Real Estate’s breezy music, full of shimmering surfaces with chiming guitars and soft, breathy vocals, isn’t the sort of stuff that gets audience fists pumping in the air, but the New Jersey band’s pleasant set late Sunday afternoon offered a welcome interlude of relaxation. The light, airy songs drifted out across the park, and every once in a while, Real Estate picked up the tempo, sounding a bit like a venerable band from the same state, The Feelies. But mostly, the group put us in a mellow mood. (Robert Loerzel)
Dum Dum Girls’ delayed start due to technical difficulties thinned out the crowds at first in favor of Earl Sweatshirt, but when they finally took the stage, the band’s dreamy, melancholy garage-pop seduced a sizable crowd back to the Blue Stage.
Dee Dee Penny and the gang’s inspired multi-part harmonies sounded as sweet as they do recorded, and they nail their gothy-girl-group aesthetic down to a couple instances of synchronized swaying, but I was personally hoping for a little more emotion in the performance. They sounded fantastic but almost too perfect. The music is dripping with passion and pathos and I was hoping for a bit more of it conveyed on stage. (Keidra Chaney)
Some time ago Zachary Cole Smith must have fallen into a coma and woken up on the other side of the eighties with two decades worth of dreams to draw upon. There’s no other way to explain how DIIV sounds, except to mention The Cure’s early work, but even Robert Smith lacked the propulsive rhythm section that made a group of concertgoers mosh to dream-pop today. No doubt the highlight was a massive cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” which sounded nothing at all like the original, but was absolutely perfect as a result. Only Galaxie 500 had a finer method for paying tribute to their influences. Zachary Cole Smith’s between-song banter was dedicated to reminding everyone in the audience that they were watching DIIV, despite the gigantic banner waving behind them. It was as awkward as it was endearing, much like the vibe of the Pitchfork Music Festival in general. (Kenneth Preski)
Speedy Ortiz kicked off Sunday’s Blue Stage schedule with a burst of scrappy garage rock chords. As Sadie Dupuis sang the verses in an almost understated manner, the songs occasionally loped into off-kilter rhythms, bringing to mind the early music of Liz Phair. The three guys in this band kept the music charging forward, but the focus was all on Dupuis, whose voice rose to pleading peaks in the refrains of her songs. Whenever the time came for an instrumental break, she seemed to revel in stepping back from the mic and whipping her hand across her guitar strings. (Robert Loerzel)
Before Neutral Milk Hotel took the stage for the final concert of Saturday night at Pitchfork, an announcement came over the speakers: at the request of the artist, no taking of photographs and video would be allowed. And the video screens that normally show the performers on Pitchfork’s stages went dark. Jeff Mangum, the famously reclusive and mysterious leader of this band, was visible on the stage, but even at close quarters, he seemed to be in disguise, hiding his face with a hat and a bushy beard. Mangum managed to maintain his enigmatic aura even as he was standing in front of twenty-thousand people. In the first minutes of the show, hundreds of people rushed forward for spots closer to the stage, shouting the words of songs from “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” an album whose devoted admirers multiplied many times over in the fifteen years Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel went silent. People even moshed, not something you see every day at a folk-rock concert. Mangum has a strong, braying voice, which almost seems to command others to sing along. Unfortunately, the mix accented the harsh tones of his vocals and made his acoustic guitar sound like it was cranked up way past eleven. Coming and going from the stage, Mangum’s bandmates added all the horns, accordions and drums that made Neutral Milk Hotel’s records sound like surreal Salvation Army recitals. And when audience members lifted their voices in chorus with Mangum’s, Union Park became a giant hipster revival tent. (Robert Loerzel)
For anyone more familiar with St. Vincent’s earlier work, to see a platinum blonde Annie Clark strut on stage at Pitchfork was probably a bit of a shock, though we all should have seen her ascent into badassery coming.
While “Marry Me” and “Actor” were perfectly pleasant albums, her third release, “Strange Mercy,” was beautifully, surprisingly brutal, and her eponymous latest release is an art-funk rocker that most of us had no clue was in her, but should have.
Clark has clearly grown to embrace the rock goddess in her, and kept her Mona Lisa half-smirk on the whole time, from the synchronized robot dancing that accompanies the choppy funk licks of recent single “Digital Witness,” to a dark, face-melting reinvention of “Your Lips are Red” from her debut.
