One last gallery of photos from the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival.
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.
The 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival ran the musical gamut — from the softest and prettiest music to the loudest and most aggressive. And sometimes, the contrasting musical styles could be heard simultaneously, thanks to the sound bleed of noise from one stage wafting through the hot summer air to the other end of the park.
As the day began, the hip-hop of Crissy Murderbot and MC Zulu intruded on the lovely harmonies of one-woman choir Julianna Barwick. Thankfully, if you were close enough to the “Green” stage, Barwick’s sublime voice overpowered everything else, as she used looping to build so many layers of vocals — it was hard to tell at time if it was four parts of harmony or 25. It was a beautiful benediction of sorts to begin the day with.
Other highlights Saturday included the early-afternoon set by Woods, who have released three strong albums in as many years. The latest record, Sun and Shade, features a few longer jams and even some Krautrock-style beats — and the band offered up all of that during its Pitchfork performance. Singer-guitarist Jeremy Earl sounded vulnerable with his appealingly warbly falsetto, while G. Lucas Crane, as usual, sang into a headset and manipulated sounds from tapes to add psychedelic touches to the mix. (It’s hard to tell exactly what he is doing or contributing to the band just from watching him, but he seems to be a key player in making it all work.) Woods’ folkier songs sounded nice, but the bigger jams were the best, with the guitar/tape/whatever solos shimmering out across the park.
No Age’s pummeling punk rock (also using some tape effects) got the audience at the “Red” stage revved up — lots of people seemed to be throwing their water instead of drinking it.
Also on the noisy end of the Pitchfork spectrum, the band Off! (a sort of punk-rock supergroup with members from the Circle Jerks, Burning Brides, Red Kross and Rocket From the Crypt) played punk of a more old-school variety — you could actually hear some melodies hidden inside the growls — generating a similarly raucous response, including some crowd surfing. As singer Keith Morris remarked before the set, “We are going to bring a different flavor to the party.”
The band Destroyer inspires either love or hate reactions, and that was true of its set Saturday at Pitchfork. I like Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar’s contributions to the New Pornographers well enough, but his nasal, affected vocals put me off. Bejar’s fans insist there’s some real genius in his songwriting, but I’m just not hearing it. And Destroyer’s latest incarnation, with lots of soft-rock trumpet and sax, was particularly annoying.
The reunited Dismemberment Plan was buoyant, practically giddy, during its set. The guys certainly looked like they were having a good time playing their old songs. When they stuck with the more straightforward post-punk rock, with clean guitar lines, it sounded pretty good, too. The band’s forays into hip-hop and dance music were less successful.
I was peripatetic at Pitchfork on Saturday, running from one stage to the next and trying to get photos of everyone. I wish I’d seen more of the set by Zola Jesus, who completely dominated her stage. When I saw her two years ago at the Wire Fest at the Empty Bottle, she was an intense performer, but much more contained. (Here’s a photo of her from that show.) This time, she was striding the stage in a outlandishly frilly dress and singing with force.
DJ Shadow began his set by climbing into a giant golf ball and then staying inside it for a good 20 minutes or so, with nothing apparently happening on the stage… just a scintillating musical mash emanating from inside the ball. At least, we think it was emanating from inside the ball. The problem was that he was scheduled to play at an hour when the sun was still up, so the video projections onto the sphere were almost completely invisible. After a while, the ball spun around, revealing an opening on the other side, where DJ Shadow was sitting with his equipment. He asked if anyone had been able to see any of the projections, seeming disappointed that the environment wasn’t working for the show he’d planned. He continued to play an inventive mix, but the lack of visuals was a big minus.
Fleet Foxes turned out to be an excellent act to finish the night. They’re a pretty mellow band for that headlining spot, but their smartly composed folk rock and art-rock suites had a lively, spry feel, and the audience clearly included a lot of people intimately familiar with these songs. Cigarette lighters were lofted. Up-raised hands swayed. Some people even danced. On their second album, Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes has gone almost baroque with complexity on some of its songs, and the band’s interplay on mostly acoustic instruments was as dead-on as the vocal harmonizing. A little too mainstream for Pitchfork? Maybe, but the music was some of the best heard all day.