Another Rundown From Pitchfork Fest

In only my second year of music festival-ing, I already felt like a pro entering Union Park last Friday for another weekend of music. My second-year status didn’t qualify us for any discounts on bulk pulled pork sandwich purchases (counting on this next year), but it did allow me to get a better sense of the festival as a whole. 

Pitchfork, for all the value in their festival ($160 for this lineup is impossibly good), don’t really understand the dichotomy between great musicians and great festival acts. For all the talent to be put on paper, with lulls in energy on Friday and Saturday it was again apparent that not all talent lends itself to a hot, sunny Chicago afternoon.

That said, the whole weekend was not Sun Kil Moons, Haxan Cloaks and Sharon Van Ettens. There were many high points for me, as I spent a lot more time getting sunburned around the main stages - this year’s lineup was stacked with artists on my iPod, and there wasn’t a wasted second.

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Hundred Waters opened Friday afternoon on the main stage, getting bumped up after a certain breakup. “I guess this is where we play Death Grips covers,” said Nicole Miglis to a quiet bunch of onlookers, who were receiving her music much more than her jokes. The quiet future-folk eased nicely into the weekend. Miglis is incredibly impressive live - anyone familiar with the band’s music knows her falsetto is near unreachable, yet she nailed each and every note with gusto, taking breaks to add flute to the waves of synth. 

Unfortunately, the first day never really got past “warmups”. Chatty Cathies ruined the Sun Kil Moon experience - it’s hard to mentally separate a bro yell-talking about his friend jumping the fence from Mark Kozelek singing about his second cousin dying in a fire. Beck was Beck, and he generously played a lot of old cuts, but having to slow it down for the new material - which I was more excited for - sucked the energy out of his set. Of all musicians, Beck might have the toughest job of balancing his old and new selves in concert. It’s getting better, but it still wasn’t great this weekend.

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We were fashionably late on Saturday to see Pusha T. Unfortunately, so was Pusha T. 30 minutes late to come on stage, he ran through a few cuts off his new album, threw out some feature verses from Cruel Summer and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, refused to apologize in very Pusha T form, and got out of there. The best part is, it was still pretty badass. Regardless, I hope he’s on time in Montreal next week.

From a distant spot in the grass, the crowd seemed to love tUnE-yArDs, and it was nice to toe tap while eating a sandwich. Merrill Garbus is wickedly energetic, and the Nikki Nack material had the dads dancing with their kids (after shielding their ears during Push). It was St. Vincent, though, who owned Saturday. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t rested on my laurels of seeing her in Winnipeg and been a bit closer - Annie Clark fed off the Chicago energy as 80% of the park packed into her stage. Her solos were louder, her dance moves were shufflier, and even as I waited in a nice stage left pocket for Neutral Milk Hotel, it was impossible not to applaud an artist so obviously performing at the peak of her powers.

On Neutral Milk Hotel, who were half the reason I bought tickets in the first place - the lack of a screen was a bummer, the white people moshing to “King of Carrot Flowers” ruined my initial vantage point, and the entire performance reeked of a band that didn’t quite fit with the times. The scheduling here was an issue - it’s hard to follow post-modern sex symbol Clark with anything, but throwing back to the guys who wrote your favourite album when you were 15 made me feel a bit lost in translation.

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I have no complaints on Sunday. Thanks to an abundance of awesome festival acts, Sunday was again the highlight of the weekend - just as it was in 2013. Mutual Benefit, just like Hundred Waters, was another amazing ease-in act. The orchestral nature of their music was perfect for a handful of fans sipping Dark Matter coffee, and the band nicely offset their occasionally repetitive music with a bit of standup humour - at one point pointing out that seeing themselves on the big screen was weird, and should be saved for superheroes.

The superheroes, it turns out, came later in the day. Apparently a whole bunch of people jumped the fence for Earl Sweatshirt. I missed that drama, but Earl was not disappointing in my first live look at Odd Future. He was playful, getting the crowd to sing along to “Don’t Stop Believin” for no reason other than his own entertainment, and rattled off every banger in his collection. It came out as a great warmup for Schoolboy Q, who might have the best arsenal of hits in rap today - clocking out “Collard Greens”, “Blessed”, “Hell of a Night”, “Studio” and about five other hits that made me forget about the sun just long enough to come out hella pink.

