Put A 'Fork In It: Pitchfork Music Fest, Day 3

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 19, 2010 4:30PM

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Pavement ist rad. Photo by Jim Kopeny

Previously: Day One, Day Two

With expectations riding high in anticipation of acts like Sleigh Bells, Big Boi, Lightening Bolt, and of course, Pavement, Day 3 was the make-or-break segment for many festival attendees. Sunday got off to a wet and stormy start with heavy rains breaking some of the heat and humidity, though it made extra work for festival crew; sound equipment like the rainwater-filled PA monitors had to be dumped out and blow dried before Cave and AllĂ  could take the stage. The weather held for the rest of the day, which we hoped would be a boon to performers and attendees alike as Day 3 kicked off.

Pitchfork attendees who opted to wait until early afternoon thunderstorms cleared might not have known it, but those who braved the storms en route to Union Park were justly rewarded with one of the most slept-on, if not best, sets of the day from Chicago psych-prog band Cave. By running through the entirety of their most recent EP Pure Moods, Cave laid down a foundation of psychedelic, riff-heavy grooves upon which they layered funky, metronomic drums and whirring synthesizers. All this, plus a sense of humor: the band was introduced by a Fidel Castro-clone invoking revolution, while nonsensical stage patter had the band asking audience members if they, in fact, could hear the non-existent trombone. Cave patiently put together the parts of their songs in their live set bit by bit, and by the time it all coalesced, there was not a single head that wasn’t bobbing. Pity that more people didn’t see it. - J.G.

With the heavy, hot air settling in at the B Stage in spite of the shade, it was a good setting for the buzzy, sunny pop of Best Coast. Recalling a less gritty Tanya Donelly/Belly, Best Coast was nothing if not an easy and pleasant set to listen to. But the shuffling songs were at risk of being drowned out by the thundering stomp of Cass McCombs on Stage C across the park. And, like so many other buzz bands at this year's fest, Best Coast felt too familiar, another in a line of indie pop/rock drenched in buzz with a hint of reverb and distortion. While by no means a bad set, it was another case of a band failing to set itself apart from at least half a dozen other bands on the bill. - M.G.

Drawing the largest crowd we’d seen yet at the Balance Stage (the smallest stage at the fest), Washed Out, the one-man act of artist Ernest Greene, put the bustling crowd in a trance with his set of gauzy, layered synthpop. Sound was out of kilter at the start of “Feel It All Around,” with only the heavy bass pushing through until Greene’s vocals and synth leveled out mid-way through the song, the crackling drum beats getting turned up—all to good effect. On the flickering “Get Up” and “You’ll See It” Greene smartly invited the crowd to clap along and sing on different songs; his small gestures went a long way in keeping the audience engaged while he twisted knobs and switches. It wasn’t music that excites in an obvious way, but we, along with the crowd gave Washed Out strong approval at the end of each cut. With an abundance of so-called “Chill Wave” bands at the fest, Washed Out did about the best job we’d seen of taking mostly vocal-free, loosely structured music and giving it shape and layers - K.B.

The token metal band at a particularly mellow fest, Lightning Bolt set themselves apart by, if nothing else, sheer volume. On a weekend when bands made up of four, five, and six members gave the crowd a reason to politely bob their heads, it was the duo of Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson that created a cacophony of sound, pounding the crowd, some moshing, others crowd surfing, with unrelenting brute force. - M.G.

Gripes about music bleed over from the main stages surfaced once again for mid-day set from Surfer Blood. The band’s sound was muddy and barely audible as it got mixed with Lightening Bolt’s, getting the Florida-based rockers off to a rough start. Into their second song, “Floating Vibes,” the sound was coming clearer as the band dutifully belted out their sunny, walking riffs that had pieces reminiscent of early Pixies. Come “Harmonix,” the band was in top shape, “Anchorage,” “Twin Peaks” and “Catholic Pagans” encapsulating the band’s early ‘90s-flecked, guitar hook laden pop-rock goodness. Surfer Blood’s excellent guitar compositions that summoned almost four decades worth of influences, along with their perseverance in the face of less-than-ideal acoustics showed the rest of the festival acts that rough starts don’t have to mean weak sets. The band pulled a fantastic 180 to win our shouts and applause, though unfortunately for the crowd farthest from the stage, the best of the sound could be heard front and center. - K.B.

Have we gone on enough about the sleepy, dreamy pop theme of the weekend? Thankfully, Major Lazer upped the ante heading into the late sets of the final evening, a pulsing, grinding, whirling mix of pulsating dance beats from Switch and Diplo. Grinding dancers and ballerinas spun moves that seemed straight out of the Kama Sutra. Oh, and there were those Chinese lion dancers (h/t Kevin Pang for correct clarification) adding to the surreal party atmosphere on stage. The hyperactive, joyous antics roused the crowd from their slumber, fists pumping in the air, a large party that got feet moving, if even an awkward shuffle, in the late afternoon heat. - M.G.

