Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pitchfork Sunday

Another overnight downpour led to more mud, but also more solutions by the festival workers. Plywood boards covered the swampiest areas and more wood chips were laid in places of high traffic. I can not stress enough how smoothly they handled this. Ohio's Times New Viking, the only band on the Pitchfork lineup named for a font, kicked things off with a set more based on fun and enthusiasm than beautiful chords. After claiming that "this song is not about drugs" they went into a dissonant but catchy song with a chorus that went "I need more money 'cause I need more drugs." This band really can't sing very well, and would probably be served very well by adding a bassist, but it really didn't matter that much. The peak of their set came with a song whose chorus was, "I don't want to die in the city alone." People were really getting into them at this point. After their half-hour ended, it was probably enough, especially since most of their songs were only two minutes each. But a great way to start off the day.
I can't say the same for the Dirty Projectors. I found their music intolerable, and I wasn't even anywhere near the stage. If you took Peter Cetera's worst outputs, dumbed them down, and added a lot of warbling, you'd get pretty close. Ugh. Please, let's move ahead before I get nasty. Um, nastier.

A evidenced by the packed crowd, a lot of people seemed pretty pumped to hear Boris. But none of us knew what to expect. With a gong behind him at the ready, drummer Atsuo was clearly the centerpiece of the group. Not only that, he was wearing an unbuttoned silk white shirt and white gloves. At the sound of the gong and the initialization of the smoke machine, the band charged into their punk/metal riffing. Their sound was loud and rumbly, a winning combination. While lead singer Takeshi mumbled through his long hair, Atsuo punctuated his drumming with a series of "Woooh!"s and the occasional "1-2-3-4!" He made wild eye contact with the crowd and frequently stood up with his drumstick raised above his head. He's the closest thing I've ever seen to Iggy Pop incarnated as a drummer.The songs were more diverse than you'd expect, and each one ripped straight into the next one, but I don't know how well the band speaks English, so it's not like they could have engaged in banter even if they wanted to. I'm not sure how you say "Wooh!" in Japanese, but my guess is it's a universal word. After just a half-hour into their alloted one hour slot, clearly something had gone wrong. Some portion of the sound dropped out (though it was still loud as hell), and Atsuo stood up, shrugged and casually tossed his drumsticks aside. He hit the gong, got on the mic and said with a thick accent, "Heh, heh, not enough electric power." Then, with a big grin, he toppled his own drum kit in a sprint to the area where the moshing had been most fierce for a stage dive. People were raving about this set all day, and even though it was cut short, it was a very full half-hour. See Boris if you get the chance.
HEALTH is a wild band, playing their brand of largely vocals free rock with abandon. Speaking of their brand, it ain't pop. I kind of dug their grating approach even though it clearly was nails on the chalkboard to the rest of my friends. My big question about them, they play like this all means something important, but how can we possibly tell. I endured the complaints and while I'm not about to go out and buy their record, I won't avoid them. Was that the biggest backhanded compliment of the day or what?
Looking like a cross between Omar Sharif and Sinbad on acid, King Kahn led his band with fire. The band didn't sound great. There was far too much bass, and Kahn's voice was breaking from the beginning of the set. But it was fun as hell even if the music left much to be desired. After urging the audience to "Sing from your ovaries!" and to "toss some garbage in the air - come on, throw garbage!" he stripped down to his skivvies and continued through what everyone in attendance considered a fantastic set. Unfortunately, the balance stage was running late all day and I had to go because...

I wasn't about to miss whatever Les Savy Fav would do on the Connector Stage. They started a few minutes early, sending people running to that end of the field. Looking like a deranged junior high science teacher (is that redundant?), frontman Tim Harrington began wearing a gaudy tie-dyed t-shirt and shiny red leggings that only covered one leg. When they quickly got to their recent single, Patty Lee, the crowd up front moshed gleefully. Harrington then played with rubber surgical gloves and said hello to Prince "Hi little guy..." He kept asking his bandmates which song was next to which he'd say "Oh, I love this song. Oh. Mmmm." His delivery in these moments reminded me a lot of Mitch Fatel, except he was struggling to make much sense most of the time. I suppose that's part of the act. Then, wearing a Sherlock Holmes getup, he rode one of the black garbage receptacles into the audience. A bit later, wearing nothing but his leggings, he was covered in mud. All the while, his band played pretty furiously behind him. I didn't know how to make any sense of it all, and on top of it, fatigue was really setting in for me. After two and a half days, I was running out of gas and sat down to watch the second half of their set on the monitors with my umbrella up to shade me from the midday sun.
Lucky for me, they were serving Sparks. I'd never tried this manufactured concoction in a can before, but it's some ingenious combination of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine (among other uppers). After downing a Sparks Plus (less sugar, more booze), I got a bit spastic and found myself talking too fast. A bit cornholio if you will. I don't drink much caffeine and for the first hour it was a bit uncomfortable. I demanded that my friends forbid me from having another, even though I had mighty cravings.

