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Feature Thu Jul 16 2009
For once, the weather forecast looks positively delightful for mid-July (well, really, it's been nice all summer). And it's a good thing, too, because it's once again time to head down to Union Park and enjoy a long weekend full of band after band after band at the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Don't forget that the park will also play host to the Flatstock poster show, Coterie Chicago (the new craft fair on the block), the CHIRP record fair (where Gapersblock will have a table), auction items benefiting Rock for Kids donated by many of the artists playing Pitchfork, and a host of food vendors and other booths.
Keep reading for our staff's picks for the best way to squeeze the most fun out of the fest. (And keep an eye out this weekend as we have some exciting coverage from the Fest and after the weekend's over.)
Friday, July 17
Tortoise, 5pm (C)
This Chicago group of visionary musicians got their start 15 years ago fusing jazz, rock, electronica and creative experimentation. They made something that was accessible and palatable (but still interesting) to the ears that avant garde jazz is too much for. Truly pioneers, they have been a major influence on the direction that indie rock has taken throughout the years. While the band members juggle multiple side projects, they're still at it as a group, just releasing their newest album, Beacons of Ancestorship last month (download "Prepare Your Coffin" [mp3] and watch the video below). Friday they take part in Pitchfork's "Write the Night" series where their setlist is determined entirely by the votes of ticketholders.
Yo La Tengo, 6:10pm, (A)
You don't (usually) get to be 90 years old on a diet of pure bacon fat, and you don't get to put out more than ten albums without having the support of fans. Yo La Tengo has won critical acclaim and admiration for their work ethic and live shows. Go, if only for the reason to hear a band that is still keeping at it long after quite a few of their peers have hung it up.
Built to Spill, 8:40pm (A)
Spill critic Mark Groeschner writes, "Doug Martsch and crew remain the best band America is not listening to." Ten years later, I'm here to say that Groeschner's words still hold true. Don't ask me why, but the band's live shows never seem to sell out and aside from a few devoted fans at each one, it feels like they're still building a fanbase.
However, that's exactly why you need to see them at Pitchfork. There will be a lot of devoted Built to Spill fans and you'll be able to take in the entire essence of the band while Martsch and co. play flawlessly through their set. Playing Friday night, the band is part of "Write the Night" where the fans choose the set list so expect to see some rarities in there dating back to 1994's There's Nothing Wrong With Love,and maybe even 1993's Ultimate Alternative Wavers. There will most likely be a few new songs since they're releasing a new album, There Is No Enemy, in October.
Saturday, July 18
Cymbals Eat Guitars, 1pm (A)
Cymbals Eat Guitars is a band that makes me feel incredibly lazy. In the span of less than six months, they've self released an album, are playing a handful of impressive festival dates, and garnered attention across the internet, including an impressive review and 8.3 score from Pitchfork. All before the lead singer is even old enough to partake in the free booze backstage this weekend. When I listen to their album I can't help but think how perfect it matches the setting of Pitchfork Festival. Their music is a mix of '90s rock influence, bouncing around from sweeping shoegazer rock to post-punk hyperactive yelps and jarring guitars. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's really (really) good. If imitating your idols is the most sincere form of flattery, then Cymbals Eat Guitars are pouring on the compliments thick.
Disappears, 1pm (B)
Disappears drenches their sludgy Suicide-like punk in layers upon layers of reverb and distortion. But their music doesn't hang solely on those elements. Beneath the pedal effects are biting lyrics, melodic guitars, and driving rhythm. The Chicago foursome is made up of former 90 Day Men, Ponys, and Boas. "Magics", a standout B-side, is highlighted by distant vocals reminiscent of late '70s British post-punk and even a few Hot Snakes-sounding riffs. They play early, but they're worth it.
The Dutchess & the Duke, 1:45pm (B)
It seems like just yesterday, we were all at Pfork 2008 and fans of Dutchess and the Duke were running to catch the band at an afterparty at Cobra Lounge. One year later and the band is now actually playing the festival. Their music is a little bit on the jangly folk side but their own myspace description of "campfire punk" also sums it up rather well. Their male/female harmonies are a strength of the duo and word on the street is they will be joined by Melissa Elias and Jered Gummere of Ponys fame.
Pains of Being Pure at Heart, 3:20pm (C)
I discovered Pains of Being Pure at Heart this spring, right around the time they're "Young Adult Friction" came out on a Slumberland sampler and found them to be a lovely, dancy, happy band that made me take an extra lap around my building with the iPod before going in to work in the morning. Their self-titled LP has some really fun tunes including "Everything With You" and "Come Saturday" [mp3] which lead me to absolutely know that there was no better festival for them than Pitchfork. They're a indie rock full of preppy shoegaze — like playing Belle & Sebastian at too-fast an RPM (so wrong it's right). They're someone you can really get going that Molly Ringwald Breakfast Club step-kick dance (and if I can find my boots, you can bet I'll be doing just that).
