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Pitchfork Music Festival Tue Jul 20 2010
[Editors note: Our own Michelle Meywes spent the weekend racing from stage to stage in Union Park, trying to take in as much music as possible, of course, she wasn't alone, and we have a few thoughts interjected from James Ziegenfus and Andrew Huff at some opposite stages. There are also even more photos by George Aye coming soon. In case you missed them, please also enjoy Lisa White's interviews with artists from the weekend.]
Blu Blockers, Ray Bans, mustaches, headbands, skimpy clothes and sweat... ah, it must be Pitchfork weekend in Union Park. This indie music festival has certainly turned more mainstream over the past several years of its existence, selling out quicker each year, making those beer lines ever longer, but at it's heart it's still about the music.
The theme for the weekend was definitely the heat. Temps were in the 90s all three days (with the refuge of a single thunderstorm that rolled through early Sunday, but actually left things even more humid). Day one knocked the price of waters down from two dollars to one, and by day three were two-for-one. Every band's introduction included reminders to stay hydrated and keep an eye on your neighbors, pointing out the location of the first aid tent. Festival organizers were nice enough to hand out free waters to those camped in the first few rows for the evening headliners, with only one request: "Please do not throw them." LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy even thanked everyone working the fest, commenting, "You're really nice, giving people water and shit." Almost all the bands seemed to comment on the heat, including Liars' Angus Andrew, "I know you wanna look cool, but you should stay cool." One day I even walked into Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" on the speakers before the bands started.
Alright already, enough about the heat. If you were there, you're well aware of how hot and steamy it was. Let's get talking about the music, there was a ton of it!
Crowd at Sleigh Bells (photos by George Aye)
Friday I walked into the festival grounds right at the end of The Tallest Man's set, grabbed a water, got my bearings and settled in for Liars. Over their five albums, they have dramatically switched up styles, but Friday's set stayed pretty heavy and didn't veer much from the noise category. They were all about the shock factor, Andrews swinging his long hair around and lifting up his shirt, and once again referencing the heat, telling you where you can find water: "One's in my pants. You can come onstage anytime and have a go."
Swedish pop star Robyn opened her set with the electronic bop of "Fembot." After reinventing her style far away from 1998 Top 40 hits, she's a star in her own right now, and was cute as ever bouncing around the stage with her cropped bleach-blonde hair wearing a little grey dress and black lace leggings. The one thought I couldn't shake throughout her performance though was that it would have been better at night, with more lights and more dancing, instead of an in-between 6:25pm time slot. The highlight of her set had to be when she launched into the repeating "my ____ is killin' me" of "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do," one of the unforgettable singles from her newest album, Body Talk Pt. 1.
I took a quick detour over to the comedy stage during Robyn to check out a little of Wyatt Cenac's set. In the few minutes I was over there, the comedian, best known as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," was rolling out the funny in his typical demeanor, "I like music. But who doesn't like music?! The one guy who says 'I don't' like music, ' you just hipstered hipster. I have to take this mustache off." It was also clear over at the B stage though, especially when Cenac referenced a lyric in Robyn's set, that the sound bleeding from the main stages was no match for a single speaker, and I heard that some of the comedians struggled because of it.
I'll be upfront here that I'm not a die hard Modest Mouse fan, and don't know much outside of their mainstream break-out album Good News For People Who Love Bad News. It sounds like a lot of the audience was in the same boat as myself, since so many people were disappointed that the group did not play their big hit, "Float On." This isn't to say that the group didn't give a solid performance though. In fact, it was clear at the end of the day that this was the one band of the day with standout experience and delivery. One laughable moment of the show came when lead singer Isaac Brock took a bite out of one of the glow sticks that were being tossed through the air during their set. "Wouldn't you know it, it tastes like some gnarly chemical. I spit, it glows."
The theme for Saturday? Killing it. There were so many times I wrote this down about a band, said to my friends about a band, or my friends said to me about bands. There were so many great performances, let's jump right in!
I arrived bright and early for Free Energy's 1pm set. There's a reason I've seen this band four times (and all in 2010!): they bring fresh energy to the stage. Their '70s style glam rock/pop album, Stuck On Nothing, has brought them all kinds of attention even before it's release on DFA Records in March. They opened with "Cant Let Go" and played a lot of favorites, but let's be honest, pretty much every song on this album could be a hit. They even treated us to a new song. Hips started shaking during the high-energy "Free Energy" and didn't stop. And through it all, the band is endearingly grateful, "Thank you so much," said lead singer Scott Wells. "This rules, this totally rules."
