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Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

on July 19, 2011, 4:34pm
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pitchfork music festival Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011During Fleet Foxes’ headlining set on Saturday night, I looked up from the crowd to the jumbo-tron on the left and noticed the boom camera was high in the air shooting the audience. It was an endless sea of faces made orange by the stage’s flood light and a surprisingly powerful street-light that hung over the main stage. Eighteen thousand people watching Fleet Foxes — if you would have told me three years ago that this Seattle collective would be playing for 18,000 people I would have pushed you down a hill.

It’s a testament to the spirit of discovery that Pitchfork champions. Their passion for unearthing, promoting, and booking remarkable bands for Pitchfork Music Festival is always exciting, as many bands are new to the festival scene and aren’t used to thousands of people staring back at them. And during Fleet Foxes’ set especially, it became clear that one website’s passion for music has been transferred to the masses. Now that’s a feat.

Save for the controversy surrounding Odd Future’s performance (and the performance itself), this year turned out to be a very polite festival, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Not to say there’s nothing to blog home about, but the bands that are still with myself, Adam Kivel, and Paul De Revere in the days after the festival are but Fleet Foxes, HEALTH, Deerhunter, TV on the Radio, Cold Cave, Woods who all seemed to be playing at their peak with definition, confidence, and clarity. They delivered some of the best sets of the weekend and, in hindsight, I wish there were more bands that were taking the next step up in the ambiguously tangible music ladder. Many of the bands on the bill were making nostalgia candy for all, in flux trying to carve out a new sound, or cutting their teeth much like the Fleet Foxes did three years ago.

There were plenty of acts we loved and very, very few we didn’t (see below), but there was an overall imbalance that lingers with me. Maybe last year’s lineup was too perfect, too timely to compare to this one. Maybe the music of 2011 is too unsettled to have found its vanguard. Maybe the PR fracas and the anarcho-punk of Odd Future’s set was the most relevant, most indelible memory of the weekend which can make for a hard pill to swallow. But the best thing about Pitchfork Music Festival is that there’s a needle for every groove — vegans get vegan gyros, record hounds get a bountiful record fair, interior decorators get 20 or so different graphic designers selling band posters at Flatstock, and everyone got three days of sun, weed, beer, friends, and over 30 of the best bands around.

-Jeremy D. Larson
Content Director

Feature photo by Meghan Brosnan.

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

Saturday, July 16th

Julianna Barwick  - Green Stage – 1:00 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

After a short respite, day two fell upon Union Park, and the combination of hangovers and increased heat was keeping a good portion of people down…that is, until Julianna Barwick‘s lithe, angelic vocal harmonies flew out over the field, taking some of the edge off. The droopy, unready audience caught onto her moaning and cooing, finding solace as much in the occasional cool breeze as they did in Barwick’s lush looped compositions. As time passed, more people poured through the gates and into the thronged congregation, the mass of vocals weaving overhead like a glowing tapestry. The spotty early afternoon attendance was appreciative, if un-enthusiastic, and Barwick seemed plenty glad to be there. – Adam Kivel

Woods – Red Stage – 1:45 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

One of the highlights of the whole festival. Their sky-gazing pysch-folk were focused testaments to the longevity of jam bands. Though, labeling Woods as a jam band would be a disservice to jam fans and detractors as they live in a genre all to their own. The delicate tenor voice and treble guitar of Jeremy Earl take focus on their shorter songs, like opener “Pushing Onlys” or “Be All Be Easy”, but between those delightful pop numbers were extended kraut-jams that focused on repetition as opposed to crunchy solos. Ambient textures were interlaced by their pedal-monger and these seven-10 minute sessions hit my heart like rays of sun. It was a perfect choice for a relaxing afternoon set with just enough punch at the end to eke some movement out of the tranced-out crowd. –Jeremy D. Larson

