From the MoSS? Pit: Pitchfork Music Festival

slowdive performing at pitchfork

Slowdive performing on the final day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park. It was so fucking great.

At the age of 40, I finally did all three days of a weekend-long music festival…Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park, to be specific. It can be summed up pretty much like this: I purchased and redeemed numerous drink tickets (the last batch handed in for Goose Island’s Sharon Van Etten signature brew); I ate and drank (mostly ate) my way up and down Randolph going to and from the fest; my back was killing me by Day 3; only one artist truly disappointed me; I’m still envious of my friend Denise’s view from her downtown home and appreciative of her hospitality when we (me, Travis, Annie, in this case) come to town; the band I really wanted to see surpassed my expectations to claim the honor of being my favorite act of the weekend.

What were my takeaways from the experience, which saw Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Kendrick Lamar headline the three days?

Despite being markedly shorter than the following two days, Friday was pretty much awesome, even without Death Grips.

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band perform on the Red Stage.

I thought for sure Friday would not be nearly as special without Death Grips kicking things off. But it turned out to be the most consistently satisfying day. Factory Floor grooved the Blue Stage (which resembles the shady confines of The Grove at Lollapalooza). Sharon Van Etten performed a great set on one of the two larger stages. She couldn’t hide her glee in between songs, which presented an odd contrast to her vocal stylings, but anyway, she was wonderful, and I can’t wait to see her again in Iowa City come October.

Sun Kil Moon provided a nice soundtrack for kicking up our heels. Giorgio Moroder was an absolute home run, something I didn’t see coming. It was truly fun. (Weirdly, this was the only moment where I saw anything remotely resembling confrontation. I guess disco still pisses off some people.) I think Giorgio was neck-and-neck with Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke in terms of best conductor of the audience.

Had no idea what we’d get from Beck’s headliner set. The new album is good, but not sure it’s festival-mainstage kind of stuff. But we got a nice cross section of his catalog, delivered with great energy. I found videos of set opener “Devil’s Haircut” and megahit “Loser”; I was unable to find any videos of me nailing all the lyrics to “Get Real Paid.” I also didn’t get a usable photo of the 7-foot guy who nudged his way up by us in the crowd, towering over Denise. Oh well.

Service at The Haymarket was shitty after the festival on Friday.

Seriously. It sucked, and the food we eventually got was nothing to write home about (even though I guess that’s kind of what I’m doing right now).

Oh, you crazy kids in Twin Peaks…

They looked even younger than they probably are (the quartet’s collective age I’d estimate at 81). They had crowd surfers (which reminded me of shows from back when I was the same age as the Twin Peakers). One guy rocked out from a wheelchair (ankle injury, I guess). Another guy smashed his guitar and chucked it into the crowd. They were manic, they were fun enough, they were a good band to open the day. Greg Kot speaks highly of them in the video recap below.

Saturday probably had the biggest disappointments of the festival.

Cloud Nothings didn’t impress our party much; they became a running joke in our group because of how much Annie disliked their shit. (I might have the highest opinion of them, in that I enjoyed the first five songs and then found it a bit monotonous.) Denise and I took a big risk in skipping St. Vincent to head to the cozy Blue Stage to catch The Field and FKA Twigs, which, I’m sorry, was a terrible mistake. The Field was fine for chilling in the shade before making our move forward to get a good spot for FKA Twigs. The music is kinda cool, but her live act seems to rely mostly on slinky moves and diva attitude over anything resembling decent vocals. (I realize my opinion is counterbalanced by the shit I overheard in the crowd, such as “She’s so elegant, she’s so perfect, she’s beyond human!”)

We made it back to the other side of the park in time to catch one, maybe two St. Vincent songs from a distance. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Thankfully her entire set is on YouTube, which you (and I) can watch below.

Some people might have been disappointed that Pusha T had to play a truncated set since his DJ didn’t show up or whatever.

Tune-Yards live > Tune-Yards on record.

That’s not meant as a dig at Tune-Yards’ recorded work, although I don’t find myself listening to Tune-Yards for an hour straight very often, if ever. But I could have watched and listened to the live act for three hours. So much life in that performance, and not just limited to Merrill. It was easily my second-favorite set of the weekend, surpassing Sharon VE and Beck.

I haven’t found any YouTube videos that really capture this, so for now, take my word for it.

My Donnelly’s Pub t-shirt was quite popular on Saturday.

Three times I was stopped so that someone could give me props for the shirt. Of course, Travis one-upped me by having four people compliment him on Sunday for his Black Angels shirt; one guy even handed him a strand of drink tickets just to show him proper respect. This happens to him a lot, or so I’ve heard.

