I went to Chicago this past weekend for the Pitchfork Music Festival, July 29th and 30th at Union Park. I got down to the rock music. Wesley Willis would have been proud. The festival spanned two thick-aired days of 90 plus heat, showcased 40 musicians giving it their all to do something special, and drew a sellout crowd of thousands of kids trying to out-DIY each other in their methods of pant-leg rolling. As should be apparent by the photo below, I won — so did Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.I made the trip with brother Dane — the man I credit with first introducing me to music that matters. We live on either end the country now, so a brief vacation together at the halfway point for what shaped up to be one of the best lineups of the summer festival circuit was in order. We landed on Thursday, giving us time to take in a Cub game (they won, too), see some sites, and plan our band priorities for the festival. We chose the legendary Rock â€˜n Roll McDonalds to go through the Chicago Readerâ€™s guide to the PMF — Man Man, Destroyer, Ted Leo, Silver Jews, Jens Lekman, Liars, Mission of Burma, and Spoon made our shortlist.
Things kicked off Friday night with the pre-party at the Metro, headlined by Sunset Rubdown. They failed to impress everyone in my group but me. Thereâ€™s something adolescent in Spencer Krugâ€™s song-tragedies that I sort of flip out over. Plus, heâ€™s got one of those cute in a not-so-cute way girls playing keys. What can I say? Maybe it was just the strong drink I had been swallowing that had warmed my heart.
On to the outdoor fun. For me, the festival started with Man Man going Beefheart all over their broken toy instruments. They moved my body, but substance was lacking. The Liars, on the other hand, pulled off the similarly eccentric exercise of dichotomizing the human soul by way of music with much greater success on the following day. Youâ€™re doing something right if you look like Ted Nugent in a dress. Awesome.
Other points of interest. Surprisingly, Jens Lekman and his resemblance to Jonathan Richman if backed by an all-girl band (ok, these girls were cute in that yes-theyâ€™re-really-fâ€™ing-cute way) tickled my academic funny-bone better than Destroyer. Dâ€™s Rubies is such a complete and thoughtful album, I couldnâ€™t help but set the bar a bit unfairly high for the ever-respectable Dan Bejar. Nonetheless, â€œLootersâ€™ Folliesâ€ remains a highlight of the weekend.
Filling out the upper-echelon of the talent were Art Brut, the Walkmen, Band of Horses, the Futureheads, Mission of Burma and Spoon, who all made good on their respective reputations. MoB played â€œThatâ€™s How I Escaped My Certain Fateâ€ like it was 1982, and Spoon overcame some technical difficulties to end their set with the crowd, myself included, asking for more.
With sadness I must report that the two headliners, Silver Jews and Os Mutantes, served mostly as novelty pieces. I love David Bermanâ€™s albums so much that Iâ€™ve even tried his poetry, and I respect the Mutants for their age and inventiveness. But they both lacked an immediacy that left their sets feeling shallow despite all of the heart I know each has put into their music.
Silver lining — It was Ted Leo and the Pharmacists that showed me how a band can make their performance personal, not just substantial. They did this with the simple repetition of a line like â€œItâ€™s alrightâ€ ad infinitum, or at least until everyone listening gets it. Really gets it. It was a distillation of communication that normally only occurs between close friends long in conversation or perfect strangers sharing one of those split-second glances. My faith in musicâ€™s ability to help express and incite honest emotion had been up for reconsideration for the better part of a year — always the debate of whether itâ€™s music thatâ€™s failing me or me thatâ€™s failing music. Well, that wavering of faith that every music lover faces at least three times in life has been set in balance once again for me. Iâ€™m grateful for that.
Ok, puke on your keyboard and clean it up. Cool. I guess all I needed to say is that I really enjoyed the trip, and that it was worth all of the sweat-soked clothes, sunburned paleness and sore feet. Whoâ€™s coming with me next year?