Saturday, July 21, 2007

Concert Review: Pitchfork Music Festival 2007: Day 1

Last weekend I whisked myself away to Chicago (sans Mrs. Hops) to visit My Buddy Brad (MBB) and check out the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park. Pitchfork, for those of you who only get their music news via this website, is really the king of all internet music sites. In fact, you could argue that after some of the major print publications like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork is the most influential music source in America. The combination of their reputation, the festival’s reputation (they held it in 2006 as well) and the $35 price tag for two days brought out all the hipsters Chicago has to offer. Now, as an aging yuppie (by their standards) this sea of indie kids is really difficult to describe. Dudes with cut off jean shorts, girls just not really caring what they look like, lots of pot bellies (both sexes), guys wearing the gym shorts that a girl probably wore in 1985, “ironic facial hair” and of course the ever present battle of the coolest t-shirt. I’ve seen this battle occur at the Black Cat quite a few times but never at such a scale. You know the shirts – where they are clearly trying to be cool, but not too cool like ones that say “achiever” on the front (I saw 4 guys wearing this “indie” shirt) . Or the shirt is so clearly uncool that it is now cool (see anything at Urban Outfitters). And of course the battle of who has the coolest band t-shirt. Some, like the Arcade Fire, say “I’m into the indie mainstream”. Some shirts, like The Thermals, are saying “I’m indie, but not too mainstream”. And some are saying “I’m so cool that I’m wearing a band t-shirt of a band that doesn’t even have an album out yet – they’re so indie that you don’t know about them yet – in fact, they don’t even exist yet”. Fantastic. You can see what I’m talking about below, including my own attempt at battling away (I can’t tell you how many people took the time to read my shirt, which I wore as my own personal inside joke that only I get). For the record, on the second day I wore a pink long sleeve button down, making me the preppiest guy amongst thousands. It felt good.

Indie plumber girl, gym shorts boy, Hops before he was rushed by hundreds of fans and My Buddy Brad grimacing at the outfits.

Anyway the Festival was a good time. There weren’t a ton of bands that I was dying to see so we were able to really relax, sit in the shade, drink some beer and enjoy the tunes (and the crowd). They even had good food! I wasn’t blown away by any of the bands but some of my favorites were Ken Vandermark's Powerhouse Sound, Menomena and the New Pornographers. The only band I didn’t see that I wanted to was Cat Power, but I don’t think she would really translate as well to a large festival atmosphere because she is too mellow. The park had two main stages set up, with bands alternating between stages so you could just hang out there and see a new band every hour. The side stage was in the back of the park, past the record fair, poster fair and food tents. We saw a bunch of bands back there but the sound just wasn’t as good which was a shame. Here is a rundown of the bands we were able to see.

Day 1

Ken Vandermark's Powerhouse Sound – Fantastic! Vandermark is an amazing sax player and the group ripped through a set loaded with jazz and funk. We missed the very beginning since they were the first band of the festival and on the side stage and I regret that now. Good stuff.

William Parker Quartet – a more traditional jazz quartet fronted by Parker on trumpet. They lost me a few times in their jams but usually brought me back at the end.

Beach House – I started listening to them in anticipation of the weekend and I am into their sound. However they’re SUPER mellow and atmospheric. Not really an outdoor concert band.

Fujiya and Miyagi – This was the band I was most disappointed in. Perhaps it was the bad sound of the second stage but they just seemed off. They didn’t add anything to their recorded music, which I dig, and the packed crowd wasn’t really as into them as you’d expect considering the rush to the side stage to see them play.

Grizzly Bear – Didn’t get to see much of their set so it’s not really fair to comment. I know the indie music crowd loves them, but I haven’t gotten into them yet. They’re pretty mellow and we were way in the back of the lawn so hard to really get a good feel of their set.

Iron and Wine – A nice surprise. I enjoy Iron and Wine’s music, but I assumed that they music wouldn’t translate well live. Instead of just Sam Beam solo acoustic, which is what I was expecting, he had a band backing him. They had elements of folk and America which I really liked. The highlight had to be his solo closer – which was a cover of “No Surprises” by Radiohead (the original can be enjoyed on Episode 6 of All You Need Is Hops)

Mastodon – Heavy metal noise. Time to go. I was just too worn out to have my bones rattled by Mastodon at that point. To be fair the crowd seemed to love them.

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