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all words and photos by: Mitchell-press pass-London

Both Friday and Saturday were Grade-A music festival material, but Sunday was the day that sold me on Pitchfork 2010, the reason that I decided to make the trip. Boasting a lineup that featured Pavement, my #1 favorite band ever of all time since like forever, y’all, Big Boi, and the recently reconvened Lightning Bolt as well as actual fi-wave, glo-chill all stars Neon Indian and Washed Out (unlike, say, Delorean, who no one has grouped in that genre, ever), Sunday had something for everybody. So when I strolled up to Union Park on Sunday, gently stroking my bright purple and peachy-yellow press pass, which allowed me exclusive access to free water, a tent devoted to me and my kind, internet access and occasional bomb pops (!), I was shuddering with excitement from my head to my press pass.

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The first band that I photographed from the photo pit to which my press pass allowed me access was San Francisco’s Girls. The back-story on Girls is a sordid tale of drugs, cults, redemption, and, probably, somewhere along the way, press-passes. Girls is one of those bands where it is impossible to separate the context from the music, where lines like “Oh I wish I had a father/ I wish I had a loving man in my life,” even when sung over the breeziest and jangliest guitar melodies carry some sting. So it was on Sunday. The band mixed the 1962 California AM radio sound of their debut, Album, with a more aggressive, harder rocking approach. On more than one occasion, band-leader Christopher Owens stepped on the flanger pedal and led the audience down the road of extended solo-chord playing (also known as the Road to Indulgence), temporarily losing the audience, who picked back up at the more album-oriented fare. On the scale of “general admissions ticket” to “all-access pass,” I rate this performance a very solid “press pass.”

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Throughout the festival so far, I had spent most of my time at the “A” and “C” stages because of time constraints. But on Sunday, the “B” stage lineup was undeniably stacked to the press pass with hype/buzzbands, including Washed Out, Best Coast, Local Natives, Surfer Blood, Neon Indian, and Sleigh Bells. I resolved myself to catch some of these upstart youths and their laptops/ neon tank tops/sunglasses, and walked over to catch Washed Out after Girls. When I walked up, a neon-purple tank-topped Washed Out was on stage, checking his email on his laptop while ambient music played in the background and the indie kids did the stand-still. He sang in slow, deliberate tones buried under layers of slowly modulating delay and reverb, and some of the audience members nodded with approval. I like Washed Out’s recorded material, and I think that the music has a certain hypnotic charm and innovative flair that takes it above the standard glo-fi genre boilerplate, but at an outdoor festival setting, with tons of bands to see and tons of free water to get with my press pass, it was not brewing my tea. I left after five minutes to catch indie major-leaguers Beach House. Two press passes out of six (more press passes, more fun).

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I had seen Beach House in a Denton, TX club on their 2008 Devotion tour, and (having missed them at the Black Cat), eagerly anticipated witnessing how their show adapted to the fuller, more panoramic sound of Teen Dream. Now with a full-time drummer (but still using lots of sounds out of a box), Beach House played a lush, sonically rich set that leaned heavily on Teen Dream and fan-favorites from their first two records. The effort to please the crowd was reciprocated with enthusiasm; fans cheered loudly and giddily sang along to each song. Though Beach House’s sound, which was once regarded as hazy and amorphous has moved more closely to center (or the center has moved more closely to them), their sound on Sunday was bell-like in clarity and a welcome breather before the ultra-high watt intensity of the next several acts on the “A” and “C” stages (St. Vincent nonwithstanding).

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As a fan of Gorilla Manor, Local Natives’ 2010 debut, I felt that I owed it to myself to make the trek and go check out their act on the “B” stage. One of the few things that my press pass couldn’t do this weekend was cut through the crowds flocking the B, so I arrived a little late to my exclusive-access photo pit, where all of the good-looking people with press passes were casually hanging out and talking about the best places in town to get cappuccino enemas. Like their sound or not, the Local Natives are an undeniably tight live band. As advertised, the band bulldozes through tricky time-shifts, genre switches, and loud-quiet-loud dynamics with ease. I stuck around long enough to see the band nail a couple of songs from Gorilla Manor, much to the audience’s satisfaction, and one Talking Heads cover, drawing a direct comparison with the crowned kings of African-rhythm-aping-white-boy-music. While the Natives are a long way off from the Heads in their prime, this live show had me believing that they have the potential to reach those heights.

Like the Blues Brothers, Lightning Bolt came to the Chicago on a mission from God. They came to destroy. For the people in the mosh pit, they came to destroy bodies. For people near the speakers, they came to destroy ear drums. For the people who saw the drummer/singer’s homemade mask, they came to destroy appetites. In previous entries in this widely lauded series on the Pitchfork Music Festival, I noted that certain bands seemed to embody human aggression, to lend that emotion a tangible presence. This was before I saw Lightning Bolt. These guys made Liars look like the volunteer children on public access TV magic shows. I had listened to Wonderful Rainbow and Hypermagic Mountain in my college days, and I had seen videos of their live performances (which usually take place in the audience, but was relegated to the stage in this case), but in these instances I had control of the volume knob.

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In the 45 minutes that I watched them play, I saw the drummer take precisely 0 breaks from pounding the life out of his drums like John Bonham mid-seizure. I saw members of the crowd take 0 breaks from their the full-on assault on the barricade and each other.

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The Bolt was raw, it was powerful, it was unique, and after a while, it was painful to listen to (which, I think, is part of the appeal, in a way. I’m not quite sure that I “get” Lightning Bolt). Fortunately, the faithful hung on (the came-to-see-Pavement and the came-to-see-Big-Boi folks had, by in large, tuned out what they could after note one) and were rewarded. So forceful was Lightning Bolt that, walking across the field to catch the next show, I had to grab at my chest and check to make sure my loyal press pass wasn’t a casualty of war.

