Friday, July 15, and
BLURT was on hand for Thurston Moore, Guided By Voices, Neko Case, Animal
Collective and more. Meanwhile, watch the daily webcasts at the Pitchfork
website. Also, check out our photos from Day 1 right here.
By Selena Fragassi
On the first day of the oft male-dominated Pitchfork Music
Festival, “Man eater” Neko Case unexpectedly stole the show as the unassuming
ringmaster of the festivities. Not only did the fiery-haired power folk singer
brave her own near-headline set to a crowd of affable Animal Collective young‘uns
– she also played guest tambourinist/backup vocalist during Guided By Voices’
long-awaited comeback and, later, mistakenly fell into the loops of
contemporary electro composer James Blake as the two battled during noise
bleeds, much to the dismay of they young Brit’s billowing crowd.
Most all the artists on Friday suffered from sub-par stereo
(“We’re noise resistant today,” joked Thurston Moore as he tuned guitars),
leading many in the crowd to wonder why the sound engineers didn’t amp up the
output so you could hear beyond the picnic blanket conversation next to you.
Animal Collective barely reached their sonic potential, the expected submarine
beats and tribal howls mere yelps as the neon stage bared the brunt of their
animated performance, while it led up-and-coming rap artist Curren$y to
sometimes sound like an amateur slam poet in a sweaty high school gym.
Although drawing a crowd nearing 18,000 (many of them
dressed like they were from the barn with full skunk regalia or pig masks in
some sort of cult play for headliner Animal Collective), Friday was the one day
of the three-day fest that surprisingly hadn’t sold out. Although based on a
number of the yawn sets we saw, it was for good reason. It wasn’t all bad
though; here’s a look back at the highlights of Day One.
Sound check: Moore is arguably best
known for his work as the guitarist in Sonic Youth-oh, and for marrying
bandmate Kim Gordon. Since the demise of the droney grunge act, Moore has been heavily
involved in numerous collaborations, lauded solo releases and soundtrack work.
Currently, he provides narration for varying documentaries on the National
Props for: His
humor. “You wanna hear some songs about rape, incest and carnage? We’ll do the
best we can,” the simple jeans and T-shirt wearing Moore joked as he warmed up the afternoon
crowd. “I have a bottle of honey if anyone wants to get sticky.”
Best song: “January”
with the help of ebullient string arrangements courtesy of the added harpist
Final take: Debuting
many of the songs from his newly released (and much stripped back) solo effort Demolished Thoughts (Matador) lent little
to Moore’s act.
If fans were expecting to see noise-riddled extended jams a la Sonic Youth or
the more heavy experimentation of Moore’s
previous efforts, it was all but lost in the cloudy dream folk haze of this MTV
Unplugged set. Mostly acoustic and instrumental, the set was a hard-sell for
the masses who were hoping to have more fodder to rock out in the hot sun.
Sound check: The New Orleans rap artist,
younger brother of rapper Mr. Marcelo, has been stealthily prolific since
entering into the scene in 2000. With seven studio albums and nearly a dozen
official mixtapes under his name, Curren$y has been approved and signed by both
Master P and Lil Wayne – and just this year inked a deal with Warner Bros. to
further his own imprint, Jet Life Recordings.
Props for: His MJ
jersey. There’s nothing like warming up to a critical Chicago crowd than bearing the numbers of
their beloved Bulls icon Michael Jordan.
Best song: “#JetsGo”
for garnering the most crowd reception. With lyrics that honor the other MJ the audience loves so much, it
inspired many to engage in peace-loving hand gestures and unboundedly crowd
Final take: The
kid is a master of word jazz who can hold the rhythm of his entourage’s
laidback New York soap opera beats – and most of it done freestyle with no
fallback chorus. Although gawky and sometimes awkward, Curren$y is also
easygoing and relatable and when he gave his “no vices” advice to the children
in the crowd, the young scribes avidly listened. Curren$y is jonesing for a bigger
ripple effect and this performance was no drop in the bucket. Let’s just hope
the poor audio didn’t sway the non-believers.
