Pitchfork Music Festival 2017

I’ve been moaning for years about how seldom two of my favorite musical artists — the Feelies and PJ Harvey — play in Chicago. One of the great things about being a music fan in Chicago is that you get a chance to see just about every touring artist. But there are a few bands and singers who bypass the Midwest or simply don’t tour all that much. Since the Feelies went on hiatus around 1991 and then reunited, the New Jersey rock band had played in Chicago only one time, at Millennium Park in 2009. That year was also the last time British singer-songwriter PJ Harvey had played in Chicago; when she released her recent records, she played only a handful of U.S. shows.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was — along with other Chicago fans of the Feelies and PJ Harvey — when it was announced that both of them were coming to the Pitchfork Music Festival. And they were just two of the artists that made for an especially strong and diverse lineup at this year’s festival, which took place this past weekend (July 14-16) at its usual location, Union Park on Chicago’s West Side. Not surprisingly, as it turned out, the sets by PJ Harvey and the Feelies were two of my favorite moments in a really fun weekend of live music (which was made more enjoyable by the delightfully temperate weather).

Holding a saxophone aloft like a talisman, PJ Harvey made a dramatic entrance as the musicians in her large band banged drums, making the concert feel like some sort of pagan ritual. After opening with songs from her most recent album, The Hope Demolition Project, Harvey seemed to be running backward through her discography, but she eventually circled back to the new songs, with the voices of her bandmates adding to the power of the chorus. As always, Harvey was a riveting presence at the center of the stage. (Set list.)

The Feelies got off to a slightly late start, because the previous act playing on the other side of the field, George Clinton, ran several minutes past his scheduled time slot. That may seem like a minor point — and yes, I was also excited to watch Clinton, the 75-year-old godfather of funk, jamming with his Parliament/Funkadelic group, whom I’d never seen before — but Pitchfork is designed to run on a pretty tight schedule. Once the Feelies started playing, the band hit a couple of wrong notes — that’s hardly an egregious crime, and yet it was surprising, considering how precise the band typically sounds. Once the Feelies had found their footing, however, the group was in top form, strumming its trademark chords to those driving rhythms. (Set list.)

Here’s the rub: As much as I enjoyed seeing both the Feelies and PJ Harvey playing in the beautiful weather in front of crowds in Union Park, I was left wanting more. I’d love to see longer shows by both of these bands, as opposed to these typically condensed festival sets that last an hour or so. (I’m jealous of those who saw the Feelies playing a full show at El Club in Detroit on the following night.) But I will take what I can get. And in general, shorter sets do create a livelier feeling at music festivals.

This year’s Pitchfork experienced some logistical problems — including long lines at the entrance on Friday. And when the big field got crowded at the end of the day, it wasn’t fun to make my way through the throngs of people. And this may be stating the obvious, but depending on where you were at any given moment, your experience of the festival may have been completely different from my own. I watched Harvey’s show from a spot near the stage, but then as she began playing the final song of her set, I started needling my way back through the crowd to reach the photo pit for the next show, by Saturday’s headliners, A Tribe Called Quest. By the time I’d reached the back part of the field, Harvey was still playing, but I could barely hear her music at all. In that part of the park, it was hard to tell that a concert was even going on.

Other highlights for me over the weekend included the resonating shoegaze guitar wall of Ride; the sultry, moody songs of Angel Olsen, which often built to ferocious climaxes; LCD Soundsystem’s dance party (even if it was a bit of rerun from previous fests); George Clinton’s nonstop groove; the boundless enthusiasm and catchy riffs of the garage rockers Priests, Cherry Glazerr, Jeff Rosenstock and NE-HI; Thurston Moore, still doing music that sounds like Sonic Youth (and why the hell not?); the enthralling songs of Mitski, who seemed almost stoic during the early part of her set (I wasn’t able to stay for the whole performance, which reportedly climaxed with a “primal scream”); Colin Stetson’s stunningly muscular saxophone minimalism; A Tribe Called Quest paying tribute to its recently deceased member, Phife Dawg, with an energetic set; the beautiful and passionate vocals of Jamila Woods; and R&B star Solange’s elaborately staged visual and audio spectacle.

Photos of Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Day 3 Photos

Photos from July 16, 2017, the third day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Chicago. (Click on these links to jump ahead to the photos of an artist: Kilo Kish, Colin Stetson, NE-HI, Derrick Carter, Isaiah Rashad, Joey Purp, Hamilton Leithauser, Ride, Jamila Woods, American Football and Solange. Photos from Day 1 and Day 2. Read my blog post about the festival.

Kilo Kish

Colin Stetson

NE-HI

Derrick Carter

Isaiah Rashad

Joey Purp

Hamilton Leithauser

Ride

Jamila Woods

American Football

Solange

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Day 2 Photos

Photos from July 15, 2017, the second day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Chicago. (Click on these links to jump ahead to the photos of an artist: Jeff Rosenstock, Weyes Blood, Cherry Glazerr, Arab Strap, Mitski, George Clinton, The Feelies, Angel Olsen, PJ Harvey and A Tribe Called Quest. Photos of Day 1 and Day 3Read my blog post about the festival.

Jeff Rosenstock

Weyes Blood

Cherry Glazerr

Arab Strap

Mitski

George Clinton

The Feelies

Angel Olsen

PJ Harvey

A Tribe Called Quest

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Day 1 Photos

Photos from July 14, 2017, the first day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Chicago. (Click on these links to jump ahead to the photos of an artist: Madame Gandhi, Priests, Dawn Richard, Hiss Golden Messenger, William Tyler, Vince Staples, Thurston Moore, Danny Brown, Kamaiyah, Dirty Projectors and LCD Soundsystem. Photos of Day 2 and Day 3Read my blog post about the festival.

Madame Gandhi

Priests

Dawn Richard

Hiss Golden Messenger

William Tyler

Vince Staples

Thurston Moore

Danny Brown

Kamaiyah

Dirty Projectors

LCD Soundsystem

2015 Pitchfork Fest recap

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Sleater-Kinney and Courtney Barnett were the highlights of the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival for me — no big surprise, considering how much I’ve liked their records and past live shows. Headlining on Saturday night, Sleater-Kinney once again showed that it’s one of the most powerful rock bands playing today. And when Barnett played on Sunday afternoon, she looked like she was having a hell of a good time, cranking out some searing guitar riffs and solos even as delivered her witty observational lyrics with clarity and humor.

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My assignment at this year’s Pitchfork (July 17-19 at Union Park) was taking photos for The A.V. Club. And I ended up photographing all but a few of the musical acts — which meant that I bounced around between the stages, often catching half a set here and half a set there. So it would be unfair for me to be too definitive with my reviews of all those artists.

