03 August 2008

Pitchfork Fest Diary 2008

This past July 19th-21st weekend, COTMA correspondent Owen Marshall was in Chicago to
witness the 2008 installation of the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park. Here is his non-comprehensive and ill-informed account.

Saturday, July 19, 2008:

It was a short but noisy stroll from the Travelodge to the L stop. Someone was apparently grinding down some old rusty metal in the scaffolding above. We haven't even got on the train yet and I'm already reconsidering my decision to not bring earplugs. With two recent Dark Knight viewings under my belt, I was geeking out at the real-life rusty track girders and the old brick buildings set against those shiny black skyscrapers. I hid my nerdy southwestern provincial urge to gawk at buildings more than 80 years old. The plan was to arrive in time to hear the Fleet Foxes' vocal harmonies collide with the beginning of Dizzee Rascal's set. So far so good.

I was just starting to wonder whether we were heading in the right direction when, two stops down the way, the doors opened and let in a SEA of indie kids. It was a sight to behold. In mere moments the average train demographic became about 5 years younger, 75% whiter, and 200% beardeder. The expressions of the non festival-goers on the train confirmed my hunch that this was an unusual occurrence.

Am I the only one who is surprised at how muscular Dizzee Rascal is? My impression of the world's most famous Grime representative's physiology has always been more Flava Flav than 50 Cent but I stand corrected. His set was impressive, summoning "Oi!"s from the crowd and more than doing justice to hits like "Fix Up Look Sharp" and "Jezebel".

New Zealand duo the Ruby Suns took to the Balance stage in the tree shaded far corner of the park. Their orchestration consisted mostly of bass, electronics, and spirited drumming from frontman Ryan McPhun. Their tropical and spacy sound set a tone that would continue to resonate through the fest in likeminded acts such as High Places.

I really wanted to like Elf Power. Their Elephant Six credentials and long history should have produced something more than what they brought to the lineup: competent but unremarkable rock music. Sorry guys, I like your name though.

After grabbing some expensive and watery veggie curry and some expensive but tasty Goose Island beer. We made our way back to the Balance stage (already becoming a favorite area of the park) to see some Kenyan tropical funk...

Extra Golden
was one of a couple World Musicky offerings at the fest. They brought African style jams with their large and lively band.

Animal Collective ended the day with a short but hypnotic set. New songs and drastic reworkings of older material mingled well with the familiar samples and melodies of "Fireworks" and even a brief foray into Panda Bear's "Comfy in Nautica". Their custom light and speaker setup pulsed pleasingly and when it abruptly ended at just short of 10PM people were still itching for more. Third time seeing AC live and seeing Geologist's headlamp flail around still brings a smile to my face.

After AC left the stage it was like a nightmarish reenactment of the day's earlier train event with thousands of people crowding the train platform. We took a cab.

Sunday, July 20, 2008:

Brooklyn experimentalists Dirty Projectors started the second day off with a perfect performance of their meticulously composed Black Flag tributes (as well as some older originals). Despite their vocals going out midset and their unenviable sun-facing stage position, the three part harmonies and elegant guitar arrangements impressed the heat-stroked crowd. This guy next to me was scribbling in his notebook about how the drummer wasn't very good but I adamantly disagree! The persistent drumbeat throughout "Rise Above" was the best I heard all festival.

Across the way from the Dirty Projectors, the Awesome heaviness of Boris was unfolding. Guitarist Wata's orange amp stack and the drummer's flourescent kit belied the dark awesomeness of their riffs and howls. The drummer's head-mounted microphone was also a nice touch.

After a couple hot and sunny hours at the two main stages, we decided to sit under tree by the balance stage take in the sweet sounds of High Places and HEALTH. The former brought some sample based jungle pop with plain but pretty female vocals. The latter brought scary LA noise with brutal tribal drumming. Having seen HEALTH in the confined industrial storefront of Phoenix's Trunkspace, it was refreshing to hear their din spilling out into a sun-dappled picnic atmosphere. It was nice to see that there are hundreds of people who are willing to listen to screeching feedback while sitting on blankets in a park.

The fest had a series of tents where concert poster designers were displaying their work. Next to that was a shuffleboard sponsored by Saucony shoes. I have to say, as someone who wears Sauconys, it was freaking weird to see EVERYONE wearing them. Is Chicago the Saucony capital of the world or something? On more than one occasion I was standing in line and noticed that two people around me were wearing Jazz originals. Yet another instance of the message I was receiving during the whole fest: "you are not as unique as you thought you were". That was, until I saw this t-shirt:

Which brings us to the musical highlight of the fest. The Dodos totally killed it with their tight set of kinetic folk rock. The inclusion of a third member on the xylophone did alot to expand the original palette of guitar, drums and vocals. Guitarist Meric Long's chair actually broke mid-song and he fell on his back... still playing. The drummer was crazy as usual courageously facing the sun sunglassesless with a fuzzy mustache on his face and a tambourine taped to his foot. The looped trombone interlude that preceded "Fools" was especially interesting and demonstrative of the bands talent for instrumentation. After their set, the crowd was filled with much warranted buzz over what may be remembered as the bands breakout performance.

That's all. Check back for next year's installation: maybe I'll even get press credentials next time.

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