As I write this, I have not yet seen the new Batman movie. Therefore, discussions of facets of the music festival will themed, since that's what everyone was talking about the festival that wasn't about the bands or the heat.
Vendors: Sub Pop, Souther, Drag City, Suicide Squeeze, Touch and Go and a whole bunch of other seminal indie labels were there, selling CDs for either $10 or $12 and with gas prices this high, it's hard to begrudge the labels another couple bucks on their discs, so I picked up some gems that I didn't already own, including most of Fugazi's early records (Repeater+3, In On the Kill Taker, Red Medicine and 13 Songs) and Jets to Brazil's Orange Rhyming Dictionary. If you liked food at something above a reasonable price but still well below average festival prices (hot dogs for $3, chicken curry for $7, vegan ice cream cone for $4?), Pitchfork has you covered. Plus, a huge arts and crafts section for local artists and so much more. I will, however, have to take a half of a Wayne Enterprises off for no one at the festival stocking Envy CDs. The vendors get three and a half out of four Wayne Enterprises.
Sponsors: The festival had a number of both corporate (Chipotle, Boost Mobile, 2K Sports) and decidedly uncorporate sponsors (Rock for Kids, NARAL Pro Choice America and even Firefox was there, allowing festival attendees to check their email for free). Fuze drinks was there to offer free samples of their wares to anyone interested. Since I must have drank about 20 within three days for free (as a part of the press area, in which I saw three people Saturday on their laptops, with their headphones on writing, have I missed something?) I feel kind of obligated to say something vaguely positive about them. Fuze: It's not terrible. However, it is probably not worth the two bucks you'll have to fork over for it in stores or gas stations. Maybe it's worth $1.60 or $1.70 on a hot day. Sponsors get a three out of four product placements. It would have been two and a half, but I ended up finding two fans of Bane working at the big Fuze booth, who I ended up chatting with for a while, so score's bumped up for them.
And finally, the music: I'll only touch on the highlights, since there's simply too many groups to responsibly cover. Mission of Burma performed first in the entire festival, playing the entirety of their seminal Vs. disc to a crowd that was mostly just showing up. I hadn't heard Vs. before, and wanted the first time to be here.It sounded fantastic, even if no one was into it and most of the crowd was too busy posturing. Three of four Alfreds. That same night Public Enemy came on and performed the entirety of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Flava Flav is significantly less annoying on stage than the is on his reality show, though he still showed up too late to do Bring the Noise, which Chuck D scolded him about. Speaking of which, Chuck D still has a lot to say, and it's not like he's gotten any less intelligent or iconic. At the moment where I saw most of the crowd (white, 20 something fumbling on their iPhones) putting up their fists saying "Fight the Power" it was absolutely surreal. "Fight the power, man, Wait. We are the power." Four out of four Lt. Gordons for that experience.
On Saturday, Titus Andronicus and A Hawk and Hacksaw both performed adequately, the former not alienating me, and playing some fast punk-ish stuff with plenty of mic shares despite the barrier, and A Hawk and A Hacksaw sounded genuinely interesting, adding a violin to the mix, but didn't quite appeal to me live. Maybe they're just not a live band. Titus Andronicus gets two and a half Joker thugs and A Hawk and a Hacksaw gets two Bat-pods.
During the afternoon, but just before 4 p.m., there were 5 or 10 minute periods of heavy rain interspersed between sunny skies, so not wanting to brave Jay Reatard's unappealing voice and the rain, a friend of mine and I headed over to the silkscreened show poster convention also happening in the Pitchfork grounds, overhearing Caribou and Fleet Foxes, who each sounded nice, but entirely bland, netting two out of four Joker laughing gas grenades apiece. I missed Fuck Buttons, Dizzee Rascal and the Ruby Suns owing to preparing and doing an interview with Franz Nicolay from the World/Inferno Friendship Society and the Hold Steady. More on that when I actually begin to transcribe it.
Vampire Weekend sounded like Easy Listening music, the kind of music that it's hard to find an objection to. Can I dislike it for being too mellow or too chill? That would be missing the point. Two and a half Wayne Manors out of four.