Real Estate (photos by George Aye)
Pitchfork's lineup this year was loaded with slow paced, shoegaz-y, dreamy bands, and one of those was New Jersey's Real Estate. Their brand, leaning into surf-rock, was a nice break in the hot day, but didn't stand up quite as tall as Sunday genre-mates Beach House and Local Natives.
Delorean brought it. This electronic dance band from Spain showed us how it's done in Europe with a set that at times felt like a rave (effects of Ibiza I'm sure), using their hour for a slow build right into the payoff climax of "Deli." Their curly brown moptops bounced in unison as the group pumped out the beats, especially the keyboardist who was already rocking full force during the first song!
There was a lot of negativity in regard to soundbleed over the weekend, but it should be noted that Delorean's loud synths weren't audible at all during Kurt Vile's lo-fi set over on Balance. The Philly guitarist and his band (guitar, harp, drums) went heavy on tracks from last year's Childish Prodigy, with "Hunchback" and "Freak Train" leading the way as they put their '70s rock and psychedelic influences front and center. But it didn't get much better than standing in the shade rocking out to the immediately accessible "Freeway."
Titus Andronicus could have been Delorean's American, rock counterpart. They brought the raucous intensity the day needed. Lead singer Patrick Stickles, whose vocals have been compared to that of Connor Oberst, was in the crowd, yelling and surfing. He did take a pause to give a little shout-out to a girl from Milwaukee who couldn't make it to the show because she was in an accident, saying, "Sometimes my head hurts too."
Smith Westerns (photos by George Aye)
Chicago's Smith Westerns have been on the upswing for a while now, slowly making their shows more hits than misses of glorious glam/garage rock while shedding awkward timidness. I doubt they'll ever have the swagger of a Jon Spencer, but they're improving in front of large audiences. (By the way, it appeared that Balance was consistently far more crowded this year than in the past. Are the bands on that stage getting too big or was the competition not as strong?) It's nearly impossible to see them and not think "Girl in Love" is a T. Rex cover, but that song still slays and has become a highlight of their shows, as once again evidenced on Saturday.
I had heard many, even our own James Ziegenfus, predicting The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to be "the best performer of he weekend," and boy did they hit the stage like a loud, rockin' explosion. They were like a variety show band on acid. They were exactly the type of blues band that I would expect to repeat the name of their band throughout their songs, with James Brown emphasis.
I unfortunately didn't see much of indie rock band Wolf Parade, as much as I was looking forward to their set, but what I did see came out hard, with '80s effect vocals. Their third and latest album, Expo 86, has been met with critical acclaim.
LCD Soundsystem (photos by George Aye)
I was lucky enough to be at LCD Soundsystem's Metro show in May, so I decided to hang back near the gates and take in the show and the crowd response from there. That lasted all of about 30 seconds into the first song, "Us V Them," before I jumped up and into the crowd. Although the setlist was almost exactly the same as the Metro show, this performance had a ton more energy. Everyone everywhere was wiggling once they played "Daft Punk is Playing at My House," and by "All My Friends" even those who you can just tell don't normally move a muscle at a show were full on dancing. And how often to people willfully conga-line anymore?! The only thing that brought me down was "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down." Hey Murphy, you should have figured out by now that the only time that works as a closing song is when you're in New York! (By the way, if anyone actually ventured down to Tech Noir — you know, 3219 S. Morgan — after the show, let me know what it was like!)
James Murphy (photos by George Aye)
By Sunday you probably had a pretty good tan (or sunburn) on your back and the left side of your face from switching between the A and C stages. So let's re-apply the sunscreen and jump right into the day's performances.
Best Coast's breezy distorted pop music was a perfect soundtrack for the sky clearing as thunderstorms rolled past Union Park. (Well, if you like your soundtracks to essentially be the same song over and over.) In a handful of songs about boys and drugs, it became clear that this California duo understands their niche and are perfectly content to not turn it up to 11. I can't hear them ever putting out something like "Audrey's Eyes" or even "Here's Where the Story Ends," but they do well for what they're comfortable with. Unfortunately, about half of this set was plagued by soundbleed. One minute the sound was ideal, the next all I could hear was Cass McCombs' riffs. (During this set I also witnessed an amazing fence jumper. That dude really must've wanted to see Girls.)
