Pitchfork Festival: Day 2 (Review)

by Steven Spoerl

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Days 2 and 3 of the Pitchfork Festival were spent seeing the festival shows themselves, rather than the after shows. Who needed after shows when the lineups for both days were so unbelievably stacked? Day 2 started with Cloud Nothings laying into a very frantic set that recalled their recent High Noon Saloon appearance. Drawing entirely from Attack on Memory and Here and Nowhere Else, their set translated well to an outdoor festival setting. With the additional benefit of good weather, the day was off on the right foot. Before their set ended, it was off to catch Mas Ysa ending his, an impressive display of eclecticism and eccentric electronic work. It was a decided change of pace from Cloud Nothings’ assault just moments before- but it kept the audience just as engaged.

Pusha T was forced to play a shortened set after a late arrival but no one seemed to mind; there were more than a few people on the verge of losing their minds during his short time onstage. My Name Is My Name, one of last year’s stronger highlights, was well represented (predictably, “Nosetalgia” received the biggest reception- no surprise Kendrick appearance, though) as was his back catalog. Pusha handled the lion’s share of the performing himself and showcased the dazzling skill and charisma anyone that’s been paying attention to him since Clipse knows that he’s capable of. It was a standout set, even if it didn’t take up the full time slot. tUnE-yArDs played to another very packed crowd that proved to be just as entranced and receptive as Pusha T’s. Merrill Garbus and company played  off of each other expertly, offering up enviable displays of both percussive and vocal prowess. It felt appropriate in the setting and completely of the moment. Their last two songs drew two of the loudest cheers of the festival.

Next up on the schedule was Danny Brown, green-tipped hair and all, who absolutely invigorated what was starting to feel like a lull in the day’s actions. Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves was also on hand to watch this set and talked about punk, energy, unpredictably, danger, catharsis, and how Brown’s set embodied just about all of it. Brown’s last two records (XXX and Old, respectively) are two of the finest entries in hip-hop for the decade-so-far and his live show lived up to- and possibly surpassed- that recorded output. At this point he’s no longer a star in the making- he’s a bona fide star. Look out for whatever comes out of his camp next (fingers crossed on what seems to be a possibly impending collaboration with The Avalanches) because it’ll be more than worth paying attention to.

After Brown’s rousing set, it was back across the grounds for St. Vincent, still riding his on this year’s outstanding self-titled record. Annie Clark led her band through a set that leaned heavily on that record while occasionally glancing back (“Cheerleader“, in particular, was awe-inducing), always leaving at least one foot planted in her increasing fondness for futurist aesthetics. When she broke from that mold, though, the effects became staggeringly visceral. One of the most unexpected (and aggressive) moments of the festival, for instance, came when Clark led her band down into a free-for-all noise jam that bordered on chaos as it became increasingly heavier. Towards the end of this, Clark threw her guitar to the stage and started abusing it before crawling over to the bass drum, headbutting it repeatedly, rhythmically, before retreating and staying down, holding her head, clearly in some anguish. She would stay in that position for some time before a stagehand came and draped another guitar over her after receiving assurance that she was okay. It was a moment driven by pure, total feeling– and it was spectacular.

Neutral Milk Hotel put on some extraordinary shows after their surprise reunion last year (their Covington, KY show was particularly memorable) and they haven’t really stopped since. True to their wishes, the display screens for the festival were temporarily killed for their set. No cameras, no footage, just music and a shared experience. And what an experience it was. Literally thousands of people sang along in unison to personal favorites off of the band’s landmark achievement, In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea, and several jaws dropped when they went for their relatively deep cuts (“Ruby Bulbs” was as emotional as ever and “Ferris Wheel on Fire” remains transcendent in a live setting). It was mixed well, the band played with as much force as they did meaning and everyone in the audience was smiling, enjoying a moment that would have seemed impossible just a year and a half ago. It was the obvious choice to end the evening and felt akin to magic. Day 3 would have a lot to live up to.

Below watch a video of Cloud Nothings playing “I’m Not Part of Me” that was recently posted by the hosts of the festival themselves.