With the sweltering Chicago sun present, the annual music festival from the online indie rock gods Pitchfork commenced at Union park where hordes of the country's hipsters and music buffs congregated. Friday was a busy day of missed interviews, long lines and a final relaxing moment enjoying the closing set by the evening's headliners, Modest Mouse.
I had the unfortunate pleasure of listening to The Tallest Man on Earth battle with the hot sun with his heartfelt set and raspy voice as I waited in the seemingly never ending will call line. “Nostalgic Euphoria” pretty much sums up my sensory response to the festival's opening evening as this being my first opportunity to catch a full set from Modest Mouse since a brief opening set in 2003. This Portland act played a large role in the early shaping of my musical taste; when I moved to Chicago I found myself delving into different styles than what was normal for me at the time but certain bands became constant residents in the cd player, Modest Mouse being one of those. With the opening notes of this evening's set “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” reignited these pleasure moments flashing through my psyches as I waited in line for my opportunity to photograph the band in action. Playing an extended rendition as they ultimately transition into a tease of “King Rat” exciting the crowd and granting the first wave of pit photographers a ten minute free reign of shots as we unfortunately shot part of a three minute “Here it Comes”. Regardless of what I got to shoot, I was elated to hear Isaac Brock's raspy voice jest as he had himself set up on the corner of the stage alternating between guitars and mics. They played an excellent mix of classic Modest Mouse with newer tracks bridging the two generations of fans and leaving the crowd screaming for a second encore excited and pumped for what was to come this weekend.
My Saturday did not have me arriving until the later part of the afternoon in an attempt to pace myself for the fun-tastic full schedule I had in store for Sunday as well as being more excited for the later acts. If you read my preview on Wolf Parade then there is no need explain my excitement to catch their performance seemingly on the hottest part and stage of the day, I feared at times Spencer Krug was going to melt on stage. This was a first time for me as I hadn't the opportunity to catch them on any of the various side acts not to mention getting to shoot them to boot. Beginning the set with the opener, “Cloud Shadow..” to their most recent, Expo 86 with a quick rambly dispense of lyrics the Canadian quartet set the tone for the day's later acts all of who utilized a synthesizing approach in some capacity. They continued on swapping vocal duties between Dan Boekner and Krug, each poignantly illustrating their perspectives and playing unfazed from the heat. At one point, Krug announces “ I'm not sure what we're gonna play we're just going to play for the hour they gave us” as the crowd cheers to this announcement the band recommences. They play with high energy and intensity playing from each of their three records as Krug is set up on his keyboards center stage half sitting and hunched over in a true composer fashion. Not to take away from Boekner or Dante DeCaro pulling off double duty of their own strumming or pounding down on their respected keyboard as well. In between songs, Krug takes a moment to orchestrate the audience to say “HI Todd” their tour Manager, back in Canada with a broken leg noting the amazing aspects of technology allowing Todd and Dan's wife (Handsome Furs band mate) Alexi Perry to enjoy the show from the comforts of their homes. Their set list reads like a greatest hits compilation of their last seven years, not having a weak moment in sound or again the amazingness of their energy not faltering from the blistering sun.
I hurry over to Stage B, as Brooklyn's Bear in Heaven prepare to take the stage in the most shaded area of the park as the crowd eagerly awaits their performance, taking an intermission from the heat to relax and enjoy the psychedelic krautrock. I was excited to see them perform again as the last time was when they blew through town with Metric, finishing up their tour excited for a much needed break. Although just a trio, so much sound comes from the stage with a booming explosion of sound complimenting the high pitched wails of singer, Jon Philpot. Adam Willis sits back with ease observing the crowd, who hang on each word nodding their heads in a trance like fashion. The trio sits back with ease creating these grand multi-layered compositions emulating a soundtrack of a pseudo-futuristic film from the seventies growing with intensity and bombastic sound. What excited me more, was their evening set at Lincoln Hall that would include the newly developed light show the guys have been tinkering on during this tour.LCD Soundsystem playing background music to conversations with new and old friends. I totally respect James Murphy for what he is able to produce and I am just as inclined to throw on a disk when in the mood but my musical upbringing was not one post punk experimental dance rock. I had the please of catching there set in Manchester, TN this year at Bonnaroo as he played to an overfilled tent in the wee hours of the morning so I did not have an urgency to fight with the crowds to dance along. I have to admit I'm slightly bummed I didn't shoot the performance but my priority lied under a tree with a cold beer. Regardless of my choice the crowd was energetic and pumped, dancing and moving along like the previous night the weather slightly cooled down aiding in laid back evening with enjoyable tunes.
