Thursday, July 23, 2009

2009 Pitchfork Festival: Sunday

In the five years (or four, if you are worried about semantics) of the Pitchfork Festival, I cannot think of a better day of music than what was offered last Sunday. The day started with Frightened Rabbit, who, last year, released one of my favorite albums ever, and ended with the Flaming Lips, who are one of my top-five favorite bands of all-time. Sandwiched between were about three or four acts that were as good as anyone I saw on Saturday. (Oh, and before we get started, a few people have asked me why there are no pictures. And the reason is, I am still trying to milk life out of the same camera that I dropped in a beer during Dinosaur Jr at last year's festival. It still sort of works, but pictures taken during the daytime are very fuzzy and hardly viewable. My friend Brendan pointed out that if I am willing to purchase a plane ticket from DC to Chicago to attend this festival, it might be time to go ahead and pony up for a new camera. Never!)

When writing about David Foster Wallace's highly-acclaimed novel, Infinite Jest, Walter Kirn of New York Magazine wrote, "Next year's book awards have been decided...the competition has been obliterated." When it comes to break-up records, this is how I feel about Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight. (Side note: I will give anyone $50 if they can somehow credibly verify that they, in the last year, have walked into Tryst in DC on 18th Street and not witnessed someone reading, trying to read, or pretending to read Infinite Jest. I'm not kidding, fifty bucks.) The album really is that good, and that is why we made sure we were at Union Park by 1:30. Frightened Rabbit opened with "The Modern Leper," which will sound like a hit song the very first time you hear it. But The Midnight Organ Fight is a break-up record through and through, and their excellent song "Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms" ends with the line, "I am still in love with you/Can't admit it yet," only conspicuously Hutchison didn't sing this part. I notice these things. They ended the set with a hard-charged "The Greys" which eventually morphed into something I didn't recognize. The band brought more energy than I was expecting or knew was capable from the Scottish four-piece, and before long only drummer Grant Hutchison was left on stage menacingly scowling at the crowd, and pounding on his drums before triumphantly throwing his arms up in the air, and strutting off stage. For something so inocuous and most likely forgotten by 95% of the crowd, it gave me goosebumps and may have been my favorite moment of the weekend.

In between bands I spotted a skinny, raggedy kid with shaggy hair walking around with scissors and a sign that read "Cut my hair." Festival goers would randomly come up and grab the scissors and take a few snips. I saw him a couple of hours later and his hair looked great. And by "great," I mean "fucking awful." But hey, way to save $8!

Ever watched a band from a distance and thought, "Wow, I am going to start listening to them more as soon as I get home"? This was my line of thinking during Blizten Trapper, who sounded excellent. What was amazing was how many of their songs from their last two albums stuck out in my mind as they were playing them. It really felt like hit song after hit song. And I believe they had the same time slot and the same stage as their fellow Brawny-Paper-Towels-sponsored band, Fleet Foxes the year before. I can almost guarantee right now there is a band from the Pacific Northwest with a propensity to grow decent beards, that is unknown at the moment, but is two months away from signing with Sub Pop, and four months away from an 8.7 rating on Pitchfork that will be on this stage at this time in 2010. It will happen, you just watch.

And speaking of bands from the Pacific Northwest that will now be receiving more air-time in the Crisafulli household, the Thermals gave me just what I wanted out of a band at a music festival. They were loud, energetic, and even played some covers. Hell, they opened with a cover--Sonic Youth's "100%." They also played some Nirvana, the Breeders, and Green Day. But most impressive, during their set was this guy that was standing in front of us with a yellow Michael Jackson t-shirt that danced throughout the entire set. He didn't stop once and danced well the entire time.

If Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen isn't the best frontman alive, then he is one of the best. Everytime he belted out one of his trademark wails, the crowd around me would "oooh" and "aaah" as if they were watching a 4th of July fireworks display. However, something happened during their set which I feel compelled to share. Right as the Walkmen started to play "The Rat," a guy next to me fainted. He just went out cold and hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. Luckily, I was standing next to a doctor (she requested not to be named, so we will just refer to her as Aud***). I immediately summoned Aud***'s attention, pointed out the guy on the ground, and assumed we were in good hands. Bad assumption. Aud*** took one look at him, and turned her attention back to the Walkmen. To her defense, "The Rat" is one of the best rock songs ever. But be that as it may, we had a doctor in the house, and the guy I saw that ended up finally attending to this poor sap was smoking marijuana moments before this happened. Aud*** will tell the story a bit differently, but this is exactly how I remembered it happening. (For those worried, the guy that went down came to a few moments later and after some water seemed okay and headed to a less crowded area.) As for the Walkmen, they played mostly stuff from last year's You & Me (voted best album of 2008 in some circles), only reaching back for the aforementioned "The Rat" and a few tracks from A Hundred Miles Off. They were great, but as I have said before, we expected that.