Quick note on the “B” stage: I tried. I really did. But by the time that Surfer Blood got their straight-and-narrow alt-rock thing going, the crowd was too heavy to cut through and still make the big names at “A” and “C.” I missed Best Coast, Surfer Blood, Neon Indian, and Sleigh Bells, which sucks for me worse than it does for you.

St. Vincent, a little like Beach House, served as a refreshing calm before the storm. Pint-sized and stately, Annie Clark maintained her elegant stature through her set, breaking form periodically to tear into a searing guitar outburst. I like Saint Vincent, but not enough to list them as a favorite band on my Facebook page.

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I got the sense, however, that for many in the crowd, Annie Clark was the reason they got up in the morning. Audience members sang along to the songs that they knew (read: all of them), and cheered as the band fired up the recognizable melodies of the SV catalog. The band, which featured a violin, and periodic appearances from flutes and horns, was also accompanied by a disembodied orchestra, rising from somewhere off-stage, which I found slightly off-putting. The music, swooning and filled with 21st century romance and heartbreak, took audience members along a breezy ride, occasionally pausing to break down, stab you in the press pass with a shock of guitar and horn, and then continue on as if nothing ever happened.

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If there is any justice in the world, the set that Major Lazer threw down on Sunday, July 18, 2010, will live alongside the election of President Obama and the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion as one of the defining moments in our generation. I’m kidding, of course. This show was far more important than that.

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This was the type of thing where you just prayed that the next Wordsworth of David Foster Wallace was there to capture the event in some way that retains its original awe-inspiring glory. As constructive blog critic Jeff will rightly tell you, I’m not that guy. So I’ll just break down the nuts-and-bolts events that I can remember. Hype Man enters on stage with drink. Fires audience up. Diplo, accompanied by Chinese Dragons, enters and drops a foghorn sound or two. Drops crayo electro beat. Dancer 1 enters. Dancer 1 gets, like, really freaky with it.

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Diplo segues into M.I.A. beat, or something. Hype man yells in time with the music, careful to never actually sing “notes.” [here’s where things get weird]. Dancer 2 enters, shaking her ass until it becomes disassociated with the rest of her body. Hype man chugs from a bottle of Hennessy, forces dancers to chug from said bottle. Chinese dragons exeunt. Hype Man basically has dry sex with both dancers in a variety of positions pulled from some deep appendix of the Kamma Sutra. Dancer 1 pops a bottle of champagne into the audience. No one ever sings or plays traditional instruments. 2 Ballerinas enter, dance. Hype Man pulls a ladder onto stage, mounts it, and jumps off of it, onto dancer #1, with whom he simulates missionary-style sexual intercourse. During all of this, I danced and laughed and partied and gawked the entire time. It was a thing of beauty.

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Big Boi’s set was as frenetic and as enthusiastic and as freaking awesome as one could imagine it to be. The set was roughly composed of 60% Outkast classics, 20% Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty, 10% hype man, and 10% preteen males breakdancing and imploring the females in the audience to take of their shirts. Which adds up to 90% freaking incredible (sorry, hype man). His band, which consisted of a DJ, a female bass player, some female singers, and a horn section was tight and stationary.

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The band juxtaposed with the vision of Big Boi’s manic energy, the stage pulsed with dynamism and excitement. Midway through the set, Andre Patton brought out Chicago’s finest youth breakdancing squad, who proceeded to tear it up on stage for about a third of the remaining performance. More than any red-shirted hype man, these talented kids reinvigorated the already-hyped-up audience, infusing additional humor and light-hearted fun to the experience. In all, the song sequencing was fluid, showcasing Big Boi and Outkast material at its finest, and General Patton AKA The Son of Chico Dusty was a commanding presence, dominating the stage with his alpha male machismo, boyish smile, and blinged out Dungeon Fam chain glowing in the setting sun (which I mistook for a very nice press pass at first).

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THE story of the weekend amongst the photo crowd, (other than how awesome a good press pass feels around your neck) was how BAD Pavement was live. I heard comments ranging from “it’s something about the tuning” to “it’s just not as good as listening to their records” to “they just can’t pull it together, live, man.” At first, these comments were helpful; they helped me counterbalance the insane hype that I had built up for this band in my head. But by Sunday night, these comments had turned into real fears. Were my high school heroes just phoning in some reunion tour for cash? Were they just no good live? The only argument I had heard to the contrary was from a mom sporting an Alabama hat in the front row of the Girls show, waiting all day to see Pavement with her 12 year old son in tow. She had last seen the band in the late nineties, meaning that she had waited more than 10 years and recently braved the crowds of Lightning Bolt and Major Lazer without supplies or food (we Alabamians are a naturally strong breed of human). She had waited long and endured much, but at the end of the day, in the battle between the sayers and the nays, she was victorious.

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Pavement delivered a solid hour and a half of classic 90’s tunes to an adoring audience, eager to sing or shout every word alongside Malkmus and Sprial Stairs and Bob Nastovich (members of BSS joined in on “Two States”). They traipsed around the stage (which was dressed up for the event in forty-watt Christmas bulbs) in all of their beslacker’d majesty, producing faithful renditions of the songs that I sang loudly on my way to high school. I sang them loudly here, too.

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P.S. In retrospect, that show could have totally sucked, and the audience could have hated it. I probably wouldn’t have known or cared.  The sight of Pavement, combined with the high I was getting from my press pass, turned everything to gold.

S.P.P. Submit your own original press pass joke/ fond recollection/ romantic aside beloooooowwwwww!

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