“Welcome to the magic kingdom,” said a ticket-taker at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Irony and humor aside, the volunteer’s invocation of the idea of Walt Disney World was quite apt. Music festivals – especially multi-day fests – are often not terribly pleasant experiences. Long days on your feet out in the sun, packed in with thousands of strangers and forced to doll out wads of cash on water and crummy food.
The Pitchfork Music Festival, created by the popular music website of the same name, on the other hand, provided one of the most pleasant massive live-music experiences imaginable. The fifth-annual festival (sixth if you count the Pitchfork-curated Intonation Festival in ’05) filled Union Park with three days of eclectic music. Lineup aside, the atmosphere fused everything that makes a festival like Pitchfork an enjoyable, unique experience. Absent were the massive banners advertising brand “x” and “y,” with only a handful of booths displaying their brand name in spare parts of the park. The slaughterhouse feel that pervades many Live Nation-branded festivals and parks was missing too: The price of food was low, the cost of water was lower (and continued to drop with the heat) and those who worked the festival treated attendees with, well, a proper sense of camaraderie. As the staff made an effort to pass free bottles of water to those in need and brought a Greyhound onto the park grounds for anyone seeking air conditioning, the sense of compassion amongst attendees was high thanks to a shared love of the music being played.
The music itself was another story. If anyone was skeptical of Pitchfork’s diversity of musical taste, one glance at the festival’s two main stages would have changed their mind quickly. With a schedule that sandwiched a performance by the toned-down, orchestral indie stylings of St. Vincent between sets by spazzy, hard-and-heavy noise duo Lightening Bolt and the electro-dance crew known as Major Lazer, it’s hard to argue against the festival having featured varied genres of music.
It made for a festival that was exciting, exhausting and hard to predict. Like any mass gathering of musicians, there are a few bum notes. Panda Bear proved an utter bore, divorcing whatever tunefulness and individuality he brought to his medium of electronic-drone and churning out a fairly uninteresting and excruciatingly long set. Similarly, Girls sucked what little life was in their stylistically-pedicured fuzz-rock out of their performance and left it elsewhere. Hampered by audio glitches, Sleigh Bells grasped for something – anything – to help them make noise and stand out against the brazenly loud pre-recorded instrumental track that threatened to swallow the duo whole. Liars‘s post-punk noise freakouts seemed to evaporate into thin air before the emotional complexity of the tunes registered with the crowd.
Fortunately, a lot of these little glitches were few and far between. Throughout the three-day festival lay many solid sets, surprises and genuinely fantastic musical voices. Robyn and Delorean brought some excellent dance tunes that simmered in the heat, while LCD Soundsystem made some emotionally-taught freak-out funk live on through the night. Alienation sounded great, as Titus Andronicus churned out fist-pumping, Americana-soaked crust punk for all to enjoy, while WHY? tackled the issue with a distinctly American hybridization of hip-hop, indie, electronica and some curveball experimentation tossed in. Beach House succeeded where many atmospheric bands would have failed, tossing out finely-focused, dreamy anti-folk tunes, while the equally aurally-focused group CAVE churned out a handful of lean, mean krautrock-inspired, classic rock-inflected jams. Big Boi cranked out old OutKast material and solo songs like there was no tomorrow.
The list goes on, quite literally, and it’s hard to squeeze in every last band. Sure, not every band arrived with the same eye-grabbing status that Sunday night headliner Pavement brought with it (the band put on a perfectly imperfect performance, which, depending on who you talk to, is either good or bad), but many acts had some great moments. However, the real kicker may not have been in the complex guitar noodling on stage C at a specific time, but that everything seemed to come together so well in the span of three days: The bands, the fans and the atmosphere blended together in one great, euphoric event. A magic kingdom indeed.
Delorean – “Real Love”: