Features | Festivals

I Made "Woo" Noises: My Third Year at the Pitchfork Music Festival

By Kaylen Hann | 29 July 2010

In one of the most miserable months, climate-wise (biblical deluges and their resulting mud baths, sweltering heat, etc.), in a park way the fuck away from the at-least-mildly-assuaging winds off Lake Michigan: this is the time and place Pitchfork saw and claimed as its very own. “Say, dudes, let’s have a festival here,” Pitchfork said. And we were all like, “Yeah dude, if you can get Broken Social Scene or Animal Collective almost every year—let’s do it.” And so it came to pass.

Every year in the two years since I moved to Chicago I’ve been in it for the three-day pass; and, unfortunately, for the last two years Pitchfork festivals have seen me drunkenly grumbling about bands I’d otherwise be a-okay with and hiding in a dark apartment under a two-inch-thick salve of Lidocaine-infused aloe as early as the first day. It goes like this: I get drunk, disappointed, and sunburned as all get-out. Then I go home and either swallow or sell the Sunday ticket while swearing up and down I’ll never go back.

My first year, I’d just moved to Chicago a few weeks prior and had no one to go to the fest with. So: I got drunk, passed out in the B stage shade after failed attempts at tweeting, e-mailing, signing up to vote (successfully), and as a result got horrifically sunburned. (And as a much later result, voted for Nader.) There was a point the next day, skin already blistering, standing ankle-deep in muddy water, listening to Dizzee Rascal diss Fleet Foxes and almost kind of agreeing, when I realized it just wasn’t worth it.

My second year, I was under the impression I’d gotten Will Call. This was not the case. Don’t let the disclaimer in the e-mail fool you: they will let you in without your tickets, but this is only after you cry a few crocodile tears, tell them you just moved from Canada, show an inordinate amount of ID (passport, social security card…) and let the woman behind the ticket booth squint at you and judge you right down to your soul, like the oracle in The Neverending Story. By the time I was soul-approved, the bands I’d wanted to see had played and left, and my friends I was going with were fighting so much it felt like hanging out with divorcing parents. I drank a beer, went home, and never came back. I also managed, in this ever-so-brief window, to get sunburned.

In the wake of these two former, riotously bad Pitchfork experiences, I’ve still shouldered the brunt weight of responsibility for not having a better time at the festival. I thought: “You know what? It’s totally just me and my nearly-decade-long beef with Pitchfork that I’ve been lugging around”; a combination of my grudges, my bad attitude, and my lax sunblock re-application.

I tell you, gentle reader, back in January I decided this was the year. This year I laid down the fliff for the three-day pass, packed up the SPF80, and tried my damnedest to go all three days, to lay to rest the ill regard and just…enjoy the ever-loving shit out of Pitchfork.

I made “woo” noises.

***

FRIDAY

Tallest Man on Earth

As the red line was clogged with fucking Cubs fans, my elected concert friend and I spent the better part of an hour in a sickeningly vanilla-saturated cab, to no benefit. We completely missed what I’ve heard tell was probably the best show of the day.

Robyn

OK, I’m not going to lie to you: she don’t know shit about robots, you guys. I will admit to a certain catchiness about the hook area, but I have wanted to dick-slap Robyn with a man-piece the size of the Brooklyn bridge since I heard “Fembots.” Hook: thumbs up. Robot knowledge? Not so much. Fembots are pretty notoriously “NSA” sex/murder puppets. That is what makes them so awesome. Androids are baffled by the concept of love, and their drive for input maybe amounts to something resembling a “need for love,” but it’s really just a burning desire to understand and compute something that strikes them as irrational. Cylons are jealous of love, and maybe in instances of Cylons 2 and after, they have a need for love. Debatable! Fembots, though? No way, dude. Robyn needs to go back to robot school.

