The fact that the Pitchfork Music Festival 2007 sold out, partnered with ATP, and had a lineup that was every snotty indie music nerd’s wet dream meant that there was a lot of pseudo-intellectual music analysis overheard this weekend.
If I carried a recorder while walking through the crowds I could’ve remembered a lot of it. Thurston Moore’s wailing guitars matching the Yoko Ono art-squeal, Stephen Trask (of Hedwig fame) playing keys for her, Judah Bauer of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion playing guitar for Cat Power, Mastodon + Battles being the festival equivalents of cocaine, etc. etc. etc.
Overall, it was an easy, breezy weekend where people were quiet when they needed to be (Twilight Sad, Califone, Iron and Wine) and crazy rabid when called for (Mastodon, Dan Deacon, Girl Talk).
I couldn’t get off work early enough to go to Friday’s show, so I missed Slint, the Gza and Sonic Youth — all playing whole albums released 10 years ago. I did get to Union Park early enough on Saturday to catch the first act of the day, and stayed late enough that I had to walk six blocks to get a cab back to my hotel.
Something about this festival — more esoteric than Coachella, definitely the antithesis of Summerfest — made me realize why I love live music so much. I grew up on an island where bands I liked rarely ever played, so a festival like Pitchfork, where the acts playing were revered by many, many reverent fans of music, was like heaven.
The thing is, reviewing a festival put together for music geeks gives me the heebie jeebies. One, because everything I say will probably refuted by some wiseass who thinks he knows more music than I do. Two, musical taste is so subjective that barring technical difficulties, mood and skill, a show can be good or bad, depending on the person watching it. Three, as Elvis Costello said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
You know what’s not like dancing about architecture? Cute boys. That said, I decided to give the performances grades ala Pitchfork reviews based on two things: how cute the bands were and how much I liked their shows.
Twilight Sad: 7.1
Performance: Sweet, sad, yummy.
Cute factor:The Scottish band’s lead singer is very cute. Hooray!
Performance: Chill-out, solid and near-perfect for the early afternoon spot, when many were lounging in the shade.
Cute factor: All those horn players, and not a cute boy in sight. Aww.
Performance: Bouncy! Happy! A teenager’s PG version of sexy! “Soft and Warm” was my favorite song of 2006, and the lead singer’s voice was like honey. Exceeded most of my expectations, but I thought more people would be dancing.
Cute factor: High. Skinny boys from Austin singing pop songs about love? How can you resist?
Grizzly Bear: 6.9
Performance: Sonorous and dreamy, the thought that Pitchfork’s programming was as perfect as a 1990 mix tape occurred to me during Grizzly Bear’s set. Everything came together — the pink shirts, the wind instruments, the echo of voices in the wind.
Cute factor: With their distinct (and pink) fashion sense, the Grizzly Bear boys aren’t physically cute as they are (collectively) art boy cute. But I wouldn’t throw any of them out of bed for eating cookies and then leaving crumbs all over the place. Or maybe I would, I dunno. It would probably depend on the cookie flavor, or if they shared, or if I was PMSing.
Performance: Intensely awesome in a kick-ass, I-know-kung-fu, jiu-jitsu-and-capoiera way. The multi-instrumentalists played funkified, hard-core prog rock that challenges my brain in many appealing ways.
Cute factor: High. I mean, how cute is playing with an 8-foot cymbal? And their Nikes were neon! And that guy with the ‘fro! They may have been the cutest band on the bill. Battles, you can destroy my equipment anytime!
Performance: Ho-hum. I love their album but I couldn’t get into their live set much. It must’ve been the lack of cute dudes in the band. Milan Zori, by the way, was disappointed that they weren’t Asian.
Cute factor: Eh.
Iron and Wine: 6.3
Performance: I have deep feelings for Sam Beam as he is the only male performer who has ever made me cry. (It was when he was solo at the Pabst.) But after watching Battles I just didn’t feel slow and lazy anymore. He did cover Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” and that was good.
Cute factor: I’m torn here. Some angles he looks like a vision of God. (Specifically, he looks like the guitar-toting Jesus, as per the image pushed by the Roman Catholic church for centuries.) Other angles, he just looks like a hairy mountain man.
Performance: Speaking of hairy…Mastodon played an excellent show. Just thinking about how metal it all was still makes my heart pound. It was super tight, super loud, and super brutal. While they were playing dust kept rising up to the stage; later I found out that it was courtesy of people in the mosh pit. I think it was great that two hours later I still had a headache from how solid and brutal it all was.
Cute factor: I bet Mastodon’s singer would be cute if he applied a brush to his head. And maybe a razor. Or at the very least, some soap.
Oxford Collapse: ???
Performance: I didn’t see them play, I was just caught them while waiting for Dan Deacon.
Cute factor: See Fujiya and Miyagi.
Dan Deacon: 9.1
Performance: First, he set up the stage right in the pit. Then, he plugged in his blue iPod shuffle taped to a banana to be able to kick out the jams. He encouraged people to mosh around him, namechecked Milwaukee during the first song when he wanted people to sing along with him in one breath (actually he said “don’t take two breaths like those jerks in Milwaukee”), organized a killer dance contest amid a crush of people (with rules such as “you have to dance as sassy as f***, like Prince in ‘Purple Rain'”). Triumph of the geek!
Cute factor: He’s fat, he’s balding, he wears two variations of aqua in the same outfit, he is sweaty and wears oversized glasses, but seriously. That was a swell show. So for some chick who likes to dance and doesn’t mind dudes that don’t wear deodorant, he is totally cute.
Cat Power: 6.4
Performance: Every single time I used to see Cat Power it was like she was on heroin; she would start a song on guitar, stop, start a song on piano, stop, then make like she had Tourette’s. I love all her albums, but I hated the shows. Last year a bunch of friends reported that shows where she performed with a band were awesome; I had to see for myself. It was OK; members of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion made up her band and she actually finished her songs. But the sound was poor during most of the set, and I think a lot of viewers chose to eat dinner then.
Cute factor: It’s easy to hate Cat Power for being beautiful and talented and uber-cool. So try not to.
Yoko Ono: 7.8
Performance: It was a beautiful caterwauling idealistic mess. Audiences were given flashlights and encouraged to blink out “I love you” in morse code while the video presentation went on for far too long. But Stephen Trask (who co-wrote the music for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) was her pianist, and Thurston Moore joined her onstage. She’s Yoko Ono, man. Even if I couldn’t last through the whole set, she can do no wrong.
Cute factor: She’s so tiny and cute! She hit the stage in a black pants suit, a hat and red shades. I think she’s 70, and she looks better than most 50-year-olds I know. Asian chicks rock.
(Coming up next: A blog about all the other things I did at Pitchfork, and a guest appearance by R. Kelly with some Milwaukee folks. Also, Justin Shady will be blogging about Day 3.)
–Text and photos by Lilledeshan Bose