Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pitchfork Fest 2011 day two: Sun Airway, OFF!, DJ Shadow & more

By Andrew Hertzberg

I love this city.
Round two. Let’s do this.

Philly five-piece Sun Airway may get comparisons to the previous night’s headliner. Drum pads, reverbed vocals, arppregiated synths: it’s all there. The band is only one album deep though and shows a lot of promise. Not to mention they nailed the synth sound: it washes over you, soaking your whole body in it. As I reflect now, I recognize how dumb this is, but the sound of the synth’s all-encompassing metaphorically-bathing powers led me to decree Sun Airway the Garnier Fructis of indie rock. It’s what makes tracks like "Oh, Naoko" and "American West" shine instead of getting tangled with all of the other AnCo ripoffs. 

G-Side brings Dirty South to the North
Following Sun Airway on the same stage was Huntsville, Alabama’s G-Side, with his smooth jams and soulful background singers. Sampling bits from Kanye as well as Beach House, the rapper laid down lines over the DJs beats that got this one adorable little girl waving her hands in the air like she just don’t care. Awesome to see that connection at such a young age; props to the cool dad on that one. Even if the lyrics do focus on cash money and stealing the listener’s girl. 

A midday swath of indecision led to a bunch of bits and pieces around the fest. Wandering aimlessly can be advantageous, though, serendipitous. Aside from even the music factor, what a relief to hear the words "free water" nearby where I was walking. Not a huge fan of theirs but caught a bit of No Age’s noise and was treated to a cover of Black Flag’s "Six Pack," I’m sure a move more than conscious on their part considering OFF! would be playing no more than an hour later (more on them in a few). Reminded me of Titus Andronicus covering "Common People" a few years back before Jarvis Cocker performed. Can’t imagine how great of a feeling it would be to not only play a festival with an idol, but have the balls enough to perform their songs in front of thousands of people. I often mourn the lost art of the cover song. It’s the perfect way to express gratitude while simultaneously add a creative twist to produce something new. So No Age, looks like I’ll give you a second chance.

Despite rave reviews, I still haven’t given the new Gang Gang Dance a proper listen. So sitting in the shade directly between the Green and Blue stages, I heard the melding of their oft-incoherent noisescapes mashed with the Smiths pop of Wild Nothing. Someone tell Greg Gillis to get on that. 

Not the insect repellent
It’s often a weird thing for me to see vets perform. Scenes and sounds they were forerunners for have come and gone, crumbled and become post-, and have been revived again in new waves. To see the vets perform can go one of two ways: they absolutely nail it. Or: huge, huge letdown, a sad reminder that they can’t encapsulate what they used to be. Because in the end, as much as we want new things, new sounds, new ideas, we love the comfort and vague nostalgia of our favorite albums. OFF!, the hardcore punk supergroup fronted by former Black Flag / Circle Jerks member Keith Morris, with members from Rocket from the Crypt, Burning Brides and Red Kross, filled the obligatory punk spot for this year’s festival. Never would have expected to see a combination of studded vests, deep Vs, 7 Seconds t-shirts and grey hairs colliding in a mosh pit at a Pitchfork Fest, but OFF! brought it. The sound guys were obviously not prepared for how well Morris could still scream. There’s a bit of clipping, but God damn, that guy’s voice is still insane. Certainly not a let down from the performance aspect. And to the guy behind me, they’re not gonna play "Nervous Breakdown." Let it go.  

So I guess this is where it gets weird: when after performing the song "Fuck People," Keith explained that the people he means are those that get in the 15 items or less line with 20 items or people that talk on their cell phone and drive. Ummm…yeah, I guess those things are slightly annoying, but maybe, I dunno, a bit on the mundane side? Not that I’m expecting elegant and poignant prose but maybe just something a bit more socially forward to show the wisdom the bald spot surrounded by his dread locks represents. Why not fuck homophobes? Why not fuck guys that beat women? The hardcore scene, to me at least, was always about community and progressive, counter-mainstream ideas. Certainly these ideas still exist in the music, as is shone in the anti-religious fundamentalism "Killing Away." But I can’t help but think of the conflict with the lyrics “There’s no progress if we keep on repeating the past.” Do I want to keep hearing the same three-chord hardcore forever? Is there progress in it?

Despite the bass problems at the end, OFF! definitely had the best set of the day. I may sound critical, but it’s what I liked about their set, the flurry of thought that enters my head. Despite that it’s just minute bursts of noise and screaming and with my hardcore punk days eons behind me, it’s still the most inspiring set I’ve seen so far this weekend: there’s a reason I’m committing the time to writing these words. Some music you’re meant to get lost in and just "feel it." As much as I love the sensual and fleeting pleasure of a good melody or combination of chords, this lasting cognitive rush is more rare and that much more personal and meaningful.

Anyone who knows me, knows my love of Swedish pop. Nothing tickles me more than the triumphant sounds of the Tough Alliance, the clever and cheeky Jens Lekman, the irresistible Peter Bjorn and John…the list goes on. Considering some of the less popular bands don’t make it to Chicago too often, I was psyched that the Radio Dept. was playing this year. Needing a bit of a cool down after OFF!, I found some shade planning to creep my way back up when they started. Apparently a lot of people had this plan though, even more assertive than me. Before I realized it, the Blue Stage was packed with people. Damn. Figuring though that the sounds would be good enough over the visuals, I opted to keep the shady spot and just listen. The melancholic dreampop was good background for the sun heading west. I found myself distracted from my thoughts every now and again, sounds stealing my attention from myself, the near opposite feeling of OFF! A great juxtaposition of music.

DJ Shadow addressing the crowd before the orb
Heading back to the Red Stage for the first time in a while for DJ Shadow (Josh Paul Davis), I was getting pretty excited. A giant white orb greeted us on stage…this should be interesting. Davis comes out on stage before the set, says how excited he is to play and that he’s not just some wedding DJ. Awesome. This should be good. The music starts, building up, building up, the lights start to hit the orb, something’s gonna happen. Something’s gonna happen right? Ehh, not so much. When the first piano notes of "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" hit, the crowd lost it, Davis throwing in some absurd scratches and new samples over the distinguishable beat. The sound was great, the bass was powerful, but I couldn’t help become way too self-conscious just looking at a white orb on stage. As it wasn’t that dark out, the light show was almost meaningless. Eventually the orb would open up to give a glimpse of what Shadow was up to inside, but I decided to move on to the Blue Stage by that point.

Zola Jesus gettin' funky
Gotta give credit to Zola Jesus for the most use of stage presence. Running from one end to other almost constantly and totally humbled by the crowd that chose her over DJ Shadow, you could see the energy emanating from her. Which was a bit of a contrast considering the synth based new wave / industrial sound of her music. Despite her excitement, it didn’t transcend much to me. The crowd was dissipating a bit, which may have had something to do with it; it was probably the least crowded the Blue Stage was all day. More than likely, everyone was trying to make sure they had a decent view for Fleet Foxes. 

I was really bummed when I found out Fleet Foxes were headlining. Yeah, they make generally pretty, inoffensive sounding music, but a headlining spot? At the end of the night, I want spectacle. LCD Soundsystem, the Flaming Lips, those made sense. Close out the night with a bang. So it was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that I was getting pretty bored by the end of the night. To their credit, they nail it all live. Never heard a missed harmony or off-timing. It just wasn’t anything too enthralling and certainly not enough to keep me interested in staying for the full set. Oh well.

The finish line’s in sight. But don’t want it to end!

Click here for the day 1 recap.

No comments:

Post a Comment