I feel, therefore, in my robot-loving heart of hearts: Robyn has no right to use robot noises or dance like an emotionally-charged Flashdance-y Decepticon. I also don’t know what that beret she suddenly grabbed and put on her head in the last leg of the performance had to do with anything… Was it a beret song? French? Not as far as I could tell. In which case, she don’t know shit about robots or berets…

Besides simply not digging her base dancefloor flav, anything she does is terminally tarnished by my hatred of her robot heresy. And there was no avoiding her set if you wanted to camp out by the other main stage—the only reason I wound up watching her set at all in the first place. Despite the nice spot we nabbed to watch Broken Social Scene from, it wound up just riling the sleeping Kraken that was my initial, wild discontent for her misappropriations, thus exacerbating the formation of an already dark cloud of crankiness hovering right above the BSS performance.

Broken Social Scene

Now the first time I saw Broken Social Scene, it was sans Leslie Feist. But this waitress I kinda knew from the Drum & Monkey back in Calgary was doing a hell of a good job filling in. Notably the best non-Feist-y rendition of “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.” That was the first and last time I saw them play indoors. Every time I’ve seen them since, it’s been at an outdoor festival (Lollapalooza, Calgary Folk Fest, etc.) and they pretty much sounded like ass. Every single time. This was no different.

My friend and I secured a nice, comfortable, seated place in semi-shade with minimal cigarettes crammed into the hot, unyielding park grounds beneath us. Quite a find. Quickly this place filled up with people. And everyone who was sitting around us stood up. Still disgruntled by the disappointing turn of the day so far, we were reluctant to stand. And so we were sitting in a hot forest of shaking, sweaty hipster knees when they kicked off. Besides the usual crowd-pleasers, a smattering of tracks from better albums, they dropped in what I consider the new, real clunkers like “Texaco Bitches.” If you didn’t know the new album going in, you sure walked away knowing they have a new song called “Texaco Bitches.” Kevin Drew very excitedly introduced it by name, and you know—every fifth lyric is “Texaco Bitches,” which spoils for me their oftentimes improvised renditions of their own songs. Besides driving home a sudden intolerance for the initially pleasing pairing of “Texaco Bitches,” it only tipped our crippled spirits over into irretrievable grumpiness. As happened the year previous, we waited another song, got over-priced sammiches, and agreed we just wanted to get the hell home.

Essentially, there are two kinds of concerts: 1) the concert where you and the bulk of the audience are so geeked for the sounds the band is making and how they’re making them, the music is all you’re in it for; and 2) this “concert” is really just a party you want to go to that happens to have good music playing in the background.

Friday fell into the latter category: a party where, unfortunately, the hosts have some OK music but real shitty speakers and real, real shitty taste in friends. It’s the kind of party that makes me want to just steal one of the host’s books and a bottle of whiskey, get drunk, and hide out reading in their bathtub till the rest of my friends are ready to go. Of course there were no books, only $5 cups of hot Heineken, and in these few, short, sweaty-ass hours, my hopes plummeted from “enjoy the shit out of Pitchfork” to a measly “just don’t get sunburned.”

SATURDAY

Titus Andronicus

I only saw these guys from a distance, but unlike Broken Social Scene this is exactly the kind of band and music I want to listen to outside. Right after having pancakes.

Wolf Parade

I’ve seen Handsome Furs once and Sunset Rubdown somewhere around eight times. Needless to say, I was looking forward to watching Krug and Boeckner try to out-sweat each other on the same stage for the first time. The bulk of Saturday morning was dedicated to staking out a good spot at the A stage for this.

Despite leftover sound/tech problems from the Raekwon set, everything sounded pretty damn good. And managing a spot that was two or so people from the front made a world of difference. It was fucking magical. Once they started playing, Wolf Parade pleased every god, from the god of the highly coveted Pitchfork fest evening breeze, to whatever god keeps Boeckner’s bulging neck-vein from busting open on stage. Immediately the temperature started dropping, the breezes started drifting in, and occasionally, while in the blissed-out throes of a song, a person would squeeze by me, their t-shirt kindly wiping away my accumulated sweat. (See also: sweat that begins to layer up when dudes who don’t wear shirts squeeze by you in a wiping motion that feels like going sideways down the nastiest slip n’ slide in the galaxy…in slow motion.)

