By: Cal Roach | Images by: Chad Smith
Pitchfork Music Festival :: 07.16.10-07.18.10 :: Union Park :: Chicago,
After two years' absence, it felt good to be back at hipster central, dripping with sweat,
watching Liars pummel away onstage amidst varying degrees of fashion
sufferers. The feeling didn't last, though. All the subtle niceties I remembered from
the first two years of the Pitchfork Music Festival seem to have gone by the
wayside - big bottles of Water Plus for a buck, Goose Island ales brewed just up the
street (so much for the whole carbon footprint/support local business thing; Heineken
must've given the P4k people too much swag this year), and especially the not-overselling
part. Plus, they still have the same flunkies in charge of sound - next year, test the
speakers in advance or something. But enough about such distractions; it's the music we
Sudden Swedish pop sensation Robyn (Friday) was a real firecracker. She willed you to
have a good time on her behalf, pogoing around and pumping her fists to the feisty groove.
And her tunes, infectious and attitude-fueled, sucked you in and pumped you up,
particularly the one-woman Rage Against The Machine of "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do."
The Jon Spencer
Blues Explosion (Saturday) hasn't been very active over the past decade, but a
plethora of classic scuzz-blues from the Orange album sounded incredibly fresh
after not listening to it in probably ten years. Even the two cuts from the group's
latest album (2004's Damage), although more of the same schtick as always, were
blasts of vibrant snazz in a sea manufactured beats and furrowed brows. Spencer knew
better than anybody all day how to command a big outdoor stage (black vinyl pants are
key). His voice sounded great, the band was loose and wild, and the balls-out, salty wet
rock and roll show ended with the only Theremin/guitar demolition jam of the weekend. Yet
aside from the diehards up front, it was hard to tell if anybody in the crowd had ever
been to a rock show before. Politeness has somehow taken over the underground again.
(Saturday) kick started its set early on with a sharp guitar/keyboard call-and-response in
"Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts," and it was strength to strength from this
point on. I didn't figure this screwball indie prog collective was going to pull off the
intricacies of its albums, but nearly every song sounded better live than on record -
intense, fully-realized sound, and a tangible elevation of the group's presence. Best set
of the day and a strong candidate for best of the weekend.
Sunday hit its first peak courtesy of Girls. High
grade shoegaze spliced with melodic dream pop and a heavy Win Butler jones on the part of
frontman Christopher Owens, the band started off in relatively whimsical space, got
gradually more raucous, unleashed a couple of ear-splitting noise particle accelerators,
then eased out with a wispy stroll and a happy summery romp. The set was impeccably
arranged and oozed sincerity; exhilarating as a whole.
At most five seconds after Beach House began to exit, our heads snapped jarringly 90-degrees
to the right as Lightning Bolt (Sunday) stormed the stage. Dream popsters
scurried like frightened rabbits as it became clear that nap time was over. With nothing
but drums and a three-stringed electric bass, these guys created the most incredible din
of the weekend. It's essentially pig-fuck verging on guitarless grindcore, and I have
never heard another bass player make sounds like Brian Gibson. From drone to
gently disturbing melodies to blinding chugging to all-out noise, generally with the fuzz
cranked to 11 and plenty of wah, he was unbelievable, and drummer/shouter Brian
Chippendale was the perfect compliment, thrashing his kit and his vocal chords with
equal aplomb. This basically blew away everything else I saw all day.
came out by himself on Saturday with a guitar around his neck and his little table of
gizmos and went to work. This was really a treat, though many in the crowd were clearly
bored. It's layered, ambient music that only occasionally jumps out at you and exercises
in sustained clarity and precision of vocal tone. The set was almost completely comprised
of new material from the forthcoming Tomboy, which exhibit darker, more gothic
textures than his other recent work. As he continues to reinvent himself, you're either
along for the ride or you aren't, but you have to relish these opportunities to witness an
artist-in-progress, and it's moments like these, rare though they may be, that you can
only get at Pitchfork.
Liars, while never actually boring, just aren't interested in being as interesting as they
used to be. Everybody plays the same instrument for almost the whole show, and they're
such slaves to the songs now, song after song, tight but relatively unadventurous. Singer
Angus Andrew almost seems trapped in the constraints of concision, but at least he
still shows off those tree-trunk legs of his.
