Smile Politely

Pitchfork in review

Fleet Foxes writeup by Jeremiah Stanley, other material by Ben Valocchi

Watching people attempt to figure out the CTA can be funny. When they’re wearing American Apparel and Ray Bans, it becomes hilarious. And so my weekend began on a train platform filled with confused hipsters and some very annoyed locals. While heat indexes pushed past 100 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, festival staff did a good job of distributing free water and keeping people hydrated, and with the aid of the generous amounts of shade in Union Park, the weekend stayed pretty relaxed on the whole.


tUnE-YarDs (4:30, Blue Stage)

It’s always a bummer when the first artist of a festival blows the rest of the weekend away. Merrill Garbus had the crowd eating out of her hands from the moment she stepped on stage to soundcheck. Noticeably awed by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd gathered under the trees at the blue stage, she was a ball of concentration and energy for the duration of her 45 minute set. Backed by a bassist and two saxophone players, Merril wove forceful tapestries of speed-strummed ukulele and impeccably timed loops into a heady mix of skronk-jazz and afrobeat, with some hip-hop thrown in for good measure. Some of the best moments in the set came from stylistic deviations though, especially the sugar-sweet ballad “Powa” and a furious saxophone-driven version of “Bizness” that stretched out past the seven minute mark.

Thurston Moore (5:30, Red Stage)

I have extremely fond memories of Sonic Youth’s performance of Daydream Nation at the 2007 edition of the festival, which is perhaps the reason this set came off as such a dud. The intricate details of Moore’s riff-workouts were lost in the afternoon haze, coming off as nothing more than throwaway Sonic Youth b-sides.

Guided by Voices (6:25, Green Stage)

It seems like at least one group falls victim to brutal sound issues every year at Pitchfork, but for the love of god, why did it have to be GBV? Despite Robert Pollard slugging down Cuervo Gold and the presence of Neko Case on the opener, “Echos Myron”, their set was rendered impotent by possibly the worst mix I’ve ever heard at a major festival. I found myself wishing I’d stuck around the Blue Stage for Das Racist.

James Blake (7:30, Blue Stage)

I’ll confess to being unfamiliar with the UK downtempo soul man, but count me as a fan based on this set. Backed by a live drummer (something I very much appreciate in any electronic context) and thanking the crowd profusely, and with his wave of liquid soul and impossibly deep bass, he eased the crowd into a sea of dancers under the setting sun.

Animal Collective (8:30, Green Stage)

I wonder if anyone realized that they were listening to a jam band at this set. Granted, it’s a pretty hip one, but it was still 90 minutes of what indie rock considers its mortal enemy As they’re well known to do, Animal Collective played a set almost entirely made up of new material, with the exceptions of “Summertime Clothes” and a stunning extended version of “Brother Sport.” With all four members back onboard once again, the group steered away from the poppier territory of Merriweather Post Pavilion into experimental territory more reminiscent of the group’s older work or Panda Bear’s Person Pitch. The group’s trademark throbbing synths and and vocals were still there, but were tempered with an electronic influence bordering on house. While many of the specifics were lost in the mix from my position (especially the guitar), their set ebbed and flowed better than most of the weekend’s acts.



Woods (1:45, Red Stage)

The fact that the guy next to me went into this set expecting to see a freak-folk show and I was there for their extended Oneida-esque jam shows how versatile of a band Woods can be, and they wound up splitting the difference in their early afternoon performance. After the Neu-isms of a ten minute “Out of the Eye,” they went immediately into their most tender and melodic number, “Be All Be Easy.” On a side note, I must commend these guys for pulling off what has to be an extremely rare daytime set for them.

No Age (3:20, Red Stage)

I’ll admit that No Age are not exactly my cup of tea — I like my punk straight to the point, and something about No Age’s obtuseness turns me off. That said, these guys ripped up in the hottest timeslot (tempurature-wise, at least) of the weekend. In true punk fashion, they went into a string of older songs when some of their fancy electronic equipment went dead from the heat, and the crowd responded in kind.

Gang Gang Dance (4:15, Green Stage)

While Gang Gang Dance took their time getting going, their massive builds and climaxes rewarded the more patient audience members, and kicked off one of the better dance parties of the weekend. It’s refreshing to see someone playing truly progressive, organic dance music. The group’s seven-plus members each played a small role in creating the throbbing beats and almost orchestral sense of movement.

