Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another Great Pitchfork for the Books

Yes, I know it's Tuesday, but some of us are just getting moving after the weekend that was Pitchfork. The one thing I did do yesterday was write my wrap-up for Transmission:
(We also have tons of great pics from George Aye on Flickr)

Pitchfork 2009, in Hindsight

Many of you are probably nursing a hangover from the excess of music that was Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend. Another successful year under our belts, this was the most crowded I've ever seen the festival. It was an unprecedented 70 degrees all weekend--people were donning jackets and scarves instead of sunscreen all weekend, and finding refuge from the rain at times on Saturday.

Walking in on Saturday, I arrived just in time for the beginning of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. While I wouldn't call them shoegaze, they had a pleasant mix of rolling teenesque pop; a nice soundtrack for relaxing under the trees.

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Final Fantasy (Photo by George Aye)

Next, while I wanted to see Ponytail, I decided to stick around the A stage for Final Fantasy. I heard that he had opened for Arcade Fire before and was amazing. Owen Pallet takes the stage solo and starts recording and looping, creating his own background for the songs. Think if Andrew Bird took on the stylings of Jamie Lidell. While his music isn't as compelling as Bird, he has a much heavier classical influence. I would love to see him in a smaller venue.

Wavves were delayed for about 20 minutes while crews were beefing up the barrier in front of the stage that came apart during Ponytail. Anticipation for this group was huge after Nathan Williams' freakout in Barcelona at the Primavera Sound Festival where he basically od-ed mixing too many drugs and alcohol, barely able to function and was booed off the stage. Then, last week he broke his hand, so I was interested to see what would transpire, or if Williams would take the stage at all. Well, they didn't live up to the hype. I spent most of my time thinking how good Yeasayer sounded on the opposite stage.

The B stage was running behind for the rest of the day after the initial delay, and Lindstrom took the stage 15 minutes late. Donning a yellow cowboy hat and working the laptop, out came some serious techno groove. There really wasn't anything groundbreaking to be heard, but it was good lounging music.

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Matt and Kim (Photo by George Aye)

You can't help but smile when you're watching Matt & Kim--their high-energy stage show and happy pop music is infectious. I find most of their songs, and especially Matt's vocals kind of annoying, but I was really enjoying their set, the crowd energy was undeniable. They closed with their most popular song, "Daylight," right after playing "Final Countdown."

I closed out the evening still on the B stage with The Black Lips, I decision I was kind of regretting after hearing how amazing The National was on the main stage. Still, The Black Lips put on a great show. It was loud, it was punk, it was dance, a super '60s The Kinks vibe.

Sunday I arrived early, just in time to see the tail end of The Mae Shi. The Flaming Lips' lighting rig was already up on the stage, creating a heavy anticipation for the entire day (especially when I was constantly hearing reports of Wayne running around backstage and the crew blowing up balloons prepping for the show). While I didn't see much of The Mae Shi's actual show, I did see that Kid Static had joined them on stage and used the soundboard to ask Pitchfork to review their album. "We sent it to you!" he yelled, "Give us a four! We don't care, just review it!"

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Frightened Rabbit (Photo by George Aye)

Frightened Rabbit and Blitzen Trapper were next on the main stages. Both groups were comparably mild, good daytime music. Blitzen Trapper brought their alt-country rock, and Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchinson brought a Scottish touch to Snow Patrol's alternative aching romance rock. As much as I want to hate that type of desperate longing, Frightened Rabbit are a really good band with strong songs. Seeing them later at Bottom Lounge for one of Pitchfork's official after-shows just reinforced that opinion even more.

I popped over to the B stage a little early to see Women at 3:35 and caught the end of Killer Whales and found four shirtless skinny white guys. Their performance seemed kind of chaotic, but one thing was for sure, they were enjoying themselves. Women was the band I was most excited to see at this year's fest (besides The Flaming Lips that is) because I love '60' psychedelic rock and their self-titled album has an incredibly heavy Velvet Underground influence. I believe it was overlooked as one of the best albums to come out last year. I was slightly disappointed that they didn't sound as good as on the album; at times vocals were even pitchy. It didn't help that they were up against hip-hop artist Pharoahe Monch on the other stage and even though I was on the far left side of the stage, the sound was bouncing off a building. The highlight of the set though, was their most known song "Black Rice" and the crowd was excited. They ended the song (as they ended most every song) with an exciting drone noise wall.

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The Thermals (Photo by George Aye)

The crowd was starting to thicken as folks got in place for the evening's headliner as I made my way back to the blanket camp we had laid out by the main stages. The Thermals were already on and rocking a high energy set. The crowd went crazy for their hit songs "Pillar of Salt" and "Now We Can See" (which they closed with). Their set was filled with covers from Nirvana, Breeders, Sonic Youth and Green Day. I started to wonder if they had enough material to fill an entire set, but I couldn't deny that the covers were actually really good and fun, and Hutch Harris' unique vocals added a nice touch.

M83, The Walkmen and Grizzly Bear were a little hard to sit through while waiting for the evening's spectacular ending. All three groups are pretty mellow--I actually slept through most of The Walkmen's set. M83 was good, but would be better in an indoor venue. Some of their spacey, dreamy effects felt lost in the open air. They started to jam in about the third song and the sun came out and added a little bit of warmth. The energy really picked up towards the end as super rave swells put the crowd's hands in the air.

I had to take a break before writing The Flaming Lips portion of this review. It was, as it has been every time I have seen them, one of the most incredible sensory overload things I have ever seen, and certainly the most mind-blowing thing I saw all weekend. As I've noted, anticipation was building all day for the band's performance. If the lighting rig wasn't enough of a reminder of what was to come, I heard that Wayne was practicing getting in and out of his bubble backstage, I saw pictures of balloons ready for the stage, orange "construction " crew members were prepping the stage throughout Grizzly Bear's set, one lone balloon was sent out across the crowd and there were a couple confetti test bursts.

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The Flaming Lips (Photo by George Aye)

The opening image on the video screen was no surprise to anyone who has seen Christmas on Mars with the focus on female anatomy. The band entered the stage by coming through the video screen at just that point. Then came Wayne's signature crowd surfing in an inflatable bubble. It's pretty amazing when you know that you will have a big enough draw to pull something like that off and engineer it as a staple in your stage show. With Wayne back on stage, confetti lit up the sky and the band launched into "Race For The Prize."

The group took the "Write the Night" picks as more of a suggestion than a rule, Wayne stating that as much as they love Pitchfork, they play the fan favorites every night. List in hand, many of the songs they played he would just state where they fell: # 7 was "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," #2 was "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and #1 was the closing song "Do You Realize?" One thing they did take the opportunity to do was play some old favorites that only hardcore fans would know. One song was dedicated to Sun Times music critic Jim DeRogatis, one that Wayne said they hadn't played live since '96 (later corrected that they played it once in '99). They also played "Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear" for the fans in the front row that follow them to almost every show.

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The Flaming Lips (Photo by George Aye)

All the typical craziness and interactive-ness was there: this time sheep and frogs took the place of Santas and aliens dancing on stage, the facecam, the big balloons in the crowd (and boy do people get excited when one of those balloons comes near), the air gun blowing confetti and bursting balloons, and, of course, Wayne on the shoulders of a gorilla. Wayne Coyne is one hell of a genuine frontman, but there is humility, and not humble for being humble's sake--he really loves what he does and loves his fans. He wants everyone to have fun, and he has fun doing it.

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