LIVE AND DIRECT: Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park, Chicago, Illinois
TEXT & PHOTOS BY TIFFANY YOON It’s day one here in beautiful Chicago. After driving from one Marriot hotel to another, hoping one of them was ours, we finally pulled into our hotel parking lot sometime around 4am. We were meeting friends that hooked us up with a cheap deal at a Marriot hotel (one of the guys works at a Marriot in Philadelphia) and we were supposed to rendezvous with them at the hotel sometime around 8pm the night before. We had some complications along the way, the driver forgot his tickets at home when he was already in Philadelphia and he’s from Warminster. So we had to drive back to get those tickets. We drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio and unwillingly had to make a stop in Indiana where I couldn’t help but remember the worst parts of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I got strange looks as we waited in line for our fast food fries. I thought to myself, “what you’ve never seen an Asian person before.” I felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, about to be eaten alive by cannibals. If that Indiana rest stop is any indication, I fear for the future of our country. Anyways, it’s been rainy here in the windy city, showers on and off all day. It doesn’t look like it’s affected the progress of the Pitchfork Festival, but the rain is supposed to continue throughout the weekend. Fingers crossed the rain doesn’t get any worse, though I hear it’s supposed to pour all day Saturday and Sunday.
Unfortunately I missed half of Mission of Burma’s set. I tried to walk from Washington Square to Union Park, where the festival was being held, and thought I could make it in 20 minutes. I stopped a police officer to double check my directions, and realized the park was MUCH further than I had anticipated. So I tried to find public transportation, the green line, to take to the park. Again, I had difficulties in finding this, but I was also in a panic because of my time crunch. So I desperately hauled a cab and made it for the middle of Burma’s set. I regret I missed them in Philadelphia, but they sounded great on stage, despite the heavy downpour of rain that had just passed. In the cab I could hear the loud fuzz noise that Burma’s known for at least 10 blocks away. The cab driver got excited and asked if the festival was going on all night, but wanted to make sure there wasn’t just, as he put it, “rock and roll”.
The Bomb Squad DJs opened up for Public Enemy, a little premature… overlapping Sebadoh’s set. Just as Sebadoh was going into a mellow acoustic song on one stage, the Bomb Squad began pumping the bass and yelling “Bomb Squad” over the crowd at the next stage. The stage crew was waving their arms furiously trying to get the Bomb Squad Dj’s to stop, the fans were pissed when they had to stop so that Sebadoh, could play one more lo-fi rock song before the end of their set. Almost like they were competing, Sebadoh, decided to play a louder lo-fi rock song to top off their set. A group of Philadelphians screamed “Asshole” at Sebadoh, although Bomb Squad was clearly at fault. Philly Represent. We bring all our anger and aggression across the states. Once Sebadoh finished, Bomb Squad started up again, repeating the beginning of their set. The surprise was ruined. Near the beginning of their set Flavor Flav opened up saying, “There are a lot of terrorists in the world, but the worst kind of terrorist… [long pause… we’re all anticipating the worst] is the terrorist of the mind.” Flavor Flav, as expected, promoted his reality TV series, “Flavor of Love”. The crowd instantly began booing, even though he and Chuck D. began to explain that, “Hey, Will Smith, was the Fresh Prince of Bell Air” and Flavor Flav responded bitterly, “don’t boo at me, you call your girl your boo, not me.”
Saturday, Day 2. A bit of a late start today. We woke up early and left our hotel to head into the city, hoping to grab some breakfast, more importantly some coffee, before heading to the festival. It was raining when we left our hotel then it stopped for a bit, but just as the festival kicked off with Bobam I Marko Markovic Orkestar, the rain came down again. It’ll probably be miserably damp all day, but hopefully it won’t interfere with the bands or the fans. Titus Andronicus is on now. I’m hiding under a tent until the rain dies down and holding out for Jay Reatard’s set. He just played at Johnny Brenda’s last Monday and I heard it was an epic show. Everyone I usually talk about shows with was talking about it, but I decided to hold off until I got to Chicago to see him live.
