By Selena Fragassi
After Day One’s ‘Where’s Waldo’ game with the ground’s
whack-a-mole singer Neko Case, Day Two of Pitchfork hired a more well-rounded
cast of characters to entertain the growing crowd, from black magic sorcerers
(Cold Cave, Zola Jesus) to a Kenny G GAP ad model (Destroyer) to the slightly
OFF! court jester (Keith Morris) and culminating with barefoot lumberjacks
Saturday amped up the mojo, if not also the sound with the
booming drum and bass (finally!) of out-of-hiding DJ Shadow rattling the gates
around the park while Wild Nothing registered loud and clear from the tucked
away Blue Stage, which garnered them our blue
ribbon for best act of the day. Although in a rare whodunnit moment, someone
was still having fun with their OFF!side pranks on Keith Morris as the former
Circle Jerks/Black Flag singer found himself with a mute mic at random points
in his set, leading him to censor his retort to “Goddam, Jesus Christ, what’s
up with that?!”
Although festival organizers heeded warnings for cooling
shelters and free water as a menacing heat wave was baring down on the city by
the lake, it seems that the concessions became inventive new toys for the
genius in the crowd who whipped open bottles into the air or, better yet, at
the singers. Just ask Morris how he feels about that. Here’s the rest of our
highlights from Day Two.
Sound check: L.A. is the homebase for this two-man indie punk band,
which is an important tidbit when you consider the early ‘90s L.A. riot music they honor on their three
studio releases, the last of which is on noted label Sub Pop. Not only have
guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/singer Dean Allen Spunt logged hours at
West Coast record shops, they also have become a fixture at downtown
underground venue The Smell … although their reach is growing from Hollywood with national
critical praise. Even fellow Pitchforker Bradford Cox (Deerhunter) once called
No Age his favorite new band.
Props for: The
personnel. Two men can barely change a lightbulb according to some, let alone
carry the grunt of whipping together a fully-fledged garage rock show but leave
it to Randall and Spunt who do it with charm and class: “Fuck technology, fuck
electronics,” seemed to be their motto of the day.
Best song: A cover
of the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments”
Final take: No Age
bring back a golden age of rock with good intent but not all the right
elements. The band seems on the cusp of making magic but is just not primed for
the primetime in their still-budding career. A live drummer/singer is a
difficult task to take on and unfortunately didn’t wholly succeed as well as on
the more controlled studio releases from this band. We say give them time
though-after all, L.A.
wasn’t built in a day.
Sound check: The
‘80s are in full swing in Jack Tatum’s project Wild Nothing, which offers a
pleasant take on the retro dream pop of the Smiths, the Cure and even hints of
New Order. Tatum first gained attention with his demo cover of Kate Bush’s song
“Cloudbusting” and soon signed with indie label Captured Tracks, which released
Gemini Club in the spring of 2010.
For tours, Tatum brings three additional members to the fold rounding out the
band’s wholesome sound.
Props for: Their guitar tech. After nearly
forfeiting the set due to a broken string, the hired help quickly stepped in to
fix the equipment and the almost broken hearts of the crowd who expressed their
sadness when the band was about to walk offstage. Wild Nothing only had one
song left as it was, but the adoring gazers were surely willing to wait a
moment to get in every last second.
Best song: “Live
in Dreams,” for its John Hughesy soundtrack to the laidback afternoon and the
song that provided the crispest sound of the day. “I’d love to play bass in
this band,” said one reveler in the crowd. No doubt, because you could hear
every last strum and hit of Wild Nothing’s instruments.
Final take: Stop
everything you are doing and see, watch, listen, stalk Wild Nothing. The
excellent musicianship is belying of the learning to walk stage of the band
that was just born in 2009 yet who have grown up quickly thanks to a stock
education on the music masters who have come before them. Dare we say it, even
Morrissey would like this band.
Sound check: There’s
no shortage of experience in this hardcore/punk supergroup. At 55, singer Keith
Morris can still whip his voice into a fury, learned from his days fronting
Circle Jerks and Black Flag. Burning Brides’ frontman Dimitri Coats takes a
step back from the mic to add guitar to OFF! while Redd Kross bassist Steven
Shane McDonald and Rocket from the Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba complete the
lineup. The band only formed in 2009 after Coats and Morris worked together on a
never-to-be-seen Circle Jerks album and found chemistry in writing their own
tunes. After debuting at the 2010 SXSW fest, OFF! has been steadily touring
since and drawing praise for their raucous thunder and second-to-none
Props for: The In
Memoriam of Jeff Lee Pierce, founding member of the Gun Club and Morris’ former
roommate/good friend who he says introduced him to the life-changing music of
the Cramps, the Misfits and X. As a song was dedicated to Pierce, who passed in
’96, Morris let it be known that “we’ll sing about anyone and anything we
Best song: “Fuck
People” if not only for its message. “This song comes with a disclaimer,”
commented Morris, “when we say fuck people we mean those people who think
they’re too good for getting off their cell phones when trying to change lanes
or those assholes who stand in a supermarket line for 15 items or less with 20
Final take: OFF!
may be the face of longevity with the briefest songs known to man. Each
45-second? take is a smack to the face with Morris’ lambasting voice that makes
the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and pay attention to the messages
encoded in his songs, which range from social code to the civil rights
movement. Years of a hardcore life may have given Morris a few less hairs on
his head but no less talent as his stage antics, hand gestures, and all-out
thrashing have not weaned with time.
self-described “European Blues” band is the work of Canadian singer-songwriter
Dan Bejar who launched the project in 1995 before dissolving it briefly in 2000
and taking a hiatus in Spain,
which would inspire that year’s release Thief (Catsup Plate). The album, an undeclared scolding of the music industry,
received significant attention and a mini-cult following bringing Destroyer a
new revitalization in the modern music era.
