Musings from Pitchfork ’08

As I sit still recovering from a last-minute adventure to Pitchfork Music Festival 2008 in Chicago’s Union Park, I can’t help but marvel at the vast quantity of engaging musicians, porta-potties and American Apparel ensembles that I had experienced over the course of the weekend. Speaking specifically to the musical component, my hat goes off to the festival organizers for arranging a lineup of artists that was well spaced out, diverse, and most importantly for a currently jobless college graduate, an incredible bargain. Below are some scattered thoughts on the festival:

I arrived late on Saturday, after getting a later start than expected when a certain blogger was still a bit hazy following a late previous night stomping around at the Indie Queer Pride Discotech. This meant missing Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, both of whom reportedly delivered very pleasing sets. My day, instead, began by seeing what all of the hype with provocatively-titled duo F*** Buttons was about. As it turned out, it was mostly about booming feedback mixed other sporadic noises — not exactly my scene. After watching a few songs, I headed over instead to observe the brave souls who had already begun charging through the many muddy pits that remained on the grounds throughout the weekend following light rain Saturday morning.

The best (muddiest) seat in the house Saturday night.

The best (muddiest) seat in the house Saturday night.

Incidentally, I was equally “whelmed” later in the festival by two other blog darlings that I’d been very much looking forward to — Vampire Weekend and HEALTH. VW’s set consisted of crisp replicas of their impeccable debut album delivered with perfect posture worthy of Sunday morning at church with the family. Combined with the heat of the blinding Saturday afternoon sun and the expected overcrowding, the set was a definite miss. HEALTH perhaps suffered from the opposite problem and reminded me of an overly stimulated puppy. That said, the large crowd assembled at the new-and-improved third, side stage seemed to jive well with their sound.

Saturday’s highlight, as it turned out, was a tie between the foul-Cockney-accent-mouthed British rapper Dizzee Rascal and the incredibly trippy end-of-the-night set from Animal Collective, followed closely behind by a disco-rific set from !!! (Chk Chk Chk), which thankfully woke the crowd up after being lulled to sleep by the faux-Transylvannian weekenders . Animal Collective’s light show was particularly impressive, perfectly complementing the act’s pulsating haunts, much to the amusement of the many, many festival-goers adding various illegal substances into mix for their set.. It was a sublime end to the night, coming just before being shaken back to reality by the cattle call to the train stop just outside the festival.

Fixie Fest '08.

Union Park's other large event of the weekend: FixieFest '08.

Sunday, I arrived on the grounds feeling rejuvenated and not-hungover, ready for more gratuitous samples of Fuze fruit drink — orange melon was my flavor of choice, by weekend’s end. Moments after stepping past the many fixed-gear bikes and the surprisingly attentive bag-checkers at the gate, I was greeted with a series of four gong hits — Japan’s Boris had begun their show, which was surprisingly pleasant for this non-metal head. Next, I ran over to the B stage to catch High Places, an entertaining calypso-sugary duo that put together a very nice set, before avoiding HEALTH’s dying-raccoon-screeches by grabbing a piece of deep-dish Chicago pizza from one of the plethora of surprisingly delectable food vendors and collecting more free buttons, stickers and coupons than I knew what to do with.

M. Ward playing early on Sunday.  He'll be back in town with Zooey Deschanel in September at the Barrymore.

M. Ward playing early on Sunday. He'll be back in town with Zooey Deschanel Friday, Aug. 8, at the Barrymore.

Ready for more music, I hid under a polka-dotted umbrella-turned-parasol while catching the end of the Dodos‘ set and claiming a prime spot for M. Ward. The Dodos’ sound was infinitely better in this setting than a few weeks prior at the MU Terrace, and their set was fantastic, only outshone by the artful mastery of music displayed by M. Ward in the set that followed.  His performance managed to give me, and likely many others in the audience, chills on the balmy summer afternoon — a feat that requires true musicianship.

Bon Iver rocking the "B" stage on Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival 2008 in Union Park, Chicago.

Bon Iver rocking the "B" stage on Sunday at P4K.

The series of fantastic back-to-back sets continued as I headed over to the B stage to set up camp for the triple threat that I’d been most looking forward to: Ghostface Killah & Raekwon-Bon Iver-Cut Copy. Ghostface and company delivered peace, love and hip hop in a set that provided a fresh take on old school — the crowd ate it up. Bon Iver was equally satisfying, balancing his well-known falsetto with his clear curiosity of noise rock, and recruiting the audience as his own backing chorus, just as he had done back in April during his last Madison appearance at Orpheum Stage Door. A surprising bonus of the set was an impassioned Creedance Clearwater Revival cover, which helped sweeten the blow of the severe collective dehydration and claustrophobia of the large crowd gathered for the set.

The night ended with a bit of a downer, as it took festival organizers nearly a half hour past Cut Copy’s scheduled start time of 8:25 to announce that the band was caught at the airport and was delayed — it was all said and done, we unfortunately missed the abridged, reportedly amazing, set from the Australian wunderkids. Instead, we were treated to an ad hoc ensemble of the most intoxicated Chicago band members available at the time — the singer from Deerhunter, drummer from the Ponys, and a few of their compadres. Following a lilting, improvised song titled “Jelly Roll,” it was time to catch the last bits of Spoon‘s set from the very back of the large assembled crowd. Spoon’s sound fits perfectly into a festival setting, and they did not disappoint.

As many warnings as I had heading into Pitchfork of its being unorganized and amateurish, I was repeatedly impressed by what the organizers had done catering to such a large crowd in a confined space. My only real disappointment was not being able to see all of the bands that I’d wanted to due to the packed schedule requiring that difficult decisions be made — namely missing out on the Hold Steady (who went straight from P4K to rock the Majestic stage earlier this week), Jarvis Cocker and Spiritualized. Indeed, it seems the festival has overcome its growing pains and solidified a position as one of Chicago’s greatest music festivals, one that I am looking forward to attending for many years to come.

— Joe Erbentraut, True Endeavors Communications and Public Relations Intern

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