Published Jul 20, 2011Despite more than 45 acts performing over the weekend, it was the nearly 40-degree Celsius weather that stole the show at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival.
Friday was an almost perfect day for a festival with a light breeze and a few clouds. EMA's distortion-heavy performance gave echoes of Lollapaloozas past, while Battles brought the momentum with their tight-knit set that never seemed to let up -- the evidence being drummer John Stanier's shirt, which was so sweat-stained he just gave it up. LED screens with the faces of Battles' guest singers filled the void of being there in the flesh, and toward the end, guitarist Dave Konopka was generous enough to invite the thousands on hand to his place (857 Marshfield, in case you're still interested).
Following a set like that, Thurston Moore had an uphill climb. He asked his crowd if they wanted to hear "any songs about rape, incest and carnage," but fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), he dug into his latest solo album, Demolished Thoughts. However, even with Samara Lubelski on violin and Sunburned Hand of the Man on drums, Moore's songs were a bit too prolonged for the average spectator. This made Guided By Voices the perfect chaser. Joined by Neko Case for "Echos Myron," Bob Pollard and his classic lineup knocked out 19 songs from the likes of Propellor, Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes in their condensed time slot. And you better believe Bob can still do scissor kicks at 53. Much like Moore, Case couldn't match GBV's rush of adrenaline rock stylings, but used her silky voice to seduce just about every ear at the Red Stage.
Animal Collective were familiar with the job of headlining, having closed out the Saturday three years earlier. Thankfully, all four of them -- Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist -- made the trip, with an elaborate stage set up built of fluorescent bats and paper mache icicles with an array of kaleidoscopic colours. Mostly focusing on new tunes, fans eager to hear new material were treated with plenty of it, as well as some stragglers from Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The general consensus was that Saturday's lineup was the weakest of the three days, and with sweltering temperatures, it was a hot one to endure. No Age did their best to make everyone forget about the heat, but some early technical difficulties had them cursing technology. Now back to a two-piece, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall thrashed through numbers sans the noisy interludes and caused a moshing frenzy when they dropped a cover of Misfits' "Hybrid Moments."
Both Wild Nothing and the Radio Dept. were too twee to compete, and at times were often drowned out by the competing stage. Gang Gang Dance were easily the most vibrant crew of the day. Frontwoman Lizzie Bougatsos dazzled with both her rhythmic and soaring vocal abilities, giving the crowd their money's worth by humping a monitor and crowd surfing during an extended jam.
Much like the soothing sounds of Kaputt, Destroyer didn't even try to rouse anyone. Dan Bejar seemed aloof and often separate from his band, but his vocals coalesced beautifully with the smooth jazz moods of his set. The somewhat recently reunited Dismemberment Plan were a real treat and gave glimpses into what could have been. A forgiving Travis Morrison appeared downright ecstatic, even breaking out a brief cover of Robyn's "Dancehall Queen." DJ Shadow also felt like a nostalgia trip, considering his recent album flops, but aside from some technical glitches, he not only brought a giant golf ball to perform inside of, but also a generous portion of drum & bass to go along with selections from Endtroducing.
Zola Jesus may be short in stature, but the operatic voice that howls from her tiny frame is downright scary. Dressed in a swirly frock, she managed a thunderous set with her stripped-down band (keyboardist and tom drummer). In 2008, Fleet Foxes were but mere afternoon rookies at P4K, but with the success of the recent Helplessness Blues, their "folk shit" was met with open arms. The most widely accepted of any band, Robin Pecknold and his gang of bearded men managed to bridge the gap between 20-something hipsters and 40-something soccer moms.
Despite the popularity of Sunday's superior lineup, the blazing sun took its toll on many people. Yuck fought the conditions with their post-grunge anthems, as did Kurt Vile, whose good-time stoner tunes were the perfect thing to relax in the shade to. How he managed under those layers and layers of hair, though, is anybody's guess. Twin Sister frontgal Andrea Estella donned a green wig, and despite the Blue Stage's tendency to be drowned out, her band managed to provide enough tremolo and snaking grooves to thrill.
For many, the festival's must-see act was Odd Future. Not just because of the hype or the reputation for onstage chaos, but because of the advance protests they incited. The anti-violence groups protested by handing out fans and were rewarded by a hobbling Tyler, the Creator with cupcakes and loving shout-outs. The controversy definitely worked, though. The crowd went ape-shit watching Tyler and Hodgy stage dive, even though the bass was so distorted you could hardly hear a verse from "Sandwitches."
Shabazz Palaces followed immediately, offering the other end of hipster-hop's spectrum. A much more docile performance, Ishmael Butler opted for concise rhymes and speaker rumbling that everyone could comprehend. Much to no one's surprise, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti were shambolic and cut their set early because of it. Fortunately, Superchunk were nothing of the sort, diving straight into a batch of new tracks, only to descend into older material. Three straight from Foolish eventually led to a thrill in hearing anthems like "Hyper Enough" and "Slack Motherfucker" close out the set.
Deerhunter appeared laissez-faire about their appearance, a monumental stretch from the hostile newcomers who began their day back in 2007. They breezed through the bulk of Halcyon Digest and an extended version of "Nothing Ever Happened" like weathered vets. There was nothing laissez-fair about Cut Copy, however. From the moment they stepped on stage to the apt "Feel the Love," they made it obvious they were there to bring the party. During "Hearts on Fire," frontman Dan Whitford insisted everyone was to "go crazy," and not even the blazing heat could stop anyone from following orders.
TV On the Radio brought the three-day event to a close with a career-spanning set. Alongside favourites like "Dancing Choose" and "Wolf Like Me," they brought out Shabazz Palaces for "A Method" and delighted with their own take on Fugazi anthem "Waiting Room."
Heat stroke, dehydration and life-threatening sunburns be damned, Pitchfork brought its A-game and delivered once again in 2011.