I regret that I missed Titus Andronicus on stage. The rain was coming down hard, and I didn’t know much about them, but I realized too late that I had missed out on a great punk band, which was only appropriate before another punk band, Jay Reatard. It was a little too early for people to start moshing around, but the crowd was still rowdy as hell for Jay Lindsay and his band to come on stage. It was pouring rain and no one seemed to give a shit, save a couple of angry photographers scrounging for plastic bags to cover their equipment with.
Caribou had some technical difficulties due to the rain. Daniel Snaith, the main man of Caribou, didn’t look too pleased as the rain poured down and an ominous British voice boomed over the stage asking what channel the band were on. Their laptop was going in and out. I think it was a bit wet from the downpour and they were having some trouble finding a wavelength that was clear and consistent for the band to stream on. Finally, the band began, a bit late, with Snaith and Ryan Smith exchanging grimaces during the beginning of their first song. Something tells me they weren’t on the right channel, or weren’t happy with the one the ominous voice had settled on. Then they played a favorite of fans, “Melody Day,” a song also made popular by Kieran Hebdan, or Four Tet with his remix of the song. Just as the song finished up the sun peaked out behind the clouds and brought some warmth and let everyone dry off for a bit.
It seemed like everyone at the festival came to the stage where the Fleet Foxes were playing. Maybe it was the weather clearing up, maybe it was the lighter mood, but I think anyone that missed their free show the other night made sure to catch them while they were at the festival. After their first song, they also had some technical difficulties due to the rain. They sounded great, the massive crowd staring in awe as Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset crooned into the mic and their AM voices reverberated across the park. Shortly after they fixed their equipment problems, Skjelset said, “This is my favorite part of the set, right when everything goes wrong.”
Dizzee Rascal brought the bass and beats. It’s just too bad no one could understand a word they were saying. The Columbia University graduates, Vampire Weekend, as expected, had a packed crowd. It seemed every photographer working the festival made sure to get a photo of Ezra Koenig (vocals/guitar) or Chris Baio (bass). Baio kept looking at the crowd then would look down as he played his bass and try to hold back a smile by settling on a smirk instead. As if he couldn’t believe where they were standing or the crowd they were pulling in. They’ve come a long way in such a short period of time, just forming as a band in 2006 and already on the Pitchfork stage for this year’s festival in 2008. Koenig gave his thanks to the crowd, “It’s great to be here in Chicago. Is everyone enjoying the festival so far?” Then they jumped into a favorite of fans, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, a heartfelt song and then of course they played their hit single “A-Punk, “which has also been made popular by their erratically fun music video.
Elf Power is a band that people of my generation would’ve listened to around the same time Green Day gained popularity in the early to mid 90’s. It certainly made sense to have them play after Vampire Weekend of a different stage, for those that are still fans of the old, and aren’t quite ready for such a young and new band like Vampire Weekend. !!! (Pronounced Chk Chk Chk) put on a great show that was both raunchy and fun. Shannon and Nic danced around egging on the fans and bringing the noise and funk. Shannon stopped every once a while to touch herself, as Nic would deep throat a mic or hump the air. They opened up their set with Yadnus and put on a great live show that the fans went crazy for. It was hard not to get excited with the bands front man and woman Nic and Shannon bouncing around on stage.
Extra Golden was a lot of fun; I wish I could’ve stayed for their entire set. If any band were a surprise hit at this festival, I’d have to say it was Extra Golden. They were a band that not many people seemed to know much about aside from the popularity gained with their song, “Obama,” dedicated to Barack Obama, but they blew everyone away with an amazing sounding set that anyone could come to enjoy. I’m really looking forward to when they come to Philadelphia on Saturday, August 2. They’ll be playing at Johnny Brenda’s with Philadelphia’s very own Public Record.
The Hold Steady was, by far, the loudest set, out of the festival, but fans didn’t seem to mind. I overheard one girl yell to her friend, “Did you see Hold Steady? Weren’t they great? I almost went deaf.” She said all this with a large grin on her face, though I’m sure her ears were still ringing.