Props for: The
best horn section. Destroyer was seven men strong with a saxophonist and
trumpeter in addition to the regular drum-guitar-singer configuration seen most
of the day.
Best song: “Blue Eyes,” which provided an easy,
breezy melody to sway along to, mimicking the trees that were the most popular
spot to sit under the midday sun.
Final take: The
Pitchfork stages were not the right environs for a band so nuanced in its
orchestral backbone. Wavering from near elevator music to ironic yacht rock to,
sorry to say it, Kenny G on some of those sax solos, Destroyer was merely the
seventh inning stretch of the day’s festivities and merely a soft interlude on
the way to better things in store this night.
Shadow, nee Joshua Paul Davis, is known to have a record collection 60,000
strong-and for good reason. The producer/DJ/songwriter, who got his start
DJ’ing for the University of California, Davis radio station KDVS, is credited
with the early development of the “trip hop” (instrumental hip hop) genre and
is best know for his largely sampled material. Five years after his last
release, Shadow is back with The Less You
Know the Better, released this past May.
Props for: The egg
effect. Shadow lived up to his name by casting figures from inside the giant
white orb he hid in for most of his set until hatching a few songs from the
end. Unfortunately someone didn’t get the memo that his performance was before dusk so the video projection he
tried to install was all but lost on the crowd that was hundreds of people
Best song: “Walkie
Talkie,” which hit home for many in the audience looking for an old school jam
in the influx of newbie indie bands on docket.
Final take: “I’ve
never done anything like this in Chicago,”
Shadow said as he introduced himself to the crowd. But likely this is just one
of many visits to the city if any promoter caught on to the magnet affect he
had on the crowd that cleared every nook and cranny to see his long-overdue
set. From hip hop harmonies to repetitively funky choruses, Shadow inspired
many a too-cool wallflower to get their groove on … after all in his own words,
Shadow is no “DJ at a wedding who plays Top 10 mashup hits.” He is the real
deal, iPod generation.
American artist Nika Roza Danilova may have been born and raised in Wisconsin, but simple
farm girl are not words in her repertoire. At only 22 years of age, the
pint-sized hyper-blonde beauty has already released three EPs and two LPs, all
rich with industrial beats perfectly syncopated to her indulgent register that
offer classically goth overtones and recessed lyrics-likely due to an early
worldview of growing up in a wooded forest with hunter Dad.
Props for: Her
dress. Not nearly as unique as Bjork’s swan song, but Danilova’s couture grey
dress with layers on layers of sparkly ruffled tiers could have easily been the
wedding cake or Liberty Bell to ring in this celebratory set.
Best song: “Night.”
It really doesn’t get any better than her haunting first single, even though
subsequent releases have come close the fold. “Night” is simply ZJ at her
Final take: Zola
Jesus certainly lived up to her title as one to watch in 2011. Having seen
previous performances from the Karen O in waiting, Danilova seems to have
finally come to grips with her comfortability on stage and is no longer the
frightened animal within. Although her criminally good drummer Nick Johnson was
questionably missing from this set in replacement of a half-kit played by
another of her entourage, Danilova made up for it with a echoing thunder in her
delivery. “Why are you all here?” she asked at the onset-but really the
question was “why aren’t more of you here?”
about folklore; Fleet Foxes all but steered in a resurgence of ‘70s acoustic
rock bounded by rich vocal harmonies and storytime lyrics. By late 2007, the Seattle band had acquired
nearly 250,000 hits on their MySpace page in a matter of months and singer
Robin Pecknold admittedly has credited illegal file sharing to the band’s quick
rise to music nomenclature. But it wasn’t until 2008’s eponymous debut that
sealed the deal by earning the band many a “best of” title in year-end critic’s
lists and such notable gigs as opening for mentor Neil Young.
Props for: Their
beards. This sextet could be the poster boys for Just for Men with no shortage
of Chia facial hair, which only further adds to their mountain men image.
Best song: “Myknos,” for its eloquent harmonies and the most breadth for the Foxes who
slyly rely on the same musical equation for each of its dashingly similar
Final take: A
plumage of smoke isn’t going to offer the illusion of entertainment for a mostly
sleepy crowd who wondered how Fleet Foxes jumped from cabaret theatres to the
headlining slot at indie music’s premiere festival. Sure, they sounded
impeccable with spot-on harmonizing and a perfectly-tuned and timed fleet of
instruments but it wasn’t enough to garner this CSNY protégé a two hour set
largely uninspired to keep both the band’s and the crowd’s feet firmly planted
on the ground.