Pitchfork Festival 2011: Friday Recap

The beautiful thing about a festival like Pitchfork is the genre-spanning curating: The principal principle is a commitment to independent-minded music, and from that viewpoint Pitchfork succeeds in booking the year’s best lineup for those whose RSS feeds are dominated by MP3 blogs and Google searches most frequently include the term “.rar”. The difficulty comes when indie and intimate coincide, as they often do, and acts who are best situated for small spaces with minimal light get exposed under bright sun and across open fields. So the dank, eerie electronic sounds of smoke-and-lights electronic duo Gatekeeper getting pitched at 3:30PM, with no smoke and no lights, did the group no real favors. The beats of “Serpent” still slay in their own gut-punching way, but watching two men turn knobs for 40 minutes on a summer day can test patience.

So it was a day owned by the lineup’s more dynamic performers: tUnE-yArDs working her loops, ukulele, drums into the gale force globe-trotting funk and vocal acrobatics that always win crowds; Das Racist going hard on jokes, past mixtape highlights, and along with guest Danny Brown, showcasing material from their forthcoming LP Relax, certifying its first single “Michael Jackson” as an immediate sing-along banger. Guided By Voices competed with DR across the park, drawing the fest’s older fans, or at least those who prefer Bud to bud. (I missed it because I have seen the classic lineup twice now and because Das Racist are a must, but can report the headline from GBV’s set was Neko Case joining on “Echos Myron.”)

Elsewhere, Thurston Moore went acoustic (“Is this too loud?” he joked while strumming during soundcheck) with a harpist, EMA captured hearts with songs caked in broken, grungy torment and outstanding vocal performances, Battles piledrived through material from both their LPs with no Tyondai and a shirtless Stanier, James Blake dropped throbbing sub-bass that kids were still talking about hours later in line for the Smith Westerns/Das Racist show at Lincoln Hall later at night, and New Orleans’ rapper Curren$y repped Chicago via MJ #23 Bulls jersey.

And then there was your headliner, Animal Collective, back for their second stint anchoring P4K fest. It was trippy. Their stage was mowed over with odd-shaped, illuminated crystalline fixtures, colorful hangings, and psychedelic lights. Seeing Deakin onstage was a pleasure. They looked somewhat more like a conventional rock band than they have over the past few years, from left to right with Avey on guitar, Geologist on his geologisms, Panda Bear behind drums, and Josh behind keys/guitars. The songs, their interstitial movements and segues, and many jams were unrecognizable and unforgivingly trippy (the large screens that had broadcasted shots from stage were given over entirely to matching, psilocybic visuals). If you ate mushrooms last night, you probably have some stories to tell. Tell them.

Click around above for photos from Graeme Flegenheimer and Scott.