Feature ·

Show Review (Union Park, Chicago)

Scheduled amidst the height of summer's heat, in a park on the outskirts of downtown Chicago, shade merely on the fringes of the green, Pitchfork Media's first music festival scorched thousands of fans on the last weekend of July. Having cherry-picked some indie favorites to perform throughout the weekend, the festival brought together a friendly and eager crowd, national and local acts, a smorgasbord of foods, and a sprawling record and poster fair.

 

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Saturday's roster featured some more reserved, songwriter-based performances, from Destroyer's labyrinth of lyrical references, which came off as more ho-hum than on Rubies (of which Dan Bejar essentially played the first half), to the Mountain Goats' confessional ennui that, despite John Darnielle's good spirits, was kind of a bring-down in the summer sun. The day culminated in a more comfortable David Berman leading the Silver Jews through a chatty set of past favorites and Tanglewood Numbers hits. Still not quite the witty crowd pleaser we'd wish, Berman gets some credit for ditching his crib sheet and garnering some reaction with an odd dis of Brian Wilson and his followers. Break my heart, why don't you.

 

Puncturing this sheet of modest performances were a few rollicking sets by Man Man, whose controlled chaos was a crowd favorite, and Band of Horses, who turned the amps to 11, unceremoniously blasting the masses with the majority of their debut record. Also adding some energy to Saturday were current indie favorites Art Brut and fellow Brits the Futureheads, whose earnest enthusiasm never fails to pump up large crowds. It was business as usual for the members of the Walkmen, who looked less-then-amused to be there, but Ted Leo quickly plowed through some favorites, bouncing around the stage in utter delight.

 

The second day was hotter, figuratively and literally. It was easy to tell that the sold-out park had hit capacity, and the temp rose to a searing ninety-seven degrees. Jens Lekman had the right idea: Bringing his gaggle of gorgeous Swedish ladies on stage in white dresses earned the strongest crowd reaction. Or maybe the cheers were his mounting fan base. Either way, the large gathering -- surprising, for so early in the day -- cheered and danced through his seven-song set, particularly enjoying his dedication of "You Are the Light" to Mr. Berman.

 

The National followed, displaying the payoff of constant touring with a tight and controlled performance of the favorite off last year's Alligator, which gave way to the Liars' perverse charisma. Stalking the stage and eventually stripping into a far-too-revealing (read: junk displaying) blue robe/dress, Angus Hempell sweat out a great deal of Drum's Not Dead to a mix of gawks and concentration.

 

The day soon got perfectly eclectic, with the one-two-three of Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif, Mission of Burma and Devandra Banhart filling up the bill's midsection. The lone main stage hip-hop act, Aesop and Lif achieved a feat by getting the (white-ass) crowd moving despite the roasting temperature, while Mission of Burma delivered on the heaviness of The Obliterati. Banhart's band, I think I can say, has the most hair I've ever seen on a stage at one time.

 

The longtime indie-rock heavyweights -- and the reason for the days sold out crowd, I think -- came next. The members of Yo La Tengo spent their set quickly debuting material from their upcoming I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, although the members of Spoon seemed to yawn their way through theirs. Diplo, on the third stage, packed the tent to the gills with oh-so-clever mash-ups (favorite: Hot Chip into TV on the Radio), while getting the ass-shaking crowd to spill out into the street.

 

Diplo's mix of everything, including modest amounts of Brazilian beats, was the perfect segue into Os Mutantes, whose current reunion saw their first time ever playing in Chicago. Simply elated to be headlining and playing for such a huge crowd, the members banged out about an hour's worth of their classics, all smiles, and impressively held the attention of a large portion of the exhausted and dehydrated crowd. The set perfectly capped a considerably eclectic, hot-hot-hot, and satisfying weekend. 

 

***

 

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