Pitchfork Closes With A Flourish

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 20, 2009 4:00PM

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Photo of The Flaming Lips by Jim Kopeny

Day 3 of the 2009 Pitchfork Music Fest featured a full slate of bands we planned on catching and we managed to catch most of it with all roads leading to the big headlining set by The Flaming Lips, whose lighting rig was already set up on stage. We were welcomed into a warm, sunny Union Park by the spazzy, buzzy electro-rock of The Mae Shi who set the energy level to 11 and didn't relent for the duration of their set which included a brief switch to hip-hop courtesy of Yea Big + Kid Static. The highlight of the band's performance didn't come from the band itself but rather those guests who called on Pitchfork to review their new record, saying, "Give it a 4, I don't give a shit."

Scotland's Frightened Rabbit had a big task ahead of them to keep the energy level up. While they eased into their set - and Scott Hutchison eased into his creaking vocals after some early struggles with the high notes - the band found its rhythm and had fans up and bobbing their heads with songs like "The Twist." As Blitzen Trapper took to the "A" stage next, it became clear that while Day 2 was marked by constant shifting in sound, Day 3 was marked by more consistency between acts. The roots/mountain rock of Blitzen Trapper fared well with the crowd on the warm afternoon and was, like the weather, pleasant.

As the main field grew congested with beach blankets, strollers, and lawn furniture, the other end of the park, by the B stage, was populated by a younger crowd just looking to move around and have a good time. The "shirtsare for work" boys in the The Killer Whales provided a frenzied approach to R&N topped by vocals that -- to us -- sounded like Yeasayer thrown through a blender. We kinda loved them. They were followed by Women, a group we'd had high hopes for, but offered us nothing but bland and generic indie rock.

After that was Pharoahe Monch, who's hip hop set was everything Doom's Saturday set wasn't: intense, ferocious, and with a level of personality the masked wonder couldn't summon on Saturday. Drawing from the crowd, Monch gave props to those such as Rakim, Mos Def, and Michael Jackson. He was the act we knew least about going into the weekend and coming out he's left us only wanting to hear more. Despite the different musical styles, the follow-up set by The Thermals didn't skip a beat maintaining the energy level immediately by opening their set with a cover of Sonic Youth's "100%." Also covering Nirvana, the Breeders, and Green Day's "Basket Case" - with their own songs in between - the propulsive, fuzzy power-pop/rock trio bounced around the stage and had the crowd likewise partying.

Aided by horns, The Walkmen offered up a solid set but while some of the songs left us in awe, others had us sitting down and losing some energy. Maybe it was the come-and-go sun, maybe it was the end of the long weekend, but we felt the energy from earlier in the day drain from the group at our blanket. Again, though, that's not necessarily the band's fault as The Walkmen were tight and the supplemental horn section added a nice layer on a late afternoon. By the end of their set, the sun was out and the skies had cleared, setting M83 up for a fantastic performance of their electro synth pop that's at once both kinetic and woozy. Beginning the set with a subdued version of "Graveyard Girl," the band had the crowd whipped into a frenzy soon enough with "Couleurs" and earned the "Most Surprising In A Good Way" set.

The good tidings from that performance were quickly lost with Grizzly Bear, who may have well dubbed themselves Grizzly Boring as far as I'm concerned. That said, I whole-heartedly admit that I have never "gotten" the band and that I was in the extreme minority; as evening descended, plenty in the crowd were into the bands cavernous echoed harmonies even though they weren't my cup of tea. But at least Wayne Coyne and the Lips' crew provided some distraction as they set up for that band's festival closing performance.

And what a closer it was from the Flaming Lips. With the band descending from a the video projection of a woman's vagina (you kind of had to be there?), Mr. Coyne appeared from below in his hamster ball/bubble and took out into the crowd but returned for the a stirring version of "Race for the Prize." Admitting that they were eschewing the Write The Night event a bit, the band even played a pair of new songs from their forthcoming EP, but the requested songs like a slowed-down "Fight Test" and even oldie "Mountainside" kept the performance moving along. It was a surreal, bombastic scene with a set of dancers on one side of the stage dressed as frogs (or lizards) and a set of ladies dressed as...kittens? sheep? on the other, dancing all the while as a constant flow of confetti was shot into the air and the half-circle video screen projected images and psychedelic color patterns behind the band. In other words, a Flaming Lips show of the grandest order.

Profusely thanking the city for it's long support of the band, Wayne Coyne played ringmaster to the circus, his warm warble echoing over the grounds under a clear, cool mid-summer night's sky. The band was gracious in digging out its biggest hit - "She Don't Use Jelly" - and appropriately brought the festival to a close with the life-affirming "Do You Realize." With the sky full of large balloons and confetti, the crowd around us singing along and reaching for the scraps of paper floating down from the sky, and the surreal stage set-up, in spite of the exhaustion of a full weekend, it was hard not to smile at the spectacle as Coyne crooned, "It's hard to make the good things last/You realize the sun doesn't go down/It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round." And just as the sun has set on this year's fest (and on a high note at that), we know the folks at the 'Fork will round up an equally impressive line-up next year and we'll do it all again.

Additional reporting by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy