Pitchfork, Siren: Weekend Festival Roundup

micachuMicachu at Siren Festival. (Photo courtesy of the Music Slut)


Headlines: It was a big festival weekend all over, so that will be the focus of this morning's mix. Out in Chicago, Pitchfork had its fifth annual celebration of, well, itself. Friday was old-timers night with bands that made their names in the '90s --Built to Spill, Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo and Tortoise -- playing sets filled with songs chosen by fans. By almost all accounts, the evening belonged to the Lizard. "Such was the Jesus Lizard's power that the other bands on opening day may as well not have bothered to play," said Jim DeRogatis. "The band reacquainted its audience with what a real rock show should look and feel like," said Greg Kot. Reports on the rest of Friday's old-timers lineup were pretty lukewarm: sound issues for Yo La Tengo and excitement (or, lack of) issues from Tortoise and Built to Spill seemed to be the consensus.

Saturday's headliner was The National which just seemed a bit anticlimactic, but reports were largely positive which is more than could be said for the Port-a-Potty situation, which required an emergency overnight delivery of 35 extras. A few not-quite-ready for big festival bands (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cymbals Eat Guitars), a diva moment from Doom (he refused to take the stage until he got paid) and a delayed, but drama-free set from Wavves. Saturday sounded more like quantity than quality.

If you have the Flaming Lips playing, they must play last. The band's stage set up took all day and I think my favorite tweet of the day came from Maura Johnston at Idolator who said "Flaming Lips currently emptying the inventory of every Party City in a 50-mile radius onto the crowd." Check out the photos from the Chicago Sun Times all the mayhem for yourself. Another favorite part of my recap was that the Lips' stage crew drew bigger cheers than Grizzly Bear. Ha! When indie-punk trio The Thermals played in D.C. a few months ago they broke out Nirvana and Breeders covers, but they added Green Day and Sonic Youth to the mix this time, doing their best to recreate mixtapes that I (and, presumably, they) made about 15 years ago. Other consensus highlights of the festival were Canadian hardcore rabblerousers [Expletived] Up and indie-Americana act Blizten Trapper. Well, not everyone loved the latter. One friend simply tweeted: Blitzen Trapper suck.

Since I was up at Coney Island for Siren Festival I can give the rundown there. Well, for the most part. The primary mission of the trip was to shoot some video with Future of the Left, the buzzsaw Welsh trio who you may remember from pretty much everything I've written over the last few months. So we did a little interview as we roamed around the boardwalk, watched all the carnival nonsense, saw too many dudes in speedos and just generally let Andy Falkous and Kelson Mathias give their impressions of the unique slice of Americana. Lots of footage, including performance stuff, and hopefully a finished product by next week some time. If you've ever seen the band live (such as last night at DC9 -- review and some amazing pictures later) you know just how funny those dudes can be. That took up most of the first half of the day so I only caught glimpses of most of the early bands.

Bear Hands? More like Boring Hands. Early on the singer announced, "We're from Brooklyn." Oh, really? Thanks for the newsflash, Cronkite. (RIP!) Micachu and the Shapes were very enjoyable and I was upset to have to bail early on them. It's indie-pop filtered through an electro-racket, all jittery songs and vocals. The band just announced a show Sept. 7 at the Black Cat; be there. Buzz band Japandroids played as the Future of the Lefties and I roamed the Coney Island carnival area. I mentioned to Falkous that they garner lots of McLusky comparisons. He shot me a puzzled look and said something with an expletive. So, pretty much par for the course. Japandroids seem like more of an emo No Age to my ears. Missed all of Thee Oh Sees which was a bummer because they were one of the highlights of SXSW.

FOTL was next and proceeded, as usual, to deliver a bone-rattling, soul-murdering performance. Patrick Foster's review of last night's show at DC9 will be on here in a few hours so I don't want to steal any of his lines and lord knows I've offered plenty of my own. But really, there is not a single thing you would want to change about that band. How many bands can sound positively evil yet still have room in their set for multiple songs with clap-alongs? Two reliably entertaining live acts that I've seen approximately 29 times each -- A Place to Bury Strangers and Monotonix followed, but FOTL is not a band to play after. APTBS's ear-shattering shoegaze noise is dark, nightclub music, not sunburn, boardwalk music. They did their best, but mostly in vain. Monotonix was its usual spectacle. The VIP area in front of the stage (I usually slum it like an everyman, but not when there's free beer involved) was closed for their set since the band used that as its setup area, although they mostly performed on top of the crowd. Yes, singer Ami Shalev was wearing just a speedo and yes, it's funny every time. I saw what I needed to see from them, wandered a bit and caught some Grand Duchy, who I saw Thursday night in front of just a few thousand less folks at the Black Cat. I had somehow completely avoided seeing the Raveonettes over the last decade and I think the 15 minutes I caught should hold me over for another few years. Friends at Pitchfork told me they were underwhelmed by Siren headliners Built to Spill the previous evening, so I wasn't expecting much. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it. Although one must also factor in elements such as free beer, a slight sense of hallucinatory, sunstroke-induced well-being and hearing the always-epic "Carry the Zero" as fireworks exploded behind Coney Island's Wonder Wheel.

There were other festivals, too. The Mile High Music Festival in Denver was, it seems, a flop. Nice weather but few people. Blame it on too many jam bands, apparently. Perhaps that's what happens when you get Widespread Panic to headline. Tool didn't disappoint, Incubus covered Prince and the Black Keys were pretty good, which is a line that appears in 64% of all festival reviews. That's science fact. And over in Suffolk, England, Thom Yorke did his best to steal the thunder of all those American festivals by debuting a new song during his early-day, solo acoustic set at Latitude Festival. That'll be your video of the day right below.

By David Malitz |  July 20, 2009; 9:43 AM ET Festivals , Morning Mix
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