2010 Pitchfork in Review
The anticipation for this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival was the most the tastemakers’ annual event has ever acquired by a long shot. Three-day passes sold out within a week – the fastest in its five year history. The big draw was seminal 90’s lo-fi rock act Pavement, a group Pitchfork had a hand in popularizing throughout the last decade, following their break-up in 1999. LCD Soundsystem was considered a must-see show, as well; possibly the last Midwest show for one of the most consistent bands of the last decade.
But there were other groups first. Sharon Van Etten kicked off the weekend with a somber set featuring The Bends-sounding break-up songs from her debut, 2009’s Because I Was in Love. With just her and her electric guitar, the show felt intimate as if she was playing a small club — the sparse crowd helped enhance this feeling, too. There was a twinge of irony when someone shouted, “I love you,” with Van Etten replying “I love you, too,” minutes after she sang a heart-wrenching tune about how she couldn’t love again. Following her beautiful 30-minute set, Tallest Man on Earth’s Kristian Matsson charmed an overwhelming audience with his amiable stage presence and warm songs. “King of Spain,” always a live show highlight, was no different here – Matsson’s throaty voice took center stage to his usual virtuoso guitar picking.
Michael Showalter’s stand-up could’ve offered a real treat to festival-goers wanting a reprieve from the noise, but, alas, the racket from neighboring stages bled into his set so much that concentration and composure were impossible. Undoubtably annoyed with the situation, Showalter, unable to perform his intended schtick, took requests from the crowd. When asked to perform as Doug from MTV’s sketch comedy The State, Showalter seemed even more pissed and responded that he’d do it only unless the audience watched his soul emit from his anus. He, of course, never ended up performing the character. The conditions weren’t ideal – or even close to OK – but Showalter stayed somewhat poised, poking fun at himself and the situation. Sure, he was funny, but his intended routine would’ve proven better. It was definitely a memorable show – something Showalter reiterated — but I doubt he’ll be back.
Another disappointing show ended Friday. A bearded and noticeably thick Isaac Brock, now an elder indie rock statesman, seems to have lost his edge and is reminiscent of cool, calm Jeff Tweedy. The show was a delight for late era Modest Mouse fans – they played seven songs from their last two albums and three from their latest b-sides record, No One’s First And You’re Next. Those hoping for an obscure set list were only comforted in the fact that Modest Mouse eschewed “Float On.”
Free Energy’s rambunctious excesses thrust the second day into gear abruptly. For a band that seemed constricted at Mad Planet earlier this year, they used every inch that the stage provided them at Pitchfork. It was a hot, sweltering afternoon, and the Philadelphia-based band were handing out big, classic rock hooks with ease. For a festival that gets bashed for its pretension, Pitchfork made a great decision booking Free Energy. Here are five guys enthusiastically having a great time, and without a touch of irony. This is what summer music fests are all about.
A massive crowd huddled around the stage waiting for Titus Andronicus, creators of one of 2010’s best album, The Monitor. It’s a civil war-themed riot, punk infused with soaring anthems and rewritten classic lyrics. “A More Perfect Union” gleefully opened the set and “Because tramps like us, baby we were born to die.” An American flag dangled off leading man Ian Graetzer’s guitar. A larger version hung in front of Matt Miller’s keyboard, and fell down near the end of the set. There’s a metaphor in their somewhere.
Technical difficulties delayed Raekwon’s performance by at least 20 minutes, and hampered him throughout. “C.R.E.A.M” from Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 debut record started the set and sounded excellent. Raekwon, while not too passionate on Saturday, still put on a good show, but couldn’t overcome the technical problems. Wolf Parade had some of their own, although they weren’t as debilitating. The two co-leading men Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner exchanged songs — the best combination coming on “This Heart’s on Fire” and “I’ll Believe in Anything.” The strongest crowd interest came from the Quebecan’s debut Apologies to the Queen Mary, but “Little Golden Age,” “In the Direction of the Moon” and “What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way)” all from last month’s Expo ’86 scorched live as the sun descended on the sweat-fueled affair.
