I forgot to bring my camera with me this year, so I won't be able to include any pictures. This is the 4th Pitchfork Music Festival that I have attended ('05, '06, '07, and now '09)--I would have gone last year, which I think had the best line-up yet, but I was in L.A. I read in the Chicago Tribune this year that they had to scale back their ambitions for big name performers and go for more up-and-coming talent. But that has always been the case with this event. Lollapalooza has been occurring two weeks afterwards for the same period of the last 5 summers and while sometimes great bands play that other festival (last year had a similarly great best line-up ever) it is SO not worth it.
While Grant Park is THE outdoor space of Chicago and a badass place for a music festival, it is ultimately TOO BIG and so Union Park, where Pitchfork occurs, is a much more welcome respite. You do not have the whole of the skyline as your backdrop, but you do have the Willis Tower (!) in close view. Beer is cheaper by a dollar or two, I think. The food options are similar, but I still think Lolla is more expensive on that front too. The ticket price difference is frankly absurd. And the line-up this year is way lame. The only bands I would see would be Lou Reed and Deerhunter--and they play at the exact same time, so sorry, but I would see Lou Reed, but I feel like I would be crestfallen at the end of the set for missing that other band in their prime.
I didn't go last night to see Flaming Lips, and Sunday probably had the best line-up of any single day. And I don't have pictures but I will relay a short narrative to deliver my central thesis: the best moment of the summer has passed, unfortunately! (at least in this city).
Friday night I went in hoping to see Yo La Tengo, Jesus Lizard, and Built to Spill. I arrived, having purchased my tickets through will-call, and proceeded to wait for ONE HOUR outside the gates while Tortoise finished up and Yo La Tengo started. Their organization at the will call window was a total disaster and made me feel that I was in for a horrible weekend and that all the money I blew was going to be a total waste. Well, I got in, and was very grateful that it worked out, and I stood pretty close to the stage waiting for Jesus Lizard for about 45-50 minutes. I saw Yo La Tengo playing in the distance and they looked like they were tearing it up (though they didn't play "Too Late" which would have been on my request list).
One difference from this year was that there were no announcers or Thax Douglas reading poems before the sets would start, which I have to say was sort of fun in a way. But Jesus Lizard started, and they played "Puss" as their opening song, and David Yow immediately jumped into the crowd and sang the first words of the song while being held aloft, and I was in serious pain. I almost lost my glasses. It was without question the most violent show I have ever experienced. Their sound was excellent and David Yow proved that he is one of the best frontmen in all of rock, even during a reunion tour. Some of the other highlights were "Then Comes Dudley," "Boilermaker," "Gladiator," "Blue Shot," "Monkey Trick," and "Bloody Mary." I was surprised that there were about three or four songs I didn't recognize. I had to leave during their last song because I was so beaten up. Then they played a two-song encore, which I missed too. I needed to get a water, I was dehydrated. (Jesus Lizard will play the Metro around Thanksgiving and I hope to be there. I also hope not to die there, but something tells me the crowd-surfing will be more contained at the Metro.) It was a cool weekend (probably the coldest in the history of the event) but there was plenty of sweating anyways. Built to Spill played, and I watched them play "Liar" and "Stab" and decided that the place was way too crowded and it wasn't worth it for me to stay. Don't get me wrong--I love BtS but I have to admit that they can be a boring live band.
The next day was much more fun for me because I decided to drink. The first set I saw was Fucked Up, and this was almost as violent as the Jesus Lizard, but the crowd was not quite as crazy, probably because Fucked Up are a regular working band, though I am sure many would argue that each set was just as wild. This was the second best set of the weekend for me. They played about half songs from The Chemistry of Common Life and the other half from Hidden World, at least as it seemed to me. Pink Eyes was the Tim Harrington of this year. Ideally both of them could play back-to-back next year.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were next, and I have not heard their record, and I only saw them from a distance, but I have to say, they were pretty cool! However, they sound EXACTLY like My Bloody Valentine. This is not a bad thing. However, it led me to theorize that, okay, they like MBV, I like MBV, we all love MBV--why not start a band that sounds just like MBV and then everyone will love us, and we can be the new MBV? That was what I feel went on in those band members' heads two years ago or whatever. Their male singer sounds just like Kevin Shields and their female singer sounds just like Blinda Butcher and their guitar sound recalls the Isn't Anything-era. Maybe Loveless is next? Regardless, I liked them. I'd get their album on the basis of the live show.
Ponytail were next, and I liked them alright, but not as much as Pains of Being Pure at Heart (as these were the only two I had never previously heard). They were like a combination of Yoko Ono, The Go! Team, and Deerhoof. They were interesting. I don't know if I'd go out and get their record. I think I would have liked them more if I was closer to the stage.
I waited around for Wavves next, and they were about twenty minutes late starting their set, which started to draw ire from the crowd, thinking that another meltdown might be in store for us. Half the people wanted there to be a meltdown actually. When he finally started, he played "Nervous Breakdown," which was wonderfully unexpected and awesome. Then he turned in what I have to say was a very solid performance. I really enjoyed their set. It wasn't a disappointment and hopefully he has redeemed himself and will prove the haters wrong.
I saw parts of MF Doom, but I had gotten more beer and a snack before. I saw about three songs by them. It was okay I guess. I just feel like hip-hop is a lot more predictable when it comes to the actual performance aspect than rock because you are not worrying about the band playing. You just have to remember your lyrics. Regardless, the Tribune said Doom had lip-synched his lines, and I couldn't tell if that was true, or if that was just hyperbole (one of the vocab words he tossed off near the end).
I saw part of Matt & Kim, by this point really drunk and getting free beer because a friend knew someone at one of the tents. (Another girl at the tent played drums for TV on the Radio and Spoon during live shows and I was like, oh my God that's the coolest thing in the world!) I compared them to Fiery Furnaces but they are nothing like them. My friend told me he threw "Widow City" out of his car window during his recent road trip and I was shocked and offended. Fiery Furnaces should play Pitchfork festival because a) they never played before, b) they are from Chicago, c) they rule. Matt & Kim have nothing on them, but they are interesting for being super happy people--I wish I could be like them!
Black Lips closed out what I saw (I missed the National, sorry)--and while I haven't heard their recent record, their last record, I just couldn't get into, sorry. "Cold Hands" and "O Katrina!" are O.K. as far as the best songs on the album, but happily, Black Lips are a good live band. I kept saying I didn't like them and they would only be redeemed if Bradford Cox came up as a special guest which I said had a 1% chance of happening--but overall, they sounded pretty good live. If I were closer, I'm sure I would have gotten really into it. But by that point the alcohol had turned me into a disinterested half-zombie, spewing bile about whatever crazed topic entered my mind.
Yo La Tengo: 8/10
Jesus Lizard : 9/10
Built to Spill: 6/10
Fucked Up: 9/10
Pains of Being Pure at Heart: 7/10
MF Doom: 5/10
Matt & Kim: 5/10
Black Lips: 7/10
Regardless of my personal situation, which has deteriorated greatly from the excellent times of 2005 and 2007, this is still the best event in the city of Chicago. Period. Let the summer wind down, bring on the pain of winter, and start counting the days until they announce next year's line-up. Boycott Lollapalooza until they bring ticket prices down to, oh, $50 a day ($60 with service fees...).