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Pitchfork festival, Day 3: Vampire Weekend, a glimpse of Lady Gaga

Ty Segall has help from crowd as he returns stage while body surfing end their set Pitchfork Festival Sunday July

Ty Segall has help from the crowd as he returns to the stage while body surfing at the end of their set at Pitchfork Festival Sunday July 15, 2012 in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 17, 2012 7:13AM

Mind you, this is the Pitchfork Music Festival, not another World’s Columbian Exposition. Nonetheless, in one corner of Chicago’s Union Park during this weekend’s annual indie-rock fest, there was a contraption called the Electromusical Energy Visualizer.

Fans enter one of its four booths, don headphones and place one hand on an electric sensor. They then listen to snippets of four songs, each by one of the bands on this year’s Pitchfork schedule. At the end of each song sample, a photo is snapped. Like an amusement park ride, you exit the booth and receive your photo set — each shot overlaid with a color from the spectrum allegedly corresponding to your “musical aura” while listening to the song.

Yes, it’s a 21st-century mood ring.

My session seemed accurate enough: Lower Dens (light yellow, mildly happy), Beach House (bright yellow, very happy, see photo at left), Iceage (goofy expression on my face, but no mood response) and A$AP Rocky (no mood response).

Overall, the mood of Pitchfork 2012 was uncertain. Lots of mixed reviews (for the acts more than the experience itself). Even the weather was a mixed bag: dreadful at first, but usually delightful by nightfall. Bouts of rain drenched the park and stirred up a soggy mess Friday and Saturday, but festival organizers responded quickly with clay, mulch and plastic decking. Sunday was steamy but dry.

Here’s my rundown of the Pitchfork fest’s final notable acts, with my estimation of where they placed me on a classic mood-ring scale:

Vampire Weekend

Mood: Orange (stimulated) and red (energized)

Hatin’ hipsters be damned: Yes, Vampire Weekend is precocious and preppy, but they’re also tight and tuneful. Performing their first concert in nearly a year Sunday at Pitchfork — “It’s been a long time since we played shows,” said singer Ezra Koenig, “but you seem very nice” — the loved/loathed quartet acquitted themselves well for a return engagement. They’ve been working on a third album (for a long time), and debuted just a smidge of new music well in line with the usual Paul Simon guitar patterns and world music samplings.

Beach House

Mood: Blank (no mood registered, fallen asleep)

When the drug lobby eventually succeeds in making everything legal and taxable, Beach House will be in great demand to provide music for Quaaludes commercials. Depending on your point of view, the plodding pretenses of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand (plus a mallet-loving drummer) either made for the perfect lush, dreamy music for Pitchfork at twilight or a dreary, dark buzzkill. I expected the former but concluded the latter.

Kendrick Lamar

Mood: Yellow (wondering) and brown (upset)

Straight outta Compton, rapper Kendrick Lamar earned a huge crowd — partly because, uh, Lady Gaga was with him, dancing in the wings. You read that correctly. The megastar, however, merely danced among her entourage and never joined Lamar onstage, as was anticipated. (Twitter nearly burst into flames.) Which meant we were left with Lamar alone, very alone. Backed by a lame, distracted DJ, Lamar worked his gravelly, street-preacher flow mostly as freestyle boasts. We’ll hear more from him, though, if only because he keeps great company. He recently played a show with Best Coast, and he was personally signed to Aftermath/Interscope by Dr. Dre.

Ty Segall

Mood: Red (excited, adventurous), ring exploding

Sunday was a squalling garage-rock afternoon. After the unabashed grunge of Milk Music and the scintillating psych-rock of Thee Oh Sees, primitive revivalist Ty Segall ripped his afternoon set to shreds. Boasting a remarkable breadth of textures underneath the wall of distortion and carefully wrung feedback, Segall and his band — featuring the battering Emily Rose Epstein on drums and equally lurching guitarist Charles Moothart — roared gleefully through an hourlong set of punk abandon, swampy grooves, soft jangle-rock, some surprising muddy blues and a cover of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds.” Then he dove into the crowd and steered his own crowd surfing. Golden god.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Mood: Pink (uncertainty, unanswered questions)

Saturday’s main-stage headliner was the quixotic and ambitious Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a nine-member Montreal collective reunited after a lengthy hiatus. What GY!BE does is build tension — and build it, and build it. The wordless set throbbed and threatened, filled with undulating hums, introspective violins, unnerving drums and occasional wafts of melody, like half-remembered folk tunes or hymns. This was symphonic music as it would be crafted by, say, Crazy Horse. A bold, confounding choice for a headliner, though only the faithful seemed to appreciate it.


Mood: Bronze (jitters, restless)

Vancouver native Grimes (Claire Boucher) drew a crowd far bigger Saturday night than Pitchfork’s small Blue stage could hold. Like GY!BE, she bewildered as many as she entranced. Despite purring and cooing through soft, skittering ballads and glitchy, gauzy pop fragments, Grimes danced around as if she were spitting out block-rockin’ beats. With her trademark baby-doll voice front and center in the wispy mixes, the result was creepy but bewitching.

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