The lineup for the 2010 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival was heavily weighted towards the young bucks of independent music; this year, it’s a more even-handed mix of familiar stalwarts and up-and-comers. On the whole, it’s one of the most consistently strong lineups in the festival’s recent history — well worth braving Chicago’s relatively tiny Union Park as it gets packed to the bursting point with neon Ray-Bans, sweaty beards, and people gettin’ cranky standing in the Threadless booth’s unbelievably long line. Prefix contributors Chris Bosman and Susannah Young give your the lowdown on some of the 2011 lineup highlights, what it’s like to see these artists live, plus a few personal anecdotes.
Prefix will also be bringing you coverage of the festival, held July 15-17.
Band: Guided By Voices
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: In 2004, Robert Pollard announced he was calling it quits with Guided By Voices, setting into motion a “farewell tour” — which, in the grand tradition of notable musicians’ farewell tours, wasn’t much of a farewell. The Pollard-termed “classic” (read: Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes) Voices lineup — Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennell, Greg Demos — reunited last year to play Matador’s 21st anniversary party in Vegas, which turned out to be a kind of gateway drug into a national tour…which led to a few more live dates, etc. Voices’ set at the 2011 Pitchfork Festival (once again featuring the “classic” 1993-1996 lineup) is one of a handful of national tour dates this year. So much for the farewell — but was there ever any doubt in anyone’s mind that Pollard is a lifer? When you’ve been at it since 1983, your catalogue includes more than 1,000 songs, and you’re nurturing multiple side projects, no one’s ever going to believe you if you say you’re calling it quits.
It’s always seemed easy for Guided by Voices to to a) put a live show together, and b) pack a lot of material into said show, because short-and-sweet lo-fi songs are the band’s bread and butter. The Voices live experience is all about excess: lengthy set lists where the band plays deep into their gargantuan catalogue, Pollard getting drunker and drunker as the night goes on. It’s a unique kind of rowdy that works equally well in a dank, dingy club and at a festival surrounded by a throng of rabid fans.
Susannah says: In high school, I heard “Watch Me Jumpstart” blaring over the speaker system of my favorite record store and that marked the beginning of my abiding love for Guided by Voices. A highlight from this torrid one-sided affair: hijacking the TV from my college roommates to watch the band on Austin City Limits, one of GBV’s (supposedly) final shows. Sorry you’ll never know how that episode of Extreme Home Makeover ends, ladies.
Catch them at the festival: Friday at 6:25PM on the Green Stage
Guided by Voices “Tractor Rape Chain”:
Band: Animal Collective
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: Subtle music doesn’t often translate all that well live, and the delicate, nuanced, genre-hopping beauty of Animal Collective — stereophonic channel swapping, elegantly layered and overdubbed vocal harmonies — often qualifies as subtle. In music as deftly crafted and as densely packed as Animal Collective’s, there simply has to be something lost in the live translation unless you have fifty some musicians. In some cases, like the band’s elaborate performance at the Guggenheim last year, they made up for it with theatrics. But often they only exert sheer willpower to transform something as powerful as “Bro’s” from it’s dense album form into a transcendent live performance.
Chris says: Animal Collective have kind of become this generation’s Radiohead, with all of the good — and bad — connotations such a designation conjures. Like Radiohead, they’ve reached out from their core to find new influences and have tried different things to expand their signature sound. And like Radiohead, sometimes their hype has overshadowed their actual music. The perfect remedy for such problems: “My Girls,” the standout track on the band’s Merriweather Post Pavilion album, which mixes electronics with tribalism, and pop sing-a-longs with riot rhythms.
Catch them at the festival: Friday at 8:30PM on the Green Stage
Animal Collective: “My Girls”
Band: No Age
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: For going on half a decade, Los Angeles venue The Smell has been a kind of industry shorthand for the hip, post-hardcore/noise bands populating the city’s underground music scene. The Smell gave us HEALTH, Abe Vigoda, Silver Daggers, The Mae Shi, and a host of other excellent bands — including No Age, the Randy Randall/ Dean Spunt duo that arose from the ashes of their hardcore band Wives. The pair improves with each successive album; last year’s Everything In Between was perhaps the best showcase of No Age’s ability to balance melody and noise. These two also put on a great live show: Spunt is an absolute animal (no muppet) on the drums, and Randall builds a formidable wall of noise for just one man with a guitar and a pedal board.
