Day two of the Pitchfork Music Festival is longer – three hours to be exact and the moment where I feel like I’m in the real meat of the festival. Some hard decisions come up and those lovely festival fatigue-pangs start appearing more frequently with the heat slowly becoming a prominent factor.
In fact, there’s probably no act more unlucky during the weekend than Julianna Barwick. The regal, ambient/vocal-tapestry auteur already makes music incredibly unkind for a festival setting – and when she stands all alone on the Green Stage with her overdubbed voice and an occasional smile, you feel a little bad for her.
The last time I saw Barwick I was sitting on a pew amongst the pitch-dark shadows of a church in the heart of Austin. The relaxed audience could let the beatific glory of her craft wash over them – as it was meant to. Around the second time a train’s rumble pierces through her mix, I realize that this new, more general setting isn’t exactly ideal. Standing and sweating with a Julianna that doesn’t look too comfortable in the first place is just not a positive experience for all associated parties. She’s certainly got a task ahead of her, adapting her inarguably gorgeous craft for daytime festival sets – and I’m sure that tour money looks inviting.
Across the field from Julianna is Woods, a band whose consistency speaks for them. Three solid LPs in an equal number of years, diversifying their spooky, psych-folk roots ever so slightly with each installation – and Woods look like a bunch of dudes that like writing songs. They’ve been tagged as scene-icons because of their famous label, notorious friends, and a few I-was-there stories about loft shows but the vaguely-hip, freshly-dressed figures of the band are the kind you could imagine ordering a latte from.
They serve a healthy dose of songs drawing generously from their most talked-about releases to a dense crowd for such an early show, I guess that makes sense: Woods are a band that you keep as a dependable route for most scenarios. I don’t think they’re anyone’s favorite band, but they always get a mention – and bonus points to Jeremy Earl for proving his pinched warble is actually his legitimate singing voice. Some people are just born that way I guess.
Pretty much every time Cold Cave play an outdoor festival-slot with a hot sun and journalists standing by eager to commentate, every article mentions the fact that, yes, they wear black skinnies, leather jackets and uncomfortable-looking shoes despite the heat. People write about this sort of thing like it’s an act of fist-shaking defiance in the face of logical norm, but I think it goes deeper than that. Cold Cave dress as they do because that’s what Cold Cave are. That’s how they exist – the hushed, scene-spread legend of Wesley Eisold stops just short of him sleeping in a coffin, I don’t think he’s capable of being anybody else at this point.
Halfway through his set Eisold remarks that he couldn’t “remember” the last time he left his apartment “this early.” Dude, its three in the afternoon. Sure you could say that’s the marking of an act that’s become a caricature of itself but it’s certainly fun to watch. Eisold’s second-in-command synth-man Ian Dominick Fernrow might as well be the biggest Cold Cave fan in the world. Watching him abandon his post only to stomp around to the bass-hits and mouth lyrics he didn’t write with an even heavier propulsion than Eisold is among the most entertaining moments of the festival. Sure the mythos behind Cold Cave might paint them aloof, but don’t be fooled – this is definitely music for jumping.
Speaking of music for jumping, No Age draw a ridiculously huge crowd. Some context: I spent a my mid-to-late teens in southern California and anyone who calls the region home and is even remotely connected to some vague DIY-leaning demographic has at least one cred-building story about seeing No Age play a basement with Mika Miko, or something along those lines. When they tour, they always stick to that sort of underground circuit, giving the false impression that they’re just as niche as ever.
This, as is made bluntly clear to me today, is no longer the case. I suppose I should’ve seen it coming, given how big they’ve gotten over their critically-fawned record trajectory, but damn it’s a little uncanny seeing a raucous L.A.-bred duo being treated like global gods. The chronically-down duo of Dean Spunt and Randy Randall embrace it as affectionately as ever and even close with a Black Flag cover. If this is what it looks like when 21st century zine-punk crosses from local to universal adoration, I can be pretty happy with that.
Afterwards I briefly watch Gang Gang Dance play a few songs. As expected, too many mechanics, not much of a hook. Still, not for me, especially on a stage. Wild Nothing fare better in the summer breeze, and considering the last time I saw Jack Tatum’s famously homemade indie-pop live it was funneled to me in an echoed, hollow sprawl, this is quite the improvement. The textures seem brighter, more reflective, better capturing the crisp resonance of Gemini – even if I only manage to catch the closer ‘Summer Holiday’.
In another instance of brilliantly-subversive scheduling, the band that follows all that yellow-bellying is the shit-kicking OFF! Needless to say it was pretty easy navigating to the front as the Wild Nothing superfans rush for more beatific ground. Given Keith Morris’ divinity within certain circles, and the fact that they’re pretty much the only pit-worthy group of the festival, (well, okay, besides Odd Future) the crowd that comes is a healthy mix of youngsters decked in patches of bands they’ve never seen and an elder-tier of former rascals who probably have a few stories of watching a Circle Jerks practice in 1982.