Andronicus (Saturday) just loves the song-ending fake out, getting the audience to
cheer and then finishing the song. Clever! They're like rock and roll convention
mash-up artists, and it all seems very sarcastic and disingenuous. Jury is out on whether
they have any idea where the name of their band comes from; probably just "sounded cool at
the time." The biggest problem had to be frontman Patrick Stickles' raspy, fake
vibrato, though. I can conceive of this being a good band with a different singer, but
Stickles is awful live.
I couldn't understand the guy who came out with the excuse for why Sleigh Bells
(Sunday) wasn't onstage, but twenty minutes late is an eternity at a fest like this. Even
when they came out you could barely hear them; it was as if guitarist Derek Miller
was emitting from Walkman headphones. As technical issues plagued at least the first
three tunes, it was obvious that Alexis Krauss was desperate to overcompensate for
such a lousy start, and things were just so uncomfortable all around that the crowd lost
interest and started flocking to catch the end of Big Boi and to
get a spot for Pavement. In light of such a fantastic debut album (Treats)
and all the ensuing hype, this fiasco was an epic fail on somebody's part.
(Friday) and Pavement (Sunday) at the same festival ought to bring out the best in masters
and pupils. If you had to pick the two quintessential indie rock bands, these are
them, and while The Mouse has the upper hand in current and mainstream popularity,
Pavement's long hiatus and legendary status ensured that fans would flock to the elder
statesmen's closing set.
Isaac Brock & co. came out guns blazing, setting the bar high for the meat of the
weekend. I'd only previously seen Modest Mouse at Rothbury in 2008, a short afternoon set heavy on newer material and
light on passion, which seemed at odds with the group's recorded output. At Pitchfork,
Brock was amongst his people, and he knew it. The frontman may have been a bit
snookered up (or do sober people generally bite into glow sticks?), but he played and sang
with the hunger of a still-unproven artist. The set was impeccably paced, showcasing the
recently remastered classic The Moon & Antarctica and last year's No One's First
And You're Next compilation to greatest effect while avoiding the big hits from the
last couple of proper albums. It was a loopy dance party (splash-in-the-face realization:
these guys owe a huge stylistic debt to Talking Heads) with
well-timed low-key interludes and some frantic guest horn spots that all came together
Soundsystem provided the party everyone was craving on Saturday night with a
rousing set, mystifying the crowd as to why mastermind James Murphy is calling the
project off. The reason it's so effective is the way the populist grooves mask the pathos
underneath: "Dance with me until I feel all right," Murphy begs in "I Can Change," the
ultimate summation of the LCD m.o. Another splash in the face: Murphy's vocal phrasing is
frequently a dead ringer for Glenn
Danzig; you can't stop laughing about it once you notice it. There's no denying that
the man pours his soul out onstage, and the band killed it with tension/release hysterics
almost too perfect to be improvised. "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"
closed the night in exhaustive fashion, a snippet of "Empire State Of Mind"
snuck inside for good measure.
After a too-obvious-to-be-effective satirical intro by Drag City Records' Rian
Murphy, Pavement proceeded to flub "Cut Your Hair" and shuffle through a very lazy
set. I know, I know: the slacker aesthetic is what they're after and it's supposed
to sound sloppy and apathetic. But I've seen Stephen Malkmus
blow Radiohead away
on a night when he was truly inspired, and Pavement had been known in the past to grab
hold of an elusive band synergy on its best nights, so this belligerent lackadaisical
display didn't quite cut it. Sure, percussionist Bob Nastanovich was full of
energy, hopping around and shouting at all the right times, but everybody else seemed
bored and aloof.
More than halfway through the set, the band briefly elevated beyond the norm. Beginning
with "Stereo," Malkmus seemed to come out of a stupor, and for the next few songs up
through an enthusiastic "Conduit For Sale!" the band was on a roll. It's not that anybody
expects crispness (there was none), just this type of rollicking energy, some way to tell
that they care about the songs. Otherwise, this is purely a nostalgia act, which suited
most of the crowd just fine. And there's nothing even wrong with that, as long as you can
still play. Nice to hear the songs live, but for this final hour and fifteen minutes (no
encore), slacker nation got what was coming to it.
JamBase | Forked
Go See Live Music!