Pitchfork Music Festival
17 Jul 2011: Union Park Chicago
Now here is the final installment of PopMatters’s coverage of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. We’ve pit guitar rock against electronic music. Who comes out on top? Read on!
Yuck – Red Stage, 1:45 PM
Listening to Yuck’s much-acclaimed eponymous debut, one might think the young UK band fits Pitchfork’s bill along with the likes of Guided By Voices, Thurston Moore, The Dismemberment Plan, and last year’s headliner, Pavement: Yuck plays indie rock of a distinctly ‘90s variety, full of plaintive vocals and guitar pyrotechnics. Live, one might not be dissuaded from the thought, entirely — Yuck played Sunday afternoon with the easy confidence of a veteran group. Guitarists Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom would’ve made J Mascis proud, shredding with equal parts joy and technical chops. These guys (and girl) clearly love shoegaze, sure, but as anyone at the Red Stage could tell you, their set brought the energy, dopamine, and volume that has always belied that genre’s name.
Points: Best New Artist Award (1994); Best New Artist Award (2011).
How to Dress Well – Blue Stage, 1:55 PM
In his explosive success, Tom Krell may have lost some of the mystery that initially shrouded his glo-fi bedroom project, How to Dress Well, but that just means he’s working even harder now to prove his chops. Krell’s initial live reviews proved a bit shaky, but if his Blue Stage set is any indication, he’s risen to the challenge of translating his fragile sounds into compelling live music. He left the instrumentation up to his band, focusing his own energies purely on the mic — and rest assured, his falsetto is just as powerful and beautiful in the proverbial flesh as it is on record. The real surprise of the hour: Krell’s addition of a string quartet to flesh out his songs, an unexpected move from a guy begrudgingly tied to the digital “PBR&B” movement. Krell made a good decision, as the strings gave added emotional heft to already aching tracks like “Ready for the World” and “Suicide Dream, Pt. 2”. This guy still has plenty of momentum to carry him as high as his own stratospheric voice can go.
Points: The Owen Pallett Award for Working the Strings; 500 points for smooth-as-Jiffy R&B.
Kurt Vile & the Violators – Green Stage, 2:30 PM
With apologies to tUnE-yArDs, Kurt Vile had the most Mariah Carey thing going all weekend: thanks to a big, Bad-Boy –Records-music-video-caliber, the guitar hero’s long locks blew dramatically in the wind while he and his band tore it up onstage. Vile’s profile has steadily — and finally — been growing this year (at least year’s festival, he played on the smaller Blue Stage), and his performance justified the hype. Breezy melodies, rapid-fire soloing, Vile’s clear, strong voice — these elements came together for a perfect mid-afternoon atmosphere of old-school, pure-fun rock music.
Points: 12 oz. bong water, heavily used; Nick Cannon’s heart.
OFWGKTA – Red Stage, 3:20 PM
Odd Future showed up. They appeared to be in excellent physical shape. They sounded very angry. Tyler, the Creator made some jokes about domestic violence and guns. Frank Ocean was not there. All right.
Points: The Milli Vanilli Award for Whoops, Don’t Check Back With Us in 10 Years, Guys.
Baths – Blue Stage, 4:45 PM
Baths’s Will Wiesenfeld may have been the most excited performer of the entire festival. Solo onstage, he writhed his way through a wide array of his glitchy, immaculately-melodied songs, somehow sweating even more than his audience (truly, a way to gain your crowd’s appreciation). His voice sounded great, especially when he edged away from the prettiness of its recorded form into some raw-throated screaming when the opportunity arose to kick things up a notch. If anyone at the festival could convince you to throw away your guitars and buy a sequencer, it was Wiesenfeld. My hips are still shaking.
Points: 500 for digital heroism.
Deerhunter – Green Stage, 6:15 PM
Volume. That’s the word for Deerhunter’s set. Frontman Bradford Cox, dressed like a 1920s safari guide in a straw hat and slacks, wielded his guitar like an aural weapon — all in the service of his band’s trademark blend of blissful pop and histrionic noise. “Helicopter” sounded even bigger than it does on record, and a surprise cover of Patti Smith’s “Horses” brought smiles through the crowd. Despite the potential for permanent hearing loss, most people begged the band to come back once closer “He Would Have Laughed” wrapped up. Next year, maybe Deerhunter will have more time.
Points: The Tinnitus Award for—what were you saying?
Cut Copy—Red Stage, 7:25
Wow. Does Cut Copy play weddings or bar mitzvahs? Frontman Dan Whitford and his band know how to party—I kept worrying Whitford’s heart might explode from all of his shaking and shimmying. He’s a perpetual motion machine. Good thing he can turn the crowd into one, too, to keep the inertia going. “Lights and Music”. “Hearts on Fire”, “Where I’m Going”: every song Cut Copy played sounded, for the moment, like the greatest, most exciting, most blood-pumping track ever dropped in front of an audience. The Jumbotron showed a sea of bodies jumping in time, dancing like we’d all crammed into Carnivale and not Union Park. For many fans in the crowd, this was the proper headlining act, and they made sure to get the most out of their hour.
Points: 1,000 for dance music; several hundred gallons of sweat.
TV on the Radio – Green Stage, 8:30 PM
TV on the Radio is perfectly suited to close out a three-day event: a large catalog, enough disparate styles of songwriting to keep things interesting, energy, energy, energy. The band delivered wonderfully, and the set served as a moment of release for the entire crowd. From the opening seconds of “Halfway Home” to the final chords of closer “Satellite,” the audience surged forward and backward, dealt admirably with the almost consistent flow of crowd surfers, and generally let themselves loose for a well-earned, rabid celebration. Knowing their limited time, TV on the Radio culled a near-perfect setlist from their discography, focusing on proven jams like “Wolf Like Me”, “Staring at the Sun”, “Young Liars”, and “Dancing Choose” to keep the crowd rapt. Even when they slowed the tempo, the band kept things interesting: a reworked “A Method” focused on hand-drums and percussion, with Tunde Adebimpe leading thousands in a full-bodied singalong.
Adebimpe worked the stage like it was his job and he was fighting to keep it, bounding from left to right and dancing with every joint in his body. Meanwhile, his foil, Kyp Malone, exuded the kind of cool that just can’t be taught or bought, all gentle falsetto and brooding sexuality. Personal highpoint of the evening: the band’s cover of Fugazi’s classic “Waiting Room”, which led to an explosive reaction among the faithful (other DC festival émigrés, perhaps?); for those crowd members who didn’t know the song or didn’t care to hear it, don’t let me see you on the street. All in all, TV On the Radio provided a flawless, high-octane finish to a sweat-soaked weekend. This is the DNA from which festival headliners should be created. Thanks to them, to Pitchfork, and to all the bands and fans that made the whole event possible — see you next year.
Points: TV on the Radio does not need my approval.
In the end, the battle between guitars and synthesizers proved less a draw than a double victory. If nothing else, Pitchfork 2011 showed just how wide-reaching — how wonderfully diverse and inventive — the indie music world has become in this new decade. Kudos to the organizers for tapping into that vein. Should this year serve as any indication, 2012 will be an even bigger hit. Don’t miss out.
Shabazz Palace at PItchfork
Superchunk at Pitchfork