As it was forecasted, the weekend of Pitchfork Music Festival was hot. Very hot. And while this is not unusual for many festivals, the success of performances at events like this is often based each group’s ability to use their music and stage presence to pull the crowd out of the heated haze. Some were more successful than others.
The heat at this festival was no joke. The moment the sun hit your skin, it was impossible not to sweat bullets. The fact that Dominick Fernow wore a leather jacket, danced his heart out, and barely sweat a drop makes it difficult to believe that he is a real person. Combine this with Wes Eisold’s powerful vocal performance and there is no doubt that this group consists of super humans. Cold Cave’s unique synth pop sound had the ability to knock festival attendees out of their heat stroke delusions and into an alternate dance party reality that few other Saturday performers were able to ignite.
No Age started off a little shaky. After repeatedly adjusting their sound, Randy Randall grabbed his guitar, ran up the mic and screamed, “Fuck it, FUCK TECHNOLOGY!” A completely appropriate start to a set that would incite one of the biggest mosh pits of the festival, complete with shoving, water throwing, and crowd surfing. Their fuzzy noise pop songs translated perfectly to a festival setting, and it is hard to believe how much sound these two dudes can create. Few other two-piece acts can project such booming sound while simultaneously working the stage with intoxicating energy. During “Everybody’s Down,” Dean Allen Spunt jumped off stage creating an even greater frenzy, as if that was even necessary.
Gang Gang Dance
Before Gang Gang Dance entered, an unknown man with a towel over his head walked out, lit some sage, and proceeded to bless the entirety of the stage. This alone was enough to communicate that the group would bring something entirely different to the festival. He continued to burn sage and dance alongside the band for the rest of the performance, acting as a sort of honorary member. The instrumental intro of their first song was painfully long and trying, but the crowd remained loyal and luckily, it paid off as the group picked up speed employing the countless drums on the stage. Lizzi Bougatsos’s wailing vocals rang through the air, her beaming smile infectious and skillful crowd surfing admirable. As the set came to a close, “MindKilla” off of new album Eye Contact sealed the success of this performance, and ensured that this will not be the last we will see or hear from Gang Gang Dance.
DJ Shadow began his set by announcing that he is not a “wedding DJ” that simply samples other songs, but instead creates all his own material. His original beats, combined with a stage consisting only of a white globe — with light projections that were impossible to see in the daylight — made the probability of festival triumph seem almost impossible. The globe did eventually turn around revealing DJ Shadow, however, and visuals became irrelevant as the overwhelming bass of this set flooded the entirety of the festival. Whether you fought for a place in the packed dancing crowd or laid in the grass nearby, it was hard not to allow the pulsating beats to affect you.
By the end of Saturday, everyone was pretty worn out from the heat of the day. Melodic folk-rock songs by Fleet Foxes served as the lullaby for the night, with fans swaying and singing along. The group seemed comfortable and confident on stage, even reminiscing about the first time they played this festival. Well-known songs like “Your Protector” and “Mykonos” excited the crowd. While moving, as a whole, this headlining show was a pretty mellow experience.
Mostly decked out in denim, Yuck took the stage early on Sunday. The fuzzy ’90s tunes served as the perfect soundtrack to the lethargically swaying crowd. In a live setting, the lo-fi charm of their record is partially lost in the clarity of Daniel Blumberg’s voice, but this does not make their songs any less catchy. The only pick up came during “The Wall,” which actually provoked some sort of visible reaction from the crowd. Sadly, the musicians seemed to be struggling with the heat just as much as the audience. Closing the set with the drawn out song “Rubber” suddenly made the festival reminiscent of a slow motion scene in a movie where the world swirls around you, and it is hard to distinguish hallucinations from reality.
Kurt Vile and the Violators
The only better setting for Kurt Vile’s dreamy tunes than a road trip is a summer festival. His distinct drawl and simplistic yet unexpected lyrics could be heard across the festival, and drew listeners out of the shade to stand in the near 100-degree heat. “Jesus Fever” off of Smoke Ring for My Halo proved to be one of the more endearing songs of the set, and fans did their best to bop along while praying to feel some of the breeze that seemed to perpetually blow through Vile’s flowing locks.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Ariel Pink is known for his wacky stage antics, and his performance at Pitchfork was no exception. Pink took the stage donning painfully disheveled hair and a Britney Spears-style mic and headset. The first three songs of the set were new to their live show, and fans reacted with ambivalence to the unknown tunes. Perhaps the brutal afternoon sunshine also contributed. It was not until “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” one of the hits from last year’s Before Today, that the crowd picked up. For most of the set, Pink bopped around with high energy busting out dramatic dance moves. In between songs, he was in a chatty mood, making strange, mostly indecipherable statements to the crowd, even stopping right before the mouth pop in “L’estat” to tell the attentive crowd “I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me!” followed by the moment people were waiting for “CHEER UP!” The band sounded great until near the end of the set when Pink suddenly stopped, threw his arms down, and walked off stage. Sound issues seem to be a constant problem for this band, and they ended up cutting the set three songs short leaving a sense of incompletion without hit (and Pitchfork song of 2010) “Round and Round.”
As the second to last act on Sunday, Cut Copy did not fail to evoke a final rush of energy from the crowd. They never stopped moving, jumping around the stage, switching instruments mid song, and maintaining their stamina throughout the set. Cut Copy is one of the most exciting groups to see live simply because they can really dance. Though their usual light show was quelled by the setting sun, the group didn’t need any sort of props or visuals to provide fans with the performance of the festival. Dan Whitford asked everyone to give one last push after a long weekend and “get crazy” with him. What followed was the biggest dance party of the festival. Songs like “Take Me Over” and “Need You Now” garnered the most enthusiastic response. At one moment, Whitford and Tim Hoey fell to the ground of the stage, and though theatrical, probably provided them with a much-needed breather.
With the Sears tower looming in the distance, Pitchfork Music Festival provided an essential lineup of lesser known acts and headliners that will not soon be topped.