O, the sunlight! O, the music!: Pitchfork Music Festival Review

Music-lovers are fascinating creatures; they are willing to put themselves well past their limits of endurance for even the slightest chance at seeing a song they’ve come to know and love recreated before their very eyes. Case in point: music festivals. The amount of dedication—no, unfettered loyalty that fans exhibit at a music festival is absolutely incredible.

Photo: pcurtner on Flickr
This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival brought many great bands together; most of which had either released some new music this year or are going to at some point. Originally, I was only going to attend the final day of the festival, Sunday. However, during a healthy visit to Reckless Records on Saturday, a rather generous punker kid offered me his ticket to that day of the festival stating that he could not attend and didn’t want to see it “go to waste”. Deciding not to waste my time being thankful for fate and becoming a believer in destiny, I made my way to the nearest Blue Line stop, left my bag full of new records at the place I was staying at and hopped my way through Chicago’s incredibly-confusing railway system until I finally arrived at Union Park. Given that I didn’t acquire a means to attend the festival until the afternoon, I arrived rather late in the day and missed a few bands I would have liked to see, Real Estate, The Smith Westerns, WHY?, Sonny & The Sunsets, Titus Andronicus—the list goes on. However, I did arrive just in time to catch Panda Bear’s performance. This being the first time I ever see him perform live, I walked up to the large mass of swaying people surrounding the stage with a slight bit of apprehension. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Panda Bear’s music; his last album, 2007’s Person Pitch, was a beautiful record. However, I’ve seen many similar electronic artists suffer the same infuriating stigma when translating the delicate intricacies of their music to a live setting; some things don’t always make the cut and you begin to hear the songs for the faintly synchronized streams of looped noises that they are and the experience is ultimately relegated to the back part of one’s brain where it will hang out with other mildly interesting memories that have already started a game of Risk: Universe Edition and don’t feel like resetting all of the purple pieces just so the ‘newbie’ can have something to do.

Photo: Jason Stoff on Flickr
Luckily, Panda Bear’s performance didn’t suffer this bland fate and instead, fell flat on repetition. His set was full of new material for the most part, and I being the lazy blogger that I am, am still not familiar with any of this new stuff aside from the b-side off of his new single, TOMBOY, “Slow Motion”. Therefore, I wasn’t able to really get into his new songs and ended up standing in the audience waiting for the pleasant patterns of unfamiliar noises made by the scrawny man on stage to end. However, I still picked up the then-unreleased 7” single. I didn’t stay to watch LCD Soundsystem out of personal preference but from what I heard on my way out of the festival from across the park, it’s safe to assume that James Murphy and co. had a great time. I wasn’t too worried about missing their set considering I was on my way to catch Here We Go Magic play Schubas Tavern that night; a performance that, and I’m only using a slight amount of hyperbole, absolutely blew my mind.

So come Sunday, I arrive to the festival a bit behind schedule due to some brief but heavy rain and immediately make a beeline to the press tent to attempt to get an interview with Luke Temple of Here We Go Magic despite my lack of punctuality (it was arranged for 1:30, I arrived at 2:15). Luckily, he was kind enough to stick around for a bit to chat. You can read that interview in the post preceding this one or if you’re lazy, here’s a link. Now, the first band I set out to see was Girls. I had missed several opportunities to see them closer to home (keep in mind, I’m from Texas) and already had the pleasure of experiencing Best Coast, who was also playing at the time, twice at South by Southwest this past year. So, naturally, I made my way to the main stage just as the band began playing “Laura”, the first single from their debut album, last year’s Album.

Photo: Robert Loerzel on Flickr
For being so early in the day, the band had quite a large audience; several hundred festival-goers were obediently bobbing their heads and either humming or singing along to the infectious pop ditties that the band was almost effortlessly playing through. It was also a pleasure to hear the band play their new song, “Lysandre” with my own ears. Final thoughts on this performance: I think that everyone should refer to Christopher Owens’ leg-lift move as the ‘flamingo leg’. It might become the next ‘duck walk’.