Bowerbirds, 3:35pm (B)
It's a glimpse at the "Northern Lights" told through well-constructed campfire songs. Phil Moore and Beth Tacular (aka Bowerbirds) play a brand of folk mixed with subtle Americana or Roots Rock, and have been touring since the release of their second album, Upper Air, earlier this month on Dead Oceans. With the support of a bigger indie label like Dead Oceans, Bowerbirds has started to gain the national and global attention that 2007's Hymns for a Dark Horse really deserved. On stage the band flourishes with elements of Balkan, gyspy, and classic rock as they add other members Mark Paulson and Brad Cook (Megafaun). Beth, an acclaimed visual artist, and Phil, a former member of Ticonderoga, Bowerbirds will fill the sun soaked fields of Union Park with melodies, stories, and images of summer, sky, and nature in general. They are the perfect mid-afternoon band.
Final Fantasy, 4:15pm (A)
Owen Pallett, master violinist for Final Fantasy is not only coming all the way from Toronto for the occasion of Pitchfork but it will also be after a long two year absence from Chicago. His songs are usually quite personal (think of a less flamboyant Patrick Wolf) and with a sense of lyrical depth. His beautiful tenor vocals often accompany an orchestrated sense of music with complex arrangements, making the songs quite magical and sure to cause your indie heart to swell.
Ponytail, 4:30pm, (B)
The charm of Baltimore's Ponytail lies in their eccentricities. If you've never seen this band live, anticipate being startled by the loud, unintelligible sounds spewing from singer Molly Siegel, coupled with a bit of unnatural body turbulence passing as dance moves. This set will be perfect for some afternoon dancing, if you can keep up with their frenetic tempo. It'll be a challenge, for sure. With one vocalist, two guitarists and a drummer (yep, no bassist here) it's surprising that so much noise can come out of so small a band. This is one act I cannot recommend enough.
Yeasayer, 5:15pm (C)
Yeasayer is a four-piece out of Brooklyn, New York making a big splash in the indie pond with their psychedelic indie pop goodness. Mixing the psych grooves with lead singer Chris Keating's wavering falsetto is the perfect combination for a summer festival. They broke onto the scene while opening for Man Man as well as MGMT and they meshed well with both. Be sure to keep an eye on bassist Ira Wolf Tuton as he offers up his great expressions while knocking out those pulsating grooves. See you on the dance floor.
Wavves, 5:30pm (B)
Wavves is not a lovable band. Their sound is rough, unpolished, raw and unapologetic. Nathan Williams and Ryan Ulsh burst on the scene last year with their self-titled debut album (Woodist). They were able to spark reviews, and the attention of Fat Possum Records. The album was built for and originally released on cassette. They play form of drunken garage rock with lyrics about a lack of future and lack of something to do. If you can sift through the noise you may find something unique. Their second album, Wavvves, was released in February on Fat Possum, but as their tour dates began to mount, the tension started to build. After a recent melt down in Spain it came out that Williams had mixed pills, and was suffering with alcohol addiction. Ulsh left the band last month, but Williams has continued on. What will be compelling is to witness the state of the band and Williams as he takes the stage this Saturday.
DOOM, 6:15pm (A)
Pitchfork has always taken a light stab at adding some color to its white-boy proceedings, mostly in the form of jazz greats on the side stage or the occasional backpacker-friendly rappers. DOOM is certainly well within the confines of that latter label, boasting more success from his Adult Swim goofball antics and Pitchfork-gold stamped Madlib collaboration Madvilliany, but the MC might yet have a curve ball for the crowd. Having disappeared for some time following his Danger Doom release, Daniel Dumile returned early in 2009 with Born Like This, dropping the MF and adding a dark new layer that the critics ate up. Will his new found edge help him defeat his historically lackluster live show? The audience can only hope, because festival attendees looking for anything close to rap have only DOOM (okay, okay, I see you over there Pharoahe Monch) to lean on this year.
Lindstrøm, 6:30pm (B)
Around early evening, Pitchforkers who have held in there since the day's opening start to get a mite cranky. Suddenly, being muggy, dirty, sunburnt, and hungry matters a whole lot, and by God, if one more boneheaded hipster kid with giant sunglasses and cowboy boots gets in your way....
