Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pitchfork Festival | Chicago | Jul 18 - 20

False 45th's Senior Midwest Correspondent, TK, is busy these days. After hitting Les Breastfeeders last week, he went down to Chicago for all three days of the Pitchfork Festival. Very jealous.


Friday, July 18 - All Tomorrow's Parties "Don't Look Back"

The format for the first night, like last year, is to have three bands play a "classic" album of theirs from start to finish. First up was Mission of Burma, who had already started even though my watch showed 5:55 p.m.. They decided to take the stage early and play some cuts off of Signals, Calls and Marches before launching into Vs., the album they were scheduled to play. Mission of Burma was fantastic here two years ago and turned in another impressive set. They got off to a somewhat restrained start, an interesting bit of tug-o'-war for a band that seems to relish pushing to the edge of flying apart at the seams. The album format did make for several jokes in between songs - we forgot our set list, now we have to flip the record, it takes a certain talent to screw up the track list on your own album - but drummer Peter Prescott had perhaps the best hoot by bellowing "Welcome To The Burmadome" at the start of the set. When they played, MOB has a no-nonsense sincerity that really pulls you in, particularly when the dude face-butts his mic every time he goes up to sing into it. The churning of "Weatherbox" was a highlight and they ended the set strong. Now I know who I want to be when I grow up. If only more rockers aged this gracefully. I can only hope they have something else even approaching The Obliterati or Vs. left in them.

Sebadoh was up next with Bubble and Scrape. I can't say I'm very familiar but they didn't turn me off.

Next up was Public Enemy with It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. I told friends beforehand I couldn't lose because it would either be a laughable train wreck or an impressive show and it was some of both. Public Enemy has long stood above nearly every other rap group in mind and Friday was further proof of that. Evidently you lose street cred if you show up on time for your gig in hip-hop but Public Enemy took it to a whole new level with Flavor Flav showing up after his own freaking band started. Seriously. Chuck D had to rap into two mikes during Bring The Noise because Flav had his mike and...Flav wasn't there. They'd both get into a slight tiff over it later in the set with Chuck D saying Flav left him hanging and Flav telling Chuck he could have waited. Heaven forbid Flav make it to the stage by 8:50 for an 8:30 show. This touched on a bit of a rift between the two because Chuck D remains razor-sharp on his social commentary while Flav has turned himself into a circus sideshow with his reality TV exploits. Flav would try to plug his new reality TV show at one point. Wrong gig. He got his ass roundly booed and then got pissy about being booed. Chuck D, however, still has his game and his voice still cuts through. PE seemed like it would get it going only to sputter until about the last four songs of the set. They salvaged the night with a half-hour plus encore of greatest hits, starting with Welcome To The Terrordome and finishing with Fight The Power. If the entire set had that same rhythm and energy, and showing up on time would have helped, it would have been something special.

Sat., July 19

I'll just start reviewing this day off by giving a special Pitchfork, rounded to the nearest tenth, grade for all the sound crews the first two days:


Just brutal. One mishap after another. Then again, we started the day by missing a train (and Jay Reatard in the process) and not packing folding chairs, umbrellas, sunblock...I would have forgotten my freaking head if it wasn't stitched on tight.
Anyway, at least we got there in time to see Caribou. Not familiar with them before but that will change. Really impressive.
Then we scooted over to the Balance Stage, which they moved to the back and away from the two main stages, for the Fuck Buttons. I can't speak for everyone, but with the exception of Air, I have my own math on this type of music:

Band + keyboards/synthesizers only = Jerking off

Two guys playing with their toys on stage had us leaving early. And memo to Dizzee Rascal: Public Enemy wants their siren back.

Then we caught Vampire Weekend, who really excite some people and leave others wanting to smash acoustic guitars over their heads. They succeed Jamie Lidell as The Pitchfork Act Most Likely To Get Its Ass Kicked By Anyone Here. Maybe if they just stuck with their laid-back vibe I wouldn't have minded so much but then their lead singer had a couple tunes where either something bit him in the ass or he had Tourette's, which ruined what the rest of the band tried to accomplish. And spare me the whole bashful routine in between songs like you asked your mom for permission - you're the lead singer of a band playing a festival. I figured I'd make a verdict on Vampire Weekend and I was still indifferent, still mumbling just like their lead singer does in between songs.

Then came !!!, who got their disco on and delighted the crowd with their energy.

Finally, it was curfew for the kiddie bands to go home and time for the adults to take the stage. I've seen The Hold Steady a bunch of time and they have yet to disappoint me. They had sound problems (grrrrrrr) too but we intentionally watched from a distance so we could bail quickly to catch No Age. Oh yeah, and give The Hold Steady brownie points along with Mission of Burma for actually giving a shit about the fans and taking the stage early so they could squeeze more songs in. Take notes, future Pitchfork acts.