Dum Dum Girls were great; the bass player secretly loves me (I’m sure)

We got a late start to Sunday, catching just the tail end of DIIV and missing Speedy Ortiz completely. After sitting through some of Isaiah Rashad’s set at the Blue Stage, we finally got our closest spot for a set, about four rows back for Dum Dum Girls. One of the coolest acts, and certainly very easy to look at. But seriously, the music is great, and it came through in this energetic performance.

Deafheaven’s vocalist (George Clarke) is perhaps the most intriguing character from the whole fest

The dude comes out all buttoned up in black, looking quite straight-edge or something, and absolutely takes over the entire park. Standing at stage’s edge, directing the crowd with rapid hand gestures, placing one boot upon the monitor and going into a tense crouch, and then unleashing THAT scream. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch him work. But as I said in my Best of 2013 album list on Facebook, I love Deafheaven’s music but am not a big fan of the vocals. Seeing him live was worth a few songs, but I thought it more important to stake out space for Dum Dum Girls rather than stay for the whole set. Still, cool to see.

Slowdive was the best

They might not be as beloved as My Bloody Valentine in the shoegaze universe, but Slowdive put out three wonderful albums in the ’90s, and the songs translate live better than MBV does, if you ask me. The quintet filled up the outdoor setting with ease, with layer upon layer of guitar washing over a crowd that, truth be told, probably wasn’t all that familiar with the band coming in. (I mentioned to Travis that Slowdive was the main band I wanted to see on the whole bill; a woman in front of me said “If I block your view, just let me know. I’ve never heard of this band before.”) We had a great view and the band met my expectations. I really miss the ’90s, and not just because of grunge heroes like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. The shoegaze bands are marvelous; Todd and I even kicked in some cash to Kickstarter to help fund the making of a documentary on the subject, “Beautiful Noise.” The film is making the festival rounds, and we should have our DVD in the near future. (Screening party!)

Anyway, here’s some Slowdive.

Real Estate was as expected, which is to say very good

They are good at what they do, and at times it sounds spectacular. Sounded good as the sun got low in the sky. Here’s a taste:

What did others think?

Neutral Milk Hotel was to Annie as Slowdive was to me. Denise and Annie loved Grimes. Travis is still loving Sharon Van Etten, and he and Annie loved Deafheaven. Our entire group loved Slowdive. It’s safe to say Denise did not love Neneh Cherry and absolutely loved Giorgio. Dum Dums went over well with everyone. The hard cider option was much appreciated, as were the Big Ass Lemonades and Big Ass Arnold Palmers.

Outside the park: Beer Bistro was the best: food, drink, service. So was the place where Denise and I got nachos for what felt like our ninth meal of the day on Saturday; don’t remember the name of the joint. Kaiser Tiger was a cool place to hang out right across from the park, but unless you’re really hungry or have six people in your party, don’t get the large order of fries. An entire cookie sheet stacked with fries arrived at our table. Beggars Pizza was really good but it was quite an ordeal to get the damn pizza. Meli Cafe and Lou Mitchell’s served top-notch breakfast, each in its own way. You already read my feelings about Haymarket.

I definitely preferred the Pitchfork setting over Lolla. I feel like I was able to get to see almost everything I wanted, thanks to the more compact structure. And even with way fewer artists on the bill, I feel it is a much more impressive lineup than what Lolla is going with this year.

I’d love to return to Union Park in 2015. Who’s with me?

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Lolla 2013: Can Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear switch stages? Please?!

lollapalooza logoWhen I made that impulse buy, the Sunday ticket for Lollapalooza 2013, I was swayed by a couple of factors. One, my friend Travis Who Isn’t the Beast was going; the morning the one-day tickets went on sale, we were both waking in Chicago the day after the Sigur Ros show. He egged me on, and I was still riding the live-music high provided by the Icelandic trio. So without checking with the missus, I bought a ticket via smartphone. I’m a pushover. (As a result, I’m also probably taking the family to Chicago for the weekend, as it happens.)

Second, the killer roster, headlined by the Cure, my all-time favorites. I haven’t seen them in 13 years…it’s time. Vampire Weekend, Beach House, and Tegan & Sara also jumped off the poster. Looking at the artists and paying no mind to the logistics of stage placement and prominence, I envisioned a dream day as follows:

  • Palma Violets
  • Wild Belle
  • MS MR
  • Lianne La Havas
  • Wild Nothing
  • DIIV
  • Tegan & Sara
  • Beach House
  • Vampire Weekend
  • The Cure

Now that the schedule is out and logistics come into play, here’s what I’m looking at:

  • Guards
  • Wild Belle
  • Wild Nothing
  • Lianne La Havas
  • Tegan & Sara
  • Alt-J
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Beach House
  • The Cure

VW is the huge omission, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it unless I want to sacrifice Cure position. VW will play before Phoenix on the other side of the park; Grizzly Bear precedes the Cure. That’s a bit of a nut-punch (I don’t get the Grizzly Bear love), but I am seeing VW in October, so I can live with this.

