Monday, July 16, 2007

Pitchfork Festival
Chicago July 13, July 15

editor's note: Thanks to Dmitri jr. for making the long trek from his day job with "the company" "regulatin' imports" across the Laotian/Burmese border to journey to Windy City and brave the public transit, hipsters and heat to cover the Pitchfork Festivities.

I wasn’t roaming Union Park all weekend scoping every band and scribbling down setlists. I’m not really capable of the maximum attention that Pitchfork Media preaches. I skipped Saturday and didn’t sweat snagging an elephant ear during acts I didn’t know.

Friday was ATP’s “Don’t Look Back” night and saw three acts playing their “classic album” in its entirety. The Ashland 9X bus was running slow, but we walked through the gate right as Slint hit the first notes of “Breadcrumb Trail.” Spiderland is an acquired taste. As good as certain moments sounded, it just wasn’t made for an outdoor venue. Moreover you have a defunct band, under-rehearsed, trying to pull off giant dynamic swings and extend spoken word monologues over a chatty just-arrived crowd. Add a so-so PA, and you weren’t quite sure if the band was tuning up or playing. For the devoted in the first 50 feet, it seemed to all come together, but we opted to go have a look around the rest of the park.

GZA tore on stage for his fierce run through Liquid Swords. But by “Cold War,” he was leaning on his pose, including Cappadonna, to cover rhymes. Genius also wasted a lot of energy admonishing the hipsters for not being more animated and starting fights with his poor white rented DJ. I have no idea where the kid was from, but it was pretty clear he had never spun for a Wu affiliate before. GZA nicknamed him “Shitty” and Cappa almost took a swing at him when he dropped a beat. Everything almost spun out of control, which is exactly what I hope for from a Wu-Tang set. GZA closed with a little “Shimmy Shimmy” for ODB.

Sonic Youth came up quickly (gotta love a festival where everybody starts on time). Daydream Nation has never been my record, but it sounded implausibly good considering Kim Gordon is two years younger than my mom. They were, at least for the evening, everything everybody always says they are, and their loose take on the record was full of more than enough power. I never knew drummer Steve Shelly was so good. It must have been a long time since I went to an outdoor concert, but I was unprepared for the people passing out right next to me, almost fights and comic hippie/meathead antics of the crowd. It didn’t really hurt my enjoyment any, but there was 50 or so people behind us chanting for Sonic Youth to turn it up. Thurston looked pissed. Touring bassist Mark Ibold of Pavement came out and did three songs with the group off “Rather Ripped” for an encore.

OK Saturday was Bastille Day and I don’t rock on Bastille Day. I sit around and contemplate Fraternity like my man, Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Sunday. Buses were running slow again. Guys next to me almost got in a fight. So I missed Dearhunter. Chicago’s own Ponys were on and they gamely played on through sound problems. The sax-fueled experimentalism of Portland’s Menomena went over well, but we didn’t listen to closely to local pop heroes Sea and Cake. We kicked back with a pack of dark Michigan Cherries from the Whole Foods tent and walked around the poster fair (fuck yeah, Aesthetic Apparatus).

Across the park, Brit Jamie Lidell was going on, but we moved into to a good spot to wait for Malkmus and watched Lidell’s one man soul machine on the big video screen. He was dressed like a gold lamé genie, so this is as good a time as any to talk about bad fashion. Now you see one or two guys in a vest without a shirt underneath and you let it go, but when douche after douche is walking around with a bandana neckerchief and a little bicycle racing cap, it wears on you. They weren’t all bike messengers and fake or real they were pissing me off.

OK so Stephen Malkmus was about to come on and play without his band the Jicks, but somebody set up a really small drum kit off to the side of the stage, but it didn’t seem to register with people. Steve came out in preppy pink and khakis, a fuck you to the homeless chic crowd. Right away he kicked into “Heaven is a Truck.” Now you might say no big deal, but SM has played Pavement songs at only three or four shows since breaking up the band in ’99. I was beside myself with glee. He played through a few more Pavement tracks, b-sides, and solo stuff. It was sloppy acoustic strumming, but you couldn’t have found a more forgiving crowd. Pavement’s hype man and second drummer Bobby Nastanovich came out to play “Trigger Cut” and “In the Mouth of a Dessert” off Slanted and Enchanted and everyone lost it. It wasn’t too impressive if you didn’t care, but I do and I was a happy bastard for the rest of the night. Bob took off, then came back with some gum for Steve and preformed a lovely ballet number for the closer, Wowee Zowee’s “We Dance.” Killer.

We opted to stay in our spot and watch Of Montreal on the big screen while we waited for New Pornographers. It might seem like a huge sacrifice to Elephant Six obsessives, but honestly it worked out fine. The setup at Pitchfork is pretty great, kinda hard to explain unless you look at a map, but we could hear and see much of the madness. You wouldn’t believe how many befuddled people were actually unable to take the costumes and props. “I like the music, but why is he wearing a leather thong?” I was completely won over by Kevin Barnes’ Bowie meets Flaming Lips meets Pulp routine.

New Pornographers were the day’s crowning moment. Not enough can be said for how everything, not the least of which was the sunset, came together for a heart stopping performance. While it was a little weird not to have Neko Case there considering we were in her backyard, but Kathryn Calder is now stellar in her own right. Tight, thumbing “why aren’t they huge” tune after tune, they band played loud. You might chalk it up to experience playing outdoor venues, but without a doubt they were the one act, save for maybe Sonic Youth, that I didn’t wish I was watching in a club and I think it was more the songs than the mix. Maybe Challengers has leaked more than I know, but I’ve never seen a crowd drool over new material like that. I’ve never seen white people clap along with such diligently. Carl Newman was a star.

Unfair for anybody to follow that, but when you’re De La Soul, you deal. The crowd was tired and sunburned, but Pos, Maseo and Trugoy wouldn’t settle for anything else than a party and they rallied the crowd out of indifference. But even when Prince Paul was brought on to DJ and trade a couple verses, you couldn’t help noticing people were starting to get exhausted; too much beer, too little sleep. Mase reminded the crowd no fewer than three times he was, “37 years old and still in the hip hop game,” and so we tried to wave our hands and keep ‘em up as he commanded. We finally had to shuffle out before it all ended and hop the train home.

-Dmitri jr.

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