The big story of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival was Sunday’s performance by the hip-hop group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (also known as Odd Future or OFWGKTA). Pitchfork’s decision to book this outfit sparked controversy, since Odd Future’s lyrics are pretty much a nonstop barrage of misogyny and violence. But hey, it’s got a good beat, right? During its midafternoon show, Odd Future delivered exactly what its fans were hoping for and its critics were lamenting. Band members jumped off the stage into the arms (or onto the heads) of their fans in the mosh pit … who were lifting their middle fingers into the air and crowd-surfing with reckless abandon. One person after another got pulled out of the crowd by the security staff (and kudos to those guys for dealing so well with a difficult and potentially dangerous situation). The audience sang and rapped along with a good many swear words and chants about killing police and causing various other sorts of mayhem. Most of the crowd seemed to be having a great time (although there must’ve been some people unhappy about getting crushed), and it’s doubtful many of them will go out today and do any of the bad stuff Odd Future was singing about. It all made for an exciting spectacle, but if you paused for two seconds to think about the foul lyrics, it was also unsettling.
Odd Future grabbed the most attention on Sunday, but the musical highlights for me were the Fresh & Onlys, Yuck, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Superchunk, Deerhunter, HEALTH and TV on the Radio. As for the other bands, I either didn’t hear enough to weigh in with much of an opinion (see: Darkstar, How to Dress Well, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) or it just wasn’t my cup of tea (see: Baths, Toro Y Moi, Cut Copy).
For that matter, I must confess that I was able to catch only a couple of songs by HEALTH before I had to hurry over to the line for the TV on the Radio photo pit, so I can’t really review that set, but what I did see was damn impressive, full of energy and creativity.
I’ve seen some folks remarking that Yuck’s performance fell flat for them, but I loved hearing the loopy guitar riffs and catchy vocal melodies from Yuck’s self-titled debut album (one of the year’s best) lifting up into the hot summer air. The band is still a little bit lacking as far as looking engaged onstage, but they’ve loosened up a bit since they played at Lincoln Hall this spring.
Superchunk was in no need of loosening up — when they played last year at the Taste of Randolph, singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan bounced around and jumped all night. He was at it again at Pitchfork, and if anything, bassist Laura Ballance was even more jumpy as the band cheerfully pounded out one great power-pop tune after another.
Kurt Vile can sound like a folk-rocker, with some touches of Bob Dylan in the way he writes and sings, but when he’s backed by his band, the Violators, the music has more of a droning, almost garage-rock edge to it, and that blend sounded wonderful Sunday afternoon, as the wind whipped around Vile’s long mane of brown hair.
Deerhunter also delivered a solid performance (some of which I missed, alas). The band seems to be getting even better than it was when it made its debut at Pitchfork a few years ago, and the songs from last year’s Halcyon Digest album rang out strong and clear.
Before the headline shows each night of the festival, photographers were required to line up near the press entrance on the northwest corner of the park. On Saturday, around the corner from where we were standing, I heard a drummer on the sidewalk, just out of view, playing some jumping, jazzy rhythms. On Sunday night, he was playing outside the park again, but this time I got a chance to see him and drop a dollar in his basket. His name’s Jeff Austin, and his talent and inventiveness as a drummer were immediately clear. “You should be playing in there,” I told him, pointing to the park. “I’m working on it,” he said.
TV on the Radio fit the profile for a Pitchfork Fest headliner: a band with lots of critical cred as well as a big fan base. The group’s most recent album, Nine Types of Light, is somewhat lackluster, but the band still sounded vibrant in concert Sunday night, especially when it stuck with the bolder and more uptempo songs from earlier records. “Wolf Like Me” got the crowd moving and singing along, as you’d expect, and then the Pitchfork fans responded enthusiastically when TV on the Radio offered an unexpected cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” As one of today’s bands paid tribute to an older generation, it felt like a fitting end to another Pitchfork Music Festival.