My impractical choice of festival wear made me solar-oven siblings with Savages, who dressed entirely in black in the full afternoon sun. It always irritates me when I turn out to like a heavily hyped band (as I think I mentioned, I'm a contrarian turd), but I loved them—though the phoning-it-in festival soundman apparently had no idea that Fay Milton's drum set included a floor tom, which she was essentially playing in vain, they were tight, anguished, and muscular. Sure, every sound Savages use has a clear precedent in early-80s British postpunk, but familiar moves acquire new life when executed with intensity and heart. I mean, people still like fucking, and that shit's been done to death.
Next for me were Swans. I've seen them four times now since their 2010 reunion, and at every show they've proved just how toweringly huge one chord can be. I suppose you could say their sets are a little samey, but as far as I'm concerned that's like complaining, "Jeez, guys, every time you play, you summon the same sky-darkening ancient god!"
At the other end of the spectrum, I also watched Low, whose lovely, quietly intense music had a hard time competing with the yammering crowd (and, late in their set, Solange's beats from across the park). But they played two of my favorites from The Great Destroyer ("Monkey" and "Pissing"), which are just the thing for breaking out in goose bumps on a balmy evening. Better yet, it didn't start raining till after Belle & Sebastian went on. (Oh, come on. I have a Dragged Into Sunlight shirt. You didn't honestly expect me to like Belle & Sebastian.)
After the jump, the rest of the Reader's Pitchfork-going contingent weigh in on their Saturdays:
Kevin Warwick: KEN Mode opened the day at 1 PM with "Hey, we're the token"—that is, the token metal act of the day. And though they were by far the heaviest, Saturday was about hardcore punk, noise rock, and, well, Swans. KEN Mode annihilated in the dead heat, with Stavros Giannopoulos of the Atlas Moth joining the trio onstage to scream along to "Never Was" from Venerable. Pissed Jeans were and will be the most biting act of the weekend for sure, starting their set of gnarled 80s-brand hardcore punk with front man Matt Korvette stating emphatically, "I just found out how much we're making for this show!" They were on point throughout, loud and obnoxious in the most derisive of ways, forcing me to stand in the heat so Korvette could taunt the crowd with winners like, "You think it's hot out there? Try being up here onstage in the shade." It was magical.
Metz were perfect and the sound was excellent; as a three-piece, they put most bigger bands to shame, making it painful to leave after they'd played just two cuts, "Get Off" and "Wasted," from their self-titled debut (one of my top ten albums of 2012). But Swans warrant such difficult decisions, and Michael Gira conducting almost orchestral crescendos during an onslaught of heat that turned into breezy shade made for very possibly the best hour of the fest. The panache with which he directed the set, which seemed to arrive as one magnificent opus performed by a cast of sharp, hardened henchmen, was chilling and dynamic. To those who either bailed because of the beating sun or the stamina required to handle a Swans set . . . that really bites for you. Best day of Pitchfork.
Kevin made a video before the festival in which he talked about his expectations for Saturday, and after the dust had settled he got back in front of the camera to discuss whether it had measured up. That video, as it so happens, is right here:
Shannon Shreibak: Pissed Jeans set a lofty precedent on the Red Stage—every great festival set should have sponsored outfits and butt jokes. Lanky vocalist Matt Korvette punctuated the sometimes acerbic jaggedness of the Jeans' blue-collar punk with bone-dry wit and a few costume changes (a Tito's Vodka tank under a Tito's tank under . . . yet another Tito's tank). The Allentown quartet certainly brought their A game and had no trouble encroaching on Julia Holter's set across the field—mercilessness at its finest, and most lethal, volume.
Peter Margasak: Julia Holter was smothered in the booming sounds of Pissed Jeans' alt-bro-rock from the other side of the park, but even under that cavernous din her delicate, sophisticated art-pop shimmered and soared. The more I listen to her forthcoming third album, the more certain I am it will be one of the year's best. She still has a ways to go to become a dynamic onstage performer, but she's got the music down pat. England's Savages proved themselves to be the complete package—they have to be the fest's genuine breakout act. I figured no one could really top their set, so it didn't make much sense to stick around.
Luca Cimarusti: Every band I managed to catch today was excellent, but nothing can compare to Swans. The sunshine didn't hinder their terrifyingly intense performance, though a lot of people had worried it would. They were almost hypnotic in their heavy repetition; it was incredibly difficult to pull myself away. The Breeders were amazing as well, opening up with an awesome cover of Guided by Voices' "Shocker in Gloomtown" and then running through Last Splash. The Deals are like adorable, cool moms, and their voices sounded pristine. Pissed Jeans were as hilarious as they were brutal ("We got that Belle & Sebastian money—fuck you!"), and White Lung kicked the day off sounding super tight. For real, nothing sucks about today.
