Pitchfork Music Festival: Rating 8.1
There’s really only one way to rate this past weekend’s inaugural Pitchfork Music Festival held at Chicago’s Union Park: fuckin’ hot. Put together by the folks at the uber-indie online zine Pitchfork Media, the two-day festival drew sold-out crowds (at 18,000 both days) with a roster that included Yo La Tengo, Spoon, the Walkmen, Devendra Banhart, the Futureheads, Os Mutantes, Silver Jews, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, among others.
But when we say it was hot, we mean literally. Temperatures reaching into the mid-Nineties coupled with the Windy City’s trademark humidity meant the beer was warm by the second sip and people were waiting in line to get a couple of seconds beneath the spouts of the fest’s sole misting tent. Note for next year: more misting tents and beer cozies.
“Sunstruck — I felt sunstruck onstage. Is that even a word?” Art Brut guitarist Jasper Future told Rolling Stone of the heat during his Saturday afternoon set. That wasn’t the only thing Future and his bandmates would make up. Along with songs off their debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, the U.K. art-punk band sampled their latest jingle, the way-ironic “Unwritten Hit,” which vocalist Eddie Argos — fresh off the “best haircut of [his] life” from a Polish barber down the street for only five dollars (a price rivaling the thirty-dollar price tag for the festival’s two-day pass) — continued to vocally improvise during the song’s first-ever live performance.
The ultimate punk-rock move, however — and the first artist casualty of the weekend — came during Ted Leo’s set, after Leo headbanged his mike repeatedly, leaving the frontman and guitarist with a bloody gash on his forehead. Also bringing the unusually frat-tastic Saturday crowd out of their sun comas were Seattle psych-rockers Band of Horses and angular pop outfit the Futureheads — who opened with their breakthrough hit “Decent Days and Nights” and continued to please with their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” and tracks off their latest release, News and Tributes.
Otherwise, attendees lounged on blankets, picked at the grass and did crossword puzzles during mellow sets from singer-songwriter and college radio favorite Destroyer, who at times was inaudible due to the nearby passing Green Line El train, and the storytelling song-speak of Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle, whom many ditched to check out the dirty beats of Canadian DJ/producer Ghislain Poirier from the nearby Biz3 tent. That setup showcased turntable-ism throughout the weekend — by way of MCs and DJs including M.I.A. partner-in-crime Diplo — and would become the site of the next major artist casualty.
When Bonde do Role’s D’eyrot announced to the crowd at the start of their Sunday performance, “The Pitchfork Web site told us we suck. We came to prove we are worse than those guys said,” the crowd knew the baile funk trio’s MC was kidding. But toward the end of their set when he announced, “We just lost one of our members,” people thought he was joking. He wasn’t. The band’s female MC, Marina Ribatski, who arrived onstage pounding beers, was shipped off via ambulance to the hospital mid-set to treat a shattered elbow after she was dropped while crowd-surfing. But the show went on, with D’eyrot lovingly assuring the front row, “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault!” He then called on fellow Brazilian rockers and touring partners CSS (Cansei de Ser Sexy) to take over vocal duties. The CSS set, another highlight of Sunday thanks to their MySpace-friendly single “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above,” would also include crowd-surfing — minus the injuries.
On the main stages, the National serenaded the crowd with their violin-tinged rock before the audience shuffled to see the manic guitar work and drum roll of the Liars’ set. Frontman Angus Andrew looked chic in a blue lunch-lady dress that he teased taking off and a jock strap that was rather, um, full. By that point, everyone was delirious. “I’m only going to do one more!” Andrew warned the crowd. “Pussy!” someone in the front row shouted back. “Thanks, man,” Andrew laughed. Was this the same crossword-loving music festival crowd of yesterday?
Seriously, blame the temperature. “This is the third show I’ve ever worn shorts onstage at,” Aesop Rock announced during his set with MC Mr. Lif and DJ Big Whiz. “The others were in Australia and Brazil, which means you all live in a hot motherfucking city.” The MCs traded off anti-Bush rhyme-rants, while folk singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart tried to sound hopeful about the situation in Lebanon. “You never know,” he said. “The wind can carry things.” He then broke into a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “That Thing.” Banhart even invited a random member of the audience, Victor, for an impromptu performance while the band took a break during the set.
The crowd was near impassible for New Jersey veteran indie outfit Yo La Tengo’s set, which included an early song dedicated to Mission of Burma, whose Clint Conley produced the rockers’ debut album, Ride the Tiger.
By the last wee hours of the festival most of the artists were showing how much they are fans of the music themselves, coming out to see Spoon play a set that included the instant indie classics off Gimme Fiction, “My Mathematical Mind” and “I Summon You.” Wilco members Glenn Kotche and Nels Cline, who performed with their side projects, walked around backstage, while their bandmates — including frontman Jeff Tweedy and his family — also came out in support. Recently reunited Brazilian tropicalia pioneers Os Mutantes closed the festival with amped bossa nova and mambo rock that many had never seen live, only read about.
“This is it. This is the festival,” Banhart said, trying to sum up the experience. “You play the big European ones and then we play the American ones and then there’s this one.”
Al right, maybe we’ll give it an 8.4.