This weekend, in an effort to prove Tangents are not always Jameson-fueled trips to the suburbs to make fun of people, I took one for the team and went to Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival. And let me just say it was a blast- I am filled with nothing but warm feelings (and milkshakes… and Jameson).
So first things first- I know there are people out there who hate Pitchfork. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about- I don’t often read it- but this I can say for sure: they know how to put on a music festival. The prices were insanely reasonable ($35 for a two day pass, $4 beer, $1 water), the bands were great, everything ran on time and the crowd was fun and happy (and very, very cute). Artists wandered around checking out the other bands, there was a Crafty Bastards-style tent selling great clothes, records and gifts, and – shockingly, in my opinion- the sound on the two main stages was great.
And, thanks to a dubiously obtained press pass, the Goose Island beer was plentiful.
So here, in roughly chronological order, are my impressions of the trip:
We arrived at the festival just as Califone was taking the stage. I happen to be a fan, but I wasn’t sure how they would translate to a big, daytime outdoor show. I shouldn’t have worried though- they sounded great. And they didn’t strip down their sound for the festival- there was a four-piece horn section and double drummers. I was lucky enough to see them a while back at Rock and Roll Hotel, but I think this show was even better.
We missed the Twilight Sad on the smaller third stage, but a friend was really impressed. They have a dreamy sound that might seen too fragile for the venue- but apparently their performance was intense and charismatic. Hopefully they’ll come to DC soon.
Next up on the main stage was Voxtrot, one of the bands I was most excited to see. Bouncy, dance-inspiring Brit-pop by way of Texas- how could you go wrong. The band allegedly claimed to be nervous, but you would never have guessed. More talented people than I (Svetlana) have already written about this band, so I will leave it at that.
I liked Grizzly Bear more than I thought I would. I like listening to their music- it’s gentle and gentle- but it doesn’t get me all that excited. I thought they sounded good, though they might have been better on the little stage.
Speaking of the little stage, I bailed on Grizzly Bear and went to check out Beach House. The local (well, Baltimore) duo make dreamy, floaty, beautiful music. It was like a lovely, refreshing afternoon nap to prepare for the craziness ahead. They’ll be at the Rock and Roll Hotel on August 26th.
Battles’ set was a highlight for me. I’d never seen them live, and they were crazy. They spent almost as much time spazzing out onstage as they did playing their weird and amazing brand of experimental/electronic/metal music. Electro-experi-metal, perhaps?
Battles was a perfect choice to precede Mastodon, by far the hardest group at the festival. Mastodon is a real metal group. And while all of us skinny, wimpy kids might have been a little shocked and unsure of what to do at the beginning of the set, by the end we were all head-banging like pros. And though I cannot claim to be a real metal fan, I was blown away by these guys. They stripped down some of the silly bells and whistles of contemporary metal and added quirky lyrics, a great mischievous stage presence and a drummer who is unreal.
Somewhere during this time, I went back to the little stage and caught part of Fujiya and Miyagi‘s set. The sound wasn’t great for them, but I was still totally into it and bouncing around. Again, I’ve been beaten to the punch- this time by Cale, read his interview here.
I also caught Professor Murder and they were amazing. I don’t even know how to describe their sound, someone else called them “genre-blending,” but I know for sure it makes you want to dance. They are local (at least Jesse the keyboardist is from Mclean) and super nice dudes. They’re coming to the Cat on August 16th, I highly recommend checking them out.
Next, it was on to a stellar performance by another local-ish group, Clipse. The dynamic between the MCs (who are brothers) was something to see- nuanced, sharp and witty. They got the crow going wild with their call-and-response chants.
The only letdown of Saturday came at the very end. I was super excited to see Dan Deacon and Girl Talk– who have both played DC recently(check out Joel’s girl talk photos here). I think the festival organizers misjudged how popular these acts would be- they pulled far to big a crowd for the small stage, and the sound wasn’t strong enough to do either of them justice. Dan Deacon, as is his habit, set up in the crowd- no, literally in the crowd. It was hard to both see and hear him, and the crowd swelled to the point where police came and cut the set short. Girl Talk, who played immediately after, had the same problem. People were just going wild trying to get close to the stage. Gregg Gillis had an inflatable giant spider and a palm tree onstage with him, and he periodically launched handfuls of confetti into the crowd. The crowd was literally in a frenzy- definitely the most intense crowd reaction of the day.
Whew, and that was only 9:30 at night. After the festival, record labels and bands host tons of after-parties- the Klaxons and Voxtrot and the Field all DJ’d, among others… I could go on, but then I would be writing a novel.
Sunday started out with a lovely performance by Deerhunter (well, it really started with some Jameson-spiked coffee, but you know…). Lead singer Bradford Cox was one of the most visible people at the festival, and not just because he towered over the rest of us. He was incredibly friendly, wandering around, watching other bands and talking to fans all day. Deerhunter and their fragile, psychedelic music will be playing Backstage at the Cat at the end of August- I will definitely be there.
The Ponys, another highlight for me, played a great set of spirited, guitar-driven rock. The bass cut out for a while, and the whole thing could’ve been louder, but I still think they were fantastic. They’re playing (with Jay Reatard– a MADMAN) Backstage at the Cat next Monday and it is one of the shows I’m most excited about this summer.
I spent most of the Sea and Cake’s set obtaining beer and waiting for the toilet, but they sounded very pleasant. That’s the beauty of Pitchfork- you can hear the music from the main stages almost anywhere- even the bathrooms!
And then there was Jamie Lidell. What can I say other than that I am completely smitten? He took the stage with some kind of metallic headgear on- like a mad professor trying to commune to aliens. Which I think is maybe what he is, if he’s not an alien himself. He’s so cute and skinny and nerdy and British- and then you hear his singing voice. And you swear to god you’re listening to Otis Redding. And THEN he spazzes out and goes crazy and is looping his own voice and making crazy electronica and the crowd is just losing it. Myself included. I got to see him at the Cat a couple months ago, so I really hyped him up to my friends. But he absolutely lived up to it. He was the surprise favorite act of a lot of people I talked to.
After that, Stephen Malkmus was a bit of a letdown. He sounded good and I love his music, but it was kind of like he was just playing songs in your living room. Which is great, but I was still on a huge adrenaline wave from Jamie Lidell.
Of Montreal, on the other hand, kept the craziness going. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of this band- I like their music and their shows are crazy, but I’ve always thought the eccentricity is a bit contrived and that the bells and whistles cover up for what the band lacks in real inventiveness. However, I had a fucking blast during their set. They sounded great, did a couple of new songs that I was into and covered the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.” Oh yeah, and they variously wore Rocky Horror dominatrix outfits, angel wings, giant lobster claws and gold spandex body suits. I’m not joking, check out the pictures. They’re touring this fall with electro-pop duo MGMT, who are great (full disclosure- they’re old friends I went to school with- but they are objectively really awesome). So far, there’s no DC date, but they’ll be in Baltimore.
Sadly, I missed the Field– but I did see a bit of the Klaxons on the little stage. Another slight letdown, they needed a bigger venue and better sound. But I still love them and hopefully will get to really see them soon.
The last band of the night was De La Soul– and what can I say that hasn’t already been said? I must admit, I don’t know their music well but it didn’t matter. It was a solid hour of dancing and laughing and having a blast. I thought my heart might explode with all the fun.
And then there was the live band karaoke- but that is a story for another time. Though I am thinking DC would LOVE a live band karaoke night…
All in all, it was definitely the best music festival I’ve ever attended. I might never recover and I don’t want to. I saw close to 30 bands for $35. That is $1.17 a band!!!! Next year. Go.
AND now: for some photos: