Monday, July 21, 2008

Pitchfork Saturday

Overnight downpours and a wet morning made much of Union Park a sloppy mess. But the organizers were on the case, throwing down woodchips in the high traffic areas, and it seemed like a lot of people took their time in arriving. No matter, there was rock and roll to be had.

I arrived a bit too late to check out the Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestra, which was too bad. But I was able to catch Titus Andronicus' set from the beginning. Even though they were heavier and less thematic, they reminded me of The Alarm. Something about their song construction. Halfway through their set, lead singer Patrick Stickles, wearing an old-school Batman t-shirt, climbed up the light tower on the side of the stage, singing and blowing his harmonica. They came out with a ton of energy and started off the day as if the rain was irrelevant. It certainly was to them.
Hawk and a Hacksaw's set did not begin remotely close to on time at the newly moved Balance Stage. So I circled back to the main stage to catch Jay Reatard's set. If I could sum it up quickly, I could call it jolly idiocy. I couldn't understand a word through the wavering vocals. Perhaps he was making strident statements, but based on his head-banging mop-top and the Flying V guitars, I'm guessing it was more about dirty punk for its own sake. Despite how pumped up the band was, they're certainly no Buzzcocks and I found the performance pretty lacking after a couple tracks.

Caribou played their entire set clustered closely together in the middle of the stage. A relatively packed crowd had gathered and gave the band their full attention. It became immediately clear that this is a tight outfit. With so many cross-cutting parts, at times, you felt you were hearing imagined sounds that were part of the music - random beeps if you will.
Throughout their performance there were moments of real subdued power. Nobody was playing overly hard or loud, but the way the music fit together captivated the crowd and even got heads banging. The only real downer was when they whipped out a recorder which only served to wimp up the show and took away from the musical purity on display otherwise. They more than made up for it with three people wildly drumming at once near the end of the set, all perfectly together. Probably the best set of Saturday. I can't wait to see them again.

Looking like they had stumbled off the set of Robert Altman's Nashville, Fleet Foxes began their set with the a capella line, "What a life I lead in the summer." It was just beautiful. I'm a sucker for multi-part harmonies and theirs were fantastic. Unfortunately, a lot of other people thought so, too, and I couldn't get very close. Being stuck pretty far away, I couldn't seem to avoid Chatty Cathys who refused to pay attention. It was at this point that I realized I was getting a bit cranky. Maybe it was the heat or perhaps I was just getting tired, but rather than continue to be perturbed I chose to check out the other stage. In retrospect, I should have hung tough and enjoyed the rest of the set.

The only thing these hipsters like more than their ironic t-shirts are their cigarettes of all varieties.

Fuck Buttons were setting up late on the Balance stage, an issue that would persist throughout the weekend. The music is pretty good, but the stage show couldn't have been less interesting. It's really just two dudes facing each other and occasionally hitting different buttons. It's visually monotone, if that makes any sense.
Ruby Suns were next on the Balance stage. Their music had a peaceful, upbeat feel, but the two of them were very matter-of-fact on stage. I felt like I should be at home cooking dinner or something. When Amee Robinson called out the crowd for not dancing enough, calling us "stoned," the reaction was generally negative. They weren't doing anything on stage either. We didn't pay money to come here and entertain them. This photo is pretty indicative of how things were going:

When it came time for Vampire Weekend, I did something I should have done earlier in the day. I sat down for a bit. And for this particular act, it was probably the right way to go. Mellow and inoffensive, their music fit my relaxed mood at the moment. I don't find anything all that compelling about this group. It's like if Andrew Bird were a boring ska band. But they play their instruments well and can sing all right. I guess I'd liken them to Jimmy Buffet for a moire enlightened generation, though I realize that's not saying much.

After the placid set from VW, !!! came out on fire. With an opening with a riff reminiscent of Funky Good Time by James Brown, Nic Offer gesticulated wildly and ran all over the stage. It was a sign of things to come. The most energetic band of the day, they made up for a lack of talent and musicianship with attitude, but it only got them so far. Part of the problem was that the mix appeared to be off. There was a ton of bass and everything sounded muddy. Considering this stage had excellent sound throughout the day, I'm tempted to blame the band. They're no LCD Soundsystem in terms of quality, but you have to admire the showmanship. A really fun performance despite the lack of technical precision.
The Hold Steady took the stage with the setting sun bathing them in yellow light. From the moment he walked out on stage, Craig Finn was a wild man. Part muppet, part Robin Williams on speed, and part Martha Rae, he wandered all over the stage, waving his arms and yelling to the crowd even when he was nowhere near a microphone. It didn't matter that no one could hear him. Alternately doing a smiley caricature of a Mick Jagger impression and an arm see-saw, his manic behavior doesn't really match the band's straight ahead rock, but makes for a great show. An early shoutout to the Fireside Bowl got the audience on his side, not that he needed the help.
The band's music is charmingly basic. There's nothing profound or intense about it, but that's kind of the point. I'll never love their albums, but I'll see 'em again next time around.
Jarvis Cocker was busy throwing a kind of Sinatra-does-rock-n-roll vibe, replete with snaps, points and pseudo-poetic hand gestures. His Brian Ferry-styled vocals and grooved rockers made for a relatively smooth set. There was not much reaction from the crowd, despite his histrionics, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that they were tired from the heat, rain, and mud. It was a solid set of rock n roll, but never gripping.
Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment, I had to bolt before Animal Collective took the stage. Based on reactions the next day, people who were already into them thought it was a great set. People who weren't did not, saying that there were a lot of boops and beeps. I guess since I'm not really into them, that means I didn't miss much. On the day, Caribou and Fleet Foxes were the two most impressive acts, with The Hold Steady's fun set a bit behind them. More rawk to come on Sunday. See you then!

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

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