The third and final day of the Pitchfork Music Fest traded rain for all manner of heat. Lady Gaga was there, dancing with her security guards. Pretty sure she ate a hot dog too.
My eyelids crack through a layer of sleep-slime and push open. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and I come-to on my living room couch, fully clothed in my dank and smoky festival threads; one arm dangling off the seat cushion brushing the rug below me, the other tingling half-asleep and contorted under my stomach. I sit up, accepting an explosive rush of blood, shooting thousands of prickly stabs through my poor, defenseless brain. After pounding the full glass of water I meant to smash before passing out, I toss on my glasses and squint through the window, greeted by the kind of utopian summer weather I can only associate with canoeing at day camp or licking a creamsicle, like before I discovered my first pube.
Mother Nature finally (and rightfully) showed mercy on Sunday’s approximately 15,000 Pitchfork Music Festival goers with not a single drop of rain during day three, though temperatures in the mid 90’s kept all in attendance sweat-drenched, lobster-colored, and in far too many cases, reeking of B.O.. By the time I enter the festival grounds and cruise over to the Red Stage to catch Ty Segall’s set, I’m disappointed to learn that I missed the entirety of Copenhagen punk band Iceage’s performance. Two shirtless highschool dudes in matching red bandanas and cargo shorts inform me that Iceage had their guitars stolen last night at an afterparty, experienced equipment-related issues during the set, and that the band failed to ignite the usual bloody, teeth gnashing mosh riot that usually accompanies their show. Better luck next time to another highly anticipated Pitchfork-approved act that apparently fell to the elements. New Brigade was a personal top 10 release of 2011, so this is upsetting news, especially coming from two kids who probably just got their driver’s license.
The good news is, just a hundred feet or so away Ty Segall and his band are soaking the Red Stage in glorious psychedelic fuzz, in support of the Ty Segall Band’s recently released and gnarly-as-fuck concept-album, Slaughterhouse. I had attended a taping at Lincoln Hall for WBEZ Chicago’s rock-n-roll talk show Sound Opinions just 3 days prior, catching a 30 min set and pre-interview with Ty Segall. After hearing “I Bought My Eyes," I, an avid garage punk lover who never rode the Segall train, had become an instant fan, starving for more. His Sunday performance delivered adrenaline in the form of loud space rock, shredding through classics off Melted like “Girlfriend” and “Imaginary Person” and ending on the title track from Slaughterhouse. In the middle of the set, Segall was aided by his fans who chanted, “Oi! Oi! Oi!" as he and his bandmates roared through a fiery cover of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," a surprising move that totally worked. After one of the best lead-singer crowd surfing moves I’ve probably ever seen, I walked over to the beer tent for probably my hundredth Heineken of the weekend, letting the blood settle. Then I threw on my sunglasses and followed the billowing clouds of pot smoke to Real Estate.
I firmly believe that Real Estate’s excellent sophomore release Days is the “Great Overlooked Album of 2011." Sure it earned “Best New Music” in Pitchfork and a huge stamp of approval with an 8.7 rating, but it didn’t ultimately elevate the New Jersey quartet to the level of greatness it should have, considering all of the hype that chased the release. Now mid-afternoon at the Main “Green” Stage, Real Estate has the musical task of cooling down a packed-in crowd and they do so with effortless, breezy swagger – strumming through entrancing cloud-puff jams like “Easy," “It’s Real," and “Beach Comber." Meanwhile, stage crew poke holes in water bottle caps and squeeze mini sprinklers of bottled h2o into a smiling, dehydrated mass of scorched flesh, as frontman Martin Courtney declares, “You look so good, you should see yourselves."
Now under the familiar shelter and shade provided by the towering elms that encircle the Blue Stage, Compton’s latest rapper to sign to Aftermath Records and shining star of Black Hippy, Kendrick Lamar grabs the mic and greets the most ethnically diverse crowd of the entire weekend. They’re also easily the most energetic, alive crowd of the day too, bumping fists, ass-grinding, and rapping along word-for-word as Lamar runs hot through cuts like “The Recipe” and “Rigor Mortis." Could someone maybe turn this shit up? Am I at a hip-hop show? Why is the bass so low? And why is Lady Gaga on the side-stage with an entourage right now for this set? That’s right, the Mother Monster pop star made a discrete cameo in support of Lamar, dancing in a typical black-netted bustier with heavy security surrounding her stage-left, never actually addressing the crowd or performing.
The next two hours leading up to Vampire Weekend’s main event were what I would describe as a “beautiful snooze-fest," with lulling performances by British babyfaces King Krule and lo-fi bedroom pop A-listers, Beach House. I grabbed a Sriracha covered Viatnamese pork sandwich and wander back for more at the Blue Stage as King Krule throws out the jazzy “363N63” to a tired, dreamy handful of fans. At just 18 years old, cockney crooner Archy Marshall holds impressive ground, living up to the Leonard Cohen comparisons. Meanwhile, over the sea of corporate vendor tents, beer booths, and passed out P-forkers, Beach House begins to pump out that familiar dreamy down-tempo bass drum and take off on a very Bloom heavy set, not neglecting their strongest material setlist appearances like “Norway” and “Gila." Lead singer, Victoria Legrand looks gorgeous as ever, that silky-husk in her voice belting out from the mic on her stand-up organ, her bandmate Alex Scally riffing, eyes-closed, consumed by the on-going fog from the machine behind them.
The Vampire Weekend headliner decision came as a surprise to me, not because I didn’t think they could fill the Green Stage fields at Union Park or because I think that they suck or something (quite the opposite), but even lead singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig addressed the crowd shortly after beginning saying, “It’s been a long time since we’ve played shows and a really long time since we’ve played festivals. Thanks for coming." So, with no concrete news about a release date for a new album, Vampire Weekend leads a charming sing-a-long set of greatest hits off of their self-titled release and Contra, with a rare live appearance of the most perfect ambient pop song in their catalog, “I Think Ur a Contra." The band does unveil one new song midway through the set, a less tropical and more just pure-pop number that has bassist Chris Baio dropping his bass and motioning for fans to clap along with him. Koenig, Baio, Batmanglij, and Tomson appear resoundingly rested, happy, and on-point. Their carefree grins and infectious energy made for a main-stage showcasing of a band at the top of their game, ready for the next chapter. Finish up that album already, dudes.
Always gotta be a juggler I guess.
The guy from Lost Boys was there.
Previously: Pitchfork Music Festival day two.