Festival Reviews

Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

on July 19, 2011, 4:34pm
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Friday, July 15th

Gatekeeper – Blue Stage – 3:20 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Do you think that if Gatekeeper had named themselves Headliners, they’d be closing the night instead of keeping an eye on the gates as the huge line trickled in? Either way, most of the reasonably large crowd at the side stage seemed enthusiastic, dancing along to the dark, pulsing beats of the Brooklyn/Chicago duo of Matthew Arkell and Aaron David Ross. Some of the dancing looked ironic, but considering the unfortunate fact that the arcade game/bad horror soundtrack aping set was happening out in open air in the middle of a bright afternoon, it might have just been uncertainty. Either way, the beats won out, as they typically do, and the duo wound up with a big reaction. –Adam Kivel

EMA – Red Stage – 3:30 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Erika M. Anderson’s first album under her acronymous band EMA can be an uncomfortable listen, with lyrics of butterfly knife kisses, disenfranchisement in California, and many more touchy subjects. It’s a delicate album that might ought to be handled delicately live, but EMA don’t wanna wallow. It’s always good for a band to kick things up in real life, and EMA does exactly that. The thinning production on Past Life Martyred Saints became lush drone backed by the precision-in-the-pocket drumming of Nicole Anderson, Erika’s younger sister. Introverted songs turned extroverted, like “Butterfly Knife” and even the heart-wringing ballad “Breakfast”.

At her show at The Empty Bottle on the Thursday before the festival, EMA crammed the venue with power, and played a much looser set than they did opening up Pitchfork on Friday. I was really blown away at her show in a club, and even though it didn’t have the spark it did on Thursday, their festival sound weaved through enough of the crowd to pique intersest while maintaining the personal nature of the songs themselves. –Jeremy D. Larson

tUnE-yArDs – Blue Stage – 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The Merrill Garbus faithfuls stood in the hot Chicago summer with Björk-meets-Bushmen war paint melting down their faces. You’ll forgive me if I call tUnE-yArDs a movement. When Garbus starts the funky, locomotive-like chug of her amazing pipes, loop pedals and ukelele; when she holds up her “fight the power” fist on “Gangsta”, one of the sets rollicking opening songs, clenching a drum stick, it feels more like a small rally than a concert. “You’re a very moving site to see out there,” she said. Garbus’ talent for arrangement, improvisation, and, most of all, groove (through the use of her loop pedals, which inspired gawks and giddiness among the crowd) is among the best of the new class of indie artists of the last few years. Definitely one of the strongest sets of the festival’s first day. -Paul de Revere

Battles – Green Stage – 4:35 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Sure, there’s a bit of novelty to the way that Battles drummer John Stanier hangs his crash cymbal five feet in the air, but, as the roar of the crowd attested on his first swipe at it, there’s something invigorating about it as well. In their new, singer-less incarnation, one had to wonder how the guest vocalist songs from Gloss Drop would translate, and the answer was a bit of a surprise. Pre-recorded videos of Blonde Redhead vocalist Kazu Makino and Gary Numan sang along to the insane math-jazz-rock drumming of Stanier, Ian Williams’ double-synth, guitar tapping, and foot kicking, and Dave Konopka’s complexly looped and effected bass lines. The biggest surprise of the set may have been the faithful rendition of “Atlas” (though without a video of departed vocalist Tyondai Braxton), but the biggest response came for the brain-scraping “Ice Cream”, with video of piles of ice cream flashing in between shots of vocalist Matias Aguayo bobbing along to the beat. –Adam Kivel

Curren$y – Blue Stage – 5:30 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

The wave of pot fumes wafting through the crowd during Curren$y’s performance was simply overwhelming. And the chronic stench started promptly within the first few seconds of the Young Money Entertainment rapper’s first song. Without a doubt, Curren$y and the crowd were wasting no time getting the party going. But as intensely a weed rapper Curren$y is, it’s important to point out the dude’s not unengaged either, which is a refreshing change of pace in the niche stoner rap subgenre. He also has lyrical skills. But he hardly needed the constant adulation of the crowd. “You ain’t gotta clap for me,” he said. “Just light something.” –Paul De Revere

Thurston Moore – Red Stage – 5:30 p.m.

