I realize I've been a bit down on this year's Pitchfork festival since they announced the line-up, my main argument being that the majority of the bands tour through Chicago all the time; festivals are best when they bring out some surprises. But since it's been awhile since I've made it to a show, I was actually pretty excited for the festival to satiate my need of live music; plus, the weather was great.
Unfortunately, Saturday turned out to be a big disappointment, primarily due to the significant problems of the 3rd stage, or "Balance" stage, where several of the acts I wanted to see were playing. The sound was terrible; there were only four small speakers on stage (probably due to fear of sound bleed), and if you were any farther back than the sound tent, you couldn't hear anything. The set-up was horrible; the stage was stuffed between the street and the Record Fair tent, so the audience was squished into a long rectangle- not only could you not hear, you could not see. I stopped over to try to catch Fujiya and Miyagi and left partway through after realizing it was pointless being there. Next year, bring back the DJ tent or find a bigger park.
Second of all, the act I was most excited to see all weekend was Dan Deacon; once I saw the Balance stage, I went there early to try to get closer to the stage. I was pretty satisfied with my location and my sight line when Dan Deacon started . . . and we realized he was set up on the ground in front of the stage, not on the stage. He then proceeded to put on a killer show . . . for the 30 people standing around him. We heard music and watched photographers on stage taking pictures down into the crowd. People tried to climb trees and bodysurf up to see the action. I left just as he started a really awesome dance contest (or so we were told). The problem is he tried to recreate his usual live show, which typically takes place in small performance spaces, for a large festival audience, and it was a huge mistake.
As far as the rest of the Saturday line-up, Grizzly Bear was gorgeous as usual; Iron and Wine was pleasant enough, was joined by members of Califone, and played a lot of new stuff (also, he's grown his hair out to shoulder length, which was pretty amusing); Cat Power played a lot of covers from her forthcoming covers album; and Yoko Ono was totally insane, as expected.
Luckily, Sunday played out much better, possibly because all of the acts I wanted to see were conveniently on the main stages. Sound problems still plagued one of the stages, causing both the Ponys and the Junior Boys to blow out the speakers several times, but the performance level from all the bands I saw was high. Deerhunter pleasantly surprised me (although their singer's gaunt appearance frightened me) by managing to rock out over all the ambient fuzz; Jamie Lidell was another hit of the day, showcasing his powerful voice over some crazy electronic beats. I was worried about seeing PFFR favorites Menomena and the Junior Boys in a non-Empty Bottle setting; both fared well, with the Junior Boys especially proving themselves well-suited for an outdoor environment as their crisp beats soared over the audience. I was concerned about the lack of Neko Case in the New Pornographers line-up, but Carl Newman's niece Kathryn Calder proved herself a worthy substitute, and the band showcased a lot of new material from their upcoming album as well. The highlight of the day was, without a doubt, Of Montreal; the costumes, the interpretive dancing, Kevin Barnes' various S&M wear, all while seamlessly and confidently playing mostly tracks off Hissing Fauna . . . (even squeezing in the spectacular 11-minute "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" into their 50-minute set)- they were fun, crazy, hilarious, and most of all, played us some great music that energized the crowd.
I did take a few pics that I'll be posting on the photoblog tomorrow night, so look for them then! Still to come this week- Mirah @ Logan Square, Decemberists @ Millenium Park.