Pitchfork Music Festival 2012
The seventh annual Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, IL was the first one that we were able to make the journey to, and with a lineup as outstanding as this year’s expectations were certainly high. Though years past have poised more star power, this year’s bill still held some incredibly exciting acts in store. When it all was said and done, we really couldn't have asked for much more. Check below for reviews and photos of each set we saw.
Words from Colin Joyce and Ryan Stanley. Photos by Colin Joyce (edited by Lauren Ball)
For a moment there I almost thought Day 1 of my first Pitchfork Music Festival wasn't going to happen. Post-lunch thunderclaps and the slow rolling dark clouds over downtown Chicago were ominous to say the least, but after a brief spell of intense storms just before gates were set to open, the fest was off to a relatively hitch-free start. Though weather would continue to be a predominant factor through a number of the late afternoon's sets (and really many of the weekend's sets on the whole), spirits remained high in the crowd on this warm Friday afternoon.
The soupy air that greeted the crowd as they moved into the festival might've been enough to make some miserable if not for the krauty guitar rock emanating from the Red Stage, courtesy the Jana Hunter led Baltimore quartet Lower Dens. Their latest record Nootropics garnered quite a bit of acclaim, including from this here site, and still largely went unnoticed at the Fest (as evidenced by the sparse crowd attending their early afternoon set). That didn't stop the band from going through rousing turn a rousing turn of 'Brains' which proved to be the first great moment of a festival rife with them. This is a band that stood out on the big stage early, even though their tunes might seem more suited to the dank rock clubs they often call home. -- Colin Joyce
The Olivia Tremor Control
Ever the last mentioned of the big three groups to come out of the Elephant 6 Collective, The Olivia Tremor Control's legacy has largely lived in the long shadows cast by The Apples In Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. So it was easy to lose sight of just how important of a band was setting up in front of us on Friday afternoon. Couched between sets from trendy acts two decades younger than them, The Olivias looked more than a little out of place at Pitchfork fest. But none of that stopped them from blowing away any notions of being washed up. If anything, they benefitted from being the oddballs of Friday's lineup, bringing a fiercely memorable sounds to the table in the form of their myriad of instruments (clarinet! violin! trumpet! sousaphone!), sunny pop harmonies, and long psychedelic rock freakouts. And yeah, 'Jumping Fences' and 'The Opera House' kicked ass. -- Ryan Stanley
Willis Earl Beal
I'll admit with all the hype surrounding Acousmatic Sorcery earlier this year I was expecting something a little less of an incoherent mess. Though it seemed, based on all the information available on Beal at the time, that he was an interesting guy, he didn't really deliver with the sort of record we were led to believe he had in store. Sloppy pseudo-blooze rap marked the record, and it just didn't work. On the blue stage Friday afternoon Beal pulled it all together delivering the sort of special performance that all the hype promised. While delivering Tom Waits inflected gospel yawps, Beal gallivanted across the stage, mugging for photographers and putting his whole humanly force into singing over the backing tracks that played from the tape player looming in the background. Though he still exemplifies the sort of outsider art that he became first known for, Beal has the stage presence of an absolute superstar. As far as blown expectations go, Beal's set was one of the more surprisingly captivating sets of the whole weekend. -- CJ
I've seen a fair amount of ambient and noise shows over time. They work in dark venues. In DIY spaces. In churches. In chinese buffets. In crowded basements. Where they never really seem to work is in at a crowded sunny stage at a music festival where the majority of the patrons have taken to talking over the set. Tim Hecker's ethereal wash, as captivating as it is on record, suffered at the hands of an inappropriate location and an inattentive crowd. Though 'The Piano Drop', the opening track from last year's Ravedeath, 1972, was loud enough to overcome the low murmur of the crowd and was paired with the first substantial rainfall of the afternoon, the set on the whole couldn't match that one moment. Hecker did his job, melding the tracks with the efficiency and control of an absolute professional, it was just a case of wrong place, wrong time. Given a better location, such a set could have more resembled the moments of 'The Piano Drop' and provided a truly transcendent experience. As things were, playing to a large contingent of camped out Japandroids fans, it just wasn't going to happen. -- CJ
