Pitchfork Music Festival, Day 3 (July 18, 2010)

This was the grand finale of the festival. The lineup was pretty stacked this day and it all seemed to go by too fast. There was an early morning shower, but it was all sunshine and 90ºF by the time the gates opened. It was a day of math rock, rap, crowd surfing, moshing to Lightning Bolt and nearly passing out and finished with Pavement, followed by an aftershow at the Subterranean featuring Zola Jesus and Real Estate, but let’s just stick with the festival.

On the B stage was Chicago band Cave, opening the day. I think the rain set things back a little bit on the side stage, so their set didn’t start on time, though I think things were sorted out quickly so that the rest of the day ran on time. Cave’s music is what I would consider heavy stoner rock. They are very riff heavy with a rhythmic focus and not much more than one chord per song. They had a lot of energy and elements of psych rock via delay pedals and keyboards, though there was not much in terms of vocals. Really good band to open up the day with and they had a pretty decent sized crowd. The opening commentary provided by some dude in military fatigues was kind of lame though. I don’t think anyone quite got the joke, or if there was even a joke to get.

I had been anticipating Best Coast‘s set for months and months. Sadly, they did not deliver. Maybe I just had too high hopes. Maybe it is best that they have just been releasing one song at a time. Their sound is highly recognizable with reverb laden guitars and vocals, getting that famous “wall of sound” Phil Specter sound with a surf rock sort sound added in. Their performance was just not impressive. Their set simply showcased the similarities between Bethany Cosentino’s songs. There were two songs in the set, back to back, that featured the exact same 2 chords over and over, which is the kind of thing that annoys me to no end. Is she aware of what is going on in her music? What is she focusing on when she writes, or puts a set together? Lyrically everything is about missing her boyfriend, wanting a boyfriend, and pot.

I imagine that the album is good from a timbral standpoint. There is good production, but I think that those production values factor in a little too heavily to her sound and the songs just can not stand on their own, exposed like this at a gig. The album is far too short as well, less than 30 minutes. This isn’t an album review, but I wasn’t going to spend money that I don’t have on an album that short by an unimpressive band.

We made our way to the main stage for a set by Girls. I made note of their good ensemble work with their sophisticated pop songs though I didn’t really find many hooks to grab onto. The tunes were all well played, the crowd seemed pretty enthusiastic. The video screen showed a bunch of people in the crowd swaying and singing along. I just couldn’t get that into it. I was ready to be won over, but I think seeing this band for the first time in this setting just wasn’t working.

The lead singer played a Rickenbacker, and the other guitarist was with a Les Paul. I tried to make note of the guitars that appeared at the festival, because I think it says a lot about a band, or the sound that they are going for. I think this was the only Rickenbacker of the festival that I saw, though Annie of St. Vincent may have played one, I’m not sure. On a side note that is completely unrelated: Someone tweeted that the singer for Girls looked like a cross between Macauly Culkin and Kevin McDonald from the Kids in the Hall. Looking up at the video screen only proved him right.

Beach House brought their very low-key but lavishly beautiful songs to the main stage next. They provided a subdued set of keyboard driven tunes. I did like the guitar work (Les Paul again) and I really love the singer’s voice. The all around sound was very atmospheric, not too upbeat but perfectly crafted. I will definitely have to familiarize myself more with their music and I would suggest them if you don’t know them already. For some reason I used to get them confused with Real Estate, but I think that was mostly because Real Estate’s music makes me think of being at the beach. There are, come to find out, no real similarities between these two bands.

Photo by Kirstie Shanley all rights reserved
Beach House photo by Kirstie Shanley (2010 all rights reserved)

Previous to this festival my favorite juxtaposition was Iron and Wine followed by Mastadon a few years back at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival. We may have a new winner. Memories of Beach House’s delicately crafted atmospherics were obliterated when Lightning Bolt started.

Lightning Bolt. Where to begin. I wrote this down after their set was over because I was too busy being thrown around in the mosh pit to even try to write things: “Total. Fucking. Insanity”. Though my hands were shaking a lot when I was writing that so some of the letters are wrong, and out of order. It was just non-stop bassy, thrashing energy-fest. Even the heat did not stop the Brians or anyone in the crowd from going batshit crazy. The pit was huge and very intense and I was in the middle of it. As soon as the first snare drum attack I was pulled from the side of the audience and into the middle and then pulled all over the place. They did play some new stuff like “Collasus” and I think I heard “Transmissionary” and of course all the Lightning Bolt classics.

I think I nearly died twice. I had to be pulled out at one point because I couldn’t seem to keep my feet under me. I chilled for a song or two and got back in there for the last song. This was by far the most fun I have ever had at the festival. Total and complete abandonment. Good times if you know the band, but I imagine many people were wondering what the hell was going on. Lightning Bolt has been one of my favorite bands for a few years now. I could listen to their music all day. They are an interesting study in subtlety and intensity at the same time. Very interesting from an analytical standpoint. That is for another time though. This set was simply amazing. I don’t know how Brian Chippendale is not dead.

