Oppressively, brutally hot days always happen a few times mid-July in Chicago. As anyone who has been to Pitchfork Music Festival in the past can attest to, those days typically happen on the festival’s weekend, to the chagrin of well-traveled hipsters in attendance. This year, Friday and Saturday were certainly hot, but nothing unbearable. On Sunday, the jig was up. The temperatures soared into the mid 90s with an oppressive humidity. If you stood out in the sun for more than fifteen seconds, you were covered with a liquid sheen. This forced Pitchfork to cut water prices from $2 to $1, caused Odd Future’s Syd to sacrifice her own water bottles to the crowd, and generally led to a ring of humanity at the edges of Union Park’s shaded areas. For those looking for a day to do nothing but visit the vendors, this was that day.
Arriving later than I desired, the first band I took in was Kurt Vile and the Violators. Vile’s Smoke Rings for my Halo is a beautifully arranged record of spindled guitars and Vile’s hazy vocals, and in the live setting it had a curcuitous, hypnotic effect. It’s notoriously difficult to engage a mid-day festival crowd, but one way to do it successfully is to tap into the sun-soaked zen, which Vile did admirably.
At 3:18, when Vile ended, tentative roars were coming up from the adjacent stage. Odd Future hadn’t even started and with only the scant appearance of a few members, the crowd was in a frenzy. Putting Odd Future at the warmest time of the day was probably a smart move, the energy and violence the group has been known for inciting during their live shows was sapped of just the slightest bit of edge, meaning that people lost their shit peacefully, even if there was a mosh pit with people tackling each other. The group played a well-balanced mix of the artists that were on stage: Hodgy Beats and Left Brain of Mellowhype, Mike G, and Tyler the Creator. Tyler’s songs of course played most to the crowd, and even “Yonkers”‘ Pitchfork diss line was received with cheers. Whatever you think of OF’s music, they are a group that knows instinctively how to feed off of and give back to their audiences, meaning they put on an impressive live performance.
I listened to some of the weirdo pop of Ariel Pink before heading over to see Will Weisenfeld’s Baths project. On 2010’s Cerulean, Weisenfeld created fractured beats that framed downtrodden yet triumphant melodies in such a subtle way that I was unsure if it would work live. But by putting the focus on his rhythmic strength, Baths’ live set ended up being surprisingly strong. Being at the side stage, where there was a bit more shade, also probably helped; the Baths crowd was loud and applauded hungrily after each song, and it seemed to bring out the best in Weisenfeld’s performance.
After a short break, I came back to watch Deerhunter’s set. The seminal indie rockers led by Bradford Cox were a pummeling, powerful force on stage, tapping into their love for shoegaze and psychedelia and giving it an increased intensity and, yes, quite a loud volume. At one point, the band segued from Microcastle standout “Nothing Ever Happened” into the legendary Patti Smith’s “Horses.” It was a bold decision, but one that Deerhunter pulled off with aplomb.
Toro y Moi then displayed exactly why he has outlasted many of his chillwave contemporaries from 2009. His set, featuring himself and three other musicians in a full band setting, far outshone that of Washed Out’s last summer. Displaying an excellent singing voice and a surprising amount of funk, the Causers of This and Underneath the Pine songwriter impressed the crowd that had chosen him over the beginnings of Cut Copy. One of those who was in attendance, was Tyler the Creator himself, who sang along with some of the Underneath the Pine tracks.
Once Toro y Moi had finished, Cut Copy took over my attention on the main stage. The Australian group had a stage setup and light show much like Friday’s closer Animal Collective, but while AnCo’s sometimes seemed to obscure the band and often just confused things visually, Cut Copy used their live setup to increase the attention on their music. With the sun finally setting, the band used the surge in energy that event brought to encourage exhausted hipsters to actually jump up and down for thirty whole seconds.
After Cut Copy, it was left to Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone and the rest TV on the Radio to close out the festival. There were no threatrics for TVotR, just rock. In a year where Odd Future literally threw themselves at the crowd, and DJ Shadow pulled his best Lady Gaga, TV on the Radio were completely upfront, simply playing their instruments with a vibrant fervor. They pulled from their diverse catalog that explored a lot of the different tones they’ve explored from the Young Liars EP to this year’s Nine Types of Light. Then the band came back for an encore that found them covering Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” to an explosion from the audience and Twitter. It was appropriate that for all the hoopla that surrounded this year’s festival, that one good rock band paying homage to another was what ended 2011’s Pitchfork Music Festival.