Features | Festivals

And Pitchfork Brought Us Together 3: Day 2

By Mark Abraham, Conrad Amenta, Chet Betz, Peter Hepburn, Dom Sinacola, & Edgar White | 1 August 2006

Previously on "And Pitchfork Brought Us Together": Pt. 1: Days -5 to -1 & Pt. 2: Day 1

And finally:

Day 2

Dom: Becca promised us pancakes, not the Last Supper we downed that morning. After a night’s cavorting in which Flip Cup — Flippy-cup, Taps, Tippy Cup, etc. — became a first day’s release and suitable battlefield for mounting inter-staff tensions, blueberry syrup doused with triple-sec was libation enough to send Chet on his Ohio way. Needless to say, we had reason to celebrate from the night before, as Mark was our team’s anchor, bastion in that sea of filth, and Chet proved himself a piss beer sponge. I probably cheated a whole lot, but I think we won, which is what matters.

Mark: Dom and I handed Chet the washtub bass we had gleefully spent time constructing after Chet had gone to bed, employing glue, shoestrings, a broom handle, and —

Dom: And love.

Chet: This one wouldn’t fit in my trunk either.

Edgar: I arrived to find Chet pulling out and Dom and Mark in tears at his departure. I was going to ask them why they ditched me, but they seemed so sad.

Peter: I woke up early, refreshed after a long night of cheap beer and cheaper champagne. Silver Jews were great last night; of the three shows I’ve seen Berman et al play, this was the strongest. He’s finally learned his songs, and the audience was appreciative. Anyways, I was ready to go this morning, excited enough to almost make it in time for Tapes ‘n Tapes.

Conrad: The second day of any music festival is going to enjoy a more pragmatic crowd than the day before. The skinny ties and black button-ups are largely gone, replaced by white t-shirts and wet towels draped around necks, the smell of sunscreen and a far more sensible outlook on drinking the moment one enters the gate. Contrast with that a Day Two lineup that absolutely smokes Day One and, in retrospect, we should have all waited until Sunday to bring our collected enthusiasm, nonsensical fashion priorities, and drunkenness.

Mark: The train ride down was chipper, and I was excited to find out if a theory built in drunken abandon would prove true: the day before, Peter had disappeared right before we met Conrad. And then later, we lost Conrad, and Peter came back. Hmm.

Anyway, we pretty much missed Tapes ‘N Tapes, catching only the tail-end of a distended chord lobbed at the sun like a missile. The sun did seem more scared at that moment to come out.

Dom: The morning’s clouds were a tease, and by the time Danielson went on, the sun had already emerged, forever severing its ties with a tired humanity. Really, I felt a bit gypped with Danielson so early. His set was all Ships and stingily identical to the longer show I witnessed in May, minus charming interludes of banter and a “Dragon” sing-along. Still, he struggled over his one trumpet part, and with Chris Palladino back in the game, reveled in keyboard basslines, which shuddered from languorous to staccato as a matter of obligation. Everything Danielson does, as it turns out, is imbued with an ineffable warmth, and so, for all the reckoning Ships guarantees and the live show never indulges, I had a good time. Mark and I dribbled a 40 onto the curb for our dead homie, Scott Reid, who wasn’t dead, but toiling away fruitlessly on this website in some undisclosed location in Canada, which, as us Americans have learned, is like a kind of slow death.

Hey, also? If the Arcade Fire were scheduled to perform, I don’t think they’d get a slot so early in the day. Know’m sayin’?

Mark: We are so over Arcade Fire in Canada and on some heavy tundra-influenced shit. It’s like the Iceland music scene times 8,000,000.

Dom: After I stepped on my trumpet, Mark and I sat beneath a tree with some dude hiding out in its branches. We were at the edge of the Aluminum Stage, catching the left hand of Jens Lenkman, the cherubic female brass band hand. For anyone watching, that would make it the audience’s right hand, a simple notion of relativity, sure, but telling of the divide over this guy’s music. A divide we expected, maybe, because Chet spent a good portion of the weekend chiding us to remember to catch Jens being “oh so silent” (I think I just messed up a punchline somewhere) and Aaron only recently, demurely, came out as a fan. Instead, the half hour was extremely pleasant, same-y, and soft like dollar water. In the trees we met up with Anthony Gall, newly appointed CMG photographer, and he helped Mark learn a different way of pronouncing “Autechre.” I was all like, whuh? Because that’s what I’m usually all like.

