Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pitchfork 2009 Recap

It has been seven days since the Flaming Lips concluded the three-day event at Union Park, and I cant even begin to explain the week that has occurred since its conclusion. It was a weekend of difficult deadlines and sporadic tastes of wonderful live music. The weather varied from a steady drizzle at times to breezy, sunny days and no one can forget the mild temperatures in the evening begging for a hoodie. As usual this did not deter the endless amounts of hipsters and (enter stereotypical label here) who made the daily trek to this otherwise quieted park in the West West loop, taking refuge with their new favorite peculiar sounding bands. My studio is literally 3 blocks away so it almost felt as though I was walking through my backyard to see the plethora of bands that are now regulars on my daily play lists. With an unbelievable opportunity falling in my lap literally the evening prior to the onset of Pitchfork I had to reevaluate my plans, making sure I got to see the priorities on my list. Ultimately I can say it was a memorable weekend.

Day 1: Built to Spill

I knew going into this year’s festival, not having too much experience or past with the majority of Friday’s bill I mostly wanted to see Built to Spill. If you read my previous entry about BTS they played a pivotal role in the evolution of my music taste. There has been rumor for three years of a new album, which sounds like may become true in October, There is No Enemy. Regardless, as excited as I was to hear new tracks, I knew with the “Write the Night” set list to expect an evening of classics. I arrived at the tail end of Jesus Lizard’s set, reminiscent of my 90s high school era, but didn’t follow enough to have a discussion about. I was able to collect my thoughts and phase out the all-encompassing festivalgoers who may have arrived after happy hour to catch the entire evening. The weather was balmy and grey with a chance of storms. The band casually walks onstage and begins to jam, opening up with “Liar”. I am not sure if they were attempting to get comfortable or if this was their natural demeanor but there was such concentration in the onset of their play. Doug Martsch has such a reserved delivery when he sings, you almost expect a large booming voice but much like his lyrics its more delicate and controlled than anything else. It does not seem like he switches guitars at all as we are four songs in and each break is silent as he tunes the guitar. The guys are falling in sync and the show moves into the next gear, finishing up with “You Were Right” it’s like watching an army of guitars.
Finally making casual talk, Doug compliments the aroma of fumes that have made their way towards stage. Commentary was made about the possibility of WB halting the October release of their new album. Moving into “Kicked It In the Sun” like many of the songs thus far has a noticeable rise and fall of tempo. As much as it seems like a great idea to allow the fans to selects the songs to be played and knowing Doug’s desire for perfection (aim to build a more cohesive sounding set) I don’t know if it’s a concept that allows a band like BTS who has a tendency to elaborate on wherever their music takes them. I look around as my drunken surrounding bellow out requests, I laugh to myself. Rain has now began to fall steadily and it appears as though Doug has left his consciousness…Wow!!! The band powers through their set resembling mini symphonies being played simultaneously. It is always intriguing to see the natural tendencies present in a live performance. Doug has this convulsion like movement as he sings, delivering each and every concentrated line. There is a nice balance though across the board of songs mixing nostalgic favorites like “Big Dipper” and more recent “In Your Mind”. Doug stands back nodding his head in a confrontational manner between verses. There is something very beautiful about a band finding their harmony and grooving it out onstage. It is as though the crowds disappeared and we’re in this musty old garage or farmhouse, watching this untouched craft. This artist’s personal gem built upon by their various layers of creativity, what an unpredictable magic. It is pure comedy watching the myriad sections of the crowd explode with gratitude as their favorites are played. To conclude the evening Doug thanks everyone and begins “Carry the Zero.” It is like a sea of convulsions and spasms of musical nirvana as the crowd bop their heads and find their own methods to dance along with the melody. As the lines stream out of the park, my ear buds go in to avoid solicitors and heading back to the studio with a rejuvenated creative focus and a late night ahead of me, inspired and excited to return for day 2.

Day 2: The Antlers, The National and Everyone else...

