Monday, July 21, 2008

Concert Review: Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, Chicago, July 18

(The Aluminum and Connector stages are the main stages, which have hourly sets on the hour. Balance is the side stage, where there are hourly sets that stagger a bit, usually starting around the half-hour mark.)

6:00 p.m. Mission of Burma performing Vs. (Connector)

Burma had the silliest approach to doing a classic album, playing the four bonus tracks before actually starting the proper album and punctuating the set with prerecorded vinyl crackle to represent flipping the record over. Perhaps not as essential as their set two years ago, but only because the specific setlist meant the absence of the Signals, Calls and Marches heavy-hitters. There was one big improvement: two years ago, Burma cut "Trem Two" from their setlist because Roger Miller's loop pedal overheated and malfunctioned, but the rain earlier in the day must have kept the stage cool enough not to melt their equipment. Burma plays with more grit despite their age, their records are still as progressive as any contemporary bands, and they were built to play as a whole all the way through, making them a great fit for a Don't Look Back set.

7:15 p.m. Sebadoh performing Bubble and Scrape (Connector)

Poor album choice aside - it seems like a recent Bubble and Scrape
reissue helped edge this over their classic Bakesale - Sebadoh's set was a welcome return from the slightly undersung indie rock heroes, and provided and an interesting peek into how the band's dysfunctional dynamics (read: weed) made the group so frustrating. Lou Barlow took two minutes between every song to retune, while a glassy-eyed Eric Gaffney giggled from behind the drumkit. It did, however, make for an entertaining set, especially because once the band ripped into a song they usually played very tightly. They got a little sloppier as the night went on; on Bubble and Scrape, "Elixir is Zog" thrives on the back-and-forth between quavering and screamed vocals, but live Gaffney hummed his way through it in a drowsy monotone. It was also mildly disappointing that Sebadoh was the only Friday night act not to squeeze in any encore selections (although a request "The Freed Pig" could have made that Sunday night Dinosaur Jr. set a little awkward.)

8:30 p.m. Public Enemy performing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Aluminum)

First, a minor complaint: the Bomb Squad's pump-up-the-crowd, we-ain't-bringing-Public-Enemy-out-til-you-make-some-fucking-noise routine somehow started up before Sebadoh even finished their album and then continued to run for nearly half an hour before Chuck D even dragged himself on stage. More on this later. Flav's absence in body, if not prerecord vocals, made "Bring the Noise" a bit bizarre, but once the hit the stage the set had the crowd in a frenzy. His role as comedic foil adds some interesting dimensions to the live show, whether it's: 1.) countering the jeers he got for a cheap plug for whatever reality show with the psuedosensical "Boo? What are you, motherfucking ghosts?" 2.) constantly drawing attention to his vocals, Flav was a riot (Psst: If you're going to lip-synch, don't do it with your face in the lens of the Jumbotron camera) or 3.) inexplicably telling us how great some album called A Nation of a Millions is. Also interesting was that the group actually takes the Don't Look Back booking pretty seriously, giving trivia and historical information about each song and really giving the crowd a reason to feel they're hearing a historic album. (Millions being the Pitchfork classic album selection with the most actual pop-culture impact helps, too.) A lengthy encore kept the crowd going, as a belligerent Flav disregarded the 10:00 p.m. curfew and declared the band would play til they got shut down. They didn't, but the next night Animal Collective would be suddenly stopped at 9:55 p.m. Did we really need 30 minutes of the Bomb Squad to prepare us for a set that was going to be two hours long? But this is how you do a Don't Look Back set, and Public Enemy handily wins the honors for best of Friday night.

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