A high of 74 degrees and a cloudless sky? In July? Yes, please! The second day of Pitchfork Festival boasted the best weather in five visits, and for a Miamian who fled 85-degree evenings it was a balm. Not enough to bring out my good will towards Brian Wilson, headlining the day with a performance of Pet Sounds. Never much of a Beach Boys buff, I was almost persuaded to give him a go after a service vehicle scattered a crowd while on its bed a covered object five feet high bore bore a sign that read “Brian Wilson’s Chair. Do NOT sit.” Wow. Then I caught a snippet of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and thought, “Brian Wilson’s Performance. Do NOT sing.” A singer-composer whose self-rejuvenation consists of drawing from the good vibrations of his songs, Wilson sounded at last like a blinkered old man, a resident of unfurnished rooms, a guest on his own songs. I also didn’t catch Sufjan Stevens, who I understand read from the I Ching and did choreography.
To blast through Faces-inspired booze rock at a festival is as expected as lines at the beer tent, and Royal Headache thrived in the cozier environs of the Blue Stage. Lead singer Shogun dresses like his girlfriend bought the wrong clothes off the Target rack, which after forty hours of fitted shirts and ironed summer dresses was a tonic.
I expected precision and on-the-one from Ishmael Butler, but almost twenty-five years’ distance from the landmark Reachin, his colleagues Doodlebug and Ladybug rapped as if they’d been encased in amber for a generation. For a trio that released just two albums, Digable Planets have proven durable; Blowout Comb especially created an idea for a hip-hop record as dense, historically fraught, and fully populated as a city intersection. With live drum and bassist, the Planets zipped through “Pacifics” and “Borough Check” and showed no signs of wear.
Drawing the day’s most diverse crowd, the white hot songwriter-producer Blood Orange proved his skills as dancer and bandleader. Guitarist less so, although his penchant for strapping an ax on, strumming a couple of rhythm chords, and putting it down five seconds later never lost its charm. As a vocalist, however….I want to believe that he’s articulating the passions of being part of a minority who’s not “gay enough”, but as a singer it’s his job to make me care about such things. When Carly Rae Jepsen appeared for her bit in “Better Than Me,” the charisma gap was an abyss.
If I rewarded bands for courage, then Super Furry Animals would take top prize for wearing what looked like HAZMAT suits in fierce late afternoon sunlight. Although I’ve never given them much of a listen beyond Phantom Power, the Welsh band’s quiet experiments in song form married to an ear for gooey hooks shone.
Popping up on albums by the likes of Kaytranada and Snakehips, ANDERSON .Paak came riding a wave of good will, enough to overlook starting an early evening set about thirty minutes late and during Brian Wilson’s show of putting up a HELP WANTED sign. Like Dev Hynes, Paak is one of those performers who understands the pull of an audience; he and the Free Nationals played an old school revue with dancing and jumping and riffing from Malibu, one of the year’s most delightful albums. Part of that revue structure was a chance for Anderson to demonstrate his impressive drum skills. What he does in the future is anybody’s guess. I’m hoping he starts producing and playing. After years of waiting, this is his moment.