Walking in with at least a handful of bands excited to see on Saturday, knowing that my schedule was already prohibiting me from seeing Cymbals Eat Guitar. I was very persistent to make The Antlers first showing in Chicago. A primary objective to get a full day worth of great music and to avoid the annoying nuances that sometimes come with festival environs. Especially given this turned out to be my final day at Pitchfork, opportunities disallowed me from returning for Sunday’s lineup.
The Antlers played Stage B: and seemed to have attracted a decent crowd, enough for Peter Siberling to comment. Off the bat, the band builds a strong ambience of sound; Darcy Cicci the keyboardist, emulating an organist on Sunday service while a hunched over Peter perfectly wails out lines of “Kettering”. I realize as I type this, one could question my psyche’s development from my upbringing in a Catholic private school, but Peter has a tendency in between verses to face the drummer, Michael Lerner, much like a Roman Catholic priest delivering a musical sermon. The Antlers live do an excellent job at recreating that personal journey one can take with their music, a remedy much needed to drown out the cackles and fumes from the surrounding crowds. The set is definitely set up as an annotated version of their new album, Hospice. In our interview, the fictional character Peter most related himself to was Kevin Arnold from TV’s The Wonder Years. This is quickly realized as you see him dancing onstage tearing into his guitar in a short sleeve plaid shirt. They smoothly transition us into “Bear” the fourth of the set, and the inattentive mumblers of the crowd finally look up. I was a bit disappointed with the sound boards at this point, on no fault of the band, I would have hoped for less volume on the keyboards as Peter’s voice was little lost. But hey, it was outdoors. Anyway, regardless it was a beautiful buildup at the end as Peter thanks the crowd again along with Pitchfork. A little drizzle falls from the sky as “Two” the next to last song of the set begins, and the band conclude appropriately with “Epilogue”. An amazingly big voice, it’s an awe-inspiring thing when someone’s voice live can recreate the same chills when first hearing their album. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Antlers!!! WOW!!! Its pretty intriguing how the rain fell throughout their somber ridden set and clears out with the end of their performance. I feel like I’m starting this day off on the right bat.
Moving onto the rest of the day, it became very difficult for me to settle down and focus on anyone’s full set. Much like a pinball I bounced all over the place, I’m sure running into friends who had no specific preference of bands they wanted to see until later in the afternoon. The energy coming off stage from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart on Stage A was pretty amazing and seemed rather contagious as they drew was sizable and participatory. Back to the Bowerbirds on B, who’s sweet and tender set remedies the fact the masses of crowds are getting larger. I have to admit Owen Pallett’s side project, Final Fantasy was something I knew very little about. But the way he played his violin was absolutely mesmerizing. I was completely pulled toward Stage C, where this one-man act was set up on the front right hand corner of the stage, but eloquently playing this modern symphony of emotion. One mostly assumes that violin lessons are parental enforced activities but the thought sometimes alludes me that maybe this generation of younger siblings actually enjoyed what they learned. It is becoming more of a trend to see these multi-talented musicians who are creating these orchestrated pieces of music that aren’t necessarily incorporating the standard 3-piece outfit. For one of the final songs in his set, Zach Condon of Beirut joined Owen on stage integrating a horn section for a track that will be on the upcoming Final Fantasy album. This is an example of the still positive aspects in music festivals. The discovery and excitement of a newly stumbled upon musician as the obvious drive and creative obsession from that artist is stimulating and can be a bright spot in the overbearingly annoying crowds of people who sometimes appear not to care about the music. The afternoon at this point began to blur together as there were pleasant sounds coming from the stages nothing that really enraptured me enough to struggle through the labyrinth of passed out drunks sprawled out on the ground catching a breather. Our group was looking forward to Beirut’s performance so we killed what time was left replenishing ourselves while people watching. I was also at this point mapping out Sunday’s schedule of shows still unknowing that I wasn’t going to be able to return.
Beirut played Stage A: and definitely attracted a decent crowd while it was noticeable that some folks were already claiming stake for the evening’s closers The National. This is a first time for me, as I am not too familiar with all of Beirut’s music but have always known I would enjoy it regardless. The sound is very similar to an old bandstand sextet playing next to the track at an old European train station. If the fictional French character “Amelie” had a male counterpart I don’t doubt it would be the music of Beirut, as you are transported to a small mountain town, it’s the old world instrumentation. There is culturally rich flavor to the sound and re imagines lives of those old family black & whites. Ultimately, I did move over towards Stage C, since The National was a big reason that I stayed throughout the day, but really enjoyed the remainder of the set and added Beirut to my regular play list.
In the bath of blue lights, The National arrives on stage and introduces themselves. The first song, “Runaway” is something new, slower tempo, the crowd is quieting taking the song in; as stragglers still file into empty spots. Matt Beringer takes a sip from his beverage and the guitars launch us into “Start a War”. The stage appears to be very crowded, something of a horn section peeks out from the right hand side, along with a violinist/keyboardist and not to mention the brothers Dessner and Devendorf all flank Matt’s baritone melodies. There is an effortlessness to their delivery, as they seem to make it appear very easy and graceful. Matt mentions something about the next song about it being a jam or no jam that tonight will be jam, “Vanderlylle Cry Baby”. These small hints of what we’re to expect are very promising. Aaron Dessner, plays his guitar with a bow in hand sparks my curiosity if they’re experimenting at all with their sound. There’s a casualness to Matt’s demeanor as he watches the brothers play, as though they were jamming on the back porch of a house. A build up and production is made as everyone toasted the next song “Squalor Victoria”. Matt’s blood is pumping as he screams, “Squalor Victoria!!!” I am reminded of old Nirvana tracks by some of the guitar feedback and dissonance that begins “Abel”. The tempo is then slowed down as the echoes of the Black Lips’ screeches are in the background; the snare and orchestrated claps lead us into “All the Wine”. The keyboard begins; “Fake Empire” presumably will return us to their regularly scheduled higher tempo show. By the end of the song the Dessners are raising their guitars, as the violin wails.
After thanking Pitchfork, Bryce Dessner notes their last visit in Chicago was in 95°weather as he is presently bundled up in a hoodie. The third and final new song of the evening is titled “Blood Buzz” and begins with a drum heavy and horny (haha) mid tempo track. The set is concluded with the wildly popular “Mr. November”. Matt’s voice unwinds a bit through the chorus and he ultimately jumps into the crowd, sitting up facing us, screaming the chorus at the top of his lungs. The band returns to stage for an encore song "Daughter of a Soho Riot"; the violinist strums his instrument like a uke. There is this I daresay epic sound in how they deliver their music and a variety of how a band chooses to jam out a song. I file out with the rest of the crowd stepping over the passed out hurriedly zipping through my play lists wanting to review the daylong list of sets and to revisit the highlights of the day. I was also eager to attempt to finish up some pressing work that needed to get accomplished in order to return in a timely manner for the festival’s final day, which also included a large number of the bands I had been anticipating.

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