We attended the Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend. Let's just say it was an uneven weekend. The two main stages were set up well and you could pretty much hear everything that was going on at those stages. But let's totally rip the second stage, the "B" or Balance Stage which had shitty sound and was nearly impossible to see or move around. The area around the stage was far too narrow making it uncomfortable - basically the Balance Stage was a cage. The front and two sides were caged in by fence and forced anyone who wanted to see an act on the stage to act more like cattle than human beings. On top of that, if you weren't within 40 feet of the stage, it was nearly impossible to hear anything. The sound system was worse than your run of the mill high school. The Balance Stage was the biggest disappointment of a longer than should be list of disappointments.
We'll admit it, we didn't get there until around 6pm... but apparently we didn't miss much. As one person we talked to said, "If you ever want to kill a festival, have Iron and Wine play." Over all, we thought the line up on Saturday was pretty week, and we weren't far off with that thinking. While it would have been nice to see Califone or Voxtrot we weren't able to, therefore that left Oxford Collapse and Dan Deacon as the two acts that we wanted to see on Saturday. Overall, let's just say Saturday sucked.
Mastodom - We arrived as they hit the stage having never heard anything by these guys. Seeing that metal isn't our bag, we didn't listen too closely. They sounded fine... I guess.
Oxford Collapse - Seeing that they were at the "B" stage, they were doomed from the get go. Over the last year, they have risen up to become of one my favorite current bands and "The Boys Go Home" is one of my favorite songs. As a live band they didn't seem to have the explosiveness that I was expecting them to have. While the packed some punch, they didn't hit hard. Part of this was probably because the background vocals were louder than the lead vocals (nice job sound guys!) and the lead guitar was uneven in sound... sometimes loud, sometimes not easily audible. In my opinion, I would rather them have taken the main stage than pretty much anyone else who played on Saturday. And if I really wanted to see them preform, I should have gone to the Hideout that night. Let's just say this: IT IS NEVER A GOOD SIGN FOR A FESTIVAL WHEN ONE IS SAYING TO ONESELF... MAN I SHOULD DITCH THIS AND SEE THIS BAND AT THE HIDEOUT. That is how shitty Saturday was.
Clipse - While adding some much needed energy to a fairly subdued and at times lame crowd of hipsters, I didn't think they were anything all that special in the 15 minutes I stuck around to hear them. They weren't bad and did seem like fun for the first ten minutes. But by no means did they suck me in.
Dan Deacon - I downloaded a few Deacon tracks a few months ago and fell in love with them. So I was pumped to go see him. One problem, actually two, I could not hear or see Dan Deacon because the Balance Stage sucked. A shame because he seemed like he could totally have taken over the festival if he had been given the main stage.
Cat Power - We were tired by this point and the idea of getting a case and a few burgers sounded a whole lot cooler than seeing if Cat Power would break down on stage. And no one, I repeat no one, wanted to see Yoko.
Sea and Cake - While it would have been cool to see The Ponys, we didn't feel like getting there at 1:30. Therefore we arrived to see Sea & Cake at 4pm. Without too much effort, they became better than any band that we saw/heard on Saturday. While they at times got a little too sleepy, they picked it up and threw in enough poppy tunes to not only hold my attention, but to be sure to check them out another time.
Jamie Liddell - The most uneven performance that we saw, Liddell rocked at times and lost me at others. Wearing what appeared to be a headpiece that George Clinton had given him, Liddell nailed every 70s inspired soul song that he did. But when he went behind his tables and did some more experimental stuff, he lost the crowd at the same time. The looping was aiight but he is no Andrew Bird. No matter, one of the better acts of the weekend.
Stephen Malkmus - While we loved the fact that he played "Spit on a Stranger" he was underwhelming, lacked presence, and Malkmus needed a band behind him. A man and his guitar can be lovely... but not at an outdoor festival with 17,000 people. I won't call him a disappointment, but he would have been a lot better if he had some supporting musicians with him.
Of Montreal - Easily the weirdest group of the day, they came on stage wearing bizarre outfits. While people seemed excited to see them, I wasn't too impressed. A few songs lagged on for too long and didn't really go any where. The guy in wearing a lobster arm and another guy dressed as a tree stump on stage were not only weird, but actually took away from everything... what was their point? Or better yet, why should I care?
The New Pornographers - No Neko Case... a disappointment. But the band still delivered in what was probably my favorite act. They were fun, interesting, and solid. They came out and just played music - no side shows or over the top costumes.
- The Balance Stage - I can't tell you how much it sucked.
- Saturday's Line up - Yoko? Seriously? I'm sure I'm not being open minded enough, but it's sort of like inviting Christopher Hitches to be the key speaker at a Liberal Conference in Madison at this point. Let's just say the guys at Pitchfork are trying too hard.
- The Crowd - Hipsters aren't the loudest bunch. They don't have problems with consumerism or commercialism so you won't get cries for revolution or change. It's a crowd were image matters more than thirst. And when it comes to musical festivals, they aren't the best crowd to see shows with. They lack energy and passion, which hurt some acts. Dancing was kept to the minimum (as was any sort of sign of one showing that he/she may actually like the band that was preforming).
- Wannabe Hipsters - Where does one draw the line between irony and stupidity? And if there is still such a line, I feel as if we've passed it. Those who are hip don't try to be hip (if that makes any sense). There were far too many wannabe hipsters and people trying too hard to be hip. Too many people were trying to be cool, thus they ended up being lamer than most frat boys on Clark or Lincoln Ave. Note to male hipster wannabes: do no wear short shorts. These are not hip. Just because it happened in the 80s doesn't make it cool now.
- $1 water and drinking fountains were great.
- The food was surprisingly good.
- $4 Goose Island and short lines for the beer... not bad at all considering I'd pay that or more at pretty much any bar in Chicago for a 312 or Honkers Ale.
- Sunday's line up
- When ever Jamie Lidell was singing soul.
- Sea and Cake's more pop inspired stuff.
- The New Pornographers
- Union Park
- The fact that the festival wasn't over crowded. In fact, I could see them expanding the number of people by a few thousand next year (provided they created a bit more space). But thankfully, one could move and breath easily.
- The Event Promoters, Staffers, and Planners... fantastic job by all them. The festival was the perfect size, it was comfortable, and the price was just right. Even though I didn't have a good time on Saturday, the price didn't make me feel ripped off (or angry). And Sunday was a nice time.
If the "B" Stage was even remotely better, this would have been a higher grade. Saturday's line up didn't really catch my eye, but part of that was because I couldn't get there until 6pm (I think Voxtrot and Battles would have been cool). The price was A+, Sunday was a solid A-/B+, and the main stages were done right; good sound and nice sightlines from pretty much anywhere. Just do something about that second stage and remember to ditch those bands that sound great in small venues.
As Jim DeRogotis correctly points out: "In the end, with the third Pitchfork fest standing as an unqualified artistic success as well as a profitable business venture (according to the promoters, who declined to say exactly how much money they made), the question it raised was not how it could offer so much for so little ($50 for a three-day pass), but how larger, much better-funded and more heavily hyped fests -- chief among them the reinvented Lollapalooza -- can justify charging so much while delivering far inferior sound and sight lines, milking concertgoers with overpriced amenities and assaulting them with corporate promotional hucksterism at the expense of what mattered most in Union Park: the music."