Features | Festivals

Pitchfork Music Festival 2009

By Clayton Purdom, Colin McGowan, & Dom Sinacola | 17 August 2009

CHAPTER 1: That’s Dom.
by Clayton Purdom

That Thax’s death is announced to outraged shocks before note one is played is proof of my early suppositions: this will be another rainy fucking weekend in Chicago, lonely and dissolute, tiny tragedies occurring in the sighs and cold eyes of strangers—only, this time with more indie rock. I saw Thax three times in the past week, at Sunset Rubdown, Red Red Meat, and Micachu & the Shapes, and had been feeling through my sudden proximity to him a sort of ownership over the city, a connectedness to its deeply idiosyncratic Midwestern heart. Now, the grey sky caws, the city is flowering with death. I envision axes upheld by floss awaiting a shudder of wind to swing merrily to work. I imagine the crowd stumbling through invisible tripwires and watching the heads and limbs of their friends lopped off by these giddy, grinning blades. My bike has a tire that only can be described as “flat-ish”; it is a pain in the ass to get to Union Park. It is Friday night and everything sucks.

Rain sprinkles dumbly. Tortoise’s dazzlingly muddy sound seems aimed to prepare us for a literally muddy weekend. Later, Yo La Tengo seems equivalently hamstrung by their predetermined setlist, cycling through “Autumn Sweater” and like hitting their guitars and stuff—but they were gonna do that anyway, right? I scribble something maudlin in my notebook about the illusion of choice. I scribble something else about how maudlin my despair feels. Something physical and violent rattles my body open during the Jesus Lizard set—and by something I mean someone, and by someone I mean a bowling ball of a man with soulless eyes plowing throughout the crowd—and if nothing else I give into the tequila my friend hands me, give into David Yow’s backflesh which smirks like the grinning face of Satan. Time begins to move quicker and, maybe during Doug Martsch’s surprisingly effective noodling, maybe within the swooning whiskeyish careen of Fucked Up’s aftershow at Subterranean, I see him: passing swiftly between other Chicagoans, a small bearded phantom in cardigan, the city’s errant son, Cokemachineglow editor and onetime Chicagoan Dom Sinacola. But this was to be the first Pitchfork Festival without him! I whisper, “That’s Dom,” but by the sentence’s second syllable the phantom is smelted back into the city’s burping sewers and fog of cars, gone. Colin is dubious.

CHAPTER 2: That’s not Dom.
by Colin McGowan

I enter stage right on Saturday, my stomach full of falafel and eyes fuller still of my aesthetic peers, clad in the similar garb, plaid button-downs and facial hair I can’t muster giddily taunting any claims I might have to individuality. My hands search for the flask I didn’t bring, and the sky grays, not violently, but with enough menace to intimate this sparse plot will house me and my surrogate family, uneasily, until exhaustion overcomes or Clay stops snatching waters from the press tent. I’ve grown enervated at three in the afternoon, lazily inhaling skin and sundresses, waiting to get high. Temporary tinnitus from Fucked Up’s scorched earth show rings like background radiation from the Big Bang, I sigh and try to enjoy the bland slab of indie rock served to us like an Egg McMuffin on fine china.

Throughout the day, bands cycle before me in 40-minute stints, and I address them with the same tepid enthusiasm with which I might address a child’s tittering over a state fair. This is someone’s favorite band, I’m sure. Someone’s having a great weekend. Pass me that whiskey, Clay’s Friend. The scruffy loner Clay animatedly indicates in the midst of Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s sludgy melancholia can’t be Dom. I don’t follow his finger. Our diminutive friend, who forsook malfunctioning public transport and nine dollar cigarettes for friendship and the Pacific Northwest, who advised me to leave my Great Lake for another, isn’t here. Rain falls and I acknowledge the triviality of my plight—Mother Nature is playing me a violin.

As Kip Berman dedicates the next three minutes of mawkish fuzz to “um, everybody,” my eyes leave middle distance, and I smirk, smug condescension the only emotion that can snap me out of my unfocused discontent. I also realize Clay’s been silent since I shrugged off his Not Dom sighting. His glare smolders behind his sunglasses. No good can come of this.

