Proving music fans no longer need to choose sides, the second Pitchfork Music Festival (July 13-15) brought 39 seemingly incongruous acts together for a low-cost weekend in Chicago's Union Park. Showcasing the Internet tastemakers' selection of metal, rap, indie rock, country, blues and whatever the heck it was Yoko Ono did fronting a fusion band dressed like Jake and Elwood Blues' sister, the weekend's best moments came from acts who didn't easily fit into a category.
Friday night featured Slint, GZA and Sonic Youth reprising classic albums onstage, but the underpowered speakers stunted their impressive efforts. By Saturday morning, improved sound was in place and volume wasn't an issue as Battles launched into their edgy, unclassifiable stomp. No noise was off limits as they orbited complex keys, guitars and effects around relentless beats. After the set, the band declined to reveal what they use onstage, but Tyondai Braxton explained their versatile setup didn't come together by accident: “You don't buy a looping pedal saying, ‘Oh, maybe I'll try to use this somehow.' You say, ‘Oh, what if I had a part that was looping in the back? You know what I need, I need to get a looping pedal.’”
A short walk away, Fujiya & Miyagi brought a calm formality to things with steady drum loops, glossy keys, disco bass lines and restrained vocals. The crowd responded, but the second stage lacked volume all weekend. “You just have to get on, make sure there's a signal coming through and play,” keyboard player Steve Lewis says. Attempts to catch Dan Deacon's analog mayhem and Girl Talk's mashup devastation on that stage were thwarted by the weak sound and impenetrable masses. Riotous crowds met both acts, but the sound was muddy outside the throngs up front.
On Sunday, British crooner Jamie Lidell relied too often on backing tracks but showed his skills when creating impromptu techno soul via live samples and loops. Of Montreal augmented its melodramatic glam pop with all manner of pageantry and costumed strangeness, and The Field (aka Axel Willner) gave the second stage a minimal techno workout. Somehow, he and his Ableton Live setup proved capable of making those speakers thump correctly.
Headliners De La Soul proved a sustained career in hip-hop isn't impossible, trading on their decades of experience during a 90-minute career-spanning workout that highlighted both hits and underground classics and featured a Prince Paul cameo.