WSUM’s DJ Spencer Wells’s trip to Pitchfork Music Festival!

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 Animal Collective’s elaborate stage design

Animal Collective’s elaborate stage design

Though I made it late to his show on Friday, I was still in time for what would turn out to be my favorite set of the festival – James Blake. My introduction to Blake’s bassy, moody hybrid of slowed-down dubstep beats and a beautiful, rangy voice was recent, but I fell hard for this unlikely combination. Despite being thoroughly unimpressed by the portion of set I caught during SXSW (in his defense it was way too quiet) I thought I’d give his live show another chance. I was rewarded in droves, but only after waiting for Das Racist to finish up. Incidentally, they actually rapped during this set instead of just berating the crowd. Still, songs with choruses like “Micheal Jackson, a million dollars” can only be so good.

With only moments to spare I found myself a satisfactory spot for Animal Collective’s set and feasted my eyes on the most extravagant stage design I’d ever seen. The festival main stage had been turned into a glowing, pulsing cavern with strings of red creatures hanging from its stalactites. As this was my first time seeing them live, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect their sound to be like. I did not expect it to be the least reminiscent of a Grateful Dead concert, which it was. This was actually pretty awesome, solidifying them in my mind as the best post-psychedelic rock band (if such a genre exists).

Once Blake came on stage I nearly screamed along with the teenage girls when he delicately greeted the crowd with his heavy British accent. Playing songs mainly off his self-titled LP released earlier this year he quickly redeemed his live performance in my mind. I initially planned on leaving Blake’s set early to get a better spot in the already massive crowd waiting for Animal Collective. Despite Neko Case’s set being audibal during some of Blake’s quieter moments I was enthralled enough to stick it out. The decision became all the more solid when he broke into his cover of “Limit to your Love” by Feist, a must-hear off his record. Experiencing the explosive sub-bass louder than ever before brought it to a new level.

 The sweltering festival grounds

The sweltering festival grounds

Saturday’s line up was generally unremarkable but book-ended by two shows I was interested in, Woods and Fleet Foxes. Woods was an afternoon show, and with the day temperatures staying in the high 90s that weekend, standing in an empty baseball diamond wasn’t pleasant. This prevented me from being able to really get into the set despite being a fan of both of their records. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the far corner of the park, beating the heat in the shade.

 Fleet Foxes fans

Fleet Foxes fans

Once the sun’s intensity dropped to an acceptable level I went to camp out the Fleet Foxes stage. I managed to be front row for their Lollapalooza appearance two years ago and wanted to relive one of my favorite festival experiences. Sadly, hundreds of others were more dedicated than I. Judging by the quality and quantity of the crowd, Fleet Foxes have crossed over from indie-folk to hip jam band. As the sun set on the massive crowd, the band took the stage and the crowd turned out to be more appropriate than I anticipated. Fleet Foxes’ latest Helplessness Blues is certainly more upbeat than their previous releases and their new live show brought up both the tempo and timbre of the band. The harmonies are still there, but the set generally sounded like it was their records played too loud and on 45rpm instead of 33. However they still had many awe-inspiring moments of musical bliss.

Left Brain of Odd Future talking to the crowd

Left Brain of Odd Future talking to the crowd

Sunday was the only day that sold out and the grounds were noticeably more crowded. This also the hottest day of the three and surviving was my main objective. The first set I made it to was one of the most talked about of the weekend – Odd Future. I’d seen these guys at SXSW and had been following the explosion of popularity that ensued, with their controversial lyrics and attitude gaining as many haters as followers (not sure which I am). This show was set to be even more explosive than usual, with a massive crowd and rumors of women’s rights groups protesting.
Citing the ridiculous heat, the group entered the stage to Bob Marley’s “One Love”, instantly chilling out the crowd (which spanned across the entire park at this point). Despite this peaceful gesture, the rap collective proceeded with their set as usual, actually they seemed to accentuate their offensive lyrics. Unfortunately the on-stage antics of the group fell far short of their previous performances – only a few short stage-dives and throwing of paper towels into the crowd. The crowd was crazy – I saw the most people crowd-surfing I’d ever seen at a festival – though they were probably just tired of standing in the heat. Another interesting aspect of the Odd Future performance was the lack of press in the press pit – the only set of the weekend where they weren’t allowed between the crowd and stage for the first three songs. Whether it was because of the contempt the group seems to hold for the media or concerns of the festival organizers, it allowed more interaction between the performers and crowd, uninterrupted by hoards of zoom lenses.

 Madison’s own Ryan Vergeront

Madison’s own Ryan Vergeront

Again I took shelter in the shaded area in the back of the park during a lull in interesting sets. After refueling on overpriced food and drink I headed out the main stage to catch Deerhunter. Their set was solid, jumping into some of their more rock n roll songs after only a bit of ambient playing to start things off. As much as I like Deerhunter, I felt their sound is more appropriate for a club setting and wandered over to the side stage where Toro Y Moi would be playing.
Another of my most anticipated sets of the weekend, I’d been wanting to catch a live show since I started to get into the music of Chaz Bundick last summer but hadn’t had the chance. Playing a mix of songs from his latest LP Underneath the Pines and last year’s break-out Causers of This to a field full of adoring fans had Chaz and his band smiling despite the continuing heat. Sweating and dancing along with the band, the set was another highlight to close out the weekend with. I caught a bit of Cut Copy’s set on the way out of the park, but wasn’t impressed enough to stick around and listen.

photos and words: Spencer Wells