Sun Airway – Blue Stage – 1:55 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The airy, synth-laden electro-pop pushed out by Sun Airway came across ultimately relaxed, almost to a fault. The twinkling effects backing vocalist Jon Barthmus were difficult to differentiate from song to song, as if the group had found a nice, dreamy sound that worked on one song, and then continued it in as many different permutations of the same pieces that they could find. Barthmus’ lyrics were consistently evocative, though a bit overly sentimental. “I’ll be there to lasso you the moonshine,” he promised on “Oh Naoko”, sounding very much like he realizes how sweet that is. The synth drums also proved to be a bit much, and the band continued on, digging at the same spot for the entire set. – Adam Kivel

 

 

Cold Cave – Green Stage – 2:30 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

The hard-synth trio pumped some heretofore absent adrenaline across the grounds of Union Park, and they did so with oppressively black overtones tantamount to their all black attire. With the heat of Saturday afternoon already clamping down on the crowd, Wesley Eisold wasted no time in exorcising his demons over synths that could have easily doubled for distorted guitars, which synced up nice with his former past as a vanguard of the Boston hardcore scene. On their latest album Cherish The Light Years, Cold Cave sneak past the new-wave revival label by adding generous globs of industrial waste to their album to great effect. Live, this becomes the focus of their set, aided in large part to Dominick Fernow of the NYC noise-rock band Prurient. Eisold and Fernow attacked their synths with fury leaving behind any trace of politeness, and made the effort to leave it all on stage. I longed for Fernow to have a mic so we could have heard his screams in unison to Eisold’s baritone. While the crowd danced along to “Icons Of Summer”, Eisold made evident his inner demons, even saying after the song “Escapism will never work, You have to embrace it.” He could be referring to any number of tangible or intangible things, but as the closing number “Villians of the Moon” played and hands were lifted up in the air, it was evident that Cold Cave’s noir came second to the power of a truly great song. – Jeremy D. Larson

G-Side – Blue Stage – 2:50 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Furthering its rap music focus onto Southern rappers, the Pitchfork Music Festival’s Blue Stage hosted Huntsville, Ala.’s G-Side, a pair of thoughtful rappers with bluesy wisdom and a friendly swagger. (One lyrical sample, “Do what you do, boy/Just know what you do it for.”) Near the end of its set, preparing to perform the Beach House-sampling “How Far”, the duo asked, “Anybody here fuck with Beach House?” Yes, G-Side. Yes, we do. -Paul de Revere

No Age – Red Stage – 3:20 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The Red Stage seemed to be haunted this year, as almost every band had some tech issues there. After some delay in the beginning, No Age‘s drummer/vocalist Dean Sprunt yelled “Fuck this!” and they dove into the second real heavy set of the day, delivering some much needed force into the pillowy afternoon. It’s an odd balancing act with these guys, as noise-punk doesn’t seem to have a wide radius at a festival. Sprunt’s sloppy vocal execution is all-too clear and specific — two words you don’t really want associated with lo-fi cacophonous rock. With raucus older stuff like “Boy Void” and a choice covers like Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments” and Black Flag’s “Six Pack”, the rapid-fire set effected those closest to the band — like about the size of a club. No Age really isn’t a festival band, and their set lacked the cohesiveness and form of their smaller shows, but one good thing about fests is that the circle pit can get as large as it wants. By the end of their set as Sprunt got out from behind the drums and screamed to the audience from the photo pit, it was about 50 ft. in diameter. Can’t get that at a club. –Jeremy D. Larson

Wild Nothing – Blue Stage – 3:45 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

You want pretty? You want dreamy? You want Nothing. Wild Nothing, that is. Although in-studio the whole thing rests on the shoulders of one Jack Tatum, on-stage Wild Nothing expands into a quartet, with Tatum leading the way. This arrangement seems obvious live, as there’s little chatter amongst the group – even between songs. Instead, at least in Union Park, Tatum let the guitar pedals do the talking. Lead effects guitars danced alongside slow six-string melodies while a meaty bass sound provided the main driving melody that altogether bred a classic post-punk/shoegaze sound. Wild Nothing provided lush grooves that paired well with a much-needed cool breeze. Nice. -Paul de Revere

