It’d be a pretty safe assumption that outdoor music festivals are the bee’s knees nowadays. Every state has one and it almost seems by next summer, every city will have one too. It makes sense. With the truckload of bands coming off the presses each week, it’s hard to keep up with everything and anything music (and expensive, too). Chicago seems to brandish their own sort of festival every week during the summer. If it isn’t Lollapalooza, it’s the Taste of Chicago, and if it’s not one of the local neighborhood fests, it’s certainly Pitchfork Music Festival, or PoFo Mofo to others.
This past weekend, the rising media conglomerate brought its own flavor to Union Park, just outside of downtown Chicago, and nearby enough industrial palaces to kick back that ol’ blue collar indie credibility. With such a roll call of bands (Public Enemy, Fleet Foxes, and Dinosaur Jr. to name a few), Chicagoans came in waves… “sold out” waves, as the festival promoters would like you to know. It felt that way, however, as thousands of hipsters mindlessly walked together from stage to stage. Some were so hellbent on either sticking together or going with the flow that they missed the three other ticketing entrances to the festival, which meant there was an unnecessarily long line from the gate to the Green Line Ashland stop. My initial thoughts? Someone get these kids some damn Fuze drinks!
Saturday, the 19th
Having missed Friday (lack of sleep + early morning shift + The Dark Knight midnight screening = heavy, drowsy body), I made a vain attempt to take in as much as I could for Saturday. Things started a little rough, unfortunately. The slow train ride and chugging walk to the festival brought me to the closing song of Titus Andronicus‘s set. My blood boiled tenfold when they walked off stage. The New Jersey rockers’ debut is without a doubt one of this year’s finest and the energy on disc seemed paramount on stage. Oh well, fingers crossed for a Metro show in the near future.
Despite the unhappy weather, the misty rain felt nice. Summer festivals are usually tedious when it comes to heat, but the precipitation allowed for some London chills that kept everyone cool… and muddy. I don’t know if most of Chicago just skipped Bonnaroo, but many “got their jollies off” by rolling around in baseball diamond mud and sliding through festival goers. I even saw some girls wade in shin high rainwater. Enjoy the tapeworm come Monday, fools!
Pitchfork’s darling Jay Reatard came out for a short, thirty minute stint. The “aggressive” punk act swept through a dozen or so songs, and vocalist/guitarist Jay Lindsey had the time of his life with the microphone. It was nice to open with something that had adrenaline and pizzaz. These are acts that make outdoor festival experiences worth while. As the rain came down hard, Lindsey rollicked through a few closing songs before twisting and contorting one last time. Across the field and next door, sound technicians were having some technical difficulties (mainly with a keyboard), which delayed Caribou‘s set. Once the rain had subsided, singer/songwriter Daniel Snaith jump started his indie act into some cuts mainly off of last year’s Andorra. Snaith shared drumming duties with his touring drummer, which peaked at the opening track “Melody Day.” Altogether a tight set, after about twenty minutes, it all seemed the same.
One act everyone seemed excited to see was Fleet Foxes. Mist drifted over the audience as Robin Pecknold, clutching an acoustic and taking a seat by the microphone, played most, if not all, of the songs from their fantastic self-titled debut. Even if the set seemed more appropriate for an intimate setting, the four part harmonies resonated well with a very well behaved audience, who only applauded or spoke after each song. Pecknold’s stage presence isn’t exactly something to write home about, but his musicianship is, playing songs like “White Winter Hymnal”, which sounded perfect, clean, and yet brass. Considering the wide audience that stayed from beginning to end, one should keep a close eye on this Seattle quintet.
For many, the festival started with UK rapper Dizzee Rascal (above right), who came on the Connector stage, which is just one of three stages in the park. With a fly attitude and a smile on his face, he brought out some of the best moods of any hipster. Dancing and swaying, clapping and howling, people were moving. It all seemed fitting that halfway through his set, the sun broke through and any signs of bad weather disappeared altogether. On the downside, the heat turned up.
Halfway to the food stands, I came across some more “mud people”, a name we likened them to, who were asking passerby’s for spit, so they could continue shaping their mud mound. One “mud man” had a few white, smallpox-like fissions on his face, and as he walked up to others, many shied away… and with good reason. It didn’t make the situation for them any better that they were gathering up mud next to the Port-a-Potties. Gross, right? God, I’d never make it through Bonnaroo.
For those hungry at Pitchfork, they’re in luck. While certainly not as expanse as the Taste of Chicago (I mean, c’mon), it’s a step ahead of Lollapalooza. Vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike can enjoy everything from Chicago deli foods, Thai cuisine, spices of the South, and even finger licking BBQ. Saturday was packed, but the lines managed to squeeze by without much loss of time. The prices weren’t too shabby, either.
Towards the evening, everyone at the festival crowded the Aluminum stage, where New York’s “new thing”, Vampire Weekend, pleased ears and eyes galore. Singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig seemed comfortable with the crowd, which should come as no surprise after they’ve played Coachella, several international festivals, and the entire nation to boot. Although judging on comparison to their show here last April, the band seemed relatively tired and bored with the material (“Walcott” didn’t have the umph it once had), hinting that some much needed recording time and jamming is in store for them… or maybe just some sleep?
