Dreary weather is no match for enthusiasm of music fans
BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic July 15, 2012 1:12AM
Pitchfork Music Festival, Willis Earl Beal, preforms on the Blue stage Friday afternoon. Friday, July 13, 2012 | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: August 17, 2012 6:47AM
After Friday’s soggy opening, the second day of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park received another soaking early in the afternoon. But a little rain failed to dampen the spirits of the sold-out crowd.
Festival organizers acted quickly to manage the puddles and mud patches, laying down clay and plastic decking, and pumping where necessary. As one festivalgoer said, though, leading several around her in a pre-show chant: “Embrace the mud!”
Friday’s start to the festival was delayed slightly by a brief but heavy storm, then deluged by a second evening downpour. The weather didn’t stop the music, though. Pitchfork organizers kept things relatively on schedule, and most fans seemed energized by the cooling rain.
Sunday was expected to be drier for the annual cutting-edge music festival, which features 47 bands scheduled to perform on three stages in the West Loop park, mostly indie subgenres of rock, pop, electronic and hip-hop.
Pitchfork, which has a daily capacity of 18,000, was sold out on Saturday. Single-day tickets for Sunday ($45) are still available. Sunday night’s headliners are the atmospheric duo Beach House and preppy college rockers Vampire Weekend.
Saturday’s offerings were hit-or-miss. Pitchfork’s blessing and its curse can be the diversity of its programming. Sometimes that really pops, though — as it did Saturday afternoon with two divergent but equally exciting sets.
First, California DJ Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) quickly dispatched all who doubted that one man and one turntable could hold down one of Pitchfork’s main stages. In the glare of post-rain sun, his charisma and cheer — not to mention a wise selection of tracks for his target audience (Kanye West & Jay-Z, Odd Future, Erykah Badu and more were in his fluid mixes). When he tweaked the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic,” the crowd — already pogoing in the slop — went berserk.
Follow that with a purely old-school guitar band. The inimitable Wild Flag continued knitting a ’60s psych-rock thread that started on Friday with Outer Minds and Olivia Tremor Control. But this all-female supergroup quartet (members from Sleater-Kinney, Minders, Helium) see-sawed between more classic, concise pop-rock (closing with “Romance” from their highly acclaimed, self-titled debut) and stunning, feedback-drenched guitar workouts (“Racehorse”). Pitchfork’s known more for experimental and electronic acts, so it was nice to hear some rawk.
Chicago’s Willis Earl Beal delivered the first jaw-dropping set of this year’s fest Friday night. Preceded by a growing legend that’s threatened to overshadow his actual talent — discovered as a visual artist/busker, Beal has been hailed as an eccentric wunderkind in Found magazine and the Chicago Reader — he strutted on to the fest’s smaller secondary stage as if he were headlining the United Center. He then unleashed a voice that would’ve filled eight United Centers.
Warming up with some head-turning a cappella gospel evoking Calvary, Beal, 27, started a reel-to-reel tape rolling — his only accompaniment at first — and began singing over tinny clangs, dobro slides and bass beats. “Singing” seems a flaccid verb for what Beal actually accomplishes. Projecting a massive, versatile voice that hollers and howls, grates and growls, Beal evokes the oldest bluesmen and the fiercest young rappers. It’s a voice that swings wide, high and low — often from guttural yawps to fluttery falsetto within a single line. He’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, then he’s Curtis Mayfield.
New elements to the experience this year include on-site lockers, a ride-sharing program and increased bicycle parking. Among the usual vendor booths and markets, such as the CHIRP Record Fair, is the new BookFort, sponsored by local publisher Featherproof and Poetry magazine, featuring books for sale and a schedule of readings and discussions throughout the weekend from writers ranging from Tim Kinsella to Cynthia Plaster Caster.
The large video screen between the two main stages is new and improved this year, displaying live feeds from both stages with sharper resolution.
For those not attending the festival, much of the schedule is streaming online for the first time via youtube.com/pitchforktv.
Names and locations: Saturday at Pitchfork, the band Atlas Moth and the project Atlas Sound performed, as well as Lotus Plaza and Flying Lotus. On Sunday, there’s Dirty Beaches and Beach House. Also, seven of the 47 bands are from Canada, including both headliners Friday (Feist, Purity Ring) and Saturday (Grimes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor).
Hip-hop haven: A small but eager crowd gathered Saturday evening to hear the unique flow of Detroit rapper Danny Brown. A mischievous imp with a wicked sense of humor — alas, I couldn’t publish most of the laugh lines from his Saturday set in this outlet — and a wild head of hair , Brown’s pinched, Nipsey Russell voice held court backed by only a distracted DJ. Pitchfork’s status as a hip-hop showcase has stepped up this year, including Friday sets from Harlem’s A$AP Rocky (a frenetic set with his “mob”) and Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. (a slow burner with soul).
Follow @chicagosmusic and visit blogs.suntimes.com/music for Pitchfork coverage through Sunday.