Gang Gang Dance – Green Stage – 4:15 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Was there a more funky and joyous band at Pitchfork Music Festival than Gang Gang Dance? The sound throbbing out of the Green Stage’s speakers was confounding: disparate worldbeat influences from Latin American clave, African polyrhythmic drumming, Balinese gamelan… it goes on. It was all combined with a dancing, sage-burning assistant I took to calling a hype-shaman. Lizzie Bougatsos, Brian DeGraw, and their band of freaky, art-school avant-gardists are charismatic practitioners of syncopated, unrestrained joy and put on one of the best sets of the festival, bar none. Believe it. -Paul de Revere

Off! – Blue Stage – 4:45 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

It’s always sad when this happens. Old men who insist on still being “punk” and finding something to be aggressive about and finding nothing broadly good to embrace about the world or music. Punk will always be young, not old because young people are not satisfied with anything, nor should they be. Keith Morris and the other members of OFF! have plenty to be happy about, like decent, even long, careers in music. At best, the band’s set was a perfectly fine genre piece. But at worst, obnoxious and super annoying. Pass. -Paul de Revere

Destroyer – Red Stage – 5:15 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

When Dan Bejar, aka Destroyer, leapt into his new disco territory on this year’s Kaputt, it seemed necessary that his live show would have to change pretty drastically to keep up. Could he play anything from old fan favorites like Streethawk: A Seduction, or Your Blues, or would the necessary shift in instrumentation also mean he’d rely solely on new material. And, moreover, how would that smooth electro-chamber sound convey over a huge field in the middle of a bright, sunny afternoon? Turns out, not super well. Portions of the large crowd around Bejar’s stage spoke among itself, carrying almost as well as Bejar’s band. An abundance of noodling from the ever-present trumpet and tenor sax demanded as much attention as Bejar did, kneeling at the front of the stage. Not even a light, lilting version of Destroyer’s Rubies favorite “Painter in Your Pocket” could change the underwhelming atmosphere of the set. – Adam Kivel

The Dismemberment Plan – Green Stage – 6:15 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

“My guitar’s real hot,” Jason Caddell smirked as The Dismemberment Plan loped on stage, huge grins looking out at the mass of waiting fans. The “at least for now” reunited D.C. art-punkers filled their set to the brim with smart-alecky jokes, banter, full speed ahead songs, and plenty of smiles. From the start, vocalist/guitarist Travis Morrison was ready to give the fans what they wanted, which was equal parts cracking wise and rolling out the hits. The straight-ahead rockers like “What Do You Want Me To Say?” and “The Ice of Boston” killed, bassist Eric Axelson punching out contagious line after contagious line. Even the overly goofy, unfocused, vaguely dance-y sections (including a keyboard solo from Morrison’s forehead) won plenty of chuckles and dancing feet. Even the softer side got some focus, as on the charming “You Are Invited”, which brought a nearby attendee to tears. This is the kind of band that people make lifetime connections to, and this reunion brought a lot of sincere joy to those same. – Adam Kivel

Twin Shadow – Blue Stage – 6:45 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

An eccentric bit of soul music has always been deep down in the whiny, maudlin musings of Morrissey and Robert Smith of The Cure. And maybe instead of trying to be sexy, soulful, and showing off his pipes, maybe there’s a bit of deep sadness and longing for an emotional connection when Prince yowls and yelps like James Brown. Twin Shadow knows these gray areas well and his performance at the perfectly suited Blue Stage hit the sweet spot between the sounds of those three. Who knows, more killer performances like this one and George Lewis, Jr. could become the Dominican Morrissey. -Paul de Revere

DJ Shadow – Red Stage – 7:25 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

In a quintessential This Is Spinal Tap moment, which you, dear reader, have likely heard about, DJ Shadow could not get his orb/techno-boulder to operate correctly, leaving him unable to get to his turntables. It was a brief snafu and all went fine for Shadow but the Derek Smalls-trapped-in-a-pod jabs and “Hello Chicago!” jokes just kept coming from my swaying/dancing section. Shadow’s live sound of drum and bass, instrumental rap, and soul music is immaculate and his bass, which puts James Blake’s to shame, drowned out any haters, teasers, detractor or skeezers, of which I was all four. -Paul de Revere

