Welcome to my first ever Tu(n)esday Concert Review! Wee.
Today, I will be recapping my one-day visit to the three-day Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago (to be heretofore referred to as "PMF" for the sake of my typing sanity). Why only one day? Well, spending more than $100 on concertgoing is one of those things I've not yet conditioned myself to believe is actually a worthwhile expenditure. Stupid adulthood and responsimibility.
My friend Eric and I attended PMF on Saturday, July 14. Originally we discussed going on Sunday as we were interested in seeing Vampire Weekend perform. Upon the initial announcement, we didn't feel like either of us really knew enough of the other Sunday bands to make us want to go that day. And Fridays always start later so we feel like we get more bang for our buck on a Saturday or Sunday. With a lineup that included Cloud Nothings, Cults, Sleigh Bells, Chromatics, Grimes, Hot Chip, and Wild Flag, Saturday was definitely the winner. And this despite my love of Japandroids who were a late addition to the Friday slate.
I arrived a couple hours before Eric did and was able to partake in Cloud Nothings. The threesome put on a fantastic show opening with a straight-forward take on their hit "Stay Useless" and following up with a handful of tracks that each led to extended jam sessions that were great fun. The only issue with the show was that, about five tracks in, the rain started. And it came down in sheets. The stage manager was off to the side giving the universal hand-across-throat sign to cut the show for safety's sake, but the band kept going. After about 10 minutes of non-stop jamming, the volume was slowly turned down until the guys realized they had no choice but to stop. Despite the rain, it was a lot of fun and I think I would definitely seek out a return visit by Cloud Nothings to Chicago for a future concert.
After things cleared up, Eric arrived and we listened to the Cults. While it wasn't a bad show, lead singer Madeline Follin's amps kept going out over the course of a couple songs. She clearly wasn't clued in to the issue as the video screen highlighted her belting out silence. But once they figured out what was happening, she and guitarist Brian Oblivion (isn't that a great last name?) kept the crowd pretty happy.
We wandered a bit after this and shopped the tents and shelters and whatnot as another quick burst of rain drenched the field yet again. The consistent threat of rain kept us under the shelters and we missed out on acts such as Chromatics over on the blue stage as a result.
Back at the red stage, when the weather broke, we checked out Wild Flag. This is a band I've been wanting to see since I first picked up the Portland-based quartet's debut album last year. They did not disappoint. Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony shared both lead guitar and vocal responsibilities and were able to whip the crowd in a nice, hyper-heated frenzy (yes, the sun came back out and turned us from rain-soaked to sweat-soaked in a matter of minutes). They opened with a cover of a track by Television and played for about an additional 40 minutes during which they hit on a number of tracks from their self-titled debut such as "Boom," "Glass Tambourine," and "Short Version," among others, before closing with what Brownstein dubbed the band's love song to men, "Romance." If there's ever a question about whether women can rock as hard as men, check out Wild Flag. See them live. Worth every penny.
The plan, at this point, was to head to the green stage to see Sleigh Bells. I'm a big fan of Alexis Krauss, her deceptively dulcet vocals, and the fear that she might at any moment jump into the crowd and rip a fan's head off. Not that she's ever done that, but if you look at her, the idea that it could happen just seems to find its way into your thought pattern. I can't really explain it. Sadly, though, we had to listen from afar. We had worked ourselves up to such great position relative to the red stage that we didn't want to give it up and stuck around in anticipation of Hot Chip's set.
Totally worth it, too. Hot Chip, a band I am familiar with but not necessarily a fan of at the time of the concert, was so ridiculously energetic with their blend of pop and electronic. It was very reminiscent of 2011's PMF performance by Cut Copy. Further proof to me that electronic music can definitely work in an outdoor venue. My only issue with the show was that being as close as I was, I wound up on the fringe of a mini mosh pit and became the target of a pair of crowd surfers. About the only time that entire day I regretted wearing flip-flops.
At this point, I could've called it a night and been happy about the decision. Eric and I wandered the grounds a bit more, bought some food, shopped the tents again, etc., while waiting for the evening's closers Godspeed! You Black Emperor (that's one name) and Grimes. I knew nothing about GYBE and had heard two singles and samples of the rest of the latest album from Grimes and didn't really care. I guess it was fully justified, though, as the GYBE show was putting us to sleep. The sun had set and there was no stage lighting at all so, as a result, there was no video display. I think there were actually a few people sleeping on the ground. It was also the smallest green stage closing crowd I've ever seen in four years of PMF attendance. Truly sad. People were steadily filing their way over to the blue stage to see if Grimes could pick things up at all.
I gotta admit that she did a decent job of re-energizing the emigrating masses. The problem lay in that the blue stage was bounded by trees on one side, food vendors on another, and the exterior fence on a third side. There was no way for more people to get in there to watch her even though they clearly wanted to. So they left.
I'm sorry, but the PMF organizers knobbed up the closing act on Saturday entirely. If they wanted sheer appeal and energy, they should've gone with either Sleigh Bells, which I've read had the largest crowd, or Hot Chip, which had in my estimation the highest energy level in terms of both musicality and crowd excitement. It blows my mind that PMF had Feist close on Friday and Vampire Weekend on Sunday (major tentpole acts) and yet they chose to have GYBE close on Saturday. Big letdown.
While I loved, loved, LOVED the sets from Cloud Nothings, Wild Flag, and Hot Chip, I think this was probably my least favorite PMF year. I was able to see The Flaming Lips and TV on the Radio close out the festival in 2009 and 2011, respectively, and was thoroughly impressed by the lineups on each of those days. And, even in 2010 when I noted how horrible the closing set was by Modest Mouse, it was still a better overall experience than the 2012 Saturday show wound up. Well, I guess you can't win them all. At least I didn't have to deal with the dull roar caused by the appearance on the side of the stage by Lady Gaga during Kendrick Lamar's performance on Sunday. I'm glad she didn't perform.
Would I go to PMF again? Heck yeah. It's still one of the greatest collections of live performances by independent musicians in the whole of the United States. And at a mere $45 per day, it's worth it. No question. Even with the heat, rain, audio issues, and occasional questionable performance.
Oh, and don't forget to check out my photos below. If you can't see the slideshow, check out the set on Flickr.