Pitchfork Day 2: Cults, Flying Lotus, Wild Flag

July 14, 2012

Yet another indie-pop band hailing from New York, Cults provided a pleasant mid-afternoon surprise, especially as I wasn’t wowed by last year’s self-titled debut. Led by driving forces Brian Oblivion on guitar and Madeline Follin on vocals, the group delivered a solid set of soulful pop resonant of a hundred great, dusty 45s from the early ’60s that you almost can name but can’t quite put your finger on. Much like West Coast kindred spirits Best Coast, that’s because the band brings a fresh exuberance to these familiar sounds, making them their own, and winning your heart with the charming personality, arresting presence and powerful voice of Follin.

“Are you trying to sound like a 12-year-old girl singing into her curling iron?” my Sound Opinions colleague Greg Kot ungraciously Tweeted. Hey, dude, lighten up! That naïve joy in being onstage and singing your heart out was part of what made Follin and Cults so magical.

Unfortunately, the next main-stage act, hip-hop producer Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, was one of those bookings that left you scratching your head and thinking, “This would have been cool—maybe even great—at the Hideout or the Empty Bottle. But in front of 20,000 people in a festival setting under a bright sun in the middle of the day... What the heck were you thinking, Pitchfork?” And no, the addition of a hype man out front of Ellison’s laptop did not help matters at all.

Ah, well, at least the sun had returned and the rain for the most part abated… for the time being.

The clouds were returning by the time Wild Flag took the stage at 5:15, but after an explosive hour-long set, the sun had returned. Indeed, the quartet was potent enough to make you think it could even bend the weather to its will.

The band hit hard right out of the gate, opening with a killer cover of “See No Evil” by Television, with guitarists-vocalists Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein proving themselves more than the equals of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd on those timeless, serpentine guitar duels, and reeling off some familiar lines that could serve as my Pitchfork mantra (or, indeed, my life’s philosophy):

“What I want/I want now/And it’s a whole lot more/Than ‘anyhow.’”

From there, Brownstein, Timony, keyboardist and backing vocalist Rebecca Cole and near-Bonhamesque drummer and backing vocalist Janet Weiss tore through an effervescent, high-energy sampling of their own classics, including several promising new tunes, and tracks such as “Romance,” “Racehorse” and “Glass Tamourine” from last year’s stellar self-titled debut. Many of these songs are about the joys of making a glorious noise, and they were a perfect gift in a festival setting where all too often too many of the acts just aren’t up to an expression that simple but effective and motivating.