For the final day of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I ran about Union Park to try and catch most of the bands scheduled to perform. I treated it like a live sampler that record labels hand out, catching a couple songs here and there, only to dash off to another stage soon thereafter. I managed to catch only a couple sets in full, and while Kurt Vile and the Violators and TV on the Radio put on two of the day’s better shows, other sets stood out as well.
Darkstar helped opened the day at the blue stage, and their oft-ambient spin on dubstep proved to make for a solid performance despite the fact that the three dudes in the band weren’t much to look at. Perhaps the heat drove a larger-than-usual crowd to the shady area near the blue stage, but Darkstar’s pulsing tunes appeared to keep folks interested.
Out on the main stages, The Fresh & Onlys jangly garage-pop sounded as if it had been melting in the blazing heat. British indie-rock act Yuck didn’t fare much better: Their lo-fi slacker rock shtick made for a low-energy set that made me think of a number of better situations to listen to their music, most of which involved air conditioning.
Later on the blue stage was getting prepped for an unexpectedly impressive stage show by electronic R&B act How to Dress Well. Main dude Tom Krell recruited a string quartet, a drummer, and a conductor to help him flesh out his muddied songs into some intruiging, minimalist slow jams.
Kurt Vile and the Violators started up soon after Krell and co. took the stage, putting on a strong set filled with gorgeous, head-nodding folk tunes. Vile makes some pretty intimate music that might sound better playing on a turntable in your bedroom than on a gigantic elevated stage, but for some reason everything clicked with Vile and his backing band on the stage.
Yet, Vile’s set probably didn’t register to a large portion of the fest’s crowd that camped out at the red stage and began chanting “swag” the moment Yuck wrapped up their set. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All were scheduled to perform immediately after Vile, and if the past five months of national headlines (and past year of Internet hype) were any indication, every ticketholder should’ve been facing the red stage since doors opened at noon. It certainly felt that way with divergent chants of “swag” and “wolf gang” traveling through the crowd like waves, with eager onlookers awaiting the presence of the great Tyler, The Creator and the rest of his crew.
Perhaps if I had been one of those kids in the center of the crowd, eager to finally witness the coming of this group of kids I looked up to, a collective whose mixtapes I gobbled up and listened to non-stop, a band of rappers who stood for something I could immediately related to, maybe then I would’ve been enraptured by Odd Future’s set. Instead, I went into the performance with more curiosity than fandom, and once the novelty of “OFWGKTA in the flesh” wore off, the set felt pretty run-of-the-mill. Perhaps with a few more useless curse words than the average act and a shockingly minimalist beat. And with Tyler on crutches, even the onstage “antics” felt tame. But, really, how many groups whose careers are driven by a combination of overwhelming hype and cultural controversy could actually pull off a set that fulfills every idea pushed on them?
Sunday’s other hip-hop act, Shabazz Palaces, performed to a smaller crowd over at the blue stage, and those funky, head-nodding songs made for one of the day’s better sets. Every festival provides ample opportunity to test out musical acts that—for some reason or another—you never listened to prior to the very moment you see them play, and a select few will bowl you over. Needless to say, I’ll be grabbing Shabazz Palaces’ new Black Up pretty soon.
Baths followed Shabazz Palaces with another highlight of a show. For a project that’s basically just one guy that sings and plays a laptop and an MPD controller, Will Wiesenfeld put on an engaging performance. He cranked out scatterbrained experimental hip-hop touching on chillwave with magnetic glee, grabbing the mic with a great force to belt out wistful lyrics about love. If other laptop acts took note of Wiesenfeld’s stage skills perhaps they wouldn’t get such a bad rap for their live shows.
The rest of the performances leading up to festival closer TV on the Radio were pretty solid. Superchunk and Kylesa convinced me to check out their recorded material after delivering some energetic, endearing live sets. And though I’m hardly a fan of their music, I do admire Deerhunter for their ability to throw down a solid set of doo-wop flavored noise-rock. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Toro Y Moi sounded like cheesy contemporary adult rock that lacked any hooks. The group took their sweet time too, exiting the stage two minutes before Health was scheduled to perform and making it impossible for me to catch a group I wanted to see for fear of missing TV on the Radio.
It wasn’t the finest hour for TV on the Radio, but it wasn’t bad either. Fighting off sound issues that muddied their music, engaging a crowd that spent an entire day exposed to the heat, and closing out three days of music, TVOTR still put on a great show. The group has transformed into an act primed to play arenas, and as such they were a far better choice to close out the festival than Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes. They rolled out the bombastic, manic tunes early, and jams like “Halfway Home,” “Dancing Choose,” and the skronky blast of “The Wrong Way” made their presence known.
The band did sag towards the middle, when they brought out selections for their new Nine Types of Light. Though the album is generally underwhelming, it’s got some songs that have a nice hook to them. Unfortunately, the band’s collection veered towards melancholy, producing a string of low-energy songs that fed into my growing lethargy.
Though it would be wrong to say the set dragged on, I felt fatigued to the point where even singer Tunde Adebimpe’s caustic flailing couldn’t incite much of a reaction. Midway through the eighth TVOTR performance I’ve seen, I felt torn: I enjoyed witnessing the songs live all over again, but I felt like I needed to get away and hear them in the comfort of my home. Fortunately, an unexpected cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” brought things back to life and got a nice cheer out of the crowd: The art-rock band knew how to recreate the anthemic feel of the classic post-punk tune and mix it with just enough of their distinct blasts of sound to make it feel like I was listening to a new TVOTR single. It put a smile on my face and left me feeling invigorated as the stage lights went down and the festival came to an end. And that’s just about all I could ask for at the end of a three day music extravaganza.