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Pitchfork Music Festival 2011: Day Two

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 17, 2011 7:30PM

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Chillaxin' at P4K2011 photo by Jim Kopeny

Additional reporting by Kimberly Bellware and Michele Lenni

The key to surviving Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival was to hug the shade and stay hydrated. Temperatures were high but if you weren't in the direct sun a slight breeze kept things pretty comfy. If you were out in the field with no cover though, things could get pretty brutal.

Come mid-day, No Age proved that their super power was being heat-proof. Despite the mercury creeping upwards of 90 degrees, the band’s set was furious and energetic. For their performance in the open air, No Age avoided any of the whirry, experimental sounds of their Nouns-era, instead favoring a just-the-basics version of their songs that stripped away any layers that might have muddied the sound. The result was an unstoppable bass whose ferocity occasionally overwhelmed the vocals, and a grinding, ear-splitting (in a good way) guitar; overall, a few lost lyrics were a minor blip in No Age’s incredible set. The band drove the crowd into a frenzy after their cover of the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments,” churning up so much energy that front and center crowd started moshing--with one mosher reportedly joining the fray despite having his arm in a cast. Pretty rock and roll. - K.B.

Across the park at the Blue stage Wild Nothing created a pleasantly pastoral soundtrack to the folks lounging in the grass. Unlike yesterday the vibe at the Blue stage was far more chill at this point. Wild Nothing did their best to keep the vibe mellow. The band plays middle of the road indie rock, and while that could be read as a diss, it isn't. These guys aren't doing anything new or exciting, but they are incredibly adept at grafting really pretty melodies onto their compositions. It wasn't the most exciting set oif the day but it was pretty perfect for what it was.

Over on the Green stage Gang Gang Dance punched things up a couple dozen notches. Their dance rock is also kind of par for the course at this point but that didn't make their set any less welcome or stop the kids from stomping around and dancing in the field. Frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos added enough character, vocally and stage presence-wise, to help differentiate the group from similar ilk. Oh, and they had one member onstage whose primary job seemed to involved flag waving. We have no idea what that was about but it sure looked fun!

We popped back over to the Blue stage just in time to catch OFF!'s opening salvo. The punk rawk supergroup -- comprised of core members of bands like the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Burning Brides, Redd Kross and Rocket From The Crypt -- fired off an inspiring set of 2-minute equivalents of aural magma. We could have done with a little less between song banter, often the intros lasted as long or longer than the songs, but overall the set was a lesson to the younger crowd about what it used to be like when rock was loud and angry without a hint of irony. (OK, maybe a hint.) - Tankboy

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Destroyers channeling the smoooooth sounds of the 70s. Photo by Jim Kopeny

During sound check, from the looks of his band--complete with saxist, flautist clarinet and horns-the crowd was in for a jazzier Destroyer. Dan Bejar indeed leaned heavily on material from his most recent Kaputt, full of chamber-poppy, jazz ensemble experimentation. And lots, and lots of lyrics. In this mode, Destroyer flirts dangerously close with cheesy, but stays on the right side of the “easy listening” dividing line. Somehow, Bejar can master these elements all while being a pretty reluctant frontman. It was an astonishing change of pace from the bands that had inhabited the stage earlier in the day, with Bejar’s self-effacing performance style finding him sipping often from a drink, and half-laying on the stage singing with his cheek near the floor. Despite Bejar and his band’s capability, the slow-mo jazzy set only kinda worked. The nuances of Destroyer’s music that make it layered and interesting were diffused in the outdoor setting, and the impact of of Bejar’s lyricism was diminished simply because not every world could be heard clearly. Though Bejar is a veteran of the fest (both as Destroyer and with The New Pornographers in one of their years performing) he may have been better suited for the more intimate Blue Stage. To be sure, fans up close to the stage likely had a much better experience than those in the back. Disappointingly, the high points of Destroyer’s set made it only a fraction of the crowd. - K.B.

In the tight confines of the blue stage the Swedish fuzzed-out, shoegazey wonder that is Radio Dept. played songs from their almost 10-year-career as curators of all things twee and indie pop. As the sun departed from the sky and the cooler temperatures began to take hold over the festival grounds, the first thing we really noticed about the set, besides a lack of instrumentation, was how quiet the music really is. Between the sound bleed through from the other stages and the constant chatter from the crowd, it was really difficult to hear the music being played by the Swedes. After fighting through the crowd we made it very close to the stage and only then were we able to make out what songs the Radio Dept. were actually playing, and, we have to say, we were disappointed. Being that most of the tracks are prerecorded for their live gig their sound came off as canned. In fact, it was really hard to tell the show was a live experience at all. It felt too rehearsed, too composed and way too much like just sitting in your living room and cranking the album with a beer in hand. Even songs we love from the group like “Heaven’s On Fire” or “The New Hypocrisy Improved” were just not up to snuff. Perhaps our expectations were too high, as this was one of the bands that we were most looking forward to seeing yesterday, but we really just left feeling a little disenchanted about the band in general. - M.L.

