I’ve been a loyal Onion AV Club reader for almost a decade and a half but those assholes have finally gotten too old for their own, and our, good. Never have I read anything as obnoxious or completely off the mark as their Festival Dairy of the Pitchfork Fest in Chicago
last weekend, full of ignorant dismissals and platitudes exalting the same old indie rock fare. Since all 4 of us at this blog went together, we were all gonna post about a different element of the weekend. Because I didn’t know, or particularly care about most of the bands and wasn’t too impressed by a lot there, I wasn’t going to say much more than how much Liars
and Silver Jews
kicked ass, and how I wished there had been more experimental noise in the B tent a la the very impressive Matmos or the unfortunitly lame Tyondai Braxton. However, after I was exposed to the aggressively pedestrian tastes of the old guard at the AV Club, I feel an obligation to stand up for the truly interesting and actually “new” sounds on hand at Pitchfork left by the wayside in most recent reviews of the fest for the same old standard indie bullshit.
First off, one of the main reasons I went was for the return of The Silver Jews, a band who, never truly identified with or indicative of any particular 90’s scene, has just grown more singular with age (reaching a more polished yet still idiosyncratic and sincerely expressive achievement of heartache and triumph with the beautiful new Tanglewood Numbers). Word on the street is that once frontman and pop genius David Berman quit junk he finally took (or was coaxed by) his band out of the state and onto the road for what I think was their first tour ever. Those pretentious assholes at the AV Club
called it anti-climatic, and Keith Phillips (who's movie reviews I more often than not really respect) stated that he left half way through the set to use the bathroom at the gas station down the road to avoid the gross sun baked portopottys. Wow, fucking hardcore, what a badass embedded music journalist. If you can’t handle the scene, then don’t try to talk like a fucking pop cultural barometer, and don’t blame the music for your being a huge wuss. And anticlimactic? What, did you want the hermetic Berman to jump around for you like a monkey or self-consciously grind out feedback on his guitar like one of those indie peacocks? Maybe you should just sit in your car and listen to The Futureheads (who I like way less now after seeing them live) you grumpy old man. With the exception of the unfortunate absences of Pavement's Stephen Malkmus
(who does return to the new album with some minor input and therefore should have made an appearance) and Bob Nastanovich (who has been awol from the Jews for awhile), it would have been hard to ask for a much more deeply expressive or powerful return from this eternally undersung band. And they played "Random Rules", god bless ‘em. Although they began and finished the set with the first and last cuts from Tanglewood, which is a typical obnoxious move for a veteran band with a new LP, those tracks are so damn good and there was enough old material in the set that it didn’t matter, in fact it totally kicked ass. They finished by stretching “There is a place” into the show stopping anthem it was written to be, banging out the last chorus and eventually replacing it with a haunting and thought provoking chant of “Good Bye Israel!” which made me want to melt off my bones and sink deep into the Chicago dirt. Laz is a huge Jews fan and I look forward to hearing her opinion about the set.
Then there are Liars who in my opinion are the most truly interesting, inventive and all around best band around right now. I was blown away from the first time I heard the single off They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top years ago, and am increasingly impressed as they continue to rapidly expand their sound (like the savant in grade school who gets skipped up 4 grades in a row, too bored with the material that mystifies his peers) and the possibilities of rock and punk in general. Their Beatle-like growth recently culminating in the fantastic Drum’s Not Dead, which is hands down the best album of 2006, (but I will leave that statement open to the objections of my cobloggers). When I get back to my home computer in Colorado I’m gonna post some B-sides from their ’04 single W.F.O.G.W.T.B.O.O.O. which paves the way between the meditative bone crunching chanting of their second album (They Were Wrong, So We Drowned) and the transcendental sonic currents from the new one. There are a lot of bands who fuck around with noise rock, purposely and often far to self-consciously presenting overt and childish challenges to the listener and the genre's definitions, but you can tell that Liars love and believe in their own sound, its not just some phony art rock put-on. Rather than a farce as it’s often written off as, it’s a serious investigation into the limits of the genre, opening up the popular walls to new possibilities of expressiveness and meaning which, once altered will never be as restrictive. It’s fuckheads like the over aged Onion reviewers (who I loved and grew up with) or Spin Magazine (who called “They Were Wrong So…” the worst album of ’04) who, content to continue sucking off the whiny redundant cocks of same-old same-olds like Walkmen, Mountain Goats and The National that keeps music in stasis and allows anything promising to be co-opted. I bet if Liars had stayed with the same N.Y. post-punk dance sound they were instrumental in inaugurating at the turn of the Century (along side the Strokes), which they knew they had drained of it’s expressive usefulness after releasing the 29 minute “This Dust That Makes Mud”, reactionary cronies like Kyle Ryan (the biggest douchbag of the bunch) would still love them and the world would be that much more boring, and music that much more useless for relating or exploring feeling impossible to verbalize within preexisting rock conventions.
On the same note, the AV Club didn’t even touch on the already vastly underrepresented electronic noise only occasionally present on Pitchfork’s back (Biz) stage. For me, one of the best surprises was Matmos, a wonderfully coherent and exciting combination of challenging experimental electronic noise and accessible rock and dance. It’s groups like that which I really love, ones who walk the line between the unknown and the familiar, not afraid to venture into new sonic territory but enjoyable and non-alienating enough that they can return and report their findings to us, which always enriches popular culture. I’d say Black Dice, Lightning Bolt, and the near-mythic 1/2 Japanese are three such examples. Day two on the back stage had far too much traditional house and general techno for a firm like Pitchfork which wears its supposed cutting edge-ness like a badge (or an ironic T-shirt) of honor. Get your shit together dammit.
Yeah, The National, Walkmen and Spoon are defiantly good but who wants to sit with 10,000 people in a hot-ass field watching them shoegaze? I thought DJ made a good point in his Pitchfork post about how strange it is to see bands like these who are so suited to smaller clubs playing in a Monster’s of Rock format. Seeing bands who could actually get the crowd moving, flex their live muscle, and shake me from my sun baked lethargy like Liars and Art Brut made their respective sound all the more refreshing and made the almost inherent vacuousness of mainstream indie rock even more apparent. I’m so bored with all that shit, and by the spastic and loving reaction to Liars and Art Brut’s sets last weekend I’d say others are as well. Bands like Art Brut, Liars, Silver Jews and the newly formed and surprisingly awesome chilled out throw back Bathhouse of the Winds (Devendra Banhart’s group) and Aesop Rock are great because they kick ass in intimate club settings but can totally hold down (and rock out) a field full of sweaty kids. I really really dug the completely different set put on by Bathhouse which, for all its 70's stoner rock derivitiveness was ironically one of the freshist things there. I don't have room here to say much more about it other than fuck you Kyle Ryan, your reviews are garbage.
Next year, Pitchfork would do well to book more inventive and interesting bands worthy of the thousands of eyeballs watching them, bands capable of reciprocating the audience energy required in a summer festival setting (ie-more quirky fun like Danielson or political rhythms like Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif). And fuck that article by the AV Club. I still dig 'em but their old man “turn that noise down!” bullshit has been growing for awhile. R.I.P.