The party rolled on with Big Boi, performing solo but not separated from his Outkast ties. Backed by a horn section and getting an assist from a pal, he still rolls through several Outkast hits like "Rosa Parks," "Bombs Over Baghdad," and "So Fresh, So Clean." In one sense, the set was exactly what we expected: a run of hits interspersed with selections from his new solo LP, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. But what the set lacked in surprises it more than made up for in energy and effort. Big Boi didn't phone it in; he just knew what the crowd wanted and he gave it to them and did so with gusto. Thumping beats, crisp rhymes, and even the break-dancing kids featured in Raekwon's short set from Saturday supplemented what was a stellar set that impressed us and, if nothing else, has us longing for the next Outkast record. - M.G.

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Sleigh Bells says hi to the crowd. Photo by Jim Kopeny

Sleigh Bells’ closing set Sunday at Pitchfork’s Balance stage was nothing if not highly anticipated, and for good reason. For all of the merits of the duo’s highly hyped debut, Treats - the post-industrial rhythmical wallop, the truck-rattling hip-hop bass, the crunchy arena-rock guitars - they seem like meticulous studio creations. Would they work as well live as on record? The answer Sunday night was a definitive yes - though their 30-minute set wasn't without snags. A late start time, mixing imbalances and technical difficulties all ensured a rough start. Once those bumps were cleared, though, Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss energized the crowd to the point of frenzy. While the duo often relied too heavily on pre-recorded material for their sonic bombast, there’s simply no denying that when beat-bombs land on tracks like “A/B Machines”, they really land. While Sleigh Bells’ set was far from flawless, those who wanted to participate in the post-genre dance party of the summer got their wish and then some. - J.G.

As the festival reached its culminating act, expectations were split for Pavement: die-hard fans were betting on nothing less than a show-stopper of a performance, while others noted the group’s notoriously fickle nature live. Still more were vexed by the allegation that the crowd would actually thin as the band played, with the younger slice of festival-goers indifferent to the ‘90s era band that has become synonymous with “indie rock” as we know it today. Launching with the always-pleasing “Cut Your Hair,” it was immediately clear that Pavement was going to be secure no matter how their set panned out. Riding high on a wave of nostalgia, everyone in the audience seemed to be happy just seeing the seminal band in the flesh. It was hard to argue with the song choices, “Silence Kit,” “Frontwards,” “Stereo” and “Range Life” being among the best. But on some cuts, most notably the sentimental favorite, “Spit On A Stranger,” the cadence seemed off, with Stephen Malkmus appearing to even bungle the lyrics here and there. Having seen Malkmus play live solo, we’ve experienced the frontman’s hit-or-miss nature, and we found him to be the less engaging of the two main vocalists that evening. Coming smack in the middle of the set, “Range Life” was the first song we really felt was working, though by then we were beginning to concede that this might not be a performance to go down in Pavement’s history. The climbing guitar riffs perked up “Two States,” though the band frustratingly squandered any intensity and groove they built up with a series of momentum-killing long pauses between sets. Sound-wise, the high end was missing during most of the set, with the vocals a bit too faint for those standing in the back. It was the same issue that most of bands dealt with, and some, like LCD Soundsystem the night before, were able to surmount it; Pavement, unfortunately, just wasn’t having one of those nights. As the band ended with “The Hexx,” we had mixed feelings about the set. As noted, the song choices were tip top, though there seemed to be a strange, almost selfish disconnect that was hard to pin, especially given that Pavement was playing for an audience that not only embraced them, but was rooting for them. They may not have pulled out a show to end all shows, but we would be disingenuous if we said we weren’t glad for the experience. Fans have emotional attachments to bands like Pavement for good reason, and its worth noting that the band has sustained such strong feelings despite breaking up more than a decade ago. Nostalgia, after all, is powerful enough to tint any experience a little rosier than we might otherwise expect. - K.B.

As someone who has seen Pavement through all the phases of their career, and was honestly unsure whether I was even happy they were reuniting or not, I have to admit last night's set was better than I expected. They stuck to the hits, they played well, and most amazingly, they honestly seemed to be enjoying themselves up there. LCD Soundsystem would have been a more explosive finale to the weekend, but Pavement was probably more perfect as their guitars wound over the city skyscape to close out the night. - Tankboy

With the 2010 Pitchfork Music Festival now behind us, we found this year to be a mixed bag, though a little underwhelming compared to some years’ past. Exciting turns from Robyn, LCD Soundsystem, Big Boi, Titus Andronicus, Major Lazer, Lightening Bolt, Sleigh Bells and a few others made us definitely feel like we got our money’s worth. And while we accept the lumps like sticky, blast furnace weather and occasionally washed out sound as part of the outdoor festival experience, we’d love to see some alternative strategies to keep the smallest stage (often the home for the fest’s most exciting new bands) from losing in the sonic tug-of-war and busting at the seams when certain acts draw capacity-buckling crowds. We love the mix of vendors and activities, and are fiercely proud of the festival for keeping so much of the business local. Flatstock, for its part, continues to be one of the strongest showcases for handmade poster art both local and national, giving visual artists their own little party in a fest roundly dedicated to music. Hang ups like last years’ under capacity bathrooms and hand wash were no where to be found, and decisions to drop water prices in the face of sweltering heat were both conscientious and kind. With a large, well-run fest like Pitchfork striving to keep quality high and affordability in check, there will always be a give and take with lineups, vendors and logistics. 2010 had enough highs and forgettable lows to still leave us eager and genuinely excited for next year. - K.B.