As I type these words, I fear a messenger-bagged-10-speed-bike-riding-Proust-quoting lightning bolt might strike me down … but after attending this year’s three-day Pitchfork Music Festival I have come to one ghastly conclusion: Lindsay Lohan is the shit. This is not due to the fact that her mammary glands seem to fill and empty bra cup sizes like a Solo cup at a frat kegger, but because she is aspiring to be what Hollywood deems a “triple threat.” The girl can (in the eyes of movie/recording execs, anyway) act, sing, and dance.
This startling epiphany comes after watching band after band at Pitchfork with musicians that not only play a couple of instruments, sometimes at the same time, but demand all members of the band sing … and not just back-up crooning, either. If a musician, heaven forbid, plays only one instrument, their technique would morph to use props to play that song or a campy costume change.
Friday was an All Tomorrow’s Parties and Pitchfork sponsored evening bringing Slint back (again) to play their Spiderland, the GZA to present his oeuvre Liquid Swords, and Sonic Youth (!) their Daydream Nation. Slint, already looking pissed-off, started sounding pissed-off when the genius running the sound board decided that Spiderland was over and some funky filler music needed to be played over the last fifteen minutes of the album before the GZA went on … Guess Slint will have to auction off their instruments again to dull the pain.
The GZA was, well, the genius that he is, improving on his set with samples from Ol’ Dirty Bastard and other Wu-Tang Clan alum. Any other night, the GZA would have been the highlight of the show, but Sonic Youth had so much fun playing Daydream Nation, they couldn’t be touched. Thurston Moore, still looking 15 from 20 paces, used a drumstick for a portion of the show to play his guitar, with Kim Gordon following suit to play her bass. Their performance was the icing on the icing of the proverbial concert cake—and they proved to be a difficult act to follow.
Saturday’s main stage line-up started with Glasgow’s Twilight Sad. The only thing more annoying than the lead singer’s voice and stories about his pubescence was the sweaty dude without his shirt in front of me. Austin’s Voxtrot failed to fill Grant Park with their “we’re not emo, we swear” tunes, with about half the crowd ditching their spot in front of the stage for some vegan ice cream or poster-purchasing at the Flatstock 13 poster fair (where local artist Leia Bell could be found selling her prints). Califone, Iron & Wine, and Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear brought the slow burn, excellent and beautiful, but a little overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the park itself. Battles was one of the first bands to turn it up and catered to the huge venue with their crazy indie/prog/electronic/fusion. Lead singer Tyondai Braxton pitch-shifted his voice electronically while playing the guitar and keyboards, challenging listeners and winning them over at the same time. Metal rockers Mastodon were, well, Mastodon. And if there was an emoticon from which I usually abstain, I would break my rules and use one for “devil horns” to describe Mastodon’s performance. They owned it.
The small Balance stage found Beach House singer/organist/drum machinist Victoria Legrand channeling Mazzy Star and Professor Murder party-whistling, snare-drumming, tongue-rolling, and getting the packed crowd to clap off-beat. Sadly, the adorable Dan Deacon set up shop on the ground instead of the stage and only the sardines in the front could see his contagious antics. Fujiya & Miagi and the Oxford Collapse didn’t disappoint, but one felt show-goers were just saving their spot for Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis to get the DanceDanceUSA party started.
More amazing than Clipse’s performance on the main stage were the droves of women digging their oft misogynistic raps. Pusha and Malice spit the new stuff alongside the old, although most of the audience was baffled by the joints that Clipse dropped from albums pre-Pitchfork discovery. The headliners for Saturday were Cat Power and Yoko Ono. Chan Marshall, aka Ms. Power, struggled and apologized through her set … But, hey, at least she showed up! Ono, on the other hand, prepared the audience with tiny Onochord pen lights distributed at the gates to each festival-goer (and the surplus flung about the crowd during Clipse, those little lights HURT!) Everyone stayed, mostly for mash-up extraordinaire Girl Talk, who had the plug pulled on him TWICE before Yoko would even take the stage. Too bad, because no one could hear/understand what the 74-year old icon was saying after she’d segue directly from her incoherent wailing to explaining how love will save us all with a penlight.
Sunday started off with Atlanta’s Deerhunter on the main stage. Bradford Cox, the visually assaulting lead singer, donned not one, but two pretty party dresses for the festival. The usually explorative band reined it in, keeping the audience entranced, although one could guess it was equal parts Cox’s emaciated body (he has Marfan Syndrome) AND the music that was so fascinating. Chicago’s own Ponys followed with a quick and clean, although uninspiring, set. One of the true highlights of the festival was Portland, Oregon’s Menomena. This is three-man band in which every member is the lead singer and each plays at LEAST three instruments a piece. Engaging, interesting, and innovative the crowd was more than pleased even though the band was forced to keep sound checking throughout the set (not surprising with all the instruments they brought to the table!)
Canada’s Junior Boys and UK artist Jamie Lidell rounded out the afternoon’s line-up for the main stages. Both proved to be extremely accessible listens, almost to a fault. Lidell, a bluesy soloist who mixes his own voice over itself with his Mac, started to sound eerily like a British Maroon 5 … just enough so the taste of bile was barely detectable at the back of one’s throat. Junior Boys were poppy—and forgettable. Thankfully, they were followed by good ol’ standbys Steven Malkmus and Of Montreal. Malkmus, every indie-kids’ masturbatory aid, stuck to the more popular cuts from his solo albums and even strayed to blessed Pavement-land to wrap-up his set. Of Montreal was the eye-candy of the day, with Kevin Barnes’ neurosis fully visible along with his ass thanks to his patent-leather-jockstrap ensemble. Indie-rock canons, the Sea & Cake and the New Pornographers filled out the evening with technically precise sets, although the Pornographers sounded hollow and tinny without Neko Case to flesh out their usually rich sound.
The Balance Stage had newcomers the Cool Kids and Cadence Weapon dropping old school beats and rhymes. The Cool Kids who claim they don’t want to be “the next hipster hip-hop act” sure seemed happy to play to a crowd of perfectly-coiffed Ray Ban wearers. Canada’s Cadence Weapon, Rollie Pemberton, produced his first album, “Breaking Kayfabe,” which filled up most of his energetic set. The Field and Klaxons brought a little electronic and rock fusion to the small stage, but had to battle horrible sound and the impending De La Soul performance on the main stage for an audience.
The night and the festival were brought to a close with hip hop intellectuals De La Soul. Everyone, tired and sunburned, managed to muster a little sway and shake as Prince Paul took the stage with De La. Although the group used tried and true crowd control, the act was still a welcome commencement to a full weekend wrought with sound problems and lackluster performances … It sure was difficult to follow Sonic Youth…
All in all, the bands that really made that “steep” $50 price tag worth it were the “triple threats” - the innovators who made the Pitchfork archetype what it is today, remarkable AND significant. Well, almost as remarkable as Lindsay Lohan’s boobs, that is. (Lauren Eimers)