Pitchfork Festival 2010 (review and pictures)

Lightning Bolt

Big Boi

Titus Andronicus

General thoughts on the festival and more pictures below.

The first thing I noticed when I got to Union Park midway through The Tallest Man on Earth’s Friday afternoon set was how many people had already shown up. There were already thousands of people crowded around the stage in the afternoon heat of a weekday to see one Swedish guy play some solo acoustic folk tunes. It was surprising. This was my first time at the festival, and I guess I had just underestimated the size. Maybe my surprise also has to do with my frame of reference – this is the biggest festival I’ve been to, and the other ones I’ve attended never seemed anywhere close to capacity. Pitchfork, however, had no trouble selling out three day passes almost immediately, with single day passes for both Saturday and Sunday selling out well in advance, too. Those sellouts were well-deserved – love them or hate them, Pitchfork can put a lineup together.

Tough choices only had to be made at the end of the night, when the crowd was so heavy that moving from stage to stage became difficult.  The way the festival was set up, you basically had a choice between getting positioned for the main stage for the headliner, or the equally large second stage for the second tier headliner, assuming you wanted to be relatively close for either of them.  Otherwise, you had to settle for a relatively far away vantage point for both, which is what I did on Friday for Broken Social Scene/Modest Mouse.

There was no way I was staying in the back for Saturday’s headliner, though.  The highlight of the festival was LCD Soundsystem’s set, but that was already a foregone conclusion. James Murphy and his band ran through a greatest hits set that covered all three albums in addition to early singles “Yeah” and “Losing My Edge.” Basically every track got a cheer of recognition from the crowd, and people had no problem dancing like they hadn’t been out in the sun for nearly 8 hours. Also, I did not know that awesome noise dude David Scott Stone was part of the live band. Guy’s played with everyone.

I don’t know if this has been reported anywhere on the internet yet, but Panda Bear played on the smaller stage while LCD was setting up, and it was fucking horrendous.  All the bad things you’ve heard are true.  It sounded like Noah Lennox was doing vocal warm-up exercises over basic loops for an hour.  I like drone, I like weird shit, I like it when artists play live sets that deviate from the album script, but I did not like Panda Bear’s set at all.  It’s probably worth noting that I’ve never liked Animal Collective, either, but I did like Person Pitch and Young Prayer pretty well, so it’s not like I have it out for the guy.  I know a couple of AnCo/Panda Bear fans who were present who thought it was bullshit, too.

Modest Mouse also seemed pretty disinterested in tailoring their set for a festival crowd, but if you were cautiously optimistic about their opening night headlining slot like me, that was probably a good thing. They opened with an extended version of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” worked in both “Dramamine” and “Here It Comes,” and mostly avoided We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. They didn’t even play “Float On.” That’s all fine by me.

As for Sunday’s headliner….I’ve never given a shit about Pavement.  I tried to get into them years ago, then tried again once they reunited.  It just didn’t click.  I opted to stake out a spot for Big Boi during Major Lazer, then headed out early to beat the rush.

One more quick note on the festival as a whole, then I’ll get to the pictures and brief thoughts on some of the other bands.  Sunday’s lineup for the tiny Balance stage seemed destined to cause huge crowds.  If I was being cynical, I would even say it was done on purpose.  Lightning Bolt played what might have been the least attended afternoon set on a major stage while the crowd for Surfer Blood on the Balance stage started bleeding past the row of vendors.  I assume Neon Indian was an equally big draw, and Sleigh Bells even more so.  It just seems like shuffling the lineup around and putting Lightning Bolt, Cass McCombs, and Alla on the smaller stage would have done a lot to reduce the crowds.

Tallest Man on Earth

El-P

Liars played in the Fol Chen-assisted 5 piece configuration they’ve been using throughout the Sisterworld tour. They might not be the most crowd pleasing festival band, as evidenced by the number of casual onlookers that trickled out during their set, but there were still several thousand people digging their weirdo post-punk. I thought the Sisterworld songs sounded great live, and I liked the new spin that the extra members added to the older tunes.

Robyn

This was my third time seeing Broken Social Scene, and all three times have been at outdoor festivals.  This was easily my favorite set of the three, partly because the solo album songs have been replaced in the setlist by the stronger tracks from Forgiveness Rock Record.  The band seemed energized and ready to go, too, diving into their set almost immediately after Robyn wrapped hers.

Free Energy kicked off Day 2, and they had attracted a big crowd by the time they finished.  They were a perfect way to get things started – high energy, but undemanding.  They didn’t play “Bad Stuff,” though, which was a minor bummer.

If Free Energy was a great way to start, Real Estate was a great way to sustain the mood.  I found that their set was best taken in sitting down out in the field, taking advantage of the remaining open space before the crowd started getting heavier.

Kurt Vile

I used to dislike Titus Andronicus, but I think The Monitor is a great album.  I was actually looking forward to their set, which is something that wold never have happened before a few months ago.  Unfortunately, my new found enthusiasm has cooled a bit after seeing the new songs live.  I still love the album, but a lot of what makes it so great is lost on stage.  It just sounds too casual – the intensity that makes songs like “The Battle of Hampton Roads” so good on record was replaced by ramshackle, good-time punk vibes.  I don’t know what I was expecting, really.  I’ve seen them live before, and I didn’t like it then, either.  I just figured it would be different with the new songs.

Raekwon was delayed by some technical problems, but when he finally took the stage it was fantastic.  He opened with “C.R.E.A.M.” then ran through other career highlights.  At one point he brought out a family of breakdancing kids.  Through up a “W” and chanting “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ ta fuck wit” is a lot more fun when there’s dancing kids on the stage.

WHY?

Wolf Parade played 6 tracks from Expo 86, plus the highlights of the other two albums, and it was easily one of the best sets of the weekend.  So much energy, such good songs.  I had forgotten what a great live band they are.

LCD Soundsystem

CAVE

Best Coast

Beach House

I’d like to think that Lightning Bolt dislodged some eager Pavement fans that camped at the front of the main stage as soon as gates opened.

St. Vincent

Major Lazer was insane.  Most unexpectedly awesome set of the weekend.  Next time they tour, I’m there.

Big Boi opened with a lengthy medley of most of Outkast’s biggest hits, accompanied by old Outkast videos on the screens, before asking if he could play some of his new material.  He then went into “General Patton,” which got a big response out of a crowd that must have showed up to hear him play tracks from what might be the album of the year.  He brought back the breakers that Raekwon brought up on Saturday.

And finally, here is what Pavement looks like when you’re drunk and apathetic and collecting free swag from the vendors while they load up:

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  1. July 22nd, 2010

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