With temperatures hovering at around 90 degrees all weekend‚ being at the Pitchfork Festival turned into quite an ordeal. Pretty much everyone was able to keep their heads and handle the heat gracefully‚ but perhaps people weren't quite as patient with the artists when we were sweating just while standing still. We deserved a damn good performance after grinning and bearing it all day long in sultry Union Park‚ right? It was another interesting weekend for Pitchfork where I was blown away by some old regulars‚ buzz bands flopped under their own hype and new favorites emerged for me once again.
It really was hot over the weekend in Chicago and that heat is just as much a factor for this story as Pavement's triumphant reunion. We were repeatedly reminded by artists and festival staffers alike to stay hydrated and look out for each other. The Pitchfork staff deserve credit for humanely dropping the price of bottled water from $2 to $1 between Friday and Saturday as well as handing out hundreds of free bottles to all the die-hards that risked heat stroke by camping out in front of the big stages all day. Images of refugee camps came to mind as this happened. Union Park has some nice big shade trees scattered around its grounds and these areas became an interesting scene throughout the weekend. Festival-goers retreated to these shadows‚ sprawled out in the grass listlessly pulling on cigarettes and cold beers‚ bandanas and t-shirts on their heads resembling bandages. I imagine this is what the trenches of World War I looked like during lulls in the combat. But they breed them tough in the Midwest and people continually poured out of the trenches and into the no-mans-land between the Aluminum and Connector stages.
In a brilliant feat of scheduling‚ the midday lineups on Saturday and Sunday perfectly strung together sets by bands like Delorean‚ Best Coast‚ Real Estate and Washed Out for maximum summer vibes when the sun was its hottest. New Jersey's own Real Estate were one of the highlights of the whole festival for me. On record‚ their guitars sound wet‚ like they were recorded underwater and it sounds perfect. That murkiness was a little more jangly and bright in person‚ but those cleaner guitar sounds still went well with Real Estate's spot-on rhythm section that was enough to get your head nodding but not break into a big sweaty dance-y mess -- that would come later during LCD Soundsystem.
I can appreciate the argument that Washed Out is better suited for a headphone listen than a live performance as he is just one man and a table of electronics‚ but I would counter by saying that there is no better way to hear him than outside on a hot day with an awesome sound system. Ernest Greene's patient‚ loping beats hold you by the hips while recycled AM melodies and his breathy vocals waft over your head with the warm breeze. His nostalgia-inducing tunes render memories of summers past -- skateboards‚ fireworks‚ Italian ice‚ beers on the beach for me.
If you subscribe to my theory of summer vibes scheduled in the middle of the day as a good thing‚ then on paper Titus Andronicus' set following Real Estate's on Saturday would seem to not work. Titus are New Jersey buddies of Real Estate's but are musically like oil and water. Their latest opus‚ The Monitor‚ is a massive album that weds Bruce Springsteen's folk balladry with hardcore's brash guitars and angst -- even going so far as to bite lyrics from "Born to Run" on stand-out opening track "A More Perfect Union." With Civil War metaphors aplenty and epic songs that climax after 7+ minutes this excellent album translates perfectly to a festival stage. If I ever had several thousand dollars to spend on music for a Fourth of July party‚ I'd book Titus Andronicus.
However‚ not all the break-out bands I anticipated last week panned out on the grand Pitchfork Festival stage. Local Chicago up and comers‚ Smith Westerns sounded flat and it seemed their inexperience showed. It's kind of a knee-jerk cliché‚ but I think they would have benefited from a small‚ dank club where their flaws are not so epically broadcasted over a festival's massive PA. I'd give them another couple of years to mature as not one of the band members was old enough to order a beer at the time of the festival.
Pitchfork likes to break new bands and they did not disappoint this year in their sixth festival incarnation. However‚ there were plenty of heavyweights on the bill that really delivered this weekend as well. Much of Saturday afternoon was consumed by camping out at the Aluminum stage to be in prime position for LCD Soundsystem. Getting there early also afforded the chance to catch another group of vets -- and hype machine victims -- Wolf Parade in the run-up to that sweaty‚ chaotic finale. Wolf Parade have been close to my heart ever since their breakthrough debut Apologies to the Queen Mary. The first thing I noticed in their new material was the drums -- they were loud. The new material is very danceable and drummer Arlen Thompson is the obvious motor with his four on the floor rhythms. Keyboardist Spencer Krug and guitarist Dan Boeckner familiarly traded off on singing duties through the set. The contrasting personalities and styles and the way they successfully mesh has always been what makes Wolf Parade a great band.
While the stage crew set up for LCD Soundsystem‚ we packed in and the mood was giddy. When they attached the enormous disco ball to the lighting rig there were shrieks of excitement. From the minute James Murphy and co took the stage with "Us v Them" to when they closed with "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" he had us in the palm of his hand. LCD Soundsystem shows are unique in that I've never seen such a mass dance party any place else. Pretty much all of his songs are massive hits and the first few chords or beats are always met with the same crowd reaction -- whoops‚ applause‚ a grin‚ closed eyes with a fist shaking in the air and ass shaking down below. "All My Friends" and "Someone Great" bring on chills and make your hair stand up every time. The brilliant tongue-in-cheek music industry jab -- "Losing My Edge" -- seemed destined to be played at a festival curated by people made infamous for their snotty criticism. One highlight of the LCD set was standing next to a big garbage bin that had a rotating cast of characters dancing on its lid. The girl in the sequined dress who looked like a human disco ball won top honors for her moves being beamed onto the jumbo-tron.
PavementThe festival came to a close Sunday night with perhaps the most anticipated set of the whole weekend -- the (temporarily?) reunited Pavement. Pavement got a grand introduction from Drag City Records man Ryan Murphy‚ who took on a sarcastic nineties shock-jock radio persona. As bottles and garbage hurtled toward the stage‚ Murphy lamented the bygone good old days of radio and lectured us on how he was there in the beginning to see Pavement become pioneers for today's indie musicians (again‚ "Losing My Edge" was perfect). The band eventually made it onto the stage to do their set and I'm still at odds with myself over how to place it. The song selection was great and their seemed to be little evidence of the band just phoning this one in. But Malkmus' recent work with The Jicks and Mark Ibold's stint with Sonic Youth misled me into predicting something I didn't get. Since Pavement broke up‚ its members seemed to shed their messy‚ slacker style of play. With The Jicks‚ Silver Jews‚ Sonic Youth‚ etc. they showed they're pros. Malkmus' guitar on that last Jicks record was brilliant. But on this night they reverted back to their early-nineties slacker roots that saw Malkmus flubbing chords and Ibold playing more feedback than notes on his bass. Regardless of shabby playing‚ the lack of an encore‚ Murphy's unwelcome rant (and no damn "Summer Babe"!)‚ Pavement's set was monumental for someone like myself who came to adore the band but never got to see them live.