Vittorio Carli's review of the 2010 Pitchfork Festival

The 2010 edition of Pitchfork Festival was slightly less satisfying than some of the previous ones, but it was still worthwhile. Over 50,000 people attended, so it is obvious that the festival has outgrown Union Park. During many performances, the sweat drenched crowds were packed in like sardines. Also with the 90 degree plus temperatures, the climate was ripe for heat stroke, and it there was only one free water center to accommodate the enormous crowds. Still this year’s festival included more than its share of high octane rock performances. This year’s lineup featured varied musical styles (such as funk, ambient, and hip-hop) but most of the acts played some form of dance music or punky art rock (you can blame it on Radiohead).

Friday’s lineup was the weakest, but it still offered some sublime rock festival moments. The inspired amateurism of the Liars’ guitar based rock recalled classic Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine (the late 80’s alt rock holy trinity). A former Chicagoan named Hannibal Buress held his own against the rockers, and delivered a witty, hysterical set of standup bits focusing on Chicago politics and religion. Robyn’s set of energetic dance music combined Eurodisco and '80s influenced technopop (The Swedish pop siren sounded like Madonna fronting New Order). Highlights included the melancholy “Dancing on My Own,” the reggae influenced “Dancehall Queen,” and the robotic “Stop (expletive) telling Me What to Do.” The quirky art-punk band, Modest Mouse delivered a fine, atmospheric set that included “Tiny Cities made of Ashes,” and “Satin in a Coffin.” Surprisingly they did not play their biggest hit “Float on.”

Saturday’s show was a distinct improvement. Titus Andronicus successfully married punky instrumental intensity with dramatic, Springsteen inspired lyrics (many of their songs revolve around the Civil War or existentialism.) But rapper Raekwon completely failed to recapture the excitement of his old group, the Wu Tang Clan, and his new material sounded uninspired (his still brilliant former bandmate, Ghostface Killah is twice as dynamic live). Jon Spencer’s charismatic, over-the-top stage antics did not compensate for the Blues Explosion’s lack of subtly or their over reliance on standard blues-rock clich├ęs. Compared to them, the Black Crows sound original.

On Saturday, LCD Soundsystem delivered a terrific set of brainy, Eno (not emo) inspired dance pop songs. In the song, “Tribulations” the band replicated and transcended the sound of ‘80s technopop bands such as OMD and Depeche Mode. Lead singer, James Murphy snarled and sang with the punky abandon of a young Lou Reed in a thunderous, hard rocking rendition of “Drunk Girls.” The set ended with an uncharacteristically restrained and poignant, “New York I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down,” which captured Murphy’s complicated, contradictory feelings about his home city.

Sunday’s lineup was the finest. Saint Vincent‘s delightful, symphonic pop songs offered swirling cacophonies of sound mixed with jagged guitar. “Actor Out of Work” was colored by a tasteful sax solo, and “Just the Same but Brand New” had an extra guitar solo that made the version infinitely superior to the version on the “Actor” LP. Major Lazer included a Jamaican DJ who was the best- all around-showman in the show; he was joined on stage by a ballerina striking ironic poses, and a two dancing men wearing Chinese dragon costumes. The band’s infectious sound mixed Parliament inspired old school funk, electrofunk, and a bit of dancehall reggae. Big Boi’s set was heavy on classics by his former band, Outkast (such as “Player’s Ball”), and light on material from his excellent new solo album. The new British duo, Sleigh Bells performed a set of fresh, danceable avant-- guard pop songs, but the muddy sound detracted from the performance. Alla offered a sonically adventurous set of Latin/no wave influenced songs with droning vocals that made the other festival performers sound tame and conventional.

For many, the highlight was the reunion of Pavement, one of the most seminal, and least financially successful great Indy bands of the ‘90s (their song lyric “ I was dressed for success but success never comes” sums up their whole career.) Their potent and eclectic set included “Stereo” which opened with a stunning and shocking wall of noise, “Gold Soundz’ which was reminiscent of 60’s psychedelic bands (such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane), and “Range Life” which featured some elegant guitar by Spiral Stairs. The band’s powerful set won over most of the festival goers, even though many of them were in grammar school when the band was at its peak.

Vittorio Carli teaches at Moraine Valley Community College and Richard J. Daley College

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