Hey readers. I, TMT News Editor, went to Pitchfork Music Festival this year because Mr P got me a ticket for Valentine’s Day. I was so happy when he gave it to me, but now he’s saying I owe him a report about it even though it was supposed to be this selfless gift. Mr P can be like that sometimes. Sweet, and then sour. Anyway, here’s the report.
I got to Union Park around 3 PM, breaking off from the main pack at the gate and stepping into a small line of journalists and photographers waiting for their purple diamond Press Passes. Some people seemed to know everyone from past years, some looked very shy and no older than 16, others were tweeting on the sly, and one guy was even Jim DeRogatis mid-soliloquy. Once inside, my first stop was the first aid tent, where I slathered my head in SPF 50 and watched the first ticket-holders trickle in, all of us shielding our eyes from the gusts of sand blowing off a baseball diamond in the middle of the park. Daughn Gibson plugged in at the Red Stage and played an OK low-key set with a full band. I was somewhat underwhelmed in spite of getting very into the sample-wielding “cloud-country” of All Hell last year. “In the Beginning” sounded great with boosted manpower, and Gibson’s voice still resonates beyond its immediate sober goofiness, so maybe he’s just a talented dude headed for a more appreciative audience now, but overall it was hard to re-connect with what sounded like the familiar sound of yet another fresh Sub Pop signee rounding off their edges for no particular reason.
It was the hottest day of the festival, so I spent a lot of time poking around the record tent, a place of joy and wonder for the music-loving recluse who subscribes to record label mailing lists and caresses catalog numbers in numerical order. Here was HoZac, here was Merge, here was the owner of Captcha Records answering my questions about Bob Bucko Jr. Here was Byron buckin’ Coley, hands in his pockets in front of Ash Ra Tempel originals, looking super nice and chatty unlike the father/son team around the corner hawking Del Amitri cassettes straight from the family attic. For the most part I wasn’t seeing much label recognition, which is a shame. Or maybe people just felt intimidated browsing through Ty Segall records and then looking up to see a co-founder of Drag City staring at them dressed like Father Yod.
Angel Olsen was setting up on the Blue Stage, so I raced over and secured a spot as close as I was going to get to anyone the whole weekend. The audience was subdued but reverent, shut up immediately by Olsen’s voice (duh) as it felt out each lyric for the proper balance of melancholy and disdain, but we also were swaying along to the soft, minimal lurch of her backing band, possessed of feeling enough to lull us all into a state of mind not far removed from what’s so good about many of her former label Bathetic’s dronier offerings. Olsen closed with a solo bit off Strange Cacti, which was beautiful but indistinguishable from the rest of the show, and after that final slow-motion shove backward we quietly dispersed. I visited the beer tent, then felt compelled to stomp around for a few hours, browsing through the bins, walking down Band Poster Alley and noting the tumbleweeds, checking my reflection in an ominously large black Red Bull cube, and stepping into some sort of in-progress H&M makeup commercial next to the energy shot zone. My zigzagging enthusiasm became my downfall by the time Björk was about to go on, so instead of throwing myself into that perpetually standing audience I caught the end of Joanna Newsom’s set (a huge, almost math-rock contrast to Olsen in both audience-performer fluidity and melodic complexity) from the comforts of the Media Tent, where a bunch of music writers I sorta recognized sat on a picnic blanket and, I dunno, started a massage circle? I bolted and took the El home early before it started to rain.
I slept in (goddammit) and missed Pissed Jeans and Julia Holter, but was glad to get the extra rest because I didn’t want to crash prematurely and wake up stomped to a pulp in the Belle & Sebastian pit. So I leisurely made my way over in the afternoon and met an old friend under a tree for Parquet Courts. I hadn’t heard them before, but they sounded good live; for every shout-along anthem making me feel old and bald there was an extended guitar solo or two that abandoned structure and sense to cut ‘n’ snip around the chuggin’ foundation. I could hear some coded mutant dance instructions in them riffs. Then we stayed for Merchandise, who along with METZ felt a little like another permutation of the same young rock band thing, but something about those affected, cold-wave cool vocals took me out of the zone real fast. I had the same kind of problem with Savages, who put on a good show by owning the stage, but it was too much of this old-timey rock star mugging for the jumbotron stuff, where the anguish going on feels totally unrelated to the audience or environment it’s in… probably cool for fans who already know the songs front to back, but like musical theatre for someone meeting them in the shared, hot open air for the first time.
Swans were next, however, so I was prepared to eat some of that sentiment by force, having never seen them live and only hearing of life-changing/affirming/ending reactions to their old tough-dude bombast. There was an anxious feeling in the crowd as the band started in with “To Be Kind” and its long, heavy build-up. The claustrophobia of a club’s oppressive four walls was replaced with the dark awe of standing in front of an imposingly grand stage and speaker setup, Michael Gira’s voice laser-beaming into the mic and blaring across the sky like a chemtrail. The intensity continued to build as Gira addressed the band and motioned them toward a common center where they could start splitting the musical atom… and it was then that my friend tapped me on the shoulder, said he needed to sit down, and promptly crumpled like he’d just been TKO’d, knocking aside five or six people on his way to the grass, out cold, no joke. Swans knocked my friend from elementary school to the ground in less than 10 minutes. Luckily, he came-to immediately and we got over to a fence where he could get some water and let his neurons regroup.
