Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Pitchfork Music Festival

Watch This: Vol. 90

With an overstuffed week (even for 2015’s standards), Watch This will scale back ever so slightly and forego the usual honorary mentions round-up that has accompanied so many recent editions of the series. Duos are a recurring theme for this 90th installment, with two entries from Pitchfork (both two songs apiece) and two entries from NPR. A handful of site favorites are featured and a few relatively under-utilized names get the recognition they deserve as well. As always, the performances are strong and the package as a whole is a great representation of excellence in the performance sense on both sides of the camera. So, as always, grab a snack, settle in, adjust the volume, focus up, and Watch This.

1. Quarterbacks – Weekend (Radio K)

After going the full band route and unexpectedly releasing one of the year’s most ferocious basement pop records, Quarterbacks’ live show quickly took on an incredible amount of urgency. Radio K recently brought the trio in for a session where the band tore into a blistering version of “Weekend”. Immediate, scrappy, and extremely punk (also: bonus points for the drummer’s Stupid Bag shirt), this is the snappiest turn-in that Radio K’s had in a very long while.

2. Waxahatchee – La Loose + Bonfire (Pitchfork)

Earlier this year Katie Crutchfield celebrated her biggest release to date with the wonderful Ivy Tripp. It was the acclaimed songwriter’s first effort for Merge and its successes have landed Crutchfield and her band a variety of coveted positions, including a recent performing slot at the Pitchfork Music Festival. During her triumphant set, both “La Loose” and “Bonfire” were lovingly captured and made publicly available for an endless amount of repeat visits. Confident, calm, and poised, these are performances worth remembering.

3. Restorations (NPR)

After winning over a large sect of fans existing on the plane of a very large genre intersection, Restorations have yet to stop climbing. NPR recently brought the band in for one of their Tiny Desk sessions and the band responded in kind, delivering a set of ragged, heart-on-sleeve quasi-ballads. Distinctly American, Restorations seem to take pride in their roots and incorporate a bevvy of elements from an indiscriminate range of influences. Everything comes across as genuine and grounded, helping this to stand as one of the better Tiny Desk performances of the year.

4. Ought – The Weather Song + Sun’s Coming Down (Pitchfork)

Back after last year’s dust had settled, Ought‘s More Than Any Other Day wound up fending off hundreds of contenders to claim a spot on this site’s best albums of the year list. The band’s already threatening to duplicate that feat and to build anticipation for their forthcoming release (as well as road test some of their new material), they’ve been making a few high-profile appearances. One of those came at the Pitchfork Music Festival, where the band made their way through a fiery set with their typical amount of verve and unleashed two stunners in “The Weather Song” and “Sun’s Coming Down”. Both songs provide ample evidence that Ought’s one of the best live bands currently on the circuit.

5. Torres (NPR)

Along with Courtney Barnett and Girlpool, Torres is an artist that just can’t seem to stop showing up in this series. It probably helps that seemingly every outlet that Mackenzie Scott and her band have been hitting are already regularly featured in this series. In this case, it also helps that the last time Scott was lensed by NPR, it made for what may very well be the year’s most jaw-dropping live clip. Here, Scott leads her band through three of Sprinter‘s strongest tracks, including a reprise (full-band) performance of “A Proper Polish Welcome”, one of 2015’s finest songs. It’s a characteristically gripping performance and a perfect fit for one of music’s most quietly vaunted stages.

Watch This: Vol. 46

Part two of this week’s recap (there really was an absurd amount of great material to go through), this installment of Watch This features videos that emerged during the past few days. Between a handful of full sets, a few videos from places that have become series staples, and, above all else, great performances. Everything on display here is worth taking some time to enjoy and a handful of them will likely warrant return visits. All in all, this set seems like a very fitting way to cap off what’s been one of the strongest weeks for new content that we’ve had this year. So, sit back, open the blinds, turn the volume all the way up, focus, and Watch This.

1. The Midwest Beat – Vortex Hole (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Vortex Hole” was recently featured here as a stream in support of The Midwest Beat’s excellent new full-length, Free of Being. In the video below, the Milwaukee-via-Madison band gets invited to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel studio to tear through the live version. They tear through it with an enviable amount of verve and a peculiar madcap glee that somehow transforms the performance into something endlessly fascinating. It’s one hell of a rendition.

