TVD Live: Pitchfork Music Festival 2012

The annual Pitchfork Music Festival is an indie music summer festival organized by Pitchfork Media. Along with three days of music, spanning from rock and electronic pop to rap, the festival also hosts Flat Stock, an extensive and affordable poster sale, and two tents of vendors (mostly vinyl). The 2012 festival was held from July 13th to the 15th in Chicago’s Union Park, and was interesting, to say the least, given that it was either enjoyed in rain or ridiculous heat.

Friday admittedly started off a little rough; there was a phenomenal line-up of bands to look forward to, but there was also a phenomenal downpour in the early afternoon. I was apprehensive about how the following three days would go if the first was a bust, but Pitchfork went on rain-or-shine (mostly rain) and impressed me regardless. The first day was a good introduction to the festival, featuring a variety of genres and good shows, and, for me, very few scheduling conflicts.

TIM HECKER (kind of) and JAPANDROIDS | Arriving at the Blue Stage to catch Japandroids, we weasled our way into the crowd a bit and waited for them to begin. A man was on stage playing music off his laptop, and it wasn’t until he walked off that I realized it was not an act to fill time during set up, but a performance. No one could have said it better than the gentleman behind me: “I like Tim Hecker when I’m listening to him alone in a dark room, but just not here.”

Japandroids, though, were quite a contrast to Tim Hecker’s set. Due to the weather, the stage was running a bit behind, and you could sense anticipation building. Regardless of the delay, the crowd erupted as the two-person outfit took the stage and played a very energetic live show; jumping, moshing, and shouting lyrics immediately ensued. The two worked well on stage, each feeding off the others’ raw energy, adding drum fills, and improvising as necessary. Seeing as it was just one guitarist, he had a very full sound, playing through numerous amps. Pitchfork’s decision to put them on the smaller Blue Stage was questionable, but they drew a large and enthusiastic crowd, and then (here comes an understatement) rocked it.

DIRTY PROJECTORS | From the open lawn area, I was able to catch most of the Dirty Projectors’ set without the experience of being surrounded by wet, hot bodies. The female vocalists were very talented, singing effects on stage that were complex that I thought could only be done with the help of a studio. I was concerned about the complexity of the Dirty Projectors’ music going into the set, and it was quite amazing seeing their extreme musicianship live.

The band released a new album, Swing Lo Magellan, the Tuesday before, and a majority of their set was composed of these new songs. A few older songs were played, but the audience seemed to already be very attached to the new album as well.

PURITY RING | Purity Ring’s set, simply put, blew me away. Placed on the smaller Blue Stage, Purity Ring proved their worth and drew a sizable crowd. Megan James, vocalist, expressed her gratitude multiple times throughout, being genuinely appreciative and astonished by the crowd they drew. Surrounded by glowing pink lanterns that pulsed along with the music, she twirled around the stage and sweetly sang “Obedear,” “Belispeak,” and “Lofticries,” among others. Seemingly proceeding through the set a little cautiously, this was Purity Ring’s first Chicago performance, and I can, in that case, excuse their shyness. I’m looking forward to their return in late September in which they’ll hopefully open up a little bit more.

The set began with the sun sitting low on the horizon with some light still able to leak in. As darkness set, the atmosphere of the whole performance really hit, and it was nothing short of perfect. The audience was all on the same level, showing extreme concentration on the performance or dancing to the electronic beats. They closed with “Ungirthed.”

Saturday brought with it unfulfilled hopes of a drier Pitchfork. Fortunately, more concert-goers came prepared today with umbrellas (and even an umbrella-hat or two), ponchos, and newspaper hats. Saturday seemed more intense than Friday, with more bands filling the schedule and buzz going around about the day being sold-out in advance.

CLOUD NOTHINGS | A brief introduction leads into this set, and then the band exploded into their first song, “Stay Useless.” It was instant; the pit at the front, even from the distance I was at, began jumping and thrashing and generally getting a little wild. Cloud Nothings powered through their set with “Cut You” and “Wasted Days,” each with solid jams in between. It was refreshing to watch a set without rain, but that luxury wouldn’t last for long. The sky opened in the middle of “Wasted Days,” and to say it poured would be an understatement. In true punk-rock spirit, Cloud Nothings stayed on stage and played despite the rain. Pitchfork crew surrounded them, covering equipment with tarps, as the crowd cheered them on. And even when some equipment eventually went out, the loyal crowd finished out their song in the rain. It was a set cut short by about twenty minutes, but damn was that a powerful performance.

