First off, I’ll just admit that I haven’t been to a rock festival since 1996, let alone the Pitchfork Music Festival, until now. I would never have thought of going until a friend asked me. Pitchfork’s reputation is controversial, but my friend assured me that their concert band selection was good.
The festival was laid out pretty well with local Chicago restaurants serving food from a line of stands, everything from Indian to Thai to diner food. I was surprised that the only beer available were Heineken or Newcastle Wheat. It would have been nice to see a brewery like Goose Island represented. Needless to say, the beer stand did not see much business from our group. One section of vendor tents was dedicated to poster artists who designed posters for all of your favorite indie bands’ tours. A central tent offered used records, jewelry, custom knit guitar cords, and other crafty nicknacks. Whole Foods demonstrated groceries you could buy at their store and Clif Bars offered free samples that proved crucial in helping to avoid paying exorbitant amounts for food. The vendor stands all embodied the hipster ideals of organic food and local artisanship.
Friday’s lineup was by far the least exciting, but perhaps the highlight was the crowd that seemed to play up the hipster stereotype with 80s and 90s nerdy wardrobes.
I arrived as the Liars were starting. A lot of growls and anthemic chanting accompanied their grinding, charging tunes. Sort of a Doors meets shoegaze meets punk.
Broken Social Scene was probably the highlight of the evening. They played very upbeat songs and held the by-then larger crowd well. They implemented a diverse set of instruments and each member seemed to rotate among each instrument. Each song seemed to feature some quirky instrument. Lisa Lobsinger headed up most of the songs. With so many instruments playing at once, it was hard to pick out any single sound, and it became a mush of danceable, repetitive rock, with some boring solos thrown in here and there. Overall, though, they kept a lively show going.
Modest Mouse headlined the first day with a pretty solid set. Isaac Brock was quite energetic, but the show itself wasn’t spectacular.
Saturday provided a good mix of headliners and some less known, but entertaining acts.
Real Estate played a set of some 60s-inspired chill-out rock, with a good measure of punk thrown in. Mostly a lot of simple, repeated ostinatos. Not entirely exciting, but a pretty solid performance.
Kurt Vile lead a great set with his backing band, the Violators. Sort of a Tom Petty inspired metal. Their lineup included a harpist who added a nice, floating high register melody to the growling guitars. The drummer played his set like a wild beast, drumming with maracas, padded mallets, and even his hands.
Titus Andronicus provided the post-depression anarchist punk flavor for the festival. Much of their influence seemed to come from Iggy Pop and the other 80s punk acts rejecting industrialization and championing anarchy. The lead sported an American flag handkerchief tied to his guitar and a large American flag was draped over the keyboards in a show of ironic antiestablishmentarianism. The songs had a tinge of desperation, hopelessness, and nihilism. Some good old rock and roll was thrown in for good measure.
Raekwon brought a good dose of Wu Tang Clan to the festival — when things were working correctly. The DJ took forever to get his rig working and the entire act was plagued by technical difficulties. The highlight was the group of Chitown Breakers – 10-year-olds who breakdanced as Raekwon rapped.
For me, John Spencer Blues Explosion was Saturday’s highlight. They bring a tremendous amount of energy to their show, with some great blues rock. The drummer never stopped and John Spencer never eased off of his stage mojo. No JSBX set is complete without some equipment breakage at the end, and they did not disappoint.
Everybody loves Wolf Parade. There was a good amount of energy, to be sure – plenty of anthemic, cathartic tunes. Nothing terribly complex, but solid.
Panda Bear nearly put everyone to sleep as we camped out to get a good spot for LCD Soundsystem. There were plenty of acts this weekend that didn’t seem appropriate for sunny, outdoor festivals, and this was one of them.
As headliners, LCD Soundsystem put on a great, energetic show. I’m pretty amazed that the drummer can keep those fast-paced rhythms going for so long. James Murphy certainly has charisma and stage presence that keeps the show going. Interestingly, though, he seemed to spend a great deal of time directing his bandmates and the sound crew throughout the show, coming back to the mike to yell out some anthemic chants. I certainly detected a trace of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense show, which is a complement.
By Sunday, my old, decrepit body was feeling the effects of standing for several hours at a time, mixed with sitting on the ground. My friend and I were happy to spend most of the afternoon/evening camped out in front of the stage where Pavement would be playing.
We got there as Girls started their set. Another 60s throwback band playing some straightforward rock with a lot of repeated riffs. Great for an afternoon nap.
The afternoon nap continued with Beach House, their spacey sound and ethereal vocals coaxing us into a deeper sleep.
We were rudely, but thankfully jolted awake by Lightning Bolt. This band was technically amazing, creating a frontal assault on the senses. Very awe inspiring. The band consists of a bassist and a drummer playing in front of a large stack of amps and speakers. At times, the bassist had his guitar tuned to the range of a normal guitar, playing riffs while the drummer seemed to play continuous drum solos throughout each song. As the set started, the drummer donned a special neon-painted mask and remarked, “oh, you all didn’t bring a shitty mask?” The mask acted as a support for a microphone held up to his mouth. As the drummer screamed and made noises, the heavily distorted sound created a sound similar to shredding guitars and shrieks. A persistent ringing distortion acted as the icing on the sonic cake. An amazing show.
St. Vincent played some more dreamy pop, but Annie Clark had a reserved, yet powerful stage presence. Their lineup featured heavy use of reverbed woodwinds. Another chance to snooze before Pavement.
Major Lazer awoke us from another nap with some straightforward, pounding electro house and a romp of a stage show. Apparently, Major Lazer was a soldier who fought in a secret zombie war in Jamaica in 1984, but no reference was made to this fact in the show. Instead, he MC’d and sang as scantily clad women booty danced, chinese lion costumes danced, booze was consumed, and various sexual acts were pantomimed. To keep it classy, some ballerinas were brought out to dance, but their twirling soon degenerated into more booty dancing. Major Lazer seemed perturbed by the fact that the majority of the crowd simply stood and watched instead of getting jiggy with it. My guess is that most people (like me) were camping out for Pavement or were appalled at the flagrant womanizing.
Big Boi rapped some Outkast tunes. It seemed like a pretty solid set.
Pavement’s set was introduced by a former Chicago alternative radio shock jock. He succeeded in making the crowd surly as he denounced Pavement. Pavement finally came on and the crowd was very energetic. Sadly, this energy faded as the band simply played through their setlist. Malkmus’ prosaic performance was offset by Nastanovich’s antics, but the band as a whole lacked energy. They covered most of their hits and left. No one seemed to be too excited about an encore. It was great to see Pavement live – a once in a lifetime event, but it certainly wasn’t the defining act.
Overall, Pitchfork had its moments of excitement, but most of it seemed like a snoozefest. Perhaps the “indie” rock scene doesn’t work as well in a festival environment. —