By the last day of a music festival, most patrons are exhausted, sunburned and coated in a grimy mix of sweat, dirt and beverages of the spilled or splashed variety. When the temperature surges toward 100 degrees and the novelty of seeing your favorite bands has worn off, the thought of a shower and clean sheets begins to sound mighty fine. We North Americans are a pretty soft breed.
It's a good thing so many people stuck around, though, because Sunday was the best day at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival. Here's what happened.
While finishing up yesterday's blog post in the press tent, I could hear Yuck performing. I caught them at SXSW, so I'm familiar with the shtick: unapologetic 90s indie revival, with nods to everyone from Pavement to Superchunk to Archers of Loaf to Dinosaur Jr. I mentioned yesterday that expert homage is fine by me, so I enjoy Yuck's fuzzy melodicism, especially since they're mining one of my favorite musical eras. It's nothing special and nothing new, but it was a good way to ease into Sunday.
More inspiring was Philadelphia's Kurt Vile and the Violators. Vile is capable of captivating with just a microphone and a guitar; with his workmanlike band jacked up to stratospheric volume levels, Vile's miserable ruminations ascended to Olympus. Every song sounded humongous. The man is a living legend in the making.
One might draw similar conclusions about Tyler, the Creator, the headstrong goofball at the forefront of the chaotic shock-rap crew OFWGKTA (that's Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All). I myself have been swept up in the mania surrounding Odd Future, doing the typical media tip-toe dance around their embrace of domestic violence and homophobia while deeply appreciating their relentless enthusiasm and the weird world Tyler has helped them concoct.
Odd Future's Tyler, the Creator
When I witnessed their live show for the first time at SXSW, it felt like a revelation: ski masks, stage dives, an entire crowd shouting out lyrics in unison. A lot was different this time. For one thing, Tyler was on crutches, which didn't prevent him from stage diving but definitely put a cap on the energy. The oppressive heat didn't improve the experience either. But more importantly, since SXSW Tyler has released a disappointing mangle of an album, Earl Sweatshirt threw a wet blanket on the "Free Earl" movement and the novelty of teenagers wrecking havoc has evaporated.
What's left in its wake is a bunch of angry kids that (I'm not the first to point out) looks and sounds a lot like that insane-clown-loving bunch known as Juggalos. Most of Hodgy Beats' blathering was complete nonsense. Many of the clanking tracks performed Sunday were unlistenable. Even indisputably great singles "Yonkers" and "Sandwitches" got lost in the tumultuous jumble. If you came for a spectacle, you certainly got one, but there was not much else to appreciate about Odd Future's set. Tyler pulled off an impressive feat by creating his own little universe, but the air has to be getting stale in there.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti was every bit as polarizing, though not nearly as offensive to these ears. Like Tyler, Pink pulls no punches. The music you get is the madness inside of his head — straight, no chaser. That played out Sunday in a fit of 80s adult contempo, harsh noise and spastic shredding. Pink himself stalked the stage like a maniac, at times looking lost and frightened inside his own songs. He looked like he was having a nervous breakdown but possibly enjoying it. I enjoyed it as well, at least for a few songs before heading off to charge my camera battery.
My first Sunday visit to the Blue Stage was for Will Wiesenfeld's one-man show, Baths, which is basically a revival of Prefuse 73 glitch-hop with occasional breaks for high-pitched vocals of the Sunny Day Real Estate/Passion Pit variety. The energy level didn't come down much, but it felt pretty chill compared to the parade of freaks that preceded it.
Nothing chill about Superchunk, though. Of all the bands Yuck is channeling, I've probably spent the least time with Mac McCaughan's seminal combo. (Actually, I probably spent more time listening to Superchunk tribute band The Get Up Kids growing up.) So I wasn't having a transcendent emotional outpouring like I did with Pavement last year. But I was appreciating every blast of angsty energy they were kicking out. Nothing slack about this band at all.
I would have loved to experience Kylesa, the only metal band on this year's lineup if I'm not mistaken. But I had to grab dinner and make it back to the photo pit for Deerhunter, whose "Halcyon Digest" topped my 2010 albums list. And boy, was I satisfied with my decision. No band in modern indie rock can measure up to these guys. They do it all — gorgeous, grotesque, powerful, fragile. They've taken the influences of a devout fanboy and translated them into the logical next step on indie rock's evolution chart. Bravo to them.
I had no idea what to expect from Cut Copy besides "dancey." Turns out the Australian synth-pop band is one of the finest bands to sprout from New Order's lineage. Hands unabashedly to the sky, they led the crowd into Union Park's most furious dance party since Major Lazer kicked up a dust storm last year. This set may well have been Cut Copy's coming-out party for a breakthrough to the next echelon of indie stardom.
A different kind of electronic rock was blaring at the Blue Stage. Los Angeles spazz freaks HEALTH provided one last jolt of aggression. Imagine a tornado appearing out of nowhere, and you're somewhere close to the sonic bombardment HEALTH offered up. Hair and limbs were everywhere. Screams and whimpers abounded. The music was jagged and confrontational, yet fun. A late start meant I couldn't stick around for more than about five minutes, they certainly left an impression.
TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio closed things out sounding more pristine than I've ever heard them. In my experience, the subtleties in their work tend to get lost in a roar of low-register guitar noise. Not so Sunday night; the mix was perfectly dialed in, and so was the band. We skipped town about 30 minutes into their set, so I wasn't privy to their Fugazi cover or the guest appearance from avant rappers Shabazz Palaces. But even just playing their own songs, TV on the Radio showed why they've endured while so many of Brooklyn's other critical darlings withered away.