!!!, though, was out and out fantastic. Tons of energy, lots of dancing from the frontman and frontwoman, a hip-shaking, sou/punk/funk infused good time was had by all, and I had never seen them before. My loss. The crowd was into it which gave the front people even more energy to dance and sing, which in turn, prompted the crowd to do the same. Three and a half Jokers out of four.
The bar had been raised, and as I watched the end of !!! from the stage where the Hold Steady was soundchecking, I thought that the myriad of people singing the praises of the quintet better be right. 90 seconds into opener "Constructive Summer", I knew they were right. Eschewing the mic for backing vocals, Mr. Finn would scream the words back at the audience, which, for Constructive Summer at least, the crusties (no, seriously, there were 10 or 11 that I saw...) and I yelled back the requisite audience participation part right along with the guys in designer jeans and polo shirts. It takes all kinds, and the Hold Steady attracts most of them with their supremely engaging "guitar rock', as Franz put it in the interview. Three and a half Two-Faces out of four.
Sadly, by that point, my ride had to leave owing to the heat, so we missed Jarvis Cocker, No Age and Animal Collective.
Sunday, I got there just in time to hear the Dirty Projectors play five minutes too long, playing over the band I actually wanted to see that day, Boris. On the plus side, the song that they played last was their cover of Black Flag's Rise Above, which I can't properly formulate thoughts on, so, it sounded like the words to Rise Above were being played by another easy listening band with a couple great singers.
Boris, on the other hand, rocked it. Hard. Coming all the way from Japan, the group showed why they were one of the most capable metal bands to appear on the stage (no small feat given that last year, Mastodon killed it there too), and completely unsurprisingly, I saw everyone that wasn't a metalhead leave during their set. Girlfriends there to placate their boyfriends? Gone. Toolboxes in cheap aviators and on their 10th beer? Nowhere to be found. People that dressed like a garish, Day-Glo clusterfuck? Not in attendance. True believers were left, and the Japanese quartet nearly buried the crowd in their high octane metal. At the end of the set, the drummer jumped over his set, sending his cymbals crashing to the stage floor before then diving the 6 feet over the security guards and into the arms of the crowd. Three and a half Batmans out of four.
By the time Boris finished at about 2:50, I was simply sick of the heat, so I stayed away from the stages until Les Savvy Fav at four, who sounded a lot more raucous than I was expecting, but still pretty good. Two and a half Harvey Dents out of four. I spent my time between Les Savvy Fav and the next act I wanted to see, two Wu-Tang Clan members, eating food and drinking as much as I could, trying as best I could to beat the heat. It didn't work, but at least I got a good spot to see:
Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, two members of the esteemed Wu Tang Financial, who set up at 6:05, coming on to less enthusiastic applause than they would have liked, which quickly changed after they mentioned that they'd just been in Europe, got on a jet for nine hours and were driven right here. After I heard a couple repeated choruses of Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing to Fuck With, my body finally gave into the heat, and I thought seriously about heading out. Three Lucius Foxes out of four.
I don't think I can recommend this year's festival highly, as it ended up being too crowded and too hot. Musically, it really did have a diverse array of artists that you really could find something you liked over each day, the security seemed reasonable, and the atmosphere was big, but not gigantic. More often than not, I did feel like I was packed in like sardines, but the blame there is two fold, there are choke points within Union Park that must be traversed, and there were simply too many people, so getting from one stage to another meant you had to jump over people's lawn chairs, towels and sunbathers.
The heat and number of people really worked against the festival for me. Already, I wasn't a fan of most of the performers, so there's a bit of loss there. In my mind, Pitchfork gets all of the "little" things right. Affordable food that's reasonably filling and tasty, booths that interest the people going there, but all the big things worked against it, being too many people, the weather wasn't bad, but too hot and too humid. Above all of that, though: A reasonably priced 3 day festival curated by one of the premiere music websites around isn't anything to sneeze at.
All in all, I'd give Pitchfork Music Festival 2008 a 6.8 out of 10. But, since this is punknews.org, I'll round it up to a 7. This year's iteration of the festival shows promise, but frankly, it left me wanting more.