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Pitchfork Music Festival 2010

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Many great and wondrous things happened at the 2010 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. In its fourth year the festival continued its musical taste-making reputation and showcased a mix of over 40 stalwart and emerging bands in indie-rock, dance and hip hop. And with the help of headliners — Pavement, Modest Mouse, Broken Social Scene and LCD Soundsystem — Pitchfork’s three day passes sold out within a week of going on sale, a first ever for the festival. Toss in the addition of the new Friday night stand-up comedy stage, and the festival was primed to succeed, once again, as one of the today’s premier live music experiences.

Knowing Pitchfork’s reputation for being a haven for hipsters, it was no surprise to see a high amount of trendy beards, mustaches, skinny and rolled up jeans cruising around the grounds. Sure, that’s the scene every year. And, yes, there was the usual throng of teens and twenty-somethings cruising between the three stages, Flatstock market and on-site record store.

Beside the music, what makes Pitchfork such a great time is watching the fans respond to the music and noticing how each year reveals a new stage in the evolution of the Pitchfork fan and concert experience. And what stood out the most this year, was the increase amount of moms and dads carrying around babies in nylon chest holsters. Seeing the babies strapped to their parent’s chest was a fantastic sight to behold. And it always made me smile each time I looked over during a set and saw the little ones rocking out and sporting those ultra-cute protective headphones. With out a doubt, the increased babies sightings confirmed that the Pitchfork “crowd” has definitely grown older but still knows how to rock. And more importantly they’ve begin to spawn the next generation of indie-rockers.

During the weekend, over 54,000 fans packed into Chicago’s Union Park. And together, the masses collectively warred against the raging summer heat and looming dehydration which turned out to be the second most discussed topic besides the music. So much so that on Friday Festival organizers graciously and wisely announced that the price of bottled water was reduced from $2 to $1 and that fans in the first row would be given free water to avoid any dangerous situations.

But the 90 degree-plus temps didn’t stop fans from finding their groove or getting lost in the rock, rumble and thump of sonic pleasure that rolled through the weekend. Though it would be excellent if modern science could create a way to magically teleport music fans back and forth through time and across the festival grounds, so we can experience multiple bands at the same time and not worry about missing our favorite artist’s great set or the new buzz band. But the truth is, you can’t see all the bands. But you can see most of the bands if you try hard enough and don’t mind some minor speed-strolling between the stages.

So that’s what we did. We bounced back and forth between stages (sadly, like normal human beings without sci-fi time portal devices). We munched on bratwursts and big legs of BBQ chicken when it was time to chill and eat. And we chugged down umpteen bottles of water together all in the name of proper human hydration and the love of live music.

So, here’s what happened, day-by-day, as we set out to conquer Pitchfork Music Festival 2010.

It’s all in there: the good, the blah and the totally fantastic.

Friday: Day One

The first day of Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 wasn’t off the charts, but it wasn’t a complete letdown either. It was somewhere in the middle. The best showings came from Swedish electro-rocker Robyn, two of indie rock’s most beloved and celebrated bands Broken Social Scene and Modest Mouse.

Swedish electronic firestarter Robyn bounced around on the stage like she was auditioning for Flashdance 2. Besides, her energetic aerobic visuals, her sonic weapons of distraction — “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What To Do” and other tracks from her latest album Body Talk Part 1 — succeeded triumphantly in diverting our minds from thinking about late-afternoon swelter.

Then as evening approached the weather cooled off just enough as a welcomed breeze blew through Union Park giving one of the largest Pitchfork crowds to date welcomed relief from the heat.

The sun began to set and the masses claimed their piece of lawn kicking back in camping chairs and relaxing on blankets, while others squished together shoulder to shoulder to settle in for the final two sets.

The last time I saw Broken Social Scene was during a stripped-down mini-backstage concert last year at Rothbury Music Festival. And Friday’s show was a grand return in full stereo. With most of the Canadian supergroup back on stage together there was no shortage of smiles and good vibes being volleyed between the band and fans. Adding more love to the scene, leadsinger Kevin Drew expressed his gratitude to the Chicago crowd multiple times explaining how they loved recording the new album in Chicago.

