Surprisingly, unlike years past, day two of the Pitchfork Music Festival was not sold out in advance and even as late as 4pm, crowds seemed far lighter than those the previous afternoon. Having gotten an earlier start than I did on Friday, and with the ability to more easily navigate the lighter crowds, I made it a point to more thoroughly explore the festival grounds. Once again, the prices at Pitchfork were reasonable (moreso than last weekend at the Dave Matthews Caravan at Lakeside in Chicago) with entrees from great local restaurants like Wishbone going for only $6-7.
A pleasant surprise on day two was the more upbeat booking of the bands. Day one featured a decidedly laid back atmosphere while day two included several punk bands giving the festival a much needed pick me up at a high decibel level. Once again, however, the day featured several bands who have performed at Pitchfork in past years.
Unlike the Caravan last weekend (and amidst higher temperatures on Saturday), festival organizers gave away free bottles of water to concertgoers, a very classy move that made hydration far less of an issue. The many trees also offered some shade… something quite basic that was missing almost entirely from the Lakeside site of the Caravan.
It will be interesting to see in a few weeks how Lollapalooza ultimately compares to the Dave Matthews Caravan and Pitchfork which were both very well run Chicago festivals.
Onto the music…
No Age – I spy a crowd surfer! And wait… do my eyes deceive me? Is that a mosh pit? It is! Finally a band with some attitude playing this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. No Age was a welcome departure from the snoozefest that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore came to symbolize for me on Friday. The two man, low-fi punk band features Dean Spunt on drums and vocals and Randy Randall on guitar. The band tore through their set with a fairly reckless abandon at one point covering The Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments.” The duo was very tight (early on in their set, Spunt had to put one drumstick in his mouth mid-song so he could move his mic closer… and the band never skipped a beat). With Off! still to come, Saturday should feature a far more upbeat sound despite the heat.
Wild Nothing – The first band that I’ve seen in two days to start their set late. Despite that, I enjoyed the band’s very new wave influenced alternative sound. I only caught about 15 minutes of their set but what I heard was pleasant, with an emphasis on jangly guitar up front, and reminded me of Morrissey and The Smiths.
Gang Gang Dance – I wasn’t impressed with Gang Gang Dance. Their experimental, free-from music is heavy on electronic elements and percussion and light on lyrics. It felt like the type of music you’d hear in the background of a movie and ignore.
Off! – Far and away the band with the most attitude that I saw in the first two days of Pitchfork. A punk “supergroup” of sorts, Off! features Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks), Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless/Hot Snakes/Rocket From the Crypt) and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross). The quartet, fronted by Morris, performed their songs at a break-neck speed that saw most fall somewhere in the brief one minute range. Morris battled some mic problems early on and led the band through fast bursts of emotion with songs like “Jeffrey Lee Pierce” (a song Morris says he wrote as a eulogy to his best friend). The band’s old school punk spirit was on full display during songs about The Cramps and especially during a song called “Fuck People” (a song which Morris described as his homage to the everyday people who piss him off by doing things like forgetting to use a turn signal while driving and talking on a cell phone). Early in the set, the band performed “I Don’t Belong" which was fitting because amongst the laid back and often experimental sounds of Pitchfork, Off! did kind of stick out. But this was a good thing. Off! was one of the best bands that I saw on day two.
Destroyer – Another band drawing upon eighties influences, Destroyer merged sounds like synth pop with instrumentation that, via a seven piece backing band, also included saxophone and guitar. The band’s pop sensibility gave the songs a very new wave tone. At one point, they managed to create a very cool sound by what appeared to be running a trumpet through some sort of distortion box. I enjoyed Destroyer’s set quite a bit.
Dismemberment Plan – Performing their first shows since 2003, The Dismemberment Plan ran through an interesting set of songs whose lyrical content often seems to find them landing somewhere just short of emo. The band managed to balance some of that lyrical fare with often quirky moments and more than one person mentioned to me that frontman Travis Morrison reminded them of a young David Byrne. Morrison had the funniest moment of day two when he mentioned that his 2004 solo album Travistan received a nearly unthinkable 0 rating from Pitchfork.
DJ Shadow – For some reason, festival organizers thought it would be a good idea to put on an artist who’s set relied heavily on a light show at 7:25pm long before the sun ever went down and darkness fell upon Pitchfork. DJ Shadow didn’t hide his disappointment with that fact. Shadow went on to craft a DJ set that featured sounds woven together which were all created by him (as opposed to simply sampling and mixing the works of other artists). Several camera angles gave the crowd an up close look (albeit on the festival’s large video screen) at exactly the level of detail and nuance that went into Shadow’s performance while the DJ himself performed onstage in what appeared to be a huge white ball (again, there was clearly more intended here as far as the stage show went… but concertgoers couldn’t see it because it wasn’t dark). This set had incredible potential to go quickly off the rails as the hot and restless crowd sat waiting for Fleet Foxes to begin nearby on the green stage. Credit DJ Shadow for crafting an engaging set that kept the crowd intrigued despite a bevy of logistical and set issues.
Fleet Foxes – Yesterday, following day one, I wrote that I was worried that the subdued sounds and intricate harmonies of the Fleet Foxes could be lost in the outdoor expanse of a major festival setting. I’m very happy to announce that the band immediately made sure that this was not to be an issue. The sextet, returning as headliner following a Pitchfork performance in 2008, crafted a huge, lush sound that was augmented by their incredibly gorgeous harmonies. As I felt after seeing Arcade Fire in April, this was the rare opportunity to see a great band, in peak form, entering what could be the prime of their career. Until Saturday, I was not a huge fan of Fleet Foxes… but after seeing them live, it was nearly impossible not to come around. Fleet Foxes called Pitchfork “the best fest in America” and like last year, it’s a pretty difficult point to argue.