Now in its eighth year, the Pitchfork Festival is one of the most established events in the US calender. While opinion may be divided over the blog turned media group, with musicians complaining about the taste maker’s politics and music fans getting sick of reading music reviews that sound like dodgy undergrad Cultural Studies essays with an over reliance on words like ‘transcendent’ and ‘signifier’, one thing that is for sure is that Pitchfork has the clout to put together a serious summer line-up.
Here are State’s picks…
We only decided to catch all of Araab’s set at the last minute, but it turns out to be a good call. If dubstep is our generation’s hair metal this guy is a 21th century Eddie Van Halen, shredding on his MPC’s faster than the TV cameras can film. There’s an edge to his live shows as he verges on loosing it during his ridicules breakdowns. The bulk of the set is based on him riffing beats over heavy dub samples and nicely fills out his main stage billing and draws a massive crowd. At the end he’s joined by Chi-town’s latest hero, 17 year old MC Chief Keef who bursts into his breakout track ‘Don’t Like’, recently been sampled by a certain Mr. West. The crowd’s reaction suggests that Chicago’s indie crowd is ready to embrace the young rapper.
The last time we saw Bradford Cox he was performing in The Button Factory with Deerhunter. Having heard so much about their shows we left Temple Bar feeling really disappointed but we’re glad we gave him another go here. Atlas Sound’s live sounds falls somewhere between folk, post-rock, 1970’s art rock and dream/noise pop, as Cox performs alone armed with a harmonica, an acoustic guitar and a serious pedal board. This mix of acoustic instruments and electronic noodling really works. Drones shimmer and spin in and out of time, loops build and build, guitar sounds get more and more other worldly. He plays through Chicago’s first serious rain downpour in weeks, but even the rain can’t spoil the show, if anything it adds to the dark, strange atmosphere.
While the Baltimore duo have a tendency to sound a bit boring over the length of a whole record, Sunday evening as the sun is setting over Union Park suits them just fine. Their etherial tones ring out beneath a pink sky, Victoria Legrand’s curls flutter in the wind, every song is played note for note and it proves to be the perfect prelude to the frenetic Vampire Weekend.
Hitting a packed out main stage right in the middle of the afternoon, Flying Lotus knows exactly what the crowd want and he’s ready to give it to them. He drops his own cosmic jams, blending bewildering rhythms and melodies like no one else can, yet also mixes in snippets of hip hop smashes ‘Niggas in Paris’ and Lil Wayne’s ‘A Millie’ as well as older tracks like Beastie Boys ‘Intergalactic’ and Pharoahe Monch’s ‘Simon Says’. The 40 minute set flies by and FlyLo seems to be really enjoying himself. The show ends with a huge circle mosh pit and some gut punching bass. While there is little in the way of new material it’s definitely a showing that whets everyone’s appetite for his upcoming record.
Definitely one of the most talked about acts of the weekend, Ms Boucher begins with a shout-out to current touring partner Skrillex and warns that she’s been working on some new material since she hooked up with the dubstep king. Her live show isn’t quite the one woman show it once was. She is joined by 22 year old Vancouver producer Blood Diamonds and two slightly bizarre female backing dancers but it all goes down a storm. The set is tight, and features some new songs, including a collaboration with Blood Diamonds on ‘Phone Sex’, that sit perfectly alongside the Visions tracks and point to good things to come with their blend of deep bass and pop hooks.
There’s a theory that Hot Chip have hit a plateau with new record In Our Heads and the Pitchfork crowd’s reaction to their old and new material certainly backs that up. The classics still do shine the brightest and you won’t find a tighter live band making dance music. The older songs are slightly altered as the band flow seamlessly from one track to another. This meddling doesn’t always come off (‘I Feel Better’ not carrying anything like the same punch of the studio version), but an abridged version of ‘Over and Over’ hits the spot and is another highlight of the weekend.
Delayed by fifteen minutes due to some technical difficulties caused by Saturday’s rain, Jaar wins out as he avoids any overlap with Flying Lotus on the main stage. Performing with a lead guitarist and sax player which gives a nice balance of electronic beats and live instrumentation, the set iss more like watching a jazz or blues band than an electronic musician. Extended jams blended into one another and it seems like the BPM never goes over 60, but in a good way.
Playing in the middle of the afternoon, it seems like everyone at the festival has made it out to see Real Estate. Temperatures are in the 90s and there is no shade in sight, but luckily the band bring some seriously chill vibes to help everyone cool off. One Chicago Tribune journalist carries festival coverage on Twitter solely through the use of emoticons, summing this up with two ice-cream cones, two rainbows and two surfers – which captures the set better than words ever can.
With so many modern live acts based around guys standing on stage with MacBook Pros and Abelton controllers, it’s refreshing to see a old school power trio killing it live. The first rule of this approach is that everyone has to be ridiculously good at what they do, no problem for this bunch. They capture the sound of their self-titled debut release with lo-fi vocal effects and the classic three man set-up mingling classic rock and funk. ‘Ffunny Ffriends’ is a surprise festival highlight, and from the buzz around the site the New Zealanders seem to win over a lot of new fans in Chicago.
Vampire Weekend draw the biggest crowd of the weekend with their closing headline slot, playing for and hour and a quarter and blazing through their whole discography (a.k.a both albums) spare a couple of tracks to make it sound like a greatest hits set. ‘Contra’ and ‘Giving Up the Gun’ take on a new life live and old favourites such as ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’ get the crowd moving like the summer of 08 never ended. They play one song off the upcoming record, a nice slow track with Ezra Koenig strumming on a nylon guitar, and leave the stage after a rip roaring rendition of ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ and a promise that they’re off home to finish the record and that they’ll be back soon.