The rain during the early half of Tim Hecker's set had a more tangible effect than just an appropriate pairing with Hecker's tunes, and in the early moment's of Japandroids' packed evening set that effect became entirely clear. As the band sparked up 'Adrenaline Nightshift', from this year's Celebration Rock and transitioned into the wildly nostalgic 'Younger Us', crowd was whipped into a frenzy and so was the ground. The afternoon's rain had turned the area directly in front of the Blue Stage into a sloppy, sticky mudpit. That turned out to be of no concern to any involved party. The crowd galloped, thrashed, crowdsurfed and shouted along as loud as ever through both old hits ('Wet Hair,' 'Young Hearts Spark Fire,' 'Sovereignty') and new favorites ('Evil's Sway,' 'Fire's Highway). As 'Sovereignty' closed the set and I pushed my way back through the now calmed pit it was clear that while a number of attendees were now coated in mud, nothing was going to wipe the wide smiles of collective enjoyment off their faces. -- CJ
A brief jog back over to the red stage led to my arrival just in time to catch the opening strains of 'Offspring Are Blank,' the first track from their just released Swing Lo Magellan. Dave Longstreth's agile guitar work and the visceral harmonies of Amber Coffman and co. were already in full effect, but throughout the course of the set they only became more impressive. As they moved through cuts from their recently released record it became clear that despite the loss of Angel Deradoorian, a key figure in many of their Bitte Orca era compositions, they're still one of the greatest live bands around. Whether in the berserk vocal runs of 'Beautiful Mother', which still packed its punch despite the absence of Bjork, or even in the more straightforward 'Impregnable Question' whose predominant piano riff was instead transposed to guitar, it was clear that this was a band that is a live forced to be reckoned with. Though Swing Lo Magellan is an album more focused on simple songcraft than impressive live bombast, Longstreth and his band have not lost their edge. -- CJ
Given that Corin Roddick's and Megan James' Purity Ring project came about as an offshoot of Gobble Gobble, it seemed like it might be relegated to permanent side-project status. With the immediacy of the tracks the band has put out thus far, and the massive beats on their forthcoming debut record, all conversation surrounding the band seems to ignore Roddick's involvement with the previous project. Any question on whether Purity Ring had entirely eclipsed the popularity of Gobble Gobble (now called Born Gold) was answered in the massive attendance of their set closing out the blue stage opposite Feist's headlining bout. Their impressive light show was the obvious star of the set and as they ran through the majority of their upcoming album they drew greater singalongs and general crowd response than many electronic acts are able to draw. It was a compelling set, and an appropriate end to the day and when 'Ungirthed' dropped, their couldn't have been a single person at the set wishing they were across the park watching Leslie Feist slur her way through her set. -- CJ
Rain, yet again was the dominant marker of the second day of Pitchfork Festival. Though the musicians refused to let the midday torrential downpour affect their sets, it was nonetheless taxing on attendees, sending a large number of the crowd to the safety of the food vendor tents far away from the oft-overcrowded
The Atlas Moth
Though their mechanics are entirely different, The Atlas Moth functioned in my day 2 the same way that Willis Earl Beal did in my Day 1. I'm not much of a metal fan, so I really wasn't expecting much out of their set, but they absolutely scorched the Blue Stage to open the day. Though much of the crowd watched from the comfort of the shady trees that surrounded the stage, their metallic cacophony was entirely on point. It seems unusual that a metal band thrive in the broad daylight on one of the bigger stages they've ever played, but The Atlas Moth absolutely rose to the occasion. I had the privilege to see a lot of acts this past weekend, it's Stavros Giannopoulos' guttural howl and the malevolent muscle of the entire band that's sticking most prevalently of the bands I hadn't listened to much before. -- Colin Joyce
