Pitchfork Day 2: Wrap-up

July 18, 2010


(photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

 

 

And Yawnfork continues. Sad to say, the first part of day two at the Pitchfork Music Festival has continued in the sleepy spirit of Friday, with nothing as yet to energize a sold-out crowd of 18,000 baking in the 92-degree heat.


Free Energy (not) (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

Kicking things off on the main stages at 1 p.m., the very ironically named Free Energy made a punch line of a description that also happens to be fact: The band is big in Minnesota (where it formed, though it's now based in Philadelphia). The group is signed to DFA, the label co-founded by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, but it lacks the punch, drive, and originality of most of their labelmates -- and certainly of Murphy's own band -- and its set of generic indie-rock laced with touches of '70s AM rock might have been a treat on a quiet night at the Twin Cities' 400 Bar, but it fell flat at Pitchfork.

The New Jersey quartet Real Estate was no better, and maybe even a little worse, since its 45-minute set felt three times that long. All chiming guitars and genteel, mid-tempo rhythms, the group recalled the least of England's early '90s shoegazer bands, but without the rhythmic drive that generally elevated even the most mundane of those groups.

And, no, I'm really not feeling especially grouchy this year. I've just been waiting for the sort of discoveries Pitchfork has always provided in the past, and with the exception of Robyn on Friday, nothing so far has even come close.


Delorean (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

 

At least Barcelona's Delorean worked its own mellow, electronic grooves effectively into a pleasant if not electrifying mid-afternoon trance-out breather. But midway through its set, I was nonetheless counting the minutes until Titus Andronicus, one of those "wow" revelations that blew me away the first time it appeared at Pitchfork in 2008.


(photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

 

The excitement finally kicked in on day two with a rollicking set by New Jersey's Titus Andronicus, who were one of the highlights of the festival two years ago.

In 2008, touring in support of their first album "The Airing of Grievances," Patrick Stickles and his bandmates delivered an edgy set of twisted art-punk. With the release of their second album, the historical concept effort "The Monitor," their sound has taken a turn toward simpler song structures with anthemic choruses and dramatic dynamic shifts -- a sound, needless to say, ideally suited for motivating a bored, over-heated crowd in the wide-open spaces of a baseball field.


Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

 

Stickles was a less flamboyant frontman this time around, but the band's bigger sound, made all the more powerful by the addition of horns, proved to be this festival's second undeniable highlight, after Robyn on day one.


Raekwon (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

 

Alas, the excitement level waned once more as Raekwon, one of the more energetic members of Staten Island's legendary Wu-Tang Clan, started his set 20 minutes late. With his hype man intermittently taking the stage to trumpet his imminent arrival, many in the crowd assumed that rapper Corey Woods was simply being a prima donna, building suspense for his appearance. Then, when he finally did appear, he was plagued by dicey sound throughout the set.

In fact, Pitchfork's Chris Kaskie said that both the delay and the sound problems were caused by a generator overheating in the brutal temperatures. UPDATED: Kaskie was wrong: Pitchfork Festival stage managers say the delay in starting the set was not on the festival's end--no generator overheated--and that one of Raekwon's posse in fact was having trouble booting up his laptop with the backing tracks.

Raekwon did seem to be trying hard to overcome the sound difficulties and the sketchy pacing of the set with extra energy, but the show was over before he ever had a chance to get in front of these obstacles.


Jon Spencer (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

 

And then it was time for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Or, I should say, in the ever-annoying, super-hypberbolic manner of the band's titular leader, THE BLOOOOOOS EXPLOSION!!!

In sorry contrast to Spencer's first, legendary indie-rock combo Pussy Galore, which got the mix of blues grit, garage grunge, and goofy rock camp exactly right, the Blues Explosion, despite the exquisite playing of guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins, always had a relationship to the music it claimed to love that bordered on blackface parody. While the band's guitar blow-outs and rolling rhythms were as ferocious as ever, that quality remained as the reunited combo took the stage in Union Park, and, as in the past, it made it difficult to totally lose yourself in the noise.


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 and them/Over and over again,” Murphy chanted at the climax of the song. It’s hard to imagine many of the acts of the last 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.