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Pitchfork Music Festival: Fans as important as musicians

Mark Guarino reviews this year's Pitchfork Music Festival, as well as Pitchfork Music's unique business model.

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Even long-time veterans struggled to make an impression. DJ Shadow introduced psychedelic projections during his Saturday set that failed to make an impact, mainly due to the fact that the sun had yet to go down. One day earlier, Thurston Moore, the guitarist who leads Sonic Youth, played a hush instrumental set accompanied by a harpist, violinist, and drummer, yet most of his set felt adrift on the large outdoor stage.

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The most egregious Pitchfork noodler was headliner Animal Collective. During the band’s day-ending set Friday, the band delivered a canvas of instrumental bleeps and burps, which were presumably designed to accompany the melting images on the festival’s video screen. With vocals tweaked to sound subterranean, the band did not provide anything to dance to nor think about. Instead, the nearly 90-minute set was a self-indulgent fraud.

Pitchfork’s high tolerance for style over substance meant that many of the new bands looked good but had nothing significant to offer. The more radical offerings came from more seasoned artists, such as Neko Case, the country soul singer who sang songs of despair and woodland creatures. The beauty of the songs was complimented by a band of players who provided nuanced harmonies and instrumental color.

Another band that seemed to better by time was the Dismemberment Plan. The Washington, D.C. band retired in 2003 but reunited only recently, finding they were playing to larger audiences with renewed vigor. The jittery punk and rock anthems were perfectly tailored for the outdoor audience, which was held in rapt attention the entire set.

Similarly, Fleet Foxes ended Saturday with a majestic set that highlighted songs from it pair of albums. Lead singer Robin Pecknold, who has vocal similarity to Graham Nash, added to the dazzling a cappella harmonies. Through folk ballads and expansive prog-rock, the Seattle band’s set was a feat of musicianship and songwriting smarts, ingredients that made the band a standout, not just for the weekend, but across the Pitchfork universe.

Mark Guarino is a Monitor contributor.

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