We had next a duo of sets from Deerhunter side projects, the first of which came courtesy Lockett Pundt's Lotus Plaza project. It was during this set that the sky chose to open up, and watching a few rows back from the safety of an umbrella, it worked well that we were taking in his set in the pouring rain. I don't mean that Pundt's tunes are a particularly good match for the cold drops pounding down (they are), but the rain forced the casual observers for the safety of the tents and left an audience captivated by his brand of shoegazey pop tracks. The dedicated few that remained stood transfixed through performances of many of the outstanding tracks from this year's Spooky Action at A Distance. One can't help but wonder if Pundt's project, on the strength of such outstanding tracks as 'Strangers' and 'Monoliths, will someday be given the same attention as his Deerhunter compatriot's solo project. Based on his performance Saturday, he really doesn't seem to far from that sort of acclaim. --CJ
Through the many tumultuous weather turns, and unfortunate incidents of his set, the Deerhunter frontman proved that most of all Bradford Cox will be Bradford Cox. Taking to the stage in whiteface makeup, a straw hat, and punctuating every sentence with an affected southern accent, Cox took us through the main stopping points of his prolific solo career. His brand of acoustic looping solo shows have already been seen by everyone under the sun and discussed ad infinitum, but it still bears mentioning that hearing his music in this stripped down setting is an experience that needs to be had. Though the pounding rain drowned out his set at points, stunning renditions of 'Te Amo' and 'Walkabout' were enough to satiate the masses gathered before him. Though the PA seemed to have had its fill of the rain, sputtering and crackling through the last few songs, it was, as expected, an outstanding set from one of the preeminent songwriters in indie rock at the moment. Here's to hoping that we'll be able to be treated to many more sets like this one in the years to come. --CJ
Cults' midday set drew an impressive crowd for such an early timeslot, to the point where it seemed possible that they might have been a part of the draw for the Saturday's massive attendance. Their sunny, easy pop songs certainly were the most widely appealing thing happening early in the day, but ultimately their performance didn't really deliver much of anything worthwhile. The duo's stage presence is awkward at best, and the extensive backing band they brought with them didn't seem to be there to do anything other than provide a backdrop for Madeline Follin's vocals. The fact that her vocals were so strained and amateurish didn't help matters. Ultimately, it was one of the weakest sets of the whole festival and more evidence that Cults have gotten too big too fast. -- Ryan Stanley
Unfortunately due to setup issues the Blue stage was running nearly half an hour behind schedule all day only allowing me to catch a couple songs of the Boise, Idaho natives set. It seemed an appropriate match to the balmy post rain afternoon, but Trevor Powers' reverby vocals and subtle keyboard lines were no match for the bleed in of the set that I dashed over to next.
I last saw Flying Lotus in a setting not too dissimilar to the one on Saturday afternoon. Coachella 2010 slotted him in at a late night set that nevertheless drew what had to be the majority of the crowd attending the festival. A boisterous crowd hungry for the clatter of the just released landmark album Cosmogramma ate his set up. Though the crowd was no less intrigued by his tunes at Pitchfork fest, there was just something about it that kept it from soaring to the magical levels that his Coachella set hit. The lack of visuals was perhaps the most obvious. Taking to a stark, bare stage, FlyLo dropped a fair amount of his original tunes spanning the aforementioned Cosmogramma and his previous full length Los Angeles as well as his recent EP and more than a handful of remixes. It had all the markings of an absolutely outstanding set, but without the visuals and with his placement so far back on the largest stage of the festival, it just seemed a bit impersonal if nothing else. Musically, it was about as good as you can ask for, but given my incredible live experience with him before I was hoping for just a bit more. -- CJ
Nicolas Jaar's set was just what I needed in terms of offering something a little more personal form of electronic music, and in terms of a bit of a cool down in the midst of two exceedingly busy day. His beats and keyboard compositions were augmented by a saxophone and some laid-back guitar work. This was yet another set where I wish I knew more of the material. If I had been able to zone in on the loops he was manipulating, it could have been one of the more moving sets of the festival. -- CJ
