Correction Appended: Johnny Marr was not present at Pitchfork Music Festival.
With four years in the books, Pitchfork has proven that it knows how to put on a music festival.
And now, at year five and still unable to shake the expected setbacks of any music festival — overpriced beer, limited water fountains and a bottleneck at every entrance and exit to the park — the indie-music-authority-turned-festival-organizer has nonetheless made it abundantly clear that music takes precedent, so you might as well suck it up and drink your Heineken Light.
Between the large new-and-used vinyl tent, a poster sale and booths for almost every independent label with artists at the festival, there was plenty to keep the crowd occupied all weekend.
In addition to roping headliners Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem and Pavement for the three-day affair in Chicago’s Union Park, Pitchfork Music Festival offered stand-up comedy performances for the first time, putting it one step closer to Bonnaroo in its all-encompassing scope of the arts.
Comedians Wyatt Cenac and Michael Showalter gathered on the (b) stage to give entertaining performances about racist bakeries and how to out-hip the hipsters (towing the invisible line between Pitchfork-crowd pandering and Pitchfork-crowd baiting). Comedians are the perfect intermission between noisy acts under a hot sun, and I’m counting on more of them to pad the weekend as Pitchfork no doubt will continue to grow in future years.
Friday’s music highlights included a furious performance from psych-noise-rockers Liars, whose towering frontman wore an uber-ironic sleeveless Men at Work shirt and running shorts while expertly manipulating his voice with an effects box. Robyn and the Tallest Man on Earth similarly won over crowds with sheer charisma and expertly crafted pop and folk, respectively.
Modest Mouse couldn’t generate enough momentum in its set to keep it from becoming a disappointing dirge of lackluster showmanship. More Moon & Antarctica next time, please!
Saturday was even better: Titus Andronicus put on an awe-inspiring performance, balancing the hardcore punk of Hüsker Dü and the anthemic orchestrations of the Boss in his prime with tracks from this year’s brilliant Civil War concept album, The Monitor. Wolf Parade was equally impressive, proving that indie bands can rock just as hard nowadays as ever (Beach House aside).
LCD Soundsystem’s performance turned Union Park into a packed-in dance party with thousands of people chanting along to the group’s latest banger “Drunk Girls” and tracks from 2008’s alt-dance epic Sound of Silver. Frontman James Murphy, emerging disheveled and unshaven in a ratty white tee, floated somewhere between Morrissey and David Byrne but threw out references to legendary electro-punkers Can and Suicide on the rambling track “Losing My Edge.”
Always ironic and hyper-aware, Murphy even commented on the festival itself, complimenting the event staffers for their down-to-earth treatment of the audience (dousing the front rows with ice and water mid-performance, lowering the price of water to $1 during the peak of the 95-degree afternoons and having plenty of restroom facilities and recycling bins). The peak of the night was the band’s stirring performance of the late-night ode to broken relationships and ennui “All My Friends,” which had the entire crowd singing, “Where are your friends tonight?” with heart-choking fervor.
Sound problems plagued a handful of bands through the first two days. Real Estate’s lead vocals were cut for an entire song, and a nasty ring of feedback and noise plagued the first half of Broken Social Scene’s set. But despite some shaky starts, each band settled into its groove once the knob-turners offstage got it together.
Rare gaffes aside, festival organizers know that the music at Pitchfork reigns above all else, and they took great lengths to ensure top-notch sound quality and earsplitting volume when appropriate. (Hint: It’s always appropriate).
And while I was holding out for a picturesque sunset to Pavement’s “Gold Soundz” with the Sears Tower looming in the background, the up-and-comers that Pitchfork slated for earlier Sunday afternoon looked (almost) just as exciting. Though it’s tempting to let their up-and-coming sounds linger in the background so I can pester Drag City employees about Dave Berman and Jim O’Rourke, or pick up free buttons from Sub Pop, or pad my vinyl collection with rare 7-inches — which, at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, you can do all at the same time.