Pitchfork Day 2: Wolf Parade, Panda Bear, and LCD Soundsystem

July 17, 2010


(photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

Day two ended with the uneven mix of a few highs and a whole lot of lows that has characterized the fifth (or sixth) annual Pitchfork Music Festival, the weakest to date -- though there's still the hope that day three will redeem 2010 tomorrow.


Wolf Parade (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)
 

Playing the invigorating set of fractured but high-energy art-pop that Modest Mouse should have given us while closing things out on Friday, Montreal’s Wolf Parade delivered on the promise of its recent third album “Expo 86”—its best, in my opinion, though I seem to be in the minority among the band’s fans. As singers and songwriters Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug traded off in leading the quartet, he band delivered one propulsive anthem after another, injecting a very welcome dose of melodic energy.

Sadly, things slowed down again during the penultimate set as dusk and a slight breeze finally replaced the day’s oppressive heat while Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox, played a way-too-long set of drony trance grooves punctuated by atonal yelps, yodels, and the occasional wounded whale noise. If this sort of thing had been delivered by a third-tier Grateful Dead offshoot band on one of the smaller stages at Bonnaroo, the Pitchfork crowd would have scoffed in derision. But since it was Pitchfork-endorsed, most stood politely and soaked it in, though there was a steady stream of refugees fleeing for the other stages, the food lines, or the Porta-Potties.

Without the aid of mind-altering substances, Panda Bear’s performance was an indulgent, unlistenable mess. With them, it may well have prompted the sort of bad trip that would lead someone to believe that they could fly off the steeple of First Baptist Congregational Church across Ashland Avenue from Union Park.

Then, at last, it was time for the most anticipated set of the day: Saturday headliners LCD Soundsystem, the transcendent/art-punk dance-pop band led by producer, independent label co-founder, unlikely vocalist and front man, and all-around music obsessive James Murphy.


James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)
 

Driven by the relentless grooves hammered out on bass, drums, an array of percussion (heavy on the cowbell), and vintage ’80s Syndrums, LCD Soundsystem’s set mixed longer dance grooves with concise and unforgettable singles such as “Drunk Girls” and “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” The group started strong, and the intensity built and built as the set progressed and the giant disco ball hung over the stage shot shafts of light across the field.

Still, as great as the band was, the mediocrity of much of what preceded it on the first two days prompted one to wonder if Pitchfork ultimately means as much in 2010 as it did earlier in the decade.

LCD Soundsystem opened with a tune called “Us v Them” that can be heard as an ode to the sort of underground that existed in the late’70s and early’80s, and which formed Murphy’s aesthetic and worldview. It was a time when real music fanatics defined themselves—and the world—by the sounds they loved most. And those who considered it noise? Well, they were the enemy, pure and simple.

“Us versus them/Over and over again,” Murphy chanted at the climax of the song. It’s hard to imagine many of the acts of the lat two days—Sharon Van Etten or the Tallest Man on Earth; Free Energy, Real Estate, or Panda Bear—inspiring that kind of passion, prompting fans to draw a line in the sand with them and the music they love on one side and the rest of the world on the other.

LCD Soundsystem does that, and it was about time that Pitchfork had some of that spirit. I just wish there was a whole heck of a lot more.