Everyone Else Went to Chicago, So We Did Too: Live at the Pitchfork Music Festival

07/18/2011 11:30 AM |

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Sure, there was 4Knots, and there was the Bushwick Walkabout Festival (more on that in a bit), but the biggest event of the weekend took place not here in New York, but in Chicago, at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Writer Josh Kurp and photographer Nadia Chaudhury were there to experience the whole thing, and they sent the following dispatch before setting out on their long drive back to the city, our city.

Friday

Guided by Voices
Knowing that this was likely the final time I would see Guided by Voices, one of my favorite bands of all-time, made what could have been an unmemorable set all the more spectacular. This is the fourth time I’ve seen the Classic Lineup since they reunited last year, and it was also the weakest, not necessarily because of what they did or didn’t do, but because of the plethora of Animal Collective fans who couldn’t bother encouraging Pollard’s high-kicks or even clap at the end of “Echoes Myron,” with special guest vocalist Neko Case. AC-fans notwithstanding, GbV played everything you’d want to hear—“Watch Me Jumpstart,” “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” “Cut Out Witch,” etc.—with the amount of enthusiasm you’d expect, even with a red-faced Greg Demos looking like he was going to pass out any moment. If this was, indeed, my final GbV show, I can’t think of a better way to go out than “Game of Pricks,” “I Am a Scientist,” and “Unleashed! The Large Hearted Boy.”

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Neko Case
I had almost forgotten how great 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is—and then Case played “Hold On” and “That Teenage Feeling” and “Margaret vs. Pauline.” Alongside material from the more recent Middle Cyclone, Case delivered a consistently solid set, one that highlighted her sultry, dangerous voice. Case played opposite James Blake, who was performing at the smaller Blue Stage, and even at an equal distance between the two, it was her voice, and her band’s dark country sound, that overwhelmed. Even with a set-closer as dark as “Red Tide” (“I want to go back and die at the drive-in”), the audience walked away happy, only soon to be disappointed…

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Animal Collective
Nope: I still don’t get Animal Collective. Due, perhaps, to their propensity to play what they want rather than what the fans would like, opening night of the festival was a non-sell out, the rarest of Pitchfork rarities. The crowd streamed out by the hundreds only three songs into the set, even those who were shirtless and had painted their faces. Why? Because they made themselves impossible to enjoy (or be fully seen, with the oversized crystals on the stage). Their electronic folk jams often felt scattered, like a puzzle that’s made out of pieces from other dozens of other puzzles, and the known material—including “Brother Sport” and “Did You See the Words?”—sounded unfamiliar and left much of the crowd baffled and bored.

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Saturday

Cold Cave
It’s impossible, when talking about Cold Cave, to not mention their all-black ensemble, particularly when the dark-as-their-name-implies group play an afternoon set in the blistering heat. The group’s foreboding (and loud) synthpop songs shouldn’t have gone over so well considering the conditions, but they were aided by singer Wesley Eisold, who sounded vulnerable one song and ferocious the next, and the infectious stage presence of Dominick Fernow, who danced in circles so fast that his keys went flying across the stage. The most surprisingly pleasant act of the weekend.

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Gang Gang Dance
Taka Imamura might have the greatest job in music. All the sort of-hypeman for Gang Gang Dance does is dance around in circles carrying incense and jump into the audience for some crowd surfing. He was the most memorable aspect of the group’s drum-heavy set. For a band with “dance” in the title, it was oddly tough to find any sort of rhythm to move to in Gang Gang’s dreamy, ambient electro-pop. Frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos sure looked like she was having (she even told the audience that she was “dripping” in our love, before later saying that she felt like Jesus on the cross when crowd surfing), but her enthusiasm couldn’t make up for a lack of a cohesive sound.

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The Dismemberment Plan
Like any good recently reunited band, the Dismemberment Plan, from Washington, D.C. as they so often told the crowd, mainly stuck to the hits, or at least what can be considered hits in a discography that’s sold about 1/100th of an artist’s that they covered (Robyn’s “Dancehall Queen). The group’s twitchy masterpiece, Emergency & I, was well represented with “You Are Invited” and “Girl O’Clock,” among others, and fan favorite “The Ice of Boston” was performed, too. Singer Travis Morrison, who I guess has forgiven Pitchfork’s 0.0 rating, can still unleash tongue twisters like no other (even the hardcore Dismemberment Plan fans next to me had trouble with “The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich”). He also played the keyboard with his forehead, which didn’t improve the sound, but looked pretty damn cool.

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Fleet Foxes
When Fleet Foxes played Pitchfork in 2008 (where are you now, Extra Golden?), they played at the same time as Dizzee Rascal, who told his crowd, “Fuck that folk shit.” Robin Pecknold & Co. didn’t have the same problem this year: they were the night two headliner, playing opposite no one. They, probably more than any other band than on this year’s bill, benefited from having a lack of noise competition. They played a gorgeous, lush set, split equally between tracks from their self-titled debut (“He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Your Protector”) and 2011’s Helplessness Blues (highlights include the “Fourth Time Around”-sounding “Lorelai” and the title track). Also: as one fan proved to the crowd, it is possible to crowd surf to Fleet Foxes. It took a lot of convincing for Fleet Foxes to prove they were more deserving of closing a night over DJ Shadow, who performed in a dome on the Red Stage right before the band went on. But at the end of their set, when Pecknold sang, “Something I’ll be like the man on the screen,” with his image projected for thousands of attendees and tens of thousands more watching online, Fleet Foxes not only (quietly) proved the right scheduling decision was made, but that they’re one of the best live acts out there today.

