Sunday, July 15, 2007

THE CHICAGO DIARIES - DAY 3

So we finally made it to Pitchfork....


After last night's fiasco, I made sure I got the route down perfectly before leaving. It was made even more difficult by the fact that the CTA decided to shut down the Blue Line between Western and Clark/Lake, so we had to take a shuttle bus between those stops to get to the transfer station to hope on the Green Line. The correct one this time.

So we finally made it to the right Ashland stop & it was quite a bit different from the empty streets we saw last night--Union Park was lines of hipsters as far as the eye can see. We tried to find our way to the end of the line to get in the park and literally walked about a quarter of a mile; insane amount of people. Luckily a kindly security guard alerted us to the fact that there was another, considerably shorter line on the opposite end of the park. He was right, and it only took us about 15 minutes to get in.

Inside we immediately scoped out the grounds, including the merch areas and food vendors. A very nice selection, with everything from homemade clothing, jewelery and artwork to huge collections of vinyl for sale (Tanner, you would have would have been walking around with perma-wood all day). The food was also great and cheap--I had a huge plate of delicious satay chicken and cucumber salad for only six bucks! And there was a nice rule there that all vendors had to sell bottled water for no more than $1.

But first things first--I hit the beer tent. I bought five drink tickets for $20, picked up my first pint of a delicious local pale ale (sorry, cant remember the name) and headed to the Aluminum stage for my first show of the day--the wonderful Grizzly Bear.


I managed to get up nice and close to the stage (easily, because at this point only a fraction of the large number of attendees that would show up later were there) and waited a few minutes while the band warmed up. When the show started, things were a little rough--a seemingly flat sound, a couple false starts. I was surprised; Grizzly Bear has been touring quite extensively as of late & I figured they'd have the bugs out by now. But it turned out their multi-instrumentalist bass player/clarinet/electronics guy was having technical difficulties. They were really nice about it and complemented the Pitchfork staff for finally fixing it--but it was the first of many technical fuck-ups by the Pitchfork crew. To quote Mr. Ron Burgundy, real bush-league. Once everything was fixed though, Grizzly Bear was amazing--beautiful vocal harmonies, really tight instrumentals. If you ever get a chance to see these guys live, jump at it.

Next up was Fujiya and Miyagi, whose debut album "Transparent Things" was one of my favorite albums of last year. I was really looking forward to this one, but was worried as soon as I got up to the stage--despite it being one of the most anticipated shows, Pitchfork decided to put F&M on the Balance Stage, a tiny little stage with a crappy PA tucked in the corner by the merch tables. I got stuck standing off to side of the stage, quite a few rows back. When the band started up, they sounded great...but faint.

Fujiya & Miyagi are a band you want to hear loud and be able to dance to. Instead they sounded like they were being played at low levels through an AM radio station. Everyone around me was asking the same thing: "It sounds great, but why is it so quiet?" Suddenly, about six songs in, there was a loud cracking noise & the volume jumped about 40 decibels and there was a loud cheer from the audience. Turned out the cracker-jack Pitchfork sound crew fucked up another one. Once the sound came up, they sounded spectacular--they reproduced the Can-esque sounds of the album perfectly (and amazingly with little in the way of electronics--I didn't realize how much of their sound is guitar/bass generated).

Jaime and I decided to take a dinner break before the next show and I had a couple more beers to get ready for the post-metal extravaganza to follow--the mighty Mastodon. We found a patch of grass fairly close to the Connector stage and watched a bit of the Iron and Wine show on the huge plasma screens. I couldn't hear it very well because they were performing across the way at the Aluminum stage, but it sounded like, well, Iron and Wine. A few minutes later Mastodon took the stage and, for the first time ever, they sounded tiny. Again, bad sound. The crowd was screaming "Turn it up! Turn it up!" and finally half-way through the first song the lead singer started glaring at the sound guy and immediately the sound went soaring.


Mastodon was great and I have a lot more respect for the band now. Lots of energy, a great stage presence and incredible virtuosity. Many a horn was thrown and Jaime and I screamed ourselves hoarse.

After the Mastodon set we had a decision to make--take advantage of all the people clearing out from the Connector stage to get a good spot for Cat Power or go stage-hopping for an hour. We decided on the latter and watched a bit of the Clipse show on the plasmas while waiting for Ms. Chan Marshall to take the stage. I missed Dan Deacon but no tears shed here.

It sucked standing around for an hour but we were well rewarded--a fourth row position for a beautiful Cat Power set, complete with the Dirty Delta Band who accompanied her on the recent album "The Greatest". Chan, a known perfectionist and self-effacer, was very unhappy with the sound--apparently the band was getting a tremendous amount of feedback on stage. As a result, Chan had to learn really close to the stage in order to hear herself and complained incessantly about the poor sound (even improving the line "This is the worst sound ever" repeatedly into one of her songs, to loud cheers from the crowd) and apologized for her "bad singing".


Apparently the only one who had any complaints was Chan--it sounded fucking amazing to me and the rest of the crowd, who erupted in huge cheers after each song. I'd heard a lot of rumors about Cat Power being an inconsistent live act, but aside from Marshall's frequent song breaks of saying "sorry" to the crowd, the music and her vocals had the same subtle, beautiful sound as it does on her best albums. And she even rocked out a few times as well, with reinvented covers of Smokey Robinson's "Tears of A Clown" and The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction".

Here's a link to a hi-rez video clip of some of Cat Power's performance (sorry it's a SendSpace file; haven't quite figured out the FTP thing for my web hosting yet)--

http://www.sendspace.com/file/sunnkp

We were pretty beat at that point and decided to opt out of the Yoko Ono show, so you'll have to find a review of that one elsewhere. All in all, a really great day of music despite the numerous technical difficulties. Hopefully the Pitchfork crew can get their shit together before tomorrow morning's Deerhunter show.

3 comments:

casey said...

Mastodon! Yes! One of the only *popular* metal bands that's worth a damn.

I find i horrifying that P-Dork can't get their shit together re: sound. Nice to see you're finally seeing some music, though.

casey said...

Mastodon! Yes! One of the only *popular* metal bands that's worth a damn.

I find i horrifying that P-Dork can't get their shit together re: sound. Nice to see you're finally seeing some music, though.

nick said...

the sound was tough all around. sonic youth sounded bad. thought theyd have their shit together come day two but they consistently botched it. we did catch dan deacon. which sounded pretty good cause he kept asking the sound guys to mess with the levels so his mixes came out right. but, twenty minutes in, the shut him down cause it was over crowded and a fence went down. too much dancing. mastodon killed.