Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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.

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