Day two at Pitchfork’s indie music variety showcase offered more thrills, a few ridiculous moments and a handful of instances in the cross-section of that Venn diagram.
I arrived just as Woods was unfurling their first few Neil Young-cum-Built to Spill forest jam under the burning sun. I’m sure this is a common reaction, but that dude in the band who wears headphones around his mouth as an unconventional microphone always gets most of my attention. He’s visually striking, and I often wonder which sounds are emanating from his array of gadgets.
Woods’ music is quite pleasant, but it was wilting a bit in the oppressive heat, so I headed to the Blue Stage to see if Sun Airways could cool me off. Mission Accomplished: I forgot all about the weather while Philadelphia’s synth-pop standard-bearers were doing their thing. That thing comes off a bit like The Walkmen plus Phoenix, with dreary ruminations backed not by an organic guitar and organ storm but a synthetic wave of programmed keyboard bliss. I dug it.
Offering further refreshment was Cold Cave, another band with ties to Philadelphia, though they’re now based in New York. The vampiric combo specializes in the goth-oriented strain of synth-pop otherwise known as darkwave — New Order as reimagined by Rammstein. Their devotion to aesthetics verged on the comical, with all-black attire topped off by heavy leather jackets and shades. Frontman Wesley Eisold milked this image for all its worth, with quotes about how he can’t remember the last time he was outside his apartment this early and: “People ask us how we sleep at night. WE DON’T. WE DON’T.”
The sweltering wardrobe didn’t keep Eisold and his keyboard-rocking sidekick from hamming it up to intensely morbid extremes. It was pretty easy to laugh at these guys, but their music was captivating and catchy, with dense textures forming a powerful current underneath Eisold’s mournful croon. As one Twitter commenter put it, “At first I was like ‘Is Cold Cave serious?’ Then I was like ‘Cold Cave is SERIOUS.’”
Next stop on Saturday’s roaming tour: back to the Blue Stage, where G-Side was preparing to take this fest’s hip-hop pedigree to another level. I’m quite fond of Curren$y and Das Racist, who graced Union Park on Friday. But this crew from Huntsville, Alabama showed Pitchfork how rap music is done. They clearly take their live show seriously because they brought backup singers to emote all over the tracks, from their heartrending opener to the buoyant would-be hit with the chorus, “I got a jones in my bones for the streets!” The singers were a nice touch, but the pair of emcees were total pros as well — clever, confident, personable — and the show benefited most of all from songwriting that went far beyond a catchy sample and a few good rhymes. Don’t pass up the chance to see them.
No Age’s set at the Green Stage was delayed by technical difficulties, but once they gave up on whatever piece of equipment was malfunctioning, things blasted off in short order. I’m not super familiar with their catalog, but Twitter suggests the setlist was packed with hits. (I did hear “Everybody’s Down” from their breakthrough singles collection “Weirdo Rippers,” which made me grin. Seems like that song is a million years old, but really it’s less than five.) The noise-punk duo compensated for what I lacked in familiarity with boundless energy and the occasional gleaming My Bloody Valentine “dying whale call” effect. Still, for all their positives I couldn’t help but feel like this band’s songs are way too samey to enjoy for more than about 15 minutes. Give me Times New Viking over this crew any day.
Bored with No Age, I opted to check out Wild Nothing, who played The Basement in Columbus on Thursday. The Virginia band’s note-perfect recreation of Cure-style 80s mope-’n’-jangle was impressive, and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. Rehash is perfectly fine with me as long as the songs are as beautifully melancholy as what Wild Nothing is kicking out.
Gang Gang Dance
Gang Gang Dance, another band that played Columbus last week, was next up on the Red Stage. Some days I enjoy this Brooklyn crew’s shaman-assisted ethno-percussion séance rock, but it’s not inviting enough to connect with somebody who’s not in the mood for such things. Plus I thought the image they’re trying to project was laughable: They had their own incense/interpretive dancing specialist, and singer Lizzi Bougatsos was wearing her bra on top of her shirt. In a club or inside headphones, this stuff is immersive. In the harsh light of day, it was exposed as cooler-than-thou hipster nonsense.
After all that pretentiousness, I was relieved to encounter OFF!, the hardcore supergroup fronted by Keith Morris of Circle Jerks and Black Flag. Rocking a bundle of lengthy dreadlocks, Morris politely introduced his band members and gave a quick, digestible rundown of what the band stands for before launching into furious old-school basement rock. A hardcore day fest sounds like Hell to me, but 20 minutes in the park with legends of the genre? A mighty fine time indeed.
Destroyer, upside down
The reprieve from hipster garbage was short-lived, as Destroyer was on deck. Dan Bejar, whose nasally croon you may have heard on a few New Pornographers songs, is a talented musician. I’ve always been intrigued by his bizarre vocal quirks and his epic approach to songwriting, even though his records often feel impenetrable. But I draw the line at his new “Kaputt,” essentially a set of smooth jazz tracks with Bejar’s weirdo narration. The fact that Union Park was abuzz with anticipation for this tripe tells me a lot about the state of indie rock in 2011. (I was so disgusted with this whole affair that I opted not to fix the photo formatting and leave Bejar upside down.)
The Dismemberment Plan
Fortunately, The Dismemberment Plan soon allowed me to jump back a decade and bask in one of the most inventive, energizing, life-affirming schizoid punk rock the world has ever known. Like tune-yards yesterday, The D-Plan’s set was completely unique without being forced, which explains why Travis Morrison busted into the chorus of “Bizness” during the customary long form spazz-out at during set closer “OK, Joke’s Over.” I’ve fawned over these D.C. legends on this blog before, so I’ll cut myself off here. Just know that I’m so glad they did a reunion tour and that I got to experience it twice. If you don’t know them, look them up. (Start with “Emergency & I.”)
DJ Shadow's orb
DJ Shadow’s set should have been just as triumphant, but the trip-hop legend was saddled with a set time before sundown, which rendered his impressive light show all but invisible. In the dark, this would have felt like midnight in a perfect world. Shadow should have closed out the night, but swarms of people were there exclusively for Fleet Foxes, so they got to end things out. Too bad. Shadow’s show just wasn’t built for the early evening. Very exciting when he dropped “Building Steam With a Grain of Salt,” though.
Before dem Foxes did their thang, the Blue Stage offered one more curiosity in the form of Zola Jesus. Her big, unwieldy dress suggested a hipster version of Lady Gaga, though the music was more in line with Siouxsie and the Banshees. She looked a little more friendly and sane than her aesthetic suggests.
Last came Fleet Foxes, by far the most anticipated band at Pitchfork this year. Kids staked out spots in front of Red Stage all day to make sure they would be close enough to count the follicles in Robin Peckinold’s beard. And while I don’t think this band merits the adoration due to their contemporaries Bon Iver, I can’t front — Fleet Foxes brought it Saturday night. They’ve really beefed up their sound since three years ago at the Wexner Center. Every harmony was gorgeously precise. Their control of dynamics was unparalleled. Furthermore, their songs have become indie rock canon, the audio equivalent of running into an old friend. It’s hard to imagine a better way to close out Saturday than sitting in the back of the park as these sounds drifted peacefully into the ether.