Pitchfork Music Festival
Yeah, what the heck was I doing there? Really, I do listen to contemporary music, and reviews may start to crop up on this site.
Although the first band (Hot Machines) does not start until 1 pm, I try to arrive early to see what the booths are like, and scope out the WLUW record sale tent. However, my plans to leave by 11:30 are vexed by the non-appearance of a L-Train for what seemed like close to half an hour, during which at least three trains went in the opposite direction. When a train finally approached, it was running express and did not stop. Did I mention it was also oppressively hot (90s+), and with few breezes?
Eventually, a normal train came, and there was much rejoicing. After making a brief stop to purchase sunscreen and bottled water, I eventually reach the Loop. By now, a significant portion of the car is taken up by people who are probably Pitchfork-bound - cool shoes, design T-shirts, paleness and youth are in abundance. Thanks to the person who held the doors open on the Green Line train for me, when I changed trains. These cars were almost entirely taken up by little groups of Pitchforkers.
The Festival was held at Union Park, across the street from the Ashland L-stop. It is a small park, but well-situated. Since I know I cannot bring food into the park, I wolf down my sub just outside. It is already after 1, so Hot Machines is playing. I manage to attract a bee, not notice it, and then touch its stinger. I enter the grounds, which are not very full yet, having been forced to leave my extra water bottles at the entrance. Turns out there was a limit of two, although I swapped my two for someone else's which were much colder.
The crowd at this point is about what you would expect - lots of very cool looking people, the majority of which are college aged. There were a fair amount of high schoolers in attendance as well, and I saw at least mother reading a People magazine while making sure her charges did not become too excited by the yells and loud guitars of Hot Machines.
I head to the record tent (with electric fans!) and do a bit of shopping. Lots of new LPs, reasonably priced, and plenty of older stuff at prices I do not want to pay. Curses to the guy who bought a used re-pressing of the Kink Kontroversy for $5 in front of me. About six or so labels also have set up booths in the tent selling CDs, LPs, and band paraphanalia. I check out the Sub Pop booth, and make a note to come back later and get some buttons. I have not heard of most of these bands, so I doubt I will buy any CDs or new LPs. I will, however, take a card which contains a code for $5 off purchases from Sub Pop's website. I will also return to look at Of Montreal records tomorrow.
When I emerge from the tent, used vinyl in tow, Man Man are playing. The Festival has two main stages, but they alternate between them. It is a clever idea, and very feasible in such a small park. It also eliminates the annoying set-up wait. Man Man is very odd, sort of a latter-day Elephant's Memory. Gruff vocals, strange instruments, chaotic structures, lots of beats. The band members appear to be wearing all white as well. It's entertaining to watch, even if they are dooming themselves to cult status.
The guy is doing the introductions is bit over efflusive in praising Chicago. He also has some rambling quasi-poetic introduction for Band of Horses. Guitarist Ben Bridwell mentions that the band did not leave Seattle until 1 pm, and got drunk in the airport. Still, they put on a good show, even though the sound guy couldn't pick up some of the instrument changes. Bridwell had fun talking to an enthusiastic fan in between songs. At one point he says, "[w]e're going to get along great later," adding in an fake conspiratorial whisper, "Got any weed?"
Mountain Goats principle John Darnielle invites the audience to pogo along with his next song, but only if they agree to pogo for the entire 2:10ish song. Only about twenty people take him up, perhaps because of the heat. He will later invite us to sing along with another song, despite being a guy in a park, with an acoustic guitar, during summer, at a festival. He concludes his set with a sing-along blues of "Terror Song": "What does dad have? A knife! And what's he doing? He's stabbing his wife!"
Destroyer has good songs, but Dan Bejar sure is weird.
Excellent. Frontman Eddie Argos tells the crowd "this is my singing voice" as he shouts and harangues his way through the band's set. The band's dance-rock is an energetic success, with X's vocals taking a cue from Gang of Four, and the rest of the band a delightful combination of dancable New Wave and glam. Argos is frequently hilarious, probably drunk, talking about his haircut, contrasting the upbeat nature of a pre-sex song, with the relatively dour next - "see if you can spot the difference." They move all over the stage, putting on a great show and also were the first band to successfully get the audience to clap with the music.
