This weekend I’m heading down to the Miami of Canada for the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival, where the lineup is loaded with bands so relevant it hurts. I’ll be hitting the road Thursday with Sarah Heuer, Becky Lang, and the A.V. Club‘s Jason Zabel; follow me on Twitter for a live chronicle of our misadventures, including the still-unresolved questions of who’s sharing a bed with whom and what buzzbands we’ll spoon in said beds.
I’ll be reporting and photographing the festival for the Daily Planet, and my photos will also accompany Becky’s Pitchfork reports for The Tangential, the creative writing blog we run with some other creative types. (The Tangential’s Pitchfork preview is already up: “90s Equivalents of This Year’s Pitchfork Lineup.”)
I’m looking forward to getting a taste of some bands that are new to me, as well as having first (or second, or third) encounters with some acts I already know. Here are my thoughts on some of the highlights of the three-day lineup.
• I have a hard time getting past tUnE-YarDs‘ eccentric capitalization, but Merrill Garbus’s vocal-loop project is one of the hottest indie tickets in the country right now, having just received a nice fat profile in The New Yorker. I caught Garbus covering a Yoko Ono song as an opener for Ono at SXSW, which was such a gloriously strange and eclectic occasion that I didn’t form much of an impression of Garbus as a performer. Reviews of tUnE-YarDs’ shows, though, have been glowing.
• I may be biased because my friends and I lived the 2011 indie fan’s dream this winter by getting Taco Bell with Das Racist (well, actually, my friends did—I was suffering the effects of an overdose of Hot 100, and I don’t mean the Billboard chart), but their show at Carleton College was a thriller-diller, continuing even after fans stormed the stage. Besides being fierce and funny, the hip-hop iconoclasts seem to have a knack for being in all the right places at all the right times. Chicago next weekend will doubtless be another right place, and another right time.
• Neko Case was the artist I was most excited to see at this year’s Rock the Garden, and though her voice sounded remarkable, by general consensus, her set was sluggish and uninspiring. Hopefully she’ll pick up the pace for Pitchfork.
• Twin Cities critics returned mixed reviews of neo-dubstepper James Blake‘s sets at SXSW, but I thought he was great—and I was rewarded with an I-told-you-so moment when Blake played a searing show in May at the Entry. This weekend, he’ll surely inspire some Windy City babymaking.
• I live by Last.fm’s recommendations feature, and Wild Nothing rose to the top of the site’s must-listen list for me on the strength of Jack Tatum’s similarity to the dream-pop I enjoy from acts like Tennis and BRAIDS. Right again, algorithms! 2010’s Gemini is, indeed, a gem.
• Reviewing Destroyer‘s April show at the Cedar, the Daily Planet’s Kyle Matteson brushed off dismissals of Dan Bejar’s new “yacht rock” sound, praising the show and calling Bejar’s current band the finest he’s ever had.
• Sarah Heuer and I arrived at the way-packed Entry this February just as The Radio Dept. were taking the stage, and though our tucked-away spot yielded possibly the crappiest photo I’ve ever published, Sarah made up for it with a typically articulate review. She described the Swedish band’s set as “a lucid, fanciful dream played in slow motion and set at a latitude so far north that sometimes the sun doesn’t come out for weeks.”
• Sarah and I were frankly bored by Twin Shadow‘s performance at the Triple Rock in April, but we were in the minority: most attendees thought George Lewis Jr.’s band sounded just keen. We’ll see if Sarah and I are any more impressed by the band’s set in Chicago.
• I’m excited to see DJ Shadow perform live, since I just reviewed his seminal 1996 debut Endtroducing….. as part of my 1990s Project on The Tangential. In that post, I noted that DJ Shadow is “cult hero among DJs, producers, and well-informed hip-hop heads, but he spins a cerebral brand of chill-out with a notably low oomcha-oomcha factor.” I’m expecting lots of understated head-nodding at his Pitchfork set.
• I’ve been hanging out on Turntable.fm lately, and every so often someone will play a song that makes me think, Who are these guys? They’re great. Often, “these guys” turn out to be the Fresh & Onlys.
• I was unimpressed by Yuck‘s tepid set at Stubb’s during SXSW, writing—in a way not intended as a compliment—that they could be “the Cold War Kids of 2016.” Like the Cold War Kids’, though, Yuck’s ascendence seems unstoppable.
• I’m not sold on what I’ve heard by Kurt Vile, but apparently he kills it live. In a review of Vile’s April appearance with J. Mascis at the Entry, Kyle Matteson called Vile “one of the most promising young songwriters in the last couple of years.”
• The most impressive thing to me about Baths‘s February show at the Entry was the athleticism with which he spun his DJ knobs, but Sarah liked the show enough to put Baths into heavy rotation on her iTunes. She tries to trick me into liking him: “Hey, Jay, what do you think of this song?” “It’s okay.” “Isn’t it good?” “It’s okay.” “Do you know who it is?” “No.” Guess!” “Elite Gymnastics?” “No, Baths!” “Oh.”
• The crowd at the Entry in April seemed unprepared for—and kind of nonplussed by—Toro Y Moi‘s soulful new full-band sound, but I got into the groove, and I’m looking forward to seeing the ex-chillwaver play a more spacious venue.
• Cut Copy‘s show at First Avenue in April sounded pretty good—the Daily Planet’s Bobby Kahn called it 2011’s show to beat—but it looked even better. When these Aussie synthpoppers take the stage at Pitchfork, smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.