P4k 2011 Day 2: Julianna Barwick, Woods and Cold Cave

July 16, 2011

Photo by Andrew Gill.

The second day of the seventh annual Pitchfork Music Festival began under gray skies in a thick, hot, and humid funk as publicists disseminated their emergency heat plan via email—“We have a CTA cooling bus station at the end of Flatstock [the poster exhibition] and another if needed on Ashland and Washington [and] we will give away one bottle of water to the first 6,000 people through the gate for both today and tomorrow”—though my favorite source for weather wisdom, Ginger Zee, said this morning that Saturday is supposed to be positively pleasant compared to the final day of the fest tomorrow.

Julianna Barwick. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

The music on the main stages kicked off at 1 p.m. with Brooklyn vocalist and loop mistress Julianna Barwick, who electronically layered multi-part harmony vocals to create a one-woman female choir not unlike an army of Enya’s, though without the annoying New Age wispiness.

Julianna Barwick. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

Unfortunately, the first half of Barwick’s gorgeous and lulling set had to compete at near-equal volume with Chrissy Murderbot and MC Zulu over on the second stage; the volume there only subsided midway through, by which point the sun came out, the temperature started to soar, and now it was the weather ruining the intended bliss.

Nevertheless, Barwick’s recent album “The Magic Place” has shot to the top of my list for further listening.

Rating for Julianna Barwick (when she could be heard without distractions): 7.1.

Woods. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

Next up, New York indie-rockers Woods veered between two poles throughout their set, one annoying and one sublime. In more conventional folk-rock mode, the group was sabotaged by band leader Jeremy Earl’s wispy, wimpy, and just plain weak vocals, to say nothing of the uninspired songwriting.

Woods. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

But for the other half of the set, when the band would lock into a trance-inducing groove (my colleague Greg Kot rightly invoked the mighty krautrock legends Can) and stretch out into noisy psychedelic jams that were everything that Animal Collective’s should have been last night but weren’t, the group was nothing short of brilliant. Which means I’m just gonna have to split the difference with my final grade.

Rating for Woods: 5.5.

Cold Cave. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

Imagine a slightly sunnier, marginally less threatening Nick Cave fronting a groovy if unholy merger of the Bad Seeds and the Human League and you’re sort of closing in on what New York-based writer, musician, and publisher Wesley Eisold is doing with Cold Cave, which recently released the impressive “Cherish the Light Years” on Matador Records.

Cold Cave. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

It’s always somewhat painful to see someone who so clearly thrives in the dark and would never be seen not wearing black struggling to create his vibe in the brutal summer sun, but Eisold did his best, and Cold Cave, like the good half of Woods, was a welcome surprise.

Rating for Cold Cave: 7.3.

As for the non-musical doings in Union Park today, I had my third (third!) encounter with a young woman hired by this year’s corporate beer vendor asking to survey me about my hops preferences and collect the data on her iPad (third time I’ve declined, too).

But, at the other end of the spectrum, the activists from Between Friends, Rape Victim Advocates, and several gay rights groups have been a much bigger presence today, handing out their hand fans and anti-violence literature as the crowds enter the front gate, as well as staffing their booth on the midway.

Photo by Andrew Gill.