In light of every blogger, critic and Spotify supporter converging in Chicago for the Pitchfork Festival over the weekend and Village Voice's 4Knots attempting to lure those left in New York, it seems safe to say that Bushwick Walkabout, a two-day immersion of under-the-radar bands, was the underdog music event of the weekend. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, it turns out. It may have not seen the likes of Odd Future or Animal Collective, but it also didn't see pretentious bystanders, $5 beers, or the threat of heat exhaustion. We dropped in for a few hours on Saturday to check out the scene while keeping a watchful eye on Twitter to see what was simultaneously going over at #p4kfest, the idea being that maybe, one or two years from now, these will be the bands everyone will declare are "killing it" in Chicago this weekend.
There are at least three lines in Cold Fronts’ set that namechecks the age 17, one of which relates to a girl “with California style” — these guys are all about tank tops, having a good time, and would probably be the first to tell you that Philly is the sixth borough (they're from Philadelphia). While tweets start rolling in of No Age’s avalanche of 90s noise at Pitchfork, Cold Fronts spin 90s guitar rock into something with a much sunnier disposition, largely thanks to a singer who emphasizes his singsongy shouts with exaggerated dance moves and gestures, paying visual homage to The Drums and Mick Jagger at once.
There is nothing in common between Backwords and Gang Gang Dance, who are taking the stage in Chicago around this time, except for one major exception: they’re both fully immersed in their own worlds. Gang Gang Dance’s not quite based in reality; Backwords’ very much based in the summer of 1967 in Haight-Ashbury. They certainly look the part: bandanas, beaded necklaces, a barefoot bassist, the drummer lights up while there’s a pause in a song. They sound the part, too: wavering basslines occasionally cause a stir in otherwise slow, drifting expances. During a set that sounds like a conglomeration of all the music that ever played in The Wonder Years, the best comes at the end: an Appalachian hymn turned ho-down — their equivalent to Conor Oberst’s “NYC Gone, Gone."
Out of nowhere and for no apparent reason the singer-guitarist of Little Gold puts on a chicken hat (that is, a hat resembling a chicken’s head) to ride out an extended outro of feedback and noise, by far the closest they’ll come to resembling their Pitchfork set-time counterparts in hardcore punk outfit OFF! Let me be clear when I say that any resemblance between the two is unexpected. Here in Buswhick, things start off with slight hints of twang — the singer pronounces “moving on” as “moving orn” — like he's trying to stifle his bands's country urges. But then comes the line “I’ve got time to the county line,” which can only possibly come from a band seeped in Americana, and we watch them gradually give in to country leanings throughout their set — a portion of which comes from the forthcoming album, aptly titled Weird Freedom — sounding a lot like the Old 97s along the way.
While people are either declaring the Dan Bejar-led Destroyer set at P4K the best of the fest or deriding Bejar for being contrived and aloof, his platinum blonde-haired look-alike in Fort Lean gives off a similar impression. Fort Lean’s frontman is either calm, collected, seemingly impossible to rile up, and could double as a yoga instructor or just so wholly concerned with his outward hipness, he doesn’t realize what else is going on around him. As the set goes on, the band’s so-called coolness begins to melt and they find their niche between lo-fi and loud. By the end, the vocals come across as sad and soulful, but they accompany some of the strongest hooks we've heard so far. You could be reading about them on Pitchfork sometime next week.
Photos by Sydney Brownstone