CHAPTER 3: That’s definitely Dom.
by Clayton Purdom

I feel a rift growing between Colin and I. This kid—kid, I insist, born in 1990!—doesn’t know what’s good. As we wander about in shambolic posse formation, the giggling ambassadors of our site, various hangers-on and well-wishers flutter before our sight, and I make the conscious decision to dehumanize Colin. He is taller than me, sure; a better writer than I was at 19, probably; but he is also 19, and therefore inherently full of shit. I got no time for a tall pile of shit, Cavs fan or no. Most pressingly for my needs this Saturday morning, in no manner is having Colin around going to help me score a date with the bassist from the Vivian Girls this weekend, that ginger comely biscuit who smiled at me knowingly while I left Subterranean the night previous, and so Colin is become my weed carrier and nothing more. “At least I’m the Juelz Santana to your Cam’ron,” he offers, but honestly he’s more the U-God to my Raekwon: He doesn’t even get on my solo shit. Big posse cuts if that.

I take a long look at the Saturday lineup and realize, more at the fault of my mirthlessness than Pitchfork’s curation, that the only act I give a fuck about is DOOM, and even thereupon not overly (he’s notoriously spotty live). The sky greys again, of course, while we wait for DOOM, and this time, of course, it opens up: we get wet. Onstage eventually appears to actually be DOOM, gilly suit-ed and gully and with no patience for banter. I enjoy myself; I’m trying to bounce but Colin’s eyeing the spliff half-hanging in my mouth jealously. I give him a hit (weed carrier’s always in the rotation, after all) but can’t help but think how much we need Dom here. Dom, social glue, bearded goodly gnome in a Menomena shirt. Dom would have better weed. Colin could crash on Dom’s couch and I wouldn’t have to worry about him getting dandruff on mine. The clouds part: the sun hits the fresh rain and like a rainbow, stoned, watching DOOM, I see a plaid shirt five feet in front of me. It’s too tight; this kid is too short; here before Metal Face Doom goes Beard Face Dom to remove the burden of Colin from my weekend and I see my problems swept away like so much ginger bangs from the warm eyes of the Vivian Girls’ bassist, agreeing, conceding, welcoming. It’s no longer raining and that’s definitely fucking Dom right there, shut up Colin.

CHAPTER 4: That’s not Dom, I talked to him.
by Colin McGowan

The fair skin of my neck blisters, not from sunburn, but Clay’s ire. I see the kid. I see the whiskers and the attire. I glance at Clay wearily and shuffle forward, rapping along with “The Fine Print” as I go, because I’m having a pretty good time, too. My arm extends to brush this innocent bystander’s wet shoulder.

“Dom?”

He turns and gazes at me for a moment, analyzing my gawky features, eyes sharp and bereft of sympathy. I’m surely some stoned idiot.

“The fuck are you?”

I part my lips once and wordlessly recede back to Clay’s side, trouble him for his now-dwindling spliff, and go back to hailing King Geedorah because, again, I’m having a pretty good time, too. I notice Clay has stopped looking at the stage—which I suppose isn’t necessary to enjoy the show; DOOM’s not performing so much as reciting—his callous eyes softening for a moment in genuine longing before congealing like obsidian, glassy blackness pointed at my callow visage. He knows what I know, masking his delusion in misplaced anger. I wish it was Dom too, dude.

Gin heavy on my breath, ears screaming, feeling lonely in the same gill-packed bar in which I exalted Damian Abraham with open arms and clenched fists the previous night, the crowd is half-feeling Torche, and Steve Brooks is using it as an excuse to manifest his prickish tendencies, affirming my initial hypothesis of “fuck Torche.” I’m too spent, too buzzed to bother with the headliners I walked out on the National to see. I cut a seam in the crowd and slip away from Harvey Milk’s plodding doom, some drum-busting sonic manifestation of Clay’s antagonism. I’ve heard too much today, but I’d like to hear more in the future. Tripping down Damen Avenue, feeling vaguely in love with the space and city around me, my mind drifts, occasionally jerking forward to match my stride, and I cogitate, contrasting my former home with the one extended to me at eighteen like a gracious hand to a bratty child. Oswego is a bore, and it yawns, from my tree-gated suburb to a redneck bastion of a racetrack, the best and worst ends of purgatory, occasionally flipping like magnetic poles. My first concert featured a sleepwalking Ghostface in the company of fifty others, now I pronounce “indie rock show” with an exasperated sneer and walk out on good metal sets into streets filled with cheerful bustle and strangers helpful enough to bum me a cigarette.

I look up, realizing I’ve walked three blocks too far, and across the street, I see a striped sweater slip into a bar. My heart palpitates, then sinks. I walk thoughtlessly back to Clay’s apartment, where his startled neighbor lets me in, uncertain as to whether I trudge upstairs for the purpose of chatting up Clay’s roommate or ransacking the place.