The night’s best gig came from LCD Soundsystem. Since releasing “Losing My Edge” in 2002, James Murphy has impressed everyone by never making an okay record. Many point to Sound of Silver as the best, but arguments can be made for each. Murphy drew equally off all three Saturday night. The opening lyrics from “Us V Them” (“The time has come/ The time has come/ The time has come today”) fittingly kicked off the show. This is most likely LCD Soundsystem’s final tour as Murphy has stated his band won’t make another album. At Pitchfork, he emanated a certain collected cool, one where he’s ostensibly unsure about himself but is actually controlling everything around him. “All My Friends” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” were two of the show’s many highlights. The latter was spliced with Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” in a serene conclusion to the second day of music.
Sunday was cooler than any other day over the weekend yet still the most humid. It rained before the gates opened but, fortunately, never came down during festival hours. In the afternoon, Girls played a sometimes subdued, other times aggressive set that conjured up ’60s California surf rock. Everyone seemingly was waiting for “Lust For Life,” a swift, care-free whimsy about how better life could be, but opener “Laura” sounded better and closer “California Girls” — the group at their most Beach Boys-esque — was more fun.
Any sleepy eyes incurred from watching Beach House were immediately wiped away — or torn from their sockets for that matter — by Surfer Blood.
To put it short, they were loud. A surprisingly young group where nobody looks older than 23, the West Palm Beach five-piece evokes ’90s lo-fi rock yet still remains relevant. “Twin Peaks” looked back at David Lynch’s ’90s cult gem and offered a glum view of a failing relationship. Following with their self-exclaimed party song, Surfer Blood turned the reverb on high for “Swim (To Reach the End).” Confidence and swagger somehow came easy to this guys. The sunglasses clad leading man, John Paul Pitts, rocked a swanky yet nonchalant guitar solo. Late-30s hipsters wish they looked this cool.
At first glance, Major Lazer has a confounding live show. Why does DJ Diplo need a hype man? Shouldn’t his Jamician-style beats get people dancing on their own? Sure, they probably can. But when you have a crazy-person at your helm, you might as well use him, right? To get a better idea of what I mean by “crazy person,” the yellow mohawked Skerrit Bwoy is an equal mix between Flava Flav crazy and Tracy Morgan crazy. He’s the guy who’ll idiotically run across the stage saying things like, “somebody’s gonna have sex and get pregnant!” He’ll jump off a ladder for you; he’ll have his dancing booty girls jump off a ladder onto him for you. He’ll dance with ballerinas. He’ll dance with Chinese lion dancers. This guy will do anything. Just provide some Hennessey and, of course, Diplo.
John Lennon could’ve come back from the dead to introduce Pavement and would’ve gotten heckled to bring them out already. That prize, though, was awarded to Drag City’s Rian Murphy posing as a former Q101 disc jockey. What at first seemed like a Lollapalooza plug turned into ironic introduction that only received cheers when he said he loved to download music illegally — at the behest of commercial labels like Drag City and Matador. Plus, he provided this ostensibly conceited gem over booing: “I’ve been listening to Pavement since 1991. I’ve been waiting 20 years for this reunion tour!”
Well, Pavement finally came out and the audience, of course, went nuts. Their set was sloppy and Stephen Malkmus’ voice was hoarse, but they didn’t care too much and neither did anyone else. For many, this was the first time seeing the lo-fi, indie-rock gods, and they seemed content to just enjoy the experience. They leaned on their earlier output — notably Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain — but still surprised with renditions of Wowee Zowee‘s “Kennel District” and Brighten The Corners‘ “Fin.” Malkmus was eager to blow through as many songs as they could, though they seemed to be behind schedule the entire set. That might be why they closed on “The Hexx” and not would-be-crowd-favorite “Summer Babe.” But in the end, there were no complaints, this night was special regardless.