Pitchfork Music Festival’s recurring themes
Match up this weekend's big names with some lesser-known acts
Music fans may gripe about snooty online behemoth Pitchfork, but one merit of the site remains constant: Its yearly three-day festival in Chicago's Union Park is perhaps the most economical and exciting outdoor destination festival of its kind. Concessions are reasonably priced, tickets are affordable, and the lineups are always top-notch. Obviously, there are headliners—this year sees The National and The Flaming Lips in the top-billed spot on Saturday and Sunday respectively, with The Jesus Lizard and Tortoise punching up Friday night—but the fest’s real appeal is how it complements bigger names with smaller, similar unknowns earlier in the day. This year is no exception, so Decider opted to pair up some of the weekend’s heavy hitters with lesser-known acts, bound together by a common musical ground. Choose wisely.
If you’re here to see: Tortoise (Friday, 5 p.m.)
Then also consider: Yeasayer (Saturday, 5:15 p.m.), Michael Columbia (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Commonality: Instrumental/musical complexity
The musical bouillabaisse of post-rock borrows elements from a myriad of genres; the work of Chicago-based progenitors Tortoise, which includes such masterpieces of instrumental complexity as 1998’s TNT and 2001’s Standards, contains jazz, krautrock, electronica, and dub, to name a few. Friday’s set will no doubt be a weekend highlight, one that will give listeners a satisfying taste of adventurous music. To satiate those cravings elsewhere, check out Brooklyn-based sonic wizards Yeasayer, who combine elements of psychedelia, religious chanting, multi-part harmonies, and Middle Eastern-flavored percussion reminiscent of Talking Heads. If you’re looking more local, don’t miss Chicago trio Michael Columbia. The threesome blends ambient synth textures, complex drum parts, spooky harmonies, and saxophone to shape positively hypnotic sounds, and early enough in the day for you not to get too dizzy in the sweltering heat.
If you’re here to see: The Jesus Lizard (Friday, 7:20 p.m.)
Then also consider: Ponytail (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.), The Mae Shi (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Commonality: Batshit-crazy lead singers
Nobody lights up a stage with his penis as much as Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, who helped the Chicago alt-rockers gain momentum in the early ’90s with his unruly stage presence, featuring the occasional striptease and his atonal, borderline-demonic vocals. While not as plastered, Molly Siegel, frontwoman for Baltimore art-rockers Ponytail, is just as incoherent. Her sometimes shrill, animal-like vocals make little effort to adhere to any language—Ponytail’s lyrics are mostly something like, “Brraaooww whrreoow!” And just about everyone sings lead in caffeinated punk collective The Mae Shi, meaning you’ll witness four rascals incessantly screeching Red Bull-influenced melodies with an adolescent-like falsetto.
If you’re here to see: Black Lips (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
Then also consider: Wavves (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.), Vivian Girls (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.)
Commonality: Spectacle-like stage shows
Black Lips are notorious for disgusting and potentially offensive onstage antics. Looking for lo-fi rock ’n’ roll, bodily fluids, nudity, and man-on-man kisses? Look no further. Hell, the band was kicked out of India last January for the latter two alone. Really, though, the self-destructive performances start even earlier in the day with Wavves. The band had a colossal, drug-fueled meltdown and awful onstage infighting in Spain last May—let’s all hope the soundcheck goes similarly awry. And although their show may not be as crass as a Lips one, Vivian Girls are definitely worth catching; the Brooklynite ladies share the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude and fuzzy, raw power of their garage-rock brothers—as made evident through their stoic expressions and the no-frills sound on their self-titled debut record.
If you’re here to see: Yo La Tengo (Friday, 6:10 p.m.)
Then also consider: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (Saturday, 3:20 p.m.), M83 (Sunday, 6:15 p.m.)
The hushed vocals, the heavy and heavenly distorted guitars, the expressionless faces on all the band members—shoegaze is back, baby! Mild-mannered indie-rock veterans Yo La Tengo open the festival, and while their style was never purely shoegaze, their guitars have frequently featured the overdrive-drenched sound that defined the genre. (And the band is still more than willing to rip out the ear-splitting feedback during its live show.) The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart is Saturday’s best option for simple pop music, but singer Kip Berman’s melodies often compete against layers of gorgeous fuzz—another shoegaze staple. French dream-pop act M83 plays Sunday, surely performing tracks off of 2008’s Saturday = Youth, which combines elements of ’80s synth-pop with a shoegaze “wall of sound.” The finished product sounds like a long-awaited collaboration between the Brat Pack and My Bloody Valentine.
If you’re here to see: The Flaming Lips (Sunday, 8:40 p.m.)
Then also consider: Fucked Up (Saturday, 2:30 p.m.), The Thermals (Sunday, 4:15 p.m.)
Commonality: Offstage anti-establishmentarianism
Think this festival is about sticking it to The Man? Well, here are three bands either unafraid to make music to the chagrin of authority, or to spit in its face whenever it tries to buy them out. Space-pop veterans The Flaming Lips may seem more preoccupied with crowd-surfing in their giant bubble and dancing Santas than ruffling any feathers, but consider this: The band’s catalog offended Republicans in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to the point that they voted against legislation making the Oklahoma-bred band’s “Do You Realize??” the state song, citing “obscene language” and the presence of a sickle and hammer on a band member’s T-shirt. Hardcore punk-rockers Fucked Up and their fans caused $6,000 in damages when they obliterated a bathroom that MTV Live decided to use as a stage. (The band did it just for the spectacle of it, or so they insinuated in a later interview.) And The Thermals, whose music is rife with political indignation, seemed justified when they turned down $50,000 from Hummer, who wanted to use the song “It’s Trivia” for a commercial. Go find some actual sellouts, Hummer, like The Who.