Pitchfork Festival 2023: Friday only

If anyone wants to write about the other two nights I'd be glad to host your ramblings!

Mon Jul 24 2023

Why do I do this to myself?

Knowing full well I was going to be walking into a bunch of unknowns at Pitchfork Festival on Friday, I went and got my face melted at Circle-A on Thursday. In between two different high-octane configurations of the same four dudes (first as Jeremy & The Drip Edges, then Tyler Keith & The Revelations), my first experience with the mighty Spidora. My preference would be to spend every night at Circle-A until they close their doors some time this fall. It’s almost as unthinkable as losing, I dunno, FUEL CAFE. Life won’t be the same in Riverwest.

You always HOPE your friends’ bands will be good, but there’s always that nagging fear of not liking it. Still, even knowing full well that at least one member of Spidora is a huge Butthole Surfers fan, I was NOT prepared for how wild and potent this band was. Had Circle-A ever been pummeled quite like that before? When I think about all the bands I’ve seen play here… on second thought I’m not going to think about that right now.

The next day I took the Hiawatha to Chicago and I got to Pitchfork in time to catch the end of Nourished By Time’s set. A solo project of Baltimore singer/producer Marcus Brown, I enjoyed what I heard (some banter and his last song).

This concludes the early-day highlights section.

If I could’ve taken a nap at some point, that would’ve been a highlight. Over the past year they must’ve either sodded or seeded a good portion of Union Park with that same waxy, disturbingly hardy grass they just installed along Humboldt Avenue in Milwaukee, and they also have long aluminum walkways along some of the high-traffic areas, so this did cut down on the dust considerably compared to years past. But I didn’t bring a blanket and I couldn’t sit still for more than a couple minutes in the shade before feeling a bug crawling on me. So no napping. Another major highlight was the stand offering FREE cans of Waterloo sparkling water all day! WHAT?? And the regular water refill station was also very efficient all day. And I heard Beyoncé wouldn’t even let ya bring in empty water bottles.

On the other hand, Beyoncé knows how to command a stage. Through the years, Pitchfork has seemingly disregarded this quality entirely when selecting its festival lineups. They tend to review ALBUMS on that website, I gather. So between Nourished By Time and Youth Lagoon, the only thing that has a chance of being retained as a positive memory for me is Grace Ives’ extemporaneous lo-fi synth-rant rendition of “Blitzkrieg Bop”, which ruled.

I would’ve definitely paid more attention to Youth Lagoon’s set, too, but a friend of mine had just arrived and sometimes at festivals, talking is more important than music. I had not listened to Youth Lagoon in many years and didn’t even realize Trevor Powers had ended and now reformed the project. Even out of the corner of my ear there were supremely captivating moments.

While I found Nation Of Language’s set fairly engaging, I ought to have left sooner to catch more of Jlin. I haven’t been to a rave in decades; the whole juke/footwork realm is foreign to me, yet Jlin’s music drew me in immediately and never let go until she was saying thanks and leaving the stage. None of the massive cheesy bass-drop stuff, this music was constantly on the move, playing with the mind in different ways simultaneously.

Obviously the discovery aspect is still a factor at Pitchfork; the problem is, if something’s on that you don’t care for, you have a maximum of one other option. Now, in years past, they had, like, Yo La Tengo first thing, Swans in the early afternoon, actual great live acts people have heard of. I genuinely salute Pitchfork for digging deep and trying to expose people to new things, but when I think of all the artists in Chicago alone who could’ve raised a ruckus in broad daylight…

Anyway, Perfume Genius was one of the primary draws for me and THERE is someone who knows how to command a stage, as in BECOME nothing but a haphazard bundle of mic cord and giant yellow lace and um a folding chair? (Why do I never think to take photos, I’m sorry people.) Seriously though Michael Hadreas onstage makes anyone within a mile radius feel more alive. Plus this was my first time ever seeing Meg Duffy play guitar; sweet jeebus! These songs had been waiting all their lives for her embellishments.

Was it a better set than The Smile’s, even? I’ll say it was more impactful for me, not having seen Genius since 2017 while The Smile just came through Milwaukee last November. The Smile put on a show very similar to the Milwaukee show, only shorter. Lacking that mindblowing first impression of “Bending Hectic”. However, first impressions of “Under Our Pillows” (it totally sounds like “Thin Thing” at first, then drifts and crushes and grinds down) and “People On Balconies” (kind of a mellow, lilting thing a little bit reminiscent of “Pyramid Song” in parts) helped make up the ground. If only they could’ve squeezed in “Teleharmonic” somehow!

And there was the climactic “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses”. They must’ve known they had something when they wrote this over two decades ago, Thom and Jonny. I wonder if its evolution is finally complete; it sure screams THIS IS HOW I WAS MEANT TO BE PLAYED lately. It was also cool seeing saxophonist Robert Stillman becoming more integral to the band’s sound, though only in a handful of songs still.

That said, if you like rock-band Radiohead, this is what’s available in the world for you, and it is marvelous. It would seem, though, without the rock-band Radiohead songs, two-fifths isn’t close enough to bring the actual hordes, which remains wild to me.

I’m excited for them to have a few more songs to pick from, though, to spice setlists up a bit. Why not sprinkle in a few obscure b-sides from your OTHER band? A fan can dream. You would think eventually Radiohead will reform; I’m certainly not counting on it. I do miss hearing those songs live, a lot, but I’m developing relationships with these new songs and new configurations and hopefully I’m just being ridiculous when the thought crosses my mind that The Smile is like UNLEDDED except no one’s dead. When it comes down to it, though, I’d take a set of Smile songs over an IN RAINBOWS set any day. (DUCKS, MOVES TO ROMANIA)

Apologies, also, to Alvvays; I was making new friends and that too is sometimes more important than music. I loved your album from last year and some day I’ll give you my full attention at a live performance, I hope. I bet your set was great, but also that Pitchfork Festival is not the ideal setting for your music. The weird thing is how many times I’ve seen great live acts lay eggs here; Sonic Youth, Slint, Danny Brown just to name a few. An unimpressive showing here is almost a badge of honor at this point.

In fact I’ve had very few transcendent musical experiences at this fest considering I go to it nearly every year. They tend to hog up so many acts I want to see, ensuring none of ‘em venture up my way. Plus I always get to hang out with some Chicago buddies. The lessons are adding up, though. I DID just see The Smile IN Milwaukee, after all. I’ve seen Perfume Genius here too. A little patience and I can see any of these artists in a proper venue. Maybe even a place that has beer options other than Goose Island. I don’t want to be going to see bands just to tally them, and that’s starting to seem like all Pitchfork is good for.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at you-phoria.com. He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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