[Due to a temporary embed issue, this video can currently only be seen here]

2. Cloakroom – Asymmetrical (unARTigNYC)

“Asymmetrical” is a characteristically slow-burning song from Cloakroom, who seem to be exploring the middle ground between shoegaze and post-hardcore with a frightening amount of precision and clarity. Easily one of the most fascinating bands to have begun a steady emergence over the past handful of months, Cloakroom still retains a sense of mystery- something that factors directly into their music. This is an astonishing performance from a band that’s worth getting to know.

3. The New Pornographers (NPR)

It’d be easy to argue that, at this point, The New Pornographers are an institution. Between their own releases and their various members solo releases, they’ve put out some of the most highly acclaimed music of this young century. It’s a formidable body of work and  the fact that their most recent effort, Brill Bruisers, both lives up to and earns its spot among their long list of triumphs is fairly astonishing. This full, lovingly shot, NPR performance spans their discography and showcases one arguably indisputable fact: they deserve their acclaim and status.

4. Beverly – Not Ours (BreakThruRadio)

Beverly, the duo made up of Frankie Rose and Drew Citron, released one of the definitive records of the summer with Careers. Ever since that release, footage of the band’s tight-knit live show’s been popping up with an alarming frequency. While Rose is taking some time off to focus on her own solo project, there are still old sessions coming out of the woodwork. Here’s a lighthearted stunner from the always-excellent BreakThruRadio.

5. Cloud Nothings (Pitchfork)

There aren’t many moments in life that are better than watching a great band with extraordinary people on a perfect day. Cloud Nothings were an easy highlight of Pitchfork’s second day and now their whole set can be relived in full. Culling mostly from their 2014 highlight Here and Nowhere Else, their set went a long way in re-establishing the fact that they’re now a power trio (a term that they fully live up to). Not a lot of bands can lose a member and immediately re-define themselves without losing their personality but it’s evident that Cloud Nothings haven’t lost a step.

Pitchfork Festival: Day 3 (Review)

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After the threat of a storm cleared up, Day 3 was given a gentle opening courtesy of Mutual Benefit. Jordan Lee’s project released one of last year’s best records in Love’s Crushing Diamond which was featured heavily throughout their set. More than a few moments warranted an unexpected chill down the spine, a very rare feat for a band so unassuming. It was genuinely difficult to leave but it proved a little more difficult to pass up the opportunity to catch the end of Speedy Ortiz’s set while securing a good spot for Perfect Pussy. Speedy Ortiz played with their usual amount of verve, injecting their songs with off-kilter humor and small surprises. “Bigger Party“, their recent Adult Swim-endorsed single, drew a strong reaction- as did fan favorites “American Horror” off of this year’s great Real Hair EP and “Indoor Soccer” off of their excellent early EP, Sports. When everything ended in a cataclysm of precisely-controlled noise, it seemed like Speedy Ortiz were exactly where they belonged.

Once more, Perfect Pussy‘s set felt too important to be given a brief summary so it will be given a separate, full review after the Day 3 recap. Rest assured: it was an extraordinary performance that felt like a defining moment for the band. Just like a few days prior, the band following Perfect Pussy were divisive metal act Deafheaven. While Deafheaven did feel slightly out of place in the broad daylight, it did provide the festival some unexpected balance- and it was mixed to near-perfection. Drawing what was easily one of the most diverse crowds of the festival, watching the passerby reactions to the band’s signature sound was nearly as intriguing as the band themselves. Having already seen them two nights ago in a more appropriate setting, it was off to catch the heavily-acclaimed Isaiah Rashad, who delivered his set with a comfortable confidence. While Rashad’s lyrics often hit the same beat, that repetition is easily distracted from by some innovative production work. Rashad himself was an engaging presence that kept the crowd involved with natural charisma, star magnetism, and some festival-appropriate choruses. It was a nice break from the high-level intensity of the previous three acts and wound up striking the perfect balance between relaxing and exciting, offering festivalgoers a chance to catch their breath while their attention remained invested in the performance.