Susannah says: Holy Jesus, bring ear plugs. And don’t wear flip flops if you’re standing close to the front of the stage. Get ready to move!
Catch them at the festival: Saturday at 4:15PM on the Green Stage
No Age “Glitter”:
No Age “Teen Creeps”:
Band: The Dismemberment Plan
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: The mid-to-late 90s served essentially as the last hurrah of indie as a genre that had a definable sound, before the Internet served to turn it into a hodgepodge of diversity. The Dismemberment Plan, the Washington D.C. foursome of Travis Morrison, Eric Axelson, Joe Easley, and Jason Caddell, were ambassadors of that sound up until 2003, when they broke up while touring their 2001 album Change. The band came together for two shows in 2007 in benefit of Jawbox frontman J. Robbins’ son Callum, but all was quiet until late last year, when the band announced they would reunite and tour in support of the reissue of their seminal Emergency & I record.
Live shows have been part of what has sown and grown the Dismemberment Plan’s legacy. Morrison and crew are notoriously high-energy and wild on stage, and famously mocked their less active fans on the The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified track “Doin’ the Standing Still.” Footage of recent shows, like this mix of “OK, Joke’s Over” and Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” prove that the band still has the touch.
Chris says: I’ll always have a few enduring memories of the Dismemberment Plan’s music: listening to “You Are Invited” with friends in the basement while playing Nintendo, straining to hit the high notes of “Time Bomb” while driving to nowhere, literally (and knowingly) asking a high school love interest “What do you want me to say?” The one opportunity I had to see a show of theirs was vetoed by my father who didn’t want me driving to Milwaukee so shortly after I had received my license. They broke up shortly after and I like to pretend that I never forgave him. Now that I’ll be seeing them, I guess we can start talking again, Dad.
Catch them at the festival: Saturday at 6:15PM on the Green Stage
The Dismemberment Plan: “Time Bomb”
Band: Fleet Foxes
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: It’s odd to think that some of the bands making this year’s most traditionally accessible music incur some of the most divisive, passionate responses. Just like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes released a career-cementing album in 2011 and their efforts have been met with equal parts fawning praise and internet mockery (search “‘fleet foxes’ + boring” and bask in the results’ snarky glow). Regardless of your personal preferences when it comes to acoustic sensitivity, it’s objectively true that Robin Pecknold and company are talented, technically proficient musicians. Anyone who’s seen the band perform can attest: those perfect harmonies aren’t the product of studio trickery. They sound just as crystal clear and expertly rendered in concert as they do on an album. A Fleet Foxes show may not be an over the top, rousing live experience, but any summer festival worth its salt knows you need a good balance of energetic shows and mellow performances. At the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival, consider Fleet Foxes the yin to OFWGKTA’s yang.
Susannah says: As anyone who’s heard me talk about music for more than two minutes can probably attest, I have limited tolerance for bands who take mining early American music for inspiration to the extreme. I’m not talking adding mandolin to a song; I’m talking weirdly fetishizing hardship and poverty (looking at you, The Head and The Heart — pretty sure you don’t actually “wish you were a slave to an age-old trade”). But you know what — I’m willing to give Fleet Foxes a pass, even in light of “Helplessness Blues,” their paean to manual labor. Fleet Foxes don’t just co-opt nostalgia like so many Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores; their music is carefully considered — they derive and still sound original. At the risk of planting my feet in hip dad territory, I thoroughly loved Helplessness Blues and I’m really looking forward to seeing Fleet Foxes at Pitchfork.