Bill Meyer: Memo to Savages: If your singer uses Siouxsie Sioux’s vibrato on every single song, it cancels out the diligence the rest of the band displays in mastering the licks of several different postpunk ensembles. Swans, on the other hand, stood unblinking under the sun like ghouls who'd come back across the Styx to tell us that it doesn’t get better. During the hour that they battered the point home, they were the best rock band on earth.
J.R. Nelson: For me, Saturday's highlights were all about those rarest of birds: artists of the dark arts who can come out of the night and rage while the sun is still high in the sky. Savages lived up to the hype live, even though their best songs had a more than a tinge of U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky." As the sun set, Andy Stott's booming, buried beats blew up the Blue Stage sound system—"Touch" in particular was epic in bassed-out scope. The Saturday MVP, however, was Swans' Thor Harris, whose weird flourishes—vibraphone, bowed cymbals, endless fields of back hair—made him the most magnetic performer of the day. Leave it to the old dudes; their blistering midafternoon set was a BDSM exercise in endurance, and well worth the delicious pain.
I am also a great fan of Thor Harris, and posted to Twitter, "Thor is so sweaty he looks like an otter!" But trap-set drummer Phil Puleo deserves a name-check too, not least because he hasn't lost a step since I saw him with Cop Shoot Cop in the early 90s.
Tal Rosenberg: I arrived to hear Pissed Jeans set the bar for the rest of the day—their show had an energy that was lacking from virtually every Friday performance. They were also quite possibly the most self-aware, their singer joking about hanging out in the shade in the VIP section. But the bar was raised by Parquet Courts, the Brooklyn band who play slack-jawed guitar rock that's tightly wound by an almost country rhythm section. Despite solid sets from the Breeders and Swans, it was a relative unknown that stole Saturday's show.
Leor Galil: Saturday was all about rock, and the louder the better. White Lung ripped through a tight set with professional gusto, Parquet Courts barreled through some catchy college-rock jams, Savages' rhythm section tied my stomach in knots (in the best way possible), Metz blasted out some gnarly grunge, and Swans' transcendental yoga metal made me feel at peace as the sun beat down on my brow. As great as it got, I could've used a little more variety in my musical diet, and by the time the Breeders took the stage I was ready to hear something that couldn't be described as "alt-rock." Thank goodness for all the hip-hop on Sunday's lineup!
Drew Hunt: Before today, I'd never shown up to Pitchfork earlier than, say, 3 PM. But I made a point to catch White Lung, whose set I was highly anticipating after the band cancelled their Chicago tour date earlier this year. Not only was the set quite enjoyable, but the relatively empty festival grounds made for easy transit, giving me ample space to check out the many vendors throughout the park. I spent most of the day at the Blue Stage, where Parquet Courts and Metz turned in exceptional sets. As my Reader colleague Luca Cimarusti pointed out on Twitter, Parquet Courts were aided by exceptional lead guitar playing, while I left Metz with the thought, "How in the fuck did those three dudes just make that much noise?" Both performances will likely go down as the weekend's highlights. Meanwhile, Solange helped sate my desire for some more naturally danceable grooves; her set was filled with elements of funk, soul, and unabashed radio pop. Shout out to Rustie fans for the contact high.
Gwynedd Stuart: I didn't have a lot of time to actually "watch bands" today, what with my work duties. But I did make time to watch the Breeders, and they made me excited to be a middle-aged woman in the imminent future. The Deal sisters are really giving the demographic a good name. Belle & Sebastian were awfully fun—when they played "The Boy With the Arab Strap," I shed a single tear for my bygone, misspent youth, but also danced. The weirdest part of the day was a brief visit into the weird unisex restroom that is the H&M lounge. Lots of bath-and-body products, including Kiehl's lotions (which people weren't stealing, oddly), and very loud dance music. I saw a man spraying dry shampoo into his thinning hair, and I liked it.
Mara Shalhoup: OK, fine. I might have too hastily dismissed Belle & Sebastian as a poor choice of headliner, partly on the grounds that it would be a weak conclusion to the hardness of the rest of the day (the Breeders excluded, and a big nod to Parquet Courts, who killed it). But no amount of rain or disenchanted journalistic sass dampened the nostalgia and elation I felt upon witnessing Belle's set. Do I stand corrected? Well, as they say, "A choice is facing you, a healthy dose of pain / A choice is facing you as you stare through the rain / A choice is facing you, but I choose to refrain for today / Tomorrow we'll be back in trouble again."
Tosten Burks: Today I saw a black dude dancing in a Steve Kerr jersey and a 60-year-old dude with a face tattoo named Spider Bat doing hacky-sack tricks. Both blew my mind. Also dope: Solange's funky, flawless cover of "Stillness Is the Move," Rustie spinning new, unreleased Danny Brown (presumably off Old), and everything about the Savages set. Most important, though, Ryan Hemsworth told the crowd he was Asher Roth. That is all.