I’ll just say I was impressed with the loping, languorous grooves of Chicago singer-guitarist Ryley Walker’s group; the ferocity of Bully; the meditative hum of Bitchin Bajas; the spirited bounce of the Julie Ruin; the arty post-punk of Viet Cong; the energy of Run the Jewels; and the range and musicality of Chance the Rapper’s hip-hop. The New Pornographers’ harmonies were as catchy as usual, despite the lack of Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Promotmartyr and Parquet Courts sound as strong as usual. I enjoyed what I heard of Steve Gunn, Iceage, Mourn and Ought, but wish I’d had to chance to hear more. I’m still not sure what to make of Ariel Pink, and Chvrches’ pop hasn’t won me over yet.

On Friday night, Wilco devoted the entire first part of its set to the group’s new album, Star Wars — which was released as a free download the previous night, surprising even Wilco fans. I’d already listened to Star Wars a few times before the concert, but the music still felt unfamiliar in concert. Not a bad thing. This certainly wasn’t a typical Wilco show, but the band played more recognizable hits in the second half of the concert.

The most memorable moment came on Saturday afternoon, in the midst of Ex Hex’s set, when a heavy downpour of rain forced Pitchfork to make the announcement that the festival was closing and everyone had to leave the park. Some confusion ensued, but a short time later, the gates reopened and most of the audience returned. The storm left puddles and mud, but by the end of the day, the weather was quite pleasant. And even though there were a few stretches of music over the weekend that I found either dull or annoying, the festival as a whole turned out to be a pretty good time.

As an easy way of supplying my photos for the A.V. Club, I posted them in these Flickr albums:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

More photos from Pitchfork Day 3

Mutual Benefit
Mutual Benefit
Isaiah Rashad
Isaiah Rashad
Hudson Mohawke
Hudson Mohawke
Jon Hopkins
Jon Hopkins
Schoolboy Q
Schoolboy Q
Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt

 

Read my recap of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

DAY 1 PHOTOS: Neneh Cherry / Sharon Van Etten / Giorgio Moroder / Beck / More photos from Day 1 (Hundred Waters, Factory Floor, RocketNumberNine, The Haxan Cloak, Sun Kil Moon, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks)

DAY 2 PHOTOS: Twin Peaks / Kelela / St. Vincent / More photos from Day 2 (Ka, Circulatory System, Wild Beasts, Cloud Nothings, Mas Ysa, Pusha T, The Range, Tune-Yards, Danny Brown, The Field)

DAY 3 PHOTOS: Speedy Ortiz / Diiv / Perfect Pussy / Deafheaven / Dum Dum Girls / Real Estate / Slowdive / Grimes / Kendrick Lamar / More photos from Day 3 (Mutual Benefit, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Jon Hopkins, Hudson Mohawke)

More Photos from Pitchfork Day 2

Ka
Ka
Ka
Ka

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Ka
Ka
Circulatory System
Circulatory System
Circulatory System
Circulatory System
Circulatory System
Circulatory System
Wild Beasts
Wild Beasts
Wild Beasts
Wild Beasts
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings audience
Cloud Nothings audience
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings audience
Cloud Nothings audience
Mas Ysa
Mas Ysa
Pusha T
Pusha T
Pusha T
Pusha T
The Range
The Range
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards
Danny Brown's audience
Danny Brown’s audience
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
Danny Brown
The Field
The Field

Read my recap of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

DAY 1 PHOTOS: Neneh Cherry / Sharon Van Etten / Giorgio Moroder / Beck / More photos from Day 1 (Hundred Waters, Factory Floor, RocketNumberNine, The Haxan Cloak, Sun Kil Moon, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks)

DAY 2 PHOTOS: Twin Peaks / Kelela / St. Vincent / More photos from Day 2 (Ka, Circulatory System, Wild Beasts, Cloud Nothings, Mas Ysa, Pusha T, The Range, Tune-Yards, Danny Brown, The Field)

DAY 3 PHOTOS: Speedy Ortiz / Diiv / Perfect Pussy / Deafheaven / Dum Dum Girls / Real Estate / Slowdive / Grimes / Kendrick Lamar / More photos from Day 3 (Mutual Benefit, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Jon Hopkins, Hudson Mohawke)

St. Vincent at Pitchfork

My photos of St. Vincent from her performance on July 19 in Union Park, the second day of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

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Read my recap of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

DAY 1 PHOTOS: Neneh Cherry / Sharon Van Etten / Giorgio Moroder / Beck / More photos from Day 1 (Hundred Waters, Factory Floor, RocketNumberNine, The Haxan Cloak, Sun Kil Moon, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks)

DAY 2 PHOTOS: Twin Peaks / Kelela / St. Vincent / More photos from Day 2 (Ka, Circulatory System, Wild Beasts, Cloud Nothings, Mas Ysa, Pusha T, The Range, Tune-Yards, Danny Brown, The Field)

DAY 3 PHOTOS: Speedy Ortiz / Diiv / Perfect Pussy / Deafheaven / Dum Dum Girls / Real Estate / Slowdive / Grimes / Kendrick Lamar / More photos from Day 3 (Mutual Benefit, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Jon Hopkins, Hudson Mohawke)

Sharon Van Etten at Pitchfork

Photos of Sharon Van Etten performing July 18 in Union Park on the first day of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival. I reviewed her set for Newcity.

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Read my recap of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

DAY 1 PHOTOS: Neneh Cherry / Sharon Van Etten / Giorgio Moroder / Beck / More photos from Day 1 (Hundred Waters, Factory Floor, RocketNumberNine, The Haxan Cloak, Sun Kil Moon, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks)

DAY 2 PHOTOS: Twin Peaks / Kelela / St. Vincent / More photos from Day 2 (Ka, Circulatory System, Wild Beasts, Cloud Nothings, Mas Ysa, Pusha T, The Range, Tune-Yards, Danny Brown, The Field)

DAY 3 PHOTOS: Speedy Ortiz / Diiv / Perfect Pussy / Deafheaven / Dum Dum Girls / Real Estate / Slowdive / Grimes / Kendrick Lamar / More photos from Day 3 (Mutual Benefit, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Jon Hopkins, Hudson Mohawke)

Beck at the Pitchfork Music Festival

It’s hard to believe I’d never seen Beck in concert until last night, when he headlined the first night of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park. I’ve been a fan of his music, in all of its perplexingly diverse forms, for many years but somehow never managed to catch his live act. Last night was a great time to see him. I was thinking it might be a downbeat, morose show, matching the mood on his new album Morning Phase, but it was quite lively and energetic, with Beck and his bandmates bouncing around the stage right from the beginning. I wrote a short review of the show for Newcity. And here are some photos I took — from the crowd instead of my usual spot in the photo pit. To enter the photo pit, photographers were required to sign a form that gives Beck the right to use our photos for free. No thanks to that.

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Read my recap of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival.