Mark: “Ah – teh – ker.”

Edgar: I arrived and realized that I hated pretty much every band but Spoon, so I went to lie down.

Peter: I couldn’t manage to convince any of the people I had come with to watch Danielson (too screechy) or Jens (too precocious), so I staked out some ground and enjoyed the summer heat. Jens was better than I expected; his band of adorable Swedish women were quite proficient and exceedingly cute.

Mark: To balance Peter’s conclusion, Jens is incredibly cute too. And I came out as a fan a long time ago, but a middling fan, in the sense that I like Jens fine but have never actually listened to the entire album. I mean, there’s saccharine, and then there’s huffing icing sugar.

Conrad: Andrew Bird’s performance at last year’s Pitchfork (then Intonation) Festival still stands out in my mind. There’s something about seeing an over-the-top earnestness at work on stage that I think fits the contrasts of a musical festival — many thousand more people than usual, outdoors and during the daytime, all counter to the dark, smoky interiors of club stages. A single person “ba-ba”-ing timidly or dorkily, shuffling through the moves of some skinny white boy dance only completes a refreshingly awkward and endearing picture. For this reason I was looking forward to Lekman’s kindergarten profundity and simple niceness. I admit, I am one of the CMG writers who stands outside the party looking in when it comes to Lekman; I like him, and enjoyed Oh, You’re So Silent Jens enough to nominate it for my personal (At Least) Top Thirty of 2005 List.

Lekman didn’t fail to meet any of my probably unreasonable expectations. Taking to the stage in polka dots, fedora, and with a clad-all-in-white, all-female backing band, I can completely understand the gag reflex the man causes in the throats of other CMG writers. Myself, I was mesmerized by what amounted to watching the least popular member of your high school graduating class comfortably sashaying through fan favorites while peppering the crowd with a number of songs new and unheard. Particularly rewarding was a song about posing as his penpal’s fianc√©, his penpal being a woman who cannot stand to come out of the closet to her father, and the dinner, “right out of Buffalo ’66,” that Lekman then suffered through. Getting away with anything calculated at a festival full of music fans, arms crossed and overheating, is one thing. Making them laugh is another; the crowd responded, and when Lekman said “you’ll probably see us around, playing in a park somewhere,” I know people looked for it.

Peter: I managed to talk some people out of the shade to see The National. The band continues to strike me as above-average soft rock, but perhaps one of these days it’ll click. They certainly have the live show down, and the songs off Alligator sounded great.

Dom: Sometime during the National, Mark and I hit the food court like a red-headed stepchild. It wasn’t a “court” at all, but an avenue of stands catering to every.ahem.walk of life; it fishtailed at the north end of Union Park, right into the Biz3 Stage. With a boneless rib sandwich in one mitt and a dripping strawberry lemonade (actually, they were both dripping) in the other, I stood per usual behind a seething and exponentially growing tent crowd. Seriously, every time I returned to the outskirts of Biz3, the heads of bouncing electro-goers seemed to reach further and further toward the top of the tent, through the roof and into the sky’s marble blue. Shit, maybe it was the heat, and maybe I wasn’t hydrating how I was supposedta, but hallucinations of cackling giants kept me away from the tent for the rest of the day. That and CSS, which, from where I was, BBQ sandwich in tow, breathed all lunky bass. Yet another party I’d never join, not for a lack of trying, so I turned to the record/wares tent.

Mark: Don’t let the album reviews fool you — CSS is good, and live they set those lackluster album tunes alight with the kind of sincere dancefloor passion it’s almost impossible to find without “ironic” attached to it anymore. I mean, we were so far back all I could see were silhouettes and shadows, but they were to a one bumping like a catastrophe, filling every nook and cranny of the tent, ‘causing far more audience movement than anything in the baseball diamond proper.