I don't know him, but it appears most of the audience did. The drummer is a older, bearded guy who plays some good drums. Guitar rock, loud, with a bit of reggae thrown in as an influence. He didn't say much between songs, only pointing out that he didn't have anything to say. I think he's probably worth learning more about.
I skipped the Walkmen to get food, since I was already relatively familiar with their music. (I think they are ok.) Cool feature of Pitchfork - reasonably priced water (25oz for a dollar). It's almost like they are not trying to gauge people. I sit in the shade, make a few phone calls, and eat some really good ribs. Thanks to the close proximity of everything, I can hear the Walkmen throughout my meal and calls. It sounds like they are doing a pretty good set, and I half-wished I had seen it. Still - gotta eat!
Finally, the moment I had been waiting for - The Silver Jews. My friends had regailed me with tales of Dave Berman: cryptic lyrics, withdrawals into reclusion, and the like. Now, he has a pretty young wife, has been touring for the first time in years, and seems much better. Well, that's the story anyway. Berman seemed out of it. His singing was fine, and he conveyed the darkness present in the Silver Jews music, but the band seemed set up to play around him. It appeared he only remembered to play his guitar sometimes, and the audience didn't know what to make of his sense of humor ("Are you all sittin gon bar stools, all the way back? It looks like that."). He also tells a story about their recent tour in Israel, setting up a potentially uncomfortable political joke. He also has a little speech against the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, advising new bands to "leave the Brian Wilson at home" before launching into "Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed", only to take a seat about 3/4s of the way through the song, letting the band do the rest. The same oddness is seen during the band's closing, when he throws his stuff to the audience and walks off, leaving the band to keep on playing for a couple more minutes. An odd, sometimes uncomfortable set, but better than no Silver Jews at all.
Since the food and water was reasonably priced, and I wated to hear the opening band, Tapes 'N Tapes, I decide to head straight to Pitchfork in the morning, and buy my provisions there. I arrive around 12:15, and there is already a block-long line to get into the park at the main gate near the L-stop. A group of people, including myself, decide to forgo the main entrance, and head around back to another gate. I pass the VIP area, where I suspect the Pitchfork writers and musicians get to hobnob, and likely reduced priced beverages.
After securing my way through the much shorter line in back, I head to hear Tapes 'N' Tapes. The band plays a fairly varied set, opening with a blistering song (like MC5 powered) before moving into slower territory. The band's sound is varied, and they are good. The band is introduced by their "Marketing and Internet Promotion Manager" or something similar who semi-comically berates the audience to promote the band. He tells us something along the lines if "if bands had c--ks, this band's would be f---ing huge!" and threatens to kill our dogs, or alternatively family members, if we fail to promote the band on blogs. It's simultaneously a joke and not - the band has made a name through internet word-of-mouth. Guitarist Josh Grier tells the crowd that last year he was in the audience seeing Thunderbirds are Go! in the same timeslot, and encouraging people to start bands. Perhaps several audience members decide to hire "Marketing and Internet Promotion Managers" as well.
Over on the other stage, Danielson come on wearing matching blue outfits which look like a cross between a flight attendant and a meter maid's uniforms. Dan Smith has a whining voice, and squeaks a lot, and does not seem to hold the audience's attention. He sure doesn't hold mine, and I depart after a few songs to go back in the record tent. (Ahh, another copy of the Kink Kontroversy for $5!). I also buy a Pitchfork poster (not sure why, now), and lunch. I then plunk down to await the coming of Jens Lekman.
The audience loves Lekman. They cheer when he walks onstage before the MC's intro, drowning him out for a brief moment. His band is composed of women in white or off-white dresses. (No telling how difficult it must be to find an attractive youngish Swedish woman who can play saxophone and do backup singing, and the bassist looks underage.) Lekman is chatty, friendly, telling us little stories about his songs, while playing his crooner meets 60s pop songs. There's a distinct Motown sound throughout - his female backup singers sway back and forth, and his opening song borrows from "Heatwave". It all went over very well, and Lekman's charm really carried through to the appreciative audience.