Atlas Sound, or Bradford Cox, was a complete solo act. I was surprised, because when I saw Atlas Sound in Philadelphia a few months ago Cox had a backing band, but even alone, Cox, also the front man of Deerhunter, put on a fantastic show. He played some favorites like Middle School Instrumental and River Card. He began his set smoking a cigarette, and telling fans, “I love you guys. I was here last year, I was afraid it was going to rain, but it didn’t. Thank you for coming out. I hope it doesn’t suck.” Then he took a Long drag of his cigarette. I stuck around for this set, regrettably skipping out on Jarvis Cocker and opting to wait for No Age instead. As Bradford Cox finished his set he announced, “Get Ready For Animal Collective and No Age. This is the No Age stage, get ready to rage, don’t turn that page.” Then there was a bit of an awkward pause, and Cox just left the stage by quickly saying, “Okay, bye.” It was endearingly nerdy.
No Age, as Bradford Cox had predicted, raged. They put on a high-energy show that kept fans head banging and dancing and photographers running around. It was a great performance, with hits from Nouns and Weirdo Rippers, like Teen Creeps, Sleeper Hold and Boy Void, despite the constant technical difficulties that all the bands on the Balance Stage seemed to have all day. I watched one fan, at the beginning of the set, throw his fist into the air at the sound of the first drumbeat and plow to the front of the audience.
Animal Collective put on a fantastic show with a complete light show unintentionally included. Artists playing in the festival crammed into the photo pit with all the photographers hoping to get a close up peek at Avey Tare or Panda Bear. Avey Tare had a red fisherman’s hat on and his face was obscured in darkness as huge vertical lights (the same ones in the video for Tonto by Battles) exploded with light behind him. They sounded great, playing a couple tracks from Strawberry Jam, but making sure play some older favorites like Leaf House. It was a great ending to the second night of the festival, but the night wasn’t over yet.
After the festival, there was an after party at a venue called the Bottom Lounge, just around the corner from Union Park, where the festival was being held. There, Jay Reatard and King Khan and the Shrines were playing a show with a whole enclave of lesser known bands, but tickets were $18 and by the time we got there it was sold out. I was sad to miss King Khan, because I had missed them in Philadelphia, but they were still scheduled to play Sunday. So all wasn’t lost. There was still a lot to look forward to for Sunday’s line up.
Sunday, Pitchfork Music Festival, Day 3
It’s already a late start to the festival, though today it’s not due to foul weather, it’s actually beautiful out here in Chicago, but sweltering hot. I walked into the park this morning before the gates had opened and volunteers were laying down mulch and trying to wetvac the field from the rain last night. People have come in boots prepared for another day full rain and muddy grass, but now their foresight just looks ironic. Mahjongg, which was supposed to kick off today’s festivities for the day was running behind. A rumor was going around the park that the Baptist church located behind the Balance Stage, where Mahjongg was scheduled to play, was still in the middle of their Sunday morning service. So out of courtesy, all bands playing on stage B were being delayed about 45 minutes. I’m not positive if this is true, I’ve heard a lot of different explanations, but the same stage was running behind last night, so probably not. It’d be great to imagine of bunch of people getting out of church and High Places being the first thing they hear after being guilted into thinking they’re all going to hell.
Times New Viking played a great set on the Connector stage. They were the unplanned openers of the festival today. Then it was Dirty Projectors on the Aluminum Stage. They had a bit of a late start too, but Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian began singing into the mics immediately to start off their set. It’s too bad, the sound guy was doing a piss poor job, because Angel’s mic wasn’t even on for the first 3 songs of their set. Then Dave Longstreth’s guitar sounded like it was only coming through the stage monitors at one point instead of in the pa’s for the audience to hear. Brian Mcomber beat away at the drums with a crazed look on his face, but his drums seemed to sound fine, despite all the technicalities.
I head over to Boris next, the band and fans waited impatiently for Dirty Projectors to finish their set, which was set back due to the terrible sound guy. The uber rock of Boris would undoubtedly overpower the melodies of Dirty Projectors if they tried to overlap the sets, and then it would be like the Bomb Squad DJs and Sebadoh all over again. Boris was running so much electricity that they blew a fuse in the middle of their set. Their drummer, Atsuo Mizuno with his hot neon pink drum set, gong symbol, crazy hair and exposed bare chest furiously knocked over his symbol and stormed off stage. Before this tragedy occurred, Boris, with Mizuno, Wata and Takeshi were accompanied by a 4th, which was surprising, because they’ve been a 3-piece ever since Nagata left the band in 1996. They played a raging set, from what I heard before I had to run to see Jake, John, Jupiter and BJ of Health on the Balance Stage.