Conrad: Liars just seemed to have a lot more fun than a number of the bands playing Day Two. Drums Not Dead translates to the stage about as well as one would imagine (so, not very), its drones and anti-climaxes faithfully boring. But there were moments when the crowd seemed better convinced by Angus Andrew’s dancing in bare feet across the scorching hot black stage than by The National’s Matt Berninger twisting his arms authentically around his mic or his body into an affected pose. By now it’s fairly common practice for a band playing a music festival to work their way through a standard gesture of anti-togetherness: mock the beer company or the radio station that brought you there, and you can escape with some semblance of independence intact. But the Liars might have been the only band that I left the festival feeling would have played the same way in front of ten people in a backyard.

Dom: At face value, the Liars should have been stupendous. Angus grimaced with sweat, traversing the stage with an arachnid’s grace. He even broke some guitar strings and wore a diaper. Backed by two drumkits, the band played nodes of Drum’s Not Dead and telephone wires of belittling noise. The drills of chaos, caught, maybe, on a trek from the Connector stage to the outhouses, seemed abrasive, not because the Liars are the fucking Boredoms or anything, but because the act was out of place, noxious when it should have been absorbing, farted when it should have been raised like the Eiffel Tower (strangely phallic like Angus’ gait). Where Man Man subdued their challenging extremities through positively exciting and gleeful audience rapport, the Liars alienated themselves, kept the stage aloft as a squelching spectacle instead of as a goddamned, eye-level experience.

Mark: The most important point here is that the Liars, no matter how hard they try, are not the fucking Boredoms.

Peter: Man, Liars were bad. Even from across a field and far away they were bad.

Mark: Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock were the first act to really charm me since Man Man more than 24 hours before. Ripping through a set laced with some of the best numbers from both artists (including some new shit from Mo’ Mega), this also managed to be the first hip hop show I’ve seen in a while where the sound was up to supporting the artists and the lyrics were crisp and audible. Aes was in tight form, from the moment he grabbed the mic and shadow-boxed his way through his intricate rhythmic delivery to the moment he helped a short airplane passenger lift a bag into the overhead compartment the next day when we were on the same plane to San Francisco. Lif was the perfect addition, rocking both as star and hype-man, clicking his heels between front-and-center charisma and last-minute-addition-to-the-bill like a riot act, calling out the crowd for sucky cheering and, hands clenched, enthusing them to not suckily cheer. The two threw songs back and forth like live grenades, and when Aes ended with “Daylight” I didn’t even have a chance to go “oh” — maybe I just haven’t listened to the album in a while, but he worked that song out like it was his newly-penned manifesto. When it ended, I thought, “sweet,” and then “sweeter!” Mission of fucking Burma. Mission of fucking Burma.

Dom: Mission of Burma was fucking hungry, and rightly so. Really, it was a brilliant move on the ‘Fork’s part to get them, not that there should be anything but utter glee behind the elder and substantially more revered presence of Burma or, as became clear later, Os Mutantes. For a mag that prides itself on definitive markings of cultural relevance and canon, the visceral impact of said markings are sometimes lost in hyperbole. Plus, Pitchfork’s fans/readers/target demographic had, for the most part, not been born before the cultural immediacy and excitement of these bands already waned into Top-Whatever List staples. So, we’re doubly removed, chronologically and didactically, from our trailblazing forebears. That’s a blanket statement, I know, but it works: because Mission of Burma ripped the lineup to pulpy shreds, Pitchfork was simultaneously validated and denounced.

Mark: The sound was starting to fluctuate and hallucinate with its own damn self, for reasons unclear. Regardless, MoB gave us exactly what we needed, tearing through a set deliberately spread out among their catalogue and gaining as many cheers for “2wice” as they did for “Einstein” and “Revolver.” Their were guitar problems, but with twenty-some odd years of experience, the band deviated from the set list without a hitch, and, most importantly, if the idea of fluctuating between punk, art, and noise rock makes their albums so essential, the ability to do just that on stage while simultaneously producing some of the most engaging pop-based songs was just.look, their set fucking wrecked me, in the best possible ways.

