Pitchfork 2011: Day Two Winners And Losers (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
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Day two of the seventh annual Pitchfork Music Festival was a day marked by both higher temperatures and performances that often trounced the energy output of what was a somewhat subdued day of action at the festival's first day.
As the temperature rose throughout the day, performers like No Age and Cold Cave, in particular, met the challenge of engaging with festival-goers in a way that urged them to brave the sun's hot mid-afternoon rays (which will be even more brutal Sunday). As the temperature later cooled, Twin Shadow, Zola Jesus and Fleet Foxes' tunes provided a solid and varied soundtrack for an early summer evening.
Below is our festival recap from Saturday. While awaiting our final recap from Sunday's action, follow @robojojo on Twitter for regular updates, as much as the festival ground's unpredictable cell phone reception allows. You can also watch much of day three streaming on the festival's site.
And if you're taking shots on the ground at Union Park, send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll add them to our festival slideshow. Be sure to include your name and personal website so we can give you proper credit.
Due to a hectic Saturday morning, I was running a bit later than expected and missed the opening pair of sets, but was able to catch the majority of Sun Airway's Blue stage offering just before 2 p.m. Hailing from Philadelphia, this band's synth-laced pop stayed somewhat flat as their songs began to blend together over the course of the set, which (again) suffered from a sloshy sound mix much of the time. Nevertheless, the band's singer came across much stronger on songs like "American West" and "Put The Days Away," by the set's end.
Next, it was over to the Green stage for Cold Cave, a band whose music pulls elements from '80s new wave, industrial rock and straight up synth-pop. Adorned in head-to-toe black, including leather jackets, the trio's set was unforgivingly buoyant, bordering on frenetic at times. While Wes Eisold growled his gloomy poetry, Dominick Fernow danced like a maniac and, together, they ignited an unlikely mid-day darkwave dance party that came completely out of nowhere compared to the quieter offerings from many of the preceding bands playing the festival earlier Saturday and Friday. "I can't remember the last time I left my house this early," Eisold said mid-set, and we sure are glad he did -- this festival needed a shot in the arm.
After Cold Cave came L.A. noisesters No Age. Though apparently frustrated with their sound setup initially, the duo launched into their set just before 3:30 p.m. and never looked back. Those festival-goers crossing their fingers for a mosh pit/crowdsurf sort of experience got exactly what they were looking for during fuzzy, loud jams like "Fever Dreaming" (off last year's Glitter). Even if their sound probably interrupted up a number of folks' naps on blankets under nearby trees, I think even the sleepiest of Pitchfork attendees will walk away recognizing this set as among the day's most energetic, memorable and sweaty.
The day returned to a more low-key vibe during some of the sets that followed, as Wild Nothing's shoegaze-y Blue stage set coasted along on cruise control, paling in comparison to the raw energy that No Age brought to the stage moments before. While this band, fronted by Jack Tatum, has released some fantastic headphones music (as showcased on 2010's Gemini) they have yet to configure a memorable live show. As they are young, and adorable (one might add), one would hope that may come with time.
Over near Gang Gang Dance's late afternoon Green stage set, the time had come for this writer to spend some time parked in the shade. While I had perhaps expected the outfit's frenzied music to pull me off my feet to dance before long, their set started painfully slow. But before they went full-out Animal Collective on festival-goers, they appear to have picked up the tempo and gotten some momentum by their set's end, as I observed from a distance after traveling elsewhere on the grounds. Still, the middle-of-the-pack, pleasant background music wasn't quite the full-out, festival-standout mania I'd expected.
Speaking of expectations, as I headed over to the Blue stage for OFF!, all I knew was that the phrase "hardcore punk supergroup" sounded very, very promising. Led by Keith Morris (formerly of Black Flag and Circle Jerks), the band admitted they were offering "a different flavor" to the festival and the band proved that "different" can, indeed, be beautiful. Their songs usually entailed one-minute all-out hardcore slash-and-dashers and the crowd assembled dug it -- even as Morris' microphone continued giving out feebly to his yalps and screams.
Have I mentioned before that the Blue (formerly Balance) stage is notorious for its terrible sound? Here it is again. As one Twitter friend put it, "Same story, different year." What will it take for festival organizers to take a serious look at the problems continually impacting their third stage? Perhaps a limitation on taking blankets and lawn chairs for camping out, in order to allow more people to get closer to the stage, would help with the noise bleed situation? Personally, we wouldn't mind seeing a ban placed on all lawn chairs for this festival.