I noticed early on that in order to get as close to a band as possible, I would need to sacrifice a song or two from a previous performance to get an early spot and ‘camp out’ at another stage until that band started playing. So, wiggling my way out of the audience, I begin the 30-40 ft pilgrimage in the blistering hot sun toward the C stage and plant myself between two now either very startled or very uncomfortable people and wait for Beach House to finish setting up while softly singing along with the chorus to Girls’ last song.

I had the pleasure of watching Beach House play Emo’s in Austin a couple of months ago and was quite impressed with their set. Sunday’s performance received no different a reaction. The band seemed unaffected by the weather in the comfortable shade provided onstage and after greeting the crowd as heartily as a band like Beach House can, they started their set.

The band played a majority of the songs off of their latest album, Teen Dream, stopping in Devotion territory for a few memorable tunes but ending with arguably their best song yet, and my personal favorite, “10 Mile Stereo”. There’s something really incredible about this band’s ability to make such mellow music feel so intense. Final thoughts on this performance: Alex Scally is a goofball, there’s a good chance that I have a crush on Victoria Legrand, and had it been later in the evening once the sun had set, the rotating diamonds the band had onstage would have had a better effect on the performance.

Quickly following Beach House’s set, I made my way back to the main stage and dug myself well into the audience that now reeks of armpit; bracing myself for the mighty noise rock duo from Rhode Island, Lightning Bolt. I overheard members of the audience talking about how they were ready to start ‘going crazy’ and how others were “on like, a lot of drugs, dude”. Needless to say, I began to regret my rather impulsive decision to get as close to the stage as possible. This meant I had injected myself straight into the beating heart of an audience that was going to become very violent very quickly.

Not to toot my own horn, but I was right. The minute both Brians (Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson) took the stage and began testing their instruments, a collective roar arose from the audience, myself included with camera in hand. Arms with clenched fists at the end of them rose into the sky as others gave out cheers of the band’s name. “Light-ning Bolt! Light-ning Bolt!” Almost as if in response to this ‘call to arms’, Brian Gibson begins making a bunch of fuzzy noise with his bass and the audience’s cheers multiply. Following suit, Brian Chippendale begins banging the crap out of his drum set as sporadically as possible which turns the excited crowd of stiffs into a torrent of arms and elbows going every which possible direction and at that point, I decide that ‘journalistic integrity is for the birds, I’m never going to get this footage, I. must. survive.’ and, after putting away my camera, I join the mob in violent catharsis for what seemed like forever but turned out to be two and a half minutes before I nearly lost my footing and felt that I would prefer to not die at the boot-heels of Lightning Bolt fans with the band’s performance of “2 Morro Morro Land” being my death’s soundtrack.

So, after shoving my way out of the mosh mob’s strong current, I watched the rest of the band’s loud, noisy set wondering if anyone else finds it weird that they’re not on the ground with everyone else. Final thoughts on this performance: my head hurts, I would have preferred if they had been on the ground.

So, following that exciting experience, I meandered back to the C stage and began a very, very hot wait for St. Vincent to play. Annie Clark is one of my favorite musicians in the entire world; her technical prowess and songwriting abilities never cease to amaze me so I went into their performance with high expectations. When the band opened with “The Strangers”, in my opinion one of the weaker songs on the band’s latest album, last year’s Actor, I don’t see it as the best first impression. On top of that, the volume levels on some of the instruments were too low. I don’t know if the sound man was having a nap or something but two very crucial elements to St. Vincent’s songs–hell, any songs–are the bass and guitar. Having these at lower levels robbed the songs of the intimidating presence they have on the records; especially songs off of Actor. However, and call this a primal impulse, but I was absolutely floored by the performance.

Photo: Jeremy M Farmer on Flickr
Hearing Annie Clark’s voice coating the festival chatter in a wave of tranquility that was subsequently torn asunder by her abrasive guitar work made me teary-eyed. The minute her set began, I forgot that my feet were on fire, I forgot that I was probably dehydrated, all I knew was me…and her. It was magical. Ahem. Final thoughts on this performance: despite some lasting sound issues, the band played their heart out and won mine in the process.

