A rundown on Saturday's action from Union Park in Chicago.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A PHOTO GALLERY FROM SATURDAY
Yesterday's recap focused on divides - between active and passive, organic and electronic - and the different ways musicians cross them, and how that translates to a festival experience. Independent music, particularly the sorts of independent music Pitchfork fixates on these days, has shifted heavily toward the synthetic, just like the mainstream. But where your average "electronic" festival experience will probably involve lots of violent bass drops (wub-wub-wub) and photon blast synths (screech-screech-screech) and rock star posturing and general Skrillexness, much of the indie equivalent takes a different tack. With a few notable exceptions like Sleigh Bells, this is the stuff of art-school talent shows and half-remembered dreams.
Consider Grimes, who closed out the Blue Stage on Saturday night. The project of Claire Boucher, a sly Montreal pixie between blonde pigtails, Grimes is a poster child for what constitutes "indie" music right now. Her album is a chore, all yelps and screeches with nothing of substance to latch on to. Like fellow hype fiend Willis Earl Beal on Friday, Grimes' act made a lot more sense in person - a precocious synth-pop burlesque cheerleading expo (with glitter!). A pair of scantily clad dancers flanked Boucher and her fellow knob-twiddler, each of them striking their best "Bring It On" poses while Boucher chirped her way through abrasive but catchy electro tracks. It was disarmingly cute and wildly amusing (and way more entertaining than Purity Ring's artsy-fartsy light show), but it's hard to imagine this is among the most important music being made right now.
That said, it's easy to see why the festival flock would gravitate toward Boucher over reunited post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who headlined the Green Stage opposite Grimes. Her show is all about instant gratification, which hits the spot at a large outdoor festival like Pitchfork. It's a stark contrast from Godspeed, who opened their set with 15 minutes of shapeless melodic noise. They could get away with it on good faith because you knew the tension was building toward something epic (and wow, was it epic), but their performance still required the kind of patience people don't usually pack with their sunscreen.
Saturday was a nifty switch from Friday, when the rockers delivered the instant gratification and it was the knob-twiddlers pushing attention spans beyond reason. While electro-academic Nicolas Jaar slowed my pulse to a crawl (to my dismay) and the lullaby shoegaze of Atlas Sound and Youth Lagoon put me at ease (to my delight), most of Saturday's electronic acts seemed designed to work a mass of humanity into a frenzy.
Sleigh Bells' amped-up jock rock, of course, excelled in this environment, Alexis Krauss having long since made the leap into pep rally diva extraordinaire. But so did turntable wiz Flying Lotus' spasmodic Lil Wayne mixups, and Chromatics' propulsive Italo disco daydream, and especially Hot Chip's ultimate geek-pop dance party. I did not expect Hot Chip to come through with the best set of the weekend, but that's exactly what they did Saturday evening. So many of the bands here are worried about style, but these nerds were clearly making music they loved - merry New Order-inspired club tracks that made me want to sing AND dance along. It was fey and forceful at once, and the masses were loving it. Spontaneous dance parties (and even limbo lines and jump rope sessions) were breaking out everywhere. Hot Chip reminded me how much fun music can be.
Meanwhile, several rockers fell flat, including (to my surprise) the all-female punk supergroup Wild Flag. Although they lifted my expectations by opening with a cover of Television's "See No Evil," their music simply didn't hit as hard as some of the earlier rock bands, which was a shock because Wild Flag was a force of nature the last time I saw them. Frequent Columbus visitors Cults also were a dud - music so pleasantly inoffensive that I almost forgot it was there. And while Liturgy's heaven-hell collision was beautiful, it wasn't all that entertaining.
Some of the rockers did well for themselves though, particularly an opening swath of bands that seemed dead set on proving they should have been scheduled for later in the day. Brooklyn trio The Psychic Paramount seemed to take the most intense parts from my favorite songs and strung them together into monolithic noise battering rams - just pure relentless psychedelic bombast. They were a treasure for anyone who showed up early, which made it necessary but painful to skip most of The Atlas Moth's soul-smothering doom metal.
Then came Cleveland indie rock saviors Cloud Nothings, who made the most of a performance cut short by rain. I imagine Lotus Plaza's glorious shoegaze pop (which was happening simultaneously) makes for fine cloudburst music, but the place to be in this downpour was watching Dylan Baldi and his bros bash away at "Wasted Days" until the stage crew finally pulled the plug. Triumphant, despite the band's obvious frustration.
Outside this whole brain vs. body conversation were the rappers, both of whom came to send your head spinning and your rump shaking at the same damn time. Schoolboy Q expertly administered good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing hip-hop, while Danny Brown continued to be a freak of both nature and nurture, wagging his tongue between bursts of wild sexytime wordplay. They made sure hip-hop had Saturday's best batting average among the genres.