Health was fantastic. Throughout the day, two guys working for the Pitchfork Music Festival would make some announcements and introduce the bands. The man introducing Health made the standard announcements, reminding fans that their beer cups were made of biodegradable plastic and could be traded in for schwag at given tents. He also reminded fans to register to vote for the upcoming presidential election. I point this all out, because he made these announcements making 3 points and using the word HEALTH in each. A bit corny, I admit, but it was effective. He then yelled, “It’s Jake and John’s birthdays this weekend and they’re celebrating it with you at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Here’s the band you’ve all been waiting for. Health” I scanned the faces of John, Jupiter and Jake for any reactions. They were busy setting up on stage, but I swear I saw John smirk, just slightly. They opened up their set with Tabloid Sores, then I believe they played Crimewave and then Zoothorns. Crimewave is the song that kind of brought this Smell band its fame along with playing tons of free shows around LA. They did a mashup of the song Crimewave with Toronto band Crystal Castles, and it blew up. Then Health found themselves with an entire album of remixed and edited tracks with DJs and artists such as Acid Girls and CFCF. Jake, John and Jupiter were running around gasping for air, as they quickly switched instruments, positions and jumped into the next song just in time to catch up with their drummer BJ.
King Khan and the Shrines put on a show that made me regret missing them at the after party the night before. King Khan was adorned in tribal jewelry and a Sun Ra headpiece with his belly bared to the audience. He flipped off photographers, said raunchy lyrics about climbing into women’s vaginas and told everyone to pick the trash up off the ground and throw it around. He’s quite the front man, with a James Brown voice and persona, putting on a truly psychedelic rock show that’s actually worth seeing, which is saying a lot with the “rock” shows around these days. He leaped into the crowd, screaming into fans faces, and practically ignoring security personnel. Khan is one to push the limits, not only with himself, but also with the limits of his music.
I quickly ran across the field to catch Les Savy Fav. As soon as I got there, I thought to myself, has this become a competition of who can be weirder? Syd Butler, the vocalist from Les Savy Fav, was wearing a pair of red tights, but the right leg was cut off, he had a tie-dye shirt on and a bandanna. He was spewing water into the crowd, half mooning them and then grabbing a pair of latex gloves and using them as props throughout their set. Maybe it was just because I was just coming from King Khan, but I felt like Butler was trying a little too hard to be strange or attention grabbing. Everything seemed like a gimmick. During the day Saturday, Butler was going around offering to cut people’s hair for a cheap price. Then Sunday, he walked around with a massage table, sunscreen and a sign offering a “health massage” for $10. He would suit up whoever wanted a massage in what looked like a hospital gown, and then straddle them as he massaged their back and neck. It certainly gained a lot of attention, from both fans and the media, but I felt like it was so forced. It doesn’t help that Syd Butler somewhat resembles Dan Deacon, and I felt like he was trying to force or fabricate a unique quality or weirdness that both Deacon and Khan hold naturally. Plus, his strange lash outs don’t really make sense with the somewhat typical sounding indie rock that Les Savy Fav have. At least with Dan Deacon it makes sense to do things differently, and with King Khan and the Shrines, it makes sense to have an outrageous front man. Not to say that Les Savy Fav didn’t put on a great show, when Patty Lee played the crowd went nuts, but Butler’s antics were a bit aggravating after a while. It quickly turned from funny to obnoxious to just completely unnecessary.
