Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2008 Pitchfork Festival--Union Park, Chicago, Illinois (Saturday)

Never mind United Airlines pulling out all the stops to say otherwise, the 2008 Pitchfork Festival still had two full days to soak in. Saturday kicked off on a rather somber and gloomy note as rain (a first in the short history of the festival) was added to the daily bill. An NQL team was assembled to take in the damp festivities and here follows a pictorial account of what went down.
Ah, the incomparable Union Park. Alright, so maybe it's very comparable. That's not the point. It has served as a nice home for this ever growing (in attendance, popularity, and price) festival these last few years.

Jim from Louisville is in the building! Little does the event staff know, he is packed from head to toe with nearly 140 oz. of booze. Look at him, he's not the least bit worried about being admitted. I tell you, that kid has ice in his veins.

Titus Adronicus

Named after the Shakespeare play, New Jersey outfit Titus Adronicus opened things up on Saturday with a furious, albeit quick, set. I haven't heard their debut album The Airing of Grievances but those that I trust tell me it's fantastic. If their loud set was any indicator, those that I trust are right. When one song was reaching its crescendo, the entire band and most of the crowd shouted out "Fuck You!" which I found slightly rude but everyone else seemed fine with it. Also, the lead singer came adorned in a Batman t-shirt which was appropriate since, after all, we were in Gotham. Sorry New York, but it's true. Your reign is over.

Our friend Scott is just loving Titus Adronicus!

Jay Reatard

Veteran garage-punker Jay Reatard (in the white Stones' shirt) next took over the Aluminum stage, and with a name like that, he's lucky he has a decent handle on that Gibson Flying V guitar that he wields around so haphazardly. I just don't see the powers-that-be at a place like Kirkland & Ellis ever making the following announcement:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce, and for you all to welcome our newest associate: Jay Reatard.

That aside, Scott is really feeling Jay Reatard!


Caribou is the stage name for Dr. Daniel Victor Snaith (he has a Ph.D in mathematics), although he was performing with a complete live band. He bounced around from percussion to guitar to keyboard and was phenomenal. I listen to Caribou's last album Andorra very sparingly, but after seeing this electronic-folky thing in person, I will probably be spending some more time with it. The highlight of the day so far.

Scott agrees.

During Caribou I had to run to the bathroom. Did anyone else notice that things at the Festival seemed to be running much smoother this year? Not that there was ever a huge problem in the past, but the lines to the bathroom were shorter, getting food and drinks never seemed to be a huge hassle, and most importantly, I don't remember anyone having any sound issues. In fact, the acoustics inside this porta-John during Caribou were simply amazing!

Fleet Foxes

Everyone seems to love Fleet Foxes right now. Back at the Aluminum Stage, anticipation was pretty high for their set. Their recent self-titled release received excellent reviews and if you can detect any buzz in the air right now that's probably them. For the two people that don't know, they come from Seattle, they're signed to Sub Pop, and surprise, surprise, Pitchfork loves them. With good reason though, their album is beautifully done and vocal heavy, and those comparisons to Crosby, Stills, and Nash that often pop up are pretty accurate. I was curious how well they could pull it off in a live and large outdoor setting. Well, they pulled it off. Keeping right up with the vocals standard set on the album, they hit every vocal note nearly perfectly and even drew the crowd to an almost stand-still silence. While waiting for each peak and valley, the crowd was silent as if awaiting a serve before a big point at Wimbledon.

I was impressed, but not swept off my feet and decided it was time to grab a beer. And if you tune in for Sunday's recap, you'll see how beer nearly ruined my entire weekend...but not in the way that you'd expect.

When I asked Scott if he wanted to come with me to get a beer, he responded, "And miss this?! You must be crazy!"

Dizzee Rascal

Raise your hand if you've always found live hip-hop to be a bit underwhelming. Yeah, me too. I might have to change my tune after seeing Dizzee Rascal. He's from London. Before you find yourself wondering how tough a rapper with a British accent can really be, just know that when he was younger he was incarcerated for stealing cars and robbing pizza delivery men. Yikes. Also, he had no qualms about dressing down his sound guy in front of everyone. I was even trembling a bit. But once the minor sound problems were dispelled, he put on the biggest party of the weekend at the Connector Stage. I have only heard his stuff a few times, and I'm not sure I ever heard his latest album Maths + English. But with a good rap show it doesn't matter. What other genre of music can you sing along to a song that you've never heard before? That's what was happening during his set. There was more than just singing though, there was also some dancing, some arm waving, and believe it or not, from what I could detect, a lot of marijuana smoking.

Scott was later heard telling someone he thought Dizzee was "Off the hook."

Now is a good time to mention that our good friend Jim came to the festival with a leg injury that required him to sit or often lay down intermittently throughout the three days. However, during Dizzee Rascal, he was so caught up in the show he refused to bow down to the searing pain shooting up and down his leg. During a quick conversation he stated, "My leg is killing me, but this guy is so good I can't walk away from this. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Put that in your blog and smoke it." Well, then.