Zola Jesus – Blue Stage – 7:45 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Nika Rosa Danilova seemed surprised that she had the penultimate performance at Pitchfork. “Wow…What are you all doing here?” she beamed, looking out over the masses not interested in setting up camp for Fleet Foxes. In the end, Zola Jesus proved to deserve the attention, Danilova’s throaty, rich vocals powering over churning, choppy electro-pulses. Skipping back and forth across the stage, swinging her arms wildly and trying to keep control of the wild dress composed of metallic gray ribbons, it seemed as if Zola Jesus were pushing away from their occasionally abrasive, regularly goth-y persona, and into some new indie pop world. And, to both hear their new, less foreboding sound and see the serious dancing in front of the stage, it’s clear that this journey is working. “There is a fire that burns on my tongue,” she howled on “Manifest Destiny”, and that fire was catching on in a big way. – Adam Kivel

Fleet Foxes – Green Stage – 8:30 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The lush instrumentation the present day Fleet Foxes embrace seems to reach back years and years to the earliest American folk musicians. Every string that was struck sounded timeless, as if the roots of music still survived solely on the water from drops of Fleet Foxes’ songs. As opposed to the scatter-shot sonics of Animal Collective’s headlining set that required a focused ear, Fleet Foxes aligned their spectrum which allowed for the broadest range of pleasure across a sold out crowd who stood, swayed, smiled, and sang along to their entire set. With Helplessness Blues raised as their new standard, Pecknold and his band, armed with a variety of stringed instruments and even a bass clarinet, touched on their entire catalog, from “Mykonos” to the multi-part 8-min “The Shrine/Argument”, the latter of which swelled and receded with vast dynamic contrasts and those halcyon harmonies that the band is known for. Their voices, carried by Pecknold’s iconic pinched tenor, reverberated throughout the fest. Just three years after the band sat on chairs and waylaid Pitchfork onlookers with their music, they had people rapt from note one, onto their rapturous “Helplessness Blues” finale. A canonical performance. –Jeremy D. Larson

Sunday, July 17th

The Fresh & Onlys – Green Stage – 1:00 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The Fresh and Onlys are from the same laid back, hazy San Fran scene that bred other psych-garage-poppers Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, and Sonny & The Sunsets. So, it’s no surprise that the tough job of having one of two opening spots on the broilingly hot third day of the festival seemed not to faze them all that much: the heat isn’t all that unusual in California, and Haight-Ashbury isn’t known for its temperance. Vocalist/guitarist Tim Cohen’s floppy hat, dark sunglasses, and tie-dyed Grateful Dead shirt seemed to say it all, as he and the rest of the band rolled through a solid, if heat-stricken set of garage-ready jams. -Adam Kivel

How To Dress Well – Blue Stage – 1:55 p.m.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

I give big ups to How To Dress Well (or the name behind the name Tom Krell) for this show, as it was really unlike anything else at the fest, and that seems to be more of what the Blue Stage is going for this year (Oh, how soon it will become the Altered Zones stage just you wait). With a synth, and a sparse drum kit, a mothafuckin string quartet, Krell serenaded the audience with heart-rending songs in falsetto. Unlike some of the other bass-heavy bangers played throughout the day, Krell’s R&B-tinged ambiance was ethereal, but it didn’t quite hush the crowd like it may have done in a smaller setting. Still, for those with a sharp ear, Krells’ sparser tracks like “Suicide Dream” mixed nicely with his newer, more aggresive material. Oh, and the whole set was bookended by R. Kelly’s “Waking Up To Life Sometimes Seems Worse” and Janet Jackson’s “Again” which was just thug and beautiful. –Jeremy D. Larson

Kurt Vile & the Violators – Green Stage – 2:30 p.m.