WILD FLAG | Having previously had little experience with this band, I stood three rows from the front with an open mind. A group of four women took the stage, and with some of the other acts I had already seen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Electropop surf punk rock? But as Wild Flag began, it quickly occurred to me that I was in for a treat. They opened with a cover of the Television song “See No Evil” and proceeded to play pretty much their entire self-titled album. The ladies of Wild Flag put on a wild show, with Brownstein (vocals, guitar) thrusting her guitar into the ground and playing it upside down during “Racehorse,” as well as holding it high in the air as the crowd roared. Wild Flag closed with “Romance” and left the audience cheering.

Wild Flag very well may have been my favorite performance at Pitchfork; they were one of the few bands that I saw that had a true rock’n’roll attitude.

SLEIGH BELLS | Singer Alexis Krauss took the Green Stage by storm. I had never seen Sleigh Bells live and was interested how their sound would translate. But, surrounded by her guitarists, Krauss delivered an electrifying set, playing “Crown of the Ground,” “Infinity Guitars,” and “Rill Rill,” among many, many others. My worries about hearing the band live dissolved. Yes, they did sound slightly different, but achieving the sound they did on-stage organically as opposed to relying on tapes was really very impressive.

Challenging Chicago to show them what we’ve got, Krauss continued the set with songs off their new album, Reign of Terror. They apologized for missing last year’s Lollapalooza, explaining that they cancelled to record the new album, and this was their opportunity to share it. Each song was more energetic than the last, and it was hard not to get wrapped up in that energy as you watched Krauss dance around the stage as well. Wild Flag was a hard act to follow, their set was just so good, but Sleigh Bells put on an awesome show that left me wanting more.

The attitude on Sunday was far different. My prediction of a warm and sunny Pitchfork was finally fulfilled, and people were free to walk around without fear of mud or donning additional preventative clothing. Union Park seemed more packed than both Friday and Saturday; people were finally able to enjoy the open grassy areas of the park to sit, socialize, and soak up the sun. The atmosphere seemed more energized as people finally were enjoying the outdoor festival as it should have been enjoyed all weekend. Not to say the rain made Friday and Saturday unenjoyable, but who doesn’t like watching musicians perform in a jam-packed crowd when it’s 95+ degrees? It’s part of the experience that concert-goers love.

BEACH HOUSE | Despite a somewhat visually boring live show, Baltimore dream-pop outfit, Beach House, sounded phenomenal. Vocalist Victoria Legrand was centered on stage behind her keyboard flanked by guitarist and drummer at right. Dry ice filled the stage along with bursts of red and white lights, but the musicians remained largely stationary. The set was relaxing and dreamy; the audience seemed wrapped up in the performance and Legrand’s soft vocals.

To get optimal positions for the upcoming Vampire Weekend performance, I lingered in the back and watched most of the performance projected on the screen. As Beach House’s set ended on the Red Stage, I just turned around 180-degrees and was wonderfully positioned for Vampire Weekend at the Green Stage. People continued to pile in regardless.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND | Not long after Beach House ended, Vampire Weekend took the stage, and, without introduction, burst into their first song, “Cousins.” Their unique indie rock sound translated well on stage, and the audience was very much into it, erupting into dance instantly. It seemed odd to me that Pitchfork would have scheduled Vampire Weekend to headline, as their last album was released in 2010, but people were clearly excited to see the band perform. Ezra Koenig, vocalist, admitted to the audience, “It’s been a long time since we played shows and a really long time since we played festivals,” but no one seemed to mind as long as they continued to play hit after hit.

Essentially, Vampire Weekend played through their two albums, encouraging the audience to “start really sweating” during some of their more up-tempo songs. Pitchfork attendees even had the honor of hearing a unnamed new song. They had a great energy throughout their 90-minute set and a sincere connection with the crowd.

The band left stage for a minute or two and returned for a four song encore, including “California English” and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance.” As a tradition, Vampire Weekend closed out their set with “Walcott” and elevated an already explosive audience to a new level. Before beginning, Ezra Koenig explicitly mentioned their new album, which they are going home and finishing, and we are eagerly awaiting.

And thus concluded another Pitchfork Music Festival. Despite some odd weather conditions, the festival was an indie-rock hit. Strewn with amazing performances and interesting vendors at both the record and poster sales, it was difficult to have a bad time. After seven years of festivals, Pitchfork has definitely gotten their formula down.

Photos by Liz Gorman





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  • Ian Balentine

    Regarding the Wild Flag bit: “They opened with a cover of Televisions’ Casino Evil”?!?!
    Do you mean, “See No Evil”, perhaps….holy cow. Paging Dr. Research…

    • Olivia

      This has been corrected. Thank you!

    • oliviaung

       @Ian Balentine This has been corrected. Thank you!


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