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend, the only band ever to have a backlash against them before their first album debuted, next took over the Aluminum Stage. To be fair, they are also the first band ever to be on the cover of Spin Magazine before their first album debuted. Greg Kot hammered them in his writeup for the Tribune. I've never been a huge fan, I've only listened to their album five or six times, but for the most part I think it's fun. And even being slightly unfamiliar with their stuff, I felt like I intimately recognized every song they played. Is that a good thing? I think it is. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I ended up in the back of the crowd and didn't get a lot of pictures.

When later reached for comment concerning Vampire Weekend's set, Scott stated, "Backlash? Not from this guy!" It was then reported that he proceeded to do a dance not seen since 1989 when someone, amid a large mob, accidentally played Side 2 of Paul Simon's Graceland at the annual Freaknik meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

We assembled a pretty good team for this year's festival. Unfortunately, one of our good friends couldn't make it. To cover our losses, we found a guy (standing in middle) who we felt most resembled our friend for the group picture. When told why it was necessary for him to be in the picture, he reluctantly agreed.

As above, this year brought rain. And it was only a matter of time, but when you combine "this"...

...with "these" people, you eventually wind up...

...with "this".

RED-ROVER, RED-ROVER, SEND ANY IDIOT WHO IS GOING TO REALIZE IN ABOUT 20 MINUTES THAT MAYBE THIS WASN'T SUCH A GREAT IDEA ON OVER! On a related note, I thought the girl on the far-left side with glasses was pretty brave for going topless. And sorry boys, she was the only one.


If you look closely, that's !!! playing up on the screen at the Connector Stage. Unfortunately, a couple of us had to sacrifice them to the Pitchfork Gods and head over to the other stage to jockey for position for the Hold Steady. Those are the types of decisions you have to make sometimes at festivals such as this. A few girls that I was with stayed behind and stated that !!! was unbelievable and the highlight of their weekend. I don't doubt it. I saw them at the 2006 Touch and Go anniversary at the Hideout Block Party and felt the same. Nevertheless, a decision was made and we had to stick with it.

Uh-oh, Jim looks like he's down for the count. I'm not sure he'll have what it takes to make it through the Hold Steady's set. When I asked what his status was, he stated, "Yeah, my leg hurts and I might actually sit down. Get over it. And by the way, you can put that in your blog and smoke it."

So much for that, he's up! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Willis Reed of indie music festivals! According to Jim, "Hey, you know what, I'm not missing this, I love the Hold Steady. And you can put that...". Alright, alright, we got it.

The Hold Steady

Just before the Hold Steady took the stage, some random fan just handed me a free beer. This always happens at Hold Steady shows. It never fails. They emerged and kicked things off with "Constructive Summer" from their recently released, but long ago leaked, album Stay Positive. We all toasted Joe Strummer. Most were pretty excited to see how the new songs played out live. I was no different. The band was their usual selves; vibrant and exploding with showmanship.

Besides the opener, other songs from the new album that hit the right marks were "Stay Positive" and the sneaky-excellent "Magazines." They peppered in songs from their previous three albums as well and encored with the inevitable closer "Killer Parties."

The sun actually poked it's head out slightly while the Hold Steady were on stage. People call them the last great bar band, but their natural home might actually be a large, sunny outdoor festival. This seemed most true when Tad Kubler was putting the touches on one of his southern rock-type guitar solos from the new album as the sun was slowly fading. By the time they ended, everyone was a big sweaty mess and all the happier for it.

They say you are who you surround yourself with, and if that's true, then everyone at the festival must be pretty good because we were all surrounded by everything that encompasses a Chicago summer: live music, food, beer, and (a little) sunshine. I am no world traveler, but if there's a better place to be in the summer I have yet to find it.

It had been a pretty long day at this point, evidenced by darkness slowly casting a shadow over Union Park. We decided to rest up during Jarvis Cocker, although everyone we talked to stated that was a mistake as the ex-frontman for Pulp reportedly put on a pretty good show. All that was left for the evening was Animal Collective. I regrettably didn't venture over to the Balance stage once throughout the day. Those I spoke with had great things to say about Atlas Sound and No Age--two bands I had every intention of taking in. That's one of the crazy things about Saturday, before I knew it the day was nearly over and plenty of items on my checklist were still unchecked. So it goes. Time for Animal Collective.

Animal Collective

When it came time for Animal Collective we were all so tired we decided to set up shop on a blanket in the middle of the park. I was a little surprised when I saw they were headlining. I thought the Hold Steady or Cocker would have been better suited. I was wrong. Animal Collective was perfect, and like Caribou, I think I'll find myself reaching for some of their albums a bit more often.

Avey Tare hopped around on the Aluminum Stage in a hat that not many can pull off, as they slowly rolled through Animal Collective's discography while fighting time against the 10pm curfew. Halfway through, they gave the crowd a pleasant surprise and treated us to some Panda Bear as they weaved through "Comfy In Nautica" from the great Person Pitch. A jolt was lit into the slightly fading crowd when the beginning music of "Peacebone" from their latest album Strawberry Jam began emanating from the speakers. It sounded so invigorating that Jim almost rose from the blanket to actually stand up! He didn't, but most others did.

When the little hand struck 10, we were instructed it was time to vacate the premises. As we pow-wowed outside the fence waiting for the disgusting line at the Ashland stop to quell, we traded war stories from the day and laid praise upon Animal Collective. They were a great headliner, whoever made that decision at Pitchfork got it right. And you can put that in all your blogs and smoke it.


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