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Photo by Meghan Brosnan

It was a surprise to see Kurt Vile‘s name on the Pitchfork lineup two years in a row, but his set last year was a solid success, and the dude didn’t name an album Childish Prodigy for nothing. Vile’s back catalog is long enough to fill two festival slots, and his rip-roaring, classic rock tinged jams pumped up the portion of the crowd not already waiting in front of the opposite stage and chanting “Swag!” at the drop of a hat. The rollicking “Freak Train” and a killer turn on “Runner Ups” energized a crowd in need of a serious energy boost, and Vile’s sly smile seemed just as greatful. “You guys hot?” he asked, before adding a quiet “I’m sorry…” But “Society is My Friend” may have been the strongest of the set, Vile’s long mane of curls floating in the breeze, his lazy range providing some of the best straight-ahead rock of the weekend. -Adam Kivel

Twin Sister – Blue Stage – 2:50 p.m.

p4k 099 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

In their relatively short career, Twin Sister has managed to carve out a nice cozy corner of music that is all their own — somewhere amid Beach House, Cocteau Twins, and The Talking Heads bubbles their music with as much room to dream as there is to dance. I found myself lost between the two options at her set for the first half as the leaned on their more serene and reserved tracks, but when they kicked into “Bad Street” of their forthcoming LP, things coalesced for the band and the crowd and people started to feel it. Well executed, but kind of waffled between moods which, incidentally, doesn’t work well for the lay listener trying to get a bead on the sound. –Jeremy D. Larson

OFWGKTA – Red Stage – 3:20 p.m.

p4k 103 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

“I can’t hear what you’re saying….That’s cause I’m talking over you” a smiling, leg-casted Tyler, the Creator answered to a shout from the audience, quite nicely summing up the role that he and his Wolf Gang brethren inhabit. Every time he’s challenged for his homophobic, misogynist, violence-endorsing music, his response is whatever will get the most attention. That’s why group members delivered cupcakes to the anti-violence groups and other non-profit booths. That’s why Tyler gave a “big shoutout to the domestic violence groups,” adding that he hoped they could hear him moments before diving into “I Got a Gun”. Tyler, on crutches, wound up diving into the crowd, sucked in for a while, admiring the adulation. But, the high school button pushing (shouts of “Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck School!”), the irony (coming out to “One Love” and “Where is the Love”)…it was all a little too much to bear. But, then again, the set was one of the most widely attended, the rowdiest, and most talked about, so Tyler and Co. got exactly what they wanted: More attention.

Do I believe that Tyler actually goes about ready to “smack a bitch,” rape, or murder? No. Do I believe that hearing this music will breed intolerace, hate, and violence? Entirely possible. Do these kids have some serious talent? Yes, definitely (their eccentric, minimal production, and quick flow were exciting). Are they wasting that talent on antagonistic, offensive stupidity? Yes, definitely. -Adam Kivel

Shabazz Palaces – Blue Stage – 3:45 p.m.

p4k sunday 8 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

While the Odd Future show was clamoring on, Shabazz Palaces performed with understated confidence of the highest nature and displayed superior flow, lyrics, production, and message. That’s that truth. Now, I really really like Shabazz Palaces’ new album Black Up, so I’m gonna play both sides of the coin on this. For those unversed in Palaceer Lazero’s ways with words, it could be a tough sell to fall into the nooks and crannies of his songs. The multi-part, futurist hip hop that Shabazz tossed up to the crowd, again, didn’t quite fit into a tidy package. The Blue Stage seems to suffer this plight, but it also can be looked at as an advantage. Come over to the shade and really listen to some music and you can be greatly rewarded. For me, I spaced out and bopped hard the whole set. –Jeremy D. Larson

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Green Stage – 4:15 p.m.

p4k 110 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The reality of following Odd Future is that everything must become a response to Odd Future. So, it’s no surprise that Ariel Pink suggests that Tyler, The Creator ought to be on stage with his band, later jumps around with middle fingers flying, shouting fuck you, and even later adds that “chillwave isn’t about hate…that’s hatewave.” But, ignoring the forced reactionary attitude, Pink’s brand of 80s psych-pop suffered from some serious microphone problems. The vocalist’s Garth Brooks’-styled headphone mic sounded like a walkie talkie coming in and out of range, crackling and humming with a cool distorted effect at times, the distortion overbearing or the vocals fading out entirely at others. The music was tight, freewheeling, and disturbingly cute after Odd Future, but the mic issues likely forced an end to their short set. -Adam Kivel

Baths – Blue Stage – 4:45 p.m.

