Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 – Day 3
by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published August 1st 2014
photos by Ben Stas
Pitchfork’s final day this year was also its best, stacking many of the weekend’s most anticipated acts back to back, if not on top of one another. A bit frustrating perhaps, but also a head-spinning amount of great music to see in one day if you were up for the challenge.
First up were Massachusetts’ own Speedy Ortiz on Blue, opposing the formerly Boston-based Mutual Benefit on Green. Speedy’s loss and replacement of guitarist Matt Robidoux with Grass Is Green’s Devin McKnight hasn’t slowed them down a bit, and they were as charming as always throughout a satisfyingly noisy set. Mutual Benefit’s gentler baroque-folk stylings might’ve been more atmospherically suited to the corner stage than the main one, but they sounded lovely regardless. We also got one of the day’s more amusing offhand comments out of it, as frontman Jordan Lee glanced at his own supersized image on a nearby screen and remarked that “no one should be that big unless they’re fighting crime.”
A hotly anticipated set from New York shoegazers DIIV followed on Red, which they made damn sure you knew about via the enormous banner bearing their name. The quartet is currently road-testing new material, presumably from their forthcoming sophomore effort, and the new tunes were in much the same vein as Oshin’s hypnotic grooves. DIIV don’t have a particularly dynamic sound, but they’re undeniably good at what they do.
Across the field, Perfect Pussy were gearing up to thrash Chicago for a second time that weekend. The set was largely the same as Friday night’s aftershow, but translated just as well to an outdoor setting (and an even bigger mosh pit). Being more up close and personal than I had been on Friday, courtesy of an incredibly packed photo pit, I felt like I got a more direct hit of the sheer amount of noise the band whips at its audience. Screeching guitars and electronic noise battle with Meredith Graves’ vocals while a frantic rhythm section brings the low-end punch and miraculously holds the songs together. To reiterate: if you’re frustrated by the hype, you still owe it to yourself to see them play a show.
Mirroring Friday night’s scheduling, Deafheaven performed immediately afterward at Green. Metal and sunshine typically don’t go hand in hand, but as the clouds parted midway through the set-opening “Dream House,” it felt right. The band delivered as taut and intense a set as we’ve come to expect from them after a year on the road behind Sunbather and, as they did Friday night, offered up a preview of their first new song since at the halfway point. Roads to Judah’s towering “Unrequited” closed out the set, and proved that not even Pitchfork’s 7-foot-high stages would prevent George Clarke from making his way into the crowd at least once.
The ailing Earl Sweatshirt, who mercifully spared Pitchfork yet another cancellation, appeared in high spirits during his dominating Red Stage set. Earl’s had less time to perfect his live performances than his Odd Future compatriots, but he handled this crowd like a seasoned pro. He’d mime several verses worth of Lil B lyrics and urge a massive “Don’t Stop Believin’” singalong before rapping a single word. His actual work on the mic was, of course, thoroughly on-point as well. “You fuckin’ with that Brett?” he asked of perhaps the single bored-looking member of the crowd, who’s name he assumed had to be Brett. Whoever he was, Brett definitely should’ve been fuckin’ with that.
Over at Blue, Brooklyn’s Dum Dum Girls, who sounded as cool and composed as they looked once their monitor issues were sorted out. Schoolboy Q gathered a rather massive crowd for his Green Stage set a little later, and delivered more or less what you’d expect. Hearing “Hands on the Wheel” was good fun, but once the so-called “Oxymoron Experience” began, a few minutes in the shade with Jon Hopkins proved more enticing. Hopkins, whose collaboration resume spans from Coldplay to Brian Eno, is one of the more engaging solo electronic acts out there at the moment, and his Immunity tracks sounded stellar at Pitchfork.
Side note: Additional props to whoever decided to incorporate more lights and fog at the Blue Stage this year, because they really did add a nice touch to sets like this one.
New Jersey guitar-pop quintet Real Estate put on a freewheeling 5:15 set at the Red Stage that felt like the perfect accompaniment to a sunny Sunday evening. The core trio of guitarist/vocalist Martin Courtney, guitarist Matt Mondanile and bassist Alex Bleeker were all smiles as they opened with an obscure cover (The Nerves’ “Paper Dolls”) and breezed through choice cuts from their own three-album discography. Real Estate is as close a thing as Pitchfork Festival has to a recurring feature (they’ve played three of the four I’ve attended), and it comes as no surprise upon watching how well their songs work in front of increasingly large crowds.
