Monday, July 21, 2008

Concert Review: Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, Chicago, July 19

(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.)

1:30 p.m. Jay Reatard (Aluminum)

My inexperience at navigating Chicago's public transit means I missed the first five minutes of Reatard's set, which is devastating for someone who bangs them out 1234let'sgo Ramones style. I couldn't get far enough up to get into the pit where people were really into it, but even a bit further back his energy is overpowering. An early afternoon main stage set was probably not the best place for him, as evidenced by the contrast between the tiny pit in Union Park and the total havoc he wreaked at the Bottom Lounge at the aftershow (in the best performance of the weekend, bar perhaps King Khan.)

3:00 p.m. Fleet Foxes (Aluminum)

Fleet Foxes into Fuck Buttons into Dizzee Rascal was my most diverse two hour block of the festival. The Foxes' record relies on perfect vocal harmonies and spacious reverb, but the band can replicate it live crisply, even in a less-than-ideal outdoor venue. Well-placed in a midday set, something to sway to with closed eyes and take a much-needed chance to relax in the hot sun.

3:15 p.m. Fuck Buttons (Balance)

The set was delayed a little by sound problems, but the duo compensated with a lot of energy. Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power stare each other down from opposite sides of a large table with all their equipment, looping noise and flailing as they add live percussion and screaming vocals distorted into total incoherence. An electronic noise duo could easily turn into a laptop snoozefest live, but Fuck Buttons keep things manic and mesmerizing at the same time.

4:00 p.m. Dizzee Rascal (Connector)

Dizzee Rascal's talent is disgusting. He's 22, but has enough material off three albums to construct a show that sounds like a run-through of his greatest hits. Dizzee's set effortlessly bounced from his dark instant classic "I Luv U" to the electro of "Stand Up Tall" to the dance floor jam of "Flex" to the classic rock big beat of "Fix Up, Look Sharp" to the fake gangster call-out "Where Da G's At." But who knows if he'll ever truly break stateside. His encore of "Dance Wiv Me" was a little frustrating. It's a number one hit in the U.K., but over here people couldn't be bothered to hang around for an extra three minutes before catching Vampire Weekend. To be fair, while he had the crowd he worked them well, and the amount of people shouting his name back at him in "Jus' a Rascal" gives some hope. Another top-notch hip-hop set in what becomes the trend for the weekend.

7:00 p.m. The Hold Steady (Aluminum)

For a moment I struggled on what to say about the Hold Steady. What they do isn't complicated - glossy rock with big hooks - but what's impressive is that I had not listened to the band before about two weeks ago, and just spinning Boys and Girls in America and Stay Positive in the background on my way to and from work prepared me to sing along to nearly every chorus in their set. I didn't care about the band two weeks ago, and there I was, seven rows back, pumping my fist and chanting. Convert that to thousands who thought they made one of the best records of 2006 and know every word to every song, and the crowd energy is overwhelming.

8:00 p.m. Jarvis Cocker (Connector)

Trying to headline the Connector stage against the crowd favorite triple-header of Vampire Weekend-Hold Steady-Animal Collective over on Aluminum is a difficult task, but Cocker's showmanship matched any of them without even touching on a Pulp song (although Titus Andronicus reportedly opened the day with a cover of "Common People.") How a skinny Brit in a navy blue suit and thick black rims was the suavest guy at the festival isn't easy to explain, although moves like the world's slickest disrobing sure helped.

9:00 p.m. Animal Collective (Aluminum)

The Animal Collective are getting way out there with their live performances now, pushing electronic loops as the basis of their material, most of which is new (I only took note of "Peacebone" and "Fireworks" off Strawberry Jam, in addition to the surprise inclusion of Panda Bear's "Comfy in Nautica.") It's impressive not only that the Animal Collective is pushing for such a departure in sound (as if they weren't experimenting to begin with), but that they retain a large fanbase who follows them through their experiments. As aforementioned, the set abruptly ended at around 10 with Avey Tare politely apologizing for the band's curfew, just as the crowd's trance seemed to be heightened. While it lasted, however, the hour-long swirl was the perfect end to the day.

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