Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pitchfork Festival 2009 Day 3 pics

Pitchfork Festival 2009 Day 3

We packed everything up once again and headed back on the L for one more day at the Pitchfork Festival on Sunday. This was the day I was looking forward to the most, since they had one of the most outstanding lineups that day of any concert, and the best by far of any of the Pitchfork festivals to date.

We grabbed the same spot on the lawn early, which again turned out well since the volume was not turned up, and the sun decided to make more appearances on Sunday, but still was not hot at all thankfully. It definitely seemed more crowded on Sunday, but that was mostly because there were more families and people camping around us waiting for the big headliners of the night.

The day started off with the bizarre and amusing band the Mae Shi, whose punk/rap/noise/dance sound was pretty amusing. At least it was sort of the band, they basically broke up shortly before the show, and that wasn't the full band lineup playing, it was more the other band half the members split into or not. Too confusing to explain, but one of the highlights was one of the guys begging Pitchfork to actually review their cd from this year since they were playing their show. Bella even busted out a few dance moves during their set, so that was pretty amusing.

Next up was Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish band who are probably on the verge of a big breakthrough. Despite some early Spinal Tap-esque gear problems, the band finally got everything together and put on an impressive set for the early afternoon crowd. Their heart-on-their-sleeve rock was a nice early taste of some simple rock for the long day left ahead.

Next up was Blitzen Trapper, a band I was interested in seeing, since the one song I heard from them in advance reminded me of early Bright Eyes material, which was a pretty good thing. The band didn't translate well live to me, they just sounded pretty generic and repetetive again, there was nothing really to distinguish them from dozens of other similar bands.

After an hour break for another not too interesting rapper (Pharoahe Monch), the rest of the day looked to be a standout from there on. I was hoping to get to head over to the smaller side stage to catch some of the set by the band Women, but didn't get to. It was too big of a problem, since next up on the big stage was one of the bands I was most looking forward to, Portland's The Thermals.

The trio play simple straight-on pop punk, returning to Chicago after a recent show in support of their newest, "Now We Can See." I've seen them a couple of times in the past few years live at a tiny club, so it was interesting to see how they would switch things up for the big outdoor stage. Sadly, for some reason, they decided that this meant doing a bunch of covers. Four of them to be exact, including Nirvana's "Verse Chorus Verse" and songs by Green Day and Sonic Youth. They did dip into their newest album and the previous great one, "The Body, The Blood, The Machine," but the covers just seemed to throw the set off and made it seem like they were trying to persuade fans who had never heard their stuff before, instead of an audience like Pitchfork where many people probably knew them.

Next up on the big stage was The Walkmen, who in their best moments reminded me of one of my idols, Tom Waits. Their sound hasn't changed much over their three albums, if anything, it has gotten mellower and slower sadly. Their minor hit "The Rat" was the only lively moment in an otherwise pretty sedate set, but their mellow set made for a good midday listening.

I made another brief stop at the small side stage to try to catch some of the Japandroids, since their release from this year nearly got a rare 10 out of 10 from Pitchfork. They were only a guitar player and drummer, and could have been interesting, but I left after only a song due to the quality of the bands on the main stages.

I was very happy to see the next set by the French electronic dance/rock band M83 on the big stage. I last saw them back in November at a small club near the Park we were at, and they really impressed me back then, so it was great to see them getting much greater exposure as the sun was shining brightly on their stage.

The band surprisingly opened with one of their biggest songs, "Graveyard Girl," starting it off very slowly, then building it into the massive shimmering version from their album. Their swirly songs definitely were one of the big hits of the entire festival, and the two dance numbers the broke out at the end had one of the biggest crowd reactions of the entire weekend. The three band members took a well deserved bow together at the end, once again showing their extreme gratitude and appreciation after gushing and thanking the crowd several times during their set.

I had to miss the Vivian Girls on the side stage due to M83's set, but I can pretty much guess how the female punk trio's set sounded without being there. The next hour had a pretty tough decision for me, I had to choose between Grizzly Bear, whose new album is definitely growing on me and is a great live band, and Mew, who's album from a few years back was a favorite, and this was the first chance I've had to see them since then.

