Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pitchfork 2010

My third trip to what is fast becoming the most respected music festival in America was easily the one I was most excited about. Headliners included Pavement, my favorite band of all time, and LCD Soundsystem, whose live show remains one of the best concerts I've ever seen. The remaining acts were similarly enticing and I was really jazzed heading into the fest. And so, Pitchfork 2010:

Sharon Van Etten

I had never heard anything from Sharon Van Etten before Friday and had no real expectations regarding her set. I was really surprised, then, to find that her folksy guitar playing and ghostly voice were beyond engaging. While a singer-songwriter might not have been the best possible kickoff to the festival, her set was consistently engaging and her playing and singing revealed exactly the kind of emotive catharsis that Conor Oberst aspires to. Definitely a talent to keep an eye on.

Tallest Man on Earth

Kristian Matsson made multiple references in his set to being both overheated and terribly jetlagged, but if he was you couldn't tell. At one point, my friend Brandon leaned over to say "I'm mad about how good at guitar he is." Also, he writes better in his second language than I do in my first. While two singer-songwriters was a bit of a slow way to start the weekend, it was a thrill to see a human as talented as Matsson play a set. The Wild Hunt is one of the year's best and "King of Spain" is just as great live as on record.


Going into the Liars set, I was terrified what their music would seem like live. After they began playing, however, and Angus Andrew revealed himself as a hilarious and engaging frontman, my fears evaporated. The band delivered a tight set that featured a nice mix of songs and a Bauhaus cover that sounded right at home. I've read some derogatory things about this show, but from my point of view they were great. My friends and I left a bit early, however, to get closer for...


The day's best show came courtesy of Sweden's most revered pop starlet. Robyn hit the stage wearing sunglasses, a jacket, and a sexy gray dress, two thirds of which were gone after the first number ("Fembot"). The rest of her set featured her recklessly charming dancing, go-for-broke vocals, and thrilling music. In addition to being a sexually confident pop star, she also came across as endearingly realistic when she thanked the audience and said she was glad the crowd was so excited, since she "had never played Pitchfork before and didn't have any expectations." While she favored Body Talk Vol. 1, she did deliver some hits from her self-titled album of '08. Highlights included "Dancing on My Own" and "Be Mine." An absolute triumph.

Broken Social Scene

To be honest, I wasn't that excited for Canada's second-best supergroup. The first BSS concert I saw was good, but I don't spend much time with their records these days. As it turns out, though, I'm wrong and everyone else is right because they were great. It was a typically anthemic set but their particular brand of indie rock is, if nothing else, consistently rewarding and lends itself to a live show. I missed the presence of any of the famous female group members but thought the girls they had onstage did an admirable job. Also, frontman Kevin Drew's closing line--"Hope isn't just a word, it's a fucking responsibility!"--was a highlight of the day.

Free Energy

I was really excited about Free Energy and arrived about one minute into their first song. Their debut record, Stuck on Nothing, is a power pop fan's wet dream that crams hooks, harmonies and soaring vocals into every square inch. Their set didn't disappoint, either, as they played all the highlights of that release (with the best being lead single "Bang Pop") and a new song. If the guitarist from Thin Lizzy had played with the Beatles, it would have sounded a lot like this.


I hadn't heard Subiza before this concert, but afterward I immediately picked it up. My second favorite show of Saturday, the Spanish band played a joyous set that felt a lot like a Cut Copy show. Indie rock's biggest problem is that it's music directed at guys with beards, but Delorean incorporates a much needed sense of dancy fun. The keyboard player was really, REALLY into it, dancing between his two synths and really drawing in the crowd. At one point, I turned to Jeff and said that it would be really fun to be blind high for this particular show. Regardless, they were great.

Titus Andronicus

This was my third time seeing TA and first after The Monitor, their excellent sophomore release. They still have the same energy that made me love them initially and it was great to hear them in such a massive venue. The crowd was thrilled to be there and it was a generally rewarding, if not exceptional, set. The new material sounds great live and these guys have a promising future. Personal note: a supercute girl asked if she could have a picture with me during this show because she liked my "McNulty is My Dad" shirt. Cool!


I'll admit that I was very nervous about this show. The last time I saw Raekwon here--with Ghostface in 2008--it was a bit disappointing. To compound matters, the set started late and with technical difficulties. Once everything was smoothed out, though, Raekwon KILLED. He played a set heavy with Wu-Tang classics, including "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' to Fuck Wit'" and "C.R.E.A.M." Also, the set of pre-teen break dancers that he brought out were priceless. Excellent.

Wolf Parade

I had seen these guys once before and they played a competent, if somewhat disinterested, show. Tonight, however, they were much tighter and much livelier. They cranked out as many songs as possible, with keyboardist Spencer Krug commenting at one point that they didn't have much to say and were going to play as much as they could. The set reached a high point with Spencer's "Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts," although I really enjoyed Dan Boeckner's "This Heart's on Fire" and "Palm Road." The band was obviously uncomfortable, however, as Spencer referred to them as being "drunk with the sun" more than once. Also of note: endearing moments when Spencer asked us to greet tour manager Todd and Dan dedicated a song to his wife.

