Day Two’s weather forecast promised to be worse than the previous day, with temperatures leaning into the upper 90’s. I took a gamble with a cautiously late arrival, passing up the Swedish rock of Dungen in favor of arriving just in time for Out Hud. They were one of those bands that I kicked myself for passing up the last time they came through Chicago, so I was very excited for their set. They took to the stage and Nic Offer of !!! (Chk Chk Chk) fame assumed his role as “Lead Attention Getter;” at times there seemed to be a slight divide between him and his band mates. I caught a fair amount of a certain amount of headshaking and polite tolerance of his antics. His wacky stage presence seemed like it would have been quite at home during the David Lee Roth heyday of rock as he put his all into twisting a single frequency knob in the same way that Slash would a guitar solo.
Musically, Out Hud wanders into a realm that makes me wonder what The Talking Heads would have sounded like if they’d formed in the late 90’s. The addition of singer Phyllis Forbes helped flesh out the band’s sound with the newest Let Us Never Speak of It Again. Overall, the live music translates far better than I’d imagined. I’ll say that I have a soft spot for pop bands that utilize a cello – even more so for a band that feeds the cello through a delay effect. The music was obviously dance, but it regained an organic feel that the crowd was obviously into. When it was announced that the next song was to be their last, a large “Awww…” could be heard and I think that speaks of a successful set.
Looking at Andrew Bird’s setup, I was startled to see a sparse collection of amps and instruments. From a listen to his recent Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs, I imagined a lush, near-orchestral arrangement. The album is a dense, textured affair, which left me confused about the near empty stage. Bird finally arrived backed only by his drummer Kevin O’Donnell, but surprisingly managed to recreate the depth of his album. He cleverly utilized a sample-and-hold pedal; first building several layers of violin before jumping into accompany himself on guitar. The result was an amazing complexity beyond what one would imagine for a duo.
Andrew Bird’s lyrics are bizarre at times, a Pynchon-like wander through a museum after closing time. The crowd was overly excited for the local boy’s performance (points for mentioning biking around the city earlier that day) and personally, I think it’s refreshing to hear people cheer loudly for a violin player.
Before their set, I couldn’t remember if I liked Deerhoof or not, but a few minutes confirmed that I didn’t, despite a personal penchant for odd music. I took that time to grab lunch in the grassy shade near the DJ tent, bumming money to grab a beer. I was excited to catch some of El-P’s DJ set, being an old fan of Company Flow. In the theme of odd pairings (ala day one’s Will Oldham vs. Jean Grae), he shared the stage with James Mcnew, bassist of Yo La Tengo. I heard an interesting mix of songs: Herbie Hancock’s Rock it, followed by a Sex Pistols track. The DJ (not sure which) interjected with the challenge, “Anyone who can break-dance to this gets a beer”.
Soon after lunch, I wandered back to the Decimal Stage to find out who The Wrens were. I’d honestly never heard anything by them and wasn’t terribly compelled when I did. They used a very competent mixture of soaring guitars and honest vocals that at times recalled Coldplay. The slower numbers tended to feel stronger than the louder numbers. There was a nice moment when the wind picked up, momentarily cooling things off. The setting sun poked through the clouds cutting across the stage and their music felt appropriate to the moment.
I caught a rumor that Prefuse 73 was going to do a surprise DJ set because Diplo was still swimming in the public pool. (Believe me, I couldn’t make that one up, check out Pitchfork’s Intonation photos for proof.) It sounded strangely plausible, so I headed back to the DJ tent. Sadly, all I was greeted with was a few scraggly hipsters dancing to a nearly empty DJ tent. No Prefuse, no Diplo.
The opening strains of Les Savy Fav’s set caused me to migrate back to the main area. The same friend who told me about the secret PF73 set also told me that lead singer Tim Harrington was “odd;” I had guessed that their interpretation might be just a little jaded. Listening to their music, I imagined a clean-cut bunch with a fair amount of stage presence…I wasn’t really prepared for the true spectacle. The balding, bearded, stripped-to-his-underwear Harrington is a commanding centerpiece for the band. His voice is honestly the last thing you’d expect to hear coming out of his body. The crowd went absolutely insane, the barrier straining outward as everyone pushed. He braved the crowd (not before face-licking a photographer perched on a preamp), getting everyone to kneel down, make sex noises, and simultaneously leap into the air.
As much as I thought that DFA 1979 would stand as the rowdiest performance of the festival, Les Savy Fav beat them out. They cleared out the press area, and made an announcement that the police would take action if things didn’t mellow out. I think being the one band of the festival that the police pays attention to says something about their power. Despite the spectacle of it all, their brand of “art-punk” that follows in the shadow of Gang of Four would have been enjoyable even without the humorous chaos.
As a festival finale, The Decemberists felt to me like an odd choice. I couldn’t imagine a literate, bordering-on-nerdy pop an appropriate closing band, but I really had no idea how extensive and rabid their fan base was. My feelings were swayed once I saw the involvement of the crowd. Personally, I spent the beginning of their set trying to guess who Colin Maloy’s voice reminded me of. The band on the whole is an interesting combination of things – wandering narratives ducking through archaic eras set to lush pop structures. And then it hit me: he reminded me of a less-grating Brian Moloko. Maybe not everyone will agree with me, but anyhow…I was slightly bored with their music. Despite the crowd’s near rabid excitement with the announcement of the each song, I was exhausted.
As the long day was nearly over, my feet ached and I was drained. While they were still playing, I snuck under the stage and grabbed a few bottles of beer from a tub of ice water. Stretched out in the grass and drinking stolen beer, I could finally relax. It was then that the music began to grow on me. I found that I could enjoy it more in a passive manner. They’re an adorable bunch and I found that a stumbling point for me. As I listened more, I realized they utilize a kind of Americana that recalls Nick Cave if he were drained of all evil thought and intent.
The wind whipped up in a suitable fashion as their set wound down. I thought about the weekend as I finished the beer. I realized that even though I didn’t enjoy all the bands, the entire affair was exceedingly effective. Pitchfork snuck out of their little corner and delivered a well-planned and better-executed festival than I could be imagined. With the nature of the independent music scene being so wonderfully splintered at current, the fact that this was a highly populated affair leans toward Pitchfork’s success. This is the new structure. The perverse democratic state that the post-internet world occupies is somehow strangely functional. It lies in the hands of entities like Pitchfork who can create a wave of influence regardless of geographical location or tangible size. With the first Intonation Festival, successful and tucked under their belt, they can only wait for next year while continuing to expand in influence.
Previously published on Loose Record