The Filth and the Fury: The Best and Worst of the Pitchfork Music Festival

Over the course of the past few years, Pitchfork has become one of the most influential and popular online entertainment sources. So it was inevitable that they’d eventually create their own music festival – and hold it at Union Park in Chicago close to headquarters of course. Only problem was, in planning the dates, the organizers forgot to check their Farmer’s Almanac, because the fest landed on two of the hottest days of the year with temperatures hitting the 100 degree mark. But not even the scorching sun could keep hipsters and self-proclaimed taste-makers from nonchalantly strolling out in droves to watch a diverse range of Pitchfork approved bands. You can’t blame them either, as the line-up was an indie kid’s wet dream – from old school punksters Mission of Burma to freak-folker Devendra Banhart. And when the stages weren’t interesting enough, there were plenty of Amoeba music bags, converse lo-tops and ironic t-shirts to keep it more than entertaining.

So with a genuine nod, here is Glide’s take on the best and worst of the Pitchfork music festival.

Best – Being A Well-Organized Festival – In its second year, the Pitchfork fest continued to run smoothly. Everyone started on time (except for Spoon who was 5 minutes late, gasp!) alternating between two close stages in the park. When one band ended, the other soon began. Kudos to Pitchfork for booking a variety of genres too, from indie to UK, folk to lo-fi and even the staple rap thrown in to look hipper than thou. There wasn’t a bad view in the entire park either. Even if you were waiting in the endless line for the port-o-potties, you could still hear the music.

Best – Mission of Burma – These guys seriously rocked. The majority of the kids who witnessed the spectacle weren’t even born when VS was released in the early 1980s, but fans raised their fists in the air rocking out to the punk music. Bob Weston and crew never skipped a beat and were in top form. Hearing classics like “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” and “Academy Fight Song” live must’ve caused shivers for the die hard fans. Hearing and seeing the guys live was simply awe-inspiring.

Worst – The Heat – Not entirely their fault, but this was obviously the worst element hands down. Face plants and crowd crumbles were sporadic, even though there was free water and Fuze available all weekend. Not to mention a Fuze sponsored mist tent that helped cool people down a little. Saturday was blazing hot with sweat coating everyone’s clothes and skin. Sunday it felt a few degrees cooler, but that isn’t saying much.

Best – Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes were obviously the veterans of the fest. The Brazilian group that aided the Tropicalia movement in the 1960s and 70s and influenced everyone from Beck to Kurt Cobain was the set not to be missed. The reunited band (with Zelia Duncan replacing Rita Lee) played their first live performance in almost 30 years this past May in London. Here in Chicago, the group seemed to have more fun onstage than any other band at the fest. The crowd responded to the band’s infectious vibes and people danced the night away in the cooler night air. It was a perfect end to the arduous weekend.

Best – Intense singers Hamilton Leithauser from The Walkmen and Matt Berninger from the National – Both of these frontmen gave ardent performances filled with palpable fervor, anger and screaming. Leithauser appeared onstage early evening wearing rock star sunglasses and belted out “The Rat” with sweat dripping down his reddened face and could’ve easily popped a vein. On Sunday, the soft-spoken Berninger gave a concentrated performance shouting lyrics from “Abel” at the top of his lungs not letting the heatwave affect his poetic expressionism.

Worst – Yo La Tengo – They were on many must see lists, but to my chagrin they were a complete let down. Their entire set was derived from their new album coming out next month, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. It’s a decent album, but where was “Autumn Sweater,” “Double Dare,” and “I Heard You Looking”. What they did play was good, but not enough to keep my attention. After 20 years could Yo La Tengo have lost their touch? It might as well have been an in-store Tower Records performance.

Best – Celeb/Band Sightings – Throughout the two days, musicians and celebrities were spotted walking around enjoying the festivities. Most notable was Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live fame who was ubiquitous all weekend long. The guys from the National hung out near the venues as well. Glide’s Garin Pirnia even met Berninger and did the whole “You’re from Ohio and I’m from Ohio” repartee (He’s originally from Cincinnati and Chris from Dayton). Scenester Eddie Argos of Art Brut made an appearance at the Pitchfork after party and spent some time schmoozing with the critics and cooler-than-you bloggers.

Best – Band Of Horses – The Seattle based band was one of the first performances on Day One and gave the most emotional, resonating set of the fest – opening with “The Great Salt Lake” and ending with the riveting “Funeral.” Lead singer Ben Bridwell joked with the crowd saying things like, “What’s up dudes? Does anyone have any weed?” And telling an anecdote of how they had been flying all night and were feeling weird. Despite the jet lag, the group impeccably played their My Morning Jacket and Neil Young inclined music, while living up to lofty expectations.