Guided By Voices
Sound check: It’s
been a long road for these Dayton, Ohio rockers who’ve remained heartily active
(if not always sober) since charting their lo-fi college rock course in 1983 up
until the band’s split in 2004, some 15 albums later. Although many personnel
changes have rotated around frontman Robert Pollard, in late 2010 the “classic”
1993-1996 lineup rebanded for a special Matador Records anniversary party in
Vegas and have been touring ever since. Could a new record be in the works?
“I’m not completely eliminating the possibility,” Pollard has said.
Props for: Pulling
off a whole set while downing a bottle of Jose Cuervo. Although slurring his
words during the beguiling crowd banter, Pollard was nothing but coherent
during the band’s nearly-hour set.
Best song: A
toss-up between “Hot Freaks” and “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” both of which gave
overwhelming support to Pollard’s self-described “quality rock ‘n’ roll.”
Final take: The
band was criminally ripped off in billing (really, Neko Case over GBV? Even
when she took the stage as a “surprise act” in their set, most didn’t even know
who she was), yet pulled off a phenomenal set that drew most of the park to its
stage. Grey-haired and years later, Pollard was as high-jumping in his animated
movements with other band members adding in their roundhouse kicks as they
choked back cigarettes while ripping apart their fret boards. A wildly
enthusiastic crowd paired with as much energy from the band in each of its
short-but-sweet two minute songs offers hope that there’s no stopping anytime
Sound check: Known
for her vocal work with Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers, Case has
most evidently come into her own as a solo artist with late attention fueled by
the Grammy nominated 2009 release Middle
Cyclone (ANTI-) that hit #3 on the Billboard charts the first week of its release. Fans may have noticed her recent duet
with Nick Cave on a Zombies cover for TV show True Blood or remember her as being
named the “Sexiest Babe of Indie Rock” by a Playboy.com in 2003-something this
indie chanteuse is reluctant to discuss should it take away attention from what
is most important: her impeccable music.
Props for: Her
voice. Sounding like some distant ship’s captive siren, Case’s vocal power
broke through the murky playing field of Pitchfork with as much fire as her
vibrant mermaid hair.
Best song: “Hold
On, Hold On” aided by the assembly of a likeable supporting cast, which
included beautiful harmonies from backup vocalist Kelly Hogan plus string
favors from a ZZ Top-bearded double bassist and a banjoist who looked plucked
straight from a charming barbershop quartet.
Final take: Although some have tagged Case a glorified country artist, her set was no
derived bluegrass fest. Full of folk and roots and soul, the singer swims in
her melancholic melodies and grasping for air lyrics, which swayed many to dive
into her late evening set. Barefoot and in a no-frills black top and cropped
pants, Case was more subdued than the other flair-filled contemporaries, EMA
and tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus who decked her face with colorful war paint. But
as far as Case is concerned, her battles are over and anything more than her
natural talent would be a shriveled distraction.
Sound check: This
experimental band of brothers are quite the noisemakers – both in the random,
gluttonous electro psych they create and the press who loves them for it. Their
last release, 2009’s Merriweather Post
Pavilion (Domino), shot them to international stardom and quick-started a
growing fanbase of impressionable youth who have seemingly taken their mating
calls to heart.
Props for: The
best stage set. Most artists on Friday did little more than use their bodies to
decorate their stages; not so with AC who draped neon, lei-like streamers from
the rafters and dotted the perimeters with short skyscrapers that warmed up
Best song: “Summertime Clothes,” for inspiring the massive crowd to disrobe the extra
layers and get dancing.
Final take: Much
of Animal Collective’s set was misguided, momentum-less noise with drowning
electronic loops that sounded like they were emanating from a scuba mask rather
than a microphone. Nickelodeon-style video feed of molting orbs on overhead
screens, paired with the onstage lightshow, only aided in riddling the ADD
youth of music consumers that made up a large part of this crowd-but hey, at
least the kids had fun, right?