The set’s first moments went by beautifully in slow motion as fans swayed and swooned to the subtle purr and ethereal rock of “World Sick.” And then the band kicked up the pace and dove deeper into other tracks from their latest Forgiveness Rock Record (2010).

Ushering in Friday’s finale, Modest Mouse glided through an understated, albeit solid set tracks from the band’s first album to the most recent, but electing not to play the fan favorite “Float-On.”

Modest Mouse has always put on a live show full of emotion and vulnerability. But after their set finished it felt odd to have them be the Friday night closer, instead of Broken Social Scene, mainly because Modest Mouse didn’t play any new songs from their forthcoming album, while BSS has a new record to celebrate. And celebrate it they did.

The live comedy was a great addition to the Pitchfork experience and I would have liked to see more of it throughout the weekend but it was only offered on Friday Night on the Balance stage. And after talking with fans, it sounded like Eugene Mirman stole the show and pulled no punches as he riffed on Pitchfork’s “mostly white crowd” and joked about Broken Social Scene’s “rock ‘n roll spaceship landing” as the sound bled over and muffled Mirman’s set.

Saturday: Day Two

We stormed into Day Two of Pitchfork Musical festival armed with sunblock, just enough sleep and the ability to transform human sweat in to drinking water. Well, maybe, we didn’t have that last superhero ability in our arsenal, but we did down plenty of the free Amp energy drink samples to jolt us through the day and send us buzzing into LCD Sound System’s set that was every bit of fantastic as we thought it would be.

But first.

Earlier in the afternoon, as the heat slow-boiled fans like poached eggs, New Jersey rock quartet Titus Andronicus raised the temp to 120 degrees instantly. They played a scorching set of songs led by their bearded frontman Patrick Stickles who led the charge like a determined, driven and fearless Ulysses S. Grant. Like army heading to victory they surged through a series of blistering and triumphant anthems, comforting and enlightening ballads from 2009’s The Airing of Grievances and finished the show with epic tracks from year’s follow-up The Monitor.

Moving towards the beats and rhymes portion of Pitchfork, I wish hip hop had a stronger showing on Saturday. And I’m sorry to report that the sets by Dam Funk, Raekwon and Freddie Gibbs surprisingly fell flat and fizzled.

Though Dam Funk and Gibbs have both released solid and promising mixtapes and albums, their sets just didn’t live up to the hype for several reasons — sound issues, awkward and trite gangsta poses, strange choices for live songs and a few unnecessary comments. So, unfortunately, I walked away from their shows wondering where the lyrical creativity, or the funk and freshness of their beats and rhymes had escaped to, because I sure as heck didn’t hear or feel much coming from their stage presence or from the music blasting through the speakers.

Why did Raekwon disappoint? Well, let’s just say this. Yes, much respect is due to all members of the Wu-Tang for their records and solo efforts. But still, all that collaborative energy and power on album for whatever reason just never seems to translate to a great live show — at all. And each time I see a Wu-Tang show, I always expect more from them. Raekwon’s solo set had its moments, but in the end I was left with only post-show head-hanging and longing for more.

But thankfully all the disappointment from Saturday afternoon didn’t last long as the evening quickly approached.

In one big burst of supernova proportions, Pitchfork Festival erupted in to a radical frenzy of emotion and freaked-out celebration as LCD Soundsystem unleashed the silly and ridiculous dance-party anthem “Drunk Girls” to start their set.

Then a few songs later the fervor hit full-throttle during “All My Friends.” Everywhere you looked fans were going bonkers in groups, creating crazy conga lines or even dancing nutsoid by themselves. The energy pulsing through the grounds felt like 10,000 gigawatts of pure emotional electricity. It was one gigantic disco-rock utopia as over 15,000 fans shook hips, flailed arms and joyously jigged their torsos on their way to magnificent oblivion.

