Monday, July 21, 2014

slowdive at pitchfork 2014

‘You’re here for Slowdive aren’t you?’ my friend Nick said almost immediately as I stopped by his Flatstock booth to say hello before heading to the green stage to stake out a good spot. Guilty as charged. If Pitchfork 2014 hadn’t been one of only two American appearances that had been announced (once Sunday sold out the band announced a comprehensive US tour in October including a stop at the Vic) by the newly reunited band I wouldn’t have been there. There were many others who I saw floating around in the crowd such as myself—someone in their mid-30s sporting some kind of late 80s/early 90s British indie band T-shirt (I chose Spacemen 3; one guy had a Ride shirt that looked pretty well-worn). While the mania behind my bloody valentine is easily understood, Slowdive remain an influential and top-tier band from the original shoegaze era that will probably never get their due. Their songs were the height of dreaminess, their fuzzy squalls more soothing than abrasive, they were never as concerned with quaking, overwhelming noise as they were with well-constructed songs. While their music was dreamy and hazy there was always a solid, clear foundation to keep it grounded. They were incredibly introspective even for an introvert-friendly genre like shoegaze—their transformation into acoustic-based, mellow, melancholic, country-inflected group Mojave 3 wasn’t much of a shock. The harmonic vocal chemistry between Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell was even deeper and more bewitching than Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s. They’re a band that I never realized I’ve had on constant rotation since first hearing them in 1997. In that sense it seems fitting that their legacy is a surprise as well.

My day at the festival underwent a few hiccups on the way there—I’d planned to catch DIIV’s set at 1:45, but once I was halfway to the festival I realized that my phone was dead, which contained the email with my tickets’ barcode on it. I’d also forgotten to stop for two bottles of water. I ended up having to turn back and then not leaving until around 2:30 so that I could get to Union Park in time to catch Dum Dum Girls. I wasn’t expecting too much from their set, to be honest. I haven’t even bothered with their latest, ‘Too True’ as none of the tracks have really pulled me in enough to check out the whole thing. They fought through some sound issues at the start of their set, but pushed through it admirably and I was impressed by the ferocity of the whole thing—plus it was dotted with material from most of their releases. I liked the two tracks they played from the ‘End of Daze’ EP—‘I’ve Got Nothing’ and ‘Lord Knows’—the best. They also played two from the ‘He Gets Me High’ EP as well as one from their debut ‘I Will Be’ and two highlights from ‘Only in Dreams’—‘Bedroom Eyes’ (a song that somehow mixes ruminating about insomnia with emotional double entendre) and my favorite of theirs, ‘Coming Down.’ I’ve always found it admirable that they close with a mid-tempo slow-burner like ‘Coming Down,’ but it always works.

After wandering around the festival grounds and stopping for a few of Goose Island’s hourly offerings (the Rasselbock and the K├Âlsch were both fantastic), some affordable local food (I’m pretty sure that you can’t get a slice of Connie’s pizza at Lollapalooza for $4) I staked out a spot in front of the green stage in anticipation of Slowdive’s set. I had a mild desire to watch Real Estate at the Red stage, but they’re another band that I used to love whose new record I haven’t bothered with—plus I could hear it pretty well from where I was standing anyway. It was a more energetic set than they treated the festival to in 2012—they played ‘It’s Real’ from their 2011 album ‘Days’ as well as ‘Out of Tune’ (which is my favorite from that album along with the wistful beauty of ‘Green Aisles’). The main reason I haven’t been able to get into ‘Atlas’ (which I’ve heard several times now) is because it leaves behind that wistful beauty that was so evident on ‘Days’ and on several tracks from their debut.

Finally, it was time for the main event and Brian Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’ come on over the P.A., Slowdive came out and started with their eponymous debut single, including the B-side ‘Avalyn.’ Could there be a more perfect beginning? I had a great spot—much closer than I normally am willing to go at a huge festival, but the crowd was euphoric, the weather was nicer than can reasonably be expected in mid-July and it was all about as perfect as could be expected. ‘It sounds AMAZING!!!’ someone called out aloud after the first song. It did—definitely the best sounding set I’ve ever heard at Pitchfork. During ‘Catch the Breeze’ the band was incredibly dynamic lifting the song’s soothing cascades into some really crunchy loudness. It was LOUD and clear and heaven-sent. Halstead and Goswell’s vocals were effortlessly on-point and the rhythm section (drummer Simon Scott and bassist Nick Chaplin) were incredibly strong. They played a few tracks from 1995’s minimalistic ‘Pygmalion’ (‘Crazy for You’ and ‘Blue Skied an’ Clear’), then launched into ‘When the Sun Hits’ and ‘Alison,’ both of which were surprisingly emotional. After a fresh airing of ‘Just for a Day’ track ‘She Calls’ (which had the same dynamic power as the earlier ‘Catch the Breeze’) they ended with their cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair.’ It seemed like an odd choice for a festival set closer until they got halfway through the extended ending—it rose and swelled several times beautifully and loudly. The overall vibe in the crowd was electrifying as well—my disdain for crowds is well-documented, but this one was a pleasure to be a part of. It was the type of festival experience that I thought could only exist in dreams.

After that I stopped by the Goose Island tent for one last beer before heading home from a very satisfying evening. Do I wish that there had been a few more bands that I wanted to see? Sure. Do I wish that the ticket prices to the festival weren’t so expensive? Absolutely. Since it ended up being such an impossibly beautiful day weather-wise and since Slowdive had been the most ecstatic set I’d seen at the festival since I’d first gone in 2007 there was way more to be happy about than be annoyed with.