Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pitchfork Music Festival 2008 Chicago (C)

Friday 7/18 with All Tomorrow’s Parties “Don’t Look Back”

Mission of Burma/Pitchfork Begins
Rolling in from Albany to the lovely town of Chicago on Friday evening, it was somewhat up in the air whether I’d make it, or be up to even going to the official beginning of this year’s Pitchfork Music Fest. I purchased my 3-day pass off eBay for a reduced price from someone who was unable to attend, so the deal I got was pretty much equal to what I was about to pay for two individual one-day passes since two-days were sold out… But as luck would have it I rolled in right on time, showed up about 45 minutes before the gates were to open ready to rock and roll. I was greeted with some pretty welcoming rain that left me wondering why I hadn’t packed an umbrella, or prepared for such things in any way period, but I grabbed my trusty sweatshirt feeling that would leave me covered. As the clock struck 5:00, the rain cleared up serendipitously and the doors opened, and I wandered my way in, not really sure what to expect. The crowd was fairly sparse thus far, so I didn’t feel too rushed to grab my front row spot, which I eventually did get. I hung out about fifteen feet stage right of front and center until Mission of Burma eventually took the stage. I can’t confess to having known much about them, or anyone playing Pitchfork for that matter, beforehand, but from what I heard from the scary 50-something-year-old acne-scarred, white-haired radio DJ who couldn’t help but hit on the horrible scene boy standing behind me, I was getting pretty excited. Finally, after much waiting Mission of Burma took the stage to much cheering and applause and shouts and screams and general fanfare, did a tiny bit of sound checking, and then dove right into their “legendary album” Vs. “WELCOME TO THE BURMA DOME”, or something along those lines rattled over the PA after the announcement of the beginning of “Side 1” and some fake dusty-vinyl-crackle, and I was immediately pleasantly surprised by the barrage of post-punk assaulting me from left field. I couldn’t help but think from Clint Conley’s strange, nasally singing that “This is what the Sex Pistols would sound like if they were ever good?”, and new I was in for a treat when Miller broke not one, but two strings during their second song. Each song left me wanting more and more to listen to Vs., but at the same time not wanting to since listening to it recorded on album couldn’t possibly blow me away like it did live. Every song was power-charged, really really fucking loud, and tinged with humor, and the whole experience couldn’t help but leave you with an idiotic smile on your face, especially when Peter Prescott would let out barbaric jungle-yells in the midst of just about every other song. In the end, they were one of the highlights of the whole Pitchfork experience and really left me feeling great about the things to come.

I can’t say Sebadoh got off to a great start in my book. I was flocked by about 12 girls, all of whom seemed to be girls my age accompanied by girls who were 28+ and claimed to be “long time Sebadoh fans”, and they blathered on and on about this and that and who was hottest and please shut up you all look and sound like idiots, thanks. Finally our Festival Patrons came on to announce Sebadoh’s start, with their little humorous quips and warnings not to get dehydrated, and reminders to buy this and that, and go to this tent to check out this sponsor etc. I feel bad, though, because the guy who looked a lot like a young Bill Murray had a complete ass made of himself when part of their banter included “Next up is… ‘SABADO’?” “Oh no, dewd, I always sed SEBUHDOHZ!”, which was of course later ridiculed horribly by the band on stage (“Wait, how do you say it? Pitchfuck? Alright, we’re Sebadoh and you will not be seeing us next year!” etc. Much lolz). Sebadoh then took the stage and after a little Mission of Burma worship, they played a few tracks (none of which I knew) before starting Bubble and Scrape (none of which I knew). What impressed me most about Sebadoh was the fact that during about every other song, each member of the band switched instruments so that by the end the band had been all sorts of combinations of so-and-so on such-and-such instrument. They were also really funny, nice guys. Unfortunately, the music didn’t hold me quite as much, and apparently not the guy behind me either who was stoned as fuck and obviously only there because his girlfriend was making him “Dude, they’re boring, can we go?” and then halfway through the set after about 4 switches “Dude the singer is playing bass! when did the singer start playing bass?” It’s almost embarrassing to say that I think the on-stage banter between songs was more entertaining than the music was… Though a few tracks got me into it. All in all, I might find myself inclined to check out Bubble and Scrape just to give some cools guys a second chance.

Public Enemy
Public Enemy started to cut off Sebadoh part way through their last two songs, to which Barlow started to shout “Two more songs! Two more songs! Oh my god there’s no stopping that set!” which I, personally, found to be really funny. After Sebadoh ended, I wasn’t too interested in seeing public enemy, so I took that time to wander the booths and such which I realized weren’t all set up yet for that day, so I missed out on good spots on Public Enemy. When I wandered back over, they were finally starting by showcasing the people who did the scratching, etc. behind them, which was some pretty entertaining stuff, but a little drawn out, and I wanted to see Flavor Flav of course. Finally Public Enemy started with a whole lot of talking about why It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back was groundbreaking and ttly th bst rap albem evr and a pretty cool intro bit with some marching soldiers and rapping and stuff. All and all I enjoyed that more than I thought I would… Then Flavor Flav showed up, and spent 30 minutes talking about why ITaNoMtHUB was the most important album ever, why Public Enemy were the best, and why we should watch his new TV show, which yielded some boos, to which he responded “WHEN YA BOOIN’ FLAV YA BOOIN’ YA OWN STYLE MAN!” Finally they started up again, and I decided it was time to go because I was a bit done with it all. By the time I left, they had done about two more numbers and hadn’t started the album yet.