M. Ward played a more rockin' set than I anticipated. I didn't pay close attention (partly because I was friggin' high), but he sounded good.

Spiritualized came out humming with two female backup singers doing a lot to round out the sound. With the drums really movin', and the organ jacked way up, their first song broke down into a beautiful sonic disaster. From there, they went into an amazing version of "Shine a Light." Whatever issues with sound may have been afoot last year obviously not an issue this time around (bookended perfectly by Mission of Burma's opening set and this one). The crowd was totally attentive for the quieter segments, and heads were bobbing and banging for the more intense parts. There were none of the Les Savy Fav antics here. In fact, Jason Pierce didn't utter one word throughout the set, not even a "thankyou" at the end. Perhaps the Sparks played a role, but I found myself feeling elated throughout their performance. On "Come Together," the bass, organ, drums and vocals all hit high points, each doing their own thing, but building the sound together. This crisp performance was pretty much as good as someone can play at a festival. It was overpowering.

Of course, ready to be overpowering in their own way, Dinosaur Jr's set was one of the most anticipated of the weekend (at least for me). The crowd in front of the stage was evenly mixed between die-hards and people there to check out these legends of indie rawk. When the guy introducing the band thanked sponsor eMusic, a dude to the left of me yelled "Buy records!" Later, he called out "Bubble and Scrape!", the name of the Sebadoh album played on Friday night (Dino bassist Lou Barlow is in Sebadoh as well). Then the guy left the performance halfway through. I guess he was on both sides of the fence

With three stacks of amps behind him, J Mascis set about to shredding and wailing with his guitar in the way that only he can. Last time I saw them, I commented on his gigantic hands and theorized that it helps him make these solos look effortless. The audience response to his riffing was pure adoration. In previous performances, I never noticed what a strong drummer Murph was. Either the mix was different, or I was paying more attention, or he had a really strong day. No matter the reason, I couldn't help but note how powerful and energetic he was. On the right side of the stage, strumming his brains out, Barlow seemed to be having a great time throughout the set. The vocals were totally buried and nearly inaudible. One can only assume this was intentional, and not really a problem anyway. You don't go to a Dino show for the vocals. You go for the wall of sound, which was amply available. The only complaint to be had about the set was that in between each song, there was a lot of random dithering and tuning, but this is nothing new for the band. At one of their own shows it's not as big a deal, but with the festival time limit, it's costing us rawk... The high point for crowd energy was definitely Feel the Pain, which was a surprise to me. Maybe it was a bigger hit than I realized. On the whole, the crowd was a bit droopy. This was nearing the end of three long days. Perhaps they all should have downed a Sparks... Dino came through with a blistering set, and I was just super-geeked that they played "Freak Scene" as were a lot of the other Dino die-hards.
Dinosaur Jr. Pitchfork Setlist:
Been There All The Time
Back To Your Heart
Little Furry Things
Out There
Feel The Pain
Pick Me Up
The Wagon
Forget The Swan
Freak Scene
Sludgefeast (encore)

I gotta be honest, they sounded great. But unfortunately after the last two acts, their set came off pretty weak and flat. I'm not sure what they could have done after the rich waves of sound from Spiritualized and overpowering riffs from Dino, so it's not really their fault or anything. The vocals sounded great and they played most of their hits. People were dancing all across Union Park even though they were tired. It was a nice way to end the weekend.

Aside from Friday, I didn't have very high hopes for this particular Pitchfork. But I came away elated, and not just from the caffeinated alcohol. The weather cooperated for the most part, and the organizers handled the rest. There was great food, and they took care of the mud better than we had any right to expect. The folks at Pitchfork really know how to put together a lineup, too. There are always some bands that you've never heard of before that truly impress, and there are always a few old favorites you always feel blessed to see, even if it's for a shorter set. Hell, three days of even mediocre music is going to get me pumped. At the end of it all, I was exhausted, but wholly content. I kind of felt like these people:
See you next year!

Jim Derogatis' Review
Greg Kot's Review
Muzzle of Bees Review; and here
Stereogum Review, and here
Live Music Blog Review

1 comment:

Dan E said...

Boris are coming to LA in a week, with Torche and Lair of the Minotaur; can't fucking wait to see 'em.

Thanks fer the linkage. I have reciprocated accordingly.