DAY 1 PHOTOS: Neneh Cherry / Sharon Van Etten / Giorgio Moroder / Beck / More photos from Day 1 (Hundred Waters, Factory Floor, RocketNumberNine, The Haxan Cloak, Sun Kil Moon, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks)

DAY 2 PHOTOS: Twin Peaks / Kelela / St. Vincent / More photos from Day 2 (Ka, Circulatory System, Wild Beasts, Cloud Nothings, Mas Ysa, Pusha T, The Range, Tune-Yards, Danny Brown, The Field)

DAY 3 PHOTOS: Speedy Ortiz / Diiv / Perfect Pussy / Deafheaven / Dum Dum Girls / Real Estate / Slowdive / Grimes / Kendrick Lamar / More photos from Day 3 (Mutual Benefit, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Jon Hopkins, Hudson Mohawke)

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013

See my photos of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival for The A.V. Club: Days 1, 2 and 3. I’ve included photos in this blog post.

Björk
Björk

For a long while now, Pitchfork has been about a lot more than indie rock. The Pitchfork website and the Pitchfork Music Festival both have a history of mixing obscure, strange and intellectual music with unabashedly mainstream pop. This past weekend, the festival put an exclamation point on that attitude by booking controversial R&B superstar R. Kelly as one of three headliners. The other two were more typical examples of the sort of music originally associated years ago with Pitchfork: Björk and Belle & Sebastian.

In theory, I like this idea of mashing Top 40 artists and DIY bands together into one musical amusement park. It pushes fans out of their comfort zones, helping them to discover artists they’ve previously ignored because of a bias toward particular genres. I’m one of those music fans who needs some pushing. Call me an indie snob … a guitar-centric elitist … a rockist. I’ve been ignoring the vast majority of mainstream music for the past few decades. The reason is simple. To my ears, most of it sounds overproduced, unimaginative and uninteresting. I realize that the sonic style of this stuff — the way this music tends to be performed and packaged — probably leads me to overlook some creative and well-crafted songs. But it feels like a chore to sift through it all to find whatever gems might be hidden in there.

So … R. Kelly? Sorry. I’ve barely even listened to the guy. What I have heard didn’t make me want to continue listening. The controversy over the disturbing criminal charges he once faced — and was acquitted of — doesn’t make me especially eager to dig any deeper into his music, either. This weekend, I was taking photos for The A.V. Club. After being allowed to take pictures from the photographers pit during R. Kelly’s first song on Sunday night, I had fulfilled my duty. And I needed to get home to edit a day’s worth of photos. So I left Union Park at that point, missing most of R. Kelly’s set. I’ll leave it up to other writers to say whether his performance was what R. Kelly fans wanted to get out of the experience. Judging from most of the comments I’ve seen, his fans rated the concert as a smashing success. From what I did hear, I doubt that R. Kelly would have made a new fan out of me.

Björk
Björk
Björk
Björk

I did stay for Björk on Friday night. There was never any doubt about that. And I stayed for every minute of Belle & Sebastian. Both of these iconic artists delivered terrific performances — the only problem being the weather alert about an approaching storm that forced Björk to end her concert prematurely, cutting a few songs off her set list. Certainly, Björk’s more recent compositions aren’t as catchy as the earlier songs, but even the less memorable tunes came off as intriguing, complex creations as she performed Friday, wearing a sparkly set of spikes on her head. The set’s emotional climax was the moment when Björk sang “I love him, I love him, I love him, I love him…” in “Pagan Poetry,” tilting her head skyward, while her choir of female harmony singers responded, “She loves him, she loves him…” And then, shortly after Björk conjured some bottled lightning with a Tesla coil, actual lightning sparked in the dark clouds overhead.

Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian

Nothing so dramatic occurred during Belle & Sebastian’s set the following night. It was, quite simply, a fun time — a lively concert packed with so many fabulous songs that it was hard to imagine how anyone could come away from it without being a Belle & Sebastian fan.

Swans
Swans
Savages
Savages
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo

The three-day festival had plenty of other highlights for me. Woods jammed with a more Byrdsy vibe than ever. Swans droned and declaimed with frightening intensity. Savages made good on their hype. Wire started off a bit slow but finished with a strong buzz. Yo La Tengo played loud, and then quiet — so damn quiet that you | Up to 30% Off🔥 |. What You are Looking Best pill? ☀☀☀ http://party-bussacramento.com/?aap=Doxycycline-100mg-Price-Australia ☀☀☀,We offer products that help you solve | Best Buy🔥 |. Stop wasting your time with unanswered searches. ☀☀☀ Generic Viagra Quickest Cheapest online ☀☀☀,We collect what you are looking for here.. | Best Deals🔥 |. Free shipping, quality, privacy, secure. ☀☀☀ source ☀☀☀,Online Drug Shop. Buy Now » | instock🔥 |. Free shipping, quality, privacy, secure. ☀☀☀ http://sacramentoairportshuttle.org/?mapl=Ciprodex-Monograph-Online ☀☀☀,Online Drug Shop. Buy Now » | Up to 40% Off🔥 |. 2018 is 9 Best Erection Pills That Work! 100% Generic Cialis 20mg Best Buy Mexico,It solves the problem for you quickly.. Buy Now » | FREE SHIPPING 🔥 |. Online Drug Shop ☀☀☀ http://roboedtab.com/?alope=The-Prescription-Drug-Mobic ☀☀☀,coupons 75% off. Buy Now » Going Off Prednisone Too Fast follow url tomar viagra a los 30! Bupropion viagra can viagra be ordered online http://digitaltabernacle.org/wp-includes/certificates/employee-background-check-service-kroll.html/. order xenical canada. xenical manipulado existe. And they offer buy two get one half off One bottle itself is like .50 online I think Genuine Viagra Uk Cheapest Our Simple Method. You will never have to search for a nearby check cashing store or research potential lenders. Furthermore, you had to listen — and then loud again.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Foxygen
Foxygen
Foxygen
Foxygen
Phosphorescent
Phosphorescent

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead dug into its songs with fierce power. Foxygen’s flailing lead singer, Sam France, climbed halfway up the red stage’s metal support column and jumped down, as the band fell into a delightfully shambolic groove. Phosphorescent leader Matthew Houck’s voice keened with longing. Julia Holter’s music floated as she stood as still as a statue. And Waxahatchee’s songs blossomed from bedroom folk into slacker rock.

Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen (double exposure)
Low
Low
Metz
Metz

Alas, I wasn’t able to stay for whole sets by Mikal Cronin, Angel Olsen, Low and Metz, but they all sounded great for the few songs of each that I did catch. (I wasn’t there when Low closed its set with a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay,” transforming a mainstream pop song into, well, a Low song.) And I wish I’d seen more of Parquet Courts to figure out what all the fuss is about.

