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.



Mike said...

Frightened Rabbit were one of my favorite performances from Pitchfork. I wish I would have had the energy to see them again that night. Also, The comparison you made between M83 this year and Spiritualized last year was right on. I felt the same way.

With the Thermals, I left them early and went to the third stage. Playing there was DJ/Rupture from NYC. He's an electronic artist that draws most of his samples from world music. It was a nice dance party over there. Admittedly, pop punk annoys me, so the Thermals were not my bag, and I would have enjoyed being at the dance party longer.

I didn't like the performance from the Flaming Lips. Wayne Coyne's shtick was annoying and it shortened how many songs they could play. And while I love it when bands vary their songs for live performances, the Flaming Lips really slowed the tempo and Wayne demanded that the fans sing along to it. It was grating. So grating that I committed the cardinal sin of texting during the concert. I was also vocalizing my complaints, which is annoying to others.

On the issue of fan-chosen set lists, I went to the Decemberists show last night (main set chosen by the fans) at the Metro, and Colin Meloy brought it up just once by noting that the Metro holds about 1000 people, but 20,000 voted for the songs. It was a cute way to make light of the idea, and it didn't dominate the show.

samantha said...

It was a cute way to make light of the idea, and it didn't dominate the show.

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