Scott brought up an excellent point concerning M83. They had the same vibe that Spiritualized did last year. They were onstage, we were minding our own business, and about a third of the way through, everyone seemed to realize something great was happening. I was in this camp and will be listening to a lot more of M83. Leading non-crooner Anthony Gonzalez still needs some lessons in throwing down though.

I still don't understand the fascination with Grizzly Bear, but you know what, God bless 'em because 18,500 hipsters can't be wrong. (Actually, they can be wrong, and often are wrong. Most notably every morning when they get up and pick out something to wear.)

I had been excited for weeks to see headliners the Flaming Lips in this setting: Chicago, my favorite music festival, with friends, and under the glow of the Willis Tower. Alright, so maybe not everything was perfect. But Willis Tower be damned, when Wayne came out in his patented rubber ball and surfed the crowd just before the band played "Race for the Prize," at that moment it was perfect. Unfortunately, perfection can be fleeting, and the Flaming Lips were actually a bit disappointing. They were participating in the "fans write the setlist" gimmick that was present on Friday, only Wayne didn't seem like he really wanted to be involved. Not that I can blame him, and I actually enjoyed it when he seemed to be mocking the entire premise. Problem is, that seemed to dominate their set, and I'm not sure they played more than nine songs. And I hated the way they played "Fight Test" and "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1." Hated it. They were slow and stripped down, almost as if we were watching Wayne sing them acappella in the shower. And Wayne kept trying to get everyone to sing along, but that's pretty hard when the tempo is completely unpredictable. The following day, Jim stated, "I had to go home and listen to those songs to remember what they sounded like and why I actually like them. That's...that's not good!" No, no it isn't. They did hit "Bad Days" from my favorite Flaming Lips album, but even that sounded stale. (Wayne dedicated the song to Sun Times music critic/journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has written a biography on the Flaming Lips. DeRogatis was promptly booed. Imagine if the Bears were to win the Super Bowl and Brian Urlacher gave the game ball to Jay Mariotti. It was kind of like that. But do not feel sorry for DeRogatis, I am sure at this point in his career he can handle it.)

I was starting to get restless and realized that they had only played a handful of song with twenty minutes remaining before the 10pm neighborhood curfew took effect. Not cool. What was cool was the Flaming Lips' set and stage show which is never disappointing, and the large screen monitors provided by Pitchfork that showed the enormous crowd that was still sticking around for the final act of what had been a long weekend. It was amazing how large the crowd was and I can definitely say there has never been a crowd like that at one stages in the, albeit brief, history of this festival. It was truly amazing. And the band did pick up momentum with their final two songs: "She Don't Use Jelly," which was accompanied by the video on the large screen behind the band, which was a nice step back in time, and "Do You Realize" which was deservedly voted number one in terms of songs fans wished the band to play. That song is nearly worth the price of admission alone, and though it wasn't a perfect Flaming Lips' set, it was a good note to leave on.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2009 Pitchfork Festival: Saturday

Saturday's lineup of the 2009 Pitchfork Festival was a bit weak when compared to Friday and Sunday. Nevertheless, we made an honest effort to arrive at Union Park somewhat early. Jim and I were staying at a friend's place in Edgewater and took the Damen Bus the entire way. Is it really necessary for the bus to stop at every half block? Why doesn't the CTA just have it stop at every single residence along the way and get it over with. We could have gotten there faster had we walked backwards.

