As Pitchfork President Chris Kaskie told me recently (on behalf of Blogcritics Magazine), he was excited about this year's Pitchfork Music Festival because it showcased the most diverse lineup to date. Unfortunately, when it was all said and done, the lineup's diversity didn't keep it from being an overall lackluster musical experience.
So why was the festival such a downer this year? Well, as I looked back on the weekend I realized the letdown stemmed from a few major things.
For starters, I tell you that one of the reasons I go to Pitchfork Music Festival is to experience emerging music, and to see if the buzz-bands that Pitchfork champions on their website are as good live as they are on record, which is always the true test of a great band.
That said, in the previous five years that I’ve gone to Pitchfork, the ratio of blah buzz bands to worthy buzz bands has always been less blah and more worthy. But this year, that ratio was other way around and there was a lot of mediocre sets to sit through.
And as the weekend rolled on, one thing became very obvious: playing live and doing it well is one of the hardest things a band (new or veteran) will ever attempt to do. And the fact is that some bands either have what it takes and they are instantly awesome live, while other bands take months or even years to develop their live show into an experience that demands our attention. And historically, most Pitchfork bands are emerging bands that haven’t had a whole lot of live show experience yet, or they’re a band that are just better experienced on record or in a darkened club at night. Which is why trying to rock a crowd with just a laptop and mic in the middle of the day doesn’t usually translate into a memorable show.
So here’s my very short list of three bands that defined my Pitchfork Festival experience and thankfully made me forget about the energy-sucking 98-degree heat: Tune-Yards, DJ Shadow and TV on the Radio. And then I’ll tell you why Odd Future relied way too much on cupcakes and controversy.
I still have visions of Tune-Yards’ set running through my heart and soul. The music that Merrill Garbus conjures on stage with her backing band is so sweet, seductive and immersing that you can’t help but be instantly pulled into her sonic portraits of love, joy, pleasure and pain. Under the canopy of trees at the Blue Stage, Garbus came out for a quick sound check to tweak her snare drum, then came back with her band to dazzle us with deft live looping, masterful percussion work, and crooning that somehow simultaneously channels Prince, Sam Cooke and Captain Beefheart.