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.