Before you dive into your workday, here’s a healthy serving of what’s been floating around the world of arts & culture. Dig it.
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.
Chicago singer-songwriter Willis Earl Beal has been gaining traction pretty quickly, thanks to his stunning, blues-tinged tracks and his highly personal manner of reaching out to fans (call him up and he’ll sing you a song; write to him and you’ll get back your own drawing).
But it seems Beal previously attempted another rise to the top of the music world through a different channel: a television channel, that is. Beal auditioned for the first American edition of The X-Factor, a.k.a. the Simon Cowell-helmed talent competition whose UK version is responsible for the plague of One Direction-related tweets clogging your Twitter feed like a Big Mac to the arteries. Music blog Disco Naïveté found the video of Beal’s boot camp interview on the X-Factor website today and tweeted it, and a million indie rock dilettantes raised their eyebrows in unison.
When Beal, then 27, was asked how he felt about reaching boot camp and receiving this opportunity, he responded with brevity and profundity: "I want some Del Taco. That’s how I feel." He goes on to express his primary concern about appearing in the competition ("blowing a gasket" from seeing himself on screen repeatedly) and reveals his noble intentions: "I think art is equally as important as anything else because art inspires people to do great things. I would like to believe that if I win the money, if I win the competition, I will change the way people think about these kinds of competitions… it’s not all fluff."
Beal advanced to the boot camp round, but didn’t get much further than that. But the attention he’s getting elsewhere proves you don’t have to win these silly singing competitions to jump-start your career. Or something like that.
Watch the interview (via Disco Naïveté & Pitchfork) below:
The annual Pitchfork Music Festival is always a doozy, full of bands you probably want to see before they blow up even bigger. This year’s event takes place at Chicago’s Union Park from July 13-15, as it usually does. Pitchfork has also announced the initial lineup: Among others to come, Vampire Weekend, Feist, Hot Chip, Grimes, Cloud Nothing, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Kendrick Lamar, Tim Hecker, AraabMUZIK, A$AP Rocky, The Field, Liturgy and Willis Earl Beal will appear over three days. As is typical by now for the six-years-old festival, it’s a nice blend of artists who got big in the last year, respectable indie veterans, experimental acts, and big tent headliner types.
Tickets go on sale March 9, costing you $45 a day or $110 for the whole weekend. Be ready with that credit card; the festival typically sells out quickly, so move fast lest you be stuck attending your local bluegrass festival (although it will probably have better food so whatever, do what you want, everything is great). There are more than 30 acts left to be announced over the next few weeks, but why wait to commit?