LCD Soundsystem

There are few bands in the whole world with whom I have a more complex relationship than LCD Soundsystem. I hated the whole dancepunk genre when I first came to it in 2005 but eventually came around after hearing their song "Movement." I first saw them in November of '05 and, very drunk, almost left the show before the band came on but ended up thinking it was the best concert I'd ever seen. Their 2007 release Sound of Silver remains my favorite of that year and deserves some further commentary. Their 2005 self-titled record is an entertaining party-to-go, Sound of Silver is an absolute masterpiece that features some of the best music--indie or otherwise--of the past fifty years. Foremost among these is "All My Friends," a song that is as good--no exaggeration--as any of Shakespeare's plays. I told Jeff on Friday night that if I found out James Murphy had blacked out when he wrote "All My Friends," I wouldn't be surprised because humans shouldn't be able to do things that good. And for as good as they were when I saw them in '05, they were legendary on Saturday night.

To start, we were less than 20 feet from the stage. To warm up the crowd, the PA blasted "Electric Avenue" by Eddie Grant. My friend Adrienne said "If they go this crazy for 'Electric Avenue', what will they do for LCD?" And then it happened...

Opening with "Us V. Them." the band blasted onstage with more energy than all the other shows of the day combined. Following that with "Pow Pow," James Murphy had the crowd eating out of his hand. The highlight of the set, of course, was "All My Friends," during which I could have dropped dead and been happy. I have literally never been more thrilled in my whole life than I was during the "...see all my friends tonight" outro. "I Can Change," "Movement," "Daft Punk is Playing at My House," "Tribulations," and "New York, I Love You/Empire State of Mind" were other highlights. Although they weren't my favorite, LCD were undeniably the best show of the whole weekend, and probably the best live band in America right now. James Murphy is an absolute genius--a topic for a later time.


Chicago's own Alla kicked off Sunday's fest and turned in a fine performance of My Bloody Valentine-esque dreamy rock. Worth keeping an eye on.

Best Coast

Definitely my surprise hit of the festival. I'd never heard any of their stuff before, but Bethanny Cosentino's surfy vocals and mopey lyrics paired with the band's power pop sound was something special. Worth seeing, for sure.


I had heard negative things about their live show, but for my money, the band delivered on the promise of their 2009 record. Lots of noise, lots of melody. "Hellhole Ratrace" and the ear-splitting guitar squall afterward were great. A solid set.

Beach House

Dreamy, poppy vocals wafting over a crowd of hipsters. Their release from this year is a masterpiece. A brilliant set. Fuck the haters.

Surfer Blood

A very competent and engaging set from a power pop group. Didn't blow me away, but did make me happy about their existence. Good job.

Major Lazer

WOW!!! FUN TIMES!!!!!! Seriously, see these guys live. Diplo Rulz indeed.

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for:


First of all, my big complaint:

Rian Murphy sucks.

I realize he co-founded Drag City, a great label. And I realize that his whole intro was a joke. Look, WE ALL GET IT. The big joke was that everyone who was younger than 28 left before Pavement started. But some of us didn't. And even so, we paid to see PAVEMENT. Not that living endorsement for late-term abortion. So fuck that guy. Even if it was a joke, and even if the "right" people got it, there were people there who didn't. I (pretty much) knew what was up and I was still REALLY pissed off. He took up at least two songs worth of time with his fucking "comedy." And FUCK YOU Jim DeRogatis and FUCK YOU AV Club for acknowledging its funniness. It wasn't fucking funny. It was an annoying waste of time for people who had paid to see a band, not a load that should have been swallowed, Drag City or no. So fuck you Drag City.

Now, I realize that I love Pavement more than anything. I love them in the way you're supposed to love: uncritically, without reason, seeing only the best. Everything I've read about their set was sort of couched in the same ennui that you hear in every Pavement song, but from where I'm standing it was excellent. I'm not going to get (m)any? more chances to see these guys play these songs and it was a truly transcendent experience. I love Malkmus more than anyone else on the planet and he gave me exactly what I wanted. "Gold Soundz," "Unfair," "Frontwards," Debris Slide," "Cut Your Hair," Stop Breathin,'" "Here," "Trigger Cut," all great. I realize that Pavement doesn't give a shit about me, but that's not why I like them. You are what you love, not what loves you. And I loved this concert.

The highlight was "Grounded," among my favorite of their songs and a gorgeous, lilting guitar ballad that sums up the nonchalance and engagement of Malkmus's lyrics. The lone Spiral song, "Kennel District," was a fine choice and a great performance, but they knew no one was there to hear him sing. I realize that there are a lot of bad vibes around their breakup and the reunion, that it's only for cash, that they don't care for each other anymore and that it was a just okay concert that I (and a lot of other people, no doubt) glorified into a heroic triumph. But if you stood where I stood and you felt like I felt that Sunday night, you couldn't say that. From where I was, it was heaven.

Now I realize it's not the job of a music critic to lavish praise, and that's fine. But what pisses me off is how dismissive they are of the set Pavement played. I'm sure they were better on the Crooked Rain tour when they didn't hate each other. Maybe they will be better when they get tighter later in the tour. But fuck off if you think for a second that shitting on them will make people like them any less. It's shit like this that makes me happy about the irrelevance of the critic--and I say this as someone who used to write reviews and get hate mail for a living.

I have millions of things to say about Malkmus and Pavement, and I'm sure I'll eventually get it all out. But for now, that was my favorite concert. And I'm not sure I'll ever love anything more.

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