Pitchfork Day 3: Dirty Beaches, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Iceage

July 15, 2012

Day Three in Union Park starts under bright blue skies and already brutal heat in a painfully slow and sleepy mode that I fear may be the story of the day, with several notable exceptions.

Taiwanese Canadian musician Alex Zhang Hungtai kicks things off on the main stages with Dirty Beaches appearing in this setting as a synthesizer and guitar duo. The first 15 minutes or so of his 40-minute set consist of a painfully static ambient drone, not only entirely inappropriate at a festival, but the sort of thing that the pioneering Krautrock band Harmonia did a million times better in 1974. From there, Hungtai slowly built things up with the addition of processed vocals, a tinkling mechanized ride cymbal and eventually some eruptions of noise guitar—all too little, too late and not nearly interesting enough to make anyone regret having arrived early.

Much stronger was Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra, led by former New Zealander Ruban Nielson, and delivering melodic, harmony-laced psychedelic pop that also occasionally erupted in a big noisy explosion of chaotic guitars. The sound was familiar and nothing earth-shaking onstage—I now am eager to check out the self-titled album on Fat Possum, which I missed last year—but it was at least a pleasant surprise and a very welcome change of pace after Dirty Beaches.

The intensity built even higher with the next act, Iceage, a Danish quartet favoring a ferocious style of post-hardcore or extremely aggressive garage rock, nicely building anticipation for the next performer and my pick of the day, the young garage-rock master Ty Segall. Unfortunately, the Iceage set squandered the momentum it was building when it derailed for several minutes not once but twice in 40 minutes, victim, apparently, of some sort of equipment problem.

Could the musicians’ gear be melting in the heat already? Let’s hope not.

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