Pitchfork Day 2: Slipping Into Place
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 15, 2007 5:00PM
We entered the Pitchfork Music Festival grounds a little late Saturday, since the CTA saw fit to make sure all the buses we needed to take were running extra slow, while suspending Blue Line service between Western and Clark/State. They picked a bang-up weekend to make sure they removed the primary vein of public travel right from the heart of the hipster corridor. As we arrived though, we were dually serenaded by the noise of a big-time photographer trying to argue his way into a VIP pass, overlaid by the muted strumming of Iron and Wine.
Iron and Wine exhibited one of the main problems with putting some of the more popular indie rock acts on the huge main stages; they just don't have the sound or presence to pull it of. Music that is deeply touching in a club environment drifts off and gets lost when it hits the open air. It also didn't help that near the end of their set you could hear Mastodon soundchecking, rather loudly. (This, incidentally was a problem that popped up a few times this weekend, most notably when one of GZA's backing tracks started playing during Slint's set Friday night.)
Walking across the festival grounds it also seemed that people were drunker, the lines to the bathrooms were Sisyphean, the dust in the air gave the scene a slight Mad Max feel, and we were worried. Where was the feel-good vibe of last year?
Luckily we rediscovered that vibe as we made out way to the side-stage to catch part of Professor Murder's set.
Professor Murder's polyrhythmic energy was certainly a hit at the crowded side stage, this year mercilessly bereft of a tented covering but still far too small (as we would learn later in the evening). Kids were smiling and dancing, although we're willing to bet that this was almost every person's first time even hearing the New York based band.
We swung back onto the main field for a quick look at Mastodon, the true oddball in the weekend's line-up, since their crushing metal attack doesn't really seem like the Pitchfork crowd's cup of tea. Unlike Pelican or a number of other "safe" indie rock metal groups, Mastodon maintains no ironic distance from their music. They just fucking rock.
And then it was back to the side-stage for another New York group, Oxford Collapse. We really enjoyed their last album, and sure enough they delivered an energetic set that hit just the notes we expected them too. Bassist Adam Rizer proved to be the tru joy of the group to watch as he stomped, hooted, and hollered his way across the stage leaving a trail of spilled beer and untied shoelaces in his wake.
Back at one of the main stages, Clipse erupted amid a flurry of thudding, chest-heaving beats to deliver one of the best live hip-hop sets we've since, well, just about ever. Malice and Pusha-T delivered super-tight rhymes, and visually spent their energy engaging the crowd. Tales of dark drug deals and disappointed moms became unlikely party anthems punctuated by the screams of the ecstatic teenagers in the front row. We've had quibbles all weekend that the sound on the main stages wasn't really loud enough, and Clipse only furthered our belief when they proved just how much volume those speakers can push through. We did find it kind of funny that a hip-hop act kind of out-louded the brutes in Mastodon though.
We'd been curious what Dan Deacon would be like live, but as we made our way back to the side stage we were caught totally off guard by the scene that greeted us. Massive waves of people were swimming about, and their was a frenetic chipmunk-driven electro-rock with beats whose speed were approaching digital hardcore territory. Kids were hopping madly up and down, and all focus seemed to be centered on the ground in front of the stage. We wormed our way up and discovered Deacon had placed himself and his gear in the middle of the crowd, truly bringing his show to the people. We also discovered that a great number of folks at the side stage had been camped out there all afternoon, to insure their space in the crowd when Girl Talk hit the stage later that night.
We decided to risk losing our own spot for Girl Talk and ran back over to the main stage to catch a bit of Cat Power. Boy was that a mistake. Chan Marshall turned in a total snoozefest that wasn't helped by her constant apology of, "I'm really sorry about the sound here, everyone." Perhaps they were having issues onstage, and that's what she was responding to, but out in the crowd, we could hear every single dull, and lethargically uninspired note. To say we were bummed by tis let-down would be a huge understatement since we really like Ms. Marshall's work. Oh well.
And it was back to the side stage -- what is it about the side stage that seems to draw the most attention -- to find edgy security guards, a massive crowd, and a whole bunch of upset VIPs realizing that sometimes a laminate is worthless in the face of crowd safety. Greg Gillis' crew erected a big inflatable spider while he set up his computer. The crowd was warned the fire marshal was there and was threatening to shut down the whole stage due to a worrisome fence that seemed as if it might not hold up under the mass number of people pressing against it.
And it was at this point we realized that we were witnessing the biggest scheduling snafu of the evening. Girl Talk should have been on the main stage. It's that simple. Once we saw him performing we realized that not only was his crowd big enough for the main stage, but his live show was more than big enough to fill that stage.
And what about that live show? We love Gillis' mixes and mash-ups, but can understand when some folks criticize him for playing a show while rearranging files on his laptop. But if that was all he did, we doubt that his rep would have grown so quickly. In fact, Gillis takes to the stage like a spastic electronic Iggy Pop, and his dance sets are more rockin' than most bands we're seen. A constant stream of guest dancers mills about the stage, throwing confetti, silly string, water, and whatever else they can get their hands on, while Gillis leaps around like a mad scientist, gleefully mixing sonic concoctions meant to drive the crowd ever more crazy. It's also worth noting that it was during Gillis' set that we saw the most crowd surfing of the weekend, and Gillis himself supplied a couple spectacular stage dives into the crowd.
Girl Talk creates fun mixes, but Gillis' real weapon is the live set. We particularly enjoyed hearing Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" turned into a massive slab of super-pop anchored by crunching beats, and Pilot's "Magic" snaked it's way into his set, spurring a spontaneous sing-a-long from the ebullient crowd. Unfortunately, near the end of his set, Gillis was abruptly cut-off (we're guessing the marshal pulled the plug, or security just grew too nervous about the crowd?) and he left the stage, visibly upset at not being able to finish.
Even without the release of the climax Gillis was obviously building up to, though, it was easily the most exciting set we've seen yet this weekend.
As we made out was out, across the quickly emptying festival grounds, we urned to take in a bit of Yoko Ono's set, hoping against hope that something about her live would change our minds about her solo output. Alas, our opinion wasn't to change, so we returned to memories of Girl Talk and prepared for our long trek home.
Photos of Dan Deacon, Oxford Collapse, Clipse, and Girl Talk by Jim Kopeny. See lots of other pictures from Day 1 and Day 2 of the Pitchfork Music Festival at the Chicagoist Flickr page.