Not wanting to abandon him and read about his death in the paper the next day, I agreed to leave Swans early for Ryan Hemsworth, who was “more peppy.” Until this point I was pretty closed off from any bro activity at the festival, but as soon as we got into the thick of things back at the Blue Stage I couldn’t believe the fist-pumping going on a few rows in front of me. Hemsworth does his own productions apparently, but this was a straight DJ thing, with very little track mixing, so at times I felt like I was at a B96/Q101 indoor pool party, complete with DJ interjections like: *audio drop* “New Macklemore” *audio boost*. After a while I just had to leave, otherwise I might’ve started slumping to the floor myself. On my way out, the only person to notice my press pass yelled at me to write about the lack of Sparks for sale (“the only reason I come to these fuckin’ things”).
I walked around drinking beer like a good journalist, visited the Porta Potty village a few times, and eventually came back for Andy Stott, but it was strange to be back in the post-Hemsworth, sweat-stained dirt watching another DJ do his thing, however different. Besides, if I were going to a raver, I don’t think I’d want to hear something that reminded me of a Demdike Stare side-long journey, all unresolved muffled bass and grinding machinery. To put it another way, I just couldn’t listen to Andy Stott with sunscreen on. So I left early again, partially to avoid Belle & Sebastian’s notoriously anarchic audience, and partially to get some rest before a non-P4k Wolf Eyes/Pharmakon show. But then I fell asleep again for the whole night. >:(
No late start was allowed on this day, because DJ Rashad was going on at 1, and, in spite of being from Chicago, he pretty much exclusively performs in far-off European cities these days. There’s only so much anyone’s going to get out of an early Sunday afternoon footwork set, but Rashad made his mark and loved the whole spectacle, feeling his own beats, tossing sunglasses on and off, and looking about as comfortable as someone who’s been DJing since age 12 would. The stage was swamped with other Teklife and Treated Crew affiliates like Spinn, Earl, and Hollywood Holt, but beyond a little footwork up front and a guest verse once or twice, all eyes were on the stage leader, master of ceremonies, Chitown’s finest. [Autre Ne Veut had a good set full of Anxiety favorites right after this, but I’ll skip that since I ended my night at the ANV after-show.]
For whatever reason, a lot of my time at the festival was spent over at the “lesser,” tucked away Blue Stage, so when I came back into the main field to catch Killer Mike, he sounded loud as hell in that open area, and it only multiplied when he showed up again on El-P’s stage to fly through some Run the Jewels jewels. In past P4ks, I’ve thought the volume was way too low to really get into the live experience, but this year, when these two let loose, you could feel the vibration in your stomach surrounding the whole field, so putting your hands up and looking dopey was more or less mandatory.
Finally, it was time for Lil B. I was anticipating this (of course) but not expecting a whole lot, just because his mixtapes are such solitary headphone zones and can be reaaaaal inconsistent for 10 tracks at a time. A couple kids with pink bandanas had been spotted around the park earlier in the day, but when it came time for Lil B, task force was out. I’ve never seen a more joyful, energized crowd (certainly at a festival), and it went way past whatever middling ironic excitement might have been lurking in the hearts of a few. Lil B came on and walloped everyone with ridiculously loud bass, hit after hit (a.k.a. the same song), and, no shit, an unmistakable sense of connection, that he was there on our level, loving the flow of thousands of emotions as much as we were, letting them loose and skipping all over them. Some of the super-young Treated Crew kids from Rashad’s set were on the sidelines watching this, and it just seemed great. They had to be loving the sight of this young guy positively commanding the whole area with not a single other person or piece of equipment on stage. And it was funny as hell, too. Near the end, Lil B used his powers to lower our heads, close our eyes, get us to meditate a little, come back to him and repeat, “I love life; I’m happy to be alive.” LOL. It was the best show of the fest, for sure, and on my way back I even ran into this guy and had to hold back tears:
I had planned on sticking around for R. Kelly, but then he started with “Ignition (Remix),” and I had a vision of “I Believe I Can Fly” closing the set with doves in balloons, so instead I left Union Park for an afterparty show at Lincoln Hall with Autre Ne Veut, who were performing for the second time that day. Arthur Ashin, even though he has a drummer and strong backup singer who can carry “Play by Play” all on their own, still has no other choice but to wring his body out over the course of a single show, to the audience’s glee, so I wasn’t quite expecting him to put it all on the line both times… but damn, he did, and it ended up being a highlight of the weekend. The audience was excited to see him, whether that was because it wasn’t a part of the porta potty village they’d been stuck in all weekend, or because they hadn’t gone to P4k at all, or (cute!) because they loved him truly. He sang exclusively from Anxiety, just like he did in the early afternoon, but I can’t complain because I’m still listening to those songs every day. The karaoke influence goes a long way, apparently, on record and live, because there’s so little ownership to it. Once you know the song, you’re the singer and it’s all out of your vocal range too. And it takes a generosity from the artist to allow for that, maybe the only common theme among shows I enjoyed over the weekend. ANV attempted to introduce a new song (not from the album) called “Anxiety,” but his voice was finally shot to hell and he couldn’t get it out. They hadn’t done lead single “Counting” yet, so he invited an audience member on stage to give it a shot, firing up the intro before anyone knew whether she’d heard the song before in her life. Amazingly, she knew all the words and sang an entire verse (beautifully) before the audience swallowed them both and took the chorus into their own sweaty hands.
[Paintings: Katelyn Eichwald]