Pitchfork Sunday Recap

As I noted previously, I went solo on Sunday. Boyo had other things (though he was somewhat disappointed not to be able to go). You’ve seen my so-called photographs. I considered taking a better camera than my phone, but even the one we havve isn’t much better and I didn’t want to carry too much stuff anyway.

Due to scheduling issues, I arrived late to the fest, but in fact exactly when I wanted to arrive: right around 2:30, in time to see Kurt Vile and the Violators start their set on the Green Stage. I moved in as close as I could get to take a couple of photographs, but then backed out of the sonic death zone and was able to listen to the music. Vile sounds like Iggy Pop, and the combination of his voice, the driving guitar and the lyrics, as well as the punishing sun, put me in mind of a lost highway out west, and a drifter standing by the side of the road.

I listened to most of the set, then went over to the Blue Stage, where I tried to listen to Twin Sister. Operative word “tried.” The lead singer’s voice – a high-pitched baby girl sound – put me off. I stayed long enough to snap a picture of her Crystal Gayle-length hair, but was not interested enough to stick around much longer.

Back to the sun-pummelled main area, where OFWGKTA was starting their set on the Red Stage. Angry, violent, misogynistic rap is not my thing, and I found it faintly disturbing that the crowd in front of the stage was so decidedly into it. (The band was called out in some literature being handed out by an anti-violence coalition that was a partner at the festival. It seemed to me like mild rebuke of the festival organizsers, kind of a “the band is free to make whatever music they want, but we don’t have to like it” thing.)

I wandered the merch booths, looking for something for Boyo and Girlie. I wanted a Pitchfork Music Festival t-shirt for him to commemorate his attendance; and a little necklace or something for her. Found both, though I was sad to find out that the official gear tent took cash only. I still had enough for some food later without hitting up the ATM, so Boyo got his shirt, but seriously, people, what fucking century is this?

By the time I had finished wandering, the next act I really wanted to see, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti, was setting up on the Green Stage. I moved in pretty close for photos, but by the time they started playing, I was seriously concerned that my phone was going to burst into flames, so I retreated to the nearest shade to listen. Very solid punk roots with nice melodic turns, kind of a psychedelic surf guitar sound. Also, keeping with the theme of the day so far, Ariel Rosenberg’s hair was phenomenal and bizarre.

I took a side trip back to the Blue Stage and checked out Baths, a one-man mixing venture. I thought his blend of African-sounding choral vocals and dance rrhythms might work in a club setting, but it was too hot to dance (though that didn’t stop some people, of course) and I didn’t think it worked too well. I will say that the man himself seemed to really be getting into it, although his moves looked like they weren’t quite jibing with the beats.

Back to Red Stage for a glimpse of Superchunk, who I think of as sort of “old masters” of post-punk. I basically missed their heyday in the 90’s, but my understanding is that their latest album is kind of a distillation of everything they used to be with a new gloss. The jangly guitars sounded a lot like 90s college rock to me, exactly what you would imagine a summer festival would sound like. I may check out their newest release.

I heard Deerhunter from inside the Axe tent, where I spent far too long waiting for my phone to recharge to a decent level; and then from outside in the wter bottle refill line. As a result, I don’t think I fully appreciated their stuff. I think if they were British, their sound might be called shoegaze – it sounded like very blissy pop mixed with solid rock riffs.

I grabbed a couple of pulled pork tacos and potato chips (health food, yeah!) and tried to check out Toro Y Moi on the Blue Stage. Another one-man mixing crew whose blurb on the Pitchfork Music Festival site sounded pretty interesting. Getting near enough to hear was like trying to walk through the world’s largest frat party – seriously, hundreds of people standing around jabbering at the top of their lungs – and I started to feel a bit claustrophobic, so I just gave up.

Besides, I wanted to try to get a reasonable view of Cut Copy, who were going up next on the Red Stage. Yeah, didn’t happen. But they were immensely audible, and oh so good. They have a sound very similar to 80’s disco – vocals like Tears for Fears, maybe, pop synth and pounding rhythms. But such rhythms. It was impossible not to bounce along with them. I predict that Cut Copy will be on the turntable 25 years from now at Teens Retro nights in clubs, and everyone will be dancing their brains out. (The band almost caused a riot when they announced, 20 minutes in, that their set was over… then added “Just kidding.”)