Pitchfork day one
Music: 8.5/10
People: 1/10

Saturday 7/19

Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar

Day two was begun. I showed up early, got in line, and headed over to my stage of choice for the day, B stage. I had a feeling that the Orkestar, my first prospects for the day, were going to either be really great or kinda shitty. Luckily they were the former. Even when I showed up to claim my spot (roughly the same as the day before, only more centered since it was a smaller stage) the sound check left me impressed by the virtuosity of every player in the Orkestar, and the camaraderie and fun happening on stage. When the set began, I was nothing short of blown away. The dual dueled trumpet solos provided by Boban and Marko, the backing by the Orkestar, and everything was beautiful. The drummer was impressive as well, creating a very jazzy background to the folky craziness of everything else. I felt like dancing right up to the last piece.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

A Hawk and a Hacksaw were really high on my list of bands that I was looking forward to seeing at Pitchfork and I had high hopes after seeing the Blogotheque “Take away concert” videos on Youtube. What first surprised me was that Barnes was both playing Accordion and also a strange set of hand drums and cymbals set up at his feet to be played with kick pedals. Some sound problems with the intense Bouzouki player and a general lack of the emotion I felt in the music other times I had heard left me a little bit bored and disappointed. It was still great to see them live, though, and they did some pretty cool stuff, not the least of which was Heather Trost taking a single hair from her bow and pulling it across a string to make some eerie sounds. She also used the largest noisemaker I’d ever seen, which was nothing short of beastly impressive.

Icy Demons

I wandered away for part of Icy Demons, but what I saw left me feeling, basically, that although their live sound wasn’t that good (A strange mix of jazz and electronic music?), they seemed as though they’d be quite impressive on CD. Killer bassist.

Fuck Buttons

Fuck Buttons were a band that had been pretty hyped for me by people around the fest, people I know, and just the few things I’d heard from them. Given that someone had described them as “Shoegaze”, I wasn’t really expecting two guys with a collection of pedals, keyboards, and probably circuit bent toys. At first I fell in to really disliking them for trying to make trendier noise (it’s trendy enough- just stop please), but once I got over those gut feelings I realized they were doing something more than that and was quickly pulled in to the music. I don’t know what I’d call it in the end stylistically, but it was a really overwhelming experience given that it was about three times louder than any other set at the B stage that day. The sounds were somewhat melodic, and more soothing than harsh, and occasionally droning and occasionally not. I really don’t know what to say, but they really were show stealers for me. Great, great stuff.

The Ruby Suns

The Ruby Suns were another group I was really looking forward to, again, after seeing the Blogotheque performances. I was pretty surprised when only two people arrived on stage… Rather than the four or five I was expecting. A bass and drums duo performing… Psych folk…? I guess it’s expensive to fly people from New Zealand. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I quickly grasped that the answer was “well”. They used a complex series of samples on two or three samplers between them which, although seeming a bit cop-out-ish, was fine in my book. The result was a very percussion-focused jammy atmosphere that moved you to move. They performed the track I was most looking forward to, Tane Mahuta, which was even better than I could have imagined, featuring lots of really cool rhythmic improvisation that enhanced the singable tune. It was a really clever set from start to finish.

Elf Power
I didn’t intend to watch them. Boring, lame, same-y indie rock. The only advantage is that I ended up sticking around for…

Extra Golden

For some reason or another I didn’t end up finding anything about Extra Golden. What I ended up gathering is that they are African rock, not unlike Ali Farka Toure, which is a style I’ve more or less grown up listening to and hold pretty close to my heart. This was a pretty big surprise for me, and I could not have seen a more fun group of people. As much as I know bands move people to dance, I’ve never actually danced to live music until Extra Golden. They absolutely were my favorites of the day, and possibly would have been for the whole Festival was it not for Sunday. The singer spent most of the time dancing, and instructing people in the crowd to dance, and everybody on stage had great chemistry with the crowd. Unfortunately, The Hold Steady’s sound was too loud and carrying over from another stage which seemed to piss off one of the guitarists… But it didn’t bother anyone else. Everyone had a great time as Extra Golden performed great songs full of solos from just about everyone, and one song dedicated to Barack Obama. When their set ended I was left feeling pretty upset, but fulfilled.

Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound was a project I knew a bit a bout, but not much. I had an idea of what to expect, but not really. When Cox came out with his table of effects and epiphone acoustic guitar, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What he presented was a pretty surprisingly mellow ambient-esque guitar+voice working. Each song was serene and flowing and carried you right through to the end. Another highlight of the day for me, and inevitably left me feeling somewhat at a loss for words.