Looking back Sunday is still a blur to me, so many photos, interviews and not to mention an ache in my should for the following week. With a mix of various styles/genres and a nonstop schedule for the majority of the day's festivities I was looking forward to getting to make this year's final day of the festival as I had to skip last year's for a last minute opportunity. Beginning with the hyped up darlings Best Coast with their newly revealed drummer, Ali Koehler formally of the Vivian Girls, the West Coast trio kicked off their tour playing both the festival and an afterparty show the night prior. With sunglasses reminiscent of visits to the beach in the 80s, Bethany Cosentino commenced their set singing of dreamy boys, Lisa Frank stickers and girly responses to life with a sophisticated brash approach it truly is hard not to enjoy their music. Bobb Bruno sways back and forth flopping his long mane of hair all over the place as there was a liveliness to the trio's lo-fi rock that wasnt present last year with the Vivian Girls' set.
The next hour was split between squeezing in interviews with a few of the day's acts and getting a few band portraits with the oversized medium format camera I chose to lug around all day before hurrying over to Stage C for the Baltimore duo, Beach House. Lovely as usual, Victoria Legrand began pounding her keyboard as Alex Scally gracefully greets the crowd with a certain bashful humbleness. The stage décor the same tinselly rotating diamonds as the cool breeze whips through Legrand's hair. Creating a relaxed ambience as her wails echoed an undying love through the park, not to mention the piercing stares she has as she sings of intimate songs which embody the imaginative fascinations of a teenager's mid in an avant-garde fashion.
From there I quickly made my way back to the smaller Stage B where my Silver Lake friends, Local Natives were beginning their set to an overpacked audience of eager fans. Kelcey Ayers always seems to have shyness to his great as his performance is quite the opposite exploding with emotion and intensity adding to Matt Frazier's percussion with his own set sticks rattling on the side of his keyboard. Although dealing with sound snafus from the stage, the quintet continued to play with vigor dancing about stage and excitedly sang in harmony beckoning for the hordes of people to sing along. With a certain professionalism, these guys work hard at putting on a strong performance every time they step on stage and thats obvious seamlessly playing through annoying crackles Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn kiss guitars before raucously belting out the songs chorus exhibiting every ounce of emotion in their expressions leaving their hearts out on the stage. I had an hour until I returned to Stage B for Surfer Blood so I caught up with everyone's favorite guy amid a sweltering summer day, the Ice Cream man. We ran about eating a popcicle talking about his trips thus far and posing with thrilled fans as we discussed the difference in demand for each of the summer festivals thus far. As we finally made it back to his truck, his cohorts were just handing out the last of their supply for the festival disappointing artists and VIPs running to grab a tasty treat to ward off the day's hot heat. Time ticked away and our schedules demanded our presence elsewhere, I made it in time for Surfer Bloods set which had already began. They are very much the male version of earlier performers Best Coast obviously having their respected differences that make each act unique but both with a surf wavy aesthetic sing of youthful subject matter and have a carefree tendency in their playing style. John Paul Pitts jests as the photographers are ushered out at the end of their third song as he bid us farewell. Ultimately unfazed they continued on with a newer song, “I'm Not Ready” this Florida quintet rocked out summer like tunes in a jovial fashion.
It finally was time to see one of my music crushes St. Vincent as she took the stage warmly greeting the crowd in a stunning eye catching orange dress that showed a bit of leg. Sorry about that I was daydreaming of Annie Clark again, exhale. With her angelic soft voice, St Vincent entranced the crowd as she stomped around stage shredding on her guitar with vigor. Each song these pleasant vignettes fantastically presenting real life situations exhibiting contrasting qualities of both sweet yet very dark. After shooting as many images possible of Annie and her supporting band I found a nearby tree to sit back and enjoy the magical orchestrations of St Vincent. After a brief break, and getting advice from another photographer I headed to Major Lazer's set for a “can't miss” performance. Not too familiar but game, I was pleasantly surprised to find white Chinese dragons dancing about stage as blonde mohawked Major Lazer roused the crowd exciting them with a theatrical stage presence. Accompanying him onstage were two attractive scantily clad young ladies shaking and wiggling their bodies every which way surely arousing the male aspect of the audience. Definitely playing it up for the crowd Lazer and his female cohorts did everything from long guzzles of Hennessey, eye popping positions and practically copulating each other about stage. Not having any expectations I have to say this was the most fun performance I witnessed today, creating a lot of excitement and retaining such intensity regardless of the blistering heat.
