Pitchfork Day 3: Major Lazer, Big Boi, and Pavement

July 18, 2010


(photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

The tempo picked up again with Major Lazer at 6:15 p.m., and -- hallelujah! -- it stayed at a pretty high level through the end of Pitchfork 2010.


Major Lazer (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

During Major Lazer's set, the field in front of the main stages became one undulating mass of sweaty bodies gyrating to the globe-spanning grooves of DJs and producers Diplo and Switch, augmented by assorted dancers, partiers, posse members, and giant Chinese puppets. The Jamaican dancehall rhythms that form the basis of the duo's album "Guns Don't Kill People -- Lazers Do" were at the heart of the live set, too, though there are so many more ingredients in the mix that the sound is best described as a mash-up of a hundred of the best dance stations on earth, all received simultaneously through outer space, laid on top of one another, and remixed by a crazy stoner alien who's happened to set up a home studio on Venus.

There ain't no party like a Major Lazer party, and the Major Lazer party don't stop. (If only more of Pitchfork '10 had been like this!)


Big Boi (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

As the penultimate act of the day and of the festival, moonlighting Outkast emcee Big Boi also brought the funk, delivering the challenging but tuneful genre-mashing sounds of his recent solo album "Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty" onstage‚  with maximum energy and minimal trite hip-hop crowd-baiting tomfoolery (though he did pause once to ask the honies in the house to, er, show him their mammary glands, a request to which no one in Pitchfork nation responded -- and no, I would not count the dudes without shirts that my colleague Justin Kaufmann has been chronicling).

Adding to the videos that provided most of the visual appeal of Big Boi's set, the rapper was joined by the same local troupe of young breakdancers who earlier adorned the stage as Raekwon performed.

Then, at last, it was time for the final set of the weekend -- but not before a bit of priceless comedy courtesy of "Rockin' Rian Murphy," who claimed to have been a DJ on Q101 during the early '90s heyday of alternative rock, but who in fact is the wickedly satirical co-founder of Pavement's original label, Chicago's Drag City.


Stephen Malkmus of Pavement (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

Pavement always had an uneasy relationship with the corporate feeding frenzy that followed in the wake of Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” though that did not stop the group from, say, courting modern-rock radio play with its middle and later-period singles, or performing as part of the original touring Lollapalooza (much to the chagrin of the band’s nemeses, the Smashing Pumpkins, in what passed as rock’s answer to the Tupac/Biggie feud back then).

Murphy brought the silliest aspects of those days flooding back as he bemoaned his inability to “break” the band during his (non-existent) days as a Q101 “personality,” and the more the crowd shouted for him to shut up and let Pavement play, the more he rambled on, with the anger on the field palpably building. It was amazing, really, how few people “got it”—and it was just as surprising that a considerable number of the under-25 fans began leaving midway through Pavement’s set, which turned out to be much better than I expected.


Mark Ibold of Pavement (photo by Kate Gardiner/NewsHour)

Having caught the band several times in its earliest days with drummer Gary Young, a middle-aged (at the time) drunk who spent as much time running around in the crowd as he did behind his drum kit, I always considered that to be the ultimate live Pavement. The other musicians could be shoegazers, and at least Young offered a bit of silly visual excitement. Mid-period Pavement was fine musically but offered little to look at, and the late period of the band was marked by the occasional pointless noodling.

Though Young is missing from the reunion, Stephen Malkmus and his bandmates were musically concise, tight, and focused, and they delivered many of their best songs—“Range Life,” “Frontwards,” “Greenlander,” and “Unfair” among them—in versions that were every bit as strong as they were back in the day, and better in some cases than that last stage of the group. Since the music always seemed timeless, there was less of a taint of nostalgia here then with, say, the Pixies reunion, though to be sure, the motivations probably were very much the same, and mostly colored green.

So that was that for the fifth (or sixth) Pitchfork Music Festival, and the one—and I trust you’ve gathered this by now—that I liked the least. But I do need to make one more thing very clear: The festival consistently remains the best-run, most community-oriented of any of the (conservatively) four dozen of these sorts of events that I’ve attended across the country and in Europe over the last three decades.

Pitchfork is the festival Chicago needs and deserves. So it had an off year; that doesn’t mean I’m not already looking forward to 2011. And even a mediocre Pitchfork will always be infinitely better than the soulless and corporate Walmart on the Lake known as Lollapalooza–which, as my recent reporting hopefully has made clear, is a very Chicago event in all of the worst ways, while Pitchfork continues to stand for the local music community at its best.