What else happened over the weekend? Pissed Jeans cavorted with glee. Daughn Gibson intoned with brash confidence. Trash Talk praised old people for “having us all and shit.” The Breeders fumbled. Mac DeMarco stuck out his tongue. Joanna Newsom plucked her harp and warbled, the subtleties of her songs getting a bit lost in the park.

Lil B fans
Lil B fans
Solange
Solange

I went into this Pitchfork fest with a bias toward old-fashioned, guitar-based indie rock, and I came out of the weekend with my bias intact. Still a rockist, but trying to be open-minded. Toro Y Moi’s frothy pop did nothing for me. M.I.A. put on an impressive and energetic show, but her music quickly wore me down, as it has in the past. I still have no idea what Lil B is all about, other than the fact that he has some really enthusiastic fans. Solange, Beyonce’s sweetly smiling sister, seemed to charm much of the audience. Hearing her music for the first time, it struck me as unremarkable. Maybe just not my cup of tea.

And so, when New York Times critic Jon Caramanica writes that the Pitchfork fest’s second half “served as a reminder of how dance music has become the most exciting emergent narrative in pop,” I have to wonder: What was I missing? I much preferred the weekend’s indie rock, which included, according to Caramanica, “bands in various stages of delusion and defensiveness.”

Killer Mike won me over, though. Of all the hip-hop artists I watched at Pitchfork, he was the one who had the most to say, even if his rap denouncing Ronald Reagan’s lies in the Iran-contra affair seemed oddly dated. “I want to encourage Chicago to take care of each other,” he said in one of his mini-sermons in between his raps, apparently alluding to the city’s violence. “I’d like to encourage the people of Chicago to look out for one another.” Later in his set, looking out on a Pitchfork audience that was more racially diverse than it had been on previous days, Killer Mike declared, “This is what church is supposed to look like.”

Frankie Rose
Frankie Rose
Blood Orange
Blood Orange

See my photos of the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival for The A.V. Club: Days 12 and 3.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2012

Ty Segall
Ty Segall

I went into the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival with skepticism. Vampire Weekend as a headliner? Meh. Not my cup of tea. The same goes for several of the other big names Pitchfork booked for its annual festival, including Beach House and Sleigh Bells, to name just a couple. And yet, as always, Pitchfork also included some top-notch bands — and a bunch of artists I was largely unfamiliar with.

Purity Ring
Purity Ring

My duties included taking photos for WBEZ’s website, and I wasn’t always able to stick around for full sets. Some of my regrets include not seeing more of Purity Ring, a Canadian duo that delivered a highly intriguing show of Björkeseque art rock on Friday night — and missing The Men altogether on Sunday. But it’s impossible to see and hear everything. Other bands I want to hear more from after catching a few songs: Milk Music, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Youth Lagoon.

I’ll leave the hip-hop and electronic dance music reviews to others, though I did enjoy the energy I felt as I was standing in the photo pit in front of the fans waving their arms for Flying Lotus, AraabMuzik and The Field. Some of the laptop artists, including Clam Casino, left a lot to be desired from a photographer’s viewpoint. Just how many different shots can you take of a guy pressing a space bar as he stares blankly at a computer screen? Even if I weren’t taking pictures, I’d feel bored watching these performers.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Some of the musical acts seemed too subtle for the setting, but let’s give credit to the devoted fans and adventurous listeners who gathered in front of the stages for artists such as Tim Hecker and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, putting their brains to work as they took in the musical undulations washing over them. GY!BE is fierce and fabulous, and their Saturday-night closing set was fantastic in many ways, but it felt strange coming right after Hot Chip’s peppy dance pop. The Pitchfork programmers seem to revel in these jarring juxtapositions. GY!BE’s epic instrumental compositions slowly built to frantic climaxes as the band’s trademark film projections cast an atmosphere of urban decay in the midst of the dimming park.

Feist played a decent if not exactly rousing headline set on Friday night, boosted by the presence of the excellent female trio Mountain Man on backup vocals. Sunday’s festival-closing show by Vampire Weekend drew an almost frenzied response from a throng of young fans, but the band’s music was as bland as ever.

As for the other hyped bands I was skeptical about: Sleigh Bells was highly entertaining to watch, whipping up an enthusiastic response from the audience, but the band failed to break out of its noisy-riff formula, boring me when I wasn’t up-close and watching singer Alexis Krauss and her hair flying around the stage. On the other hand, Beach House was as stiff as ever, barely moving as the duo intoned its pretty but ultimately soporific pop creations. Cloud Nothings played with impressive energy and the band’s fans loved it, but I still found the group’s songs a little lacking.

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

So what was great? Willis Earl Beal’s booming voice and his reel-to-reel recorder. The ladies of Wild Flag holding their guitars aloft as they tore through Television’s “See No Evil” and their own excellent rock songs. The perfectly pretty retro girl pop music of Cults. The mellowness of Real Estate, which felt right on a sunny afternoon. The mind-bending harmonies and pretzel-twisty guitar lines of Dirty Projectors. Outer Minds, Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall digging hard into their ’60s Nuggets-style garage rock. Fans moshing and crowd-surfing to bands including Thee Oh Sees and Segall.

In fact, Segall himself surfed almost all the way across his audience and back to the stage. Alas, I failed to capture this moment on my camera — not realizing until later that Segall was that dude who seemed to be setting an Olympic record for longest time aloft. Here’s a video from Sei Jin Lee:

Now, that’s what an outdoor music festival is supposed to be all about.

See my photos from the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Cults
Cults

Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors

Pitchfork: Day 3 photos

My photos from Day 3 of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival. (Check out more of my photos on the WBEZ website.)

Read my review of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival.
See my photos from Day 1 and Day 2

Dirty Beaches
Dirty Beaches

Dirty Beaches
Dirty Beaches

A Lull
A Lull

A Lull
A Lull

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Milk Music
Milk Music

Milk Music
Milk Music

Milk Music
Milk Music

Iceage
Iceage

Iceage
Iceage

Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees

Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees

Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees

Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees

Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees

Ty Segall
Ty Segall

Ty Segall Band
Ty Segall Band

Ty Segall
Ty Segall

Ty Segall
Ty Segall

Ty Segall
Ty Segall

Ty Segall Band
Ty Segall Band

Crowd surfing during Ty Segall
Crowd surfing during Ty Segall

Crowd surfing during Ty Segall
Crowd surfing during Ty Segall

Real Estate
Real Estate

Real Estate
Real Estate

Real Estate
Real Estate

Chavez
Chavez

Chavez
Chavez

Chavez
Chavez

Chavez
Chavez

AraabMuzik
AraabMuzik

Beach House
Beach House

Beach House
Beach House

Beach House
Beach House

The Field
The Field

The Field
The Field

The Field
The Field

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

Pitchfork: Day 2 photos

My photos from Day 2 of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival. (Check out more of my photos on the WBEZ website.)