Don't throw the word supergroup at Wild Flag. I don't think any of the group's members would like to be a part of anything quite as nostalgic or tossed off as that. Besides, they don't play like indie rock royalty, they just play as if they're the best new band around since, well, Sleater-Kinney or Helium. Anybody who was regretting watching Flying Lotus' set from the Red Stage (I can relate), had any bad vibes knocked right out of them as soon as Wild Flag kicked into their first song, a rollicking cover of Television's classic 'See No Evil.' From there, Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein traded off songs new and old in one of the most solid sets of the entire weekend. The band got increasingly energetic as the set went on, Brownstein getting especially theatrical, holding her guitar above her head and jumping around the stage during the band's rock freakouts. But, ultimately, Janet Weiss was the MVP of the set; I didn't see a more versatile or entertaining drummer from any other group all festival. -- RS
Sleigh Bells make the kind of music that festivals are made for: big, brash, loud songs with tunes anybody can sing along to, beats anybody can dance to, and guitars anybody can lose their hearing to. The band has been a touring machine for over 3 years now, and not too much has changed in that time. The crowds have gotten bigger, the setlist has gotten longer, and the Marshall stacks have gotten more numerous, but seeing Sleigh Bells will probably always be the same experience. But who cares, really? Being in the massive crowd for amped up favorites like 'Infinity Guitars' and 'A/B Machines' was still some of the most fun that was available all weekend, and that counts for a whole lot. -- RS
Let's make no mistake, coming into this festival, I was already a firm supporter of everything Chromatics is doing. With the surprise release of one of the year's most outstanding albums, the band has already done enough to endear them to the music community en masse in a way that they weren't quite able to accomplish with their previous works. Their early evening set was heavy on singles drawn from Kill For Love, with the notable exceptions of the title track from Night Drive and a cover of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill.'
It seemed to me that their sound would be much better matched for a nighttime set or somewhere indoors where their murky aesthetic could be lined up with the visuals to match. So, instead of putting myself through the expected route of lining up to see Grimes or Godspeed! You Black Emperor, I trekked across town to Lincoln Hall to watch Chromatics play an aftershow. After an hourlong DJ set from Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio, the band took to the stage again, promising to play a bit longer than their abbreviated festival set. Awe ensued. The sterile setup of the room, seemed to perfectly suit their danceable live show. Johnny Jewel, clad during both sets in appropriately glammy eye makeup, is an absolute monster behind the synthesizer. Ruth Radelet's vocals sound pitch perfect to the records her distant, cool stage presence seemed even more apparent in this more intimate setting. Though their daytime set was outstanding, they were, unsurprisingly, miles better in a setting more suited to their sound. -- CJ
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are probably a pretty difficult band to schedule at a festival. Their slow, gradual builds and 20+ minute instrumental compositions don't exactly make for a widely appealing headliner, but, really, there's really no other role they could play. Not only does the very nature of their show demand the longest possible time slot, but, in the grand scheme of things, they were probably the most legendary group on the entire weekend's bill. Pitchfork seemed to be trying to solve this problem by scheduling their headlining performance at the same time as Grimes, and judging by the constant stream of people leaving the shrinking audience throughout the performance, it was probably a good idea. Godspeed didn't exactly make much of an effort to acclimate their show to a festival setting, playing in absolute darkness save for a dim film projector and refusing to be filmed for the festival's big screens. Still, for the smallish crowd that stuck around after the opening 10 minute drone, the payoff was worth it. Sections culled from Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven proved to be especially successful, both in winning over the crowd and creating something amazing to witness. Experiencing the crescendos of Godspeed's music is an even more transcendent experience when the musicians are playing it right in front of you, even if their presence doesn't answer many questions as to how it's created. -- RS
