Pitchfork Fest | 07.13 - 07.15 | Chicago

Words by: Cal Roach :: Images by Adam George

Pitchfork Music Festival :: 07.13.07 – 07.15.07 :: Union Park :: Chicago, IL

Pitchfork Music Festival 2007
Since the first Bonnaroo in 2002, the festival season grows fatter every year. Now, every major city and available 100-plus acre plot of land in the U.S. supports a horde of trampling feet for at least one weekend of music and portable toilets. Last year, indie cred barometer Pitchfork threw its beret into the ring with the Pitchfork Music Festival, held at Union Park in the heart of Chicago. If nothing else, it made the apathetic smart-ass crowd begin to take global warming seriously (temperatures approached 100 degrees both days) and, if all the sweat wiping wasn't too distracting, they might have been turned on to some really great new music.

Deeming the experiment a success, Pitchfork brought its festival back in 2007, tacking on a special treat for Friday night - three revered artists performing seminal albums from their catalogs, dubbed Don't Look Back by the All Tomorrow's Parties organization, which has put on similar happenings all over the U.S. and Europe for years. It might sound like nostalgia, but it was a testament to artists involved that the innovation of these albums actually infused the spirit of the festival itself.


The biggest problem I anticipated going in was that everything might be anticlimax after Friday's triple bill. Slint's Spiderland was sure to be a monstrous force live, even though the band refuses to admit that it's back together. The GZA performing Liquid Swords was one of the biggest lineup surprises, but the Wu-Tang Clan's legacy resonates throughout modern hip-hop. And what could top Sonic Youth performing Daydream Nation, arguably the most influential album of the past 20 years?

With the sun beginning to set, the grounds were already pretty packed when Slint came onstage. I grew a bit anxious as the faint sounds of "Breadcrumb Trail" wafted over the crowd. Pitchfork has an intrinsic hurdle to jump every year - how to broadcast into the open air music best experienced in smoky clubs. Slint didn't quite overcome this hitch, but the group was not entirely to blame. The sound system was far too quiet, and not for the last time of the weekend. Slint started off a bit shaky but grew confident by the middle of the album, and by set's end the crowd was sucked in by its heavy math-grunge pulse. The band then unveiled their first new song in 13 years, "King's Approach," a wicked slab of instrumental rock more energetic than almost anything in the band's catalog. While the atmosphere was all wrong, the set was an impressive start to the fest.

GZA had flown in from a European Wu-Tang tour just for this event, and he came out guns blazing. However, it soon became evident that there were severe limitations to performing an album heavy on guest appearances with no guests present. Most of the allocated verses were skipped, resulting in an energetic but abbreviated performance. GZA also bore the burden of performing for a young, mostly white crowd itching for Thurston Moore & co. He certainly had heads bobbing amongst those not taking the opportunity to grab a beer or a piss.

When Sonic Youth took the stage, the whole of the grounds was packed. Unfortunately, it seemed that 19 years had blunted SY's enthusiasm for Daydream Nation. The constraints of playing an old album all the way through proved decidedly un-Thurston-like, and while the material itself provided plenty of dynamics, the potential for really stretching out on tunes like "Silver Rocket" or "The Sprawl" was completely unrealized. Only on set highlight "Total Trash" did they really delve deep. It was the only tune that didn't seem rushed. "'Cross The Breeze" fell apart just where it could've gotten really interesting. Like much of the performance, it lacked the imagination that made the album a landmark. The group exhibited very little of its usual fervor (Kim Gordon, in particular, was leaden and almost deadpan) until the encore, which showcased three songs from 2006's Rather Ripped. Here, the band finally came alive, Gordon thrashing about with the energy level cranked to 11. This cast an even more drab light on the main set, but these final moments almost saved the show, and certainly left the audience hankering for more. It was a raucous end to a mixed-bag evening, but the overall effect may have been to the benefit of the rest of the fest by not having to live up to the monumental evening that could have been.

Continue reading for Saturday...

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