Dom: I was hitting myself, again, but this time I wasn’t trying to beat anything out, just trying to divert the skull-boring riffs from my head to the empty spaces around me. I think Mark caught one, because he went into convulsions. I felt bad, but no time for sympathy! The result of this metaphysical dodging was “Spider,” which ruled. And then the tambourine dude from Man Man asked Mark for his lighter. We totally swooned.

Conrad: A couple of months back I dropped an 85 on Glenn Kotche’s Mobile, still the highest listed score on a generally tepid Metacritic barometer. In the present, nothing was going to get in the fucking way of my seeing every moment of brilliant, virtuosic drumming. I’m not one to press myself to the front of a breadline, let alone a music stage to see the spit in someone’s beard, so I let this momentary lapse into fanboy simply happen. Girlfriend safely deposited in front of Devendra Banhart’s Wicca-folk, I arrived at the Biz3 stage a good forty minutes early and arrived at what would turn out to be, for me, the festival’s best set. German electronic artists Ada had turned the comparably small area beneath the tent into the most ebullient display of genuine music appreciation to be seen all weekend. I had planned on squeezing my way to the front at the end of her set, and instead found myself pulled into a dance circle of strangers (one of which would continue to insist was “from California!”). I still await the arrival of her Areal Records debut, Blondie, at one of the four indie stores who said they’d have no problem getting it and I have yet to hear from.

Glenn Kotche spent the first fifteen minutes of his set sitting behind a ridiculously intricate fetish property of a drum kick, squinting at a sound guy who looked like he was in hell trying to figure out how to mic shards of metal and springs. When he began to play, I can only imagine what most of the crowd heard — to see what Kotche does is clearly the only way to understand the noises the man can produce and appreciate their musical nature. In my review I called him a master drummer, and this is because he very rarely plays what can be popularly categorized as a “drum solo.” Kotche pulled springs through his snare, smashed cyclical cymbals he invented and sampled thumb piano for accompaniment in ways simply beyond the average musician, edging closer and closer to Steve Reich’s territory. By the time he lifted a blanket from the table behind him to reveal a couple dozen small, wooden boxes that chirped when opened, poised a mic over them, and played in rhythm with the chirps I, and everyone else who could see what was going on, were definitely not thinking of “Via Chicago” or “She’s a Jar.” He explained between each song the concepts at work. He played “Monkey Chant” in all of its difficult entirety. And when he was done, and I turned and saw the Biz3 tent near-empty, I was still certain I had seen what I traveled to Chicago to see.

Mark: Dom and I were slouching at the Fuze tented, recooperating after that transcendental set, and hiding from Devendra Banhart, because who schedules Devendra Banhart after Mission of fucking Burma? We had seen Conrad earlier in the day; Dom noted Conrad’s partner walking by alone and then said: “y’know what I miss? Peter!” This could be my opportunity! “Call him!” I said to Dom.

Dom: [Into phone.] “Hey, Peter, whatcha doing?”

Peter: [Into phone.] “Watching Devendra Banhart. What’re you doing?”

Dom: [Into phone.] “Waiting in line for an ATM.”

Peter: [Into phone.] “That sounds less boring than Devendra Banhart. I’ll be there momentarily.”

Mark: Except, we just saw Conrad’s partner without Conrad, and now here’s Peter? Coincidence? I think not! Peter was all, “did you find Conrad? I’d love to meet him and give him his shirt.” I was all “sure, Peter.” I’m such a Nancy Drew!

Peter: I’m sad that I never met Conrad.

Conrad: I’m sad that I never met Peter.

Edgar: My fucking “colleagues” have forgotten I exist.

Dom: Next in line for magic money, our trio was accosted by a shifty-eyed maiden.

Mark: “Maiden?” Is that really the sort of word you want hanging around your lexicon?

