15 July 2007

Pitchfork, Day 2: The Loudest Rock Band Fronted by a 74 Year Old Woman Ever

The weather was surprisingly pleasant for a Chicago summer yesterday, all the better because I was out in it all day long. It was Day 2 of the Pitchfork Music Festival, and it would have been much less enjoyable had it rained or been a scorcher.

Since I was here, writing about how I was missing the first couple of acts, I missed the first couple of acts. I missed Ken Vandermark, which was okay. Not because I didn't want to see him, but because he lives in Chicago, performs regularly, the fact that I've seen him before, and that he will be performing again today as well. I also missed a bad called the Twilight Sad, but since I've heard they are kind of a downer, perhaps it was best that I didn't start my day on a melancholy note.

A Slow Start

I caught a few minutes of Voxtrot, yet another American band that imitates Brit pop. I never understood why so many American (male, always male) singers affect a British accent when singing, and why nobody calls them on it.

Next up was Grizzly Bear. A friend of mine insisted that I go and see them, and I enjoyed the show, even if it wasn't the most high energy show. Recordings of them had led me to expect a two-dimensional Beach Boys rip-off, but they showed that they took more than the idea of lush orchestration to create a sort of wistful, fragile art pop. Worth checking out, I think, although a little too low key for the festival.

Battles Tear It Up

Low key was not the case of the next group I saw. I have heard one song from Battles before, but it didn't give me any indication of what I was going to see that day. Battles is a four piece weirdo disco/punk/prog/rock group. I'm not sure how to explain them other than that. Everyone but the drummer played keyboards as well as their other instruments, the sparse vocals were treated to sound kind of like the Chipmunks on acid, and one minute you'd be dancing, the other shaking your head, wondering what the hell they were doing. Battles will probably be my find of the festival (unless someone blows my mind today).

After Battles had blown my mind, I sort of wandered around for a bit. Being broke, I merely window shopped at the WLUW record fair, and avoided the printmaking area all together. My budget allows for food and a couple of beers a day, no more.

Not a Rip-Off

One of the many good things about the Pitchfork festival is the fact that water only costs $1 a bottle. That's cheaper than in some convenience stores. The people that run the festival know a few things well. First, it's not good if your fans are passing out from heatstroke because they can't afford to pay $4 for a bottle of water. Second, too much corporate presence (a necessary evil that is required when putting on something as big as this) will kill the vibe. All advertising has been kept to a minimum, and you won't really see ads anywhere near the stages, which like at Bonnaroo are not corporately named. Third, keeping the ticket proces low guarantees maximum attendance and attitude. No one can accuse you of selling out when the prices are $50 for all three days.

Fourth, and most importantly, the only beer sold is Goose Island, a Chicago brewing company. Beer is only $4, which is about what you'd pay in a bar. Hell, a six pack of their IPA can run as much as $10 in a store, so I consider that a deal.

There was a little tent set up from Whole Foods, selling reasonably healthy snacks, with all of the proceeds being donated to the Lill Street Art Center (so money well spent there). I ended up having veggie sushi, a banana, and a box of cherries for my dinner, which is the best meal I've ever eaten at a music festival. Iron & Wine were performing a the closest stage, but they were making me sleepy, so I just stayed put and chilled out.

Your Ass: Mastodon Kicks It, Clipse Makes You Shake It

Across the way, I heard Mastodon begin. That's not due to my acute hearing (which after years of rock music isn't so acute anymore). Everyone heard Mastodon, because they are fucking loud. I'm not sure why Pitchfork invited a metal band, but they provided a nice, high energy contrast to the either sleepy or very intent members of a few bands I won't mock here. I kept my distance (and saved my hearing, I'm sure) and watched them from a distance. Not really my kind of music, but Mastodon will always have a place in my heart, because they provided the music for the opening of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters.

After that, the Clipse. They were one of my top groups to see at the festival, and they didn't disappoint. While I found the GZA show the night before to be unfocused, low energy and disorganized, the Clipse came bounding out on to stage full of energy, putting on one of the best shows of the day. I don't know if it was because they had an audience of thousands watching them, or if they found it amusing that the audience of thousands were primarily white (considering that they often refer to whites as crackers in their songs), but the Clipse had smiles on their faces, talked with the audience, boasted about having the album of the year (a sentiment I agree with), worked the crowd into a frenzy, and left everyone wanting more. Now that's what a hip hop show is supposed to be like.

I haven't heard any of Dan Deacon's music yet, but I was told he puts on a good show, so I headed over there for that. Unfortunately, he put on such a good show that the cops shut it down almost immediately, due to overcrowding. The same happened to Girl Talk, who I've now missed seeing twice this summer. Perhaps they need a larger third stage than the tent in the alley, especially if they are inviting guests of this caliber to it.

I caught a little bit of Cat Power. Chan Marshall looked like she was high on something. Half the time she was wandering around the stage aimlessly, singing to the band or hiding in the wings, other times she was walking out to confront the audience. She was in great voice, but I found her performance to be a little unsettling.

And finally, Yoko Ono.

Yoko Ono

I've heard great things about her. I've read great things about her. But what I've heard I just didn't understand. Her show didn't start off promisingly, with a video that went on and on about an art piece she was doing, involving flashing lights and universal love. The video must have lasted ten minutes, and left the audience restless and bored.

She came out and started chatting. A lot of talking between songs for Yoko. When the band finally kicked in, they were a lot louder than I expected. It must have been the loudest rock band in history fronted by a 74 year old woman. I was going to type that Ono sang, but that's not really the word for it. She more vocalized in a strange, quavering vibrato along to the music, and it was just plain weird. I just didn't get it. I sat there listening for the first couple of songs trying to understand what I was hearing.

Then I got it.

It was like the clouds had moved away from the sun. If you've ever heard what Ono sounds like in front of a band, you've probably been wondering what she was doing. That's because you, like I was, were thinking of her as a singer. Don't. Once you accept the idea that her voice is an instrument, it makes sense. Think of her voice like Thurston Moore's guitar. It's an instrument soloing over the backup. Really. I'm not making this up.

As if to prove the point, Thurston Moore himself came out and performed a few songs with her, and they were perfectly matched. Her music went from weird and unpleasant to profound in just a few minutes of watching here, and I count myself lucky to have seen her live.

I'm getting ready to head out to Day Three.

I'll keep you posted.


Belinda said...

A box of cherries???? Yum!!!!!!!!

Everything's ALWAYS so overpriced at music festivals, so it's great the organisers of this one aren't screwing you all over.

A plate of vegetarian curry from the Hari Krishna tent was my meal of choice at the last day festival I went to. Pretty good for what it was, but friggin hard to eat standing up.....and sitting cross legged on the grass at 32 years of age aint as easy as it used to be! :o(

Grant Miller said...

I should have gone.

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