Monday, July 27, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Polite hipsters at Pitchfork
By JEFF SANFORD
Senior Arts Editor
To begin, a corny - but, in a roundabout
way, thought-provoking - joke I heard
while attending this year's Pitchfork Music
Q: "How many hipsters does it take to
screw in a lightbulb?"
A: "It's a pretty obscure number. You've
probably never heard of it."
This joke was met with groans and blank
stares, plus one "shutup." ButI'mnot includ-
ing it because it's funny. Rather, ithelps clar-
ify why I was a little apprehensive about this
year's Pitchfork Music Festival.
Fact: The bulk of Pitchfork's audience was
comprised of late-teens and twenty-some-
things in various stages of hipsterdom. I saw
enough plaid and flannel shirts to wallpaper
the Sistine Chapel - hipsters as far as thy
eye could see.
In effect, the Pitchfork Festival, housed
in Chicago's Union Park, was a giant conflu-
ence of people who - as the joke reminds
us - pride themselves on obscurity and
smug eccentricity. I had thought that at
some point during the festival, a lot of these
people would take a look around and real-
ize they resembled practically everyone else
around them. They would become aware
that they weren't as unconventional as they
And herein lies the seeming paradox that
had bothered me in the days preceding the
festival. How can Pitchfork cater to its audi-
ence if it inherently contradicts everything
they stand for?
Fortunately, there was no evidence of an
identity-crisis pandemic in Union Park. In
fact, the paradox I'd been contemplating
beforehand dissolved as soon as I entered
the festival grounds Friday evening.
To be sure, the crowd at Pitchfork had
to be one of the most reasonable, polite and
generally caring crowds ever assembled in musicianship of the festival.
the name of music. My feet were stepped on, John Hughes pop revivalists The Pains
my back elbowed and my ribs gored. But not of Being Pure at Heart were charming and
once did the offending person fail to apolo- cute, but despite issuing a stellar debut ear-
gize. A guy with a Tortoise shirt on didn't lier this year, their live show suffered from a
scoff when a girl behind him asked who Tor- lack of dynamics and panache.
toise was, even though the band was playing But I was floored by Brooklyn's Yeasayer.
at the time. When Pharoahe Monch com- Looking back, I count the sun peaking out
manded everyone in the audience - despite from the ever-looming clouds during their
its overwhelming whiteness - to put their song "Sunrise" as one of the festival's high-
right fists up a la a Black Power salute, they lights.
did, dammit. And without irony, even. The National was the headliner Satur-
day night, and it may have had one of the
best overall sets of the weekend. The sound
Black Power and was full and layered, and vocalist Matt
Berninger gave the crowd everything he
pulsating vaginas. had, even marching into the audience dur-
ing the manic "Mr. November."
Grizzly Bear, who had the unfortunate
position of playing right before The Flam-
What I'm saying is that at Pitchfork, ing Lips, was marred with sound problems
the music came first. And while I'm sure a (problems in the control booth were a com-
majority of the outfits worn by attendees mon theme throughout Pitchfork). Inces-
were meticulously prearranged, it was clear sant, ear-ringing bass feedback filled the
that once the bands started playing, image gaps between songs, making the audience,
became mostly a distant concern. but especially the band, very uncomfortable.
With the Pitchfork paradox debunked But when the band started playing, all was
and my apprehension thoroughly squelched forgiven. The vocals were nearly perfect,
by early Friday evening, I had time to focus and the breakdown during "Fine For Now"
on more important things, like my band- was probably the best musical statement of
seeing strategy. I decided, save for a few the day.
rogue amblings, to camp out at a particu- Things ended abruptly when The Lips'
lar stage, securing a front-row spot but Wayne Coyne's voice echoed from the adja-
also missing some bands I wanted to see at cent stage and Grizzly Bear's Dan Rossen
other stages. concluded with a meek "I guess we're done
In retrospect, I think I made the right now."
decision. I rarely ate, drank or went to the The Lips were literally born onto the
bathroom, but there's really nothing that stage, emerging from behind a giant LCD
compares to consistently being a few yards screen that displayed a pulsating, neon
away from your favorite bands. Plus, I felt vagina. The rest of their set can't really be
a sort of pride when I looked back from my expressed in words. They used a rumored
privileged position and saw thousands of $5000 worth of confetti, hundreds of zep-
faces vying for a closer look. pelin-sized balloons that were pogoing off
Built to Spill was very impressive, show- the crowd for the entirety of the show and
ing off its 17-plus years of experience, and an embryonic bubble in which Coyne rolled
Doug Martsch's guitar into the crowd. While the music was some-
work on "Conventional times less-than-spectacular (they unnec-
Wisdom" might have essarily slowed down both "Yoshimi" and
been the deftest display of "Fight Test" to ballad speed), they certainly
had a full-blown spectacle on their
hands. I'm not even a huge Lips fan,
DfISCoL B92 lRERS but I don't think I stopped smiling
once during the show.
HOURS The set ended with a stunning
rendition of "Do You Realize?" per-
Mon-Fri 9:QO-5:O0pm haps a little too early (strict neigh-
Sat 8:30-3:O0pm borhood noise curfews, I suspect).
And that was it. The 2009 Pitch-
*' p mfork Music Festival was over. We
were left with a "Please file out
So* orderly and quietly" and an unset-
-34 -689329 tling absence of music. My back was
spasming and my feet were numb
from long-term standing. I was
bothdehydrated andstarving. Iwas
in a coma-like state from prolonged
yBom musical overstimulation. But the
n Arbor only thought that ran through my
WWW.DASCOLABA"ERS.COM head was: "I feel bad for the person
WALK-INS WELCOME. who has to clean this shit up."
Hippest hipsters ever