Thankfully Grizzly Bear made the decision pretty easy, since they put a couple of shows at the Metro in September on sale just before the festival, so I listened to a couple of songs of theirs before heading to the side stage for Mew. Grizzly Bear are a puzzling band, they play very delicate songs based around great vocal harmonies, and there's definitely a strong influence by the Beach Boys circa their Pet Sounds era. Usually, a band like that is much better off in the studio, since it is so difficult to replicate those songs live, but Grizzly Bear is actually the opposite. I've enjoyed their live show several times now, and thankfully their newest album, "Veckatemist," (coincidentally on sale at Best Buy for $8 this week, pick it up!) gives them better material to perform live. The songs I did stay for were great, they were able to replicate the new songs live very well.

I headed over to the side stage, and luckily made it while Mew was starting their set. They were playing the opening instrumental to their last album, a great track which leads directly into their hit "Special," and they did just that live. Their singer has a great voice on album, singing some pretty high alto parts for most of the songs, and he was actually able to pull it off very well live. They continued to go right into the song "The Zookeeper's Boy," which follows "Special" on their album, without missing a beat.

They had a really great live sound, especially being stuck on the smaller stage. Their next gig in town is opening for Nine Inch Nails on their supposedly "final" Chicago performance, I'm betting that the crowd there will actually enjoy it.

Finally, the night wrapped up with the band everyone was psyched to see, The Flaming Lips, one of my top 3 favorite bands in the world. The Lips were making this a very special set, since they too were allowing their fans to vote on their setlist like the Friday night bands, and they were going to thereby be out of the routine show setlist they have been doing for a good 6 or 7 years straight now.

It was pretty funny for me, since I was very excited to take Bella to her very first Flaming Lips show. I held her while they were beginning their assault, by unleashing dozens of huge balloons into the crowd, while the stagehands inflated singer Wayne Coyne's giant ball to walk on the crowd once again. I looked at Bella while all this was going on, and I swear her eyes were about to pop out of her head.

After a digitally altered video of a naked woman dance and basically birthed the main members of the band, they were off and running with their classic set opener "Race for the Prize." After a few speeches by Coyne, the band truly did honor the fans' votes, and mixed up their set with some much older material that they haven't performed live in at least a decade. They also broke out some new songs from their new album "Embryonic," which won't be out til September, so that was a great treat. Especially the song that Coyne sung while riding on the shoulders of one of his road crew members dressed as a gorilla. No, I am not making that up.

Predictably though, the fans ended up voting for their most popular songs as the ones they wanted to hear ("The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," "She Don't Use Jelly"). Coyne was in very good spirits, acting as the cheerleader and singer as always, and was happy to praise the city he loves and the festival as well. They closed with a fantastic and majestic version of "Do You Realize??," bringing the festival and the weekend to an unforgettable close.

This was definitely one of the best concert weekend festivals I've ever been to, it was very well organized, and the crowd was fantastic, there to hear the music and to take care of each other in between sets. It's going to be a major effort for Pitchfork to top this next year, but I can't wait to see them try again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pics from Pitchfork Day 2

Pitchfork Fesrtival Day 2

Day 2 was our first complete day at the Festival. Again, the weather was pretty cooperative, but rain was very possible that day, so we packed up plenty of gear, hopped Bella on the train, and headed into the city for a full day of music.

We got there nearly right at 1:00 for the start, and things already started off much better than last year. We nearly walked right in to the gate this time around, when last year we were stuck in a line half a block long just trying to get in while the opening bands were playing. Since we knew the sun wasn't going to be beating down on us all day thanks to the cloud cover, we found a good spot near the soundbooths for the two main stages and set up our chairs and blanket and settled in.

One of the biggest complaints around about the weekend was that the sound level wasn't loud enough on the lawn, but that really worked to our advantage. Since we had Bella there, we obviously didn't want to have her anywhere where it was too loud, but we were there very close to both soundbooths, and the sound was mostly very clear and tolerable, and pretty much never got dangerously loud. I guess everyone's loss was our gain.

We started off listening to two new bands that were getting some hype, Cymbals Eat Guitars and Plants and Animals. Both were fine for an early afternoon festival set, can't really remember much from either, but they were enjoyable as early background music. One of the highlights of the weekend followed them immediately, the Canadian art punk band F-cked Up.

The lead singer of F-cked Up is a big 300 pound bald dude who calls himself Pink Eye, and who we came to see has probably the hairiest back in all of rock. I say this because after about one song, he took his shirt off and spent the rest of the sent leaping into the crowd. When he wasn't actually in the crowd, he was right up on the barricades, and pretty much never set foot on stage the rest of their time.

