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Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 Review

In a satirical oration given before Pavement closed out the weekend in Union Park, Rian Murphy, co-founder of Chicago label Drag City, joked that the Pitchfork Music Festival has become the “minor league” to Lollapalooza. While Pitchfork hasn’t become Lollapalooza, there has clearly been a shift in that direction. A survey of the Pitchfork Music Festival circa 2010 will show that the audience has changed since the annual festival began in 2006. While still primarily composed of the hipsters that mark anything Pitchfork, the crowd is no longer quite so homogenous. The festival grounds now includes punk teens, overgrown hippies, frat boys, parents with their children, and pretty much everything short of a “Freebird” guy. In short, it looks a lot closer to the Lollapalooza crowd than many are comfortable to admit. In this way Pitchfork is at the crossroads. Festival organizers must decide whether to bend to outside pressure and mainstream the festival’s acts, or rigidly hold to their indie origins and book only niche artists. It’s a festival in flux, but despite this dichotomy the fest provides an array of artists capable of reaching the hardliners and casual fans without losing the eclecticism that Pitchfork is known for.

Like many, my biggest concerns going into the weekend were the sound problems of years past and how they were going to be dealt with. The issues have generally crept up at the two big stages on the North side of the grounds. For the most part, the sound issues have been rectified in 2010. The exception, and it’s no small exception, is the headlining slots. If you happen to be reasonably close and not off to the side of the stage, you’ll be hearing the show just fine. However if you’re just a little too far to the left or right of the stage, even if close to the front, you might as well be overhearing the sub-woofer of a passing car. It really can get that poor. Pitchfork, you’re pulling in a huge crowd. It’s time to invest in additional speakers for the headlining slots. It’s good for publicity and it’s good for your patrons. On a brighter note, kudos are in order for Pitchfork and the security they’ve employed. The grounds were kept safe and security was never heavy handed. Fest volunteers handed out water and ice all weekend to combat the excessive heat. There are a lot of inherent dangers associated with outdoor events in the Chicago July, but issues were kept to a minimum all weekend.


While the festivities officially got underway with Sharon Van Etten, the first real attraction came a half hour later when the Tallest Man on Earth took the stage. While the late afternoon heat didn’t do him any favors, he managed to rally a few voices during “The Wild Hunt.” He endured admirably, especially considered he’s really better suited for a more intimate setting, or at least a place with air conditioning. Other of the earlier acts didn’t fare as well, with Liars never really getting off the ground. However, things picked up in a big way when Robyn took the stage in the early evening. I had mistakenly written her off long ago as throwaway pop. My apologies Robyn, you deserve better. She and her band played for nearly an hour of nonstop fantastic electropop, and the crowd was lapping it up for the duration. She was quickly followed by Broken Social Scene. They put in a workman’s performance with Lisa Lobsinger, a regular guest singer, providing the best moments with her gorgeous voice. Unfortunately, Friday night ended on a bit of a sour note with an uninterested and unintelligible Modest Mouse. The latter wasn’t their fault as the sound was terrible; easily the worse sound quality of the weekend. The band didn’t help their cause by looking like they too had spent the entire day standing in the sun. It’s a shame that a band with such a deep, rewarding catalog and devoted following can’t bring it for an hour and a half for one of their largest audiences.

Modest Mouse

Saturday proved to be a more enjoyable affair with pleasant surprises coming early in the form of Dâm-Funk (pronounced “Dame”). The Pasadena singer’s Funkadelic meets Kraftwerk sound was refreshingly unpretentious and a fun retreat from the earlier Titus Andronicus set. The same cannot be said for the Smith Westerns. The Chicago foursome has been hard pimped by Pitchfork for a year now, and while it’s nice to see a local act make the festival, Chicago has dozens of better and more interesting bands than this. Thankfully the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was right around the corner to wash away the bad taste. The Explosion’s set was vivacious, sweaty and humorous.

Following on their heels was Canada’s Wolf Parade, who caught the attention of nearly the entire crowd positioned at both the A and C stages. There must be something in the water in Montreal, as Spencer Krug’s voice reminded me of fellow Montreal singer Ivan Doroshuk. Whether that’s actually admirable or just an enjoyable novelty I’m still not sure. At any rate, all indications point to Wolf Parade becoming a fest headliner in a few years. Sadly, good can often be countered by bad. In this case, the bad was Panda Bear. Panda Bear put on a debilitatingly atrocious set that sent much of the crowd at the C stage running for the concessions, bathrooms, and other stages. If circumstances were different and Panda Bear wasn’t a Pitchfork favorite playing a major time slot, he surely would have been booed out of Union Park. All this mattered not once LCD Soundsystem took the stage. For my money, LCD put on the most engrossing performance of the entire weekend. James Murphy, proving he’s really just an overgrown kid, showed excitement and vigor throughout what might be one of his last major festival appearances. The set ran long, to nobody’s surprise or concern, ending on a short rendition of “Empire State of Mind.”

Wolf Parade

Sunday was mostly uneventful until Lightning Bolt picked up their instruments in the late afternoon. Their guerrilla-assault noise distinguished themselves from everyone else, with drum destroyer Brian Chippendale gathering the most attention. This was followed by a short set by St. Vincent, who continues to demonstrate why she’s one of the best guitarists on the indie scene. This lead into one of the most bizarre and delightful revelations of the weekend, Major Lazer. Nothing could have prepared the crowd for sexually charged performance of DJ Diplo, Skerrit Bwoy, and the array of dancers and props. DJ sets are generally difficult to sell to large crowds, but most DJ sets don’t have Skerrit Bwoy. The music itself was utterly overshadowed by Skerrit Bwoy’s personality, as well as his acrobatic dives. How security allowed him to high jump off a 10 foot ladder into the crowd is shrouded in mystery, but the highly sexed set caught just about everyone by surprise. Big Boi put a decent, if unspectacular, hit-laden show that nicely transitioned the festival into the big finale with Pavement.

I had some trepidation about seeing Pavement live in 2010. They’ve been broken up for over a decade, and bands who reform after so much time apart often return as mere nostalgia acts. Skeptics of Pavement’s reunion will point out that over half of the band’s set came from their first two albums (which are, in effect, the “hits”). However, my concerns quickly dissipated as Pavement tore through their set with casual aggression.


“Cut Your Hair,” their only song that could potentially qualify as a hit, was thrown to the wolves immediately. From there the band dipped into all parts of their catalog ranging from the fragile “Here” to the fluorescent and feral “Stereo.” By the end it was evident what made and continues to make Pavement such a special band; their refusal to treat the songs as museum pieces. The music is still alive and malleable and the band is invested in its performance. It’s a similarity they share with the festival itself. Pavement may very well be approaching their sell-by date. However, they’re still spirited and have something to contribute, and that’s as good of an allegory as there is for the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2010.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2010: Friday In Photos
Pitchfork Music Festival 2010: Saturday In Photos
Pitchfork Music Festival 2010: Sunday In Photos

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