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July 22, 2008
It's over. Again. As it has been in the past, last weekend's Pitchfork Music Festival was a whirlwind; the minute you blinked your eyes, it was already Sunday night. We're still recovering from three days of hot sun, a little rain and several unnecessary cans of Sparks. Despite a roster laden with too many new and little-known (cheaper?) bands, P4KMF2008 was a success. The lineup was diverse, the weather was projectedly spotty, the beer was plentiful, and the crowds were huge. The Ruby Suns, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and especially Extra Golden brought their A games and made more than a few believers. Come day one, we were pretty jacked, and by the time it was over it was clear that Chicago was the place to be for live music this past weekend.
---

FRIDAY
.: Arriving during Sebadoh's set, I was struck by how ahead of their time the band had been. Lou Barlow and Eric Gaffney truly paved the way for untold numbers of indie bands. Their gorgeous reproduction of the tracks from Bubble and Scrape was perfect, and the performance made me wish I was more intimately familiar with the album… I'm more of a Sebadoh III [LAS feature] obsessive.

After Sebadoh was Public Enemy performing It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, a decades-old album that certainly qualifies as a perfect record. The Bomb Squad production, coupled with Chuck D's militant politics and Flavor Flav's insanity, were properly channeled, track after track, into an auditory masterpiece that still boggles the mind 20 years after recording. The group's set started with Chuck D and Professor Griff on stage sans Flavor Flav, who eventually appeared after "Bring The Noise." Despite a chilly reception from the audience, Flavor used his fiery persona as PE's premiere "Hype-Man" to warm the crowd. The call and response style of rap between Flav and D still runs as deep and as strong as it did in 1988. The worst moment of the evening came when Flavor thanked the crowd for making his VH1 reality show a huge hit, a comment that received a hail of booing so universal that he became visibly and vocally upset; he would later berate the audience for not being supportive of his success. That brief blip aside, Public Enemy was amazing. Tracks like "Louder Than A Bomb" and "Mind Terrorist" were spot-on. As the evening wound down, the level of anticipation for the remainder of the weekend's acts, already palpable, seemed to increase exponentially. -- JB

.: Day one hosted Mission of Burma, Sebadoh, and Public Enemy, the three acts performing as part of All Tomorrow's Parties' Don't Look Back series. I was never a HUGE fan of any of the three; I had at one time truly appreciated Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, but neither Mission of Burma nor Sebadoh were really ever on my radar.

I arrived at Union Park on Friday as Sebadoh were tuning and setting up; when they began to rip through Bubble and Scrape I began to realize that I had really missed out on something in my teenage years. If their Friday evening performance contained even half the raw energy and dirty sound that the band possessed in its heyday, I would have surely been a fan back in the day. Throughout their set, the three members moved from instrument to instrument, bringing each song a different artistic touch, varying volume and intensity.

Walking away from the stage to get a drink part way through the Sebadoh set I spotted none other than Mr. Flavor of Love himself, walking around the park grounds with a pretty large, intimidating posse. He appeared to be very skinny and short in person. His giant clock WAS present and holdin' it down (literally).

The amount of time between Sebadoh's final note and Public Enemy's first seemed longer than necessary. Before the New York hip-hop legends even started they had a warm-up DJ act that lasted more than a quarter-hour; by the time the group had begun the crowd was sardined on the grassy field, partially drunk, and heavily anticipating hearing an album that was released before a good number of festivalgoers were even conceived. When the sirens of "Countdown to Armageddon" led off, the audience had reached a level of slight pandemonium. PE made their set last, playing the album and then some, with some comical and personal moments sprinkled in-between songs, and never losing even a grip of intensity throughout. Chuck D and Flavor Flav were amazing, 'nuff said. -- JZ

Vampire Weekend.


Ruby Suns.


SATURDAY
.: From Jarvis Cocker's Jagger-swagger to the fire of Titus Andronicus and the poetry of The Hold Steady, Saturday's lineup was yet another great day for Chicago's music scene. The heat/rain mixture had turned Union Park into a sweltering greenhouse, but that didn't stop throngs of beautiful ladies from wearing out their best cowboy boots, flip-flops and running shoes trudging muddy paths between the stages, vendors, and beer tents. Yet again the women of Pitchfork Fest deserve salutations for their style, taste and beauty. Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is one individual who nearly ruined Extra Golden's perfect set with his lack of style, lack of taste and/or beauty. In what I am calling "A Profile In Courage" I dedicate the following paragraph to the ginger bastard who thought that he deserved more attention than one of the tightest bands at the festival.

Having heard nothing but ranting and raving from Zanger, we headed over to a small side stage to see a Kenyan benga band known as Extra Golden. In what was easily one of the best performances of the entire weekend, the group took the stage and with their subtle, guitar-based grooves proceeded to own the crowd. Songs about mystical demons and the heroism of Barack Obama kept onlookers enthralled, song after song. Things were going along swimmingly until some clown decided to push his way to the front of the crowd and make a scene. There is nothing less appealing than watching a tall, dancing, rail thin, shirtless ginger man intentionally trying to capture the attention of a crowd by being an ass during the best performance of the day. Finding yourself gripped by the music and caught up in a performance is one thing, but ruining the experience for everyone else is quite another; almost immediately those around me ceased to groove to the band and began to gawk and stare in bewilderment at the "courageous" moron who felt the front row was an appropriate place to exorcise his demons. It was the kind of moment that only happens in a "festival" environment, and it was certainly the least appealing thing to happen all weekend. To his royal pastiness: Sir, you are truly a profile in courage and we at LAS salute you.