Dom: I think her southern drawl made me drunk with chivalry! It was intoxicating. She said, “could I maybe get in line before you guys and get enough money to buy a piece of jewelry that someone’s holding for me in the tent there because I can’t wait in line and I need to buy the jewelry before my friend’s set because the jewelry won’t be held for too long and I’m the booking agent so it’s very important?”

Peter: Who’s your friend?

Shift-Eye: Spoon. I work for Spoon. I mean, Britt just gave me the gig because I’m a friend. I don’t know Brian Eno as well.

Mark: You know Brian Eno?!

Shift-Eye: [Ignoring Mark.] I can get you guys all the free beer you want from the VIP section. C’mon!

Dom, Mark, and Peter: .k.

Dom: She got her money, we agreed to wait by the VIP entrance, and she skedaddled. As patient as we were, she never showed. She’d absconded with a little smidgen of our dignity.

Mark: We’ve been had.

Dom: I think she was drunk.

Peter: Or Texan.

Mark: Broken promises about beer make Maritimers cry. And so does Yo La Tengo, apparently. I’d decided I’d watch Yo La Tengo, even though I really wanted to catch Dominik Eulberg’s set at the Tent. Of course, there were no staggered start times here, so on the assumption that YLT would be awesome it seemed silly to march over to watch Eulberg spin for like twenty minutes.

Except.YLT wasn’t awesome, really. The stage was still plagued with sound problems, but more importantly YLT festooned their set with numbers from their new album, which mostly sounded like numbers from Summer Sun, which kind of Summer Sucked, and the evil sun was still blazing on top of it, and I basically ended up sitting on the ground for the whole set, listening to fey pop tunes when I wanted to hear fifteen minute noise work-outs and the entirely of Painless. And I wasn’t drunk on free beer. And I had to watch Spoon next, which ew.

Conrad: The best part of any music deluge is a moment such as when you get to say, “I’ve never seen Spoon, and they’re one of my favorite bands.” The worst part comes two thirds of the way through their set, when you yield to your now-sitting friends and go wait in line for food somewhere else.

Mark: Here’s the problem with Spoon, which isn’t their problem, but is just a problem: they’re pretty big now, and people know them, and so suddenly a million people are there to watch to Spoon at a non-Spoon event, and suddenly you’re jostled by those kinds of people who will step immediately in front of you if there’s room because their only goal is to get closer to the stage. And, I mean, I love the festival, and I love the populism, and I love celebrating music in crowds, but if you are drunk and wearing a backpack and sloshing beer everywhere and elbowing people to get through and basically trying to squeeze into spaces where there is really no room underfuckingstand that maybe you shouldn’t move forward. I’m tall and wide and have long ago abandoned any hopes of standing close to a stage, because I end up standing in front of too many people and blocking their sight and smacking shoulders with elbows if I try to dance. Which makes me sad, but which I do out of common sense. I’m not saying this to narc on your good time; I’m saying it because you’re ruining everybody else’s: if there isn’t room, don’t try to make it. A concert crowd isn’t reverse Jenga.

Plus I think Gimme Fiction is gross.

Conrad: Spoon played every song I wanted to hear, minus the overplayed “How We Get By” but including my all-time favorite “Paper Tiger” (from 2002’s Kill the Moonlight) and all of Gimme Fiction‘s many highlights. What sounded like new songs also propped up their half-formed faces here and there to the tentative applause of non-recognition, but the wind that had picked up began to toss Spoon’s sound away from me or turn it into a swishy mass. Foreshadowing the coming sound issues of Os Mutantes, Spoon arrived on stage to an adoring reception and left it with a whimper, most of the crowd already stepping backwards away from the stage to sneak a pee break before the festival headliners emerged.

Dom: I’ve had my share of time spent with live Spoon, besmirched or killed enough of Edgar’s beloveds to make up for what he wrote about me in lieu of actual Spoon concert coverage, and hence, saw five songs that Sunday evening, including “Jonathon Fisk,” all clipped and furiously lovely, despite the presence of the shirtless, sticky Neanderthal previously behind me that decided to take one big boy step around my body so that I could literally lick the peeling tan off his shoulders. If I so dared. Instead, Mark and I went to grab a good spot for Os Mutantes. Peter refused to follow, striking purist’s gleam in his eye, so we reluctantly departed, taking one last look back at his obdurate silhouette before Spoon fans swallowed him again. That was the last time we saw him. Peter Hepburn: CMG ascetic.

