Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Million Years Later: Pitchfork 2008 - Nights Two and Three

Due to a previously-arranged special occasion, I was unable to make most of night 3. However, what I did see that day was perhaps one of the best sequenced part of the entire festival. But before we get there, we have to get through Saturday. For the sake of consolidation, I've decided to put day two and day three together; for the sake of brevity, all bands will be reviewed in 100 words or less. It's summation time!


It terms of mainstage action, Saturday was characterized by having some of the most hyped bands on the website perform, including Fleet Foxes (mp3) and Vampire Weekend (MP3 via). I arrive promptly at 12:30, and make my way immediately to where Stage B was last year, near the east side of Ashland. Only its not there. Smartly, the festival has moved it to the other side of the field, where there's more space for spectators to stand. However, this means that I have to bust a move to catch the Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar. I'm glad I did. The 10-piece band fuses Latin-Caribbean music with a whole host of other genres, the most novel and interesting of which was a ska-polka version of "Hava Nagila". If there's any sub-genre of music that needs to take off, it's African music made with klezmers. The Orkestar played for a small, but very enthusiastic crowd.

Most of the performances that followed turn to be of good-but-not-great quality. However, day two starts out with the best of those sets, that being Titus Andronicus (MP3 via). The Jersey-based band was one of the most raucously catchy groups at the festival, and Andronicous' blasts of anthemic pub-rawk rang loudly throughout the good-natured crowd. However, their energetic live show doesn't change the fact that this band owes its entire career to side A of The Clash. Also, four guitarists? No.

I then returned to the B-stage to catch Eastern-folksters A Hawk and A Handsaw (mp3), featuring former Neutral Milk Hotel member Jeremy Barnes. However, after the group appears to be having some technical difficulties, and they won't come on for quite a bit. So, in the meantime, I make my way over to the Connector stage, where garage-rock man Jay Reatard begins by speeding through a whiplash-inducing array of Marshall-stack induced mania. But, 20 minutes or so in, it becomes clear that if I've heard one song, I've heard most of them. On Singles Going Steady. Still, the audiences' eyes were absolutely transfixed on Reatard, and that kind of stage presence is something you can't buy.

Back to the closing moments of Handsaw, which enforces the notion that stage B will be where the curious will go. And, speaking of things that get cats killed, the patient echo-laden drone-scapes emerging from the Aluminum stage. The band was Caribou (mp3), who, as a friend of mine put it, somehow emerged from an electronic duo to a totally kick-ass rock band. It certainly proved to be a perfect balance between the passing melancholy of the overcast day, and the bright emergence of the re-appearing sun. The group used jam-band style repetition and calm, ocean-blue guitar tones to appeal to the festival audience. That sense of calm continues with Fleet Foxes, a group that strives to be the next Crosby, Stills and Nash. They succeed in crafting sky-wide harmonies that seem to reach for the heavens. If there's ever a version of the Odyssey that does a gender switch on the Sirens, cast these guys in the part. However, on the songwriting front, the group is still stuck to the traditional structures of old gospel music. As a result, what could be brilliant music is merely passable and breezy.

Fuck Buttons (mp3 via) slowly-blossoming supernova of white-noise proves to be ideal listening for your bedroom, but live show can be taken or left. Same goes with Atlas Sound (mp3 via) and, later on, No Age (mp3). While both acts crafted what I regard as my favorite records of the year, the introspective nature of both albums prove to be ill-suited to an outdoor festival.

Ditto Vampire Weekend who, while on record are quite upbeat, slowed things down a bit at the festival. The tracks sounded more in line with classic reggae than with Afro-pop. The performance is adequate. Dizzee Rascal, however, brings the heat and passion by blasting through one grime classic after another. Ruby Suns (mp3) prove to be an Afro-Cuban Fleet Foxes, which help one release the potential of the latter if they branch out.

Treading back to Elf Power on the Balance stage, I see the band perform one of the most straightforward sets at the festival; it's also one of the least interesting. Much more invigorating are !!! who, despite the annoying tendencies of singer Nick Offer, turn in one of the more energetic live shows of the festival. Now that the Dismemberment Plan are dead and gone, someone has to be the second coming of the Talking Heads. While Craig Finn may have done the dance-punk thing before with Lifter Puller, but The Hold Steady don't have time for grooves. There's rockin' that needs to be done, and that's what The Hold Steady did, putting in new tracks from Stay Positive in with older songs, including an apt "Chicago Seemed So Tired Last Night". That's because you wore us out, broseph.

Speaking of worn out, that's how I was for the performances of Jarvis Cocker and Animal Collective. The droll humor of the former was a nice change-of-ace; and the psychedelic lullabies from another planet of the latter were enough to put me to sleep (in a good way); "Peacebone" was a highlight of both Animal Collective's set, and of the festival itself.


Since I couldn't make it for most of Sunday, we're just gonna do this one 50-words-or-less style.

The Dodos (Mp3): Leading off with some of the stranger tracks from Visiter, the band then settles into a groove where they can become a locomotive train of multi-part harmonies, open-ended alternate tunings, and prog-metal percussion. Singer sweats like Nixon; audience reciprocates the passion that the band puts into its life performance.

Occidental Dance Bros. International(mp3): West-African Sambas by way of the Windy City, the clean guitar-tones, leap-frogging bass lines, and melodious saxophones prove to be, with auxiliary percussion, a combination that's both soothing and exciting; cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle" was a crowd-pleaser.

M. Ward (MP3): The indie alt-country broheim performs songs from his breakthrough 2006 effort Chinese Translation. At the risk of sounding ageist, this was the most Dad-friendly set of the fest. Ward seems to work best with a collaborator (say, Zooey Deschanel). By himself? Well...

Ghostface Killah and Raekwon: Compared to Dizzee's bounce-off-the-wall grime and PE's revolution-as-spectacle, the Wu's brand of beautifully damaged stoner kung-fu hip-hop sounds a little plodding, if not lethargic. But the crowd responds enthusiastically to past favorites like "Ice Cream", and the duo is more than eager to give the crowd what it wants (except that guy who requested "Kilo").

Spirtualized (mp3): Jason Pierce almost auditioned for the great gig in the sky. Good thing he didn't get it. Otherwise, listeners wouldn't have had the priviledge of hearing the dream-pop-gone-gospel songs in A, or E for that matter. Stunning, gorgeous. "Baby, set my soul on fire". You have no idea. One of the best of P4K.

Bon Iver mp3): You know how I was talking about Atlas Sound, and how his contemplative bedroom-pop isn't necessarily suited to the outdoors? Same prob here. Poor guy also had Spiritualized bleeding into his show. That said, muscled-up tunes from Emma sounded good.

Dinosaur Jr.: Reunited, and it still feels pretty good. Songs old and new blend in comfortably, and the group even plays post-Barlow tracks like "Feel The Pain". However, vintage material rules the night, as "Little Fury Things" and "Freak Scene" have a certain hardcore-derived edge that latter works do not (good-natured as they may be).

Cut Copy: Funny story about them...

Spoon: Too tired. Went home. Dance to "Turn My Camera On" by the bus stop. Got strange looks. So it goes.

And that, my friends, is how it went down.

(Jonathan Graef)

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