Pitchfork Music Festival Day 1

by Jack Diablo
Anyone who actually listens to 90% of the music I review is no doubt familiar with Pitchfork, the online music magazine and barometer for what is cool in indie music. While the butt of many hipster jabs and jokes, they simply know their stuff and have been known to launch many fledgling bands to near-stardom by generating a little buzz and giving a good review. For the past few years the media powerhouse has hosted their very own music festival at Union Park in Chicago. Suffice it to say that the lineup is always a who’s who of popular established as well as up-and-coming bands that get the P4k stamp of approval. On a whim, I requested a press pass to cover the event for our humble local entertainment rag and much to my surprise (and delight) I was granted it!
Once upon a time I lived in Chicago, well Great Lakes to be exact, at the Navy Training Center. During those days I would take the hour Metra ride into the city with my shipmates to explore the city. At the time I had no idea where to go nor any friends in the city so we usually wandered around Michigan Avenue with the rest of the tourists. A friend of mine (you may remember her from our adventures at Fest last year) recently moved to Wicker Park, what I would consider the Riverside (but way cooler) of the Windy City, so this time I had a place to stay and a friend to keep me company. Fortunately her place was conveniently located near the Blue Line station and the Ashalnd bus line that took me directly to Union Park. After deplaning I walked maybe a total of six city blocks, taking clean and efficient public transportation the rest of the way. It was like a dream come true!
Before boarding the crowded bus I took some time to explore some of the boutiques on Milwaukee Avenue in the heart of Wicker Park. These experiences are always bittersweet. It’s overwhelming how much cool stuff there is there and at the same time depressing that but a fraction can be found in the city I live in. But this was no time to dwell on such things, beautiful music awaited.
As I exited the bus and searched the park grounds for the press entrance I could hear Tallest Man on Earth playing his set and unfortunately missed all of it. I had planned on checking it out as I’ve been casually listening to the new album but it isn’t something I would normally be that stoked on so it was no big deal to miss it.
Soon after arriving I ran into ol’ Cash Carter waiting to see Liars. Thankfully he was stoked to see them so I met up with him and his crew to get a good view of the stage. On the neighboring stage El-P was performing his underground hip hop act but I wasn’t feeling it. He was literally standing about three feet away from me just before I wrote this recording a station identification and getting his picture taken with a Yamaha CS01 in the press tent. Once upon a time I would have been really into it. I was a huge Del the Funkee Homosapien fan back in the day and enjoyed their collaboration on Both Sides of the Brain. Maybe it was the awful sound job or maybe it was simply relevance in general but it did nothing for me and I was content to wait on my feet as the crowd gathered in anticipation for Liars.
I listened to them briefly before the festival but not near enough to generate the appreciation I now have for them. The lead singer came on stage with a cut-off Men at Work tee- point Liars. Angus, the singer is a lanky, shaggy-haired maniac with an Australian accent who uses his vocals as an instrument. The reverb, delay, echo and digital effects applied to his voice remind me of HEALTH but Liars tunes, although somewhat dance-punk in nature, are a little bit more relaxed at times, psychedelic even. I really enjoyed their set and count myself as a new fan for sure.
The night before I left I made it a point to check out some of the acts I wasn’t familiar with. The first two were Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter. Google revealed them to be comedians that I was vaguely aware of which set me on a path of watching YouTube videos until three in the morning and making absolutely zero progress on discovering new bands to check out. Both performers made appearances on the smaller stage but at the most inopportune times. Showalter’s set was five minutes before Broken Social Scene and Mirman went up against Modest Mouse. Nevertheless a decent crowd was gathered for both. I caught about thirty seconds of Showalter before deciding I didn’t have the patience to sit through a comedy routine and completely skipped Mirman’s as a result.
When I heard Broken Social Scene’s set start I began making my way towards the stage knowing I would have a terrible vantage point, but I was not prepared for just how far back I had to watch from. The crowd was epic as BSS is one of those names with an automatic draw. I’ve never really given them the opportunity having heard their name thrown around a lot, but never actually devoting any time to hear them. You can’t help but be impressed by a band that can keep it together with that many members and incorporate such varied instrumentation. At one point I counted at least 12 performers on stage. There were more than a few sound issues that even caused the frontman to speak directly with the soundbooth. That’s never good. Most of the show I had to watch on the big screen so it wasn’t the same as seeing them up close and personal. But even as gorgeous as the female vocalist is, I wasn’t into it enough to tolerate the position I had in the crowd so I left to rest my feet for a bit.
Closing out the night was indie legends Modest Mouse. This was my first chance to see them live and I was pretty excited about it. For whatever reason, this band seems to have left a significant mark on Jacksonville, giving shape and form to many bands I’ve seen since I moved to town. While they never meant as much to me as they did to some of my contemporaries, I can appreciate the draw. They’ve stayed pretty low on the hype radars lately but they certainly haven’t lost their touch. Lead singer Isaac Brock sings and emotes with such passion that it’s impossible not to feel something when you see him do it in person. It was extremely crowded, as I’m sure you can imagine, and I watched at least the second or third festival-goer of the day pass out for one reason or another. Because I was so far back from the stage I again had to watch most of the show via the giant television screen but it was actually almost better than watching the stage. The videography was top-notch and managed to capture the dynamic lighting effects even better than these old, tired eyes could on their own. After one of the longest waits for an encore I’ve ever experienced, I was equal parts shocked and pleased that they neglected to play what has to be their most commercially successful song to date, ‘Float On.’ But like I said, I wasn’t upset about it.
Getting back to my friend’s apartment seemed as though it would be quite the task as the droves exited the park. The queue for the Green Line was already all the way down the stairs and I waited at the bus stop as two completely packed buses drove by without even slowing. Eventually I did make it back, went out for tacos and got some rest from a full day of festing.