Ginger.


Now for the crow eating. Animal Collective put on an amazing set. In the year since I saw them fumbling with groove boxes at The Metro until now, the band has become just that: A Band. I truly apologize to Animal Collective for bashing their set and sound before I had the chance to hear it again. The use of vocals, real instruments and their stage presence were all drastically improved and worthy of critical praise. -- JB

Onyango Jagwasi, Noel Kupersmith, Alex Minoff of Extra Golden.


Onyango Wuod Omari and Onyango Jagwasi of Extra Golden.


.: Day two began with rain showers that lasted throught the sets of Titus Andronicus, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Jay Reatard, and Caribou. Dizzee Rascal roared from the stage throughout a dirty set of his signature Brit grime, and frankly, it was nothing that really caught my ear all that much. The Ruby Suns, with their act running at a distant stage during the same time as Dizzee's, were probably the better 4pm act to catch. An interesting male-female duo, and self-described as the "only New Zealand act of the entire festival," the pair trotted out half a dozen electronic triggers, drum set parts, microphones, and keyboards, to blast through an exciting (if over-sparkly/colorful visual) set. Vampire Weekend, for all their hype, were an underwhelming wash and proved to be a great distraction for the younger, more hype-influenced attendees and allowed a break for beers, bathrooms, and vendor perusing. As the day wore into evening there were only two other acts that I felt compelled to see (and for totally opposite reasons): Extra Golden and Animal Collective.

Extra Golden was my favorite act of the entire festival. Their style of American songwriting meets African benga-style dance rock is perfectly suited for festivals - four-on-the floor rhythms, stacked vocal harmonies, and undeniable guitar hooks. If you don't own any music by this band, you need to remedy the situation immediately.

Animal Collective was a different story. Burke and I split up for a while to recharge our batteries with some food, mingling, and watching of acts from afar. After rushing over and watching a little bit of No Age, who were nothing to write home about, I made my way to the front of the main stage to see Animal Collective. Being in close proximity to the band provided a different experience than the last time I saw, and was mostly turned off by, the indie rock royalty; I was shocked by how much better and more directed they sounded. The stage was filled with sound boards, effects pedals, mics, spare drums and percussive instruments, and an electric guitar, which Avey Tare picked up at the outset and jotted notes out to the large audience. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the group's set was their focus, and how they seemed to truly enjoy what they were doing the entire time. There wasn't a whole lot of crowd interaction, but the between-song transitions were a beautiful display of sound blending that the trio (sans Professor) pulled off quite well. The vocal performances alone during Panda Bear's "Comfy In Nautica" and live gem and name changer "House/Little Girl(I Don't Need)/(formerly Material Things)" gave me goosebumps. The crucial part was during that same "I Don't Need" when the trickling electronic keyboard sounds led way to Panda Bear and Avey Tare's stacked call and response vocals, at which point a booming bass drum kick would jab a head-nodding beat into the entire thing. A vast departure from my previous experience with the band, Animal Collective provided my favorite moment of the entire weekend. -- JZ

Panda Bear of Animal Collective.


Avey Tare and Panda Bear.


Geologist and Avey Tare.


Tim Harrington (vocalist/underwearist of Les Savy Fav) pranks around and "cuts" hair on random people. This happened in the middle of the Festival and drew a small crowd of picture takers and indie rock gawker stalkers.


SUNDAY
.: I showed up later on Sunday than I'd intended. I caught Les Savy Fav, Ghostface & Raekwon, M. Ward, Spiritualized, Dinosaur Jr. and Spoon. The temperatures were more manageable than Saturday but the first thing I did was re-hydrate because my partner in crime, JZ, was looking like he was about to pass out from sunstroke. Ghostface and Raekwon's set was good but, like all outdoor hip-hop shows, somewhat empty. M. Ward's set was incredible and caused me to seek out several of his albums first thing Monday morning - his steady acoustic and lo-fi performance was truly the sonic yin to the yang of the rest of the evening's noisy brigade of punk icons and hipster trendsetters. Spiritualized's backing vocalists provided their set with a gorgeous, soulful foundation that propelled their spacey stoner rock deep into the cosmos. Dinosaur Jr. can still rock even though J. Mascis now looks like Gandalf the White. Spoon closed out the evening and their set was visually stunning and sonically perfect. "The Beast and Dragon Adorned" burned the audience up and screams of fangirl pleasure could be heard from across the park as Brit Daniel's voice came over the PA. It was a very long day, capping off a very long weekend, and I was extremely happy to head home and do nothing in particular. -- JB

Britt Daniel and that one other guy of Spoon.


Britt Daniel.


.: Sometime between making it to sleep Saturday night and walking over to the Festival on Sunday afternoon, I got sunstroke/dizzy-ass sick. I stuck around for an hour, which is just as much time as it takes to get really bored of just sitting there in the hot and humid Chicago air. -- JZ

Murph and Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.


J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. with three huge concert stacks.


Murph and Barlow.


Mascis aka Gandalf the White.


---
Pitchfork 2008 was a great time. We're already looking forward to next summer. Here's to hoping for more pretty ladies, less freaky gingers and, as always, a weekend full of great music.

SEE ALSO: www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com
SEE ALSO: www.pitchforkmedia.com

--
Josh Zanger and Jon Burke


See other articles by Josh Zanger and Jon Burke.

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