(However, I am considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to see if I can bribe Grizzly Bear to switch stages with Vampire Weekend. I might even match every dollar pledged to the cause. Check MoSS? regularly for updates.)

DIIV also falls off the list, which is a bummer, but they are playing much later in the day than I would have anticipated, so I don’t want to move too much at this point. I might be able to sneak off to Palma Violets between Guards (whom I’ve seen up close and personal, opening for Cults back in 2011) and Wild Belle.

All in all, I’m happy. I must admit, my Vampire Weekend tickets for the Kansas City show make this a much easier pill to swallow. But I’ve been getting a kick out of all the people whining on social media about the various conflicts. Like how in the world could you put Nine Inch Nails against the Killers? Or why are Mumford and Sons going up against The Postal Service?

It should come as no surprise that the day’s two headliners would be pitted on opposite ends of the park. And really, is there much debate as to which band you should see, assuming you can maneuver around the park as you wish?

If you need help making a choice, you’re in luck: I’m here to help. I’ll address some of the conflicts I’ve seen discussed on Facebook…

FRIDAY

First off, why is Jessie Ware playing so early? 1:00 is the best she could pull?

Band of Horses vs. Crystal Castles (4:15): A bunch of wusses who make decent tunes against the manic energy of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass. Even though I fear their sound doesn’t translate well live, I’m still going with Crystal Castles.

New Order vs. Queens of the Stone Age (6:15): “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Age of Consent” and on and on and on vs. the guy whose best work (to my ear) is the stuff he did with John Paul Jones. New Order

Nine Inch Nails vs. the Killers (vs. Lana Del Rey?) (headliners): The worst tracks on The Downward Spiral would easily make the cut against the Killers. And LOLa Del Rey…come on. Nine Inch Nails

SATURDAY (a.k.a. “Bro Day”)

Heartless Bastards (6:00)/Death Grips (7:15) vs. The National (6:00) vs. Kendrick Lamar (6:45) vs. the Lumineers (7:15): Duh. The National

Mumford and Sons vs. the Postal Service vs. Azealia Banks vs. Steve Aoki (headliners): Duh. Get some sleep at the hotel

SUNDAY

Palma Violets (1:00) vs. the Orwells (1:00) vs. Wild Belle (1:30): I like what I’ve heard of Palma Violets, but not quite as much as Wild Belle. Orwells are third, but not meant as an insult. Wild Belle

Lianne La Havas (3:00) vs. MS MR (3:30) vs. Baroness (3:30): Baroness might provide some much-needed testosterone, and MS MR is cool as shit. I’m going with La Havas just to stay in one area, but if everything were equal…MS MR

Grizzly Bear (6:00) vs. Vampire Weekend (6:30): Overrated vs. Hypeworthy. Modern Vampires of the City came out today; I’ve listened to it at least six times all the way through since waking this morning. The tracks that came out early (“Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” and “Step”) are fantastic (“Step” in particular), and songs on the second half of the album (“Worship You,” “Finger Back,” “Hudson,” and even the quirky “Ya Hey”) get better with each listen. Seriously need to consider that Kickstarter/stage swap idea. Vampire Weekend

The Cure vs. Phoenix (headliners): Of course I’m going to say the Cure. How Phoenix headlines over Vampire Weekend baffles me, so I’m not even going to consider recommending the former against Robert Smith & Co. The Cure is sounding fantastic live with former Bowie guitar man Reeves Gabrels in the fold, and Simon Gallup is still the coolest guy in music.

If you’re going to Lolla, or even if you’re not, I’d like to hear the tough choices you’d make.

MoSS? Presents…The Top Albums of 2012, #10-6

MoSS Albums 2012

Chris’ 10-6

(click play button below to sample these 5 albums)

#10. Diiv, Oshin

#9. Tame Impala, Lonerism

#8. Beach House, Bloom

#7. Crystal Castles, (III)

#6. Sigur Ros, Valtari

Todd’s 10-6

(click play button below to sample these 5 albums)

#10. Diiv, Oshin

#9. Tennis, Young and Old

#8. The Sea and Cake, Runner

#7. PAWS, Cokefloat!

#6. Best Coast, The Only Place

Previous installments:

Best Songs of 2012

#20-11

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: June 2012

Side A : Chris’ Picks

1. Fang Island, “Sisterly”

2. Beak>, “Yatton”

3. The Hundred in the Hands, “Keep It Low”

4. Jens Lekman, “The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love”

5. Marissa Nadler, “Apostle”

Side B : Todd’s Picks

1. Lemonade, “Infinite Style”

2. Twin Shadow, “5 seconds”

3. Diiv, “Doused”

4. Violens, “Totally True”

5. Charli XCX, “Stay Away”