Catch them at the festival: Saturday at 8:30PM on the Green Stage
Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”:
Fleet Foxes “Lorelai”:
Band: Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill them All
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: Okay, so it might be a bit presumptuous to slate Tyler, the Creator, Hodgy Beats, Mike G, et. al, next to Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes and the rest of this list of long-respected indie stalwarts. But if we’re measuring by pure excitement, OFWGKTA probably outshines all of the groups on this list. The enormous rap collective has gone from relative unknowns to the homepage of Billboard and Rolling Stone is the time it takes most bands to record half an album. Through it all, they’ve been knocking out insane live shows where the crowd gets dangerously close to practicing the extreme “Radicals” refrain of “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school.”
At SXSW, the band walked off stage after issues with sound, with the venue, and with the crowd. Such an experience is a testament to the both the band’s bratty, youthful energy and their high standards for everything. For them, performing — or doing anything — half-assed isn’t worth doing anything at all.
Chris says: There are a bunch of moral quandaries surrounding Odd Future, and it’s practically been that narrative alone that has driven the band’s rise– to the bemusement of some of our own writers. As such, there is a deep divide to opinions on OF. But whatever your thoughts are on the violence and hate ingrained in Tyler, the Creator’s or Earl Sweatshirt’s releases, they’re merely one part of the Odd Future hydra. Cut that off and you’ll get Domo Genesis’ stoner-rap, Hodgy Beats meticulous delivery, and Frank Ocean’s R&B stylings growing back. It’s all of these parts working in harmony that make Odd Future such an engaging musical group, even if shit like “Transylvania” is what made them cultural zeitgeists.
Catch them at the festival: Sunday at 3:20PM on the Blue Stage
Odd Future: “Yonkers”
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: Bradford Cox has a lot of irons in the fire, exploring a slightly different artistic perspective with each one of his projects. Over the years, his music has taken many forms: Wet Dreams (as the drummer for the otherwise all-female noise band), solo work (as Atlas Sound, plus contributions to the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack) and his bread and butter, Deerhunter. Once a place to explore the intersections between noise rock and ambient music, over its decade-long existence Deerhunter has gone from being an experimental outfit to kicking out some more accessible jams — especially on last year’s excellent Halcyon Digest. Cox is quite the charmer and rather outspoken, which translates into an especially charismatic stage presence at Deerhunter shows. These performances often feature odd outfits (frumpy vintage dresses, too-big muscle shirts) and a variety of onstage antics (microphone deep-throating, and…well, everything else kind of pales in comparison). Should be entertaining — and oh man, “Memory Boy” and “Revival” are gonna sound so good outside on a summer night, y’all.
Susannah says: Bradford, I belatedly forgive you for enthusiastically hijacking my interview with The Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival.
Catch them at the festival: Sunday at 6:15PM on the Green Stage
Deerhunter “He Would Have Laughed”:
Band: TV on the Radio
The Lowdown/The Live Experience: If you’ve been paying even a little bit of attention to TV on the Radio in the years since their 2003 EP Young Liars, you know they do intensity extremely well. From the beginning, the foursome has trafficked in a violent brand of tension that paired the anxious tremolo pulse of “Staring at the Sun” or the pained howls of “Wolf Like Me” with a throaty restraint that almost reined them in. That careful balance has shown through in their live shows, with Kip Malone and Tunde Adebimpe harnessing their performances and coming out the other side more unhinged for it.
The band has hardly put in a day off since they released Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. The fact they’ve been able to keep up the high level of performance both on record and on stage has been incredible. There is a reason this band is closing out the festivities at Pitchfork this year: they’ve been relentlessly at the top of their game for almost ten years.
Chris says: There were two moments on TV on the Radio’s Young Liars EP that made me stop in my tracks and say “Whoa.” The first was “Staring at the Sun,” for obvious reasons. The second was “Mr. Grieves,” a tacked-on barbershop-styled cover of a Pixies song. As I was listening, a friend leaned over and whispered, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard a Pixies cover that was weirder than the original.” It’s moments like that, like “Wolf Like Me,” like “Crying,” and like “Will Do” that will always stop me and my tracks and say “Whoa.”
Catch them at the festival: Sunday at 8:30PM on the Green Stage
TV on the Radio: “Wolf Like Me”