Friday+Saturday. Sunday Forthcoming.
all words and photos by: Mitchell London
Upon receiving my brightly colored plastic press pass, clearly marked “Pitchfork Music Festival: PRESS,” I was ushered through an opening in a chain link fence and into a lush, green pastoral field, which doubles in the off season as the outfield to a diamond in Chicago’s Union Park. It was not the last time today that I would feel like a farm animal.
Group I: The Earnest, The Hopeful
Sharon van Etten
I am a believer in sequencing. According to my reasoning, festivals, like records, need to begin with a bang; some adrenalin to get things started up. By any measure, Sharon van Etten did not fit this bill. What she lacked in rock-kicks and strobe lights, however, she made up for in sweetness. Stripped down to just a twangy electric guitar and her syrupy vocal chords, van Etten won skeptical converts with her earnest, pared back approach.
The Tallest Man On Earth
The Tallest Man on Earth makes singer-songwritering look easy. While his right hand is tearing it up his six strings Nick-Drake-style and his voice is busy approximating a long-shipwrecked Bob Dylan, Kristian Matsson might as well be composing a grocery list. This is something he has done before, and it is something he does well. This is not to say that Matsson’s performance lacks spark or emotion; alone with his guitar, he manages to fill the stage, wringing out passion and intensity. It just that he does it like a pro.
Group II: Two Hours Hate
After the acoustic guitars and the they-must-be-from-at-least-sort-of-rural-places charm of the first two acts were put away, Big Brother got on the monitor and informed festival-goers that over the next two hours, they were to just let all of that intensity and vitriol out into the open air. It would make for a more pleasant concert experience later on, he said. Just trust him. To help us shake it out were El-P and Liars, two groups who lend corporeality to the concept of aggression.
That they took a break in the middle of their set to bust out the “Walk on the Wild Side” bass line and lead the crowd in a chant of “Can I Kick It?” – the Tribe Called Quest classic – wins the coveted prize for Most Ironic Pitchfork Moment. No easy feat, considering the number of handlebar mustaches I have seen this weekend. El Producto and Co. could not be more different than the laid-back, jazz-infused New York hip-hop legends, and over the course of their set, as synths squealed and beats mutilated and guitars crunched, they proved it, burning the Constitution, gender equality, and overbearing employers worldwide in lyrical effigy.
Though stylistically very different from EL-P, the two groups share a common affinity for testosterone and yelling. Angus and his hair jitter and lunge erratically across the stage. The overdrive from the guitars actually takes your lunch money and calls you a “big, fat crybaby.” Small children in suburbs miles away from Union Park start crying and they don’t know why. I’m sure that I’m cribbing from smarter people when I say that Liars make “modern” sound “primal.” They get up in your grill.
Group III: Robyn
I put Robyn alone to spare other bands the embarrassment of being compared to her.
When I was in 7th grade, I wore a faded green jacket with snap-button pockets that looked like it once belonged to an extra on M*A*S*H. I listened to lots of Pearl Jam, and I carried out extended conversations with friends about how lame pop music was, and I would jokingly pray to God that Britney Spears or AJ the Backstreet Boy or anyone who ever even liked pop music would just give it up. It is a blessing, of course, that God never takes me seriously. Playing almost every song off of Body Talk, Pt. 1, and a number of hits off of Robyn, the Swede charged the stage like the Fourth of July wrapped into five feet of Scandinavian warrioress. While other, more capital-S Serious bands were busy preening and trying to look cool, Robyn sang and danced and air-humped her way into a full sweat. And then she kept going. Easily, easily my favorite show of the day.
Group IV: The Main Event
For the later shows, the press gathers at their meeting spot, from which they are herded into the photo pits at the appropriate stages. The process involves purple-tagged grown-ass adults running with thousands of dollars of gear strapped around their necks, vying for “good spots” in the photo pit (sort of oxymoronic, considering that in every place in the photo pit, someone’s elbow is in your throat) without overtly seeming like they are vying. Imagine that girl in elementary school who really wanted to be first in line out of the cafeteria and onto the playground. Now imagine that everyone is that girl. Combine that image with the Alec Baldwin-narrated PETA video where the cows are slaughtered. You now have the complete picture of what it is like to have a press pass.
Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene was conjured by the souls in purgatory who were beautiful while alive, who made friends with strangers and brewed iced tea with neighbors, who took lovers on spur-of-the-moment trips to eastern Europe with nothing but toothbrushes and wine money but who messed up one too many times to get into heaven. Consequently, they are most in their element when they are playing to the sunset, with guitar lines intertwining and falling apart. Though they maintain their jaw-dropping “oh my god look how many people are on stage” factor, they sound like a leaner, punchier band than they did in their earlier years. “Stars and Sons,” an old favorite, and “Superconnected,” off of their eponymous record carried the most immediacy, while cuts off Forgiveness Rock Record were given time to marinate and sizzle.
They’re good, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
Day 2: The Pitchforks Come Out in Force
Day 1 was a pleasant enough warm-up to the festival, featuring both newcomers and stalwarts who delivered performances with technical grace but staying within their comfort zone. Day two brought the heat (literally, metaphorically), demanded more endurance, and raised the intensity level. To celebrate the extra Pitchfork-ness, today’s recaps are presented as snippets from fictional Pitchfork reviews. Hat tip David Cross.
“…These shaggy non-rockers gave the impression that they stepped out of a time-travelling sent-from-1973 Delorean and directly onto the stage. In the world they’re from, It’s like the Sex Pistols never happened. It’s like synthesizers were never invented. It’s like rock music, still in its infancy, had never been introduced to the dark side of depression and pain (lookin’ at you, The Cure). It’s like, a lot of fun, you know? …”
“… A conversation I’ve never heard happen:
‘Hey bro, what do you like about concerts?’
