Pitchfork Recap: Japandroids Blast Off on Friday Night

I arrived a little after the gates had opened and after almost an hour of hard rain had fallen on Union Park. The schedule was already fifteen minutes behind, and no one had started playing yet. Not the best way to begin a three-day festival. The weather seemed to make an impression on a lot of potential festival-goers, too, as it was the sparsest crowd I’ve ever seen, even for a Friday. But for those who did make it out, acts like Japandroids, Clams Casino, A$AP Rocky, and Dirty Projectors did Their best to make sure it was worth it.

Best Set: Japandroids
After a soggy start, these guys are exactly what we all needed: a shot of straight-forward, fist-pumping rock’n’roll to get everybody excited about seeing live music again (so, basically the opposite of Lower Dens). They kicked it off with “Adrenaline Nightshift” and, I know this is going to sound like hyperbole, the clouds started to part and the sun was shining before the song ended. The band didn’t let off the gas until they were done. It was glorious. It’s amazing to see how big a band with only two guys can sound. The only thing that bothered me was seeing a kid that couldn’t have been older than 17 sing his heart out to “Younger Us.” I’m not sure if he really gets what that song is about. Oh well; he’ll know soon enough.

Biggest Disappointment: the sound
Festivals in general have a reputation for spotty sound. Pitchfork seems to draw a lot more criticism than other festivals, partially because they book a lot of acts with complex sounds that end up having problems, but mostly because every year it really does seem as bad or worse than the year before, leading to complaints about prices going up but the sound not improving. This year the weather at least gave them a reason for much of the problems, causing equipment malfunctions and postponing or even canceling important sound checks. Still, a legitimate excuse for the issues doesn’t make them easier to deal with, and acts like Olivia Tremor Control definitely suffered. There’s nobody to blame, really, but it certainly put a damper on things.

Biggest Surprise: Willis Earl Beal
Because of the previously mentioned sound problems, I left Olivia Tremor Control a few songs early just in time to catch the last ten minutes of Willis Earl Beal. All I really knew about this guy was that he was from Chicago and that he used to post flyers with his phone number, telling people that if they called he’d sing them a song. I’m glad I made it a point to see him because he really was incredible, mixing elements of soul, blues, and lo-fi with a stage presence that’s exceedingly rare at this festival. He was as passionate and intense as he was self-effacing, telling the crowd, “Thanks for coming to my poetry reading. There’ll be real songs coming up after me,” before leading them in a sing-along about keeping the tears (and in this case, the rain) at bay. Only the most cynical music fan wouldn’t have been won over.

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