Two shoegaze-y atmospheric bands on at the same time?!?! That's what happened Sunday afternoon and if you stood between the A and B stages, the sound bleed from each made it difficult to differentiate Beach House from Local Natives. Both bands sounded really wholesome and full, however, and it was relaxing and soothing, especially compared to what came next...
Let's call Lightning Bolt a noise band. A whole hell of a lot of angry noise. Some said it was a great diversion for the day, I thought it sounded more like two teenagers practicing for their rockin' future band, although neither of them know how to play any instruments, but someone bought them an amp and they've got it cranked to 10. There was a bass guitarist, and a drummer wearing a mask, playing like the Muppet's Animal. And of course, there was inevitable crowd surfing.
St. Vincent's guitar (photos by George Aye)
St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) was next on the C stage, and was a welcome escape. Her 2009 album Actor put her on the map as a force to be reckoned with. A beautiful voice coming out of a beautiful girl, her music at most times is dreamy, but sometimes makes a dark twist with an unexpected chord change. She also injects just enough rock and guitar shred to keep her out of the woe-is-me singer/songwriter arena. Oh, and if you haven't heard that cover of "Need You Tonight" she did vocals for on Beck's Record Club recreation of INXS' Kick, do it now.
St. Vincent (photos by George Aye)
And then came Major Lazer. This was one of the most ridiculous, raunchy and unexpected sets I've ever seen. It's the electronic dancehall/reggae project of DJ/producers Diplo and Switch, with Diplo on the decks and
Switch Skerrit Bwoy on the rowdy. There were dancing ballerinas, Chinese dragon heads and Skerrit Bwoy actually said this: "We gonna get drunk, we gonna smoke some weed and get high, but most of all somebody's gonna have sex and get pregnant!" Now that's a party, right? Right? As could be expected, there was a lot of dancing — and humping — going on in the crowd.
Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss (photos by George Aye)
The highly anticipated Sleigh Bells ran into some technical issues straight away, leading to a crowd chanting, "Turn it up!" because if there's one thing this Brooklyn duo should be, it's loud. Their debut album, Treats, barely clocks in at 30 minutes, but it's 30 minutes of addicting speaker-blowing bass. After Alexis Krauss (the breathy indie voice coming out over that heavy bass) spent the first two songs wildly jumping around the stage and into the crowd, she asked for a second to fix their line, and then, "You guys want it louder?!" "AB Machines" was next and was just that — chest-thumpingly loud. I can't say that I was entirely blown away by their performance, but I came in expecting a lot. What I did get, though, was a satisfying Treat in itself.
Alexis and the Sleigh Bells crowd (photos by George Aye)
When it comes to tunes that're instantly recognizable to the general public, no 2010 Pitchfork act has more than Outkast. And they were all over Big Boi's set. From "Player's Ball" to "ATLiens" to "So Fresh, So Clean," the first half hour was a rapid-fire slaying of greatest hits. The energy out of the gate was in the red with the crowd feeding off of it, pushing Big Boi and his crew up a notch in response. "Ms. Jackson" killed, though I felt like "GhettoMusick" may have been down a bit. But once Big Boi referred to himself as Sir Lucious Left Foot, it was off to the races again with new solo material. Notable highlights were "Shina Blockas" and "Shutterbugg" (which the guy next to me had been yelling for all set up until then). "Elevators" and "Kryptonite" also got huge responses, but after a rough patch, Big Boi got help from Chi-town Finest Breakers for "The Way You Move" which pulled the energy up in the crowd and on the stage. All in all, you couldn't ask for much else beside a spectacular setlist and top-notch performances.
The transition from Big Boi's bombastic hip hop to the idiosyncratic indie rock of Pavement was going to be strange no matter what, but Drag City owner "Rockin' Ryan" Murphy's drawn-out, intentionally crowd-provoking intro only made matters worse. The crowd was already excited to see the band return after more than a decade, there was no need to rile them up further. Once Murphy finally shut up and Pavement got on stage and haltingly launched into "Cut Your Hair," the negativity turned to elation as thousands of fans sang along.
As a fan who never caught them on tour in the '90s, the show couldn't have been much better. The majority of the set was made up of songs off Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Slanted and Enchanted. The crowd reacted uproariously to every song, but possibly the strongest to "Range Life" and its derisive reference to "Chicago's Pumpkins" as Stephen Malkmus sang, and "Stereo." The band brought down the energy a little with "Here" and then pumped it back up with "And Then (The Hexx)," which turned out to be the last song -- the long-winded intro had eaten up time for an encore. Maybe they'll do an extra long one when they return in September for a show in Millennium Park.