‘Oh, brooo, I really like it when bands stick on a one chord jam without any dynamics or changes while I bake like a loaf of pale-ass white bread under the unforgiving heat of the summer sun in the middle of their festival set. That gets me really fired up.’
‘Yo, have you seen Real Estate? They would give your boner a boner.’
And so it was…”
“…At some point, the labeling phenomenon that music criticism depends upon becomes counter-intuitive. Eager to lump like bands together, critics in the very late aughts labeled Delorean ‘chill wave’ or ‘glo-fi’ because they got label-happy, and because easy labels often suffice for good music journalism these days. Those critics were wrong. Delorean bumped and bounced their way through a full hour of soul-lifting dance music, shaking their heads and belting out their ESL anthems like they had just won the lotto…”
“…Have you ever seen a man with a beard in an indie rock band lift his guitar above his left shoulder and throw it down forcefully as a crash cymbal fires off in the distance? So many times it’s boring, right? Well, disaffected hipster, if you answered yes to question 2, you are missing the point. Titus bottled all the rage and energy of adolescent dejection and angst into one full hour of unbridled energy that got the kids jumping and yelling along like evangelical youths at a hard-rock new age Jesus revival. The passion was visceral, fierce, and a little reminiscent of a pack wolves ripping apart their prey…”
“…In today’s oppressive technocracy, information is everywhere, privacy is non-existent, and the machines are always one step away from turning on you. On 7/17/2010, the machines launched their first strike, seizing DJ Symphony’s laptop and turning the audio into machine gun fragments of garbled mess.
Fifteen minutes into Rae’s set, everybody was doing the stand-still. Finally, after all problems were rectified, Tha Chef dropped a massive set of Wu Classics (opening with a high energy rendition of ‘C.R.E.A.M,’ naturlich), Rae Classics (‘Ice Cream,’ naturlich), and heavy-hitting jams from Cuban Linx… pt. 2 (no dairy-based songs to report, unfortunatlich). ‘We want this to sound like it does on the CD,’ Lex Diamond reported. We do too, just as long as the CD isn’t scratched as hell…”
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
“…This band stole its basic conceit from Encino Man, the mid-nineties Brendan Frasier/ Pauly Shore Shakespearean gold-standard wherein a man is unfrozen from the ice ages and exists at odds with modern society and technological implements like spoons and knives. The guitars seared and sizzled. The drums encapsulated a primitive stomp. Jon Spencer, with his face permanently worked into a prefigured scowl, didn’t sing so much as growled and shouted: ‘Baaaaby!’ ‘Blues Explosion! Blues Explosion!’ and ‘Rock!’ It contained all the energy and godlessness of neanderthal religion. It was a thing of beauty…”
Six Point Something
“… 2063, The Suburbs. Enter Young Boy and his Grandfather, wearing track shorts and a graphic tee shirt:
Young Boy (YB): Granpappy, will you tell me the Story Of Indie Rock again?
Grandfather: Again? It’s late, young child. I’ll just give you the synopsis.
Grandfather: OK, so a band comes from some foreign land. Like Canada. Or Europe. Or Kentucky. They generate tons of hype before the release of their first album and Rolling Stone 2.0, which used to be called “Pitchfork” embraces them enthusiastically, and their record, which is very exciting, does very well and generates a solid following. Then the band tries to pursue ‘a new sound,’ which mainly just means that they stopped talking to each other and started listening to Yes. Their second record, billed as ‘a major step forward for the band,’ gets a 6. something score on Pitchfork, which is the same thing as getting your genitals cut off.
Grandfather: Then they try to phone-in on their previous success on their third record, which is regarded as a marginal improvement on their second. Very few people listen to it all the way through, and they cash in on the tour by either kicking out the classics and making people happy or playing exclusively new material and making people raise their shoulders. [ed note: Wolf Parade did the former, and they were excellent]
YB: That sound great. I wish that humans still had ears and could listen to music…”
[ed note: we all know that if this were an actual Pitchfork review, the score would be in the high nines and the text would praise the inventiveness and the child-like sense of wonder with which Noah Lennox explored the oft-neglected corners of the human psyche as it relates to society-at-large. Yech.]
“…By now, the good people who attend the Pitchfork Music Festival should know what they’re getting into when they go to a Panda Bear set. One: no interaction with the audience at all. Two: A meandering, naval gazing, psychedelic spew with protracted transitions from one piece of goop to the next. Three: No ‘My Girls.’ Even with these expectations, Mr. Lennox provided a set that was 73% grating and tiring and flummoxing and 27% brilliant. When it connected, Panda’s summer-soaked melodies were the perfect accompaniment to the declining sun. But most of the time, you just wished that he’d stop making those noises that sound like the pitch shifted bleating of pregnant sheep.”
“Is their anything that has been left unsaid about James Murphy’s hyper-self-aware, post-ironic disco-thump? In a Time Out Chicago interview, Murphy name-drops Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest, not to flaunt how smart or well-read he is, but to say that once you drop the pretense and enjoy something for what it is, that thing is enjoyable and rewarding… if, of course, it is done well. Something rarely considered in all the discussions of where LCD Soundsystem fits into the music continuum (is it punk? disco? electronica? funk?), is the notion that the band is the sound of one guy who knows what he likes and is confident enough to put it in your face without frills or tricks. And that’s all that matters…”
STAY tuned for Sunday……