Clark’s evolution started two albums ago, but her newfound performance art theatricality (likely cribbed at least in part from her collaboration with David Byrne) is actually a perfect companion to the swagger that was always evident in her bold, fuzzed-out guitar style. Either way, she certainly made a lasting impression on the Pitchfork masses tonight. (Keidra Chaney)
tUnE-yArDs is divisive, from Merrill Garbus’ elaborate face-paint/clothes, to the arguable-cultural appropriation of Afro-beat influences, to the frustratingly quirky spelling of the band’s name, even Garbus’ spacey greeting to the the Pitchfork crowd (“Thanks for being massive mass of massiveness!”) seemed to be a bit …put on. To be so boldly, messily experimental in pop can either speak to an audience uniquely or rub them the wrong way. It is not a surprise that for every “I ADORE tUnE-yArDs” comment I heard in the crowd, there were an almost equal number of “This is annoying as hell,” comments to balance it out.
But it’s hard to deny Garbus’ talent, even if you don’t “get it.” She stands out in a sea of indie-pop sameness, especially for women artists. Where delicate vocal styles are the norm, Garbus is often gruff—she yelps, growls and howls in a decidedly non-gendered way. (At least two people near me thought Garbus was male at first.) She fearlessly plays with styles and cultural influences/signifiers: call and response vocals, funk bass, Afro-beat and hip-hip influenced percussion. (Is it cultural appropriation or homage? That’s way too much to get into while typing on an iPad standing up.) But with a five-piece band format (including two backup singers), her audacious musical vision comes alive on stage, giving the listener a lot more to chew on. Even when it doesn’t work, it does work; it’s hard to ignore and almost always elicits a strong audience response, which indie-pop needs a lot more of. (Keidra Chaney)
It’s way nicer weather than the last time Cloud Nothings graced the stage at the Pitchfork Festival, when rain and failing equipment fueled their blistering performance in 2012. Even though the band didn’t have the rain to piss them off this year, the three-piece blasted through their punchy set, and finally brought some serious mosh-worthy energy to a mostly low-key fest. Jason Gerycz is a monster of a punk drummer, whose energy never flagged, though between his long-sleeve shirt and beard, I was half expecting bandleader Dylan Baldi to pass out by the high-energy end of the set, where the band was joined by tour-mate Ryley Walker. (Keidra Chaney)
After spending most of my time at the Blue Tent on Friday, I had my fill of drum machines for the moment, so starting out with Chicago’s Twin Peaks was a breath of fresh air. Their brand of fuzz-drenched, melodic garage rock was a perfect start to a sunny Saturday of music and beer (even though no one in the band is quite old enough to have one yet.) I really don’t want to belabor the they’re-just-out-of-their-teens angle, but it’s always a thrill to hear such confident, mature rock ‘n’ roll coming from musicians so young. The thrill of playing a Pitchfork crowd (on the eve of their second LP release, no less) was evident from their charmingly awkward stage banter to their equally awkward, yet very rock ‘n’ roll guitar smashing.
On the Red Stage, Brownsville rapper Ka shifted the mood from sunny power pop to gravelly-voiced hip-hop, fraught with the kind of introspection and regret that comes from age and experience. Ka is a wordsmith and storyteller at heart and uses sparse, ambient loops to anchor his lyrics and demand concentration from the listener. Definitely not party music, but an oddly fitting counterpoint to the youthful punk energy of Twin Peaks. (Keidra Chaney)
The Blue Stage’s first set of the day, a shambling psychedelic show by Circulatory System, seemed like a warm-up for the headlining performance by Neutral Milk Hotel that would come later. Both bands are connected with the Elephant 6 scene, though Circulatory System is considerably more obscure. Will Cullen Hart, who has also played with the Elephant 6 band Olivia Tremor Control, stood behind a pair of drums, occasionally pounding with mallets or banging a tambourine as he sang in the sort of high, wispy voice that’s a regular feature in this sort of Day-Glo music. The other musicians played instruments including cello, violin, clarinet and xylophone, giving it all the feel of a junk-shop orchestra, but the clattering of all the percussion had a tendency to drown out the nuances. Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum sings on Circulatory System’s latest record, but anyone who thought he might make a guest appearance during this early-afternoon set was suffering under a delusion of wishful thinking. (Robert Loerzel)