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Dismemberment Plan photo by Jim Kopeny

Travis Morrison has obviously forgiven Pitchfork at this point. He led The Dismemberment Plan into one of the day's unexpected high points with an energetic set that mixed that proto emo sound originated in their native D.C. with dancier elements and even a not-to-subtle dash of techno. It sounds confusing but onstage it came across as the best brand of punk rock; the sort of music where anything goes and failure or looking foolish isn't a deterrent to trying something out anyway. - Tankboy

Twin Shadow’s electrifying performance on the Blue Stage left of wondering where did this guy come from? On record, George Lewis Jr. and his band seem like one of the missing links between ‘80s New Wave of Talking Heads, electronic gurgling of Air and the chillwave explosion from the past few years. Live, Twin Shadow steps into its own, inhabiting the various shades of past genres with the comfort and confidence that make the music sound new rather than borrowed. The dreamy “Please Leave Us Alone” had more charge than its recorded version, and crowd pleaser “Castles in the Snow” telegraphed a pitch-perfect energy that was both chilling and exciting. Lewis Jr. spoke sparingly to the crowd, transitioning smoothly from one song to the next. Twin Shadow couldn’t have paced their set more perfectly, with an easy but intense rhythm that created the best flow of any set we’ve heard so far. - K.B.

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Zola Jesus photo by Jim Kopeny

The early evening face-off was between DJ Shadow and Zola Jesus. Both bands were intense and both bands were wildly different. Unfortunately for Zola Jesus the Blue stage crowd was the lightest we've seen (even in previous years) showing she lost the popularity contest, but man are we glad we caught part of her set and feel bad for folks that missed out. Zola Jesus' recorded output has always left us somewhat cold, we lost touch with our inner goth quite a while ago, but live with the band was a revelation. Frontwoman Nika Roza Danilova might be from Wisconsin but her performance was straight out of some deeply surreal and subterranean netherworld. She swirled and moaned and tremolo'd across the stage and every moment was filled with a dark yet vibrant urgency.

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Photo by Jim Kopeny
Back over on the Red stage, after a set that started a bit slowly, DJ Shadow threw things into high gear. Performing from inside of what seemed to be Lady Gaga's egg, his stage set-up was hampered by the fact that it was still light out and everything he had planned visually obviously depended on it being dark. Nevertheless we wormed our way into the middle of the crowd and can attest that once things got going no one cared about what was happening onstage. DJ Shadow played a blend of golden oldies (can we really consider the mid '90s oldies at this point? ugh) and newer stuff, resurrecting old borderline drum-n-bass lines and crossing them with deeply soulful hip-hop thuds to create a futuristic R&B that was heavy on the rhythm. - Tankboy

“Fuck that folk shit.” That was the cry from Dizzy Rascal as the Fleet Foxes exited the stage making way for the English hip-hop artist at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival according to the band’s lead singer Robin Pecknold during last night’s set. Indeed, we could definitely see why Dizzy and many fest-goers would feel this way. With last year’s Pitchfork closing out with the all-out dance powerhouse LCD Soundsystem, choosing a folky-rootsy rock band to close out the second night of the festival could be seen as a risky choice, especially because their set at the 2008 fest was not all that well received. Given all the factors, it could have been an all-out snooze fest with the crowd taking to the streets instead of staying for the set. This, our dear readers, was not the case at all. Placing these fine gents at the head of the fest was probably the best move that Pitchfork organizers could have made. Giving them the proper attention they need as a band, placing them in a time slot without sound bleed and cranking the volume made for one of the best sets we’ve seen during this or any of the past Pitchfork days.

First, let’s get this out of the way; these guys aren’t anything new under the sun. It is truly just undeniable that these guys are pretty derivative. At times we really felt as if we were next to our father at a CSNY reunion, which begs the question: Is this band really relevant? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the pros from the imitators, but we have to say, when a band is this dedicated, this talented and this amazing does it really matter? The answer is no.

With a myriad of instruments packing the stage, it would be easy for them to overdo it, making for a cluttered sound. For some reason, even though a cello, accordion, organ plus two guitars and a bass the sound was simple, unfettered and just beautiful. The band’s many attributes rang more true than we’ve seen, even in past performances. As usual, perfectly pitched harmonies never ever fell out of key or out of place. Truly, their a capella singing really can’t be matched with any other working rock band today. Each of the member’s voices come together so beautifully, like pieces of a puzzle that creates a stunning symphonic portrait.

Songs that stood out among Fleet Foxes' two-album-catalog were of course the stunning single “Your Protector,” with its epic-feeling climax that had the entire crowd cheering. “There You Go” with it’s beauteous harmonies accented with the deep hum of the cello was just gorgeous as well. We could go on and make a list that both contented and inspired us, but honestly, we’d just be talking about each song in their astounding set. Simply put, they are why we brave the sometimes miserable conditions, the ever-growing crowds and long lines. Fleet Foxes made our day, and perhaps our fest. - M.L.

So, who stood out for you on day two?