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.