Off! (4:45, Blue Stage)

I find the concept of Keith Morris at Pitchfork to be incredibly funny, in a perverse sort of way. As the Black Flag / Circle Jerks frontman declared that the group was “going to be bring a little bit of a different flavor to the party,” the crowd roared its approval (although they roared louder when he name-dropped No Age and Neko Case). For being at possibly the least-punk festival in history, he displayed a surprising amount of grace under pressure, despite a faulty mic cable, exploding bass amp, and flying water bottles, which caused the band’s set to balloon up to an unheard-of-for-hardcore 35 minutes.

The Dismemberment Plan (6:15, Green Stage)

People have been recommending these guys to me for years, but I’d failed to check them out. Boy, am I glad I remedied that. D-Plan had possibly the best stage presence of any group at the ‘fork this year, tempering their late 90s emo with blasts of keyboard and drums dance freakouts and a near-constant stream of jokes from frontman Travis Morrison (“It gets hot in the south, but we usually don’t stare into the sun for an hour down there.”) I’m not sure what percentage of their set came off of the beloved Emergency & I, but based on the number of 30-year-olds losing their shit, I’d guess it was a fairly large chunk.

DJ Shadow (7:25, Red Stage)

I really wanted to give this set a bad review. With the live visuals rendered moot by a 7:25 set time (damned curfew!), staring at the big white ball he was spinning inside of wasn’t exactly doing it for me. Fortunately, someone had the brilliant idea halfway through the set to spin it around so the crowd could watch Shadow through what I assume is normally the back entrance, and we were off and running. With the exception of the set-closing “Organ Donor” and twisted, near-unrecognizable sample teases from “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” and “The Number Song,” Davis spent very little time playing the music that has made him a godhead in the DJ community. After getting the requisite hyphy tracks out of the way early (thank god), he played a surprisingly Drum and Bass heavy set that showcased his unique sense of rhythm and massive bass that pushed the PA to its absolute limit.

Fleet Foxes (8:30, Green Stage)

Fleet Foxes closed out Saturday night in perfect fashion. The day was hot, long and truly exhausting, but all my cares left when the sun began to set and the Fleet Foxes filled the park with their harmonies. I had come a long way from Cold Cave’s intense beat-driven dance synth in the hottest part of the day to the calm and refreshing folky “stories” of Fleet Foxes. I lined up for the show a little more than an hour before and felt like I did pretty well at getting in position; however, it was a less than ideal location for photos.

There was prior talk (by faceless/nameless people) about the potential that the Foxes’ sound might not be all that well suited for such an outdoor set, but they sounded brilliant and resounded into the breezy air. I’ll admit I’m a biased fan of the Foxes — hell, I would have paid the daily admission price just to see them alone — but I gotta tell you that they did honestly sound great. The Foxes’ set was heavy with songs from the recent Helplessness Blues, but included favorites from the self-titled debut, including “Your Protector,” “White Winter Hymnal” and “Blue Ridge Mountains.” There was a small group of people near me that probably would have had a coronary if they hadn’t heard “Blue Ridge Mountains.” They even suggested it as a story option to singer Robin Pecknold when he offered to tell one to the crowd. Pecknold clarified that it was a song title, but couldn’t help but recognize that referring to songs as stories wasn’t the worst idea he’d ever heard.

It felt like the overall setlist was well rounded — but it would be hard for it not to be when you’re a band with about 25 songs, right? “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” could have brought tears to my eyes if I really let it and the popular “White Winter Hymnal,” followed by “Ragged Wood,” was something I’ll never forget as a shared experience with a crowd. I felt connected to both band and the crowd during the entire set, especially at those moments. Actually, if I think about it, those three songs were part of a series of seven straight that might be my all-time favorite series of consecutive songs at a concert. It was, in a word, dreamy.



Yuck (1:45, Red Stage)

These guys are constantly (and correctly) compared to Dinosaur Jr, and that predictably dogmatic adherence to convention was exactly the problem with their set. The fact that most of the audience just wanted a good spot for Odd Future didn’t help either.

