Pitchfork Music Festival Recap: Day Two

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 20, 2008 4:50PM

Ah, the rain. In previous years we've always half jokingly call the Pitchfork Music Festival "Sweatfork" due to the usually oppressive heat, but this year the afternoon storms brought about "Mudfork" and the attendant rise of the mud people. Saturday is usually the most crowded day of the festival and this year was no different, although we must admit we're seeing less and less of the ironic gym suited American Apparel crowd and more and more of, well, normal folks.

We also couldn't help but notice that just about every music critic in the city seems to spend oall of their time backstage. We admit to ducking back there from time to time ourselves, but we spent most of our time on the field in the midst of the crowd because isn't that the only was to really review a band? At least we thought that's what a music critic was supposed to do. You can't really get a good read on a band's performance -- or the crowd's reaction -- from a park bench behind the stage and out of sight of any of the action, can you? And what about that action? Yesterday there was plenty of it on the various stages around Union Park.

Indie folk poppers Fleet Foxes seemed to bask in the heat, their hazy tunes the perfect soundtrack to a subdued early-afternoon crowd dealing with the muggy, post-rain afternoon. Even if the skies weren't as sunny as the Foxes song, the crowd was willing to go along for the ride. We had some doubts about whether the Foxes' cavernous, etheral sound would translate to the live festival setting, but there didn't seem to be any issues as far as we could tell. The band was spot on as they tackled songs from their previous EPs and their new, self-titled LP.

At the start, it seemed like there would be trouble with Dizzee Rascal's set. The London MC was a bit miffed with some persistent sound problems at the beginning of his set and had a few choice words for the sound guys, but once he settled down, the rest of his set bore no hangover. He declared in his rough Cockney accent, "Ya'll might not understand a fuckin' word I'm sayin', but by the end of the day you'll know my name." If the crowd was subdued but the early humidity, Dizzee got them pumped. Blitzing through tracks from his recent record, Math + English, as well as older tracks like "Fix Up, Look Sharp," Dizzee spit rhymes at a rapid-fire pace and had the crowd jumping and waving their hands, even as the sun finally broke through the overcast skies, baking the sweat-drenched fans. At one point, when Dizzee shed his T-shirt, he flexed for the crowd and quipped, "I'm gettin' my Fifty Cent on." By the time he bounded off the stage, no one was thinking about the aforementioned American rapper and they certainly knew Dizzee's name.

We tried to listen to Vampire Weekend, but we just don't get it. They're well-mannered and polite -- and we certainly do enjoy a good grammar joke -- but overall they turned in a bland set. Luckily !!! was next and their explosive disco-punk transformed the crowd into a single-minded organic simulation of a pogo stick. Nic Offer broke out every ambisexual dance move in his repertoire and gave himself over fully to the music and his mission to draw each and every listener into the center of the universal beat.

The Hold Steady was up next to defend their title of "Best Party Band in the World," and they defended the title with a decisive win. The sheer power of the band's hooks and the evocative beauty of Craig Finn's lyrics would be enough to set them apart from most other rock bands, but the truly winning component of their live sets is the simple fact that band is obviously having the time of their lives up there.

Jarvis Cocker was next and the sense of anticipation for his set was thick throughout the crowd. We swear we even saw two girls crying because they couldn't contain their excitement, and once the tall, unbelievably lanky Brit took the stage we immediately saw that he was going to fully deliver on the hopes of the crowd.Cocker is obviously accustomed to playing much larger festivals, and his physical theatricality sold his darkly comic glam-pop with disarming ease. And only Cocker could get away with closing the set with a song that basically eviscerates the American government and elicit cheers from the adoring throng.

Animal Collective closed out the evening, and while we've never actually enjoyed any of their albums, now that we've seen them live we now finally understand why folks go ga-ga over the band. Mixing improvisational flourishes over dense rhythmic textures mined from both Krautrock and minimalist techno, the band is adept at building these grand sonic washes that sweep you away with their grandeur. It was a suitably epic ending to a day of great music.

Additional reporting by Marcus Gilmer