Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 Review: Day 1
Tue, 20 Jul 2010 19:02:43
The Tallest Man on Earth Photos
To me, a music festival is less about its headliners and more about the acts that fill the day. And this is even truer of the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Pitchfork, an online music publication, is known for its snarky, overly verbose indie and alternative rock reviews. Using their site reviews as a platform, they specialize in booking some of the best new - or newly popular - rock acts to play for their young hipster crowd. The end result: the relatively unknown bands Pitchfork lauds play in the hot Chicago afternoon sun and gain a significantly larger following than they ever could have imagined.
Day 1 of the 2010 Pitchfork Fest started off a bit slowly with 2 folky singer/songwriters, the first of which was Sharon Van Etten. While Van Etten was undeniably talented, her drawling sound and static presence on stage was not suited to the opening spot of a large outdoor festival.
Across the field, Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth, was better received, if only judged by the larger wall of people that amassed as his set progressed. Matsson’s vocals were significantly more raspy and weak than what was heard on his 2010 release The Wild Hunt. But the self-professed jet-lagged singer pulled through the lack of sleep and oppressive heat, jumping around with what seemed like sheer excitement to be playing on such a large stage in front of such a doting audience. He played to the audience’s desires early on, playing popular “King of Spain,” which brought about a huge roar from the crowd. Mattson continued playing his heart out through much of Wild Hunt, which was entertaining even if he was a bit off from his usual phenomenal standard of performance.
Liars, on the whole, was forgettable. I remember it being a fun show to see at the time - Angus Andrew’s energetic anger permeated the field, finally energizing the crowd after a relativity lackluster beginning to the fest - but looking back on the Liars’ set, I can't remember a single song or defining moment other than that they were loud and Andrews theatrically ran around the stage in a tight Men At Work t-shirt (which I only know from looking back at pictures).
After being significantly underwhelmed by the music of Pitchfork’s opening day, I decided to try out the new draw: a comedy stage. Many summer festivals (e.g. Bonnaroo) have comedy stages, often drawing star performers and huge numbers to watch. While Pitchfork lined up the large stars – Michael Showalter and Eugene Mirman – the crowd did not follow. Most of the day’s crowd chose to stay at the other stages to gear up for Broken Social Scene and Modest Mouse, meaning that the comedy audience consisted of only those too hot and tired to continue standing in the sun.
Like the rest of the small crowd at the B stage, I sat on the grass, idly listening to Wyatt Cenac’s set. I didn’t catch much of what he was saying as I was far enough away from the stage that the sound bleed from Robyn’s set drowned out all of his possibly witty quips.
Sound bleed from the main field stages continued to be a problem for the rest of the night, evidenced by Michael Showalter’s complete and utter breakdown on stage. Early on he lost focus and could think of little to say beyond complaining about the occasional sirens from the street behind and Broken Social Scene's overpowering performance. Since I have a fondness for Showalter’s brand of comedy even at his worst, I was still able to get a few laughs out of his misery. Even so, I could see how let down he and the rest of the audience were. After trying to rally by playing music from his own computer as loud as possible through the stage’s speakers and assuring the audience that he had successfully performed at outdoor festivals in the past, Showalter made a comment about drinking himself stupid and promptly left the stage.
Given Showalter's surprising disappointment, I almost abandoned the comedy stage for Broken Social Scene, but reasoned with myself that 1. I really like Eugene Mirman and 2. by that time, the crowd would be too swollen to even approach the stage upon which the Canadian band was playing.
As luck would have it, Mirman was pretty good - or at the very least better than what preceded him. Like Showalter, he was initially intimidated by BSS’s forceful sound, commenting, “I know for you my voice is booming, but to me it sounds like we are all being attacked by intergalactic rock spaceships.” Yet unlike Showalter, Mirman persevered by focusing on practiced material rather than moving off-book. Mirman made jokes about the tea party, using visual aids to help the audience. Toward the end of his set, he even stepped down from the stage to hand out an array of fake business cards, which I was too slow to grab.
In the end, sitting in the hot sun all day only to see one of my comedy heroes crash and burn had proven to be too much emotional duress. So, I was dirty, tired, overheated, and in no mood to stick around for all of Modest Mouse’s set - I caught 2 songs and made my way out, unable to further bear my physical and emotional state of disarray.
Who I Saw:
Sharon Van Etten
Tallest Man on Earth
Heard from Afar:
Broken Social Scene
Favorite of the Day:
Tallest Man on Earth