What he lacked in vocal ability (aside from screaming and yelling), he more than made up for in energy and charisma. The band capably plowed through the tracks, while Pink Eye was the whirlwind center of attention, making himself one with the audience while leading his band through a rampaging set. It was a classic set of punk energy, a perfect festival midday set to get things going.

Next up was another band I was very interested in seeing, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They came into the festival heavily hyped, and their swirling guitar sound was being compared favorably to My Bloody Valentine. They were pretty enjoyable, playing to one of the biggest crowds they had ever played to. The band seemed a bit mellow out in the big open field, and I would guess they would come off completely different in a smaller venue. Definitely one to watch.

From that point on the, the quality dipped for a few hours on the main stages. Final Fantasy was a "band" that consisted only of one main member, a guy who played almost every note on only a violin or keyboard, and used effects pedals to loop his music and accompany himself. It wasn't bad, but belonged more on the smaller side stage instead of one of the more interesting bands there.

Yeasayer followed him, again another very heavily hyped band. This was unfortunately the point of the day at which the clouds finally decided to let loose and give us the only real rain shower of the day. I didn't really care for Yeasayer, nothing really grabbed my attention during the set. I did try heading over to the small side stage to see if the band Wavves would actually perform, as their previous live show ended in a complete onstage meltdown, and the main guitarist/singer had broken his arm in a skateboarding accident earlier in the week as well. I waited for a few minutes, but as their set time passed, I figured it wasn't worth the effort and headed back to our chairs. From what I could hear from their stage, it sounded like the right decisions.

After a dull set by rapper Doom, the penultimate band on the main stages was by yet another heavily hyped band, Beirut. I will say for one or two songs, their sound could have been interesting, as they used a pretty wide array of instruments. However, their sound got very repetetive and dull, and never rose beyond that. Michele and Bella took the time to go over to the side stage to try to catch the set by the most giddy band on the Earth, Matt and Kim, and I texted and told her I was extremely jealous of them.

Matt and Kim's manic piano/drum duo make for great power pop/punk songs, and their set at Lollapalooza a few years ago by far made them the band that was the happiest I have ever seen playing EVER. Unfortunately, the side stage was jam packed for their set, so Michele and Bella weren't able to see much. Bella really wanted to see them though, mostly because they had a woman playing the drums. They stuck it out as long as they could and loved what the heard, but headed back to wrap up the night.

Last up on the main stages was one of my current favorite bands, the National. Their last album, "Boxer," was one of my favorites of this decade, and their set at Lollapalooza last year was my favorite of that weekend, despite other heavy hitters on the bill like Radiohead, Wilco and Nine Inch Nails. The National have been extremely busy over the last year, mostly handling various side projects (most noteably the benefit compilation Dark Was the Night), but thankfully they must have been working on new band material as well.

The band did debut a few new songs in their closing set, while still of course hitting their previous great material like "Fake Empire," "Ada," and "Apartment Story." Lead singer Matt Berninger was again the MVP, cooly and calmly crooning out the majority of the set, but exploding when called for on "Abel" and "Mr. November." There was some doubt if they could handle closing out the fest, but there was little doubt left after the end of their night.

Pitchfork Music Festival Day 1

This past weekend, we attended one of my favorite annual events, the Pitchfork Music Festival. It takes place in a park just west of the Loop in the city, and it's a family friendly event that we've even taken Bella to the last three years in a row.

From 2006 through 2008, it was a bit of a challenge, since almost every day in those years the temperatures chose to soar to 90 and 100 degrees and above. Thankfully this year, thanks to the very wonderfully cool summer we've had in Chicago, the high temperature the entire weekend was only about 78 degrees. It was already a perfect weekend based on that.

I went solo on Friday night, since there were only four bands playing, and I was only concerned with seeing one of them. The festival kicked off with the Chicago instrumental group Tortoise. Sadly, they weren't very interesting, even as background noise while waiting for the next group, which was the band I wanted to see, Yo La Tengo.

I've been a fan of Yo La Tengo for something like 15 years now, and they are a very frustrating live act, because they can be among the best live bands out there, but also among the most boring, depending on the night. The bands that played on Friday night all agreed to let the fans who bought tickets vote on their set lists for the night, so one way or another, this was going to be a unique and interesting set.

