Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bad Idea Show Review: Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park

I attended my third Pitchfork Music Festival last week, and it seems to be following the trajectory of the greatest trilogy in cinematic history – Back to the Future.

  • Pitchfork 2008 was my introduction into a new world of music festivals (or time travel)
  • Pitchfork 2009 took it to an even higher level with multiple epic bands (or hover boards)

Let me first point out that the crew I rolled with was stellar. They are exempt from my less than glowing review.

  • Tom (host and brother)
  • Paul (newbie and loudmouth)
  • Crystal (girl and vodka-smuggler)
  • Pat (future Mr. St. Vincent and industry insider)
  • Joey (Venom enthusiast and a 3.7 rating)
So let’s with the fashion! The only thing Pitchfork-goers like more than music is making fun of hipsters (while casting a blind eye on their own hipster tendencies). When trying to figure out what hipster wardrobe was the hippest in 2010, I sadly noticed that it looked identical to 2009: Ray-Bans and 90’s basketball jerseys. This guy know what I’m talking about. And so early on, I gave up on tallying up the fashion trends. Like when George gives up on trying to ask Lorraine to the dance when he sees that she always swoons over Calvin, I mean Marty.

Now, onto the music:


Comedy stage: We never ventured to the comedy stage on Friday, and my most accounts, that was a good thing. Michael Showalter, who I love, apparently bombed. And the rest had to talk over rock bands. Who do you think won that battle? My guess is that the comedians got pretty frustrated with this, and snapped at the band stages just like Huey Lewis snapped at Marty McFly’s band during their talent show audition.

Robyn: The pop star was doing her set while we were waiting in the ID bracelet line…and the beer ticket line…and the beer line (there’s gotta be a better way!!!). By the time we had a beverage, her set was pretty much done. But she’s not really in my wheelhouse (I didn’t know she was in Pitchfork’s wheelhouse, either), so I didn’t mind listening from a distance. I saw her on Letterman this week, and think that during her Pitchfork set, I probably would have just stared at her chipped tooth anyway. She must be one tough cookie.  Is she the female goon in Griff’s posse?            

Modest Mouse: When Pitchfork was announced, this was the band I was most excited to see. If I had done the scheduling, I would have had them end Sunday night, switching places with Pavement. But I’m a young buck of 29. What do you I know? I do know that I thought Modest Mouse killed it. The first time I saw them live, I was surprised at how rabid Isaac Brock performs. I used to make fun of my friend Brennan, who broke his ankle moshing at a Modest Mouse show, but then I saw this, and I started to realize that despite the banjos and horns, Modest Mouse doesn’t resign itself to folkiness. They don’t mess around. Isaac Brock = Biff Tannen!

Free Energy: I really didn’t want this band playing at 1:00 pm on Saturday. Before the festival, I listened to most of the bands, and couldn’t get enough of these guys. Simple, loud pop rock. They energized the crowd that was there as the gates opened for the day, and I imagine if they’d played later in the day, they may have been thought of as one of the best rock bands on the weekend (Pitchfork seemed heavy on both ambience and dance music, but light on rock). While I wish they would have ended with their self-titled song last instead of their other single “Bang Pop,” it was well worth getting to the park early.

DeLorean: Well, I love their name, for reasons made obvious by my clearly unhealthy obsession with BTTF. I would have been happy if the car just rolled out on stage and opened its doors to the sky. But their music forgave their lack of a stainless steel time machine. The festival was a little dance/electonic heavy for my taste, and I was expecting to leave this set fairly early, trying to save myself for LCD Soundsystem, but I loved this band. As with most electronic music, I can’t really pinpoint why. It’s attraction and power is as mysterious as the flux capacitor.

Titus Andronicus: They played the first Saturday slot in last year’s festival, and this year upgraded they the fifth. I guess that’s progress? While Paul will forever be disappointed that no bagpipes were played, they still held their own with the more traditional rock and/or roll instruments. While they’re a bit too historical for a guy like me, who prefers not to listen to lyrics, I enjoyed slow tapping (then stomping) my feet to their music. They definitely aren’t a band that will be playing the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance anytime soon. And as evidenced by the stars and stripes adorning their stage, they sure do love 'Murica.

Wolf Parade: Paul insisted that I give this band much attention before the festival, and I’m glad I did. Their performance was one of the most energized of the weekend, but one that I think, if unfamiliar with the music, I wouldn’t have gotten. Still, their music did inspire an assembly line of morons trying to crowd surf from the middle of the crowd by using a recycling trash bin as their launching point. It did not go well.

