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Festival Review and Photos: Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, July 16, 2011, Union Park – Chicago, IL




All Photos by Christopher Alvarez

The second day of the Pitchfork Music Festival is a decidedly different experience than the first. That’s due in no small part to Saturday’s more spread out schedule. Early shows still experienced some overlap issues, but overall the festival goers could expect to be able to see all the major acts of the day. Another added benefit of the more spread out schedule is the added flexibility to peruse the tent shops. Pitchfork contains some really great record stands such as outlets for Thrill Jockey, Reckless Records, Music Direct, and any number of small labels. Also worth your time are the reasonably priced apparel tables like those for Reuse First, Futurgarb and many others. This is part of the festival that can get overlooked, so it’s highly recommended that attendees make some time to look through the wares. Always an issue at large festivals are the food options and prices. In terms of the former, the options stretch from grilled brats to vegan food stands. Price too is very reasonable. Anytime you can get a grilled cheese pretzel for only $4.00 is a win in my book.

Chrissy Murderbot ft. MC Zulu

Woods

Reverb-drenched guitar music tends to be a crowd pleaser at festivals like Pitchfork, and Woods’ particular brand of psychedelic-folk has plenty. The focal points of the Brooklyn-based band are singer/guitarist James Earl and “technician” G. Lucas Crane. You can probably guess why Earl receives a lot of attention; Earl’s fragile falsetto blends splendidly with the psychedelia. Crane on the other hand wears a strange mouthpiece, presumably to affect some backing vocals he’s producing though I’m still not entirely sure. Regardless, Woods gave strong takes of several songs off their new album, Sun And Shade. Their most glorious moments, though, came from some serious onstage-improvised jamming. It was probably too early in the day for a jam-band given the intensity of the heat and the still spotty 1:45 pm crowd, but for the most part Woods made it work.

Sun Airway

Sun Airway have weirdly been branded as “Bliss-Pop,” though I can’t seem to figure out why. While the Philadelphia quartet do have some ancillary qualities of a “pop” group, their sound seems more firmly rooted in Post-Punk and New Wave. Live, the band reflect this even more strongly. On their live take of “Put The Days Away,” lead singer Jon Barthmus sounds downright gloomy as he sings in his baritone croon, “trying not to die is so taxing, you take a breath just to let it out again, waking up is an exercise in trust.” Not very blissful at all, but that’s really important. The band were in good form, and the music came to life accordingly. The only complaint, and it’s minor, is that the tempos seem to never change. The set was only about 35 minutes long, so one shouldn’t make too much of an issue of it, though.

Cold Cave

I have a confession to make. Since listening to Cold Cave’s latest release, Cherish The Light Years, I’ve haven’t liked them very much. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I disliked them considerably. Something about that affected vocal style of Wesley Eisold bothered me to no end, and I felt their music was over the top, and lacking in the songwriting department. Imagine my shock and amazement as I become fully converted from detractor to devotee as the result of their day 2 performance at Pitchfork. Not only did Eisold own the stage with his side stepping, fist pumping, and dancing, he did so in near 100 degree heat and in a leather jacket. That’s a showman. The band tore through a set that included material both old and new, from “Theme From Tomorrowland” to “Icons Of Summer.”

G-Side

No Age

No Age was hampered early with technical problems (which are beginning to become an unwelcomed trend for the weekend), leading drummer and singer Dean Allen Spunt to proclaim, “Fuck electronics, fuck technology, how are you doing?” At least the band was in good spirits. No Age kicked off with “Teen Creeps” and fought through the problems as best they could. Unfortunately for the band, and especially for Spunt, the vocals skipped in and out of the mix and were difficult to maintain most of the time. Despite that very glaring issue, the set was still pretty enjoyable. Nearly all the band’s material, and covered material by the Misfits and Black Flag, is full speed noise pollution at its finest. Spunt is certainly one of the loudest drummers at Pitchfork, an impressive accolade indeed. The highlight of the set was “You’re A Target,” one of the few songs on which the technology didn’t become a major distraction.

Wild Nothing

Gang Gang Dance

All manner of electronic beeping and buzzing accompanied by a myriad of percussion was produced by Gang Gang Dance during their 45-minute set at the Green stage. Their “songs,” though I’m not entirely sure if that’s the appropriate term for it, are formed out of Middle Eastern music as funneled through synthesizers. When it works, the music is engaging and melodic. However, too often did the music break down into indulgent rhythmic dreck, which stood to highlight the fact that there is nothing meaningful contributed by Taka Imamura. At best he’s a dance instructor. At worse he’s a cheerleader. In either case, he’s superfluous. The set felt longer than it was, but there were just enough good moments spaced out through the performance to hold one’s interest till the end.

OFF!

Destroyer

The Radio Dept.

The Dismemberment Plan

Taking their reunion victory lap, Washington D.C. based pop-punk group the Dismemberment Plan’s set was another bright spot of the second day of Pitchfork. By all accounts, the band is far more relaxed and energetic than they’ve ever been which is a pleasant surprise. It’s even more surprising that they’re here at all given the shellacking Pitchfork gave to Travis Morrison’s solo debut Travistan, famously receiving a 0.0 in their review. It seems that Morrison’s gotten over it, or perhaps he never really cared that much at all. Smart money’s on the latter, as all the band members displayed a fair amount of irreverence for the festival and each other. Certainly one of the more slapstick sets of the weekend so far. The group charged through crowd pleasers like “What Do You Want Me To Say,” “You Are Invited,” and “The Other Side,” the last of which featured a keyboard solo played by Morrison’s face.

Twin Shadow

DJ Shadow

Zola Jesus

These technical delays are really starting to get to me. The set didn’t begin for almost 20 minutes after their scheduled start time. The wait was ultimately worthwhile as Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, put her powerful voice on display for the small crowd stationed at the blue stage. It’s a shame so few people were there, as she’s an absolutely dynamite performer. No part of the stage is not at some point graced and danced upon by Nika. Her goth-tinged “I Can’t Stand” just blew me away. She still looks young enough to be entering high school and this deep bellow of a voice comes pouring out of her mouth. If you get a chance to see her perform, even if you aren’t crazy about her albums (which I’m not), she’s worth your time.

Fleet Foxes

Returning to Pitchfork after 3 years, Fleet Foxes headlined day 2 in spectacular fashion. Very quickly, the Seattle folk rockers have built a rich and compelling catalog of music. It was all on display for the capacity crowd. Robin Pecknold shared several stories with the crowd, retelling the tale of how Dizzee Rascal (one of Pecknold’s favorite hip-hop artists) admonished the band their last time at Union Park, stating emphatically, “Fuck that folk shit.” Well, that folk shit makes for some great harmonies and songs like “White Winter Hymnal” show just how talented the group is. That “Mykonos” can completely blow away the crowd and not be the set’s highlight should tell you a lot about Fleet Foxes. The whole set was compelling, but no moment more so than “Your Protector.” After closing with “Helplessness Blues,” the band declared Pitchfork the “best fest in America.” It’s hard to dismiss the notion after their set. Sunday’s headliners TV On The Radio will have to put something really special together if they desire to top this performance by Fleet Foxes.

[Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Photos]


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