It seemed doubtful that Slowdive’s main stage set would be a huge attraction for Sunday’s younger, Kendrick-drawn attendees, but they wound up delivering an excellent set to a surprisingly robust crowd. The U.K. shoegaze group is only a few months into a reunion, following a 20 year hiatus, but they sounded like they hadn’t lost a step in all that time. Neil Halstead, Christian Savill and Rachel Goswell’s guitars roared across the field, entwined with Halstead and Goswell’s dreamy vocals in a swell of sound that likely nudged out Deafheaven as the day’s loudest band. The setlist was even pleasantly surprising, foregoing what might’ve been an obvious run through 90% of Souvlaki for a balance of favorites and more obscure cuts that sounded just as good. A transfixing return to American shores for a band well-deserving of its legendary status.
Grimes’ Claire Boucher last appeared at Pitchfork Festival’s Blue Stage in 2012, drawing a massive crowd that left the headlining Godspeed You! Black Emperor set sorely underattended. It made sense to see her upgraded to a sub-headliner herself this year, but the vibe before the set still suggested that people were unsure what to expect. Boucher eventually took to a small bank of keyboards and controllers alone; she would be joined only by a superfluous pair of dancers for the remainder. The set was an exercise in doing more with less that featured Boucher hyping the crowd, programming loops and strutting the stage to sing leads unaccompanied. The solo electronics-plus-vocals endeavor isn’t so rare nowadays, but Boucher executed it particularly well for this kind of crowd and setting. Even for a casual fan, it was compelling.
Judging by how insanely packed the Green Stage felt even before Grimes had wrapped up, Kendrick Lamar’s headlining set was certainly Sunday’s Big Draw. The Compton rapper has blown up monumentally since the release of his 2012 major-label debut good kid m.A.A.d. city, and seemingly reached verified superstar status by mid-2014. Good for him. good kid is a good record, but for those who remain unconvinced of its instant album-of-the-decade status, the hype surrounding a set like this gets tedious. Kendrick taking a note from Pusha T’s book and appearing on stage a full 25 minutes late, shortening his set to nearly the same one he brought to Boston Calling last September and to the Yeezus Tour a month later, certainly didn’t help. The performance was solid once it finally began, and Kendrick’s on stage charisma has certainly improved in the last year or so (no more spending half the set cloaked in a hoodie and barely addressing the crowd), but the vibe still could’ve used some recovery. (Full disclosure: I was still pretty excited about hearing “Backseat Freestyle” from the photo pit)
I missed what was reportedly a bizarre Majical Cloudz set involving a malfunctioning MIDI controller, a capella performances and beatboxing earlier in the day, but caught the band’s Schubas aftershow with Hundred Waters on Sunday night for what turned out to be a better Pitchfork conclusion than Kendrick’s.
Hundred Waters’ recent club shows have been heavily praised for their light design, and upon entering Schubas’ hall to a haze of fog and probing points of light, it became totally clear why. The band proved on Friday afternoon that their songs can hold weight under the harsh light of day, but a legitimately cool light show in a dark room with more volume undeniably improved the experience.
Majical Cloudz began an hour-long set a little past midnight, serving as a low-key final serving of Pitchfork 2014 in the best possible way. The band is vocalist Devon Welsh and keyboardist Matthew Otto, and they perform sparse but emotionally wrenching songs with a rare kind of honesty. Welsh’s incredibly dry but personable sense of humor shone through from the show’s opening moments, and he kept a sort of open rapport with the crowd for the remainder of the set. Random shouts turned into conversations, song requests were taken under advisement and sometimes granted, Billy Corgan disses were roundly applauded; a room full of strangers felt like a weirdly connected group of friends. The songs, some old, some brand new, a few presented a capella since it apparently went ok earlier in the day, sounded beautiful. Welsh ended the set by proclaiming it one of their most fun in a long while, and in that moment it was hard to imagine a better conclusion to the weekend for any of us.