With an early day marked by some heavy sunlight and capital R Rock bands, Sunday was poised to be the most brutal. Though the late afternoon was a bit more laid back, both in music and in weather, we weren't quite sure whether we were going to be able to make it through this one. Still, as the bands took the stage, the crowds gathered, and we were in for yet another day of outstanding sets, despite the fatigue and the violent moshpits.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Anyone who's seen weirdo rock trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra play can tell you: within a couple of songs, it's clear that they're a group of very talented musicians. But more importantly, they have a killer set of songs, mostly culled from their excellent self-titled 2011 debut. Ruban Nielson has a knack for strangely catchy, oddball guitar riffs and finding vocal melodies that somehow fit into the mix. Supported by UMO's tight, groovey rhythm section, Nielson tore through the majority of his band's record before debuting a bit of new, even more electrifying material. This is definitely a group to watch in the next year or so. -- Ryan Stanley
Alex Coxen's Milk Music has quickly and somewhat appropriately been tagged as the latest member of a burgeoning 90s indie rock revival. It's not for no reason. In a live setting, Coxen embodies the puerile spirit of the early SST bands he so worships. Spitting bilious lyrics over riffs that are pure muscle-y Sebadoh in their construction, one can't help but think the whole thing is a bit derivative. It's clear though when he moves about the stage making obscene gestures at the photographers gathered at his feet, it's clear that even if the music is a bit of a pose, his attitude isn't. It's not quite enough to make this a set one of the most memorable of the festival, but it certainly makes me excited to see where this project goes in the future. -- Colin Joyce
Though still a short time into their career, Denmark's Iceage already has a reputation as a reputation as a massively self-destructive live band. Well known for bloodying each other and crowd members, the set was poised to be just what the hot Sunday afternoon needed to kick it into full gear. And boy, it sure did. Though hamstrung by a bum bass amp, the band growled and kicked their way through cuts from last year's New Brigade. Though Elias Rønnenfelt, didn't descend into the crowd early on in the set, it didn't stop crazed fans from flailing about and generally wreaking havoc upon the Vampire Weekend fans camped out in the front row for their headlining set. As I made my way out of the pit I noticed that a crowd member was bleeding out of both sides of his mouth and I couldn't help but wonder if the dude in flailing around on another guy's shoulder had a hand in that bit of destruction. The momentum was repeatedly killed a bit by the aforementioned sound problems, but when all cylinders were firing, it was about as gloriously violent as you might imagine. -- CJ
Press releases for Ty Segall Band's latest album compared the intensity and rawness of the full band recordings to seeing the band in person in action. While that's true to some degree, even Slaughterhouse can't quite prepare you for the experience of seeing Segall in action. Segall's live stomp is so absolutely massive and so far removed from the fuzzy garage-pop of his solo records that it doesn't even feel like the work of the same man. While on record, with the exception of Slaughterhouse perhaps, Segall's focus seems more on hooks and songwriting, live it's all brutal power. Even his poppier hits like 'Girlfriend' and 'Finger' are transformed into live behemoths, moving the crowd to the largest, if least violent moshpit of the festival. Segall crowdsurfed pretty much to the back of the entire crowd and then back to the stage again before the band moved into 'Wave Goodbye'. Segall was all smiles playing to the frenzied crowd, and it seems that he's only going to playing to bigger and bigger crowds in the years to come. -- CJ
After two of the most intense sets of the weekend, there couldn't have been a more necessary time to take in some of Real Estates feel good vibes from the shade of a tree. Over the past year, Days served as my soundtrack for this sort of weather so to see the breezy guitar interludes of Martin Courtney and Matt Modanile in person in a similar situation was perhaps the perfect way to see the band. The sun beat down, the crowd was wilting in their ways, but during 'Suburban Beverage' through the harmonized coo of "Budweiser Sprite, do you feel alright?," the band seemed to satiate the crowd. It was hot. It was ungodly hot. It was weather where you're praying for a cloud to pass over, but Real Estate's set was more than enough to keep it all together and was certainly appropriate in the downslope of a frenzied early afternoon.