p4k sunday baths Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

If there was one unexpected smash success on the Blue Stage of the Pitchfork Music Festival’s final day, it was Baths. His jittery, spastic IDM made sprightly enough rhythms to get a large crowd, some of whom seemed down for a little nu-rave action, moving. Maybe they were there for shade, maybe they just came out of curiosity, but most of them ended up dancing. If Richard D. James (better known as Aphex Twin) had a side project that specialized in club bangers and smooth slow jams, and alternated between them at a sometimes-frenetic space, I’m tempted to say it would sound exactly like Baths. -Paul de Revere

Superchunk – Red Stage – 5:15 p.m.

p4k 112 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Superchunk, along with The Dismemberment Plan on Saturday and Thurston Moore and Guided by Voices on Friday, proved that age can actually increase one’s ability to rock, not inescapably stifle it. In fact, even in his 40’s, lead singer Mac McCaughan’s voice still contains the same boyish wail that so thoroughly defined the ‘90s indie sound for vocalists. Combine that with his continued ability to pump out killer riff after killer melodic riff and that he and Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance co-founded Merge Records, one of the best labels in indie history, and you’ve got one helluva legacy band. McCaughan’s signature work ethic and no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll is so well-known and revered in indie rock circles, it’s a wonder he hasn’t been more widely considered for Bruce Springsteen-like sainthood in the genre. On Sunday afternoon, dad rockers with future-hipster babies everywhere swayed with content that, in their minds, McCaughan, already had been. -Paul de Revere

Kylesa – Blue Stage – 5:45 p.m.

The almost entirely frill-less stoner metal put out by Savannah, GA’s Kylesa bum-rushed the side stage, a breath of fresh air, as the rare heavy rock act popped up in the midst of a lot of electronic and indie rock. The metal contingency supporting the band may have been smaller than that for other acts, but they were certainly no less enthusiastic. A real mosh pit erupted, and the head-banging spread far and wide. Drummers Tyler Newberry and Carl McGinley’s technical prowess may have set the whole beast in motion, but guitarist Laura Pleasants’ chainsaw riffs, bassist Corey Barhorst’s chugging rhythms, and guitarist/vocalist Phillip Cope’s barks and howls all locked together in a triumphant march step. The impressive musicianship, memorable hooks, and serious depth all combined for a well respected, much needed cathartic moment. -Adam Kivel

Deerhunter – Green Stage – 6:15 p.m.

p4k 118 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The field surrounding Deerhunter‘s triumphant return to the Pitchfork stage were packed with casual listeners and diehard fans alike, dripping with sweat and hungering for the band’s cool, summery melodies. Relying heavily on last year’s excellent Halcyon Digest, Bradford Cox, Lockett Pundt, Moses Archuleta, and Josh Fauver swayed slowly through some seriously entrancing grooves, letting pop gems fall where they may. “Desire Lines” pulsed its way out of a long noisy wind to open the set, while later the cooing “Little Kids” off of Microcastle caught the attention of the long time fans, earning a big response. After proudly describing the band’s return from Europe, Cox stated that you could “fuck anybody that tells you this isn’t the best country…fucking crypto-fascists.” After that brief bit of strange patriotism, the band twinkled through the gorgeous, Jay Reatard tribute, “He would Have Laughed”, before finishing on another long, dreamy jam. -Adam Kivel

Toro y Moi- Blue Stage – 6:45 p.m.

p4k 124 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Toro y Moi‘s Chaz Bundick seems to be running away from that chillwave misnomer with a fury. Or at least he’s been listening to a lot more Headhunters or 80’s disco and imposing that we chill out to that. His voice can coo anyone to sleep, but the music underneath begged us to get up or get down or however you chose to boogie. There were some new songs with flippy synths in the set from his forthcoming EP out sometime later in the year that added a welcome aggression to his sound. Bundick, at 23, is an explorer of the highest mark and his set was evident of that. The displacement of detractors and fans caused for a some dance pods to sprout during “Still Sound”, one of the best songs he’s written so far, and the highlight of the set. –Jeremy D. Larson

Cut Copy – Red Stage – 7:25 p.m.

p4k 127 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

…And now we enter the epic dance party. Melbourne, Australia’s sharply dressed Cut Copy was armed to the teeth with sequencers, drum machines and synths with one mission in mind: get booties moving. The trio looked as good as its light show, one that got progressively more pronounced and colorful as the sun went down behind it.

