Monday, July 18, 2011

My Favorite Acts at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival

I switched from brown line to pink again this year--my fifth year, I believe--to get to Union Park for Pitchfork's annual music festival. The festival, as always, was plenty o' fun and had a better vibe, less crowds, and, of course, better music than a certain other, much larger festival held in Chicago. Granted, the rise in corporate sponsorship at Pitchfork was a little disappointing, as was the heat on Sunday, but neither of those things can truly put a damper on seeing some of modern music's greatest acts back to back to back to back.

The lineup this year was overwhelming; there were too many people I wanted to see. As a result I was moving around a lot, catching half a set here, a song or two there. Because of this, in my rundown below, any set that I saw and paid close attention to for over half the time is eligible to be listed. Anyhow, have a look at my twelve favorite acts this year, listed in order. While some acts certainly disappointed, I think these folks below really brought it and made Pitchfork once again the best weekend of the month--and probably the summer.

1. TV On The Radio

The two times previously I'd seen TVOTR they were energetic but marred by terrible sound. That wasn't the case this time. At all. They sounded exquisite, like Steely Dan if Steely Dan were way fuzzier and heavier and better. (That's a terrible analogy...) And in the wake of Gerard Smith's death, seeing the band having fun and putting on a truly classic show was kind of empowering. Oh, and they closed with "A Method," a cover of "Waiting Room" that totally kicked all sorts of ass, and then, finally, "Satellite." Awesome.

2. tUnE-yArDs

One of the first sets of the weekend remained one of the best for several reasons: 1) Merrill Garbus's voice, which she loops organically right in front of you, is just amazing; 2) she had a two-piece sax section that brought the squealing and the funk; 3) she looped her percussion as well, which allowed for some prime white-guy dancing; 4) they played the songs exactly how they are on the album for the most part, which was really impressive; and, 5) Merrill just seems like a really nice person. I'd like to be her friend.

3. Fleet Foxes

Being just a handful of yards from the middle of the stage certainly enhanced my Fleet Foxes experience, but I think I would've enjoyed them at any distance. As my friend noted, the show felt like the biggest and best campfire we'd ever been a part of. Their voices are beautiful, their sound crisp and warm. And their songs, none of which are more than three and a half years old, feel like timeless classics, ones you've known and loved your whole life.

4. No Age

Part of me wished I was closer for this one and part of the mosh pit, probably the most energized scene at the whole festival, Odd Future included. Part of me is also really afraid of mosh pits, so... Regardless of my moshing ambivalence during their set, No Age really put on a show, arguably the best I've seen from them (this being my fourth time, I think). They covered The Misfits, Dean Spunt sang from the crowd during "Everybody's Down"... Very fun.

5. Guided By Voices

Probably my most hotly anticipated act this year, GBV, with their so-called "classic" lineup, were predictably drunk and predictably great. Though the guys definitely look a little weathered and old and have probably lost a little bit of a step through the years, they still rocked harder than just about everyone else, bumping up the tempo for many of their best songs (most of which came from Bee Thousand, which Robert Pollard referred to as "our seminal lo-fi album," which was quite funny). "Exit Flagger" and "Pricks" gave me goosebumps.

6. James Blake

One of those acts that you wouldn't expect to work in a still-sunlit open park, James Blake worked quite well. His songs, at once punishing and delicate, cut through the air enough to keep me and everyone around me grooving. The bass, if not always heard, vibrated through my body, and Blake's voice was beautiful in all its manipulated iterations. Extended jammy versions of "Limit To Your Love" and "CMYK" were the highlights.

7. Deerhunter

I wasn't necessarily expecting a ton from Deerhunter, who, like No Age, I'd seen multiple times before and enjoyed each time but was never truly wowed. But, like No Age, Deerhunter brought their A-game to Pitchfork this year, assaulting the crowd with feedback and all sorts of noisy squalor. A nearly fifteen minute krauted up version of "Nothing Ever Happened" burst through the feedback and the humid air in the middle of the set and really made it memorable.

8. OFF!
Both OFF! and the band below, HEALTH, were awesome and very possibly deserving of higher placement on this list. Problem was, I only saw each of them for about ten minutes. Fortunately for me in OFF!'s case, though, ten minutes was about half their set. The group pounded through their minute-long punk tunes with energy, anger, and, best of all, humor. And Keith Morris is the man.

Like I just said, I didn't see as much of HEALTH as I would've liked--partly because they came on late (the Blue Stage got backed up Sunday) and partly because I wanted to get a good spot for TV On The Radio. But what I saw from the band was them in their typical fashion, screaming and jumping and swinging their bodies and instruments about the stage. Their combination of dance and noise made for a great sunset set and pumped me up for TVOTR.

10. Julianna Barwick
It's tough to be the first act of the day; it's really hot, there aren't as many people in the crowd, a lot of people are just kind of filtering in and not paying attention. But Julianna Barwick forced people (well, at least me) to pay attention. Her music is beautiful and ethereal and magical on record and it's just that way live. She looped her gorgeous voice loudly and smoothly and turned Union Park into an outdoor church.

11. Gang Gang Dance

Don't listen to those other festival recaps that said Gang Gang Dance sucked. They didn't suck at all; they were actually quite fun. They provided nearly an hour of propulsive, tribal beats and shining synth textures, and, while they did indulge their jamming a little too much at points, they played their songs well, especially "MindKilla." Plus, they had a guy who only waved incense, thereby appealing to the olfactories as well.

12. Destroyer

I was sitting down at Fleet Foxes' stage during most of Destroyer's set, so I didn't get as much out of it as I could, but I still enjoyed it thoroughly. The saxophone was smooth (sax being very prevalent in general this year), the trumpet was a nice accent, and Dan Bejar was just about the coolest guy in the park, dressed all in white with his hair all mangled and nonchalant attitude while singing his creative, complex lyrics. They sounded nice, even if I was sitting far away.

Other people I saw were Animal Collective, Darkstar, Shabazz Palaces, How To Dress Well, Gatekeeper, EMA, Cold Cave, Ariel Pink, Kurt Vile, Odd Future, and The Dismemberment Plan. Of those, I'd say Cold Cave and Dismembert Plan were best; those were the two that narrowly missed the top twelve.

Anyhow, a great festival--probably not the best Pitchfork I've attended, but certainly worth the money and the heat and the layers of sweat, sunscreen, dirt, smoke, beer, and grass that needed to be showered off each night. Have a nice day, and make plans to go to Pitchfork next year.

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