As announced early on in the festival, El Guincho had canceled his entire tour, so he was not playing the Pitchfork Music Festival, much to the dismay of fans. Ghostface Killah and Raekwon were running late, so they switched with Yale dropout the Dodos. It seemed everyone was at the Dodos stage. Logan Kroeber made a drum out of a metal cylindrical trashcan, sticking the mic in the opening the side-turned can. Meric Long sang beautifully into the mic, strumming his acoustic guitar along. Unfortunately, his chair broke surprisingly broke underneath him, but only fans up-close would’ve noticed, because he didn’t skip a beat, still strumming at his guitar and singing as his back lay flat on the ground and his feet were kicked off high. The stage crew quickly grabbed a new chair for him and the show went on without any sign of a disturbance occurring.
Ghostface Killah and Raekwon were next. They had a whole posse of MC’s on stage with them. He announced, “We just had a two week tour in Europe. It was a nine-hour plane ride with my balls sticking and shit. You know how it is.” I’m guessing Ghostface shared this to let fans understand he was sorry for showing up late. Anyways, it was strange that again, a band or act that would bring such a large crowd had the smallest stage. Everyone was packed in tight, but it seemed there were more Wutang fans than just Ghostface fans in the audience. It was kind of cheap that Ghostface would simply play his parts in Wutang songs then cut it to the next track by inserting gunshots or sirens. It was a great performance, don’t get be wrong, but I was a little upset to watch him milk that Wutang train all that he could.
Spiritualized was up next, starting their set with Soul on Fire, off Spaceman’s new album A & E. Spaceman was singing into what looked like a 1930’s green broadcast microphone, which was fitting for Spiritualized’s old-fashioned psychedelic rock style. Then it was time to run across the field again to catch Bon Iver on the Balance Stage. For this being the smallest stage, all the best bands, in my opinion, were playing here. Bon Iver, Justin Vernon’s latest musical project, was a set worth waiting for. The fans patiently waited as Vernon sound-checked six different guitars. It was well worth the wait for Vernon’s heart wrenching lyrics and indie folk melodies. Then it was back across the field for Dinosaur Jr., an oldie but a goodie. J Mascis’s hair looked as white and long as ever, and Lou Barlow was still rocking out harder than ever. I was happy to see them get into it, because I had watched them live at the Trocadero, headlining for a free Dr. Dog show, sponsored by Camel, and they didn’t seem enthused for the show at all back then. However, this time around, they were surrounded by stacks of Marshall amps and had plenty of longtime fans supporting them. Steven, the black haired bassist of Jay Reatard was found in the pit watching, what I can only assume, are long time musical idols of his.
Cut Copy was scheduled to play next, but after waiting for half an hour Bradford Cox reappeared on the balance stage. No one was upset, just disappointed, as Cox announced that Cut Copy’s plane was running late and that they probably weren’t playing at all for the evening. However, not to disappoint fans, Bradford Cox, King Khan and the drummer from the Ponies took the stage. They weren’t playing any recognizable songs at first, just kind of improvising as they went along, and then taking requests from people in the audience. A couple fans requested Nirvana songs, etc, anything easy enough to cover, but it was more fun to watch these three collaborate and make songs up as they went along. Every once in a while Jay Lindsay from Jay Reatard would run onstage and grab the mic out of King Khan’s hand. They playfully fought on stage, and the Jay would run back as if nothing had happened. John from Health also came on stage every once in a while, but didn’t play, though fans had their fingers crossed. Who knows what may come from this, maybe a collaborative album from King Khan and Bradford Cox, we can only hope.
I ran over to Spoon to catch a song or two, but the pit was packed with artists and photographers and to be honest, what I had just left at the balance stage seemed much more interesting then watching Spoon, and this is coming from an avid Spoon fan. I ran back to the balance stage just in time to find out that Cut Copy had showed up and were finally going to play their set. They had become the unplanned closers of the Pitchfork Music Festival, but I wouldn’t of had it any other way. The festival had to end by 10pm sharp, so Cut Copy could only play 4 songs, but they started off with “Out There On The Ice, then their hit single Lights and Music. “Feel the Love” was next, then they squeezed in one last song and ended with “Hearts On Fire” and had everyone dancing and singing along. It was a great end to the festival, everyone covered in sweat, smiling manically and exhausted from the long weekend. Dan Whitford graciously said thank you to fans for waiting and apologized for the delay. No one seemed to care, they were just happy to see the band.