Before No Age was Atlas Sound, and if I my theory holds true for synth only bands, then the same wanking bylaw holds true for just one guy and sound tracks. Yawn.

At the risk of losing out on Jarvis Cocker and Animal Collective, I had to go see No Age in the back because I've been entranced by their new album, Nouns. Talk about taking the stage by force. Midway through Cappo, their second song, I though my chest was going to explode. Every so often someone comes along like a breath of fresh air and reaffirms your joy of music. Seeing Les Breastfeeders and No Age in the same week has recharged my batteries. What is it with groups that have just two people producing such huge sound? It's like number of times I've seen a soccer or hockey team go a man down, only to play better because everyone knows they have to do more. They dragged the beginning of Here Should Be My Home but they were only setting us up for a full-on thrash from the chorus on. Unfortunately, they had to overcome tech issues and drummer Dean Spunt had to stop just shy of the end of Sleeper Hold because the security guys roughed up a bodysurfer (Note: I used to work security 2-3 years and I had a band yell at me once but not once did I or anyone I work with ever do anything to make a band stop and bitch them out in mid-song. Especially at Pitchfork, a place I don't feel is overrun with felons.). To cap their night perfectly, guitarist Randy Randall bailed early on the encore with tourmates Abe Vigoda by leaping into the crowd and bodysurfing, a perfect F-you to the security goons. I can't wait to see No Age again, hopefully in a small club doing their own thing.

Sun., July 20

Far more prepared this time, we were able to kick back in our chairs, see both stages and use umbrellas to beat the heat, which was straight rather than the fall-over-and-wilt humidity that marked the first two days.

Just as I get comfy in my chair, Japanese imports Boris take the stage. From the first riff, it seemed like Boris showed up with the intent of turning into rubble whatever No Age left standing from the night before. I quickly had a grin and kept it through 30 minutes of mayhem. Boris has this ability to have its guitars soar over the driving rhythm section and differ from just straight speed metal. Between them and Caribou, 2 p.m. was the money slot, making you wish they could play more than 30 minutes. They said they had to stop because the power went out, yet another aggravating glitch in a weekend full of them.

Fortunately, the music was strong most of the rest of the the day. The Apples In Stereo were solid and Les Savy Fav sounded pretty good as well, but with a catch. Their lead singer came out in sparkly red tights with one leg cut up to the cheek before going shirtless. If fat, bearded bald guys with jiggling moobs and hairy asses are your cup of tea, this set was bliss. Not only did I throw up slightly in my mouth as I just wrote that, but you're so used to watching a band as they play that it was difficult to just listen and not watch that spectacle. I'm sure these are exactly the type of people Vampire Weekend's moms don't want them hanging out with.

The Dodos put on an energetic set. Spiritualized followed and impressed with their overcaffeinated take on gospel.

Dinosaur Jr. continued the string with a heavy, crunchy set that satisfied. Then it seems we bailed on the wrong headliner.

We were pretty tired so we lost out on Animal Collective, in part because No Age ran late and in part because we had to catch a train. Now I wish it had been Spoon that headlined Saturday.
I'm sure Spoon hold great appeal to a lot of people but I'm not one of them. I've tried but I just can't get into what they're doing. We borrowed the gong from Boris and bailed after 30 minutes.
I don't want to completely unload on Pitchfork for all the sound problems because it's still a great way to hear a lot of good bands for $60 total. Hell, I'd gladly pay that much for a Boris/No Age show. I'm sure sound problems are more likely to occur at festivals but it needs to be addressed before next year.

Early wish list for '09: Les Breastfeeders, Deerhoof, Mudhoney, The Earaches, Liars.

Next up: Lollapalooza.


Peter said...

Please please please tell me you saw Fleet Foxes. They are close becoming the best this year for me, and they were incredible at Sasquatch.

Anonymous said...

We caught some of them. One of the bad parts of fesitvals like this is inevitably, with multiple stages, you're going to miss someone you wish you saw. Also, there's some bands you wish had played longer. So you take that as part of the equation, unfortunately.


Peter said...

True true. At Sasquatch I missed 90% of White Rabbits set for Cold War Kids.

jay said...

"I'll just start reviewing this day off by giving a special Pitchfork, rounded to the nearest tenth, grade for all the sound crews the first two days:


Just brutal. One mishap after another."

It was exactly the same when I went there last year; total amateur hour. In reality, it probably was--I heard a couple people behind me saying how they bought "sound crew" backstage passes on the street & feigned being audio professionals to get on stage.

But, hey, it is Crapfork; what can you expect?

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