Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So Pitchfork was a blast, once again. Its booking flawed but interesting and sometimes transcendent, its crises well-managed, its beer free and plentiful. Since my David Banner review, my last ever for the Fork, ran on the day before the festival started, this was my first-ever Pitchfork fest as a Pitchfork non-staffer, but everybody still treated me real nice. And since I wasn't even trying to write about this professionally anywhere, I was free to experience the festival the way sane people do: watch band, hang out with friends, watch a couple of songs of some other band, get drink, hang out, eat, watch band. This was gratifying.

But so the Cut Copy saga: I spent the whole Dinosaur Jr. set trying to get a half-decent position near the packed-in third stage for Cut Copy, who were supposed to be closing the thing out. At go time, someone came out to tell us that Cut Copy's plane had been delayed but that here was the guy from Deerhunter along with his obnoxious little fake-garage buddies to make it OK. Cue dejected mass exodus. As consolation prizes go, Spoon's headlining set seemed more than OK: they had poise and swagger and a ton of great songs. But after maybe twenty minutes, Brandon Stosuy sent me a text that Cut Copy was actually coming on after all, and I grabbed a bunch of people and ran back to see this band rush from their cars to the stage, playing four songs to an absurdly amped if shrunken crowd, sounding amazing. This is how these festivals are supposed to end: triumph from defeat.

Cut Copy had my moment of the festival, but they weren't the band of the festival for me. That's always going to be the Hold Steady, who were as joyous and perfect as I've ever heard them. "Lord I'm Discouraged" damn near made me cry. And Julia Stiles was standing like five feet away from me in the crowd, so there was that, too. (My other celebrity moment: meeting Byron Crawford.)

Here's the other stuff I saw.

Sebadoh. Bubble and Scrape is a really long album, huh?

Public Enemy. Fun! I liked their Summer Jam set better because it was shorter and leaner and Flav didn't play a drum solo, but they're still as urgent and forceful as live rap gets, and they still did like all their best songs. (After Nation of Millions, they did an encore that was almost as long.) Also: half an hour of weird reggae from Hank and Keith Shocklee!

Jay Reatard. You should really only be playing circa-81 facepunch hardcore if you're an legitimately terrifying person, you know? If you're just some dude, it's not a great look.

Caribou. They didn't really do anything onstage, but they sure sounded pretty.

Fleet Foxes. Their album bores the everliving shit out of me, but as a soundtrack to burrito-eating, this was OK. Still have no idea how they're superior to Band of Horses in any way.

Dizzee Rascal. Heated! Dude knows how to rap in front of people. Bonus points for making fun of Fleet Foxes.

Vampire Weekend. Sounded like tiny tiny babies. I still love the album, but these guys could really stand to bring it a whole lot harder live. That Whit Stillman thing works in the Cake Shop, but it's not field-of-thousands music, and field-of-thousands music is basically what they have to be making now.

!!!. It's the MC Hammer model: whatever his vocal capabilities may be, make the best dancer in the band the focal point. The MC Hammer model works. This banged.

Jarvis Cocker. I guess I respect that he doesn't play Pulp songs live anymore, but it's also kind of bullshit. Still: amazing performer, and those solo-album songs sounded a whole lot better than I remembered. Also: the only performer all weekend I heard mentioning Obama onstage. This was weird. It's like: you're in Chicago, and it's not like people were really talking about anything else. (Except Batman. People were talking about Batman.) (The Dark Knight ruled. More discussion on that maybe later.)

King Khan. That whole fuzzy-dice soul-revue thing was fun enough to make for good festival fare. But if you're going to go for a Wilson Pickett/Screamin' Jay Hawkins thing, it might be a good idea to be a good singer. Or to have some songs with hooks. Just putting that out there.

Les Savy Fav. I like how the booking forced us to choose between two kinda-fat shirtless stomach-rubbing air-humping frontmen. The whole Iggy Pop broken-glass thing would never work anymore because these days audiences have to be in on the joke; nobody's going to be the herb who thought the self-destructive dervish onstage actually sucked. So Tim Harrington's authentically disgusting comedy act probably makes him the closest thing we have to an Iggy anymore. People still laugh, but if they're close enough to the stage, they laugh with their faces all covered in mud because a mud-covered Harrington jumped on their heads. This act does not get old, ever. Also: good band!

Rae and Ghost. I knew this was going to rule, and it did. I am smart. Nothing unexpected here, but these guys (Ghost in particular) know how to stay loose and unstructured without losing focus or purpose.

Spiritualized. Impossible to imagine a better sunset band. There were moments during this set where I felt invincible.