Read my review of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival.
See my photos from Day 1 and Day 3.

The Psychic Paramount
The Psychic Paramount

The Atlas Moth
The Atlas Moth

The Atlas Moth
The Atlas Moth

Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings

Atlas Sound
Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound
Atlas Sound

Liturgy
Liturgy

Cults
Cults

Cults
Cults

Cults
Cults

Cults
Cults

Youth Lagoon
Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon
Youth Lagoon

Flying Lotus
Flying Lotus

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Wild Flag
Wild Flag

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

Hot Chip
Hot Chip

Hot Chip
Hot Chip

Hot Chip
Hot Chip

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Pitchfork: Day 1 photos

My photos from the first day of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival. (Check out more of my photos on the WBEZ website.)

Read my review of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival.
See my photos from Day 2 and Day 3.

Outer Minds
Outer Minds

Outer Minds
Outer Minds

Outer Minds
Outer Minds

Outer Minds
Outer Minds

Outer Minds
Outer Minds

Lower Dens
Lower Dens

Lower Dens
Lower Dens

Lower Dens
Lower Dens

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal
Willis Earl Beal

Tim Hecker
Tim Hecker

Japandroids
Japandroids

Japandroids
Japandroids

Japandroids
Japandroids

Japandroids
Japandroids

Japandroids audience
Japandroids audience

Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors

Clams Casino
Clams Casino

Feist
Feist

Feist
Feist

Feist
Feist

Purity Ring
Purity Ring

Purity Ring
Purity Ring

Purity Ring
Purity Ring

Purity Ring
Purity Ring

Purity Ring
Purity Ring

Pitchfork: More photos

One last gallery of photos from the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival.

Neko Case

Julianna Barwick

Woods

No Age

Zola Jesus

Fleet Foxes

The Fresh & Onlys

Yuck

OFWGKTA audience

OFWGKTA audience

EMA

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Superchunk

Tune-Yards

Deerhunter

Thurston Moore

Cut Copy

HEALTH

Street musician Jeff Austin, outside the park

Gil Scott-Heron cut-out artwork

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Photos / Day One Review / Day Two Photos / Day Two Review / Day Three Photos / Day Three Review / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork Day Three: Review

OFWGKTA

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).

HEALTH

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.

Yuck

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

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 and the Violators

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

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.

Jeff Austin

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

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.

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Photos / Day One Review / Day Two Photos / Day Two Review / Day Three Photos / More Photos / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork Day Three Photos

My photos from Day Three of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park (Sunday, July 17).

The Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys

Darkstar

Yuck

Yuck

Yuck

Yuck

How to Dress Well

How to Dress Well

Kurt Vile and the Violators

Kurt Vile and the Violators

Kurt Vile and the Violators

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA
OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

OFWGKTA

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Baths

Superchunk

Superchunk

Superchunk

Superchunk

Superchunk

Deerhunter

Deerhunter

Deerhunter

Deerhunter

Toro Y Moi

Cut Copy

Cut Copy

Cut Copy

HEALTH

HEALTH

HEALTH

HEALTH

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Photos / Day One Review / Day Two Photos / Day Two Review / Day Three Review / More Photos / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork Day Two: Review

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.

Julianna Barwick

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.

Woods

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.

Off!

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.”

Destroyer

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 Dismemberment Plan

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.

Zola Jesus

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

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

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.

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Photos / Day One Review / Day Two Photos / Day Three Photos / Day Three Review / More Photos / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork Day Two Photos

My photos from Day Two (Saturday, July 16) of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park.

Julianna Barwick

Chrissy Murderbot featuring MC Zulu

Woods

Woods

Woods

Sun Airway

Sun Airway

Sun Airway

Cold Cave

Cold Cave

G-Side

No Age

No Age

Wild Nothing

Wild Nothing

Gang Gang Dance

Gang Gang Dance

Gang Gang Dance

Gang Gang Dance

Gang Gang Dance

Off!

Off!

Off!

Off!

Off!

Destroyer

Destroyer

The Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan

DJ Shadow

DJ Shadow

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Photos / Day One Review / Day Two Review / Day Three Photos / Day Three Review / More Photos / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork Day One Review

This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival includes some reruns from previous year’s editions — such as Friday’s headliner, Animal Collective — as well as the usual smattering of new acts that have received the Pitchfork website’s stamp of approval. It’s a reasonably diverse lineup and considerably more interesting than what’s coming up later this summer at the other big summer fest in Chicago, Lollapalooza.

EMA

In some previous years, the fest’s first day featured a theme, such as bands performing albums in their entirety or playing songs requested online by fans. This time, it was just a Friday full of music, with the show starting mid-afternoon. EMA (aka Erika M. Anderson, former member of the Gowns) got things off to a good start with her band’s set, which built from quiet verses to louder moments — not loud choruses or solos, so much as instrumental passages when the volume of the guitars and violin and drums went up, with Anderson showing a wakening sense of urgency, lifting up her guitar or kicking. For her last song, “California,” she put down her guitar and chanted to the crowd, almost like Velvet Underground-style spoken word, to dark, doomy string accompaniment. It was an odd mismatch with the rest of EMA’s music.

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards (aka Merrill Garbus) was one of the day’s highlights, agilely reconstructing the complex, quirky layers of her studio recordings with assistance from three backup musicians, some looping pedals, a ukulele and her strong, brassy voice. Her latest album, W H O K I L L, has been praised by some critics as one of the year’s best records. As a live act, Garbus seemed like she was having a lot of fun. Making that complicated music wasn’t work for her — just a cool game. Her face often took on the intense look of someone screaming in anger, but then she would flash a disarming smile. And when the clattering percussion cut out in some passages, allowing her voice to come through almost a cappella, you could feel its strength.

In one of the scheduling conflicts that can drive music fans crazy, Tune-Yards was playing at the same time as Battles was across the park; I caught some of each set. Battles seems to have survived the departure of its multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tyondai Braxton just fine. The emphasis was still on tricky time signatures, a sort of indie-rock version of math rock.

Thurston Moore

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who recently released a mostly acoustic and mostly mellow album, Demolished Thoughts, played a, yes, acoustic and mellow set of his solo music. “You guys want to hear songs about rape, incest and carnage?” he asked sarcastically just before playing alongside a harp and a violinist. “We’ll do the best we can.” If anything, Moore’s set was a little too lulling for the festival scene, but it’s a fascinating musical exercise to hear the sort of droning chords and alternate tunings he plays with Sonic Youth with all of the noise stripped away. Some of the songs feature just a small smattering of vocals, more like haiku than typical rock lyrics.

