[25 July 2012]
Another day of hipsters, sun and (sigh) rain in Union Park as Pitchfork 2012 keeps right on rolling. Unlike Friday, the headliners didn’t deliver but there was still a lot of great music to be heard.
I was kicking myself for lollygagging as I walked into Union Park Saturday afternoon because it meant that I had lost a good 15 minutes of the Cloud Nothings. When I arrived on-scene the Cleveland punks were carrying-on like demons had possessed their guitars. Unfortunately after seeing only two songs, rain once again began coming down in earnest. Although started as a drizzle, it quickly escalated to a soaking downpour. The band, bless their foolish hearts, decided to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the gods of weather and worked their way into a blistering guitar jam that seemed to get heavier in equal proportion to the rain’s intensity. For a while, it was a thrilling act as those in the crowd thought “who will win, these guys, or the weather?” Sadly, it wasn’t those guys. The group refused to heed stage techs as they screamed “step away from your electronic instruments unless you want your flesh to be fried into a permanent part of the stage” or something in a similar vein. Eventually the sound cut out and the Could Nothings were forced to flee to safety, leaving spectators impressed but thoroughly soaked. Thus began day two.
Scoring: A nothing less than Herculean effort on the band’s part pulls out a draw, but rain mostly spoils the fun on a great early-afternoon set, another heartbreaker for Team Midwest.
Team Midwest 0-0-2
I was determined to leave my prejudices against both Deerhunter and Bradford Cox’s even-wankier side project Atlas Sound at the door before taking this set in but that was before I was deprived of the Cloud Nothings and left soaking wet. The fact that he came out in white face wasn’t a good sign although I thought that the Dylan-esque Stetson might help him channel the more talented solo performer. It did not. Cox sounded like he was making up things up as he went along and when all you’ve got is some soft singing and an acoustic guitar in front of giant field, that’s not a good thing. On top of that, he was totally lacking in charisma, even of the “hey, I’m totally lacking in charisma, but at least I’m owning that, which is kinda cool”-variety. Feeling the first kiss of further rain roll in about twenty minutes into his performance was all the encouragement that I needed to high-tail it to the dryness of the record tent.
Scoring: Festival sets with a dude softly strumming a guitar are a risky proposition. When it’s raining and you’re already soaking-wet, it makes you question the point in even trying. Team South’s first loss of the fest.
Team South 2-1-0
I didn’t see Liturgy’s set. Instead, I was crouching at the bottom of a large tree desperately trying to cling to any cover I could after being caught in yet another drizzle. I was wet, I was alone, I was frustrated. But as I sat there, I heard something that called into question basic science. How could light be the only thing that manifests itself as both a sound and a wave when here I was being simultaneously pummeled by and rolling in the waves of sound that was emanating from the Blue Stage? I couldn’t tell where the guitars ended and the drums began (or did I read they didn’t have drums?) but it all blurred together into a ball of energy that reached over the food lines to provide some sonic sustenance to a poor, waterlogged music lover.
Scoring: Liturgy’s ability to make me smile from across the park is like a brilliantly nonchalant no-look pass and gets the East Coast on the board.
Team East Coast 1-0-1
Happy girl group melodies and a light R&B vibe made New York’s Cults the perfect band to help welcome the sun back to Saturday’s festivities. They couldn’t have asked for a better setting, with the clouds parting and sun peeking out just as they started and the band clearly luxuriated in every minute of it. Madeline Follin mostly kept her singing in a high, pixieish register but did reach back a couple of times to show off some slightly more impressive vocals that gave the crowd a slightly less twee take on songs from the band’s debut album. A little more of that might have catapulted the band from “pleasant diversion” to “surprise breakout” but as it was, I was plenty happy to appreciate the appropriateness of “Go Outside” echoing through the park, enabling me to echo that sentiment for the first time of the day.
Scoring: Team East Coast can’t quite keep the momentum going after a Blue Stage victory but nothing that upbeat could be considered a total loss.
Team East Coast 1-0-2
I had not heard note one of Trevor Powers’ band Youth Lagoon before walking in the gates Saturday morning but a description from a festival guide I’d read seemed so snarky that I was determined to give him a fair shake. That was a good call because, although it was wispy, Youth Lagoons soft swells of bedroom pop translated surprisingly well the a live setting. Everything pretty, everything was same-y and everything was absolutely inoffensive. I had a wonderful time, but it must be said that I also didn’t mind talking through half the set, planning the rest of my weekend and otherwise treating many songs as soft and shimmery background noise to an afternoon at the park.
Scoring: Team Midwest is full of rookies playing early slots and it shows. Youth Lagoon has the talent but needs another summer in AAA.
Team Midwest 0-0-3
This disappointingly early set from the ladies of Wild Flag wasn’t just the high point of the day, it was a great rock n’ roll experience. If you’ve heard Wild Flag before, I bet you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. If you’ve seen Wild Flag before you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s hard to beat their trademarked sound of punk meets keyboard pop meets your Dad’s FM favorites all delivered with maximum energy and awesomeness. Mary Timony has grown ever more comfortable as a front woman and grabbed the mic for the opener, a cover of Television’s “See No Evil” and the next song, a new, highly promising number before the band finally threw the crowd some truly red meat with “Electric Band”. Carrie Brownstein was energetic as ever on guitar and vocals but Rebecca Coles enthusiastic bopping might be the highlight of the performance. She looked like the most die-hard Wild Flag fan in the park (and that’s saying something) who just happened to be onstage. Everything sounded like a future entry in the indie rock songbook but the closing 1-2 punch of “Racehorse” and “Romance” should have been enough to make all those trendsters heading out early for Sleigh Bells kick themselves.