Now brace yourselves as this next hour became crazy intense and the weariness of a weekend festival set in with aches in my shoulder and an overbearing headache, but with what lasting strength I forged on with the nostalgic teenage excitement to see Pavement close out this year's festivities. This being my last opportunity I headed over to the press tent where some hot pizza was waiting to be eaten and I used up my last five beverage tickets on a cold beer and headed over to the photo line to once again be herded into the pit to await Big Boi's arrival on Stage C. As we all found the spot that would work the best dancing along as his DJ spins beats raising the crowd's anticipation with excitement. As expected he explodes out onto stage spitting out his rhymes in a warp speed moving just as fast back and forth onstage making for a difficult target to hone in on. He kept the crowd on their toes mixing tracks from his most recent solo work, Sir Luscious Leftfoot...and previous Outkast favorites re energizing those not yet familiar with the new material. With much concern that with the numerous delays of the release, Patton may have lost his rap game that sometimes diminishes with overproduction of album. This is sooo not the case as the 5'7 Atlanta native reminded everyone why he and his tall cohort had such a presence in the hip-hop world ten years ago, not missing a beat showcasing classic aesthetics and a eye popping stage show and a live backup band jamming along to boot. I stayed and grooved for as long as I could before belting over to Stage B evening headliners, Sleigh Bells who were finishing up their sound checks. I have to admit, this was one set I was most anticipating as unfortunately timing did not synch for us in Austin and every opportunity to catch them then were missed. After seemingly a check that took forever, Derek Miller momentarily appears to start an introductory death metal track that played all the way through before the Brooklyn duo returned to stage with a dynamic intensity rousing crowd to an explosion of cheers. Lead singer, Alexis Krauss a much harder target to photograph wore a web-like knitted dress over her 80s era shorts,tights and tank outfit. The volume turned all the way up, she had the crowd eating out of her hands as at times unfortunately her vocals were faint and drowned in Miller's reverberating dissonance. Continuously creeping towards the edge of the stage, Krauss leaned into the crowd orchestrating the crowd's buoyant response who were excitedly singing along. With these final sets so close together Photographers were quickly escorted back towards press check in to line up for headliners Pavement; I did hear from some friends SB's set improved as Krauss made numerous dives into the sea of fans and left the crowd intoxicated with excitement.
Please excuse me as the sixteen year old me reviews the final performance of the weekend's festivities. Winning the luck of the draw, I made it into the pit with the first wave of photographers as we listened to the rowdy crowd anxiously and rudely booing Pavement's lead in, Q101 former shock jock, Ryan Rockin' Murphy. His long winded intro beckoned the audience's gratitude for his tiring attempts to break the band in the early 90s, as he sidestepped objects thrown at the stage by the impatient fans. Finally after an unending interlude the band walk onto stage thanking Murphy for his comic relief and strapping on their guitars ready to jam amping the crowd up even more as the first notes begin..Wait!!! Stephen Malkmus is having amp issues which noone had noticed and let's try this again. With the strum of the guitar and the high pitched hoots the set begins with “Cut your Hair” singing with ease and familiarity as though these seventeen years have allowed them to evolve as musician yet retained the angst filled sound that had many teenagers blaring their music from their room in revolt. Thrilled and grateful to be taking the stage this weekend, Stephen greets the crowd momentarily before continuing the eloquent cacophony that had the overfilled park singing and dancing along. The beauty of bringing in a nostalgic ridden headliner like Pavement, is the fact that their setlist will essentially play out like a greatest hits album allowing the audience to drum up their memories to favorites and also reveal a new appreciation for a younger generation of fans. Bob Nastanovich sat setup beside drummer Steve West playing an array of extra instruments pending on the song not to mention his ageless raspy yell as he handled many of the choruses and extra vocals. So many memories flooding my cerebral cortex triggering a mixture of emotions good and bad as I take in the last of this year Pitchfork Festival. Especially at the meat of the set with personal favorites, “Spit on a Stranger”, “Range Life” and “Trigger Cut”. A quarantine of the past end capped a festival of the now, with many emerging bands drawing from their youthful inspirations in their music from bands like Modest Mouse and Pavement closing a chapter on another congregation of the “intellectual” music fans and hipsters. Sweet dreams Pitchfork, until next year. I am headed to Lincoln Hall to see my friends Local Natives close out the weekend in style.