Worst – The Liars – Lead singer Angus Andrew came out wearing an open dress that when the wind blew revealed his tighty whities. Tribal drums played as Andrew pranced around stage barefoot complaining about the heat beneath his feet. Well, duh, put your shoes on. Devendra performed shoeless, too, but he didn’t complain. The Liars were pretentious and dull.

Best – Art Brut – These cheeky and affable Brits have been making a name for themselves over the past year with their self-aware music and appealing lyrics about the music scene. They opened with their best song, “Formed a Band,” immediately reeling the crowd in with their energy. Lead singer Eddie Argos offered advice after playing the lovelorn track “Emily Kane” telling the crowd to forget their exes and let go. They also played a unique cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” with Argos listing off all the performers of the fest saying they were Top of the Pops.

Best – The Biz 3 Tent – Locally based PR sponsor Biz 3 had a tent featuring Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche doing an experimental percussion/jazz thing, local act Flosstradamus mixing up beats and import CSS (or Cansei De Ser Sexy) performing their generic dance music to a heavily packed crowd. Despite the heat, white kids packed themselves into the tent for intimate and steamy sets. The tent offered a nice alternative to the rock acts, plus press was allowed access to this area to imbibe free beer. Too bad we only discovered this gift near the end of the second day.

Worst – Random Acts of Bad Dancing – Although most of the crowd was jaded and stiff, there were a plethora of kids at Pitchfork who sporadically broke out into dance numbers – and most of them looked like they were trying to emulate the Elaine dance from Seinfeld. Hipsters nod their head with their arms folded for a reason.

Best – Devendra Banhart’s Bizarre Quips – The very hairy singer and equally hairy backup band played a couple of songs, then Banhart spoke to the crowd saying he and the band were going to call themselves Bathhouse Wind. He then mentioned he was happy to be in Chicago, which he said translated to the “city of wild onions.” Um, okay. He then flashed his bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey and it made more sense. Odd and philosophical, Banhart kept people engrossed in him and his music.

Best – The MC – Tim Tuten introduced each band with enthusiasm, riling up the crowd. Before the Silver Jews went on, he read “O Captain O Captain.” Throughout the two days, he either knew each band or studied their press kits. When he introduced the last act, Os Mutantes, he offered encouraging words telling the crowd to form bands, create art, write books and to take care of each other. Unfortunately after Os Mutantes didn’t play an encore, kids started throwing empty water bottles onstage. Like a true professional, the MC slightly scolded them with his paternal voice, not getting mad, but said he would pull those kids aside and teach them about recycling. Awesome.

Worst -Not Being Able to Find People – Although it’s a condensed fest, it’s easy to lose people or not be able to find them in the first place. Of course living in the 21st century there is this thing called texting, but you spend more time looking at your phone waiting for a reply and searching the crowd for your buddy instead of watching the action onstage. The “Where you at” can grow tiresome.

Best – Ironic fashion Hipsters were seen wearing a vast array of cheap, but too cool shirts, with one guy taking first prize for his simple slogan, “Fuck your scene.” Another guy wore a homemade marker laden shirt with the words “In Chicago” on the front and on the back “For Boozin and Lollapalooza.” He actually spelled boozing wrong, but the DIY look was a clever touch.

Best – Spoon – Whereas indie stalwart Yo La Tengo disappointed, Britt Daniel and clan delivered. Britt took the stage smiling and appearing happy to be there. The guys rocked out to “Monsieur Valentine” from Gimme Fiction and “Jonathan Fisk” from Kill the Moonlight, drawing from their extensive discography. You can always count on Spoon to put on a good show.

Worst – Saturday – Of the two days, Saturday felt dull and uninviting. There were some good acts, but Sunday was definitely chocked full of back to back good stuff. The festival organizers should�ve spread it out more. Saturday someone asked how we’d rate the fest so far based on Pitchfork’s famous scale from one to ten. We gave it a 6.8.

Best – Silver Jews – David Berman and band just started playing out live with their latest album, Tanglewood Numbers. He opened with the rocking “Punks in the Beerlight” from Tanglewood and played classics like “Smith and Jones Forever,” “Dallas,” “Random Rules” and “Horseleg Swastikas.” Berman bantered with the crowd mentioning how everyone thinks he likes Brian Wilson but he actually dislikes him. He quickly said: “This is our most Brian Wilson like song” and played “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed.”

Best – Running Into People You Know…and Like – Just like any industry event, Pitchfork was filled with music lovers, writers, critics and fans. It’s always cool to see people you know from out of town come in for an event like this. It’s a chance to catch up and mock the uncool kids like you used to. It’s also an opportunity to randomly meet new people and a time to form new friendships while you strengthen older ones. Yeah, Pitchfork brought people together.

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