Following St. Vincent’s performance, I wasn’t in any real rush to see anyone else play. Sleigh Bells seemed like they would be uninteresting live and I had to pass on Neon Indian’s set so that I could get a good spot when I camp out at the main stage for Pavement’s performance. I would estimate that I ended up standing about 30 or so feet from the stage, which certainly beats watching from across the park.

Now, in a move that makes me think Ryan Schreiber felt like putting Pavement fans flocking to his festival through one final trial before they see the band, Major Lazer was placed on the bill right before them. I could go on about how I’m ‘impressed that I made it through the entire show’ but honestly, it wasn’t that difficult to watch. With DJ Diplo behind his table overseeing all, MC, funnyman, and apparently trained stuntman Skerrit Bwoy! held sway over the stage as well as the entire audience. Every time he screamed at the top of his lungs about ‘getting crazy’, and he did it often, the audience roared back in agreement. The general consensus seemed to be ‘yes, we want to be crazy with you. Let’s get crazy.’ The stage performers, varying from ballerinas to Chinese dragon dancers, only added to the overall air of insanity that this performance gave off. Honestly, this performance was very entertaining.

Having seen the amazing music video for “Pon de Floor” several times, I can hardly begin to explain the combination of both excitement and utter dread that I felt when I saw one of the main dancers bring out a ladder. If you’ve seen the music video, let me tell you right now, they did it. They actually did it. Several times! Final thoughts on this performance: I have never felt so bad for a crotch that was not mine in my entire life.

Following Major Lazer’s performance, I did my best to wiggle and waddle my way through the crowd to get as close to the stage as possible. I still had an hour to wait and if I was going to be on my feet the entire time, I might as well make it worth the wait. As the moment we were all waiting for drew nearer, a man named ‘Rockin’ Ryan Murphy walked out and talked all sorts of ‘shit’ about the festival and Pavement themselves for about seven minutes; this is what people who spend their lives online refer to as ‘trolling’. He got what he wanted though, plenty of ‘fuck yous’ were sent his way.

Once his little spiel ended, the band finally walked out onstage. First Steven Malkmus, then Scott Kannberg, followed by Steve West, Mark Ibold, and finally, Bob Nastanovich. Watching this happen kind of made my heart flutter a little bit. I’m a big history buff, so if I see something or come into contact with something that is a big part of history, let alone music history, I have this rush of adrenaline go through my body. Watching these men pick up their instruments makes me wonder if that’s exactly how they picked up their instruments when they first started playing together all those years ago. Of course, I noticed that time has taken it’s toll on them, they’re no longer in their early 20s making a bunch of fucked up noise at shows. However, the minute they launched into “Cut Your Hair”, the entire audience went wild! Members of the audience young and old were singing that melody we all know and love. The band sounded fantastic, too. They were much louder and more in sync with each other than they sound on the albums.

Photo: dailybeatz on Flickr
Looking at the members during the show–seeing the looks on their faces as they hit parts of songs that the entire audience sang to–was like looking in a time machine. The band played 21 songs nearly spanning their entire discography that night. Here is a short video of them starting “Frontwards”. FYI, the audio kind of sucks and I decided that I would prefer to enjoy the song than film it, sorry.

I can easily say that this was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Final thoughts on this performance: I’m disappointed that they skipped We Dance, I would have liked to hear Box Elder, and I’m not entirely disappointed that I didn’t get to the very front of the stage because I’ll have another chance in September when they come to Austin.

Overall, the festival was a great experience. Yes, I felt like dying at some points because the sun was absolutely relentless, but like everyone else that was there at the end that felt the way I did, I’m glad I stayed. You may not be crazy like me and travel across the country for a band, but if you’re ever presented with an opportunity to do so, take it. I’m more than certain that it will be worth every single second.

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