Panda Bear: Tom reported that most people were tweeting “more like Panda Bore!” during whatever Panda Bear wanted to call it (A performance? No, there was nothing to watch. A set? No, there were no clear starts/finishes to songs. Concert? Hell no). But I should get too worked up. We just sat on the ground in front of LCD’s stage waiting for the real deal.

LCD Soundsystem: Wowsa. For a guy that looks like a fat Brett Favre, James Murphy knows how to get 18,000 feeling like their on top of the world. There was virtually no dead time between hits. The crowd didn’t stop dancing. The skanks shaking it on top of the trash cans previously used as crowd surfing launch pads certainly didn’t. My only wish was that the final song brought the crowd’s spirits up, rather than back down to earth, as “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” did. I mean, even Marvin Berry and the Starlighters knew not the end the dance with “Earth Angel.”


Beach House: Ug. I was bored by this. As much as I love glitter kites (and I LOVE glitter kites!), I just can’t handle the blahness. I’m going on record to declare a fully anti-blah music philosophy.

Local Natives: Another band I had listened to quite a bit before the weekend, their lead singer’s moustache only improved their stock. They remind a lot of people of Vampire Weekend, which I get. Their set actually reminded me of Vampire Weekend at 2008’s Pitchfork, only these guys seemed to be loving what they did, whereas Vampire Weekend seemed obligated. I could easily see this band blowing up in the same way. Perhaps fame is their density…I mean, their destiny.

Surfer Blood: We sat down in the shady corner while this band played. We definitely thought it was enjoyable to listen to….while sitting in a shady corner. At that point, there wasn’t much that would have gotten us to stand up and actually watch a band. But they certainly didn’t push us away. I think that’s a win.

St. Vincent: While Pat kept proposing to her from afar, I wasn’t as impressed with her set. I don’t know. I had trouble with the drastic shifts in tempo, tone, style, etc. I like to know what’s coming next. But with St. Vincent, I just felt like I had ordered a nuclear bomb, but was only given a shoddy bomb casing full of used pinball machine parts. And we all know how well that goes over.

Major Lazer: Holy crap! Giant Dragon puppets, a hype man that looks like what will happen if Dave Chappelle is cast as the next Riddler, only with a sex addiction. Ballerinas. A ladder. This band caught a lot of people off-guard while they waited for Big Boi. No other act did I see cause so much of the crowd to stand up, face them, and try and figure out what the hell was going on. Did he just reverse cowgirl that dancer? Yes. Did he just scream that someone in the crowd was gonna get pregnant? Yes. Did he just take off his pants while standing atop a 10-ft. ladder? You betcha. And my personal favorite, did the dj just throw in a sample of Ace of Base? Hellz yeah!

Big Boi: I listened to his new album on the way up to Chicago. Twice. Eh. I really feel like both he and Andre 3000 together are greater than the sum of their parts. Luckily, Big Boi did not shy away from Outkast’s catalog. In fact, he went through its entirety. Granted, most songs were about half the length (because, you know, half the band wasn’t there), but I enjoyed its frenetic pace. And come on, child break dancers for “The Way You Move”?! Outstanding.

Pavement: Talk about going back to the future! While I still wish they’d have switched places with Modest Mouse, Pavement did impress me. By the time I got to college, Malkmus had already gone solo. So I knew of his solo work first, and Pavement second. And they’re one of those bands that I don’t even try to get into, for the mere fact that their cult fanbase implies an all-or-nothing mentality. Either you know every single song, or you shouldn’t even bother. What I found, though, was that even as a casual fan, I recognized most of what they played. Not specific songs, necessarily, but in contrast to St. Vincent, I knew where they were going. Knowing that old man Biff is going to create alternate 1985 doesn’t stop me from watching it happen. Of course, I wish Pavement had axed the whole comedy skit introduction so they would have had time for an encore, but it was Sunday night. I was certainly spent.

Just like Back to the Future III has the components of everything I love about the first two films (time travel, allusions to previous films, Doc freaking out) while in no way living up to them, it felt like this year’s festival had everything I love (a festival in the city, reasonable start/stop times, exposure to new music) while still leaving a bit to be desired. But let’s be honest. Even if Pitchfork pulls a BTTF III and goes western next year, I’ll be there, ready to help get that train up to 88!

Best Performance: LCD Soundsystem
Best New (to me) Band: Local Natives
Band I Regret Not Seeing: Here We Go Magic
Band That Is Most Likely To Inspire Dave Chappelle to Return to Comedy: Major Lazer

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scenes from a Winnipeg City Bus

I would defy any motion picture art director to design a scene with as much nuance as whatever is happening here.