As the Cut Copy set proceeded, I made my way over toward the Green Stage because the main event was setting up: TV on the Radio. I have only recently found out about the band – always learning, that’s me – so I don’t know a lot of their stuff, or their history. They kicked off at 8:30 with three high-energy songs in a row – which I, of course, couldn’t name, but which I am informed were Halfway Home, Dancing Choose, and Wrong Way – then moved to some more downtempo, soulful tunes, including a couple I recognized: Will Do, Keep Your Heart. Their song Young Liars belongs on a soundtrack for a modern Western (musically, at least; I’m not sure about the lyrics). Like Saturday’s Destroyer, TV on the Radio had a horn section – one trombone, actually – but unlike Destroyer, he totally rocked. Also, nott for nothing, but Kyp Malone, the guitarist, sports a truly prodigious and impressive beard. I was in awe.

I decided to make my way out a little early to avoid the crush, but I was listening all the way back to the L stop. Truly a great close to a great festival. And so it’s done. I missed several of Sunday’s bands, but I heard a lot of great stuff and got only slightly singed. Wish you all could have joined me!

Pitchfork Saturday Recap

I’ve already posted some photos, and I have a couple more I will upload shortly. But here’s the rundown.

Boyo and I arrived at the festival and got in the gate around 1:30. We had a choice to make – we could hear Julianna Barwick putting down an ethereal, semi-melodic layer of sound on the Green Stage – as we came in, but opted to head down to Blue Stage to catch some of Chrissy Murderbot Featuring MC ZULU. We grabbed a shady spot (Blue Stage was the only one of the three that was reasonably shaded) and hung out for a few minutes. I don’t think either of us was too impressed – the beats weren’t bad, but nothing to write home about. Maybe we just weren’t into it yet.

We headed back toward the other side of the park, and I gave Boyo his assignment for the day: count the plaid and checked button-downs. My understanding is that he got to 16 before quitting.

At the Red Stage, we stood in the blazing sun and listened to the first couple of songs by Woods. The lead singer is a hipster-bearded guy, but I swear when he started singing, before I looked, I thought they had a female lead vocalist. According to the band’s blurb on the Pitchfork website, his voice combines “the naive style of Jad Fair, Jonathan Richman, and Neil Young while re-thinking it as a discipline and a tradition.” I don’t know what the hell the last part of that means, which means it’s probably bullshit. I can see the Jad Fair and Neil Young comparisons – though Neil Young at his highest-pitched never really struck me as sounding like a woman singer – but Jonathan Richman? I love Jonathan Richman, and his voice is unpretentious and raw, but this… no. This was falsetto. Seriously.

Neither of us were much taken with Woods, so we wandered around the booths, checking out the merch and the pleading of charities and such. Boyo picked up a couple of stylin’ pins for his shirt. I put my name and email on a mailing list of some arts organization so Boyo could spin their wheel and get a prize (another pin). We made our way along the booths back to Blue Stage, where Sun Airway were doing their bit to bump up the plaid button-down quotient. Decent indie pop stuff, but not really my cup of tea. The lead singer looked a fair amount like Tony Slattery, a British comic who used to appear on Whose Line Is It Anyway? a lot when it was English and good.


Boyo and I trudged back (it was pretty hot) along the row of food vendors. It was snack time, so we grabbed a giant pretzel and beer cheese sauce from the Berghoff booth – which I thought was odd, since the Berghoff closed a while back. Turns out they’re back as a catering outfit. I wonder if they still employ the same 125-year-old waiters….

Anyway, we shared the pretzel and listened to the first band of the day that I really liked: Cold Cave. Rushing keyboards and pounding, driving industrial rhythms; a front man with that Ian Curtis baritone – I was definitely thinking Joy Division as I was listening, with maybe a little Bauhaus. Boyo and I agreed that Cold Cave was the favorite so far. We got pretty close in, but Boyo was having trouble with how loud it was, and the sun was pummelling us, so we once again took ourselves to the Blue Stage.

We got there in time to hear rappers G-Side do a couple of tracks. I like rap once in a while, and these folks may have been good, but it didn’t really do much for me. The sight of a crowd of almost exclusively white hipsters throwing their hands up and jumping up and down to the street rap just struck me as funny. Boyo wasn’t into it either, so we headed off to find a way to cool down. We found it in the Axe Excite tent, where there was not only a mister for direct cooling, but phone chargers and Motorola Xoom tablets with an Axe video game on it for Boyo to amuse himself with while I juiced up my phone.

While we were in the tent, we heard – but didn’t see – No Age performing on the Red Stage. I was tempted to go take a look, because I liked the sound. Very old-school British pop-punk – they even covered Buzzcocks’ Love Battery, which is a kick-ass song. The chargers were not speedy, though, and Boyo wasn’t much inclined to wander, so we stayed put.

