No summer storm could quash the fervor that accompanies Pitchfork Music Festival. While the crowd did at times seem abnormally small compared to recent years (especially on Friday), the anticipation running through those who dared to brave the thunderclaps on their bikes on day one, or those who braved crowded CTA busses on day two, or those who hitched a ride in from the suburbs on day three didn’t dip a bit.
Thanks to the chilly pulses of wind and rain, there were some new fashion trends to add onto your typical face-painted nuts in swimsuits and nerdy looking dudes in old school NBA jerseys (though there were, as always, plenty of those). We’re talking trash bag ponchos, newspaper hats, and galoshes galore on the first two days. The glaring sun on day three pushed thoughts of all those aside, and brought with it lots of snap-backs and Ray Bans. The excited grin, though, remained the most widespread accessory throughout. Despite crowds split between scene-mates (the Deerhunter boys and the San Fran garage psych scene playing at essentially the same time) and the relatively mellow headliners, and thanks to a few surprise appearances, fans were in for another successful Pitchfork Music Festival.
Photography by Joshua Mellin.
Friday, July 13th
Lower Dens – Red Stage – 3:30 p.m.
While the stormy weather pushed back the opening of the festival by approximately half an hour, the opening set by drony, hazy Baltimoreans Lower Dens felt just right in the resulting bog. “Hi,” vocalist/guitarist Jana Hunter smiled. “Thanks for your patience.” The group proceeded to churn through a set of swirling, krautrock inspired jams. Hunter’s work, whether on icy guitar or trembling keyboard, proved the key to the space exploration, particularly on the excellent “I Get Nervous”, from 2010’s Twin Hand Movement. As the set progressed, the quartet pushed further into their interlocking tunes, finding sunny synth-pop pulled out of the inside of introspective, noisy worlds, to the increasingly ecstatic crowd that began to amass, eventually hitting a peak with the entrancing “Brains”. -Adam Kivel
Willis Earl Beal – Blue Stage – 4:15 p.m.
Of all the many great quotes from Willis Earl Beal’s set, Im going to have to go with: “You come out and you wanna hear folk songs, rock songs. That other shit don’t make no goddamn sense to me. So if you didnt know the Chicago singer was an outside artist, now you do. Beal is doing everything in his power to amass a cult following, and his live show is the choice setting for new converts. Theres more than a little Tom Waits and at least the physicality of Klaus Nomi in Beals aura. All four of his limbs work overtime on stage, bounding up on a chair, whipping his belt, falling to the ground, prowling across the stage. His effusive, sometimes histrionic energy is more than half the reason you cant take your eyes of him. It was a dangerous, Jack Daniels-soaked, blues revival performance backed by music spinning on a — no shit — reel to reel player behind him on stage. The final combination of Evenings Kiss, a touching ballad played sitting down with on a slide guitar, and a raucous call and response blues-stomp closer showed just the beginnings of Beals immense range as a performer and songwriter. I expect his next show in Chicago to be packed. Thats an order. –Jeremy D. Larson
Olivia Tremor Control – Green Stage -4:35 p.m.
As longtime heroes and members of the Elephant 6 collective, the Olivia Tremor Control seemed an odd choice to be only the second act in the main field. That early, just-escaped-the-storm unease that seemed to wash back into the festival with each new group of fans through the gate was combatted valiantly by the ADD script-flipping of these multi-talented multi-instrumentalists.
Kicking off their set with Black Foliage opener “A Peculiar Noise Called ‘Train Director'” and never looking back, the eight men on stage led some group singalongs with plenty of eager, longtime fans. The set picked and chose from the poppier moments in their varied catalog, making sure to stop at gems like “Define a Transparent Dream”, playing with wacky abandon. Guitarist Bill Doss shook out his sleeve, Will Cullen Hart did his best wildman, and everything culminated in “The Opera House”. The strongest moment, though, may have been the raw energy of the melody to “I Have Been Floated”, which has gained some serious legs in years of performance. The fans at the front will likely be the ones that enjoyed this set the most, but the unbridled enthusiasm (and accompanying grinning, occasionally off-key glee) certainly caught on even in the back of the crowd. -Adam Kivel
Tim Hecker – Blue Stage – 5:15 p.m.