California dance rockers !!! ignited the crowd, playing a wealth of songs from last year’s Myth Takes. The pop eccentric group rallied through song after song, giving frontman Nic Offer little time to flirt with the crowd, but all the energy to grace the stage. Offer, in short shorts and a tight shirt, looked more or less like Nick Swarsden’s Terry of Reno 911, and even basing any opinion off of this performance, it’s clear he knows how to work a crowd. Immediately following, The Hold Steady blistered through “Constructive Summer”, off of this summer’s Stay Positive. Vocalist and guitarist Craig Finn is a little sloppy on stage, but it makes for an excellent show, where he borrows more from Paul Westerberg live, than his Springsteen-like ethics on record. The mixing left much for improvement (keyboardist Franz Nicolay was literally nonexistent throughout the set), but the band carried the best stage presence of any act that day. When Finn belted out “Sequestered in Memphis”, fans went wild, throwing beach balls around and jumping about madly. It was just non stop fun.
With an exhaustive girlfriend at my side and a setting sun in the distance, the idea of home with self made tacos and some Natalie Portman-Clive Owen movie sounded too good to pass up. I know, I know. One day I’ll regret missing out on Animal Collective or Jarvis Cocker, but not this weekend.
Sunday, the 20th
Things started late on the Sabbath, er Sunday, at least for me. New York City idiosyncratic’s Les Savy Fav made a mess out of the Connector stage. When vocalist Tim Harrington wasn’t doing imitations of Oscar the Grouch (complete with trash can), he was smearing war paint on nearby childrens’ faces. A friend of mine summed him up best: “a friendly, peaceful GG Allin.” On the whole, Les Savy Fav played a quaintly messy set, managing to hit wide range of their four studio releases. There was some time to be killed, so I got creative.
There’s always something to do at this festival, or so it seemed. If one’s not sold on the music acts, the trendsetters made sure you could continue all your irregular daily rituals, including thrift store shopping and other fun, sporty activities. The Chicago Independent Radio Project put together a nice little record shoppe, while dozens of homemade products were for sale in a separate tent. Tied in with the flavors of food, as mentioned before, the festival showed its guns.
Over at the Balance stage, which is south of the two main stages, I caught a bit of the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International. For a jam band-type sound, the local Chicago act kept up a tight, powerful set and reeled in a decent size crowd, though most were waiting patiently for Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, both of whom took the stage a good twenty minutes earlier than expected. The two Wu-Tang members’ set seemed moreover a nostalgic, “feeling the years” sort of show than an actual solo performance. Songs “C.R.E.A.M.” and even ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” were played in snippets, with only a few songs of their own respected releases played in full. It was somewhat of a disappointment.
Without a doubt, however, the festival’s greatest performance was from UK act, Spiritualized. Just as the sun dwindled down, the psychedelic soul act took hold of an audience that continued to grow more and more. The alluring blend of classic rock blues and modern atmospherics really sounded refreshing. Songwriter Jason Pierce, or Spaceman to fans, chiseled through his guitar, coagulating both shoegaze and bluesgrass at once. When Tim Lewis, or Thighpaulsandra, took to his organ on several songs, the crowd went absolutely nuts. It was a perfect hour, with no sound technicalities and some of the best musicianship of the weekend. One can only hope they stay in the States for some time.
Of course, the weekend wouldn’t be as prolific if it weren’t for J. Mascis and friends, Dinosaur Jr (below right). The ancient act dusted off a stage that had been corroded from dozens of indie, prepubescent acts with its distortion and ear piercing solos. Songs “Almost Ready” and “Pick Me Up” (sporting an almost five minute solo) were blessings in disguise, reiterated from last year’s smile-making, come back album, Beyond. The band even cleared room for former singles “Feel the Pain” and “Out There.” Playing without a shirt, drummer Murph played a tight drum, while bassist Lou Barlow had his share at a couple of songs. All in all, the aging grunge rockers revealed they still have a few decades under their belt before they’re officially deaf.
Things disintegrated towards the end as headliner Spoon took stage. They opened with Kill the Moonlight‘s first track, “Small Stakes”, before heading into more recent material. One thing I noticed offhand was that vocalist and guitarist Britt Daniel has really improved his chops as a frontman for the band, inviting more energy onstage and an accelerated rhythm in movement. New material off of last year’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga sounded ready and crisp, especially the trolling repetition of “The Ghost of You Lingers.” Is it a surprise that Gimme Fiction material still sells itself readily? “My Mathematical Mind” and “I Turn My Kamera On” were easily highlights of an agreeable closer. It all kind of makes me want to watch that Will Ferrell film released a couple years back… and oddly enough, filmed in Chicago.
On the way back into town, someone talking on a cell phone mentioned to a friend, “Hey, we’re heading back, leaving hipster fest.” I laughed a bit at that comment, feeling as if I’m not alone in my sentiments. When one watches teens bask in the sun, wearing tight, tight Tron shirts and skinny, skinny female jeans, all the while asking for heat exhaustion, you can’t help but scoff. In the end, however, Pitchfork comes through, creating a humble festival for more or less a non-humble crowd, surrounded by industrial factories and sprinkled with less fortunate people asking fairly wealthy concertgoers for a helping hand. The sad twist? Despite all the “go green” nonsense, the efforts towards volunteering, and the peaceful mantras that go into half the acts that performed, people walked by, eager to get back to their lives and iPods. And sadly and rather self deprecatingly, I’m one of them.
In a way, that’s probably the best example of the brute real world yet.
*w/ various photo support by Art Pena