No matter, we made it before 2:30, and that is when hardcore whatever band, Fucked Up, from Toronto was set to play. I wrote over a month ago (yet, just two posts ago) that Fucked Up's set was destined to be the highlight of the weekend, so I was filled with a decent amount of anticipation. They emerged, led by singer Damian Abraham who looks like the cross between a fat guy and another even fatter guy, and immediately launched into "Son the Father," which is most likely the best song from their 2008 album The Chemistry of Common Life. The crowd was pretty into it, and the band was doing their best to make sure the crowd stayed into it, but, unfortunately the sound was pretty weak. (This has been a slightly onerous reoccurring theme that pops up at every Pitchfork Festival.) I almost felt like it needed to be louder, especially Abraham's vocals. Other than that, things were fine, and like David Yow the night before, Abraham spent a decent amount of time in the crowd. He was even on top of the crowd at one point. Who said indie rock fans are weak? Abraham killed other time by chewing on beach balls and wearing one on his head. I thought he was pretty fantastic. He also awarded the crowd with a 9.9 Pitchfork rating and declared us better than the Animal Collective record (Merriweather Post Pavillion) which he claimed sounds like Phish. This killed me. I love Animal Collective, and I really like that album, but I also love a contrarian.

Fucked Up ended their hour long set with several members of the band leaping into the crowd. We are talking pretty good leaps, too. Instruments in hand, and everything. Other than "Son the Father," the other song I remember sticking out fairly well was "Twice Born." They were not the highlight of the festival, but despite the shaky sound, they fought through it all pretty well. Fucked Up, my compliments. (I just did a Google search and found that the last sentence has never been printed anywhere before on the Internet. I am pretty proud to be the first.)

Right after Fucked Up, Audrey sent me a text and asked if I had heard about Thax Douglas. Word was spreading that Thax had died. It wasn't true, Thax is alive and well. I think everyone had just mixed Thax up with Walter Cronkite. Honest mistake.

Somehow after Fucked Up, I was unaccounted for until the second half of Lindstrom's great set on the B stage. This is over a three hour window, and I have no idea what I was specifically doing during this time. I may have just been standing in line for the bathroom. For whatever reason, on Saturday, every bathroom line was out of control. It seemed as if the park was much more crowded than previous years, although I read that festival organizers stated that they sold the same amount of tickets as the previous year, and the bigger crowd may have been a result of the unseasonably cool and comfortable temperature. Meaning people were staying longer. That's plausible. And the lines for the bathrooms were rectified by Sunday as organizers scrambled to have more port-a-potties trucked in. And that is what makes this festival fantastic. The port-a-potties. No, but honestly, organizers do as much as they can to make sure everyone has a comfortable experience. It is crowded, but never scary. The lines for food, beer, and bathrooms can be long, but are rarely offensive. And the food is unbelievable. I never thought I would be able to eat so well at a festival. Fruits, vegetables, pizza, whatever you want, they have it.

However, I think the main reason I don't remember seeing much music during this time was because I was catching up with friends that I had not seen in some time. And that might be my favorite part of this weekend. We were all somewhat near the stage where the Pains of Being Pure at Heart were playing, and they are a good band, but I was more interested in talking with my friends. Every year it's a reunion of sorts. They could put the worst possible lineup in front of us and we would probably buy a ticket and head out there. Hmmm, on second thought, perhaps we are morons.

As mentioned, Lindstrom was pretty exciting, but we were mostly lingering near the stage for Matt and Kim who were set to play shortly. I have always really liked Matt and Kim, especially live. They both need ritalin, and they played a lot from their latest album Grand, which is a step up musically and production-wise from their previous effort. But they still managed to squeeze in crowd favorites like "Yea Yeah," "5k," and "Silver Tiles." I originally regretted that I missed Beirut, but, in turn, that would have meant missing Kim trying to dance Beyonce-style, and Matt rocking out not only the beginning to "Sweet Child O' Mine" but also the intro to "The Final Countdown." Clearly, I made the right call.

Saturday was nearly over save for the headliner, the National. I really like the National, they are a very good band, but they are not a headliner. We left halfway through their set, hit an outside patio in Wicker Park, and had some beers. We talked about whatever, and I began to think about the Flaming Lips.

(Sunday rundown coming tomorrow...hopefully.)


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2009 Pitchfork Festival: Friday

The last time there was a post on NQL, Michael Jackson was alive and the Cubs’ season seemed to be dead. Well, things have changed, and if morticians can dig up old bones in a graveyard, certainly I’m entitled to exhume NQL. It is especially appropriate since last weekend was the annual Pitchfork Festival. For the most part, I like Pitchfork. They commit some sins, but the festival is not one of them. It is far and away the best music festival I have been to, it is where this site was born, and therefore, it is time for a post.