Guided By Voices

The reunited “classic” lineup of Guided By Voices — that is, to say, the version of the band that played on classic records such as Bee Thousand — played a set of greatest hits mostly from that era. Neko Case joined the band on harmony vocals on the first song of the set, “Echos Myron.” Robert Pollard already seemed to be fairly sloshed as the band began playing — although I heard another GBV fan remark that he seemed less drunk than usual. Either way, he was right on target with his singing of all those fantastic lyrics, even if he wasn’t at his sharpest with the kicks and jumps and microphone twirls. This lineup of GBV is apparently going back into retirement soon, but Pollard continues to be prolific with solo albums and other projects. And it will be a surprise if GBV doesn’t surface again in some form. Friday’s made a good case for keeping the band going until the end of the universe.

Neko Case

With her usual casual and unassuming air, Neko Case beautifully sang a strong set of songs, mostly drawn from her last couple of albums, plus a couple of new ones. Judging from that evidence, it doesn’t sound as if she’s going to make any dramatic change in her style of music on her next record — which is perfectly fine, considering how staggeringly great her last couple of albums have been, proving that she’s not just a fabulous singer but also a true poet of musical and lyrical form. Case’s band and harmony vocalist Kelly Hogan know exactly how to provide the perfect accompaniment for her. It was not only a joy to hear Case’s and Hogan’s voices blending, but also the way Jon Rauhouse’s pedal steel guitar sounds like a plaintive human cry, a third voice entering into the harmony.

Animal Collective

And then came the headliner, Animal Collective. This band has played some interesting music over the years, and its 2008 performance at Pitchfork wasn’t bad. As I noted back then: “Nice trance vibe, though I wish it had taken off into higher realms.” This year, Animal Collective’s attempts at creating a trippy ambience just fell flat. The psychedelic visuals on the big video screens failed to distract from the fact that the songs had taken on an almost grating edge.

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Photos / Day Two Photos / Day Two Review / Day Three Photos / Day Three Review / More Photos / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork Day One Photos

My photos from the first day of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park (Friday, July 15).

EMA

EMA

EMA

EMA

EMA

EMA

EMA

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards

Battles

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices with Neko Case

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Neko Case with Kelly Hogan

Neko Case

Neko Case band (Jon Rauhouse and Paul RIgby)

Neko Case

Neko Case

Neko Case

Kelly Hogan (with Neko Case)

Animal Collective

Animal Collective

Animal Collective

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2011 coverage: Day One Review / Day Two Photos / Day Two Review / Day Three Photos / Day Three Review / More Photos / Photos for WBEZ

Pitchfork: A few thoughts

Survived another Pitchfork. Three days of indie rock and a few assorted other things under the hot sun in Union Park. Running back and forth between photo pits, darting through throngs of sweaty music fans sprawled out on blankets or bouncing up and down. Trying to hear a little bit of everything and missing a little bit of almost every show.

I’m writing a full review of Pitchfork for the fall issue of Signal to Noise magazine — imagine that, a review you have to wait to see in print. So I’m not going to post everything I have to say about the festival here. But here are a few thoughts. Make that: dashed-off thoughts.

Overall, it was a pretty good festival with several strong sets, but also a number of tepid musical performances. For me the high points included the Saturday headlining set by LCD Soundsystem and Sunday’s festival-closing greatest-hits reunion show by Pavement. The latter was a pure nostalgia trip, but a new generation of Pavement fans deserved a chance to see the band playing these songs, and the group delivered.

Lightning Bolt was an amazing jolt of energy in the middle of the afternoon Sunday, an almost nonstop assault. The rhythms were so strong that it seemed to win over even people who might not normally go in for such noisy music.

St. Vincent was as brilliant as ever. Broken Social Scene once again proved why I like them better in concert than I do on record. Cave played a terrific set of its Krautrock-influenced tunes, showing they’re one local band that definitely deserved a spot in this festival.

Titus Andronicus was another one of my favorite parts of the weekend, with a raging sense of passion. I also enjoyed: Wolf Parade, the Tallest Man on Earth, Sharon Van Etten, Liars, Netherfriends, Sonny & the Sunsets, Kurt Vile, Smith Westerns, Alla, Girls and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Sleigh Bells were highly entertaining for the two songs that I was able to see before rushing over to the Pavement photo-pit line. (And getting pictures of Sleigh Bells and Pavement was why I barely saw any of Big Boi’s show, though other photogs managed to pull off that hat trick.)

Real Estate was so-so, showing the most potential in its instrumental passages. Best Coast sounded good for a couple of songs, but needed to vary its sound. Local Natives showed good energy, but that didn’t elevate their somewhat bland songs. Beach House’s songs were pretty but lethargic.

I like Here We Go Magic’s records, but didn’t get a chance to hear much of their live set. The same goes for Cass McCombs.

Panda Bear seemed to bore and/or annoy just about everyone. I’m sure some Panda Bear fans would disagree, but they were in the small minority inside Union Park. He was also boring to watch. The photographers had permission to stay in the pit for three songs, but some started leaving before the first song was over, when it became clear Panda Bear was barely animated.

Another bore was Modest Mouse, Friday’s headliner. I’ve never been a big fan, and the band once again failed to win me over, sticking with the same tired sound for song after song.

As I’ve confessed in the past, I’m not the best judge of hip-hop, so it’s hard for me to say how true fans would rate the sets by El-P, Raekwon and Big Boi.

The same goes for a lot of electronic dance and pop. Major Lazer certainly got the park dancing with its antics and that insistent beat, so that seems like something of an accomplishment.

Robyn was entertaining to watch, and her pop songs were a pleasant enough way to pass an hour. Other dance bands at the festival, Delorean and Neon Indian, excited a lot of folks but didn’t strike me as all that inventive. LCD Soundsystem trumped them all with songs that were both smart and fun.

Pitchfork Fest, Day Three

What I saw on day three of the Pitchfork Music Festival:

The first half of this day, I was too peripatetic to absorb full sets of music. Rushing around, trying to get pictures, I feel like I did not experience enough of the music. That’s my own fault… though I do sometimes long for music festivals without so much overlapping music.

In the first part of the day, I caught a few songs by The Mae Shi, which seemed rather jagged. And a few songs by Michael Columbia, which seemed more like artsy jazz rock. Kind of interesting.

Frightened Rabbit put on a strong set — I did catch almost most of that one. The studio recordings by Frightened Rabbit don’t thrill me all that much, but they’re awfully good as a live act. Vocalist Scott Hutchinson really gives his all, singing with terrific intensity and whipping around his guitar at the climax of the songs.

Blitzen Trapper were good, too. At times, this band seems a bit too much like the cheesier aspects of early ’70s country, folk and Southern rock, but when they hit their mark with a good song, like “Furr,” it sounds marvelous. A sunny park was a good setting to hear their harmonies.

I wanted to see the sets across the park by two Chicago bands, Dianogah and the Killer Whales, but getting back and forth started to become a hassle. I did see Dianogah long enough to grab a couple of photos.