Mark: “Peter Hepburn,” you mean.

Edgar: Spoon = best. Set. Ever.

Dom: With something like an hour before the almighty headliner Mark and I sat silently in front of the sound booth at the Aluminum Stage. We conversed little, talked about CMG’s future nervously; I plucked at the brittle grass and obsessively moved a hat — with the words “BRASIL” conspicuously stitched to the front — from my head to my pocket and back again. I felt addled and complete: if we’d begun our journey with matching color schemes, Mark and I would round full circle with identical, sullen fronts of exhaustion. Together, the Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger of online music/social criticism. Or maybe Mark was just getting tired of me. Overwrought cuteness only goes so far, even for doe-eyed Italians.

Mark: Maybe I was getting tired of Dom trying to compare our sizes to Twins.

Who am I kidding? I love Twins.

Peter: In retrospect, sticking around for Spoon was a mistake. The new songs they played were identical to everything off Gimme Fiction, so much so that my friends claimed to be able to sing the lyrics — which they had never heard before — in time with Britt.

Nonetheless, due to some technical issues with the aging Brazilians, I was able to secure a good spot for Os Mutantes. Their first few songs didn’t inspire much glee, and I was about to wander off aimlessly (one of my favorite activities), when the guy next to me turns, hands me his VIP pass, and walks away. Finding myself in possession of a pass to free beer, I attempt to suppress a shit-eating grin and scamper off to the land of milk and honey that exists behind festival stages. I end up standing next to Jens Lekman as the band starts to really turn it on, running through their most recognizable material, most of it off their first record. Devendra clearly loves being here, and eventually goes careening onto stage to join the band for a couple songs.

Dom: That was “Bat Macumba,” the one Devendra drooled all over. For my part, I was ecstatic. The doubt faded and the crowd, for the first time that festival, en masse began to dance. I was surrounded, cocooned right smack dab in the middle, by a heaving, pop-locking ululation of typically, infamously dour concert-goers. Even with ghosts clinging to our belts and Hype drawing skulls in our eyes, the set was a beautiful thing to witness.

Edgar: I was at home in bed by this point.

Mark: So what if the sound problems were still somewhat evident? So what if Rita Lee was absent? So what if the arrangements and ludicrously skilled backing players at times made the general sound of Os Mutantes reminiscent of an over-produced Eagles reunion? The simple fact of the matter is that the band, so long ago the vicious polemic youth of Brazilian pop activism, are now the cuddly grandfathers of sternly worded but ultimately friendly and embraceful social radicalism, and the politics and music resonated that fair July evening with every ounce of exasperated and celebratory joy and anger as they might have, roping drunk Spoon fans and straggling electronicists from the Diplo set and rockers and folkies and the Chicago Brazilian Society and everyfuckingbody in that baseball diamond into a dance-fueled celebration of life and music and community, and did it while being endlessly humble and surprised and essentially debuting their craft for this audience and just being happy that they were making people happy. And dude got to play guitar solos, and people cheered, and Indierockapalooza became, for one awesome hour, a samba that took on a life of its own. Os fucking Mutantes made us all mutants, and our shaky and deformed limbs responded with constant movement, up, down, and into the stratosphere.

Conrad: I saw Jeff Tweedy standing around, talking to people during Os Mutantes’ set. I yelled “Jeff!” and he looked at me and nodded without a smile. He was gathering kids like sticky paper does flies, looking like a dried up Jesus, and I silently said goodnight to Chicago and waited for my ride.

Day +1

Mark: I had a plane to catch, a coast to visit, a two-city exodus waiting just around the corner. I would be back to reality, writing, researching, and meeting Boogz once I got to LA after two weeks in San Francisco. I had to leave hot Chicago. Good visit, though. Good times.

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