The Reader's Guide to the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival: Friday 

Tortoise

Tortoise

Jim Newberry

Intro | Saturday | Sunday

friday17

5 PM Tortoise I never saw Tortoise as radical reinventors of rock. To me it just looked like they had good taste, deep curiosity, and remarkable focus; what other people called "postrock" was just the band following their interests where they led, using whatever atypical instrumentation it took to do it. But they were nonetheless anointed standard-bearers of a movement, and with that distinction came heightened scrutiny—even now a new Tortoise record gets dissected like a 100-day-old presidential administration. The recent Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey) doesn't break any ground, but the grit missing from the band's previous and weakest album, It's All Around You, is back: they seem to be repurposing the streak of soul from TNT and the bits of hard rock from Standards. Though I could do without the Morricone homage they apparently feel obliged to include on every record (here it's "The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One"), I've been enjoying Beacons plenty, particularly the episodic stop-start rhythms on "High Class Slim Came Floatin' In," the skittering hammer dulcimer on "Gigantes," and the concise, slashing Jeff Parker guitar solo that busts out of "Prepare Your Coffin." This Write the Night set will probably be heavy on tracks from 1996's Millions Now Living Will Never Die, though, so you might have to wait to hear Tortoise play the new songs. a Connector Stage —PM

6:10 PM Yo La Tengo A few months ago Yo La Tengo released a follow-up to their 1990 all-covers album, Fakebook, credited to the Condo Fucks and entitled Fuckbook (Matador). (A new collection of originals, Popular Songs, is due in September.) They already have a well-deserved reputation as a walking jukebox: for more than a decade they've been playing an annual fund-raising gig at WFMU, offering each person who pledged money the chance to request literally any song he could name, and in 2006 they released a couple dozen highlights as Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics. Fuckbook's typically sprawling set of rock obscurities and near misses includes tunes by the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Troggs, the Small Faces, the Flamin' Groovies, Slade, and Richard Hell, among others, all recorded punk style in lo-fi mono; it's pure YLT, top to bottom. Though the trio will be playing requests from its own catalog for this Write the Night gig, don't expect them to dutifully re-create audience favorites; they've stayed fun for 25 years by knowing when to pull the rug out from underneath themselves. a Aluminum Stage —PM

7:20 PM The Jesus Lizard Ever since the Pitchfork festival expanded its schedule to three days in 2007, its Friday-night programs have been nostalgic, featuring bands that've been rocking you for a number of years you'd prefer not to reveal. This Friday is no exception, even though the gimmick has changed—used to be each act played a classic album top to bottom, and now they're playing songs voted in by ticket holders. The must-see of the evening is the Jesus Lizard, reunited since late 2008 and making their first hometown appearance in 11 years. Their biting, muscular, genuinely unpredictable sound is an extra-strength embodiment of the wit and violence native to rust belt noise rock in the 90s (not bad for a bunch of guys who'd moved here from Austin), and front man David Yow makes an art form of getting all nasty up in your business, in the process disabusing anybody who might imagine they broke the mold after Iggy Pop and Lux Interior. This fall Touch and Go will reissue Pure, Head, Goat, Liar, and Down—all the Steve Albini recordings, in other words, loaded with bonus tracks and remastered by Albini and Bob Weston—but I can't work up any cynicism about the marketing angle of the reunion. The Jesus Lizard is probably the only act at Pitchfork this year with the potential to be as grab-you-by-the-throat terrifying in front of an audience of 15,000 as they can be playing to a club crowd of 150. a Connector Stage —MK

8:40 PM Built to Spill Indie-rock guitar god Doug Martsch and his band have been pretty quiet for the past decade, releasing just two studio albums (which weren't exactly brimming with fresh ideas), but in October they'll be putting out There Is No Enemy. The limitations of Martsch's whiny singing voice have become more glaring as the rest of the music has grown more polished, but anyone still interested in the group probably just wants to hear his searing, epic post-Neil Young guitar solos—the one thing that could make this all-request Write the Night set more exciting than a Built to Spill mix tape. a Aluminum Stage —PM

Intro | Saturday | Sunday

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