The 2010 Pitchfork Music Festival gave us three days of sweat, guitars and reasonably priced vegan food. Here’s my recap of all the acts I managed to catch.
Ready for bigger things. That was my impression after Wolf Parade’s sweaty set, a big rock tradeoff between guitar and organ, filled with little grace notes and more noise than four members should be able to put out. The sound was thick and urgent, a big, shimmering sound that still seemed unchecked when it was choked off by its time limit.
One of the fest’s top energy shows, Titus Andronicus set their stage with a big American flag hanging from their Rhodes. Lead singer Patrick Stickles had a little flaggie dangling from his bottom guitar peg when he came out, a testament to the Civil War theme of their latest album, “The Monitor,” and perhaps a nod to the Boss as well.
Stickles is clearly influenced by anthemic sound of his fellow New Jerseyan, even as he adds punk noise and Bright Eyes lyricizing to the mix. Even with the sun trying to sweat them out, the crowd was game. They were moshing, shirtless and singing along, feeding back with the contagious unity on stage. The band was young and sincere, pushing out angst and making it some kind of celebration.
I was ready for a reason to leave when Saturday’s headliners took the stage. I’ve listened to their albums and found their dance pop to be a bit narrow and bloodless. But they won me over live, recreating a layered studio sound with an ambitious live set-up featuring multiple drummers and organ dabblers.
The live setting brought out an extra note of urgency, thickening the precise rhythms. Frontman James Murphy was excellent, throwing himself into raver bon mots and falsetto cries. The crowd loved it, embracing “All My Friends” and “Losing My Edge” en masse before letting go with a plaintive—and surprisingly moving—“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.”
Kings of the “how do they do it with only two people” movement, Lightning Bolt issued an abrasive arc of noise rock, owning the main stage with just drums, bass and a mic hidden beneath a handmade luchador mask. They pummeled the crowd, playing songs that strayed from standard rhythmic currents, stepping outside clean four-beat time with frenzied strikes. They were hungry and a bit wild, a welcome contrast to the pre-tracked tunes that marked the later day on Sunday.
These shambling indie godfathers were the only act we managed to catch Friday night. They delivered a strong set, punching through tunes old and new with an assertive guitar/organ/dual drum lineup. Isaac Brock delivered his Jekyll and Hyde vocals, trading off yelps and pretty bits of singing. He periodically swapped out guitar for banjo to take on “Good News for People Who Like Bad News” tunes, with trumpet accompaniment adding some howl to “The Devil’s Workday.”
The set fizzled a bit at the end when they stepped off for a faux-encore with twenty minutes remaining. The crowd didn’t call them back with much intensity, and there was a bit of a muddled wait for the inevitable. Brock seemed sour during the two-song callback. “Black Cadillacs” was the last tune played, and I think much of the audience was waiting for “Float On” when the lights were called on.
After a several-yearhiatus, Blues Explosion strutted back unchecked. Frontman Jon Spencer flaunted his rock and roll soul by taking the stage in leather pants, long-sleeved shirt and vest, despite the brutal heat. Spencer and fellow guitarist Judah Bauer pushed each other through some mean grooves as the singer howled through his gibbering Elvis routine. The power didn’t quite funnel to the crowd, however. Maybe it was heat, maybe the faint scent of schtick, maybe the open spaces instead of scummy walls, but the set was great and hollow at the same time.
This duo (plus a traveling drummer) exudes mood. Through their three albums they’ve mined a rich, narrow vein of sultry little tunes. Organ and dripping guitar licks provide a sturdy foundation for singer Victoria Legrand’s dreamy musings. Some of my friends found them too subdued for the oppressive heat, but I found myself untethered for the duration of their set, grounded again afterward.
The big name for the weekend put on the set I expected, shrugging disjointedly through their back catalogue with periodic bursts of focus and energy. The sound wavered for much of the night, with the guitar, bass and vocals falling in and out of focus. “Stereo” was a highlight, but the set as a whole felt murky and aimless…maybe as it was supposed to.
I’ve always admired Outkast’s inventiveness and energy, so I was looking forward to Big Boi taking his stage. His live sound left me disappointed, though. Instead of a live drummer, he went with DJ and drum machine, which left the beats feeling thin and inorganic. The rest of the band—guitar, bass and brass—couldn’t add much life to the sound, especially since Big Boi seemed to be rapping into a karaoke microphone that had been dropped one-too-many times by a drunk patron.
This Chicago group of youngins’ (their lead singer referenced being underage at one point) seemed unready for the Pitchfork platform. On record, they offer some nice cuts of poppy fuzz/reverb punk, but like many self-recorders, they were exposed live without the wall of effects under them. They need to get some more gigs under their belt.
Another act ruined by their sound, Sleigh Bells couldn’t add up to the beats-and-bash energy of their debut. The guitar-and-vocals duo took to the stage with ample pre-tracked backing, which drained most of the interest from their performance. The occasional strums and shouts seemed like random flourishes on top of the preprogrammed sound, lending their set a muted, uninspired air.
DJ time on the main stage. Despite some early spectacle with Chinese New Year–themed dragons, the act mainly offered a strip-club hash of party beats and DJ exhortations. Ladies in underwear writhed on speakers and random dudes from the crowd, including one prone, pasty fellow whose genitals were jumped on from a full run. Pitchfork 2011: not this, please.