Sunday, July 17, 2011
Every year when I’ve been to Pitchfork (which would be ’07, ’08 and ’09) I’ve always gone on Sunday and Friday. I’ve never been on what I call ‘pitchfork pet day.’ Think about it, every single one of Pitchfork’s favourite little pet bands plays on Saturday and that is why I’ve never been—Animal Collective (of course they did play on Friday this year), Fleet Foxes (actually I wouldn’t mind seeing them to be honest), Pains of Being Pure at Heart for example. This year I wasn’t able to afford a ticket for Friday with all of the job drama and whatnot. I also didn’t think I could get the time off at my new job, but I could’ve. A shame since catching Neko Case and Thurston Moore would’ve been worth the price of admission alone. Regardless, this year’s Sunday lineup was not to be missed—Fresh & Onlys, Kurt Vile, Ariel Pink, Superchunk and Deerhunter? Yes, please! All bands I’ve missed during their last visits to Chicago, either because of objectionable venue choices (Superchunk, Deerhunter) or just late-to-the-party syndrome (Fresh & Onlys, Ariel Pink).
I was a little nervous when looking at the weather forecast for today. Oppressive heat, stifling crowds, fashion-victim hordes and standing all day inhaling second-hand smoke and trying to enjoy the music over loud talkers and ‘WOO!’ guys. I’m a bit of a curmudgeon in my show-going life these days and an endurance test of this magnitude seems doomed in all probability. I guess the stars must’ve been aligned as perfectly today as the way that the bands were arranged because this year has been the best Pitchfork festival I’ve ever attended! Usually I’m only in for two or three bands, but today I was in for five. Of those five I only flaked on one due to the conditions.
Upon arriving at 12:30 Stefanie and I wandered the grounds before staking out a spot. Arriving for the first band is always a delight as the crowd is very sparse until later in the afternoon, even with the day sold-out. We were already losing steam until the Fresh & Onlys started playing at the green stage at 1. They played a very short but punchy set—a good mix of their earlier garage rock-leanings and their more recent psych-y output. They wisely stuck closely to the excellent ‘Play it Strange’ from last year as well as the newest EP ‘Secret Walls.’ The highlights were ‘Tropical Island Suite’ and ‘Until the End of Time.’ The crowd grew as the set progressed and it’s highly likely they won a few new converts over.
After they were finished we wandered some more in the shaded area by the Washington exit and the blue stage. We snagged a couple of beers and then explored one of the more surreal sights I’ve seen in a while, the Heineken beer tent. After downing some more water we headed back to the green stage to catch Kurt Vile. Of the four times I’ve seen Vile this was probably my favourite set. It was definitely the best time I’ve seen him with his band the Violators (including last year’s set at Subterranean). I’ve seen him in a duo configuration, solo at a record store and twice with the Violators (the last time was when they were touring with a harpist). They opened with a fantastic new song, continued with the tracks that leaned more towards the rocking side from ‘Smoke Ring for my Halo’ and threw in a few from 2009’s ‘Childish Prodigy’ (which I refuse to join the current hate-fest on—the record has some of Vile’s best tracks) and ‘Freeway’ from ‘Constant Hitmaker.’ A lot of my least favourite tracks of his sprang to life in this setting. It was nothing short of riveting even with the sun beating down on us the entire time.
Afterwards we went for food and more water. We also visited our friends at their respective Flatstock tents and then ended up in one of the cooling buses. I’ve never been so happy to be aboard a CTA bus for an hour while guzzling water and shoveling potstickers into my mouth. A group of annoying girls sat down next to us and eventually we became annoyed enough with them that we left. This was probably as good of an indication of us being fully hydrated as we could’ve hoped for. Sadly we lost our mojo to check out Ariel Pink and listened to his set from the shaded area next to the basketball court. The main event for us was Superchunk and Deerhunter, who were playing back-to-back. We were getting worried that we weren’t going to be able to survive three hours straight in the sun, so sadly we sat one of the bands out.
Once five rolled around we headed to the red stage for what we’d been looking forward to from the get-go. Superchunk are always a wonder to behold live and their latest, ‘Majesty Shredding’ is easily one of their best records. A lot of people accuse me of being incapable of enjoying upbeat and fun music. For them I submit my love of Superchunk as indisputable evidence to the contrary. They started with ‘Throwing Things’ which I was hoping they’d play, switched to some of the best tracks from ‘Majesty Shredding’ and from there they alternated between the new record and several of their classics (i.e. ‘The First Part,’ ‘Hyper Enough’ and the obligatory ‘Slack Motherfucker’). They even played a few I wasn’t expecting to hear (i.e. ‘Like a Fool’ and ‘Driveway to Driveway’). For a generous portion of their set the sun was hidden behind a wonderfully tall tree that spread a generous amount of sweet shade over the crowd. While a majority of the crowd in the festival had already staked out their spots for Deerhunter’s set on the green stage, the crowd for Superchunk was a generous size and, as always, incredibly enthusiastic. They are one of those painfully underrated bands with a fanbase that should be bigger, but is obscenely devoted.
Finally, we elbowed our way as far as we were able to get in the massive throng gathered for Deerhunter. Somehow they were able to surpass even my lofty expectations in around an hour. Deerhunter seem to have started taking to constructing their shows the way that Spiritualized does—while they stick to the same set of songs with near religious consistency what they do with the songs changes and evolves over time, making it possible for one to witness them playing the same songs in nearly completely different ways. I was gutted that I missed Deerhunter’s last stop in town at the Metro last October. I was even willing to brave the cavernous sound, oversold crowds and the douche-baggiest staff in town of the Metro to catch them, but the show fell during the weekend when I was out of town for my sister’s wedding. I had to settle for the live recording from the band’s stop at the 9:30 Club in DC that was broadcast live on NPR instead. Even that couldn’t prepare me for how deliriously loud they were, while alternating effortlessly between sharp focus and liquidy dreaminess. Several songs were extended a great deal. Bradford Cox even added a few verses from Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ to ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ (which was the only track from ‘Microcastle’ in their set). From there they went into the beautiful combination of extended versions of both ‘Helicopter’ and ‘He Would Have Laughed’ that ended their set. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.