Posted by: Johnny Loftus on July 22, 2008 at 9:00 am

Talk about class. Cut Copy, who you may or may not have read us trying to make out with after they blew our minds at South by Southwest, was late to their Sunday evening time slot at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival. Travel issues involving Australia and O’Hare Airport. Sudden darling King Kahn tried to rally the disappointed crowd with an impromptu set of covers , but Bradford Cox didn’t seem into it, and Jay Reatard appeared on stage only to moon the crowd. We made our way toward the exits as the strains of Spoon‘s sophisti-pop oomph’d and ahh’d from across the field. (It was “I Turn My Camera On.”) A line of porta-johns blocked our view of where Copy was to have played, so we didn’t see them when they first replaced their replacements on stage. But we heard half of “Future” and all of “Hearts on Fire,” and then those dudes thanked us for listening, as if we were the ones who’d navigated through all the logistic snafus to make it to the stage for even just a few songs. More like All Class Copy.

Uncontrollable transport issues aside, this was the best-run and most enjoyable Pitchfork Fest yet. Booking decisions that seemed a bit suspect on paper — would Animal Collective really be able to close Saturday? — proved savvy in practice. Animal Collective held sway over 25,000 in the crisp moonlight of a warm Chicago night, their woozy indie-folk pastiches amplified with just enough electronics to keep things nicely unpredictable. It seemed like there were hundreds more of those porta-johns, because I never once waited in a line deeper than three, and yet they weren’t obtrusive (or smelly) either, and that’s key when you’re spending most of your weekend in a converted city park. There were no glaring sound issues, though Flavor Flav did have Chuck D‘s mic for the first two songs of Friday evening’s performance of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, which dude was late for. And this year’s lineup, while perhaps overshadowed in hype or glare by other festivals, delivered on the core value of Pitchfork as a Web source for drilling down and into music scenes to see what bubbles up. And I don’t mean Bubble and Scrape, because Lou Barlow and the boys were out of their league, stuck as they were between Mission of Burma and PE, who despite the rocky start and a little too much of the ol’ “Lemme hear you say” were on point for such key jams as “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Mind Terrorist,” and “She Watch Channel Zero.

Other highlights: No Age fueling the most positive mosh pit in the history of punk rock music on Saturday night; Spiritualized twisting ugly skree into elegiac gospel fervor on Sunday (they’re touring for the next few weeks with the Dirtbombs; check that shit out!); Les Savy Fav‘s Tim Harrington proving again why he’s the best stage banterer in the business with quips about indian burial grounds, how baboons put on suntan lotion, and the difficulty of performing certain Fav jams, which were seemingly more wiry, more artful and brassy than ever; and Ghostface Killah and Raekwon‘s brief but fiery Sunday afternoon performance. My Chipotle-tang burrito was nothing to fuck with, either.

While the prevalence of fanny packs in the crowd was disturbing, and a look that I’ll call “Hot Mess” was everywhere — college-age girls rocking damaged high heels, tattered and clingy black clothing, and walk of shame mascara so artfully mis-arranged that it could have been tattooed on — what was most striking to me about the crowd for this year’s Pitchfork Fest was its significant averageness. Amongst the usual indie rocker/hipster tropes were both regular and rocker moms and dads with strollers, Average Internet Users/midlevel professionals, and teenagers in black shorts and oversized heavy metal T-shirts, the sort of kids you see smoking stolen cigarettes at street fairs. While the corpo-entertainment juggernaut of Lollapalooza increasingly shoulders out local flavors for its annual August weekend along Chicago’s lakefront, the Fork’s fest feels like a destination for the opposite of all that. It feels inviting, and this time around, it often felt invigorating. (But then, aren’t the Hold Steady always invigorating?) Recall the gaggle of metal kids I mentioned earlier. When Cox performed by his lonesome on Saturday afternoon as Atlas Sound, arranging electronic loops as he sighed mournfully into a mic and played an occasional acoustic guitar, it was all those young dudes in black T-shirts and scowls that lost their shit first. Maybe they knew his work before; I don’t know. But I like to think they discovered Atlas Sound and a bunch of other shit there in the fields of Pitchfork, amongst the heat and the porta-johns and the strollers and crumpled beer cups. Beyond the buzz and the bell curve and the culture of Internet music, beyond even the way it can brew haterade and clueless indifference, watching people discover new jams is what’s truly rewarding about a summer music festival. At this one, lights and music were on everyone’s minds.


Photos here.

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