We totally missed Wild Nothing, emerging from the recharge tent to check out Gang Gang Dance on the Green Stage instead. They struck me as a music collective/jam band. Their opener was a trippy, meandering piece that started with three or four minutes of looped synth, looped wailing and heavy rhythms. (The female vocalist had her own set of percussion to pound on, the keyboardist had some drums, and there was a straight-up drummer.) There was a bass and guitar, though their participation was not very audible. Oh, and they had a guy whose contribution to the band apparently consists entirely of dancing around on the stage with some sort of flag. Maybe it’s a union thing.

Also missed Off!, which is too bad, because they have direct connections back to some of the punk bands of my younger days – Black Flag, Redd Kross – and I’d like to have heard them, but we were distracted by being so fucking hot and finding a place to cool down. The CTA had a “cooling bus” running its engine to provide an air-conditioned sanctuary. I think our collective carbon footprint was large enough to squash a third-world country… but damn, we were comfy!

We checked out Destroyer on the Red Stage, and, um, a word of advice to bands out there. If you’re going to name your band something metal and angry, like “Destroyer” or “Skullfuck,” don’t take the stage with a horn section and play smooth jazz. OK, Destroyer wasn’t playing smooth jazz, but it was very mellow and indeed they had a sax and trumpet. Boyo and I were both rather disappointed. (He’s really looking forward to seeing Skullfuck on tour.*)

Boyo was hungry so we grabbed some food – cheeseburger for Boyo and a lamb/beef/pork sausage thing in a pite for me – then we headed for the shade near Blue Stage and caught a couple songs from The Radio Dept, a Swedish band that probably needs to be heard in a smaller, darker environment. I liked the sound, though. Somewhat downtempo, pretty layered and complex. Then back to the Axe tent for more phone-charging (but really because Boyo wanted to play the computer game some more, and because it was shady and cool).

We skipped The Dismemberment Plan in favor of finding a decent spot near the Blue Stage for Twin Shadow. I saw Twin Shadow a couple of months ago at Lincoln Hall, and it was awesome. Today despite some technical difficulties that delayed the start, he completely kicked it again. I have noted before that I suck at comparing Band A to Band B, and at describing music. I tend to rack my brains, without success, trying to figure out who that guy’s voice reminds me of, etc. I think Twin Shadow is very reminiscent of Roxy Music, from the rhythms and keyboard riffs to George Lewis’s voice, which (in my opinion at least) is a credible contender for a Bryan Ferry soundalike.

So from Twin Shadow, we bopped over to Red Stage to see… DJ Shadow. (No relation.) The stage was occupied by a large white sphere which, during the set, apparently contained DJ Shadow himself. There was a light show of some sort playing on the outside of the sphere, but there was still too much daylight to really see it. The music itself was very cool – instrumental hip-hop, loaded with gut-punching synth basslines and rhythmic samples – and the crowd was certainly into it. I think DJ Shadow was Boyo’s second-favorite act of the day.

I wanted to see Zola Jesus, so we left DJ Shadow and went back to Blue Stage. I think that stage was cursed today, because her crew was having a lot of trouble getting things going. Eventually, it all came together, and she came out in a… I don’t know what. A long dress composed largely of thick black ruffles, maybe? I have a photo I’ll upload – not totally clear, but you”ll get the idea. Anyway, the girl can sing. The (admittedly few) album tracks that I’ve heard tend to underplay her voice in favor of layers of lo-fi sound, but on stage, she vocally dominates the music. Very impressive.

It was about three songs into Zola Jesus’s set that I realized Boyo was fading and ready to go. We meandered back toward the exit – catching a glimpse of DJ Shadow sitting in his now-opened sphere and mixing or doing whatever it is DJs do in giant white spheres to make music – and headed home. No Fleet Foxes, but I wasn’t too broken up about missing them. They are not  totally my cup of tea anyway.

So there you have it. Tomorrow I go back on my own – Boyo not attending. I like having the kid around. For one thing, it’s easier to navigate the crowds when you have an 8-year-old taking point. People don’t get mad at him for flitting in and out and around among them, and I can just follow along saying “Excuse me, excuse us, ‘scuse me….” and shrugging apologetically. Also, its fun to watch him taking in the crowds and the music. On the other hand, he’s also antsy and prefers jumping from stage to stage more than sitting and listening to one band. My plan tomorrow is to focus on a few bands rather than trying to catch bits and pieces of all of them.


*Not really. He was shocked, and perhaps appalled, by the number of t-shirts and other accoutrements sported by Pitchfork attendees that bore the F-word. If a band called Skullfuck existed, he would no doubt gasp and point out to me that they have a swear in their name.