Perhaps the victim who suffered the most from subpar Blue stage sound on Saturday was Swedish band The Radio Dept. Invited to the festival on the heels of their beautiful 2010 release Clinging to a Scheme, their songs did not translate live as their lead singer's vocals were pretty much inaudible -- at least from the distance where one could at all comfortably get close to the stage while still being able to leave in a timely manner.
Over on the Red Stage just prior to The Radio Dept., Destroyer delivered another of the festival's increasing number of sets that could be accurately classified as "pleasant," but lacking in overall impact. While the instrumentalists surrounding him delivered a beautiful background of sounds, white-clad singer Dan Bejar's seemingly half-hearted, nonchalant delivery of his songs eviscerated the momentum from the other big stage acts who preceded him Saturday. While the songs, mostly off this year's widely-acclaimed Kaputt, are largely flawless in design, in Bejar's delivery, they sagged.
I have to admit, at this point in the day, my attention was more focused on the "buzz" acts than their older counterparts playing the bigger stages. While The Dismemberment Plan took to the Green stage (and reportedly covered Robyn's "Dancehall Queen"), I took my pilgrimage to the press tent for a quick bite to eat, some additional water and sightseeing. Spotted were Cold Cave being interviewed, Sun Airway looking a bit bored and a whole bunch of folks eating free yogurt samples and plopping down on furniture in the Ikea booth. I also spied a cardboard cutout of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured in the slideshow), which many folks were posing for pictures with. No sign of the actual mayor yet.
Returning to the Blue stage for Twin Shadow, I was immediately struck by how the synth-dependent Brooklyn band managed to transform their somewhat downtempo songs into attention-grabbing, dance-y pop gems in concert, doing what so many bands from a similar genre (including Wild Nothing, the Radio Dept. and Sun Airway) have mostly failed to do in previous sets. Led by the Morrissey-reminiscent George Lewis, this band is continuing to grow stronger each of the now three times this writer has seen them play.
Next, a shadow of a different hue went Gaga in their entrance, as DJ Shadow began his set in a cocoon- or egg-like pod suspended from the ceiling that eventually turned to reveal him. While there reportedly was some sort of filmed footage to accompany the set, since the sun still shines brightly on the Red stage, it was impossible to see. Nevertheless, this was a set best experienced with eyes shut so the technical difficulties really did not matter. As bass pulsated through the festival grounds, it quickly washed over all that it touched and Shadow, a.k.a. Josh Davis. proved he is still as relevant as ever. Much like Neko Case the night before, Shadow provided Saturday's "That's how it's done, kiddos" moment.
Curious how the Midwest's own Zola Jesus, a.k.a. Nika Roza Danilova of Madison, Wis., would deal with the inevitable noise bleed from DJ Shadow's blaring set, I headed over for the Blue stage's final Saturday act. Wearing a somewhat indescribably bizarre/beautiful grey ruffly dress, Danilova belted out her dark jams with a Cyndi Lauper-meets-Siouxsie effervescence not usually expected of such heavily goth-influenced artists. While few remained at her stage, as a constant flow of festival-goers flocked toward either DJ Shadow's hypnotic pulsations or staked their position for the Fleet Foxes' headlining set, those who did so were treated to an early look at one of the music world's most promising young voices. If its lead single, "Vessel," is any indication, her forthcoming full-length debut, expected later this fall, will be masterful.
Closing out the night were Fleet Foxes, who have risen to indie rock royalty at a heightened pace in recent years. Near the start of their multi-part-harmony-heavy set, lead vocalist Robin Pecknold reminisced about the last time they played the festival, opposite Dizzee Rascal, in 2008. In that time, the Seattle-based band has become ever more confident with their '70s throwback, Cat Stevens-inspired folk-rock and, though I'm not particularly the hugest of fans, I was certainly impressed by what was a fine, fine way to end a balmy day packed with music.
Day two trendspotting: Many more babies with designer headphones. It remains to be seen whether there is a correlation between attending hipster-y music festivals as an infant and adult music taste. One woman was rocking some hula hoops during Twin Shadow's set. Retro tops aplenty, many of them cropped, on female festivalgoers. Lots of guys continuing to rock their tank tops.
Three highs: No Age, Cold Cave, Twin Shadow. Three lows: Destroyer, The Radio Dept., sound (generally) at the Blue stage.
If you missed our Friday recap, complete with photos and videos, click here.