CHAPTER 5: That man is a liar because he is obviously Dom.
by Clayton Purdom

Apoplectic, I walk home from Harvey Milk’s hellish aftershow—where the fuck is Colin? Our relationship has devolved into secrets and lies, half-hate and sneaky escapes. I find him late that night sprawled about my couch, idly ashing on my windowsill. Vindictive prick. I glower before retiring wordlessly to bed. On Sunday I don’t even trust him to hold my weed, his one god-given skill (having pockets). Though it maintains a spot in my heart as the only festival that maintains a sense of intimacy between performer and attendee, Pitchfork feels overstuffed this year and so I remain for the day’s duration at the side stage for a steady stream of drum-heavy, uptempo stuff: the Michael Columbia, Dianogah, Killer Whales, Japandroids, and so on. Friends come and go and Colin takes no hint, stays at my side, I’m assuming waiting my next spliff. The day passes in calm teeter-totter, sitting and standing, waiting and nodding.

Immersed in this entirely pleasant afternoon I lose track of time and space. I see Dom a few times throughout the day, throwing on disguises to throw me off—here fat, there rakish, both Dom. Colin objects but I am not thrown off. I am lucid. My thoughts are magnificent wrought-steel castles, shrines to man’s capacity as a conduit for the yearnings of God, and they are crystallizing in the sun like sugarcane. So lost am I in the byzantine conjecture of these moments I barely notice the Vivian Girls, although I am positive in hindsight that the bassist noticed me this time as I was aglow. I barely see anything. I see before me a field of Doms and a 19-year-old shitforbrains too fucking dumb to recognize their lies, mewling from the catacombs of my sugarcane castle so loudly I hear him even high atop my tower where I overlook my fiefDom. I swoon, in these moments, to Grizzly Bear—I have swooned to Grizzly Bear many times this year, and I swoon anew in amber sunset. These musicians are impossibly talented, arrayed on the stage at equal intervals, voicing their gorgeous songs with a staggering assuredness and musicality. For a moment, I cannot hear the clanging in the catacombs. Then, abruptly, I do.

CHAPTER 6: Dom wouldn’t lie.
by Colin McGowan

My exhale, for the first time this weekend, feels natural, unencumbered by the weight of mirth I’m not experiencing. I am consistent with my peers and their level of contentment, glowing slightly, capitulating to Grizzly Bear’s flutes and chimes and shit. Perhaps I’ve grown in some immeasurable fashion on this plaid-pocked plot.

Or perhaps the fuck not. At first only apparent in my peripherals, but now bleeding into my irises like headlights, are inlets of Flaming Lips fans, which, when traced in the direction of flow, form a veritable swamp of Flaming Lips fans, pruning in their own hand-wrung sweat and salivation in anticipation of what will undoubtedly be boring and stupid. Clay seems dazzled, morphine posture and slacked jaw, glassy eyes scanning the crowd, each person upon which his gaze fixates less Dom-ly than the next. I’m miffed he’s enjoying Grizzly Bear so much, sure, but moreso because he’s supposed to be my wingman on shit like this. These people require more hate than just one detractor can assemble. I physically shake him from his stupor to signal the sewage leaking towards the preposterously-outfitted main stage and watch, not without some pleasure, as his reverie promptly deflates and his Dom dreams hit the ground with the resolute unceremony of a deflated latex balloon. He takes out his sadness on several Lips patrons, and I take selfish solace in the burden melted from my shoulders.

I ponder leaving. I have real people to see in this city, after all, and three days of wrestling with a suddenly complicated friendship and disintegrating sense of belonging is exhausting. As the crowd once huddled around Grizzly Bear transforms into a now-massive throng of shitheads, ready to be pacified by hamster balls and lazers or whatever, Clay chirps gleefully and scurries off towards B stage. I follow in hopes some of his resilient cheer might diffuse through my malaise, minutes later finding myself in the midst of a paltry crowd waiting for the impending Very Best set. I don’t know where the fuck Clay is now, but some fledgling clairvoyance compels me to stay.

