Hipsters and hippies. It may be difficult for the socially antiquated to understand where the distinction occurs, but other than their unwavering support for Barack Obama and a frequent affinity for pot, do these two (sub)cultures really have anything in common? Certainly not in their choice of music festivals.
While hippies had burned all their meager income from working at college town burrito and sandwich shops earlier this summer at tune-in, turn-on, camp-out, drop-out festivals like Bonnaroo and Rothbury, the hipsters waited until last weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago to filter out of their urban apartments (or parents’ houses in the suburbs) for their own musical gala.
This was my second straight year attending Pitchfork. While I was again impressed with the unmatched assortment of indie-rock acts, this year it was with a much more curious eye that I gazed upon the hipster pilgrimage that the lineup attracted.
Hype governs the hipster universe (see: Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire) and there’s no better place to see much-hyped bands than at Pitchfork. This year’s hype band of choice was Vampire Weekend. Unimpressed with their self-titled debut from this past January, I figured I’d let these four Columbia grads determine their fate in my mind — like any great band — on the stage.
They failed. Seriously, what am I missing? Their record wasn’t terrible; it wasn’t offensive, it wasn’t pain-inducing. It was just pedestrian. It was thin; it gave me nothing to sink my teeth into. And live, even from the front row, Vampire Weekend even more bland. I had to wonder whether they were really a four-piece because their collective impact was about as pronounced as a music box. Their riffs are cute, as are their melodies. And maybe they are too. But I really don’t care that front man Ezra Koenig looks like Joaquin Phoenix. Nor do I care that he plays his Gibson with a quarter. This world already has one Paul Simon, and I think that’s enough.
Unfortunately, hype misadventures of the past and present have left me skeptical that any new band garnering rave reviews is an unworthy flavor-of-the-week. Tragically, this prejudiced attitude caused me to unconsciously ignore The Hold Steady for four albums. Pitchfork exposed the mistake in my skepticism.
The Hold Steady was unequivocally my favorite show of the weekend. While Vampire Weekend was wholly unequipped to capture my attention, The Hold Steady refused to let it go. Uninhibited by his un-hip, middle-aged, bespectacled appearance, vocalist Craig Finn animatedly commanded the audience with a passion that, if he had been wearing a unitard, might’ve rivaled Freddie Mercury’s. Coupled with his band’s shimmering rock‘n’roll, the performance was as inspired as it was awe-inspiring.
While The Hold Steady’s bombastics perfectly legitimized audience lunacy, mosh-pit euphoria abounded at nearly every show, called-for or not. Not too suggest that there should be limits on what shows at which the audience is allowed to have fun, but I couldn’t quite grasp where people got off going crazy at a concert from experimental noise duo Fuck Buttons. Perhaps I’m a buzz kill, or perhaps these head-bangers are just pretending to have fun; it’s probably a combination of both. Still, the hipster cred gained by looking really eclectic and going ape shit over an avante garde band was surely too juicy an incentive for some to pass up.
This phenomenon also occurred at Public Enemy’s complete performance of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back on Friday night. Sure, it was a perfectly note-for-note run-through of a perfectly seminal hip-hop record, but as throngs of white suburban high-schoolers decked out in American Apparel gear raised their clenched fists in triumph, part of me suspected that they lacked the collective experience to share in the political passion expressed by the performers.
Bald Men with Beards.
There’s no better way to magnetically attract attention at a music festival than to do something erratic. So when a man spontaneously set up a chair and began offering sloppy, off-the-cuff $2 haircuts for anyone brave enough to offer their locks to his shears, of course a huge audience descended on the scene. And when a man with a microphone clipped to the hair of his bared chest began interviewing concert-goers on camera, he too pulled a crowd. Interestingly, both of these hooligans were bearded bald men, which means they very well may have been Les Savy Fav singer Tim Harrington. His erratic mud-covered performance was strong circumstantional evidence that he was the perpetrator in the other incidents. But I have difficulty distinguishing bald bearded men. Except for…
Is there an outfit better at coaxing out the fun-in-the-sun vibe at a summer festival than wiz-man Schneider’s The Apples in Stereo? With their jubilant, sweaty, none-too-serious spacey pop-rock in nearly 100-degree heat on Sunday, they gave me serious doubt. Slicing through oppressive UV rays with attitudes as giddy as their vocals, The Apples reminded everyone why we bother with sun, mud, rain, crowds, lines and over-priced sustenance to hear our favorite bands all in one place.