Saturday, Jul 17, 2010, 8:33 am
Pitchfork Day 1: There’s Nothing Wrong With Dancing Swedes
The only drawback of Robyn's set was that it was still very bright out—nobody's fault of course, that's what the sun does in the summer: it shines late, and gave me plenty of time to scope out the scene. It was my first Pitchfork festival (but by no means my first-ever festival) and I liked what a saw. Union Park had transformed into a very walkable urban music campus. Very vegetarian friendly food vendors, fast-moving lines for pretty inexpensive beer. Water bottle for only $1 (down from $2 at the very start of the festival). A bit bottlenecked along the main food boulevard, but nothing compared to the norm of other festivals.
In other words, at first blush it seem Pitchfork has done a remarkable job avoiding the bullshit endemic to other festivals: Price-gouging on staples (water & water) and beer, and a general feeling that you are being smothered by sweaty humanity.
Back to the music: Broken Social Scene took the "Connector" stage (not to be confused with the "Aluminum" stage that Robyn graced; Pitchfork mercifully avoided sound overlap at the big stages) at 7:15 or so. There's always been something distinctly appealing about the band's collectivist energy. And it was there last night, with the big band joined by drummer-about-town John McEntire (Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Gastr Del Sol, producer of every band you've ever loved) and playing songs from its new album, "Forgiveness Rock Records."
All in all a good set, but still a slightly disappointing one, I thought. The collectivist spirit almost sounded chaotic at times, and the band's sound (as in sound engineering) struck me as a bit sloppy compared to its well-produced albums. But maybe it was the sun and teeming crowd distracting my ears.
The headliner last night was Modest Mouse, a band I have loved for the last 12 years, nearly as long as they've been around. I last saw them play in a sweltering Greenwich Village club in 2000; frontman Isaac Brock's drunken antics impressed me. (The band had just signed to major label Epic Records, leaving indie Up Records. An audience member let off some steam directly at Brock, sarcastically asking, " Tell us a story about Epic Records!" Response: "Fuck off!") Ten years later, Modest Mouse is still on Epic, and it hasn't transformed them into major label trash. And Brock is as caustic as ever, even with a bigger band and a banjo.
That banjo, played during a string of newer dirge-like songs from the band's recent records, didn't please many people at last night's set. Many (including me) were looking for something more—what's the right word? "Danceable" can't ever quite apply to Modest Mouse, but older songs like "Never-ending Math Equation" and "Interstate 8" have a forceful energy lacking in much of what I heard last night. Yes, I did want to hear "Float On" after all that down-and-out banjo. I don't think it was just me: there was palpable disappointment running throughout the dissipating crowd after the band ended promptly at 10 p.m. It wasn't only the song choices—Brock's never been a charmer (he doesn't banter well), and that's part of his charm. But in front of a giant music hungry festival crowd, even one as friendly as Pitchfork (which has generally worshiped Modest Mouse during the last 15 years, his abrasiveness didn't help him connect to the audience. In a smaller (indoor) venue, it might have.
The important takeaways: It's easy to leave Pitchfork without feeling like you just got robbed. I just may have outgrown Modest Mouse's sturm and drang. And the smallness of the festival is clearly a strength; everyone's in a better mood when not overwhelmed and annoyed by humanity. Small is beautiful, indeed. And let's hope for some more dance music today. The festival can only get better given who's in the lineup: a reunited Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Panda Bear, LCD Soundsystem.
Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he worked as a reporter for The Cambodia Daily in 2007. After graduating from Carleton College in 2004, he lived in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright scholarship, studying the intersection of ethnic politics and public education. His articles have also appeared in Chicago-area newspapers, Alternet and the Onion’s A.V. Club.