I will take a little tangent here to talk about  the pit and the security at the festival. The people in the pit were helping each other out. If someone was looking like they were in trouble someone would hold them up, a ring of people would form around them so that they weren’t in the fray and they would be given water. Everyone would just pour water on the person, feed them water directly from their water bottles, and make sure that the person was doing alright. The security people at the front of the stage were continually spraying us with water from water bottles, handing water out and just making sure that everyone was alright. Chippendale would, thankfully stop after a little more than half the set to check up on his drums. This provided us with a much needed break, as I’m sure it did the same for him too. He also called out to us during the end of the set, pointing to specific people and expressing genuine concern.

“Are YOU alright…..how about YOU, are YOU ok?”. He must have been watching us. I can’t believe how amazing this band is. Great music, great guys. Fun fun times. Last thing: Most rock and roll moment. The set ends and the pit is dispersing. Sweaty people everywhere trying to walk away, staggering about. There was a general feeling of camaraderie like we had all just had this wonderful shared experience. A guy walks past a few of us in a white shirt with a significant amount of blood on it. Someone says to him, “Hey man! You’ve got a lot of blood on your shirt, are you ok?” to which he responds, “Yeah, I see that, but I don’t know whose it is”.

I was planning on seeing another band immediately after Lightning Bolt, but definitely needed food and water after that. I can’t remember who I missed, but the next act I caught was St. Vincent. I think the original plan was to catch all of her set, but making sure I didn’t lapse into convulsions seemed more of a pressing concern.

The end of St. Vincent‘s set blew me away. I don’t know where I got the impression that the music would be quiet and singer-songwritery, but I couldn’t have been happier to be proven wrong. Lead singer/guitarist Annie Clark was a crazy person on stage, and can shred the guitar like a maniac. She seemed to be in the same state that Isaac Brock was in on Friday night. She just loses herself completely to the music. The music was a really polished, arty, technically proficient showing with a good amount of noise thrown in, and very energetic. I left her set reminding myself to get her latest album.

This was a tricky part of the night a few things going on at once that we wanted to check out, but we were also still exhausted from Lightning Bolt. Major Lazer was up on the main stage, and it seemed like it was basically Diplo up there doing all the work while the other dude ran around the stage, jumped off a ladder to hump a dancer, jumped into the crowd and generally served as hype-man. I admit, despite the dancers, the humping and the Chinese New Year dragons up on the stage, I was bored and skipped out after about 15 minutes.

Over at the B stage was Neon Indian, the apparent torchbearer for the newly dubbed “Chillwave” genre. Sadly I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage after he started, so we just decided to go back and get a half way decent spot for Pavement.

Pavement. Pavement. Pavement. I have been waiting for this for a long long time. Not as long as some. I came to Pavement late in life. I don’t think I heard any albums until 2006, but once I did, it was a non-stop Pavement fest in my apartment and in my car and on my iPod for a long long time. When they announced they were reuniting I was ready to travel almost anywhere. When they said they were coming to Pitchfork I nearly died. I didn’t have to go to them, they were coming to me.

They played all the hits, “Cut Your Hair” was the opening, “Range Life”, “Silence Kit” and on and on. Everyone in the crowd seemed to know every song. We all sang along, bounced up and down, shouted, had a genuinely amazing time. I definitely did not want their set to end. I can’t say enough great things about their set. They met expectations, they seemed to be having a great time up there playing. Malkmus was loose and throwing down guitar parts with seemingly no effort.

Mysteriously theirs was the only performance not broadcast simultaneously online. Reports vary, and I’m not going to write anything I’m not sure of. It lived up to my expectations. I could have cried right there. It was definitely something special and they packed their hour with song after song after song. Everyone was great, it was fun. Enough said.

I took some very crappy video that I will share here that honestly has more sentimental value than anything else. The festival was amazing and I don’t think I am the only one wondering how the hell Pitchfork is going to keep growing after this. It’s a shame that some people missed this. In my opinion the audience for any of these bands should be enough to fill a park twice the size of Union Park, but at the same time I am proud to still be able to be part of this growing secret society.

Goodbye Union Park. Until next year I will dream of baking in the sun, standing on your baseball diamonds and resting in the shade of your tall trees.

One thought on “Pitchfork Music Festival, Day 3 (July 18, 2010)”

  1. You really captured the energy of Lightning Bolt live well. I was also disappointed in Best Coast but from the photographer’s standpoint of her not taking off her sunglasses. I hate that. Agreed about St. Vincent..I am always impressed by her even after seeing her live many times.

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