On Sunday, Pitchfork started the day with yet another band that might seem more apt at midnight, DEERHUNTER. (Emcee Tim Tuten called them Deerhoof, but as he noted later, he was just joking; he did know which band was which.) They took the stage to a wall of droning noise. Eventually, some psychedelic emerged out of the racket, quite compelling stuff. (Some of the noise was deliberate, but this was also one of several shows on the Connector Stage on Sunday that were nearly drowned by seemingly implacable feedback problems.) The lead singer of Deerhunter, Bradford Cox, is one strange-looking front man. I feel a little bad pointing that out, since a disease is the cause of his extremely thin physique (according to allmusic, “the exceedingly skinny 6’4″ lead singer has Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that gives him abnormally long and spindly limbs”), but Cox emphasized his own strangeness by wearing a gauzy dress. He also dangled little puppets of some sort from one of his hands during the first song. SEE MY PHOTOS OF DEERHUNTER.
I’ve been a fan of THE PONYS for a few years now, thinking that these Chicago guys deserve wider fame and success. I have to admit I haven’t listened that much to their most recent record. It didn’t grab me like the first two, not that it’s bad or anything. The new songs and old tunes sounded strong in their Pitchfork set. Or at least they would have if the sound had been properly functional. It was frustrating to see the Ponys playing their instruments even as the notes they were playing mysteriously went in and out. SEE MY PHOTOS OF THE PONYS.
MENOMENA’s recent album Friend and Foe is an interesting and hard-to-categorize blend of piano, guitar, sax, strong drumming and even stronger singing. I don’t really know what genre this band belongs in, if any; it’s indie-rock with one foot in piano-based songwriting but a sound that’s far removed from typical piano music. Whatever it is, it sounded great onstage at Pitchfork, one of the festival’s best performances. SEE MY PHOTOS OF MENOMENA.
JUNIOR BOYS is an act I was unfamiliar with. The electronic pop music sounded fairly pleasant, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. SEE MY PHOTOS OF JUNIOR BOYS. I missed the second half of the Junior Boys set while catching some of NOMO over on the Balance Stage. Nomo plays Afrobeat music in the tradition of Fela Kuti, and they opened with an enchanting mix of bells and horns. SEE MY PHOTOS OF NOMO.
THE SEA AND CAKE were victims of more feedback problems. Their delicate jazz-pop tunes really needed the sort of audio clarity that the Pitchfork sound system was woefully inadequate to provide. Still, after a few songs, the sound snafus grew less noticeable, and Sam Prekop’s smart songs and Archer Prewitt’s sharply played guitar lines came through. SEE MY PHOTOS OF THE SEA AND CAKE.
JAMIE LIDELL wore a crown of tinsel (or something resembling tinsel) and belted out his songs in a soulful voice, creating a sonic mix that straddled the line between pop and experimental electronica. SEE MY PHOTOS OF JAMIE LIDELL.
STEPHEN MALKMUS noted that this was only his third solo concert ever, and I happen to have seen one of the other two, when he opened last year for the New Pornographers and My Morning Jacket at Northwestern University’s Patten Gym. He sounded more confident and sure this time. Although his solo and Pavement songs seem designed to be played by bands, they come across really well as quirky solo songs. Malkmus experienced more of the feedback problems that had plagued other bands at Pitchfork, remarking at one point: “It’s a weird mix, but it’s kind of cool. It sounds like ‘Sister Ray.’” SEE MY PHOTOS OF STEPHEN MALKMUS.
Is it OK if I’m not a big OF MONTREAL fan? I can see they’re a beloved band these days in the indie-rock world. And I don’t dislike them, but I just can’t get that excited about their music. The electronic production smoothes out the parts that I might interesting in another setting, I think. Anyway, they are definitely an interesting visual spectacle, and were fairly fun to watch. (We photographers were allowed to shoot only the first three songs, the standard rule throughout the festival, so I didn’t get any shots of Kevin Barnes later in the concert, when he was wearing considerably less clothing. Sorry.) SEE MY PHOTOS OF OF MONTREAL.
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS sounded as excellent as they always do. They’re more excellent when Neko Case is singing with them, and unfortunately, she was a no-show for this gig (as was Dan Bejar), but you know, keyboardist Kathryn Calder sounded pretty darn good on vocals. Besides, despite being a sort of supergroup, this is mostly Carl Newman’s show. The audience at the front was singing along to every word of the old songs. One of the songs from the forthcoming album Challengers briefly morphed into Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” The concert was a nonstop hit parade, with one great hook after another. SEE MY PHOTOS OF NEW PORNOGRAPHERS.
DE LA SOUL closed out the festival on the Aluminum Stage. Now, I listened to the De La Soul album 3 Feet High and Rising years – decades – ago, but I can’t say I’ve stayed up on these guys. They put on an entertaining show, though. I cut out of it for a little bit to catch KLAXONS on the Balance Stage, who had the crowd dancing and singing along to catchy “oooh”-filled choruses. A lot of fun. Back to De La Soul, I catch one of the rappers asking the audience how many “hip-hop heads” were present. He defined the people he was looking for. “We’re talking about people who don’t need radio or TV to tell them what good shit is.” That’s as good a definition as I heard all weekend of the crowd at Pitchfork. SEE MY PHOTOS OF DE LA SOUL.