Oneohtrix Point Never
A brief jaunt over to see Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never at the Blue Stage brought on similar salutary effects as we sat down to take in his set. As the gentle hum of 'Sleep Dealer' washed over the crowd, the meager crowd gathered seemed to be entirely gracious not to be across the park taking in a hyped up Araabmuzik set. What Lopatin's set lacked in guest appearances from local rappers (Araabmuzik brought on Chief Keef), it was made up for in interesting interpretations of many of the tracks from his much acclaimed 2011 album Replica. The rumbling piano chords of the title track of that release were accompanied by some harsh noise samples broke the trance-like states of the attendees. While some might find these little turns--this was a typical moment of the set--a bit difficult to listen to, it was enough to prickle the ears of the attendees, to raise the hair on the back of our necks. The tracks were a bit harder to listen to, maybe, but the new interpretations were compelling. The slow evolving loops were enough to get Lopatin slowly swaying in his chair and I swear at one point I saw a smile break out on his face.--CJ
I last saw Archy Marshall almost a full year ago in a dark second floor bar in Brooklyn. Though the songs still held their impressive songcraft, Marshall and his young band seemed a bit out of sorts as they stumbled through a few of their newer tracks off of his self-titled debut EP. Not so on Saturday evening. The band seemed tight on tracks both old and new, with 'Lizard State' and 'Portrait in Black and Blue' packing a particularly jazzy live punch. Archy Marshall's battered vocals seem even more out of place and wholly enveloping when you hear them emanating from the diminutive frontman in person. It was a weird time slot for a band that only has a single EP to their name, but with the practice the band has apparently put in over the last nine months and the promise of these early tracks, such placement seems entirely justified. If a few more "I love you's" were shouted out you might've thought we were taking in a set from one of our many teen idols rather than moody show from the youthful purveyor of moody indie rock far beyond his years. -- CJ
With each subsequent release, Beach House has just continued to get better and better, both on record and on stage. This year's Bloom is the duo's best work to date, even after becoming indie darlings with 2010's excellent Teen Dream. Their live show has undergone an even more dramatic upgrade: backed by tall paneled walls, a web of lights, and the most dynamic light show the band has yet used, Beach House put on a show that knocked any of their previous festival offerings out of the park. Sure, their introverted dream pop and ghostly stage presence is much more suited for a dark venue than an outdoor festival, but Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are both transfixing to watch, and their set includes too many killer cuts to be ignored. As they tirelessly continue to grow and improve, Beach House are becoming the closest thing dream pop has to superstars. -- RS
It may have seemed odd to have Vampire Weekend, a band short on released material, as the massive big draw headliner for a music festival as established as Pitchfork, but the buzz around Union Park seemed to suggest that they were far and away the band of the day. I mean, as I mentioned before, as early as Iceage's set, fans were camped out across the barrier in Vampire Weekend t-shirts. Despite their apparent lack of longevity, they have some quite dedicated fans, that much is very clear.
Their set, surprisingly, provided ample support for the obsession of the mob of teenagers. More so than just about any band of the festival, and this is no slight to the incredible number of outstanding bands that I saw, it's clear that Vampire Weekend are absolute professionals. In the chaotic buoyancy of 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa', the subtle hush of 'I think Ur A Contra' and the frenetic instrumentation of 'Cousins', it's become clear that aside from catchy melodies, the band's live sets are marked by the incredible musicianship typical of bands many years their senior. The teenyboppers at the front tended to squeal at the start of each recognizable song and generally go nuts for everything Ezra Koenig did. Maybe they're right, it didn't take too much, but with the new song, as well as the cuts from both albums, they had every single one of us eating from the palms of their hands. All pretension and posturing aside, Vampire Weekend sure know how to put on a fun live set, and what better way to close out three days of live music than that. --CJ
Perhaps the best things in life really are free. Or so you may think after Tramlines weekend in Sheffield. Now well established as the jewel in the city's musical calendar by its fourth year, the festival attracts established acts from far and wide and has every band in the city honing their set and looking to secure the best possible slots to showcase themselves to huge crowds of non-paying punters. [read more]
This weekend past I, complete with more than a few friends, popped to Supernormal festival (not to be confused with Supersonic, which I previewed for this very site a few weeks back). The event is billed as the 'alternative's alternative', which both roused my suspicions and stroked my ego a little. [read more]
The lateness of this review can be excused by my discovery shortly after Rockness I had broken a metatarsal just over a week earlier at Primavera, and as a result has become somewhat of a major inconvenience in my life. While this discovery provides little consolation to those who awkwardly stared as I limped around the Rockness festival site, it did not stop me from attending the event located in the higher reaches of the Scottish Highlands, beautifully positioned on the edge of Loch Ness. [read more]