Even if the sound issues annoyed them for a moment, that didn’t stop frontman James Murphy and his band of merry rhythm makers from feeding off the energy and never letting up for a second. Pitchfork has had some pretty epic nights in it’s young four year history, and this one ranked has to rank as one of the best. Until the last song sent us home, it was total rhythmic pandemonium and utter pleasure had by all at Union Park under the majestic moon-lit night sky.

Sunday: Day Three

As I headed to Union Park for the final day, I still had the glorious visions flashing before my eyes and euphoric feelings swimming around in my head from LCD Sound System’s transcendent show the day before. It was a sonic hangover for sure.

That said, I wasn’t sure if the finale could top Day Two. But it did. Mainly because of a perfectly planned pre-concert provocation AND a series of sizzling sets on that left jaws dropped and booties shaking.

As expected, both set by Beach House and St. Vincent were wonderfully woozy, wistful and perfectly delivered considering the lazy and hazy conditions all weekend due to the heat.

Beach House doused us gloriously in dreamy operatic visions of sorrow, peace and love via buzzing organ, heart-thumping drums and guitar.

St. Vincent, led by Annie Clark — who donned a bright yellow dress and comical circle shades — gripped us by the heart with her mix of avant-garde rock, twisted orch-pop and deftly orchestrated dose of jovial dance, trip-hop and old-school hip hop beats.

In contrast to the bright sun that sparkled above us, Clark led us on a voyage to a dark netherworld where the songs sounds beautiful to our ears, but the lyrics — if you listen closely — tell intriguingly creepy, twisted and sad stories of pain, anguish and heartache. But still, the way Clark pulled off her set shows that she is a master of disguise and she can adapt to her surroundings. She made due in the sun but she’s at her best when she’s performing the songs from her latest gem Actor (2009) in a darken venue at night.

Lightning Bolt won the award for the best surprise band of Pitchfork 2010. I knew absolutely nothing about this duo, that is until they unleashed an epic 45-minute set roaring with drums and bass that rolled right across my entire body like an mighty Midwestern thunderstorm pouring down hard rain and pelleting hail. And I’m proud to say that I am now a fan and have since gone back to see what I’ve been missing.

While waiting for Big Boi to go on it was time to take in Major Lazer’s carnival of freakish madness and mayhem which featured large Chinese dragons on stage.

Going for the big payoff and wow, Lazer poured on the WWE-ish entertainment, the best of which was a dramatic leap from the top of a ladder into the snarling pit of fans in the first row.

DJ/producer Diplo laid down the beats, a mashup of frantic garage, dancehall, techno and house. Sure, the music was sending fans into a frenzy. But in the end, all eyes were glued on Lazer. We all watched intensely with eyes wide open as he flew his freak flag high to the heavens all the while making excellent use of his backup duo of hype-ladies who knew exactly how to rock the crowd too.

For anyone who likes to “shake it like a Polaroid picture,” it’s still hard to listen live to only one half of Outkast. But Big Boi made it really easy to forgive the absence of Andre 3000, even if he did arrive a bit late to the show and reportedly jumped on stage a minute after his tour bus arrived.

Backed by a live band, a DJ and a soul-seething horn section, Big Boi fed off the crowd’s energy and dished out tracks from his latest solo effort Sir Luscious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty, a string of club-bangers and funky ghetto anthems (Follow Us & Shutterbug); plus a few crowd-pleasing big, bouncy and bass-rattling party jams. During each song, he slipped in and out of all his playful pimp-inspired characters to deliver the expected “Ms. Jackson” ballad and other OutKast classics.