I went in half-worried it’d be a show entirely dedicated to tracks from their new album, which, except for “Ghost Pressure” and fleeting fancies, I haven’t felt all that devoted to. But they churned out a well-rounded, Apologies to the Queen Maryheavy set touching on pretty much every song that I’d feel inclined to shout out for-if it came down to that. From “I’ll Believe in Anything” (which I’ve only seen Krug do as an emotionally crawling solo) to “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way),” it easily, miraculously salvaged my whole Pitchfork spirit. If it hadn’t been such a great experience, I would have given up the ghost and sold my Sunday ticket on the spot.

In the words of ICP: “Magic everywhere in this bitch.”

SUNDAY

St. Vincent

So…did you know she can play guitar? Annie Clark can play the guitar. Like, really really well. That was the only thing surprising about her performance, but that’s a pretty hefty surprise.

Sleigh Bells

I put real prep time into this one. Not for me, but for the dude I was with, who has a real, raging heart-on for Sleigh Bells. We showed up at the tail end of a less thrilling Here We Go Magic, shouldered our way forward through a long set of video-game-pop from Neon Indian, and stayed through what seemed to be a real quirky and long tuning/set-up session. After this lead-up, and a curious metal intro song blasted over the crowd as they finished handing out water, Miller showed up with none other than: a bitchin’ Jackson. Classic ’80s heavy metal guitar. It’s clear he’d come to shred. And Alexis very quickly went mental, climbing over speakers, making airplane arms as she zoomed around the stage, and—I give the girl props for doing so—diving into the audience, being the first Pitchfork Festival band member I’ve seen to brave the sea of spindly, hipster, useless T-Rex arms and crowd surf.

Instant mayhem. It was like all these scrawny people with over-pondered bangs and measly upper body strength had been waiting for a band with enough indie cred to give them the excuse to mosh—and mosh hard. Gentle readers, as a true testament to my dedication to adopting a righteous festival attitude: I moshed my introspective, curmudgeonly brains out. Or, well, I moshed off and on with intermittent futility and fervor. When I wasn’t holding my bag for dear life and making big worried-eyes. Like their album, their show was just a big, fun, really loud tribute to busted-speaker, fuzz-slathered indie pop with what becomes a more and more legit heavy metal spin.

...and yeah, of course you could hear the implied “for making us successful!” in Krauss’s exiting “THANK YOU PITCHFORK!”

Pavement

A little black and blue from the Sleigh Bells set, which went overtime just long enough it ensured there was no decent listening-range for the headliner-to-end-all-headliners, we stood from afar holding on to the complacent buzz of our brief-but-satiating metal interludes and the plastic husks of our drained Heinekens. Pavement sounded far-off, and occasionally sported a downright Young Jeezy rasp, but—that was kind of alright. I didn’t even mind I could feel the warm “rosy fingertips of dawn” early indications of a sunburn.

Sunday was a day of sacrifices: only making it for one song of Surfer Blood in exchange for getting up-close to St. Vincent; hanging around through a solid-but-ungripping Neon Indian for prime moshing position in Sleigh Bells; losing the edge of my Pavement verve after sweating out the day in one final effort to shove my Pitchfork experience into “kick-ass.”

***

After much introspection, I’ve finally admitted that Pitchfork makes it almost impossible to enjoy their own festival: the place, the time, the inability to leave without sacrificing the rest of the day’s lineup, the grating inability to tweet or even (legally) maintain a pleasant buzz, these I’m sure I am not the only person lamenting. What Pitchfork does do for us is the great courtesy of turning their head from all our indiscretions and vices. Leaving the ransacked scene of Sleigh Bells, I stumbled on at least three gargantuan Smirnoff bottles, totally drained. Gin bottles, whiskey bottles. Every stage, during every band: great plumes of smoke rose to represent every pot variety on the planet. And judging by the few hair-touchers I bumped into, there was more than a few kids cramming handfuls of ecstasy. At best, the bag-checkers half-attentively fumbled around in purses or gave them a semi-interested squeeze. No pat-downs, no unzipping tiny, suspicious pockets, no scowling officers walking around looking to nab some red-eyed kid in the act. Even those kids who showed up in bright tie-dye shirts, reeking of hash? Go right on in, dudes.

It’s almost like they understand how much they make it suck, and offer you a small window of opportunity to save yourself. Much like the gesture of Pitchfork’s new “underground indie” blog. I mean: thanks for the festival, you guys! I enjoyed the shit out of it this year.