They opened their set slowly, with 3 piano based songs, but thankfully one was their classic "Autumn Sweater." Once the guitars were brought out, things were guaranteed to get lively. One of my highlights for the weekend happened around their fifth songs, when they played "Cherry Chapstick," a guitar blast that I've never had the chance to see them play live. The rest of the set had some interesting selections ("Mr. Tough," "Tom Courtnay"), but somehow they didn't have my favorite song in the set, "Blue Line Swinger," which I thought was always very popular live.

They did play a new song from their album which will be released in Septemeber as a break in the action, and closed with another guitar monster, "Sugarcube." Ira Kaplan, the band's guitarist, is one of my favorite players of all, and it was a thrill to be up against the stage to see him play up close again. I only wish they would add a YLT song to Guitar Hero or Rock Band, since they would need ot add an accelerometer to measure how much you are swinging the guitar around while it is off your neck while you are doing solos in the game. Wishful thinking.

Yo La Tengo was followed by what was hyped as the biggest set of the weekend by the critics, which was the return of Chicago punk legends the Jesus Lizard. I've heard a few of their songs in the past, which never did much for me, and have never seen an of their shows, which were supposed to be legendary. This is the first time they've played the city in nearly 10 years, so they anticiaption was high.

I hung toward the back, it probably would have been alot more interesting up front, but I didn't feel the need to be up there. I'm pretty much apparently the only person out of the approximate 17,000 or so who were supposed to be there who was unimpressed by the set though. It got pretty repetetive, and I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between any of the band's songs at all. Lead singer David Yow was amusing to watch at times, as he leapt in and out of the audience, but that can only go so far.

After the Jesus Lizard were the night's headliner's Built to Spill. I have liked some of their stuff, but their most recent album left me really cold. Since the food lines were pretty long (there was only one food vendor since it was the shortest day of the festival), and since I was beat from the work week, and lastly since it was actually getting near 60 and I had on shorts, I admit that I wussed out and decided to head home for the night before Built to Spill started. I knew I had two fantastic days of music ahead, so I didn't regret the decision too much.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Green Day at the United Center

I finished off our little vacation weekend by going solo to the United Center to see Green Day. Their newest cd, "21st Century Breakdown," isn't as great as their previous cd "American Idiot," but they can be forgiven for that since that was a career pinnacle.

The show was opened by the New York band The Bravery, who I have to give a lot of credit to, since they are creative and original... at finding new ways to suck. (Sorry, borrowed that joke from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog). They are the one band out there who prove that the whole dance rock sound that is big right now can be really lame and uninteresting. Well done guys.

I don't know who's scheduling idea it was, but Green Day then didn't take the stage until 9 PM on a Monday night. There were a lot of young kids in the audience, so I don't know if they all made it through the show or not, but I wasn't thrilled about that since I had to wake up at 5 the next morning. Oh well, enough about me.

The setlist pretty much stuck exactly to what they have played at every other stop so far on the tour, which is fine since they had a huge video display behind them, and plenty of pyrotechnics timed in sync with the show. The first part of the show focused on the newest album, with the strongest tracks leading off. After touching on a few of the highlights from America Idiot, they then plowed through most of their biggest hits from their earlier days.

The band did keep it pretty fun for the most part, they literally got the audience involved as much as possible, by bringing some fans up to sing verses from "Longview," and by giving one very young fan the chance to play all of the guitar lines in the American Idiot standout "Jesus of Suburbia."

The only problem I had with the show (aside from the late start time, being Mr. Old Man) was that alot of the singalong parts got dragged out way too long, and there were about 10 too many "heeyyyyy ooooohhh" chants that dragged on too long. Plus, for the second time that I've seen them, they drag out "King for a Day" and make it into a medley with "Shout," and that ends up taking up about 10 minutes of show time that could have been spent playing anything else off of American Idiot, like "The Death of St. Jimmy" or "Whatshername." Oh well.

It was a great show, they probably broke a few curfew laws in the process, but proved once again that they are one of the top bands in the country right now.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Mini-Minnesota Trip

Last weekend, we packed up the car and headed up to the almost Great White North for a quick mini-weekend in Minneapolis. It was a dual purpose visit, first to visit our friend Molly, who we haven't seen in quite a while, and second, to see the Basilica Block Party, which featured a few bands we were big fans of.