Wanting to get out of the sun, I decide to skip the National, whose bio does not interest me (I'm picky today, I guess), and wonder around the booths. Back into the record tent, where I waste some time. I also get a couple of buttons pressed for 50 cents each, which is a fantastic idea. I get one of Frederick Pabst, from an old illustrated history book, and one of a nucleus. It only takes an hour to lose the nucleus button, and I further lose my Herbert Kornfeld button by the end of the night.
Back for the Liars on the nominal mainstage. Guitarist/singer takes the oddball award for the Fest. Dave Berman may have been uncomfortable, Art Brut frontman Argos wild, but Angus Andrew is just plain out there. Surely the Liars' music is the most adventurous of the whole Fest: relying on droning feeback and rhythms which make them sort of a latter day Can, just not as good. They spent at least as much time turned around facing their amps and equipment as they did the audience. The lyrics are cryptic, hard to follow, the music stops and starts, and appropriately enough X makes some comment about World War III in the park. Andrew also remarks that the stage hot, before taking a break between songs to put some shoes on. It is still apparently too hot, as he drops his guitar and provacatively takes off his clothes, revealing a blue bathrobe (dress?) underneath which he has only undewear. He spends the rest of the set jouncing around the stage, teasing the audience. In combination with their shifting patterns of rhythms and feedback, the Liars were certainly the most adventurous band, and I credit most the audience with staying with them.
After the abrasion of the Liars, Aesop Rock & Mr. Lif took the other stage. I think they were the only hip hop group on the main stages, a demonstration of Pitchfork's leanings. (I also noticed a lack of power-pop). Still, maybe part of the reason is that the fast-paced rhymes of hip-hop are not particularly suited to festival sound systems. Whatever the case, I had a hard-time hearing (mainly a personal issue), although the duo did a good job working the crowd and had a strong sense of humor (one song appeared to be about showering). We were also invited to applaud the DJ several times, which was gracious of them. Anyway, I decided again to look around, and scouted out some more booths, snagged a copy of ReadyMade magazine, and looked through the poster area.
Back again to get good seats for Mission of Burma. They are a band which I had never dreamed of being able to see in person (see also The Silver Jews). These guys rocked harder than almost anyone at the festival. Their energy level ran a close second to Art Brut's, and the guys in MoB are about twenty years older. If Art Brut managed to get people to clap, Mission of Burma got them to spontaneous fist pump.
Next up was Devendra Banhart, patron saint of the freak folk movement. The freak folk movement apparently consists of a bunch of hippie looking guys, with lots of hair. The music was fine, nothing earthswelling, and there was some amusement when Devandra handed off his flask to a member of the audience. Indie rockers drink beer, freaky folk guys drink whisky. I left when the drunk and obnoxious people near me became increasingly irritating, which may have been their strategy to get a better view.
So, off to the other main stage, where I set up camp for Yo La Tengo. Even though nobody is playing at that stage, plenty of people have already begun to take up positions to see YLT. They came on, everyone cheered, and they then proceeded to play none of the YLT songs I was familiar with. Ira said they were going to play some songs from their new album, but that may have been their entire set. It was the usual soft and sweet, juxtapositioned with massive distortion, and the songs were fine. Ira did spend most of one in falsetto, which was, um, interesting. Also, the proximity of the stages had the unwelcome side effect of letting us hear Spoon's drum set-up in the middle of a quiet YLT song. It ended with Ira boxing his guitar, and struck the people in my area as too short of a set.
Yeah, Spoon. This was another one I skipped, to wait for Os Mutantes. The emcee had been getting better, but he's too flourid again for the intro. Their sound guy is practically tearing his hair out in front of me (except it's too short) because they have about eight people on stage. The band was great, although I'm not sure what the audience thought. Their sound is a combination of South American dance rhythms with rock. Guitarist X kicked in some good bluesy solos from time to time, which recalled the psychedelic movement in which the group was born. Lots of group vocals, and damn infectious stuff. The oddest moment came when a shirtless Banhart came onstage in the middle of a song with a member of his band and worked their way into doing backing vocals. I'm not sure if they were invited or not. I'm not sure if Os Mutates even knew. Anyway, maybe the band didn't sound enough like early XTC for these folks, though, as by the time I had left a good chunk of the audience behind me was already gone.
Overall - I good time, although very hot, very sunny. Overall: 7.4.