Monday, July 21, 2008

Concert Review: Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, Chicago, July 20

(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. Dirty Projectors (Aluminum)

Low-key but very interesting set. I saw the first 20 minutes or so before heading over for Boris, and I was a bit dizzy from the bizarre vocal harmonies. Band leader Dave Longstreth has got a strange voice, but the combination of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian produces some wonderfully strange melodies. Some unexpected dynamic changes and odd time signatures popping up, as well. Certainly the most worthwhile band I wasn't familiar with that I looked into.

2:00 p.m. Boris (Connector)

Apparently in a Japanese psychedelic metal band, all crowd-hyping responsibilities fall upon the drummer, who works the crowd by waving his white gloves and banging a massive gong. When Boris became the festival's biggest sound problem casualties - only halfway into their allotted hour-long slot, equipment problems stopped them - it was the drummer who abruptly (albeit awesomely) ended the set by jumping up, kicking over his cymbals, and diving into the crowd. Like Animal Collective, a set that was really peaking when it got cut off.

3:00 p.m. The Apples in Stereo (Aluminum)

The Apples in Stereo's set was solid, but the band does not benefit from the rougher edge of a live rock performance. Too much of their charm comes from the studio sheen that gets lost when guitar amps choke out the keys and harmonies. New Magnetic Wonder highlight "7 Stars" lost a lot of it's kick without the shimmering ELO-style effects on the backing vocals, and even stacking the first 20 minutes of the set with other recent "Can You Feel It?" and "Energy" couldn't keep the band from sounding more ordinary; one friend described them as a "more cerebral Weezer." Since the Hold Steady already concerned the weekend market on nerd-rock, the Apples were just a midday time-killer.

3:15 p.m. King Khan & the Shrines (Balance)

Performance of the festival? Perhaps. My only reservation is that seeing Khan at the Bottom Lounge the night before was even better, although he pulled out some new tricks for the big crowd. Not enough people have heard of this guy, but he got people to pelt each other with garbage for one tune, then to wave (and later tear up) dollars bills for "Welfare Bread." If enough people were watching, it could certainly be a pair of breakout performances. His rough garage rock (with something like a nine-piece band here) is enough on its own, but no one all weekend matches Khan's showmanship. Why is a chubby Indian guy singing a gospel song about crawling into a woman's uterus? Is that a blue stormtrooper helmet he just put on? Do you think his cheerleading back-up dancer is single? Why aren't his albums even released in the U.S. yet?

5:00 p.m. Occidental Brothers Dance Band International (Balance)

This group mixes Chicago natives with African musicians, and they held up very well despite a tough spot between Khan and Wu-Tang. A lot more energetic than Vampire Weekend, who played at the same time the day before on a main stage. You haven't heard New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" until you've seen the guy singing it banging along on a gourd. Also a decent substitute for El Guincho, whose cancellation was heartbreaking.

6:00 p.m. Ghostface Killah & Raekwon (Balance)

Ghost and Rae may not have caught GZA's run-through of Liquid Swords last year (the Genius was, in fact, missing a Wu-Tang show in Amsterdam that night, if that decision can be rationalized) but seemed to avoid all the pitfalls that brought his set down. They did have the advantage of a side-stage set, meaning the smaller crowd was packed tight and hyped up, where GZA was preceding a sea of hipsters just staking out spots for Daydream Nation. But where GZA simply demanded loyalty by shouting "let me see them W's!" after every song, Ghost and Rae came bounding right out of the gate. A few 36 Chamber touchstones ("C.R.E.A.M." and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing to Fuck Wit" close to the front) heated the crowd up before the duo plowed through 2-3 minute blocks of tracks off their respective solo efforts. The quick pace and spontaneity never sagged; Ghost dismissed beats he wasn't feeling by frowning to the crowd and giving a thumbs down, while Rae did a cut a capella when the DJ didn't have the track. Even the standard ODB nod at any Wu-Tang show, a run-through of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," beat last year's. Getting Wu together long enough to run through 36 Chambers would be next to impossible, but Ghost and the Chef seem up to tackle one of their efforts as long as they could keep the off-the-cuff feeling: Cuban Linx or Ironman, anyone? (Some research after I wrote this blurb shows me they actually did the former in London in May. Keep yr fingers crossed!)

7:00 p.m. Spiritualized (Aluminum)

I get why Spoon had to headline, being just good enough that everyone agrees on their being decent, but their set two years ago was a total chore, and the little I caught this year was mostly tired people half-heartedly nodding. The weekend really ended with Spiritualized, who deserved the night skies that Spoon got. A brass section or strings might have helped flesh things out, but the additional of two female gospel singers compensated nicely, especially on "Soul on Fire." The set stayed in a rock mode, including a riveting take on "Come Together" and a noise jam so intense that it apparently shorted the sound system for awhile; it had sounded like a quiet breakdown at first, but when things abruptly cut back in the crowd realized that Spiritualized had overpowered a stage that withheld all of Daydream Nation a year before. Fantastic set with a slightly low-key crowd, but that may be because it's a band to let wash over you, not necessarily to move to; although try telling that to Jason Pierce, who concluded the set by chucking his guitar into the floor like a dart and leaving at the conclusion of the loudest thing to grace Pitchfork's stages this year.

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