Day 2: Saturday July 16
Julianna Barwick – 1:00 PM, Green Stage
As my friends and I wearily woke up, exhausted from Day 1 of Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, we made it over to the grounds and caught the first act of the day, abstract vocal manipulator Julianna Barwick. Barwick took the large stage with simply a loop station, small keyboard, and a microphone, introduced herself and subsequently did not engage in stage banter for the rest of her set, although it was hardly missed. Barwick’s methodical process in creating her slowly developing songs is extremely compelling to watch as most songs will start with a single line of Barwick’s wordless, ethereal vocals and the singer will then loop that vocal and add more vocal layers on top of it, creating a haunting choir effect, despite the fact that only one person is actually singing. With occasional keyboard and drum machine beats, I felt chills as Barwick looped and effected her vocals to create the illusion of a ghostly band of gospel singers. Though I at first thought that 1:00 on a hot afternoon would be the wrong venue for Barwick, her soothing style acted as a nice way to ease into the day and the artist was clearly pouring her heart out into the music. Certainly being one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival, you can see Julianna Barwick perform at the Granada on Saturday July 23 at the Gorilla vs. Bear Festival. You can purchase tickets to see Barwick and the rest of the line up right here.
Sun Airway – 1:55 PM, Blue Stage
Philadelphia’s Sun Airway was next on my line up as the already intensely hot day reached some of the highest temperatures. The band took the stage and played a lethargic set, without much motion or gumption. Playing songs from their debut Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier (2010), the Animal Collective sound-a-likes just looked like they didn’t want to be on stage. Maybe it was the heat, maybe the band was tired from playing a club show the previous night, but whatever the reason, Sun Airway put on a performance that was aimless at best and lackadaisical at worst. My friends and I left the set early to stake out spots for No Age.
No Age – 3:20 PM, Red Stage
Experimental punk duo No Age were met with technical difficulties before their set started, with guitarist Randy Randall’s sampler malfunctioning and drummer/singer Dean Spunt unable to hear his own vocals in the monitor, but in classic punk style, the band played through the difficulties and put on one of the most intense and blistering sets of the festival. Without a sampler, No Age couldn’t accurately recreate the sounds from some of their more moderately paced and more experimental noise rock songs, so as a result, the band effortlessly got in touch with their roots of hardcore and punk and delivered a set met with what must have been buckets of sweat, crowd surfers, and a massive and relentless mosh pit. Playing several songs from their debut Weirdo Rippers (2007) and selections from their acclaimed more experimental LPs Nouns (2008) and Everything In Between (2010) including covers of The Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments” and Black Flag’s “Six Pack”. The band never let up in intensity, which at times made the set feel tedious, but the adrenaline rush brought on from the pace and fervor with which the band played kept the performance exciting throughout.
Destroyer – 5:15 PM, Red Stage
I watched Gang Gang Dance’s high energy set from across the grounds as I patiently staked out a spot for Destroyer, the new wave, jazz, and indie folk inspired project from mastermind Dan Bejar. Bejar’s backing band, prominently featuring saxophone and trumpet in addition to the traditional band set up, was rock solid as the singer led the group through takes on songs from Destroyer’s newest album Kaputt (2011) and two older songs “Painter in Your Pocket” and “My Favourite Year”. The notoriously moody Bejar seemed to be having a genuinely great time through minimal stage banter including “thanks” and “here’s another song” as the cracking of a smile from the artist seemed to be detectable. The band’s smooth and experimental takes on their extremely solidly executed 80s jazz flavored pop songs made for one of the weekend’s most enjoyable sets as each band member could be seen exerting themselves to the extent of their abilities as Bejar kept up his persona as the impenetrably cool frontman. The major highlight of the set came when Destroyer pulled out “Bay of Pigs” the enormous closing track from Kaputt that starts out as a pensive ambient space jam before focusing into a taut, danceable new wave rave up complete with the album’s defining horn and saxophone arrangements. The song closed the set just as the sun began its descent and there was palpable magic in the air as the airy synths of the song floated amongst the crowd.
The Dismemberment Plan – 6:15 PM, Green Stage
As recently reunited indie rock legends The Dismemberment Plan took the stage, it could easily be seen that no one was having a better time at the set than the members of the band themselves. It was a pure joy to watch the group play together again as they shamelessly looked to be really having fun being a band and went through a set heavy with selections from their highly influential record Emergency and I (1999). Cited as being a key influence on the dance-punk movement of the early 2000s, the band had no problem with moving onstage and letting loose and being their gloriously goofy selves. Singer/guitarist Travis Morrison played keyboard with his face, claimed to be in the midst of an “Abraxas-LSD-latin freakout” during Gang Gang Dance’s set, and slipped into a Ukrainian accent at one point among his cheerful banter. The band played a crowd pleasing set that turned into another one of the best sets of the weekend and in a climactic moment, during set closer “OK Joke’s Over”, the band interpolated Robyn’s “Dancehall Queen” as is their tradition to include another song in the song’s huge jam-out ending. What was even more special about this set however, is the fact that the band has no more reunion shows scheduled as of now. This set could likely have been The Dismemberment Plan’s last as a band, but if that is the case, they sure went out with a bang.
DJ Shadow – 7:35 PM, Red Stage
DJ Shadow’s lauded debut album Endtroducing….. (1996) is always one reason to get excited about the DJ’s live performance, but another is his infamous stage set up. In a typical club set, DJ Shadow will encase himself in an enormous ball known as the shadow sphere as intricate and head expanding images are reflected onto and around the sphere’s surface. There is a major problem with this set up however: the shadow sphere will only work in darkness due to the projected images and when the sun was scheduled to finally go down about an hour after DJ Shadow’s set began, the sphere and light show were both basically useless. Without the shadowsphere, much of DJ Shadow’s appeal was lost as he began focusing on material from his newest EP, the lackluster I Gotta Rokk (2011). My friends and I found ourselves partaking from the food vendors at this point in the day and waiting for the day’s headlining act.
Fleet Foxes – 8:30 PM, Green Stage
Fleet Foxes, the normally upright bunch of folkies, were unusually rowdy during their closing Saturday night set, but in my opinion, it was all for the better. The band tore through tracks from their self titled debut and their sophomore album, Helplessness Blues (2011) with an unexpected intensity and a rawer attack than would be typical for the band. Lead singer Robyn Pecknold was unusually animated nearly shouting some of his song’s lyrics, using liberal profanity, and recounting a humorous story in which Dizzee Rascal insulted Fleet Foxes the last time the band played the Pitchfork Festival. The band seemed to be energized by the gigantic crowd as the audience sang along to the intricate vocal harmonies Fleet Foxes made their name on. Another crowd pleasing set allowed Fleet Foxes to greatly surpass Animal Collective for headlining dominance so far.