CHAPTER 7: No, that’s definitely Dom.
by Clayton Purdom

There are dozens of us. This scattershot assemblage of receptors around the B stage, my B stage, sweet sidestage where B = both Best (Very) and verily Betz (not here), we B students await our just desserts. There have been sunburns, hangovers; friendships have been broken, and we are the leftovers not enticed by the spectacle we hear here bleating in costumes and crawling out of vaginas onstage at A. A is for asshole. B is for Best (Very): what emerges onstage to we B dozens buzzes in our souls. In other words, in a moment of clarity, I realize the Very Best are killing it. The very best show of the weekend, the very best show of the summer. This kid in front of me is trying to mean mug, unmoved; his resolve shatters in minutes, he moves. We’re all moving and the sun has set fully and in the blackness around me, lit by a simple medium light and while a small nation’s gross worth has been expended on confetti alone at the mainstage, a few dozen disaffected B students grows to a few thousand and we serve as our own spectacle, riotously. In this low light and hot night I see anachronistic sweaters: I see black beards, not pirates; I look and see myself a few inches closer to the ground, Domheights. I look to the space where Colin once was and see one more Dom in a long shifting crowd of Doms, girl Doms too, all girldom and boydom and onstage firing off sonic banners and sonic confetti without need for costume or affectation, the very, Very Best, laying waste to all my and Chicagodom’s grey skies with a sweet warm night and Chicago, Dom, takes its just desserts, B students we are, and cram onto busses full of Doms driven by Doms to our seperate but equal homes in Chicago, Oswego, Cleveland, Portland, and nowhere at all.

EPILOGUE: I’m Dom!
by Dom Sinacola

Hey. I exist, preternaturally bearded since 18, a transplant, from a rich suburb of Detroit I abandoned once the first pubertic hairs made their way through my face and filled in. When I shave I look like my dad; when I place a cardigan upon my edifice I recede further into the trappings of complete, inexorable everybody-ness. It’s not exactly flattering that, in lieu of attending the Pitchfork Music Festival 2009, my specter hung stupidly over the attending throngs: I really love that Grizzly Bear record, I really love what the Very Best are up to, I sincerely miss Colin and Clay, I really have a hardened distaste for the Flaming Lips despite me paying to see them at Edgefield in a week or so, I share a sex drive with every scruffy, repugnant paradigm of whatever I am; I am there, be it fat, drunk, an addict of Sparks, a user of “lol,” or plain horn-rimmed and myopic. But, here, I wear a cardigan because I despise ironing the shirt underneath and I’m afraid of not having a beard because I’m afraid of looking like my dad. If fear is what motivates lesser Doms, I am their sympathetic puppet master. And as acolytes, I expect devotion—then, once loyalty is expected, I expect to learn a thing or two about what it means to be me.

I’ve spent some time with Thax Douglas, an experience I elicit because I can pronounce, first-hand, just how dedicated an outsider Thax truly was. This was in the back of the Metro, as TV on the Radio went on following Subtle, and there was an empty couch with Thax filling a sufficient right third of it, dwarfed, strangely, by how empty backstage seemed to be. Fascinated by Thax more than the poems he wrote or the artistic legacy he supposedly carried, I talked to him because he was there, looking into space and daydreaming about nothing, but mostly because I could. For forty minutes. Granted, I had an in because I had been playing phone tag with him for weeks, attempting an interview about the documentary recently made on him, but this meant nothing: Thax will, in his lifetime, which still, mind you, persists, speak to many, many more twenty-something, vaguely attractive, hirsute, mutt-white males about what it means to read purposely befuddling word-pieces in front of steel-eyed rock audiences. There is nothing to talking to Thax; there is only now the vague relief that his death was a hoax and he’s still among the plodding platoon of those eating the earth.

But…”dedicated”? That doesn’t work. Thax was just effortlessly different, slouched when everyone else stood guts bulged and backs straight, is still different, a mumbler more eloquent than the best poets out of Loyola. Fucking Columbia. Thaxes don’t stand in the park at Pitchfork; a Thax Douglas is meant to be an unobtainable rumor of longevity amongst this bloating scene. People will know him in death and maybe plaid will come back, baggy and begging to hide the bodies of everyone that found freedom in skinny jeans at one point, long ago when Thax was still alive, when he was still something of a joke, an enigma, weird, a guy to talk to because we could. The rest of us, us –doms of Union Park and Wicker Park and other simmering playgrounds, lust and talk and grow hair identically. And then we pass on to other regions, and there we find others like us, others to entertain the vanity of being in a state of all this nomadic hype. Pitchfork-dom: the state of being Pitchfork.

But hey, I’m Dom! It feels good. I’m well. I’m the glue that binds us, a friendly face to follow, and kiss, and love on. I’m okay if you want to use me; I’m usable. I’ll laugh at Deerhunter, they weren’t there this year anyway. I live in the apartment above Danny Seim’s. He’s in Menomena! They were at Pitchfork last year. I have more anecdotes where those came from. And that’s what you came to hear, right? Bless you.