The Pitchfork Music Festival embraced its music snob roots by booking iconoclast Yoko Ono. But the three-day celebration of sonic diversity — which spread 39 acts over three stages in Chicago’s Union Park — was more populist than its reputation suggests.
Nothing made that more clear than Saturday night’s closing performances, which pitted avant-garde headliner Yoko Ono against the instant pop pleasures of Dan Deacon and the cut-and-paste club music of laptop DJ Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk. Yoko, elusive as ever in sunglasses and a black fedora and a coup for the festival, performed a set of warbling and strained songs on the main stage that slowly dispersed the crowd. But that same night, on a small stage tucked away in the corner of the park, visceral pop ruled. Baltimore artist/instigator Dan Deacon made a smaller, more rabid crowd bellow “Sears Tower, Future Pyramid!” as they stared at the Chicago skyline. A spazzy ringleader sporting oversized plastic glasses, Deacon invited fans to an impromptu house party, abandoning the raised stage to get spastic in the first rows of the audience. He barked out dance party instructions: “Rule number one: sassy as fuck!”
The dichotomy between Ono’s performance and the sets from Deacon and Gillis typified the Pitchfork aesthetic. The indie-centric website revels in eclecticism, and its eponymous sold-out festival — expanded to three days this year, with a special series of album-length performances the first night — was no different. Slint stoically and quietly re-created its masterpiece Spiderland with ringing guitar riffs, while Sonic Youth guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore generated glorious waves of feedback as they performed the entire landmark album Daydream Nation. Battles delivered unhinged, carnivalesque glee, while Grizzly Bear served gentle, gauzy melodies. Radically different music abounded: moving modern jazz from Ken Vandermark’s Powerhouse Sound and the William Parker Quartet, straight-ahead power-pop from the New Pornographers and spectacularly driving riffs from the deranged metalheads of Mastodon, who whipped fans into a frenzy that kicked up a minor dust storm.
Some of the weekend’s most rousing performances came from the festival’s hip-hop acts that electrified the crowd. The hallucinatory beats and tight wordplay of Virginia Beach duo Clipse translated well; Wu-Tang member GZA ended his performance of Liquid Swords with a cover of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”; and the closing act of the festival, De La Soul, was at its playful and crowd-pleasing best. With a few nasty sound checks and delays, the festival wasn’t perfect. But music lovers, fanned by the weekend’s cool breezes, basked in an over-abundance of great music, and they clearly didn’t care.