My advice: get something fried on a stick, stake a claim on a patch of grass, and calm down. And the best soundtrack to this experience — a careful line between chilling out and getting hyped to start up again — is set with Norwegian DJ Lindstrøm. Wedged between pop-Balkan indie darlings Beirut and masked hip hop crusader Doom on Saturday at 6:30 on the B Stage, Lindstrøm's beats are electrolow-key, yet driven enough to get all wiggly for Matt and Kim and whatnot.
Beirut, 7:25pm (C)
Listening to Beirut is the mental equivalent of traveling through places distant and exotic. It is music steeped in cultured layers, and permeated with romantic references that can only truly be reached along far-traveled paths. The large and faraway sounds are offset by a sedate intimacy. It creates an interesting juxtaposition, feeling both near and far; elegant but road-worn. Zach Condon's crooning vocals flow serpent-like around organs, pianos, accordions, ukuleles, mandolins, violins, trumpets, euphoniums and so much more. The music travels beautifully through Eastern Europe, France and the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle near Oaxaca, Mexico. It enables you to travel far away from your surroundings and yourself — music's greatest of gifts. It travels here shortly before night falls over Pitchfork on Saturday, and it should not be missed.
Black Lips, 8:30pm (B)
Before the excesses of Saturday night burn away like fog on Sunday morning, the fond remembrance of the point in which the beast came out will already be moving through the minds of many. And for many, myself included, that point will likely have arrived at some point during the Black Lips set. Their live show has earned legendary, if not infamous status: vomiting, urination, nudity, band-member kissing, Power Wheels races, fireworks, a chicken, flaming guitars, and so on. They've been labeled and unlabeled as "garage rock revival." I agree. While it is many things, Black Lips' music is at it's core a catalyst for having a good time; an elemental release. It is visceral, primitive and not at all perfect - which is exactly what makes it kind of perfect. To put it quite simply, it is music for the id in all of us. If you're still on the fence about where to be at 8:30pm on Saturday, stop it.
Sunday, July 19
The Mae Shi, 1pm (A)
L.A.'s The Mae Shi have written songs about vampires, werewolves, and dolphins. They've given out mix tapes containing clips from over 2,000 of their favorite songs to fans at their shows. They've offered to play in basements across the country for a booking price of $100. They've even written a tribute to Christian Bale freaking out. These guys are long-time friends who decided to start a band and have as much fun as possible at all times. Check out the video for the infectious song "Run to Your Grave" below. I'm sure that come Sunday we'll all be a little exhausted, but this band is definitely worth heading out to Union Park a bit early the last day of the festival.
Dianogah, 1:45pm (B)
It's not like Dianogah's Jay Ryan isn't going to have anything else to do this weekend — he'll be pimping his beautiful posters via the Bird Machine booth at Flatstock — but for Chicagoans who have long enjoyed the trio's bass-driven post-rock musings, this will be a fine reward for getting to the fest early. The band's latest album, QHNNNL (don't ask me how to pronounce it) came out on Southern last year and was recorded right here in town by Tortoise's John McEntire at Soma Studios. Featuring some help from famous musician friends like Andrew Bird who plays violin on several tracks, I suppose there will be some who'll head over to the stage Sunday morning to see if they can spot indie music celebrities hanging in the wings. I say, get up, grab a Sparxs (if you must), and head over for the music and a rare chance to see this nearly 15-year-old Chicago band rock in a beautiful tree-shaded setting. On a side note, sadly, the band will pay tribute during their set to another QHNNNL contributor Stephanie Morris, who died suddenly on June 1st.
Pharoahe Monch, 3:20pm (C)
The music, as with any art, the best aren't always lauded and treated as the gold standards, instead laboring under simply a mantra that eventually the hard work will pay off. Pharoahe Monch is a Top 10 emcee whose chart successes, outside of a couple of singles, are nil. His wordplay and delivery endear him to fans, and he puts on a helluva live show, You'll recognize the hits and, if the sound man is on point, get absorbed in the lyrics and delivery of everything else.
Women, 3:35pm (C)
If you like The Velvet Underground's '60s fuzzy guitar drone and noise, then you'll love the band Women. The Calgary group's self-titled debut album was an overlooked gem of 2008. Their first single off the record, "Black Rice," has gotten some airplay-love and is a perfect example of their mix of melody and experimentation. [Tip: You can hear the entire Women album on last.fm.]