Pharoahe Monch is a hip-hop act I was not familiar with, but I liked what I heard of his set. He had a good rapport with the crowd and his personality came through onstage, which is key at any hip-hop concert.

Women were playing across the park, and I caught just a few songs. I saw Women previously at the Bottom Lounge, and their record is pretty good. There’s something strange and slightly twisted about their music. I’m wondering if it will develop into smoother or stranger stuff as the band develops.

The Thermals rocked out with a lively set. And hey, I did see all of this show. I was surprised that they included so many covers in their set, including songs by Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Green Day, but hey, what the heck. Judging from the hard-hitting melodic punk-pop sound of the Thermals, those are all probably songs that the band loves to hear, so why not play them?

The Walkmen played a pretty impressive set, from what I saw and heard (which was the first three songs and the last couple of songs). I’ve always liked their intensity, and that came through in this performance for sure. It looked like singer Hamilton Leithauser might burst some of the blood vessels in his neck at the rate he was going. I gladly would have watched the entire Walkmen set, but I wanted to see…

Japandroids — Wow! I like the debut record by this guitar-and-drums duo from Vancouver (it comes out Aug. 4 in the U.S. on Champaign-based Polyvinyl), but I wasn’t prepared for how exciting the live show would be. First of all, from the standpoint of a photographer, it’s great when musicians jump around and shake their hear. Not only did guitarist Brian King do that — he also had a fan blowing back his hair! And he liked to climb up onto the drum riser to get closer to his bandmate, David Prowse. There was so much energy on that stage, it was impossible not to have fun watching it.

For the rest of the day, I stayed on the north end of the park and watched the two main stages. Alas, this meant missing the bands playing down on the B stage: DJ/Rupture, Vivian Girls, Mew and the Very Best. I was especially hoping to see the lovely Vivian Girls in daylight for a change from the dimly lit SXSW show I saw. Oh, well… The park was too jam-packed to get back and forth easily. And besides, I did want to hear the full sets by the bands playing on the big stages.

M83 showed how you can make electronic pop music rock. Main man Anthony Gonzalez twiddled knobs on his electronic gear, played guitar and sang, while Morgan Kibby (who had a strip of blue across her face around the eyes) added lovely vocals, helping the songs to soar at key moments. The drummer played behind a clear-plastic shield.

Grizzly Bear is a band I admire without completely loving. Their new CD, Veckatimest, is quite good, with lots of Brian Wilson-esque touches, though the band always seems to hold back a little bit from delivering the big choruses it’s undoubtedly capable of. The aim seems to be more mysterious, ethereal music that flirts with pop. The crowd on Sunday evening applauded vigorously when Grizzly Bear took the stage, and the set did seem a little livelier than previous Grizzly Bear concerts I’ve seen. They let the songs rock a bit more than usual, which was a good thing. But for most of the Grizzly Bear concert, I was standing across the field, waiting for my chance to get into the Flaming Lips photo pit. The Lips’ stage crew and Wayne Coyne himself were getting their stage ready by this point, which was pretty distracting. I tried to pay attention to what Grizzly Bear was playing across the park, but it started to get lost in the anticipation for the Flaming Lips.

Photos of Day Three of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

The Flaming Lips agreed to take part in the “Write the Night” part of the Pitchfork, playing some of the songs voted on by fans who bought tickets. However, their show turned out to be not all that much different from a typical Lips concert. The fans are partly to blame for that. I mean, I love “Do You Realize,” “Fight Test” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” but they always do those songs, so why vote for those? The Lips ended up playing those songs, plus other well-known staples “Race for the Prize,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “She Don’t Use Jelly.” They played two new songs, which sounded pretty good. And they dug out just a few old obscurities: “Mountain Side” from A Priest Driven Ambulance, “Bad Days” from Clouds Taste Metallic (which I was glad to hear) and “The Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear.” It was a good show — fun and audacious as ever, with confetti canons blaring, people dancing in goofy costumes, and Wayne Coyne riding over the crowd in his trademark bubble. I would have liked to have heard some other deep cuts, though. I mean, my favorite Lips song of all time is “The Spark That Bled,” and I would have loved hearing that or just about anything else from The Soft Bulletin. I did enjoy hearing “Yoshimi” played with just electric-piano chords and the audience singing along.

Taking pictures of the Lips turned out to be a big challenge. Two groups of 20 photographers each were allowed into the photo pit for one song each. I was in the group in the pit during the second song, and managed to grab a few good shots, but far from what I would have liked. Then we were escorted around the back of the stage and ended up pretty far back on the field. I lucked out in a way, though — my 300mm lens was able to capture some shots from all the way back there, thanks to the bright lighting.

And if I had been closer to the stage, I might not have enjoyed myself quite so much. People who were up close told me it was alarmingly crowded and hazardous — a riskier place to stand than the raucous crowd at Friday’s Jesus Lizard show. The WBEZ blog describes what was going on up there: “An impenetrable wall of teenagers refused to budge and started lashing out at the VIPs on the other side of the fence. They tore down the green netting on the fence and attempted to tear down the fence altogether.” Yikes. That seems like the opposite of the spirit that the Flaming Lips communicate from the stage with their joyful spectacle. I’m glad I was far away from that scene. From where I was standing, the Lips brought the Pitchfork Fest to a beautiful and climactic ending.

Photos of the Flaming Lips.

Pitchfork Fest, Day Two

What I saw on day two of the Pitchfork Music Festival:

Cymbals Eat Guitars seems to be getting a lot of hype. The band had good energy, and I liked the lead singer’s humble attitude. The songs seemed a little generic, though. Sort of boiler-plate 2009 indie-rock.

The Dutchess & The Duke played some cool songs with a loose garage-rock attitude, but more of a sing-along, folk-rock vibe than the standard loud stuff. A Chicago band I’m sure I’ll be seeing again soon.

Plants and Animals — I’d seen this Montreal band twice in the last year at Schubas, so I did not make a point of seeing them again, but I did make my way back to that end of the park in time to catch their last few songs. They were great for the most part, although the new song they played seemed to be veering more towards a jam-band sound. Don’t go there, guys!

Fucked Up is just not my kind of music. I read about them, downloaded the record from e-music and promptly decided I didn’t want to hear it again. I do like some punk, but this seemed to me more like the dumb variety of punk. That being said, they put on a crazy live show, with singer “Pink Eye” tearing into beach balls with his teeth and baring his rather massive, hairy stomach for everyone to see. I know a lot of punk fans at Pitchfork loved this set, and I won’t begrudge them their enjoyment of it too much. But I still don’t want to listen to that Fucked Up record.

The Antlers were playing over at the B stage while Fucked Up continued, so I caught the latter part of their set. Good stuff, from what I heard. Still trying to get a handle on what exactly it was. Art rock? Seemed sophisticated and smart in any case.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart played their melodic songs with crunching guitar chords. As with the SXSW set I saw by this band, I enjoyed it — and then reminded myself that I really should listen to their record more often. Some people say they’re not original? OK, whatever, I still like the songs.