The longer I look at this, the more questions I have.  First off, the captain of the Stanley Cup champions is riding on mass transit of Winnipeg, Canada, for reasons that go unanswered.  The bus itself is cramped and claustrophobic.  The sunglasses on the ignored toddler are pulled from central casting.  And Jonathan Toews is legitimately channeling his inner Lost in Translation/Broken Flowers-era Bill Murray to pull off a vacant unflinching stare of existential contemplation.  Finally, add in the Stanley Cup, which makes every situation approximately 71% more surreal simply by its mere presence, and before I know it, I feel myself staring at this thing the way Cameron Frye was captivated by Georges Seurat.  

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I'll Fight Like Hell to Hide that I am Giving Up

The year is 2010, and a black democrat is in the White House. As you can imagine, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Rage Against the Machine to viewed with any degree of relevancy. Oh sure, some “musicians” in RATM’s position might decide that the time is right to inflict another terrible album onto the masses, but after some quick thinking, they remembered their penchant for empty political posturing, and thus the Sound Strike was born, to protest State Bill 1070 in Arizona.

I am not going to argue about the merits of the bill one way or the other. But what I am going to argue against is the overall inanity of the artists who have chosen to boycott the state as a result of this bill. The list contains a curious number of bands who aren’t even currently active (Nine Inch Nails, Throwing Muses, Tenacious D) as well as a few whose presence on the list I find genuinely disappointing (My Morning Jacket in particular.) Michael Moore and Maroon 5 are also on the list, which if anything seems unfair to the other 49 states that they’re choosing to NOT boycott.

As an Arizona concert promoter succinctly pointed out, this boycott basically only hurts the people actively supporting (both financially and politically) the majority of these bands. In response to the points raised by the promoter, Conor Oberst recently answered back with his own open letter. I decided to give Oberst’s letter the Fire Joe Morgan treatment that it so richly deserves. His actual words are in bold.

Dear Charlie,
I read your letter and I do understand where you are coming from. You bring up valid points. I personally regret any of the collateral damage the boycott is causing you, other like-minded arts promoters and the fans in Arizona. A boycott is, inherently, a blunt instrument. It is an imperfect weapon, a carpet bomb, when all involved would prefer a surgical strike.

Did you want your war analogies brought up before your appetizers?  Because they're ready immediately.  It's an interesting tactic of basically leading with “we’re destroying everyone in your shitty brown-people fearing state.”  Do go on...

I agree with you in part, and the radio host you quoted, that the authors and supporters of SB1070 could give a shit whether or not my band, or any other Artist, ever plays Arizona again. The only thing, clearly, that these people care about is Money and Power, that and the creation and preservation of an Anglo-Centric Police State where every Immigrant and Non-White citizen is considered subhuman. They want them stripped of their basic human rights and reduced to slaves for Corporate America and the White Race. They are engaged in blatant class warfare. It is evil, pure and simple.

Oberst math lesson: “Only thing” equals several things. And possibly another thing!
Oberst grammar lesson: Use capitalization whenever the hell you feel like it.

I have on many occasions spoken my mind from stage. I have offered organizations table space by the merch booth. I have donated a dollar-a-ticket, or the entire guarantee, to different causes. I have registered voters. I have played on behalf of political candidates.

“These actions allowed those organizations to raise money for their causes. They helped my supported candidates get elected, and in general they provided a forum for people who may not have known each other at the beginning of the day to connect and join forces to affect positive change for their community.  Obviously, that was all pretty fucking dumb.”

Sadly, this time, I fear none of that is enough. If I return to Arizona to pay lip service to a roomful of kids at the Marquee it will do absolutely no good for anyone.

Hey, remember in the 1960’s when Bob Dylan went down to Mississippi to “pay lip service” to kids during the civil rights struggles? What a rube he was! He obviously would have been much more effective singing his protest songs from coffeehouses in the Village. I can’t believe that asshole thought it did any good by confronting the issue at its source, when he should have just boycotted the South!  Too bad his foolish fuck ups rendered him a mere footnote in how to integrate activism and music.

What I can do is to help organize, and play my small part in, what I hope is the largest and most effective boycott this country has seen in a long time. To work it will have to involve members from all sectors of society. The Sports Industry, the Entertainment Industry, the Tourism and Convention Industry, other State and City governments, private businesses and individuals from around the country and the world---all of whom, by the way, are already participating in the boycott. Much of the Artist end of the boycott is symbolic, I acknowledge, and no real threat to the economics of the State. But it is an important part none-the-less for awareness and messaging. The Boycott has to be so widespread and devastating that the Arizona State Legislature and Governor have no choice but to repeal their unconstitutional, immoral and hateful law. It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain, their pocketbooks.

