Recapping Pitchfork's second day: Weather forecasts suck, and Sleater-Kinney rules | Bleader

Recapping Pitchfork's second day: Weather forecasts suck, and Sleater-Kinney rules

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Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney
  • Alison Green
  • Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney

Brianna Wellen: Sure, a lot of memorable things happened before 8:30 PM. Bully started a respectable dance party at the Blue Stage, Ex Hex made the most of their few songs before the festival got (briefly) shut down, and a few measly raindrops caused a mass exodus to whatever nearby bar was accepting soaked-through dollars. The rain made things more fun, and those of us warriors who returned to the muddy park when it reopened surely deserve a badge of courage. Even the sun breaking through the clouds as Kurt Vile sang "Wakin on a Pretty Day" proved that day two easily trumped day one of the fest. But once 8:30 hit and Sleater-Kinney took the stage, everything else was wiped away. They slayed their set with a perfect mix of new hits and old classics—every song I could've dreamed they'd play ("No Cities to Love," "One More Hour," "Modern Girl"), they ripped through with an unmatched gusto. If Pitchfork awarded Best in Show, it would go to Carrie, Corin, and Janet, no questions asked.

The New Pornographers

Drew Hunt: I started my day with Bully, the buzzworthy Nashville quartet led by Alicia Bognanno, whose growling vocals recall Courtney Love at her most feral. Their set was loud, aggressive, and fantastic, and the larger-than-expected crowd responded in kind, opening up a mosh pit and crowd surfing. It seemed to portend a great day of music, but things sorta entered a tailspin from there. As you may have read, it rained. Hard. This put a damper on the festival, as did Vince Staples's unexpected cancellation. Admirably, the massive crowd that gathered in hopes of seeing him returned after the gates reopened, and they chanted his name as Ariel Pink's people set up onstage. A rousing set by the New Pornographers lifted my spirits a bit; Future Island front man Sam Herring made me smile with his dance moves and death-metal growls; and, as always, the drumming (and harmonica playing) of Janet Weiss, Sleater-Kinney's underappreciated MVP, was beyond impressive. In general, S-K sent everyone out on a much higher note than Wilco did during their self-indulgent set, and again proved to be one of the best live bands in existence. It was certainly enough to turn the day around, but as the saying goes, you're only as comfortable as your feet. (Is that a saying?) And mine were just a little too soggy and cold.

Ariel Pink made the most of his shortened set.

Tal Rosenberg: Wilco and Sleater-Kinney: both headliners, both bands that formed in the mid-90s, both critical favorites, and both rigidly structured in their approach to indie rock. But on Friday, Wilco showed pictures of their cats and played as if they were sitting on their couch; tonight Sleater-Kinney came out ferocious, sounding looser and louder than they do on their albums. Wilco felt like a band on hiatus; Sleater-Kinney were on hiatus, but they sounded like they've been touring for a decade straight.

The rest? Mostly got all wet! The rain destroyed Ariel Pink's set, which came right after the delay and was limited to 20 minutes. A scorching version of "Gettin' High in the Morning" hinted at what kind of show Ariel could've done if he had more time to stretch out. As for Shamir, he played barefoot and his set felt appropriately loose, though perhaps too shaggy and laid-back. Everyone else was lost in the mud.

Jimmy Whispers isnt any more likely to stay on the stage at Pitchfork than he is anywhere else.
  • Logan Javage
  • Jimmy Whispers isn't any more likely to stay on the stage at Pitchfork than he is anywhere else.

Leor Galil: Kurt Vile apologized for the rain that briefly forced everyone out of the park earlier in the afternoon, but it's hard to point a finger at anyone for the troubles that befell Pitchfork's second day. Well, maybe the person in Vince Staples's camp who booked his flight to Chicago for the morning before his performance—his plane got delayed, of course (but I also say that in hindsight). And while the drenched, muddy park felt inhospitable as the day wore on, I found enough to enjoy to help me plow through the day to get to Sleater-Kinney's fierce closing set.

Before the storm, of course, it was a little easier to have fun. Protomartyr, all of them dressed in black, handled their sun-beaten time slot with poise. And Jimmy Whispers set the bar high at the start of the day with his high-energy, swooning pop songs about romance. I hope he gets in the studio with the six musicians who served as his backing band—they helped his music soar. He closed, as he usually does, by playing a recording of "What a Wonderful World"—and the sight of Old Man Whispers up on the "big boy stage" had me inclined to agree.

Future Islands front man Sam Herring
  • Rosario Zavala
  • Future Islands front man Sam Herring

Kevin Warwick: Protomartyr wore all-black getups. Of course Protomartyr wore all-black getups. Earlier in the day, before the skies opened up, it was another soupy Pitchfork afternoon, and the Detroit dudes played their brand of apathetic postpunk with the a kind of panache that translated as, "Fuck this heat, we're going to suffer through it in style." Instead of dressing like an accountant, Joe Casey looked like an accountant attending an undertaker's funeral as he snarled into the mike, almost daring it to bite him back. They mixed some new, unreleased material with old-ish songs and meandered around the stage, not so much pushing the crowd to get riled up as taunting them to. Protomartyr is subtle onstage, to say the least, and it makes their sparse, often brief songs seem even more brilliant.

