The sun shone bright on the second and first full day of Pitchfork's now-annual summer bash, and unlike the previous two years, the temperature stayed in the double digits and the humidity stayed below 145%, meaning it was good times for those who crawled out of their filthy hovels, parents' basements and back rooms of record stores to attend.
Having overdone it on the booze the previous night (thank you Cobra Lounge), it took a bit to shake ourselves out of the booze coma and make it down to Union Park, but once we did, here's what we saw/heard/smelled/stepped in on day two:
Sadly, we completely missed Ken Vandermark, William Parker, Califone and The Twilight Sad, so if you are looking to read about their sets, sorry, you are going to have to do it someplace else. Our beds were just too comfy and the headache too severe to venture outside in time. Plus, being spoiled Chi-town brats, we get to see three of these bands on a fairly regular basis, but make sure to go see Califone next time they're in your town; they're fantastic (or check out the video below).
Califone "Pink & Sour"
Voxtrot were entertaining those who showed up early when we arrived, and while the Austin band's brand of frilly indie rock is lilting and pretty, it's also rather inoffensive and, at times, just plain bland.
Voxtrot "The Start Of Something"
They seemed to have a difficult time really capturing the audience's attention, and as their set progressed, folks started to wander off in search of libations, or to secure a decent vantage point for Grizzly Bear.
Which brings us to the aforementioned Grizzly Bear, whom, given their stellar reputation in the live arena (something this writer has never understood), had amassed a sizeable crowd by the time they took the stage for their 3pm slot. Sadly, nobody showed up in grizzly bear outfits to cheer them on, nor did the band take the stage in bear suits.
Grizzly Bear "On A Neck, On A Spit"
While their set was better than expected, it remained meandering and frighteningly out of tune the majority of the time, the band dedicating the bulk of their time focusing on material from their newest long-player Yellow House. We stood round and watched for a bit, but given we still had the hair of the dog, and were tiring of their antics, we decided it more prudent to get more beer and head over to the small stage to see Beach House.
Beach House's self-titled album is awash in lovely melancholy, and while that makes for fantastic listening in one's home, it doesn't always translate in the live arena. Fortunately, the Baltimore duo upped the stakes, bringing a more rough hewn version of their album to the table, and while their set was anything but raucous, the drifting, sea-scrubbed soundscapes were a nice respite from the thrashing, mathing and pounding that the rest of the day had in store. Without a doubt, Beach House proved themselves the surprise triumph of the day, if not the whole festival.
Next up on the main stages were Battles, and much as many people had predicted, they were the early frontrunners for best performance of the festival. Brutal, complex, puzzling and quixotic, the NYC quartet were brilliant from start to finish, showcasing tracks from the fantastic Mirrored, many versions of which far outstripped their recorded counterparts in terms of sheer ferocity and technical prowess. They raged in the hot sun, Motorik beats dancing with languid afro-pop and grinding sub-metal breakdowns, all topped off with Tyondai Braxton's heavily effected vocal gymnastics and funky, Cosby-style outerwear. Simply put, they killed it and even though most people there didn't give a rat's arse about them, they were a definite highlight of the entire weekend.
After that, Iron & Wine did what they do, mainly, make mopey country rock and have huge beards. If that's what we wanted, we'd go see Bonnie Prince Billy. Oh, and with the super long hair and gnarly beard, Sam Beam now looks like he does Civil War re-enactments on his off days.
We caught about 11 seconds of Fujiya & Miyagi and it was great. It made us wish we had been there for the entire set.
Fujiya & Miyagi "Sucker Punch"
We caught about as much of Professor Murder's set and didn't have such strong feelings of regret.
Professor Murder "Free Stress Test"
We skipped Oxford Collapse altogether because, well, we sat through their boring-as-paint-drying shtick at SXSW and frankly, once was more than enough.
Oxford Collapse "Lady Lawyers"
Unless they came out wielding ukulele's and tambourines, Mastodon pretty much just had to set foot on stage and plug in to be a weekend favorite, and mercifully, they brought the full compliment of flying-v guitars and Marshall stacks and set about the business of absolutely torching the place. They were the loudest band of the festival by a country mile and their seismic mix of new and old favorites was perfect, even percolating enough pent-up suburban angst to get a circle pit flowing. "Capillarian Crest" and "The Wolf Is Loose" sounded titanic, ginormous, crushing walls of riffs and drum fills that caused many to cower in their wake. In just over 45 minutes Mastodon came, they saw and they conquered.
As with Mastodon, Virginia Beach brothers-in-coke Clipse pretty much only had to show up to make the top five, and with their oversized hustler personas (not to mention chains) and deft way with a rhyme, they were definitely contenders for the weekend's top honors.
Clipse "Momma I'm So Sorry"
Blasting out of the box with a vicious version of "Momma I'm So Sorry" and continuing on through road-burned versions of "Mr. Me Too", "We Got it 4 Cheap", "Wamp Wamp (What it Do)" and "Grindin'" as well as some rarely-aired mixtape bangers, Pusha-T and Malice lit the park up like a thousand watt bulb, or to use more of their own parlance, a fishscale of the raw stuff.
After Clipse, the rest of the night proved to be an exercise in both futility and frustration. The balance stage was completely rammed for Dan Deacon's set of weirdball electro party anthems, and things only got worse as people continued to pack in to see Girl Talk mix-and-mash his way though his now patented hyperactive disco-dance free-for-all.
Dan Deacon "Silence Like The Wind"
Meanwhile the main stage area was still brimming with folks waiting to catch of glimpse of living icon Yoko Ono. This proved to be a mistake for most everybody. While she is indeed a living legend, Ono's set tested the limits of avant garde conceptualism, with her backing band pumping out a terse post-punk racket as she screamed, hiccup'd and hollered in the foreground.
Yoko Ono "???"
It was interesting for, oh, five or six minutes, but after that it became more grating by the second. Unsurprisingly, this sent most people flooding to the exits, in search of sleep, cheap booze or a shower.
Day Two complete, but what would Day Three hold in store for us?
top photo by eric @ marathonpacks