OFWGKTA (3:20, Red Stage)

The massive crowd that began to pack in during Yuck’s set should have clued me in to the fact that this was going to be a rough one. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone was ready for how amped up this audience was. From the moment the group’s DJ spun “Where Is the Love” (precipitating a massive stampede to the front) to the closing chant of “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School,” the crowd was a sea of flying water bottles, mosh pits, pot smoke and middle fingers. Still recovering from a broken foot, Tyler the Creator hobbled out on crutches, snagged a painting of himself out of the crowd, and was over the pit security line and into the crowd within two songs, as were all of the group’s members at one point or another. All the major hits were played: “Yonkers,” “Radicals,” the requisite Free Earl segment (dead in Samoa, according to Tyler), and the crowd screamed along to every word, eating out of Tyler’s hands like a well-trained dog. While I often see OFWGKTA performances compared to hardcore show, a more apt comparison is internet troll culture — the group is reactionary to a fault and expend a lot of energy to appear uncaring about public opinion (calculated to be sure, but a convincing act), including having the crowd put their middle fingers up for a few songs (pictured above) and bringing cupcakes to the domestic violence groups that picketed their set and giving them an on-stage shout out after one of their many tunes about “stabbing bitches.” And while the stagediving and antics are expected at this point, you can’t deny that they know how to work a crowd. I wrote in my preview that this would be a make or break performance for the group, and they’ve made it in a big way.

Baths (4:45, Blue Stage)

Will Wiesenfeld sure seems like a cool guy. As he beamed over a bank of samplers and drum machines, he provided the perfect antecedent to the OFWGKTA performance, bursting with friendship and charm in place of antagonism and ugliness. While I could take or leave his music, it’s hard to have a bad time when the guy on stage is just so damned nice.

Superchunk (5:15, Red Stage)

Except for some grey hair, they haven’t aged a bit since the 90s. That’s part of the problem, though — their music hasn’t either. While I’m all for consistency, their set bordered on musical stagnation, and despite the group’s tremendous energy, I left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Deerhunter (6:15, Green Stage)

Relative to the Guided by Voices Friday and the Dismemberment Plan Saturday, Deerhunter drew an outlandishly large crowd to their timeslot on the green stage. They built an ambient intro into screaming feedback, and then launched immediately into “White Ink.” The set highlight by far was “Nothing Ever Happened,” which stretched into a hypnotic kraut jam before segueing into a cover of Patti Smith’s “Horses.” It’s a testament to the band’s versatility and instrumental prowess that they can go from wordless swirling noise at one moment to furious alt-rock the next.

Toro y Moi (6:45, Blue Stage)

Chillwave can be extremely problematic in a live setting — the Washed Out performance at the festival last year being a prime example — but Chaz Bundrick has gotten around that limitation by going for a fully organic approach, augmenting his performance with live bass, drums and guitar. The effect was to strip away a lot of the extraneous fuzz from his music, leaving a rock band pounding out his infectious dance rhythms.

Cut Copy (7:25, Red Stage)

While I unfortunately had to skip out on TV on the Radio’s set (once is enough for those guys), I couldn’t have asked for a better closing soundtrack than Cut Copy’s performance. Backed by a serious light show and professional to a T, they kept the energy level at maximum during their set, despite some heat-related technical issues.


Stray observations

Pits were consistently hilarious all weekend, be it the 50-year-old man slamming down hipsters at Off! or the three person circle pit at OFWGKTA.

I caught small chunks of several other sets, but not enough to put together a cognizant review. In short: EMA, Julianna Barwick, The Fresh and Onlys and Shabazz Palaces were intriguing, Kurt Vile, Wild Nothing and Destroyer were enjoyable but unremarkable, and Ariel Pink was flat-out shit — his popularity continues to baffle me.

I have to echo Jeremiah’s sentiment on Fleet Foxes — they far exceeded my admittedly low expectations.

95 percent of the time, I was the only person in the press tent not using a Macbook

I spotted Stephen McDonald of Off! (also Redd Kross) watching DJ Shadow on Saturday night and talked to him for a bit. He seems like a nice guy.

After wearing a Black Moth Super Rainbow shirt Sunday, I was informed by no less than three separate people that Ryan Graveface and Seven Fields of Aphelion were manning a booth in the record convention.

Amidst a sea of festival t-shirts, Waynestock stood out the most to me.

I cannot even begin to describe how epic Gang Gang Dance are going to sound in the Canopy this September. Seriously.

The guy who owns the convenience store on the corner of Ashland and Lake probably had a pretty good weekend.

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