles and Clipse had excellent sound, which can probably be explained by most of their sounds coming from direct-in equipment — samplers, turntables, etc. Traditional mic'd sounds from Iron & Wine and Cat Power (piano, acoustic guitar, etc.) were lost if you were watching from behind the soundboard tent area, as were their vocals.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33549
Clipse (photo by George Aye)

2) Anyone else get hit by the a-holes with water guns? I'm all for playful fun in the sun, but when both I and my wife get shot in the face exiting the WLUW tent, that's just plain annoying. And painful. My eyeballs are tender.

3) Why the hell wasn't Girl Talk on a main stage? I got over to the side stage 20 minutes before Girl Talk went on, and I was relegated to watching from behind the gated WLUW record fair area. And by watching I mean listening, as there was nothing to see but wall to wall bodies and people hanging on the fence. Girl Talk should have been on a main stage, and one of the earlier main stage bands on Saturday, like the Twilight Sad or Voxtrot, should have been placed on the side stage.

4) I don't know what I expected, but Yoko Ono's performance was unbelievably awful. We literally ran from the stage when her first song began. Highly disappointing.

5) Maybe it was higher ticket sales or the good weather on Saturday, but it seemed a hell of a lot more people were at the festival from the first sound check on. It's not very cool to feel claustrophobic in a huge park.

Pitchfork 2007 Saturday-33544

6) On the bright side, Clipse were incredibly good. Rap sing-a-longs are always a solidarity builder.
-Brandon Forbes

Graham Sanford's Pitchfork


The scheduling of artists for this year's Festival was much more consistently paced throughout the weekend (as opposed to clustered at certain peak days and times) than last year, making for greater circulation of the crowd from stage to stage. Good sets from Of Montreal and Jamie Lidell.

Pitchfork 2007 Sunday-34297
Jamie Lidell (photo by George Aye).

De La Soul exceeded strong expectations, proving that—despite the peaks and valleys of their long career—they've managed to hold things down amazingly well on the sidelines of the mainstream hip-hop biz all these years. The common complaint I heard (and experienced firsthand) was that the sound at the B stage was "too quiet" throughout the weekend, marring sets by Nomo, The Cool Kids, the Klaxons, and Girl Talk (the last of whom proved to have a huge draw). Highlights: Guest appearances from Kid Sister at Flosstradamus's at the Bottle afterparty, Prince Paul turning up on stage with De La Soul, the selection at this year's Flatstock booths, and buying some coloring books from Derek Erdman. And the weather couldn't have been more ideal.

The Empty Bottle's series of afterparties were great. Friday's night billing of The Cool Kids and Gravy Train!!!! brought out the most intriguingly mixed crowd that I think I've encountered at a Chicago club. The Cool Kids proved that not only are they a lot of fun live, but that the bass-heavy, party-rap act is best experienced in a smaller club setting.

The GutterButter DJs spun a great selection, proving that Baltimore House tracks are good for peeling folks from the wall and getting them onto the dancefloor. Flosstradamus had the whole Bottle jumping during Saturday night's sold-out show, and the place was mad packed and sweaty for Chromeo's set.
-Graham Sanford

Kara Luger's Pitchfork

In a word, Saturday's Pitchfork performances were lackluster. Blame it on the performers themselves, blame it on the organizers, blame it on the sound equipment, blame it on my general crankiness, but by the time the evening's headliner Yoko Ono hit the stage, ululating and generally acting Yoko-ish, I just couldn't have cared less.

What was good-to-great: Battles put on an energetic show with their experimental punk-prog jam freakout. Fellow New Yawkers Professor Murder also came prepared to dish out a heavy dose of post-punk/funk/latin/dance grooves that got the audiences hyped. Best of all, frontman and percussionist Mike, looked like he was plain ol' having fun — a nice sense of levity in an often over-serious hipster crowd.

Mastodon's Cookie Monster growls about wizards and warriors stole every heavy metal heart, while hip hop duo Clipse were the days' MVP, with a super-tight, well-executed set.

On the boo/hiss tip:
Cat Power, along with the Dirty Delta Blues, may or may not have played a great set. I wouldn't know, because I barely could hear her. Was it a sound stage issue, or was it an "I'm Cat Power, and I'm kind of wackadoo anyway" sort of issue? Who knows? Who cares?

Mash-up party king Girl Talk was similarily disappointing, but this time it was definitely a technical problem. Girl Talk is only one man and his well-equipped computer, but the show was still nearly 20 minutes late in starting, which made for a long time standing wedged amongst the sweaty, drunk, masses. When the music finally started, it was frustratingly quiet — there are guys trolling the streets of my neighborhood in their pimped-out cars whose cars have a better, louder PA system. The only way to hear the music better was to get up front, which proved to be no problem, since half of the crowd gave up and shuffled out after about 10 minutes.
-Kara Luger

Pitchfork 2007 Sunday-34659
(photo by George Aye)

 
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