Its brand of New Order-like, slick synth-pop was full of sheen and gorgeous, tight harmonies akin to The Beach Boys, especially notable on its performance of “Where I’m Going”, the first single off the band’s latest LP, Zonoscope. To see the giant mass of people jumping and grinding on each other as one organism at, say, the chorus of “Lights and Music” when people lost their shit, it was obvious that the band played one of the festival’s most danceable sets. -Paul de Revere

HEALTH – Blue Stage – 7:40 p.m.

It’s almost hard to believe that the HEALTH that completely crushed their set as the penultimate act of the weekend this year was the same act that played the very same stage three years prior. While their set in 2008 was masterfully chaotic, heart-racingly cluttered, and electrically charged, this year upped the ante by showing their matured sense of theatrics and somewhat more traditional songwriting. Opening with “Girl Attorney” style feedback bursts and the haunting falsetto of “Nice Girls”, the crowd erupted into a sort of dancing mosh pit. The noise-rock perfected “Zoothorns” followed, proving that no matter how grimy, hot, and overtired any festival goer can get, there’s enough gas at the bottom of the tank to freak the fuck out. BJ Miller’s drumming acted as the rollicking beast, exploding with furious energy, while Jupiter Keyes, John Famiglietti, and Jake Duszik all hooted and screamed through their heavily affected microphones, bouncing about the stage. Their cover of Pictureplane’s “Goth Star” seethed with dark dancefloor energy, and the rambunctious, squared off screaming of “Tabloid Sores” ended with Famiglietti looking up, long black hair covering his face, as he shredded out a last incredibly distorted/altered bass note. The new stuff was welcomed as much as the old, and the dancing caught on as much as the moshing. HEALTH brought the best of both worlds, and their infectious, radioactive set was easily the best of the weekend. -Adam Kivel

TV on the Radio – Green Stage – 8:30 p.m.

p4k 131 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

TV on the Radio (TVOTR) has reached a plateau rarely seen among major label bands: The Flaming Lips has, so did Radiohead. They retained the artistic integrity of an indie artist while gathering the resources they needed from a major. So with a nearly perfect batting average amongst rock critics and the final slot to close the weekend out at Pitchfork, what did TVOTR do with this newfound power?

First, they celebrated themselves, in a sense. Kicking off with “Halfway Home”, the dramatic lead track from its critically acclaimed 2008 full length Dear Science, TVOTR scooped up Union Park in one fell swoop, delivering a tough, clock-shattering punch to the crowd, resulting in a temporary case of amnesia. Cut Copy, what?

Second, they took advantage of the new, promising young talent around. Seattle rap duo Shabazz Palaces’ set couldn’t help but get a bit ignored being scheduled against Odd Future’s, so it was good that TVOTR decided to bring the two, an equally progressive-thinking group of black musicians, up on stage.

p4k 137 Festival Review: CoS at Pitchfork Music Festival 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Third, they paid tribute to the shoulders of those musical giants the band continues to stand on. Easily a weekend highlight, TVOTR assembled a faithful cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”, an anthemic, punk classic that’ll stick with us for decades to come. Surprisingly, the band didn’t retrofit the song with surges of electronic noise or guitar washes; instead, they kept things minimal. There was just the nimble, picked bass guitar and its signature vocal delivery, with more than a touch of urgent humanism, which was well captured in lead singer Tunde Adebimpe’s voice.

After all, if there’s any one obvious trait that TVOTR and Fugazi share, it’s that. But more than that, it was about music: an affirmation of past and present independent music and, with Shabazz Palaces, perhaps a nod to the future. That’s what a band, possibly one of the greatest this generation of indie rock will have to offer music history when all is said and done, does: forge a path and remind folks of the ones we’ve taken so far. Oh, and showing younger bands who’s still boss. -Paul de Revere

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