Photo: Noah Levine
Now a midsummer institution and one of the best places to witness musical innovations and innovators, Pitchfork Music Festival 2008 took over Chicago's Union Park July 18-20 for three days of music as eclectic as the sell-out crowds and ever-changing weather they experienced. Established acts Dinosaur Jr., Spiritualized and Ghostface Killah & Raekwon played to crowds that knew every word and chord, but the most exciting moments came from lesser-known acts who took full advantage of the big stages at their disposal.
The exception to this rule was Public Enemy's fiery two-hour opening-night set, which included a re-creation of the group's seminal It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988). Chuck D's stormy lyrics were as politically relevant as when they were penned 20 years back, while court jester Flavor Flav arrived late but kept the crowd jumping until the group's legendary beats faded to echoes.
Rain drenched the park during the early part of day two, but that didn't stop Caribou's breezy rhythmic sound, Chicago's quirky and exciting Icy Demons or a solid set from UK grime star Dizzee Rascal. With frontman Nic Offer whirling and preening for the crowd, !!! used groove-laden new material to set off a park-wide dance party. Appearing solo with just an acoustic guitar, mic, drum machine and untold effects, Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox conjured up ethereal layers of floating noise. Working a more robust take on similar ideas, electronic pop trio Animal Collective employed synths, effects, drums and guitars to cast the band's glorious mix of weighty sounds, intricate moments and delicate vocals.
Day three featured Chicago's Mahjongg blasting out calamitous rhythms, a storming set from Japanese noise legends Boris and a feedback bonanza from L.A.'s HEALTH. Brooklyn duo High Places brought a lighter touch with their delightful tropical-pop rhythms. Dressed in little more than a cape, the excitable Indian frontman King Khan led his crack 11-piece band The Shrines through a nonstop soul revue. With Cut Copy delayed at the airport, Khan and Cox reappeared onstage for an unplanned blues-rock jam session before the Australian dance outfit finally played a truncated set that closed the weekend with the crowd begging for more. Unfortunately, the sound was turned off and the crowds went home with mud on their shoes and plenty of new acts dotting their lists of favorites.