Just when the gloomy clouds seemed to have been beaten back, the rain returned just in time for Tim Hecker’s contemplative, ambient, electronic soundscapes. The timing couldn’t have been much better; the drizzle chilled the temperature as Hecker’s layers of twinkling synth samples and looming bass thunder grew in intensity. Pockets of conversation started to intermingle with the Montreal-based musician’s slow-burning compositions, reversed loops, and spinning synths washing out over the field. The bass from A$AP Rocky’s sound system across the park burst too loudly into the mix, but for those focused intently on Hecker and his creations, the music offered a moment of calm in what was sure to be an over-stimulated day. -Adam Kivel
Japandroids -Blue Stage – 6:15 p.m.
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated set of the day came from Vancouver noise pop rock duo Japandroids. Guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse took their time with the soundcheck, but then tore through their set with an intensity that would make other punky indie rockers blush. King promised they would “cram in as many songs as possible” before adding a note about the weather: “Who cares if its raining? Its Friday night, let’s get wild!” Prowse quickly tore through a kick pedal, and King rampaged around the stage, jamming his face as close to the microphone as he could. The crowd at the Blue side-stage may have been the single largest for any set on Friday, and it was unsurprisingly also the rowdiest. Cuts from the recently released Celebration Rock got some serious moshing going, particularly the epic “Younger Us” and the hard-charging “The Nights of Wine and Roses”. This was the shot in the arm that many needed to finally get over the blahs of the rain-soaked earlier half of the day. -Adam Kivel
Dirty Projectors – Red Stage – 7:20 p.m.
Dave Longstreth and Co. stepped out onto the big stage quietly, and immediately set to work. The band powered through a good portion of the recently released Swing Lo Magellan to solid response, particularly lead single “Gun Has No Trigger”. While performances supporting their last album pushed Amber Coffman’s vocals to the forefront, her impeccable guitar work shone in this set. Whether adding a shifty counterpoint on “See What She Seeing”, or the plinking cuts to “About To Die”, Coffman proved an essential part of the instrumental. That said, Longstreth’s always impressive guitar work led through Bitte Orca hits like “Cannibal Resource”, and bassist Nat Baldwin’s funky, new underlining to “Stillness is the Move” gave the old hit new life. A few “thanks” from the frontman qualified for the majority of the crowd-work in the beginning of the set, the six-piece (complete with a third female vocalist to stand in for the on-hiatus Angel Deradoorian) letting the music speak for itself. Unsurprisingly, the biggest applause came for tracks like “Useful Chamber” and Mount Wittenberg Orca standout “Beautiful Mother”, the crowd rightly astonished by the raw power of the multi-part vocals and Longstreth’s genius songwriting. -Adam Kivel
Purity Ring - Blue Stage – 8:20 p.m.
The two talented Canadians of Purity Ring (Megan James and Corin Roddick) have accomplished quite a bit in their two years as a unit. While they’ve released only four singles and have their first album due out in just over a week (though they did have a limited number for sale at the festival), they’ve built their way into a headlining slot at Pitchfork through beautiful live performances and serious vision. The stage decorations were entrancing (oblong shapes shifting in light and color), and Roddick’s custom tree synth/drum trigger lit in kinetic patterns as he reached for each new tone. No other act throughout the day took this much advantage of the theatric, visual potential that this sort of stage offers.
While many might only be familiar with a handful of songs by this Montreal-based duo, the strong (yet brief) set was enough to entrench some more favorites. The pitch-shifted double vocals and chattering percussion of “Lofticries” brought on plenty of grooving in the crowd, James carrying around some sort of lantern as she crossed the stage. The dramatic, swanky “Obedear” worked things up even further, the dancing getting closer and smoother. If, earlier in the day on the same stage, Japandroids was the shot in the arm, this was the triumphant dance-club capper. Nothing, though, could beat the epic electro-pop melody of “Fineshrine”, Roddick reaching out and lighting the stage mesmerically, James coolly controlling the teeming crowd. For such a young band (both are under 25) with only two years together on this project, this was a masterful set, their ability to hold such a large crowd in their hand nothing shy of impressive. -Adam Kivel