Now, festival headliners are headliners for different reasons. And with Pavement being the final band playing Pitchfork 2010, and playing Chicago for the first time since 1999, you would think big things were in store for the music. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I love Pavement. I don’t. I know how influential they are and on album I think that have certainly recorded some of the best indie-rock ever lyrically and musically. But live the stuff just doesn’t work out at Pitchfork. The band seemed like they either they didn’t want to play or were still working out the cobwebs. And if I was a big fan of Pavement, I don’t know if I would want to see them like this. But I do think it would have made sense to let new fans discover them online during Pitchfork, more on that in a moment.

That said, as far as I’m concerned, the best part of the show came before Pavement went on stage. Picking up where the stand-up comedy on Friday Night left off, I laughed hard as Rocking Ryan Murphy, a shock jock from Q101 during the 90’s, introduced headliner Pavement with a hilarious tribute that was predetermined to rile the masses and get everyone fired up and pissed off.

According to various sources, Murphy was allegedly asked by the band to come up and introduce the Pavement because Murphy was one of their biggest supporters when other radio stations wouldn’t play them in the early 90’s. And as you watch the video below you’ll see just how rage-ready fans got during Murphy’s rant.

You can’t tell completely by watching the video, but things got nasty closer towards the stage. And according to Colleen, who was in the pit getting ready to shoot Pavement, during Murphy’s 5-plus minute rant fans expressed their growing dissatisfaction and started hurling bottles at Murphy, two of which hit Colleen and other photographers in the head.

Pitchfork triumphantly wrapped up on Sunday, then on Monday Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune reported that due to an alleged dislike for Pitchfork’s editorial staff in the past, a certain member of Pavement asked that their Sunday show not be streamed online even though most of the other shows at Pitchfork Music Festival were.

Yes, this seems like a lame thing to do, especially for a band like Pavement who didn’t get their props back in their prime.

So why stop more fans from discovering them now by not-broadcasting their concert online via livestream?

Well, I agree. It doesn’t make much sense on the band’s part to stop fans from watching at home.

But as Kot points out in his report, asking Pitchfork not to stream their show wasn’t something that only Pavement opted for during the Pitchfork Festival. Indie-rock darlings Broken Social Scene and rapper Big Boi also choose not to have their concerts streamed online via Pitchfork’s website.

Also, the aforementioned bands who didn’t want their live show streamed say that they did so to protect the purchases and the live experience of the fans who brought tickets.

Sure, that sounds like a reasonable explanation to a certain extent.

But then again it sounds completely ridiculous to compare watching online and being there at the live concert. Those are two VERY different experiences that serve two VERY different purposes for the band and the fans.

And whenever a band says they’re “protecting fans and their music” by opting out of the livestream online, the next controversial topic that comes up is the long-lasting debate over whether or not the internet is killing the music industry or keeping it alive.

My take on Pavement’s no-livestreaming decision is that especially with a festival like Pitchfork, where independent bands are trying to grow their audience and reach new fans, I would think that it would make complete sense for a band to say YES to livestreaming their concert.

That said, I don’t think groups like Big Boi, Broken Social Scene, or Sonic Youth during Pitchfork’s 2007 festival, are doing themselves or their fans any favors when they choose not to have their show livestreamed online.

Letting fans watch from home is not taking anything away from fans who paid for tickets. If anything, it stops new fans from discovering the band online and getting excited about going to see the band live — which ironically was Pavement’s problem in the first place. Radio wouldn’t play them in the early ’90s and they didn’t get their due back then, so why would the band pull the plug again when they have a tremendous chance to reach a new and younger audience?

And when you think about it, not doing a livestreaming is an even un-wiser and counterproductive move for any band in this day and age, especially when touring is how most bands make their money.

All no-livestreaming Pavement drama considered, Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 was still a successful three days of indie-rock, hipster and live music fan utopia. The experiences sent us all rocking and reeling and it was a welcomed escape at a decent price ($90 three-day passes) that continues to only get better with each passing year.

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About Chris Catania

  • Emm

    Wow! What a brilliant review! And I love the accompanying photos too – it is my aim to take concert photography of such a god quality. I agree about the streaming. Bands often dig their own graves by getting a hump about the wrong issues entirely.