Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pitchfork Fest 2011 day one: Neko Case, Das Racist, tUnE-yArDs & more

By Andrew Hertzberg

EMA kicks off #p4kfest 2011
This being my fifth time at the rodeo, I’ve learned a thing or two. The most important thing to know? Gate Two. Good God, the lines to get in the main entrance. At the risk of tipping off the world to this secret cove of no waiting, it’s definitely worth the while to walk around to the Randolph entrance. A nice stroll through Flatstock to start things off and then immediately head towards the beer vendor. Based off experience from last year, I anticipated the weekend’s stash of Newcastle hitting the road by the end of Friday, which would leave the only other option Heineken. And well, for those that need my opinion of Heineken: watch.

I headed over to the Red Stage to start things off. EMA (Erika M. Anderson) had just started, providing background droning mix of 90s indie rock and shoegaze. Likewise, the dueling electric violins owed much to John Cale (and the minimal drums to Maureen Tucker, for that matter), but provided an ominous yet uplifting background to EMA’s more confrontational vocals. Nowhere was she as provocative as on the closing song "California," starting off simply: “Fuck you, California, you made me boring.” After the microphone straddling and chord self-strangling, I headed over with most of the rest of the crowd to the Blue Stage for tUnE-yArDs.

Somewhere behind this wall of people is tUnE-yArDs
For those not familiar, tUnE-yArDs is the brainchild of Merrill Garbus, the eccentric singer-songwriter that simultaneously reminds me of Mirah and Richard Hell with more sax. She’s got a voice like no other and replicates her recordings perfectly; no auto-tune here. The biggest cheer had to come at the end of "Powa," when she nailed the highest notes of her soulful solo crooning. The standout track for me, though, was Gangsta," with Merrill pounding the drums as she sang, the funky and driving bass and siren-sound looping vocals: this is a song that hits you.

Wanting to catch a glimpse of Battles, I tried heading over to the Green Stage, which took more effort than leaving any side stage should. The Blue Stage was as packed as I had seen it all day, and close to ever for that time slot in years past. I finally made my way out to catch Battles rock their last jam "Futura" off this year’s golden Gloss Drop. It would have been interesting to see the full set, as I’m yet to see them play post-Tyondai Braxton, but I don’t feel wrong in my choice. 

After walking around the fest aimlessly for a bit, running into random friends, complementing EMA on her leggings, and basking in the sun, I decided it was time to head back to Blue Stage for a stint in the shade to chill out to the background beats of NOLA rapper Curren$y. Some of the biggest problems from last year involved the deplorable, barely audible sound "emanating" from that stage. The Smith Westerns seemed to barely let out a whimper and Sleigh Bells didn’t really have the kick in the balls I expected. But for whatever reason, the sound peeps kicked things up a notch this year and sound was great all around the side stage, with little bleed over from the mains. Kudos. 

Das Racist gettin' the crowd movin'
I moved a bit closer to the stage to check out Brooklyn hip-hop duo Das Racist, whose music is as ridiculous as their name would imply. Racially charged lyrics, but with tongues in cheek, bedroom beats and plenty of airhorn (didn’t know that was still a relevant sound). The pitched up Billy Joel sampling "You Oughta Know" and crowd moving "Who’s That? Brooown!" were highlights that I caught. As Neko Case was numero uno on my agenda for the day, I had to bail early over to Red Stage before I had a chance to see if they’d play the entirely absurd "Combination Pizza Hut Taco Bell." Still can’t get over how great that song is. 

Neko Case gives a performance as fiery as her hair color
After fighting through the crowd, I was able to get a decent spot for Neko Case, the folky solo singer-songwriter and member of supergroup The New Pornographers. She has seriously one of the greatest voices around--strong while maintaining femininity, sway and swoon inducing--and it sounded particularly great with the setting sun behind us. Delicately strummed banjo and an upright bass provided the perfect aesthetic, while another singer’s harmonies complemented Neko’s melodies. Noticing her start time of 7:20 and a predicted sunset of 8:24 from, I had my fingers crossed she would close out the set with 2009’s Middle Cyclone opener "This Tornado Loves You." And oh yes, 8:17 came around when the opening guitar strummed it off. Definitely the most perfect moment of the evening for me, similar to Beirut playing the same stage at around the same time a few years ago, the seagulls heading east as the rain clouds were breaking apart to let in random beams of sun. Gotta hand it to the megablog: they sure know how to curate a festival to create some unforgettable moments.

Recognizing I hadn’t eaten too much that day, I finally decided to grab some grub. I had seen Animal Collective when they headlined three years ago. Didn’t really dig on them, except for one song they played called "House." which would eventually turn into "My Girls" on the following year's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Except for that, I remember the set being pretty boring (maybe due to the lack of illicit substances I was on). So I decided to hang out in the dirt, eat some tacos and just have them in the background. Well, according to Loud Loop Press, things were a bit different this time. Since I can’t really comment on the show, check out their review of the day (as well as their coverage on Battles, Thurston Moore, and Guided by Voices) and a more elaborate photo set on Time Out

Day two: I'm coming for ya.

1 comment:

  1. I love tUnE yArDs album it's got to be one of the albums of the year, haven't caught her live but after your short review, it sounds like I need to.