Or...sometimes music is more fun in the hot sun.
My big vacation event of the summer was going to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on Bastille Day weekend with my friend from that excellent blog, The Pagan Science Monitor.
For those who don't know, Pitchfork is an internet music guide that notoriously sets the snark n' snob standards for hipsters everywhere, and yet remains an invaluable resource for the rest of us. In addition to all that, they now produce a remarkably un-snarky and incredibly cheap annual music festival. I have put my own concert-going cellphone videos on youtube so that everyone can experience just what it's like to be five feet tall at an outdoor rock show on flat ground. The sound is pretty good on these, so enjoy. And all you tall people, perhaps you'll gain a new perspective on the world.
And now...for the run down (including links to videos from people who could actually see the bands).
On the first day, the fest featured three full album performances sponsored by the concert series All Tomorrow's Parties/ Don't Look Back: Slint performing "Spiderland", GZA performing "Liquid Swords" and Sonic Youth doing their full double-album "Daydream Nation."
Needless to say, it was a fantastic first night of music.
GZA: Although the pitchfork vids on youtube show The 4th Chamber the peak of the GZA show, for me anyway, was their rendition of ODB's "I Like it Raw," a weird epitaph if there ever was one.
Sonic Youth: As you can tell from these assorted videos, Sonic Youth's energy was even more massive than usual.
The second day my friend and I started off well with locals, Califone,and we seemed to be standing near the band's family members. You can also see a video of theirs here.
After a too-short, but nonetheless blissful 45 minutes of Califone we were a bit indecisive about which bands we wanted to see. We heard the beginning of, but were not that enthused about Battles so we headed over to see Fujiya and Miyagi, where the sound mix was so terrible that we gave up. Instead, we collected our favorite overheard absurdities (coming soon on TPSM?), looked at the fashions on parade, ate some vegan food, drank some beer, all the while listening to an unintentional live mash-up that we dubbed "Fujiya Battles Miyagi" - it surpassed both bands on their own.
On our way to the next stage, I liked what I heard of Professor Murder, but thought I'd see them so easily in NY that I'd rather hear someone else. I wasn't sorry to miss the tedious Iron and Wine. (Jeezus, I ask you, what has happened to the indie scene?) I sort of liked Mastodon, but my friend judged them not authentic metal and I found Clipse unbelievably bad.
However, those mixed experiences were more than made up for by Cat Power's completely gaff-free performance and Yoko Ono's chthonic set with Thurston Moore. For a brief thrill, check this link for someone's clips from both shows. The Cat Power video clip linked above has better sound than most of what I found on Youtube. She did a great performance of Satisfaction but no one on youtube seems to have captured a good video of it with good sound. Here's one with a nice picture and muted sound but you can get the idea of what the song sounded like.
Yoko Ono's show was profound, the beautiful surprise of the day. My friend says that he was not expecting that much of her, but was so affected by the show that he couldn't talk about it without tearing up for two days. I'd seen her live before - in Central Park w/John Zorn and her son, Sean, about twelve years ago when her album Rising came out, so, I thought she would be good, but this show was considerably better than that one. Thurston Moore came out as her special guest for the show-stopping "Mulberry".
Hers was both emotionally rich and far and away the most politically conscious performance of the festival. Given all the negativity directed toward her even from audience members, I thought it was sadly significant that she was the only person at Pitchfork who I heard mention the war. She also is so clearly a feminist performer, and I noticed that the young men in the audience were the ones who did the most mocking. Clearly, they were uncomfortable with the way she rolled out with all that simultaneous power and vulnerability. The young women seemed to being paying more attention. As well they should; she has that witchy energy that I associate with seventies-era feminism and the earnest, bright-eyed experimentalism that seems to have left the avant-garde since the commercialized art scene of the eighties. I felt nostalgic and came home to listen to "Double Fantasy" on vinyl when I got back to NY.
The third day, we started with another Chicago band, The Ponys, who rocked up a sweat, then went over to check out Menomena, whose new record I love, but in the live, outdoor setting, they weren't equal to the sweet layered melodies of their studio recordings. Yeah, if you liked that, here's another one.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out near the shady stage. First, we had to visit the Readymade Magazine stand, where people were making their own t-shirts, We then spent the rest of the day at the "Balance stage" listening to three totally enjoyable sets: The very jazzy kids from Ann Arbor,Nomo, the very hilarious Cool Kids from Chicago who referred to themselves as "the Black version of the Beastie Boys" and Canadian rapper extroardinaire: Cadence Weapon, who just wowed us. He was lyrically inventive, his delivery was right on, he hopped up and down and crowd surfed, and to top it off, his crafty DJ, Weez-L turned out to be a young, skinny bearded white kid who liked like he was dressed up as ZZ top for Halloween.
We skipped both hipster favorites Of Montreal & Sea and Cake (who I think I enjoyed listening to while I was waiting in line for the bathroom), to check out the record and poster fairs.
Sadly, in order to see the big hip-hop acts, we missed both Stephen Malkmus, whose set was supposed to be great, and the late-starting Klaxons, who are playing Madison Square Garden w/Bjork the next time they come to this 'burg.
It was worth it, however, as we ended our Pitchfork experience with the ever-righteous De La Soul who cracked many jokes, got the party going, and brought out Prince Paul as a "substitute DJ" on the pretense that Pacemaster Mase had to go to the bathroom.
Three days of hip-hop, rock and even a wild feminist peace-happening later, I headed back to NY where the summer concert season continues...If I can get it together to write about them, I'll tell all y'all about Mavis Staples, The Noisettes, MIA, Eric Bachman, Neko Case and the ever-ready, Hold Steady.