It was a pretty good drive, no complaints, Bella handled it like a pro. Of course she didn't take a nap til the last half hour or so, but that's life. After arriving at Molly's and settling in, we got right back in the car and headed to downtown Minneapolis for the Block Party.

We were there on Friday for one reason, to see the reunion of one of our favorite bands ever, the Jayhawks. They're pretty important in this family's history, since Michele and I had our very first date at a Jayhawks show on October 4, 1997, at the Metro in Chicago. It was the second version of the band, after one of the two main members, Marc Olson, had left the band to go solo.

The Jayhawks were also extremely important to us, since we used their classic song "Blue" as our first dance at our wedding. I would say that anyone who attended our reception would remember this, but from all reports, everyone there was so obliterated by the end of the night, most people couldn't remember much at all. Ahhh, open bars...

Anyways, this was the first US show that the original version of the band had played since around 1995 or so, so this was definitely worth the trip. They sounded like they hadn't missed a week together, and were spot on with their beautiful harmonies as always. They of course stuck to almost only playing songs from their masterpiece, 1995's "Tomorrow the Green Grass," and their previous great effort, 1992's "Hollywood Town Hall."

It was fantastic to hear the original band playing such great songs as "Two Hearts," "I'd Run Away," "Sister Cry" and "Walking on Down the Road," but I was crossing my fingers in the hopes that they would play anything off of their post-split albums "Smile" and "Sound of Lies," just to hear how they would sound with Olson's vocal harmonies added in. Sadly, that didn't happen as I guessed.

Despite a brief rainshower, the show was still a joy to witness, especially of course "Blue," performed with the Basilica's choir providing backing vocal harmonies as well. And with barely an encore, it was over before we knew it, and the band was back in the vaults of our memories.

Bella was a trooper, she made it through the whole night way past her normal bed time, dancing and jumping around and having a good time the whole way through. After a night's rest and a tour of the city, we headed back to the Block Party for night two on Saturday night.

Saturday ended up being more of a mess, since there were 4 bands we were interested in seeing. Since this is only really a block party, the stages were not staggered in their set times, as they are at Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. Instead, basically the two large stages operate at the exact same times, and you are forced to choose between which bands you want to see.

It was a gorgeous day, so on top of it being Saturday, that drew out many more people to attend day 2. We first stopped at the same stage we watched the Jayhawks on to watch some of the set by Minneapolis natives Tapes 'N' Tapes. Their herky-jerky sound comes off very well live, but we weren't able to stick around very long, since we had to hike to the other stage for our next band.

We then went to the bigger stage to try to see one of our favorite live musicians, Matt Nathanson. Sadly, ALOT of other people had the same idea. We stood in a spot barely halfway up the parking lot the stage was on, and by the time Nathanson hit the stage, we were completely surrounded, to the point where most of those walking by barely cared that we had a small child in a stroller. So after about one song, we bailed out and headed to the back for some room and air.

Nathanson is a great performer live, with great catchy songs and hillarious stage banter in between. I'm not sure how many times I've seen him in the past 5 years, but it's probably at least once a year. The sad thing is that I can pretty much predict the exact set Nathanson plays every time, right down to the covers that he throws in mid-song. Since I've seen him do that all before, we decided to head back to the other stage to get a good spot for the closer for the night, who we were anxiously looking forward to as well.

The closer for us, while the Counting Crows were closing the big stage, was another Minneapolis based band, The Hold Steady. The band has been on the road for almost a year supporting their fantastic album "Stay Positive," and this was the third chance I had to see them this year. The first chance was on what turned out to be the coldest night in the past decade at least in January, which I had to pass on because of that. They also played last month at the Taste of Randolph on Father's Day, but we passed on that as well since we knew we'd see them in Minneapolis.

The band did not disappoint, they were once again spot on and proudly took the title of the Greatest Bar Band in the World for 2009. They stormed through great tracks like "Constructive Summer," "Yeah Sapphire," "Sequestered in Memphis" and "Stay Positive," while working in some of their older songs like "Chips Ahoy!" and "Southtown Girls." It was a pretty nice touch to get to hear these songs of bar denizens probably blocks from the very bars that inspired them.

It was a very fun weekend, we all had a great time and hope the lineup is nearly as good next year so we can head up there once again. Hopefully I'll post some of our pics to follow.