Dum Dum Girls kept that balance exactly where it should have been with their peculiar brand of easygoing, subtly psych-glam-inflected, dream-pop. Everyone seemed to be in a sedated trance only a few songs in, eyes fixated to the stage, where the the band was running through a set emphasizing their most recent material (most notably this year’s enchanting Too True). They’ll be back in the Midwest before too long and, as evidenced by just a handful of songs, are definitely worth seeing (catch them at the High Noon Saloon on October 23). After a brief reprieve, it was time to catch a few songs from ScHoolboy Q, a figurehead of the increasingly influential Black Hippy crew. Q’s Habits & Contradictions was one of hip-hop’s defining records just a few years ago and it’s power- and Q’s stature- have only grown since. He lived up to every expectation and delivered a set just as lively as both Pusha T and Danny Brown’s attention-demanding performances from the previous day.  It was another strong example of the festival’s genre sensibility for the category and it was nothing short of thrilling to see Q take full advantage of his slot.

What followed ScHoolboy Q was an impromptu-heavy stunner of a set from Canadian duo Majical Cloudz. Devon Walsh and Matthew Otto are responsible for Impersonator, a haunting and minimal triumph of a record that stands as one of the best releases of the decade so far. It’s a record whose success no one could have predicted the extent of- just as no one could have predicted that less than two songs into their set, Otto’s keyboard (responsible for the bulk of the band’s music) would die completely. After frantic, futile attempts were made at a fix, the band embraced the dire conditions and weathered them with no shortage of bravery. Their first post-instrument-death piece was an a cappella rendition of “Bugs Don’t Buzz“, an immediately arresting performance that set the tone for what was to come. From that point forward, Walsh would graciously extend the microphone to anyone that wanted to sing one of their songs, beatbox, or even tell a joke- all while making sure the performance was kept relatively reigned in. More vocal-only renditions of songs from Impersonator were given- and loops were used whenever possible- and, for the grand finale, they took the now-useless keyboard and smashed it to smithereens in a moment of pure catharsis. It was genuinely unforgettable and wound up being a perfect transition to the next band on the schedule.

The recently reunited (and massively influential) Slowdive thankfully encountered no technical difficulties and sounded as perfect as they ever have, cranking their amps up to their breaking points and calmly making their way through a set of several now-legendary songs. Appropriately, their audience was in an entranced awe thanks to the still-spellbinding music emanating from the stage, as affecting now as it was two decades ago. This performance was one of the band’s only US dates and they made every moment of it count. After Slowdive wrapped up, there was just enough time for a brief break before Grimes took over and played to an absolutely packed crowd. Visions is now over two and a half years in the past but it’s proved formidable enough to keep serious attention focused on Clair Boucher, the artist behind the project. Grimes’ only release since then was last month’s “Go“, which earned a large amount of attention and acclaim. From the crowd’s reaction to Grimes’ set (which often felt more appropriate for a pop star than an emerging electronic artist, right down to the fan allowing Boucher’s hair to blow in the wind) it was abundantly clear that the public opinion of her has grown drastically since the release of Visions. “Oblivion” had a lot of people screaming and the audience seemed more than a little reluctant to see her leave but there was still one performer to go: Kendrick Lamar.

At this point, Kendrick is one of the few people in music who don’t need an introduction- and that showed in his set. Mostly pulling from the already-considered-stone-cold-classic good kid, m.A.A.d city he delivered one of the festivals most confident sets, while managing to keep it from tipping over into easy braggadocio, proving to be more than worthy of the festival’s ultimate headlining slot. His audience was huge and rapturous; it seemed like half of the Day 3 attendees were there solely to see the man himself. He didn’t disappoint those expectations- or even come close. Everyone who could drink was drinking, everyone who could dance was dancing, and no one was walking away disappointed. Songs like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” elicited mass crowd shout-a-longs and Lamar used his time as well as he possibly could. He’s clearly one of the biggest names in music (this is thanks in part to the fact he’s now earned a bottomless well of guest verses for just about everyone) and has no intentions of going anywhere but up. There were very few choices that would have felt more appropriate to bring everything home. It was the best-case-scenario closing to a festival that continues to get more impressive- and if that keeps up, it won’t be worth missing by the time it rolls around next year.