“You guys wanna hear some songs about rape, murder, and carnage?” a darkly sun-glassed Thurston Moore smirked out at the audience. Ever the imp, Moore continued to dumbfound some expectations, shooting down shouted requests for “Kool Thing” and its noise-rock brethren, instead going “on noise strike”, and performing acoustic with a violinist, harpist, second guitarist, and drummer. Playing most of Demolished Thoughts,  Moore quietly strummed through gems like “Benediction” and “Illuminine”. Hush Arbors guitarist Keith Wood, and one of so many possible Sunburned Hand of the Man drummers laid down a soft groove, Mary Lattimore’s harp and Samara Lubelski’s violin added accents, and Moore stood front and center, being undeniably himself. His cooed lyrics on Trees Outside the Academy’s “Never Did” and his vows to “stay in ecumenical gangster mode” were playful and cool, which is Moore on auto-pilot. A little more noise and intensity may have been more exciting, but this set won on its relaxed, calming breeze. – Adam Kivel

Guided By Voices – Green Stage – 6:25 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

If you ain’t in the know, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between Guided By Voices (GBV) and roadies these days. As GBV loaded in, Robert Pollard asked the crowd if we were ready for some “real profession rock & roll,” and, in retrospect, I think it was a sincere, unironic question. With a cigarette in one hand mouth bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold in the other which for him must be is own personal Fountain of Youth, Pollard led the aging indie godfathers to a fun and chunky set playing about 20 songs from their careers, culling mainly from their “seminal lo-fi album” Bee Thousand (now that quip was dripping with irony). While those classic standbys sounded great, it was their even more garagey/lo-fi tunes that got the best kind of bump like ”Expecting Brainchild” or “Cut-Out Witch”, showing that seminal is not just one album, it’s a whole career (or at least “early” career, not much stuff was played form their 21st century albums). With GBV on their final reunion lap, they still got plenty of gas left in the truck. Just look at those pictures of guitarist Mitch Mitchell. Any guitarist not aspiring to be like Mitch Mitchell needs to break their whole situation down for retooling. –Jeremy D. Larson

Das Racist – Blue Stage – 6:30 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Long before Das Racist took the stage, the huge crowd rolled joints, shouted “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” lyrics, and squeezed as close to the front as they could. The anticipation for that one song was so large that they had to do it, right? Instead, the trio burst through some other great songs (opener “Who’s That? Brooown!”‘s boasts about being the brown Elvis or Larry Bird got some big laughs, while the White Castle critique in “Rainbow in the Dark” may have got more), and even gave time to Detroit MC Danny Brown. The off the cuff request to “get some more Adderall in this microphone, some orange juice in this monitor” may have been the single best line of the day. But, in the end, the song didn’t make the cut. Maybe for the better, as it didn’t seem like too many people were complaining, instead wrapped up in all the fun. –Adam Kivel

James Blake – Blue Stage – 7:30 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Nearly everyone coming to the festival seemed to be talking about getting to see James Blake. Despite the massive anticipation, the quiet, mixed set seemed blurry and difficult to piece together. Perhaps it was the fact that Blake regularly went for the quiet, mellow, and polite (his many cooly British-accented “thank you”s between songs seemed super sincere), but the large, expectant crowd seemed to suggest something more powerful. His smooth, electronic pieces were largely employed to background his strong voice, a sort of mix between Antony and Dave Longstreth, equal parts operatic croon and acrobatic warble. His jazzy piano intro to “I Never Learnt to Share” was impressive, as was his ability to loop and harmonize with himself so beautifully. One loop caught a big holler from the front of the crowd, effectively giving himself a rolling applause with every added harmony. But, in the end, the set lacked a dramatic punch, instead lingering in the quietly darkening evening. –Adam Kivel

Animal Collective – Green Stage – 8:30 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Despite their sort of new-found massive popularity (they really packed in that headlining spot!), Animal Collective have a pretty fair reputation for putting on a challenging live show. So many recent setlists seemed to have totally or nearly totally ignored any song they’d already recorded, instead pumping out new jam after new jam. While this can be exciting, there are bound to be contingencies of fans there to hear the hits. So, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Deakin mixed in a little more familiar stuff, but still relied on showcasing material that will likely make up their next record. The opening new track played out that challenge to the extreme, with Deakin taking the lead vocals. After another new cut of exciting electronic, jungle beats, an amped up, electrified rendition of Feels standout “Did You See the Words?” finally got to a large portion of the crowd, howls ripping through the waves of people.

Sitting behind a technicolor bat mobile and glowing paper crystals, Tare asked if everyone was “feeling pretty sweet,” which, it seemed, they were. The octave glitching, almost Yeasayer-y sounds of a track bootleggers have been calling “Knock You Down” magically melded into Merriweather Post Pavilion favorite “Brother Sport”, which received the biggest applause of the night. A slowed down version of “Taste” followed, and an electric version of Sung Tongs gem “We Tigers” didn’t get as much recognition as the other old songs. “Summertime Clothes” and its cries of “When the sun goes down we’ll go out again” played perfectly for the howlers at the front of the stage who couldn’t get enough. With 10 minutes to park curfew, the quartet called it a night, waving goodbye to day one of the festival. –Adam Kivel

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