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Sunday

Yuck
Throughout the grounds of Union Park, there were dozens of t-shirts for Pavement, Dinosaur, Jr., Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, and many more indie greats from the 1980s and 1990s. All those who wore them were scatted throughout the Odd Future fans-heavy crowd for Yuck, who had the unenviable task of pleasing a large group who just wanted to say “fuck you” to anyone paying attention. The guy who was wearing the Lemonheads shirt, as well as those baring their love for Crowded House (I know, right?) and the Smashing Pumpkins, must have felt back in the 1994 when they heard the opening guitar squall of “Get Away” and later, the devastating “Suicide Policeman.” Yuck took a little bit from every band they love from the 1990s (including the nasal vocals of Superchunk, who would play on the same stage later in the afternoon), and mashed them together, giving those who were too young to see Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine (including the band themselves) a semblance of what they missed. Or more accurately, their idea of what they missed, and with a band as nostalgia-tinged as Yuck, that’s even better. 


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Odd Future

On Friday and Saturday, the Green Stage was the one that audience members ran to when the gates opened, in hopes of being on the rails for their favorite band. Even with the prospect of TV on the Radio, however, the majority of Pitchfork-goers on Sunday scrambled to the Red Stage, in particular all the teenage white males. If I were 16-year-old again, I’d fall for Odd Future, too: they have a charismatic and fearless leader in Tyler, the Creator (who dove into the crowd even with a cast around his broken foot); an elaborate and mysterious back story (Free Earl, etc.); and a message that’s easy for anyone to understand: Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School. It’s misplaced anger, but when you’re young and don’t have any actual problems, it’s the best you can do. There’s another supposedly Odd Future-endorsed message out there, too, something that can be found in lines like, “Two nazi dykes shittin’ in a Synagogue,” whatever that means. The protestors were on the grounds, but the tension was slightly decreased when Odd Future’s set began with snippets of Bob Marley’s “One Love” and Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love.” (Earlier in the day, they had also delivered cupcakes to the group’s booth.) But like anything to do with the rap collective, the message was insincere. Later, Tyler tried to make nice with the violence against gays group; he then lambasted all the “faggot ass” reviewers who don’t appreciate the group’s genius. What was perfectly sincere, however, was the love between Odd Future and its fans, and that connection is more to the point than the howling, angry music itself (with the exception of “Yonkers,” because that’s a pretty great track, particularly the Pitchfork line). “Wolfgang” was chanted as soon as Yuck’s set ended, and it continued until after Odd Future left the stage. When the sweaty, awestruck fans had left or traveled to a different stage, what was left was a disaster zone of a pit, with hundreds of water bottles, dozens of shoes and sunglasses, and a random demo CD here and there. Hey, if Odd Future can do it, why can’t they?

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Ariel Pink
Ariel Pink’s set was cut short by 10-15 minutes when the former-Ariel Marcus Rosenberg stormed off-stage, in a hissy fit about… something. It couldn’t have been at his band, which sounded great, switching genres, from glam rock to corny AM radio hits, by the song. There were some technical difficulties with Pink’s crackling headless microphone, drastically diminishing the sunny “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” and that may have contributed to the problem. Pink, who staggered around the stage as if there weren’t thousands of people in front of him, doesn’t really give a fuck at the quality of his live performance, his voice dropping in and out of every track, and if things just aren’t going well, why not just leave with only three/fourths of the set finished and without playing “Round and Round,” Pitchfork’s favorite song of 2010?

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Superchunk

Midway through Superchunk’s “Like a Fool,” from 1994’s Foolish, I noticed a bearded man in the front row singing along to every lyric with Mac McCaughan, who pogoed all over the stage where Odd Future had just performed, while the crowd around him remained silent yet transfixed by the group. A song later, I looked back again at the same spot, with the band now performing “Digging for Something” from last year’s Majesty Shredding, and the entire previously-mute crowd had now joined forces with the bearded man, crooning about when the paddle-boat sank. No matter where you begin in Superchunk’s discography, and you really should if you haven’t, you’re likely to find some of the purest, most urgent and enthusiastic rock ‘n’ roll out there. Also: everyone sang along to set-closer “Slack Motherfucker,” because it’s a really great song.

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Cut Copy

Even if you couldn’t hear Cut Copy’s music, you’d be able to tell what they sound like simply by looking at the group during Sunday’s performance. The perpetually-jumping Dan Whitford was covered in sweat after only two songs, while Tim Hoey ran back and forth from his sampler to his guitar to an extra drum kit. Cut Copy means for the crowd to bounce and “go crazy,” as Whitford suggested before “Hearts on Fire,” and the fact that they accomplished this after the crowd had spent the last seven hours in the sun is a testament to the band’s do-anything-for-a-good-time vibe. The Australian quarter, occasionally sextet is touring behind their best album, Zonoscope, and it’s no surprise that the two best song of the set came from that record: “Take Me Over” and “Need You Now,” which has an “All My Friends” quality to it. Whitford’s voice was the real surprise of the live show; it’s closer to the front of the mix than it is on their album, and it has an intriguing, playful quality. Couple that with the peppy dance pop sound of the rest of the group, and you’ve got one of best sets of the festival.

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TV on the Radio
It took a few songs for TV on the Radio to prove they were deserving of closing an entire festival. “Halfway Home,” “Dancing Choose,” and “Will Do” are all great songs, but they’re great for reasons that don’t translate well to a giant venue; they have a lot of fine-tuned parts that need to work together to be successful, without any one singular highlight, and even if everything goes perfectly, they don’t carry well across 18,000 people. Then all of a sudden, they found a ferocious wave and rode it through “Staring at the Sun,” “Repetition,” and “Wolf Like Me,” before briefly slowing things down for “A Method.” Then they unleashed a one-two punch a cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” and “Satellite.”

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