Pitchfork Day Two: A step down

Grant Tillery

Day two of Pitchfork started strong with Chicago favorite Twin Peaks (more on them later).  It’s rare for such a young group to both rock hard and play in the pocket, but Twin Peaks managed to do both, with strong vibes of Thin Lizzy and Willy DeVille.  Their antics were off the cuff; guitarist Clay Frankel smashed his axe and threw the remnants into the crowd.

Brooklyn rapper Ka’s performance was the least rousing of the day.  Ka is more of a poet than a rapper, and his brand of street realism and social consciousness is better fit for a poetry slam than a music festival.  Wild Beasts bought some of the energy back, but it was painful to watch lead singer Hayden Thorpe sport double denim during the hottest part of the day.  Cloud Nothings came along and walloped Wild Beasts’ behinds.  They’re 30-something nerds rife with holdover teenage angst, making music that could be on Warped Tour sound good.  Cloud Nothings have come a long way from their days as lo-fi indie rockers, and their Pitchfork set introduced them to a new legion of fans.

Mas Ysa’s was a dead ringer for an electronic incarnation of Men at Work.  Thomas Arsenault’s one-man band suffered from off-pitch vocals at times, but his delivery is a portmanteau of Grand Funk Railroad and ‘70s AM gold (this comparison being a compliment). 

Pusha T took the stage a half hour late.  The wait wasn’t worth it, as Pusha delivered a tepid performance of his greatest hits.  Yet I understand his appeal, because his shallow minimalist beats become a lot more appealing under the influence, as most of the crowd was.  Tune-Yards was a breath of fresh air after Pusha T.  Merrill Garbus and crew churned out 45 solid minutes of ukulele-driven indie-funk.

Kelela’s show lacked a crowd and enthusiasm.  Her material was too similar to SZA’s set yesterday to glisten with originality.  Plus she looked uninspired and bored onstage.  Danny Brown’s performance, however, had everything Kelela’s lacked.  The gargantuan crowd gyrated and moshed around without concern for each other’s space bubbles, while shouting Brown’s ribald lyrics at the top of their lungs.  The enthusiasm was contagious.

St. Vincent delivered a headliner-worthy performance.  Lead singer Annie Clark has phenomenal stage presence, strutting around without abandon and behaves like a rock star in the classic sense of the word.   Clark gave equal attention to her fortes — David Byrne-esque anthems (“Digital Witnesses”) and power ballads (“Prince Johnny” and tonight’s stunning rendition of “Cheerleader”).  Her theatrics were grandiose, and the audience was treated to Clark smashing her guitar, banging her head against the kick drum and crowdsurfing.

Neutral Milk Hotel was an appropriate headliner, given their place in indie music history.  The progenitors of chamber pop brought it on home with their stable of horns (trumpet, trombone, euphonium and mellophone) and singers sporting beards a la Uncle Si.  They ended the night on a quiet note, finishing their set with two acoustic numbers.  The latter was “Oh Comely,” which evolved into a grand, full ensemble coda (that drowned out the couple arguing behind me).  Neutral Milk Hotel, along with St. Vincent and Twin Peaks, made Saturday’s festival worth the money, and compensated for several lackluster performances during the middle of the day.