I’m in front of a group of wavy-haired, pastel-covered, bead-laden hippies who aren’t sure who OFF! are but really want a good spot for The Radio Dept afterwards (again, what is it with the weird scheduling?). As soon as the band began their blitz I watch as those kids unwillingly get sucked into a pit and subsequently disappear.
In the press-tent, I talk to a fellow writer who doesn’t understand why OFF! have the critics on their side so unanimously when they’re so retro and of-an-era that they can stand next to the icons of underground hardcore and blend right in. His problem is that the music isn’t looking forward enough but honestly I think he has it backwards – we love OFF! because they’re an act that categorically refuses to update itself. They formed for the sole purpose of playing early-‘80s punk by a quartet of silver-haired legends who grew up playing early-‘80s punk. Seeing Keith Morris spit acid, squinch up his face, jump up and down, and scream “FUCK PEOPLE!” (before qualifying that the sort of people he’s talking about are the folks who talk on their cell phone while driving) is a dream come true for plenty of Chicagoan punk kids born too late for their favourite bands.
“We’re bringing a different flavor to the party tonight” he says towards the beginning of his set: True, he brings a fucking time machine.
The Dismemberment Plan is not a band to keep at arms-length. Their trailblazing brand of woozy, beat-inflicted indie rock has provoked a lot of serious think-pieces from a lot of great writers. The fact that they’re reuniting and playing a rare festival-set at a place like this Festival – run by a website whose founders ostensibly hold 1999’s Emergency & Inear to their hearts – is a perfect homecoming.
Touring a decade after a breakup always gets people jaded when considering the obvious lucrative factors (remember when that Pixies reunion was exciting?) but something about D Plan is different. Maybe it’s because they never really got their due at the height of their powers or they seem much more self-aware than the bulk of reunion joints. When they stutter into the seasick ‘What Do You Want Me To Say?’, every grizzled man or woman who used the band as a drinking partner through their 20s comprehensively loses their shit.
That, my friends, is how a reunion is supposed to feel.
I’m not in my thirties. In fact I’m barely in my 20 and the lyrics of “The Ice of Boston” aren’t relatable on a personal level, but I’m still swept up in that communal, long-lost joy. Travis Morrison’s wry, self-deprecating wit is well in place, the urban-hell guitar tones radiate like they never left and unsurprisingly they all look a fair amount happier in the years since their dejected heyday. During the closer Travis starts singing the beyond-goofy chorus to Robyn’s “Dancehall Queen” – which somehow makes a lot of sense given the Plan’s odd little place in indie rock’s often self-serious canon.
So then there is DJ Shadow. A bit of a strange booking but I guess the man’s history of greatness more than makes up for any modern missteps. He’s touring with an ambitious gimmick; he climbs into a white orb that doesn’t look unlike a supersized golf ball, which serves as a three-dimensional projection space for a variety of silly effects, like superimposed baseball seams. This is all well and good, erm, if he was actually performing at night. The setting sun all but swallows up the imagery and – honestly – watching a few roadies trying to make sense of the confounding set-up in the minutes before the performance kind of drains the magic out.
Halfway through the set Shadow spins the orb around reveals himself standing over his gear. “You guys can’t see anything right?”, he says and realizing the futility of the situation, everybody nods. “Yeah I’m just gonna leave it open, but trust me, it would’ve been sick.” I don’t doubt it; it seems like a cool idea and if anyone in the DJ game deserves a carnival-ish spectacle, it’s Shadow.
As for the music? He plays everything from Endtroducing…material to a Lil’ Wayne remix – forever eclectic, I guess some things never change. Oh yeah, except that he isn’t using vinyl. Sure that’s a purist remark, but come on man, you represent the purists.
The last act of the night is the charming and inoffensive Fleet Foxes. A few months ago I saw the band in an Austin amphitheater. Here, in an idyllic sun-kissed park, I come to the same conclusion: Fleet Foxes are undeniably beautiful. Their harmonies are untouched in modern music and despite the occasional mixing hiccup they always replicate that loveliness live.
However, it’s pretty much impossible to think of what direction the Fleet Foxes motif can go from here. Watching them perform is an act of standing in awe of how just-like-Fleet Foxes they sound. You cannot jump. You cannot fist-pump. You can occasionally sing along, but that’s about it. They certainly seem like earnest dudes who appreciate acclaim but I’m not sure where that same initial reverence can come from anymore.
I’m clearly in the minority but watching the critics greet the band like a culture is a little confusing, especially when similarly-decent folk acts are dusted under the rug. They’re a good capstone to a night of indie-rock chart-potential, but I think with every show they give, more and more people will wind up with my results. I watch a few songs, grew weary, and head back to my bed – it seems a lot of people feel the same way.