Titus Andronicus

As predicted, Saturday’s installment of Pitchfork was far more satisfying than opening night. I witnessed the two most transcendent sets of the fest so far — one I expected, one that caught me off guard — and enjoyed a smattering of new and old favorites with minimal disappointment.

It came as no surprise that LCD Soundsystem closed out the night in triumphant fashion. James Murphy has established himself as one of today’s musical geniuses, and he showed once again Saturday that his expertise extends beyond the studio onto the stage. The disco-punk movement he helped spearhead is long past its heyday (The Juan Maclean, anyone?), but he keeps mining fresh ideas from it and evolving his musical vision. Meanwhile, he has developed into a commanding presence on stage, belting out his increasingly personal lyrics with urgency and authority, a lockstep ensemble chugging behind him.

LCD offered up a career retrospective setlist so balanced that it actually neglected the recent “This Is Happening”, omitting the album’s two best tracks, slow-build opener “Dance Yourself Clean” and the Bowie-inspired epic “All I Want”. I would have loved to have heard those songs, but it’s hard to complain about the inclusion of early singles “Yeah” and “Losing My Edge”, nor the healthy swath of selections from the band’s pinnacle, “Sound of Silver”.

The day’s other high point came from a band that I considered a bit overrated entering the weekend. My experience with sophomore release “The Monitor” left me thinking Titus Andronicus had become a little longwinded, slightly convoluted and a little too in touch with their post-adolescent emotions. But if I was a skeptic Saturday morning, I was a believer by afternoon. I had hoped to make a joke along the lines of “More like tight-ass Andronicus, amirite?” but they ruled — and ruled with the utmost earnestness, so my cynicism was rendered moot.

A giant American flag dangling from their keyboard, the band blasted through big, bold guitar epics usually capped off by cathartic sing-alongs. Sons of New Jersey, this crew uses Springsteen as its template, but they’re an E Street Band for a new generation, with scrawny frontman Patrick Stickles serving as the ringleader from behind a burly black beard. He sings like Conor Oberst, and his music is infected with punk rock bombast, but the communal spirit of a Titus show is straight Boss. Stickles even led the group through a series of spotlight solos, capped off with some shredding of his own. While overseeing a massive crowd chorus of “You’ll always be a loser!” he stepped away from the mic and asked, “We’ve all felt this way at some point, have we not?” The solidarity would have been admirable even if the music was a disappointment, but considering these guys rocked harder than anybody else in the park, moments like these were nothing short of thrilling.

More thoughts on Saturday in bullet points:

•Unlike Friday’s sleepy folk introduction, Saturday started with a bang thanks to Free Energy. The Philadelphia rockers are exactly the kind of band I want to see on a hot summer afternoon in the park. Imagine the Strokes if weaned on the Ramones, Thin Lizzy and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and you’d come up with this band. Let’s party!

•I was floored by laid back New Jersey indie rockers Real Estate at South by Southwest, but their early afternoon appearance here left me feeling uninspired. It doesn’t make sense because they’re perfect for lazy afternoons in the sun. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more with a beer and some shade. (And also if they didn’t let the lead guitarist play the new song he wrote, a significant downgrade from what Martin Courtney’s kicking out.)

•Italian critical sensations Delorean, who play an arena-ready strain of dance pop that reminds me of the World Cup theme music, continue to disappoint me. I left their set after two songs to see Kurt Vile play sludgy, punk-inspired blues rock that never lets me down. It’s super weird that Vile has a harp player now.

•Bummed that Raekwon’s set got off to such a rocky start due to technical difficulties, but once things got going proper, there was no stopping him. It helps to have such a rich back catalog of Wu-Tang and solo classics, though I should note that “House of Flying Daggers” sounded every bit as essential.

•A week after I saw the Gibson Bros. reunion in Columbus, here at Pitchfork I saw the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who supposedly ripped off Gibson frontman Jeff Evans’ stage persona after spending time with a later incarnation of the band. I definitely noted a similarity, but I didn’t feel like I was witnessing a carbon copy, especially because Blues Explosion’s music was so much louder and tighter than what the Gibsons were doing. Can’t say I was feeling the leather bellbottoms, though.

•WHY? is probably the most singular act at the festival. I don’t even know what to compare Yoni Wolf’s music to. I used to think of them as a hip-hop act, but that’s only one influence in a dense network of sounds. Trippy time signature shifts and cartoonish background vocal fits accented the impeccable songwriting at the core of the performance. Wolf danced around like a dazed pied piper, and the band played like pros.

•Despite quality on a slow decline three albums in, Wolf Parade put on a stellar show. The old stuff definitely came off the best, particularly Spencer Krug's soul-shredding numbers from the second half of their debut — "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts" and "I'll Believe In Anything". I love that Krug plays with a piano stool but mostly just extends his leg back to it while standing intensely behind his keyboard station, occasionally kicking the damn seat over in excitement. I'm also always surprised that he looks like a regular person, considering he sings like a lunatic.

•Panda Bear’s set required drugs or patience, and I didn’t have either one by the time he took the stage.

•Freddie Gibbs, from nearby Gary, Indiana, was a lot more hood than I expected considering his widespread acclaim from indie rock acolytes. With the mic in one hand and a bottle of Hennessey in the other (plus an uncapped water bottle splashing everywhere), he stomped around with swagger and proved himself a rapper on the rise. I wonder whether he’ll score a hit and cross over to bigger things or remain a Clipse-style critical favorite who performs for suburban white kids at indie rock festivals.

Photos:

Real Estate

Kurt Vile

Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus

The crowd sings along with Titus Andronicus

Raekwon

Raekwon rocks the W

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

WHY?

WHY?

Wolf Parade

LCD Soundsystem