Scoring: Wild Flag is the 1927 Yankees of Pitchfork so far. Not a bum note or single complaint.
Team West Coast 1-0-0
Schoolboy Q might have might have thought he was at the 2010 Pitchfork Festival when the Blue Stage hosted a comedy section because his set was half hits, half standup. “Where all my white niggas at?” he asked, trying to prod the heavily Caucasian crowd into participation, adding “white people don’t get enough respect… they’re the ones who come to my shows”. Although the crowd was clearly enjoying his set (aided, no doubt, by the truly heroic amounts of marijuana being consumed), Q seemed to expect them to have a far deeper knowledge of his lyrics than they did, often pausing to let the audience finish his rhymes, only to find a handful of people answering him. Somehow though, seemingly through sheer force of will and charisma, he always seemed to prod, cajole or guide the audience along until, by the end of the song, it seemed that half the crowd was joining in. It was an impressive set, delivered by just the artist, alone on-stage, providing a stark contrast to A$AP Rocky’s prodigious crew. “Calm down, of course I’m gonna play ‘Hands On The Wheel’” he told an enthusiastic fan before finally ripping off his shirt (and quipping “shoutout to Frank Ocean”) and diving into his hit which had the crowd bumping from the first note. It was a fine moment capping the hip-hop set of the festival.
Scoring: Team West Coast is hot out of the gates with back-to-back shutdown performances but can they maintain their momentum through Sunday?
Team West Coast 2-0-0
When looking at the lineup in advance, Hot Chip seemed to be the perfect band for the pre-headlining spot. The sun would just be setting, cooling things down enough for a major dance party before the less-than-spectacular headliners. I had visions of Cut Copy’s triumphant pre-TV On The Radio set from last year dancing in my head. Rather than being the match that lit the fuse though, the Brits in Hot Chip seemed stuck at a low-level simmer. Though the band had swelled to seven pieces, no one brought any charisma to the performance and much of the material from their latest album, In Our Heads seemed somewhat flat live. The crowd wrung every ounce of danceable joy they could from the songs but my sense was that after a day of rain, heat and dancing, people were just worn out. You couldn’t call it a bad outing but after watching deliver blistering sets opening for LCD Soundsystem’s final tour it was a bit of a letdown.
Scoring: Some days you gotta go out there and battle even when you don’t have your best stuff. That Hot Chip did and they easily fought their way to a draw.
Team Not America 2-1-1
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
I was amazed that Saturday sold out early because it was the only night without a true headliner. After Hot Chip people did one of three things—the dancers headed to Blue Stage, the wet and tired headed for the exits and the true music nerds and/or three day pass holders determined to get value stayed for Montreal noise rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Now a festival headliner should either be big enough to bring their own cult audience or pack strong enough songs to grab doubters by the throat and never let go. Godspeed! is, I’m sure a great noise rock band but they failed to meet either of those criterion. Their decision to start off with a song that takes 20 minutes to start actually sounding like a song just put the cherry on top of a set that was determinedly unwelcome to newcomers. After popping out to see Grimes, I checked back in with Godspeed! and, I must say, once they get the twenty minute songs going, they can really kick ‘em out. But,as great as they sounded to the diehards, it certainly wasn’t a crowd-pleaser, sporting the smallest audience for a closer since Yoko Ono’s headlining set in 2007.
Scoring: This is Game 7 of the 1985 World Series all over again—a game lost by the officials. Godspeed! did exactly what they were paid to do, but the line between “bold programming choice” and “ill-conceived blunder” had been more trampled than crossed. Sometimes you gotta take one for the team.
Team Not America 2-2-1
I didn’t get too close for Grimes, but that’s really ok. It wasn’t for me. Even from the back reaches of the crowd surrounding the Blue Stage I could see reams of girls dancing on their boyfriends, dancing on their best friends, dancing on complete strangers. There were others starting intently at the stage, occasionally rolling their heads our mouthing along, as appropriate. It was incredible fun, lead by the singer herself and ably assisted by two somewhat tentative onstage dancers which gave the whole thing a loveable, if not-quite-ready-for primetime vibe. She certainly wasn’t a festival closing act either, but this crowd didn’t want prime, just some time of their own. I was glad that there was room for seventeen year old girls (and their more dance-happy or open-minded male friends) to have their moment in the spotlight at this festival. It sure as hell beat trying to get that crowd into Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Scoring: Though Grimes was also in far, far over her head going on at 8:40 with a set that just screamed “mid-day monotony breaker”, she was at least trying to have fun and live up to the moment (I could still smell the acrid evidence of the cheap fireworks used to start the set). We’ll call that a draw.
Standings After Day 2
Team West Coast 2-0-0
Team South 2-1-0
Team Not America 2-2-2
Team East Coast 1-0-2
Team Midwest 0-0-3