Animal Collective
I was nearly dying by the time Animal Collective started. My back was shot, my limbs were sore, I was tired and hungry, and needed something to energize me again. Animal Collective were just that. The effect might have been better had I gotten a better spot, but I’m not complaining. I couldn’t see much of what was happening on stage, and the LED screens weren’t really helping me since they kind of sucked. The lights show was wicked awesome though, and the music really kicked my ass. There was a really strange blend of noises, guitar, and percussion I couldn’t put my finger on happening that was magic. What I said about the lights show was true, too. Best lights show ever. Swooping purple beams, intense flashes from lights towers behind the band, and really awesome color usage all added to the whole experience. Unfortunately the music couldn’t quite keep me going so around “Peacebone” I decided to make my way out of the crowd and find someplace to sit. Luckily the next song was the last, so I didn’t miss much. Animal Collective’s live sound seemed in some way oddly detached from their studio sound, and yet eerily similar at the same time.

Pitchfork Day 2
Music – 9/10
People – 0/10*

*Funny story:
I had a horrible girl stalking me the whole time while her dad stared me down from behind her. It was awful. She was 12 or something and insisted we were in love. Plus side is I got her to hold my spot in the front while I got some delicious pulled pork from Wishbone. Delicious.

Sunday 7/20

Times New Viking

I’ll confess, I only watched because I needed front row spots for Boris. I didn’t really have any idea who they were, what they sounded like, or what to expect, but what I got was pretty cool. Times New Viking are a synth/drums/guitar rock trio that really owned the stage, even in spite of Boris’ massive, overwhelming presence behind them. They really drove the energy sky high on a day that was hot and sunny rather than cool and overcast, as the last two days had been. I enjoyed it, but was still a bit checked out in anticipation of…


Really, the only reason I had gotten tickets in the first place. The 3 day passes were just because I thought it’d be fun, and damn it was. I’ll confess I was worried – I had heard from a lot of people that Boris ranked among the best live shows they’d seen, so I already had high expectations… But on the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of Pink, or (until recently) Smile. I was worried that this moment would be the biggest disappointment of my life… Well, from the get go I knew it couldn’t possibly be. During the entire set-up, Wata’s daughter was running around stage trying to set up Takeshi’s and Wata’s pedals while a surprise guest, whose name was starting to ripple through the crowd, laughingly tried to help her. Somewhere right of me I heard someone say in a pretty comic stage whisper “Dude, is that Michio Kurihara?” Right there I got pretty excited, because it had to be, and who wouldn’t love to hear Rainbow material live? The set up and sound check took ages and I felt like I was going to die in the heat. During the sound check I realized that Atsuo is a complete bad ass, though, since he’s playing a pink drum set and wearing white gloves while he does so. As the band started, there were shouts from the crowd for “Flood!” “Absolutego!” “Rainbow!” And Boris kicked into high gear with Atsuo doing the weird baby-voice intro to Smile through some vocoder, and then the sonic punch-to-the-face riffs. Immediately the crowd came alive. The whole front section was moving in some sort of practical mosh pit… One kid got busted for body-surfing and thrown out. Boris ripped right through several songs from Smile which were amazing live, and a few tracks from Rainbow, and some I’d assume that were from Pink . There was great cheering as Atsuo got ready to play the tremendous gong behind him, and even more when he actually did… I will confess I got horribly pissed when I saw some of that disgusting finger wiggling in the crowd during a couple of the solos.** When the set finally ended, Atsuo of course knocked over his entire drum set, ran to the edge of the stage, and lept into the crowd. He body surfed his way all the way back onto stage, which seemed to vex the security, and I had the distinct pleasure of touching his butt (haha). Boris then left the stage amidst chants of “One more” which then flooded into “Boris! Boris!” for a good five minutes. I eventually left to make sure I could get myself a Boris shirt, which it turns out they weren’t even selling. That night I was left with horrible nightmares that after I left they played two more songs. It was terrible.

The Aftermath
After Boris, I felt like I didn’t need to see any more bands that day – like I had gotten my money’s worth. I had sacrificed any chance of a good spot at any stage, I was tired, hot, dehydrated, and still high from the Boris set. I considered staying for Dinosaur Jr., but that was still 5 or 6 hours away, and I wasn’t sure I’d last that long. I also figure since I’m not far from Northampton, I still have a chance of seeing them… Or Witch, whom I would rather see honestly. So I left as Le Savy Fav were getting underway. I did feel a bit bad to miss their set, which was great. The singer’s webcams being broadcast onto the screens as he jumped into the crowd and made it as far in as his wire would let him go. I didn’t feel cheated though. I felt like I had gotten my $60 worth, and had truly seen a lot of great stuff.

Pitchfork Day 3
Music: 10/10
People: 10/10

Pitchfork overall:
Music: 9/10
People: 2/10

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