Pitchfork 2011: Day 1


Huzzah! This post will be the first in a series of HEAVEmedia’s coverage of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. Our associate music editor Dominick Mayer will be bringing you set reviews and interviews all weekend long. Joining him as a special guest will be Jonathan Mondragon, bassist for local indie-everything outfit The Island of Misfit Toys.

Reviews will be labelled as follows:

DM – Dominick Mayer
JM – Jonathan Mondragon


EMA (Red Stage, 3:30)

EMA is the stage handle of Erika M. Anderson, a South Dakotan singer-songwriter who takes the general connotations of that two-word term (acoustic guitars, saccharine lamenting) and turns it on its ear with a powerful indie-rock shift that incorporates violin and some atypical drum sounds. Her set was a perfect start to the weekend; on “Butterfly Knife,” as on many of her songs, she incorporates a lot of harmonic dissonances (the oft-distorted violin assists in this) that come together to create something anthemic and wholly fascinating. DM

Battles (Green Stage, 4:35)

In short, this may be the best set of Pitchfork 2011, after only one day in the books. In full, instrumental, prog-tinged rockers Battles proved that they are one of the most exciting bands currently making music. Through a set that saw a balance between material from their 2007 debut Mirrored and recent release Gloss Drop, Battles were relentless for 45 minutes, playing a take on “Atlas” that somehow stomped even harder than the recorded version, and shaking things up with the calypso-tinged “Inchworm” and the creepy “Ice Cream.” Drummer John Stanier powered the set with an unyielding attack, and Ian Williams’ keyboard work took on a completely unique sound on each song. It would’ve been easy for Battles to ramp everything up and go wild, but it’s a measure of how disciplined these men are that the set only reached frenzy when it was a conscious choice, and was never beyond their control for one second. Absolutely fantastic. DM

Curren$y (Blue Stage, 5:30)

Strangely enough, for an MC whose primary subjects of interest include marijuana, hanging out or hanging out with the aid of marijuana, Curren$y spent a surprising amount of his set encouraging the audience to save their weed until after the show, a missive that was uniformly ignored. Mr. Shante Franklin has an incredibly genial stage presence, and he managed to turn the Blue stage into a smoky living room for a short while Friday afternoon. That presence alone was almost enough to carry the set.  However, the same problem that leeched at Curren$y’s pair of Pilot Talk LPs reared its head here: Flow aside, Curren$y’s music isn’t particularly interesting or distinct. Songs bleed together, and this wasn’t helped by his tendency to repeat the same 3-minute formula on a loop: request beat, do one verse over beat, deliver next verse acapella, tell the crowd he wishes to keep rapping. While his set wasn’t quite disappointing, it won’t stick out for most audience members at weekend’s end. DM

Das Racist (Blue Stage, 6:30)

Now this was disappointing. The Brooklyn trio known best for their gimmicky “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” (or, perhaps, their stellar rant about the terrible TV show Outsourced) took the Blue stage for a set that can best be summed up as wildly mediocre. Resembling the Beastie Boys but without any of the feverish energy, Das Racist delivered a set that felt utterly phoned in. The fact that the crowd, except for those in the very front, seemed to share the general apathy didn’t help. This is not to say that they’re not talented; “Who’s That? Brown!” is still an entertaining, social consciousness-tinged track, and some of their songs are absolutely infectious. It’s just that, at least on Friday, their live set was not at all up to snuff. DM

James Blake (Blue Stage, 7:30)

It was incredibly hard to leave James Blake’s unexpectedly packed set without your mouth agape in awe. Despite the lineup consisting only of Blake playing keyboards, samples, and singing, a drummer with an electronic drum set, and a guitar/sample player, an impressive and wide variety of different music was played. Evenly split up between brand-new songs, as well as recent favorites from his self-titled debut album, his set had the expected mellow, pretty, and soulful pseudo-electronic music, but the real surprise was the new songs. Noticeably more upbeat and dancey, Blake still managed to make even the most skeptical audience members bob their heads along to his irresistible grooves. Personal highlights included “The Wilhelm Scream” and “Limit To Your Love”. The alternate versions of the album songs added a lot, and the extended jams were extremely enjoyable. All of this, along with having one of the most consistently flawless live voices I’ve heard, made for one of the most impressive sets of the day. JM

Animal Collective (Green Stage, 8:30)

Having never seen Animal Collective live before, and being a fan for years, I was really looking forward to catching their headlining set. I was going in blind, however, expecting a crowd-pleaser set chock full of old favorites and new material. Kicking the night off with a new song, I was hopeful, expecting something quite unlike what I actually received. A set comprised almost entirely of new material, with a couple old songs thrown in (though played in the new style), a crowd-pleaser it was not. Quite different from their most recent favorite Merriweather Post Pavilion, the new material was indulgent, overly ornate, awkward electronic music devoid of the clevermess and heart found in most of their songs. Seeming more like an experiment in how much they could get away with musically, the set was fairly unmemorable and mediocre. Perhaps next time they play in Chicago, they’ll reward all of their fans with a performance of “Banshee Beat”…or maybe they’ll just make the crowd watch them experiment for an hour and a half. JM

  • Animal Collective are always indulgent when they perform live. They never play any of their songs exactly as is off records. They always remix and improvise when playing live. Its a delight sometimes but for the uninitiated its infuriating. I am hoping to see them again and see if it’s a better show knowing what I know now.