Its possible to get too excited about Future Islands.
  • Rosario Zavala
  • It's possible to get too excited about Future Islands.

I still don't know what to think about Future Islands. Their squirrelly, theatrical front man, Sam Herring, is the party: As pulsing drums and ethereal synths hang over the crowd, he alternates between a sort of standing-up worm and something like a shiftier electric slide. He sometimes digs deep into his throat, imitating what it sounds like to slow a 45-RPM record down to 33, and he beats his chest so hard that I worry about him collapsing a lung. It's always an impassioned performance—Herring basically turns his own shirt into a frothy mess—but I can't help but feel that he sometimes sounds (and looks) kind of goofy. It wears you out by the end too—and it's hard to tell if it's from the intensity of the music or the process of watching the intensity.

In summation, Sleater-Kinney ruled.

Joe Casey of Protomartyr
  • Rosario Zavala
  • Joe Casey of Protomartyr

Bill Meyer: While festivals and fashion often go together, the essentials today were a good poncho and a pair of well-sealed boots. The most absurd attire in the hour leading up to the storm was the black suit of Protomartyr singer Joe Casey, which must have been pure misery to wear in the pre-deluge humidity. Second prize goes to Kurt Vile's bassist, who surveyed a vista of clouds, puddles, and soaked concertgoers from behind a pair of black shades.

Praise be to Parquet Courts for doing exactly what was needed to get the festival's momentum up again. They hit their first note barely 60 seconds after the end of Vile's sadly foreshortened set closer, "Freak Train." The intensity of their tuneful, bludgeoning postpunk never let up.

Ex Hex rocked pretty hard, but not hard enough to control the weather.
  • Alison Green
  • Ex Hex rocked pretty hard, but not hard enough to control the weather.

Philip Montoro: The rain started before I’d been in Union Park 20 minutes, escalating quickly from “refreshing” to “OK, now even my boxers are wet.” And just as I got within range of Ex Hex on the Red Stage, the weather ratcheted up to “alarming”—gusty winds brought down tree branches around the Blue Stage and tore one of the large banners from the side of the Green. You already know about the brief attempted evacuation of the festival grounds (plenty of people didn’t or couldn’t leave before the park reopened), which meant shortened sets for Kurt Vile and Ariel Pink too. (Vince Staples had already canceled, pleading airport delays in Detroit, but the storm would’ve taken care of him even if he’d made it. As to why Sophie bailed on his evening set—replaced at the last minute by Save Money rapper Towkio—I never heard.)

I checked in with my buddies at the HoZac table, who said that the tent sheltering the CHIRP Record Fair hadn’t leaked (though another seller’s dollar bins had caught some spray when rain blew sideways). Flatstock artist Erin Page, dba Kill Hatsumomo Prints, told me she’d lost only one poster to water damage during the deluge. Nick Butcher of Sonnenzimmer seemed pleased to be vindicated in his decision to come to Pitchfork with all his artwork sleeved in clear plastic. I saw several displays where exposed prints had wrinkled from the rain, but nothing as bad as I’d expected after seeing the wind damage and instaswamps elsewhere in the park.

Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney

What else did I learn? I already knew that my favorite sneakers aren’t waterproof. I discovered that there are Sour Patch Kids with THC in them, but I didn’t try one. (I think they’re from Colorado.) Chance the Rapper’s Goose Island collaboration, a helles lager called No Collar, turned out to be good enough to drink twice—it’s got a bready, floral sweetness, bitten off by a pop of noble hops. In a porta-potty my friend Emily found a banana tucked halfway under a copy of the Harvard Review.

At a Book Fort reading, Boston-based music writer Maura Johnston riffed on Riff Raff’s splendidly atrocious “Peach Panther” tour bus, and Jes Skolnik of Chicago band Split Feet described (in excruciating and hilarious detail) the archetypal crust-punk show house. She imagined that only one such house might exist—that it sprouts legs and strides with supernatural speed around the world to settle in every spot with a dirty DIY rock show on the books. Sort of like Baba Yaga’s hut, except stinking of stale piss, armpits, and cumin.

By the end of the day, I’d watched only one band (unless catching the last two of Ex Hex’s three or four songs counts). But I feel pretty good about my choice. As a professional payer of attention to music, I’ve known for ages that Sleater-Kinney is great. It’s always been an abstract sort of knowledge, though: I’ve read a few interviews, absorbed other people’s opinions, and dug into the occasional tune to be sure I agree. What I haven’t done is spend enough time with their records to really fall in love with them—and until tonight, I’d never seen the band play. Even though I was standing back by the sound booth—nowhere near the adoring superfans pressed against the crowd-control barrier and singing along to every word—Sleater-Kinney gave me goose bumps. It’s such perfect music for that age-old youthful feeling that you’re ready to grow into something too big and wondrous for this ugly and benighted world to contain. Now I regret not listening to this stuff in my 20s—and I understand much better why so many of the awesome women I know love Sleater-Kinney to death.

I’m going to give one of those women, my friend Erin Watson, the last word—or rather the last picture. She had her nails painted with art from Sleater-Kinney’s album covers. Carrie Brownstein reposted this photo of them on Instagram.


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