J. Neas reporting here from Chicago and Day 2 of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park. The theme of the day was, again, sun and hydration. I at times feel, weather wise, like I haven’t left the South, except that there are fairly common breezes and far less humidity. Safety was the rule of thumb. I witnessed a gate bag-checker praise a festival-goer for having sunblock. I’ve also seen quite a few parents of small children with the wherewithal to provide hearing protection, something I don’t always see parents remember. Good job, folks.
Saturday started with a jolt of rock and roll courtesy of Free Energy, DFA Record’s latest signing, setting up interesting bookends for the day. The crowds have been coming earlier this year and Free Energy had a large audience to wake up. They did so admirably with some amazing guitar work including some guitar tapping that just felt good to the ears. New Jersey’s Real Estate had a more low-key approach in the increasingly hot afternoon, but their brand of lilting jangle was a crowd pleaser as well.
A tandem that worked well together, though in radically different ways, were Delorean and Titus Andronicus. Delorean’s electronic flavored dance rock was an energetic lead in to the brutish, punkish, Springsteen of Titus who may well have been the day’s best performance. Opening their show with The Monitor‘s “A More Perfect Union,” the set was a relentless onslaught of powerhouse rock that sent lead singer Patrick Stickles into the audience crowd surfing. There has to be some measurement of how far back from the stage you see people either putting their fists in the air or dancing to gauge how well a band went over and, aside from one other band I’ll discuss later, they probably had the deepest penetration into the audience of the day.
A bit before Titus Andronicus took the stage, Kurt Vile was over on the B stage putting together a howling maelstrom of rock and roll that sounded, at times, like a raucous Tom Petty. Hunched over the microphone, hair in face, he was a good set up for the equally classic sounds of the Smith Westerns later in the afternoon. A young band that seems to have done its homework on incorporating style without sounding slavish, they were the beneficiary of the B stage’s ample shade which drove a lot of listeners into their sonic arms from the heat of the A and C stages.
Back out in the sun-drenched main area, Wu-Tang member Raekwon got started late, but made up for it with a great set of hip-hop including the Wu classic “C.R.E.A.M.” It was a bit of a surprise to walk out and hear that unmistakable tinkling-piano melody line cascading out over the park, but it was a welcome one. The Blues Explosion came pounding out of the other main stage soon after as the power trio unleashed a set of towering rock. Jon Spencer is still an impressive front-man and the rest of his band, especially drummer Russell Simins, is a force to behold.
Bear in Heaven came onto the B stage in the early evening and laid down an awesome set of songs from their fantastic Beast Rest Forth Mouth, but they may have succumbed to the fate of the “some bands are better in clubs” mantra that, for me, killed Grizzly Bear last year. The audience seemed to enjoy it, but their reactions weren’t as visceral during songs as I’m sure the band would’ve liked. When I saw Bear in Heaven later in the evening at an after-fest show at Lincoln Hall, they brought the house down and it was a much better environment for their sound that had the audience dancing and cheering along vibrantly.
I honestly don’t know what I expected from LCD Soundsystem as the Saturday closer, but what I witnessed was Union Park turned into a gigantic dance party. The band powered through a number of songs from their latest, including the obnoxious “Drunk Girls” which was slightly less obnoxious live, but also dipped into their back catalogue for standards like “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” “Losing My Edge” and closing with “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Aside from my own slight disappointment at not hearing “North American Scum,” the performance was electrifying. I watched most of it from the nether reaches of the field, preferring the open spaces to the crowd in this case, and found large pockets of people dancing together in the open as well, mimicking the packed dancers at the front of the show. It was another case of the crowd’s enthusiasm becoming infectious and rubbing off on anyone around them. What would have been merely an enjoyable show for me became a truly great one.
The DFA bookends of the day – LCD’s James Murphy owns the label that put out Free Energy’s debut in addition to producing it himself – made for a nice thematic element and certainly threw down the gauntlet for Sunday. But I imagine Best Coast, Girls, Beach House, Local Natives, St. Vincent, Big Boi, Pavement and others will give it a run for its money as the weekend’s best day. We shall see.