Pitchfork Music Festival Recap:
The best performance of the weekend was Art Brut, which I probably could have suspected, despite never having seen them before. I like Bang Bang Rock & Roll
, but don't love it, probably because it places more importance on shouted lines and rudimentary riffs than on ineffable textures and melodies. But unlike the Hold Steady, where the bar-band jamming seems like a mere placeholder for Craig Finn's dense narratives to be set against, there's something refreshing about Art Brut's simplicity. The eager excitement of Eddie Argos, talking about starting a band or seeing a girl naked, feels so genuine that you wouldn't want the arrangements to get any trickier. Toward the end of the afternoon on Saturday, Argos played a rare cover of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America," took a break in the middle of "Emily Kane" and exhorted the crowd to let go of their exes, and ad-libbed like crazy ("Silver Jews, Top of the Pops! ... hmmm, now that would be something!") -- all with enough goofy enthusiasm to keep a grin on most festivalgoers' faces.
The runner-up was probably CSS, although I have to say that, with the exception of the disco-sheened "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above" (which was already seeing a lot of play on my iPod), the mostly all-girl Brazilian electro-rock band won me over on presence more than music. But man, what presence: frontwoman Lovefoxxx twirled her microphone like a lasso, engaged in bizarre broken-English banter, and dove from the stage several times, her rainbow tights kicking up from the sweaty sea of people under the Biz3 tent. I was also glad to discover that my observation, upon hearing the record, that she "sounded Japanese" wasn't ill-founded: the gal's last name is Matsushita, and when supported by that battery of spiky guitars, I couldn't help recalling Shonen Knife.
However, a note to festival organizers: while the Biz3 tent makes a lot of sense for DJs, there's not much point to putting a live band (especially such a rambunctious one) in that space when half the crowd can't even see the stage. And since the main stages this year were pretty electronic-free (in comparison to 2005's Out Hud, Go! Team, Four Tet, Prefuse 73, and Tortoise), it'd have been nice for them to take a chance with a band like CSS to rock the sunshine.
Like CSS, Man Man impressed me mostly with their antics (faces adorned with war paint, multi-colored feathers blown out into the crowd, trinkets thrown at cymbals to create some classic pots-and-pans percussion), though their frenzied Tom Waits-ish circus music can't easily be separated from the performance thereof: the whole act is pretty compelling.
Destroyer was fine, too, with some nice blazing guitar solos in the midday sun -- but Bejar was more or less blank-faced the entire time. I liked the set but mostly because I like the new album: otherwise, no real surprises, except for the band ditching the broken-down coda to "Rubies" and translating "It's Gonna Take an Airplane" away from its original MIDI glory. (I met up with Mike Powell
beforehand, and halfway through I asked him, "Are you, like, a Destroyer fan
?" To which he nodded vigorously, and I was like, "Oh shit, of course
he is, dude loves
stuff like this," recalling his many paeans to enigmatic, romantic poets like John Darnielle
, David Berman
, and Donald Fagen
. I wish I'd gotten a chance to hang out with him more.)
Though most of the weekend was hellishly hot, and I was wearing these cheap flip-flops that made my heels ache like crazy, I couldn't say no to the acts that closed out the dance tent each night. A-Trak struck me as a quicker Diplo, effortlessly mashing up hipster favorites with such purpose that he'd sometimes tease us with snippets rather than whole hooks: all we got of "Bucky Done Gun" was the horns and one looped second of rap.
But when Diplo took the stage the following night, the essential similarities (which Tom
hints at, too) were made apparent: both DJs amped up the audience with Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous," Kanye West's "Gold Digger," and Cassie's "Me & U" (which got a surprisingly big reaction, even as I longed for the mournful synths of the original mix). Both even reached for obligatory blog faves Hot Chip: A-Trak took "Just Like We (Breakdown)," and Diplo went with "Over and Over." The most unexpected crowd-pleaser, though, was Diplo dropping "Walk Like an Egyptian" over the bare-bones beat of "Wait (The Whisper Song)." Oh-way-oh.
The rest of the fest was sorta meh. I still wish I liked the Mountain Goats more than I do, because Darnielle is such a smart, personable dude, but I've got this block when it comes to lyrics-driven singer-songwriters: they require a kind of attention that I'm just not used to giving (and which thus feels like a chore), and in the absence of this focus, it all just sounds "boring." I'm 90% confident that I'd respond better to both him and Craig Finn
if they jettisoned the music altogether and published their songs as poems. They could even read them aloud: at least I'd be listening with a different ear.
I do consider myself a Yo La Tengo fan, but I've been burned both times I've seen them now. In 2001, at Nevin's Live in Evanston (during the brief three-month period when that place was committed to booking top-shelf bands), they played a set heavy on obscure cover songs, while at Pitchfork they stuck to their new, unreleased material. I know they have a reputation for being unpredictable live -- like suddenly they'll start jamming out on "Lola" just for kicks -- but I was clamoring for the hits and was sad when they never came.
Matmos was good, although I don't always know how to approach that breed of IDM, especially in a festival setting. I nodded along to some unexpectedly danceable tracks (reminiscent of the last Mouse on Mars album, actually) before cutting out to gab with Chicago Reader
critic Brian Nemtusak, who was near the tent to see Matmos but was still frothing about Art Brut: "No matter what they do, it's so cheeky!"
In fact, as with last year, the opportunity to commiserate with some of my favorite music writers often outweighed the desire to see as much music as possible, especially on Saturday. I caught most of the Futureheads set behind the stage, out of the corner of my eye, as I conversed with the incredibly friendly Chris Dahlen
for the first time. And since I frankly didn't care about several of the mainstage bands (including the Silver Jews, the Walkmen, and Ted Leo), I was happier hanging out in the shade with free beer and fresh fruit, chatting with folks like Nitsuh Abebe, Rob Mitchum, Matthew Perpetua
, Amy Phillips, and Mark Richardson
. (Former Illinois Entertainer
editor Althea Legaspi and I even revisited our debate, conducted at the Q101 studios early last year, about the artistic merits of Britney Spears.)
On Sunday I arrived at the park for the tail end of Jens Lekman's set, caught a few songs from Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif (I dutifully sang along to the chorus of "Daylight," my favorite cut from either of them), and popped in the tent long enough to realize that microhouse is a poor proposition when the sun is still out, no matter how cute Ada is. But my real excuse for missing Os Mutantes and Devendra Banhart, never mind Mission of Burma and Liars (big ol' shrug), is simply that the weekend wore me out. But let's do it again next year, shall we?