Thermals, 4:15pm (A)
The Thermals don't really have secrets. It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to play their music. Their sound has shifted from heavy lo-fi to crisp, but it's still basically punk rock. The hooks are catchy and a lot of Hutch Harris's lyrics tear down politics, religion, and war. We've heard this before. But did it ever sound this fun?! The Portland trio (whose drummer rotation gives Spinal Tap a run for their money) has rolled through Chicago a couple times recently and return for a set that'll undoubtedly be some of the most pogo-worthy pop music you'll hear all weekend. (And maybe if we're lucky, they'll cover "Sappy" by Nirvana again.)
Japandroids, 5:30pm (B)
Two guys, one guitar, one drums — how novel! Luckily, as should always be the case, the two gents find poppy hooks to save the day, with the bonus of some incessantly raw but convincing vocals that sell all the songs on Japandroids' debut, Post-Nothing. With guitarist Brian King recovering from ulcer surgery and the band just starting their national tour in June, expect both them and the crowd to be very excited to be there, which can only help them make music that'll incite a small muddy riot in the front of the stage. Just don't expect him to do much in the way of stage dives.
M83, 6:15pm (A)
The last time I saw M83 play live it was on a dusty, hot Lollapalooza stage when they were touring on the breakthrough album Before the Dawn Heals Us. With their electro beats, infectious stage energy, and sexy sexy tight jeans, M83, lead by Anthony Gonzalez, was a fine way to start a day of near-heat stroke delirium. This year, with a far more pleasant weather forecast, and a shadow-laden set time, I'm sure the group won't disappoint one bit. Now performing from their 2008 release Saturdays=Youth, M83 is still bringing the energy and illy beats to your ears.
Vivian Girls, 6:30pm (B)
Looking for some (possibly more) sunshine to your Pitchfork Sunday? Check out the Vivian Girls, a Brooklyn-based trio whose low-fi and echoey garage hooks is highlighted with lots of harmony and ooh-waa-ooo backing reminiscent of '60s girl groups and the Bangles. The gals are pretty damn new: Forming in 2007, they moved up fast, releasing their self-titled album in 2008. Another CD, Everything Goes Wrong, is slated for September. But their overnight success hasn't translated into a cooler-than-thou attitude — their video for "moped girl" is offset with bloody noses, ski masks, and a pie in the face. Really, a kind of nice break from all the super-slick studio albums that previously "raw" bands are releasing.
The Flaming Lips, 8:40pm (A)
There is too much to say about The Flaming Lips in just one paragraph. There's the fact they make beautiful and grandiose bombastic rock music. Or that their live shows are a spectacle, full of mounds of confetti, an army of balloons, and lead singer Wayne Coyne walking on top of the crowd in a giant plastic bubble. Or that they have incredibly dedicated and allegiant fans that have stuck around for 25+ years and are more like a family than a fan base. But all of that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Just trust me on this, and do not miss seeing them. I've been to a ridiculous amount of shows, and The Flaming Lips are consistently my favorite, and border on the line of being more a religious experience than a concert. Get up front, get friendly with your neighbor, and be ready to be totally entertained.
Pitchfork 2009 Schedule
A=Aluminum Stage, B=Balance Stage, C=Connector Stage
Friday, July 17 "Write the Night: Set Lists by Request"
5:00 (C) Tortoise
6:10 (A) Yo La Tengo
7:20 (C) The Jesus Lizard
8:40 (A) Built to Spill
Saturday, July 18
1:00 (B) Disappears
1:00 (A) Cymbals Eat Guitars
1:45 (B) The Dutchess & The Duke
1:45 (C) Plants and Animals
2:30 (A) Fucked Up
2:40 (B) The Antlers
3:20 (C) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
3:35 (B) Bowerbirds
4:15 (A) Final Fantasy
4:30 (B) Ponytail
5:15 (C) Yeasayer
5:30 (B) Wavves
6:15 (A) Doom
6:30 (B) Lindstrøm
7:25 (C) Beirut
7:30 (B) Matt and Kim
8:30 (B) The Black Lips
8:40 (A) The National
Sunday, July 19
1:00 (A) The Mae Shi
1:00 (B) Michael Columbia
1:45 (B) Dianogah
1:45 (C) Frightened Rabbit
2:30 (A) Blitzen Trapper
2:40 (B) The Killer Whales
3:20 (C) Pharoahe Monch
3:35 (B) Women
4:15 (A) The Thermals
4:30 (B) DJ/Rupture
5:15 (C) The Walkmen
5:30 (B) Japandroids
6:15 (A) M83
6:30 (B) Vivian Girls
7:25 (C) Grizzly Bear
7:30 (B) Mew
8:30 (B) The Very Best
8:40 (A) The Flaming Lips