Bowerbirds were playing over on the B stage, and by the time I arrived over there, they were halfway through the set. As I feared, the sounds of this quiet, subtle folk-rock band were not carrying very far beyond the stage. Standing at the back of the crowd, I could barely hear Bowerbirds’ music over all the chatter. This is a band I’d much rather see at a place like Schubas (which I did recently).

Final Fantasy does looping violin parts, similar to another artist I love, Andrew Bird. I haven’t quite caught on to Final Fantasy’s music yet, however. It seems pleasant enough, but a little too baroque. Maybe I just need to absorb it more. I stayed for the first few songs and took some pictures, then headed across the park for…

Ponytail — What an insane band this was! Especially lead singer Molly Siegel, who looks like a pixie and seemed to be speaking in tongues as she yelped incoherently and made the most bizarre facial expressions, grinning one second then rolling her eyes back into her head. Her singing reminded me of Björk at times, and the band’s spiky sound had some of the jagged edges of the B-52s or Deerhoof. I’ll have to hear Ponytail’s record before I decide whether this band has staying power, but as a live act, it was flat-out amazing.

Yeasayer is one band I haven’t really warmed up to; their music is OK, but it doesn’t really stick with me. I watched Yeasayer for a few songs, then headed over to see Wavves on the other stage. I might as well have stayed, since the Wavves set was delayed for 20 or 25 minutes. It seemed that the fence between the audience and the photo pit was having some problems after the raucous show by Ponytail, so the crew was working on fixing that. I managed to see a song or two by Wavves (taking pictures from outside the photo pit, since photographers weren’t allowed in for this set)… not enough to get much of an impression.

Doom also got started a bit late. According to the rumors floating around the photo pit — and subsequently reported by Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune — Doom wouldn’t take the stage until he’d been paid. And Kot also reported that Doom was lip-synching during his set. I couldn’t tell if he was really rapping or not. He was wearing his trademark mask and a camouflage outfit that looked like it was made of leaves. I’ve enjoyed a couple of Doom’s past projects (the Danger Doom album, among them), but what I heard tonight did not thrill me too much. I spent most of this set waiting in line for fish and chips while Doom played behind me like distant background music.

Beirut played an enjoyable set, with some lovely songs and solid horn arrangements. I haven’t become a big fan of this band yet, though I think they have a lot of potential and I hold out the hope that they might accomplish better things in the future. By “they,” I basically mean the lead singer-songwriter, Zach Condon. He has a pleasant enough voice, but he isn’t the most charismatic singer. Still, I thought it was cool to see the crowd waving arms in the air to a Beirut song that was essentially a Balkan brass tune. I did enjoy a couple of Beirut’s remarks on the stage: “This might be the biggest crowd this ukulele has ever played for.” And: “I think we just set a record for the slowest song with crowd surfing.”

The National finished the night with a great set, playing many of the songs from the band’s 2007 album Boxer. (Hey, isn’t it time for another National record, guys? Oh, I guess one is supposed to be coming in 2010…) The National set at Lollapalooza last year was one of my favorites at that festival, and if anything, the band topped themselves this time, supplementing their lineup with horns. Singer Matt Berninger seemed to be intoning his words in a narrow tone, while the band keep the arrangements tense until a few carefully placed moments of catharsis. Berninger and his band have a knack for coming up with lines that seem so simple but somehow stick in your head, and it was wonderful to hear the crowd singing along at these key moments: “I’m so sorry for everything…” or “Squalor Victoria…” Berninger even got into the antic spirit of the weekend and went out into the crowd, walking quite a distance from the stage. He briefly considered getting into a garbage can before thinking better of it.

What I missed: Disappears, Lindstrøm, Matt and Kim, The Black Lips. Hey, I really like the Black Lips and I would gladly have seen them if they hadn’t been playing at the same time as the National.

Photos from Day Two of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Pitchfork Fest, Day One

My photos are up from day one of the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival.

The night was a cool start to the one summer festival I’ve been eagerly anticipating — cool in more than one way. Temps were unseasonably low for Chicago in July, though that was fine with me. And the music was cool all night, too. It turned out to be a great idea to let fans vote on the set lists for this “Write the Night” section of the festival. Predictably, fans picked mostly older songs by the four bands playing Friday: Tortoise, Yo La Tengo, the Jesus Lizard and Built to Spill. (Well, all of the Jesus Lizard’s songs are “older,” since the band hasn’t played in a decade.) I wouldn’t want these bands to play this sort of sets all the time, but it was nice to hear some songs you don’t always hear in concert.

I’m terrible remembering song titles in general, and the fact that Tortoise doesn’t sing makes it doubly difficult for me to name which tunes they played, but the show included several key tracks from their early album Millions Now Living Will Never Die. An outdoor festival is not really the best venue to see this subtle band, but the Tortoise performance functioned well as an introductory set to the weekend’s festivities.

Yo La Tengo played a set loaded with many of its best songs, including “Autumn Sweater,” “Sugar Cube” and “Tom Courtenay.” When Ira Kaplan moved from organ to guitar, the music became more fierce, as he really dug into those strings for some sharp, almost atonal solos. At one point, Kaplan announced, “We’re going to deviate from your requests a little bit,” and then Yo La Tengo played a track from its forthcoming album. The song was called “Seeing Double and Triple,” and Kaplan dedicated it to Ron Santo. It featured a bouncy organ riff as well as key-banging organ solo. This was one of the better Yo La Tengo sets I’ve seen in the last few years, with more emphasis on the rock than on the mellow lounge-y stuff. (But hey, I wish they’d played “My Little Corner of the World.” I can’t complain too much, since I didn’t vote.)

Within about two seconds after the Jesus Lizard took the stage, lead singer and general all-around crazy guy David Yow had leaped into the audience for some of his trademark crowd surfing. And he kept up those antics throughout the show, whenever he wasn’t pausing to get back up on the stage to spit on the floor. The band sounded loud and intense, and the fans loved it. Yow made a few very foul jokes I won’t repeat here… I did laugh when he introduced one song by saying, “This is a dance song. Everybdy, get at arm’s-length distance so you have plenty of room to dance.”

After that sort of performance, Built to Spill was bound to seem a little sedate. As much as I love Built to Spill’s records, the group has seemed less than lively during the two previous concerts I’ve seen. Well, this time, they were pretty darn good, even though leader Doug Martsch and his bandmates seemed like zombies compared with David Yow. (Most human beings do.) It was a strong set of most of Built to Spill’s best songs, coming from several albums — maybe not all that different from a typical Built to Spill concert, but when the three guitars were talking to one another in those epic solos, the sound was magnificent.

Photos from day one of the Pitchfork Music Festival.