Recapping Pitchfork 2011: Kylesa saves the day

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Yes, I'm sure I was one of hundreds who tweeted about Kurt Vile's flowing locks majestically blowing in the breeze during his set yesterday at the Pitchfork Music Festival. An easy joke was all I could muster, considering I could only stand directly in the sun for a few minutes before risking out-and-out disintegration of my physical being. I strolled into Union Park on Sunday just as Vile's set was starting and tried camping out to at least catch "Jesus Fever," my favorite song off of his recent Smoke Ring for My Halo. I didn't quite make it—hence the tweet (I did, however, catch a chunk of his set at Subterranean the night before, so don't think too little of me).

It's no secret that Sunday at Pitchfork is the last few miles of a sweat-drenched, booze-fueled, sunscreen-reeking marathon of a weekend. Unfortunately, yesterday just happened to be the hottest and most unruly day of the weekend too. When a friend texts you from his booth at Flatstock saying "Bring water if you can," and you're having trouble walking through shaded areas due to the picnic-blanket communities accumulating there, it's just too damn hot. Saturday's highlights weren't terribly affected by the weather: Off! blew through a set of short, dirty punk songs (with Keith Morris providing a soliloquy or two) so quickly you barely had time to overheat, and the Dismemberment Plan filled me with nostalgia for my early 20s with a mega-fun nerdy-cool set as the sun was beginning to go down. But I was just having trouble settling in on Sunday.

Luckily, the festival's token metal act, Kylesa, took the Blue Stage at the exact right time to lend the crowd not only some welcome shade but also some welcome time off from all things indie rock and pop, which can drain the life out of you after the third set of sleepy-time guitar riffs lazily rolling around in 90-degree heat. I'm familiar with Kylesa but have never pretended to be a huge fan. Though they're practically always touring, this was actually the first time I'd seen them. A friend told me before the set, "I've seen them go through the motions if they're not into it, but if they're into it and they have the crowd, they can kill it."

They killed it. I was perfectly positioned on the side stage so that I could see the dual drummers as well as the guitarists. While dual drummers may not translate terribly well on an album, seeing them live is almost always worth it (I'm looking at you, Dirtbombs). For the most part Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry play in unison, creating a mass of blasting rhythms, but when they trade off—one might go to a snare roll while the other works the hi-hat, for instance—the dynamic shift fills the stage to the brim with swirling beats. And when they come back in together, it hits so very, very fucking hard.

Despite all the drums onstage, though, the meat of Kylesa's songs are the dirgy psych jams of guitarists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope (the band's two remaining original members) and bassist Corey Barhorst, who capped the set off by chucking his ax at the wall of drums. Pleasants shredded as she and Cope, who also manned an ever-mesmerizing theremin, traded off vocal duties. The front-line trio roved around restlessly, not leaving a square foot of the stage untouched. Kylesa comes from a strong Georgia metal scene that also includes Mastodon, Baroness, and Zoroaster, and they represent it well—they didn't seem at all out of their element at Pitchfork (even though they kind of were). Pits opened up and heads were banged, appropriately so.

I'm not sure how the booking for Pitchfork went or why Kylesa were slotted when they were, but whoever devised the lineups and set times got it right. The metal dudes and lady from Savannah provided the perfect release—and one of my personal highlights of the weekend.

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