I hate flying, but my flight to my old Chicago home was surprisingly pretty painless. Any disaster from last year was avoided. I hit Union Park at what I thought was a decent time, but Tortoise was long gone and Yo La Tengo was already playing. Not a huge deal, I have seen Tortoise plenty of times, and since two very long days of music were waiting for me, I could handle not seeing every single note played on Friday. Friday also featured a scenario where ticket holders were allowed to vote for what they wished to be the set list from each band. I am not wild about this scenario. I would rather hear what Yo La Tengo wants to play, and not what the guy standing on my right wants Yo La Tengo to play. But nevertheless, it is an interesting idea, and certainly would not detract much from the weekend. For those unaware, the Friday lineup was Tortoise, Yo La Tengo, the Jesus Lizard, and Built to Spill. It was like watching an old-timers’ game, except interesting and worthwhile.

As mentioned, I showed up during Yo La Tengo, and they happened to be playing “Autumn Sweater” from I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. Good omen, I like that song. I looked around for my friends (my cellular phone was not working at the moment) before realizing I was in the wrong spot. I needed to go to the Jesus Lizard stage. My old friend Jim from Louisville is the biggest Jesus Lizard fan I know, and as much as we all love Yo La Tengo, it was important to be front and center for what was about to happen on the other stage. Knowing lead singer and resident maniac, David Yow, has to be nearing 50, I was curious if he still had the antics in him that has made him somewhat legendary. (Speaking of which, I think David Yow has looked 50 for the past 20 years. Has he ever looked young?) It was kind of like watching an old athlete come out of retirement, but instead of wondering whether he could still throw a 50-yard spiral, I was curious if he still had the drive to leap off the stage, and crowd surf naked. It is a subtle difference. Convinced the Jesus Lizard’s first set in their hometown in some time could range anywhere from awesome to a complete debacle, I wanted to be close enough to make the call. It was pretty much both.

The noisy rockers came onstage, Yow said a few things into the microphone about some upcoming shows that they are set to play at the Metro in November, the band started into their first song “Puss” from Liar and within seconds Yow flung himself into the crowd. It was great, and there are plenty of Youtube clips that captured the scene if you want to check it out. The twenty foot radius of rabid fans that formed around him was pretty much mayhem. I was being pushed, shoved, elbowed, stomped on, you name it, and I pretty much fine with it. And Yow kept his pants on for the entire show. Let’s call that a win-win. After about five songs, I had had enough and retreated just beyond the pit of grease balls who seemed to be enjoying their opportunity to anonymously try and hurt someone. As I watched the rest of the Jesus Lizard’s set, I noticed Jim near the front of the stage, for whatever reason, holding his shoes up in the air, but refusing to budge from his prime (or terrible, pending on your point of view) spot. As we found out later, during the roughhousing, Jim’s shoes somehow came off. So did his socks. The shoes were found. The socks were not. I cannot think of many other bands who could inspire those last two sentences. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…the Jesus Lizard.

I had never seen indie rock heroes Built to Spill before this night. Well, shame on me. We somehow managed to get a decent spot near the right of the stage, although we were without Jim, who was still missing in action from the Jesus Lizard’s set. Luckily, a girl in front of us was inexplicably holding a crutch up in the air. I got Jim on the phone and told him to head for the crutch. About five minutes later and still no Jim, the girl put the crutch down. Me, along with several other people, reacted with a simultaneous “Noooo,” as apparently I was not the only one using it as a point of reference. She reluctantly agreed to put the crutch back up in the air. A guy in my group assured her it would only take him about an hour to find us. She sort of found that funny. (He never found us, and the crutch was lowered about ten minutes later.)

Built to Spill was fantastic and it may have been my favorite set of the weekend. They opened with “Liar” from You in Reverse, and kept pretty strong momentum throughout the set. Great beards, too. As mentioned before, since it was a “fans write the set list” night, they hit a lot of what would be expected: “You Were Right,” “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” “Strange,” etc. Very conspicuously absent was “Car.” Really? No “Car?” Are you telling me the masses of people did not vote “Car” as one of the top ten songs that would have liked to have heard Built to Spill play? Someone jumpstart those riots in Iran, we have some more voter fraud on our hands!

(Saturday rundown coming tomorrow...maybe.)


eXTReMe Tracker