by Tom Smith (Office) photos by Matt DuFour
Last week Chicago was bombarded by events affiliated with the Pitchfork Music Festival. Five local clubs curated lunchtime shows at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown, the Gene Siskel Film Center showed rock-related cinematic gems and countless clubs offered Pitchfork pre- and post-parties. It was a raucous, raunchy and, yes, rocking week for all of us here in the capital of the Midwest.
My festival week started Thursday at mid-day, riding my bike from my day-job down to the Cultural Center to play a show with my band, Office. It was a low-volume, bright-light affair and our first all ages show. The term all-ages had never been so appropriate. Some seniors played chess as we arrived and a group of teenage skater dudes bid us an awkward farewell upon leaving.
Friday night started at the Double Door, where Phoenix, French Kicks and the Dirty Things turned it out. The Dirty Things played with an energy level rarely seen nowadays and kicked the night off right. Phoenix dropped some stylish rock franÃ§ais en anglais on our stupid American asses. Midway through Phoenix I moseyed over to Subterranean where I caught half of My Were They’s set of pulsing, tangled grooves and luminous vocals. I headed homeward immediately after their set to get ready for the next day’s main event.
In a frenzied gesture, [Ted Leo] bloodied his forehead on the mic, thus prompting everyone in the crowd to reach for their camera phones. Punk rock in the 21st century, ladies and gents!
I was angry that my slacker self couldn’t make it to Union Park in time to see Hot Machines open the festival in a rare appearance. As I entered, another local Chicago outfit, Chin Up Chin Up, played their benign brand of indie-pop to the early risers. Philadelphia’s Man Man overcame a dead vocal mic and slayed the heat-struck crowd, psychedelic Sesame Street style, face paint and chanting galore. Band of Horses’ loping swagger translated well in a festival setting and they seemed genuinely tickled to be playing in front of such an immense crowd. Chad Taylor and Rob Mazurek set the Biz 3 tent on fire as the Chicago Underground Duo. Mazurek’s cornet was muted by a stuffed unicorn as Taylor unleashed a percussive deluge in support.
Dan Bejar’s crystal clear delivery and stunning lyrics were a highlight of the day as Destroyer played on into the late afternoon. He played rhythm guitar on a custom Telecaster as his lead guitar player (vintage Jaguar in tow) laid down some of the most elegant, tasteful fretwork I’ve seen in recent memory. The set was dotted with crowd pleasers and was one of the best performances in terms of overall mix and tonality. Bejar’s deadpan crept from his lyrics into his banter as he approached the mic and proclaimed, “This song is about… ugh.”
I missed Art Brut and Spank Rock taking a much needed respite from the oppressive heat, downing liters of water and some fish and chips. Feeling refreshed, I staked claim to a piece of real estate and watched Ted Leo + the Pharmacists absolutely rip. The Pharmacists plowed through the material like wire through government cheese as Leo led with elastic guitar lines and pop vocal acrobatics. In a frenzied gesture, he bloodied his forehead on the mic, thus prompting everyone in the crowd to reach for their camera phones. Punk rock in the 21st century, ladies and gents!
Speaking of phones, the Walkmen phoned in their performance despite an admirable fill-in for their drummer whose wife was having their child. They came across sloppy and flat, worn down by the heat. As the sun went down, the Futureheads picked it up, playing incredibly tight and hooky punk-fueled pop. They had the best crowd control this side of hip-hop, getting the whole crowd clapping and singing along to a couple tunes. They quipped that, “Americans are good at clapping.” I noted to myself that these heirs apparent to the Buzzcocks are just really bloody good.
Silver Jews closed out Saturday night in style as many of us watched David Berman perform for the first time. They opened with “Punks In The Beerlight” and mined songs from the catalog, including personal favorites such as “Trains Across The Sea,” “Smith And Jones Forever.” and “New Orleans.” It was like watching a reading set to music (and I mean that in the best sense). Berman pointed to the sound booth mid-way through and said Steve West was back there and Pavement is planning to reunite. Is this true? Regardless, not even news of that magnitude could upstage such treat of seeing Silver Jews close out the evening.
It [smelled] like Pitchfork. If B.O. only had a decimal point rating system…
My afterparty choice was to see Jai Alai Savant and the Joggers at the Hideout. Once again, the dudes in Jai Alai Savant didn’t disappoint, barreling through their stand-out songs in concise, professional fashion. The Joggers set was a little disappointing until they did the unthinkable. As my buddy Pal and I drank our Old Styles in the bar in front, we heard the opening riff to “Long Distance Runaround” by Yes. We thought it was just a tease until they dropped into the verse. We were floored, swaying and singing along, dying of laughter after a long day’s rocking.
My energy was spent come Sunday, so I caught only pieces of sets by Devendra Banhart, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, Diplo, and Os Mutantes. Office was back at it again for a Pitchfork after-party at Cobra Lounge so I tried to lay low in the shade for the better part of the day. After our set that night we headed to the “cute 4 o’clock” Continental for a nightcap with the other Pitchfork revelers. As our drummer Erica noted that night, “It [smelled] like Pitchfork”. If B.O. only had a decimal point rating system…