Did this dumb simpleton proofread his letter? He readily admits this boycott has “no real threat to the economics to the state,” but one sentence letter claims it has to hurt said said state’s legislature in “their pocketbooks,” which he just acknowledged won't happen. This is not like withholding a giant events on the scale of the Super Bowl or massive conventions that states build their budgets around, where those travelling to the state are staying in hotels or spending multiple days supporting the economy. This isn’t even a massive event like Lollapalooza; it’s a lot of little rock shows by bands who enter and leave the state within the same day, and the powers that be couldn’t give a fuck about such short trips that are inconsequential from an economic standpoint. The only point where it will get any recognition at all by state higher-ups will be after rock clubs, promoters, caterers, stage crews, etc, have already slowly bled to death. Congrats, asshole, you’ve ruined the lives of the very people who allow you to tour in the first place.  Go fuck yourself.

What I would encourage you to do, if you haven't already started, is to organize with all the local businesses you can to put as much pressure as possible on your State Government until the Law is repealed. An economic death rattle is the only cry of outrage they will hear.

“I don’t live in your state, but please allow me to tell you how to handle your local politics. I suggest you complain to them when our actions put you out of business.” What a piece of shit. He should have the word “economic” taken away from his vocabulary. He can have it back when he learns to use it properly.

I realize that the people of Arizona did not vote on SB1070 and I empathize with the anger and frustration you all must feel. I applaud what you are doing with Viva Arizona and do wonder if there might be a way to reconcile both our efforts while maintaining the integrity of each. After all, we are trying to achieve the same thing. But just as you may feel the boycott is an empty gesture, I fear that if we return to business as usual (under the guise of some civic movement) that this will all devolve into the typical grandstanding that is political activism in music. It might make us feel better but won't do a damn thing to change the minds of the radical, racist minority that seem to have controlled Arizona politics for decades. In short, it will lose its teeth.

Playing in Arizona = “guise of some civic movement.” 
Staying away from Arizona=GENUINE civic movement, apparently. 
I have to be honest.  I always considered Bono pretty untouchable in the category of most self-delusional “activist,” but Oberst is pulling out all the stops here and approaching with Super Saver-like speed.

Just this past week, the little town of Fremont Nebraska passed a very similar, almost more radical, city ordinance. It was co-authored and championed by Kris Kobach of Kansas who helped write SB1070. I was outraged, saddened and embarrassed for their town and my state. I am already in the process of organizing a fund-raiser for the NE chapter of the ACLU who is suing the town of Fremont. Our situation requires immediate legal action and a campaign for public awareness (there has been very little press on this). Charlie, I promise you, if this Fremont law had been passed Statewide instead of in a rural town of 25,000 people, I would be the first to call for a boycott of my home state. This way of thinking and legislating is so dangerous, and such a threat to our basic ideals as Americans and Humans, that we cannot stand by and do nothing. We cannot play on as if nothing is wrong. This is not just about Arizona. I am not just skipping a tour date. This is not going to be easy for anyone.

So it's worth setting up a fundraiser in Nebraska to protest a city ordinance, but if that ordinance had been passed state-wide, you would stay away completely? Get fucked, asshole.  Seriously, this feels like a contest to see how many different ways this you can show yourself to be an abject fool. A nice touch letting Nebraska know that they’re on notice though, tough guy. Why not cut the bullshit and just say that all Red States are on thin ice?

Here's a little-heard about a small state called California.  In 2008, the state passed an amendment in 2008 known as Prop 8, which reversed the State Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. The amendment (which was passed by the voting public, as opposed to Arizona 1070) was protested by an overwhelming majority of musical artists, yet mysteriously nobody on the Sound Strike roster has argued for a boycott of the state. It’s fortunate to know that the civic minded artists haven’t passed up any paydays in LA, San Fran, or San Diego.

Charlie, I consider you a friend and you have always been great to my bands and me. I have played for you many times and I hope to do so again soon in New Mexico or anywhere else. I sincerely look forward to the day when I can return to Arizona and this will all seem like a bad dream. But I can't come back now. I'm sorry. I hope you will understand.

“Charlie, feel free to drive your sorry ass 8 hours from Phoenix to Albuquerque if that works for you. Otherwise, assuming the actions of myself, Joe Satriani, and that guy from System of a Down don’t cause your business to go under, I’d be glad to let you work on setting up a show for me down the line. I truly hope we can agree on an occasion where it becomes more beneficial for my image to venture into enemy territory. But for right now I really need to milk this stunt for all it’s worth. I hope you will understand. Though I honestly couldn't give a shit either way. 

Conor Oberst"