After that, Slowdive acted as recovery music - shoegaze is so obviously perfect for Pitchfork’s festival and it was the perfect marriage of loud and melodic. Grimes came after, and stole the whole weekend - her stage presence has advanced from “meek” to “mini-Beyonce” so quickly in the Roc era that it’s hard to fathom. Claire’s dance moves were a little nutty, but she had professionals by her side as fans went nuts for “Go” and a couple other new tracks. Ultimately, though, it was the Visions cuts that acted as a warm blanket, with “Genesis” and “Be A Body” getting the extra live pop to go from introverted to awesome. Indeed, in a weekend of very now rappers, this was the most danceable set; not wasting a second to dwell on anything but getting the crowd moving.

Kendrick closed the weekend, and it should be noted - his live set, with a complete band, is very VERY good. Unfortunately, it’s been identical for two years now and is begging for new material. Even the Chicago banter of it being “his second city” was rehearsed; he spoke the same lines at last winter’s Yeezus shows. That doesn’t mean the Union Park-ers didn’t eat it all up, and his presence was a great barometer for how festival closers should be - brash, assertive and obsessed with providing a full-on experience.

A mystery that’s started to unravel over the last month, Hundred Waters’ debut LP is dense and lush - something I’ve had to navigate slowly. The easiest song to latch on to has been “Cavity”, a gorgeous burner where each drop grows exponentially, leading to a soaring climax.

This official music video, directed by Michael Langan, portrays Hundred Waters’ marriage of beauty and dark electronic depth perfectly in film.

Summer League Only Matters If You Let It Matter

Yesterday, somewhere in the middle of the three hour root canal the MLB likes to call a “Home Run Derby”, I had a realization of just how dry mid-July is for a sports fan.

For me, it seems like the drop-off in pride is pretty steep when I’m going from watching the NBA Finals to watching the new season of MasterChef. (I’m a couple weeks away from taking part in the mystery box challenges along with the TV). Who can blame me, though? It’s the two week period of the calendar where sport has forsaken me.

Baseball’s shy of its dog days, which is a term better in phrase than in form. Ol’ stickball is a sport that only really heats up when the leaves start to fall. The best thing this sport has offered so far this year hasn’t even been live, it’s been a crossover Derek Jeter ad.

Football’s out there somewhere, but hasn’t taken shape yet. Hockey? Don’t let TSN tell you there’s anything going on that matters.

So where does basketball leave us?

Off the court, a new CBA of short contracts and tight caps has rocketed the free agent season into its own niche of superstardom. Keyed off by Lebron’s still shocking return to Cleveland, the movement of players since has been completely bonkers - with pay cuts, amnesty provisions, and sign and trades all earning their space in the sport’s circle of rhetoric .

On the court, there is an ongoing show, though not one of superstardom. The Las Vegas Summer League goes this month - a showcase for rookies and sophomores to play against marginal NBA talent and get some reps in before training camp. And that’s really all it is when you step back and look at the wide angle: just some reps. 

The guys who should be at the top are at the top in Summer League. Andrew Wiggins did this. Nerlens Noel did this. Anthony Bennett dropped 20 pounds and did this.

This is fun, don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly fine with highlight reels running year-round. The issue for me, though, is when we take these highlights and start to read into them. Just a small bite of context will tell you Summer League is not indicative of NBA-level competition: I’m not sure who #45 is that’s sitting on Wiggins’ right hand before getting put in the spin cycle, but I can guarantee a starting small forward will be guarding the Canadian whiz kid’s pet move.

There is a line between entertainment and real NBA basketball. There is importance here: Summer League is a great spot for scouts to get a sense of where players will fit. For teams like the Raptors who drafted overseas, they’re seeing their picks for the first time in game action. As far as competition goes, though, college may surpass it (by a comfortable margin). And the NBA? They’re wearing the jerseys, but it’s not in the same league.

So remember to keep open your critical eye. By all means, enjoy your late night basketball over a round of beers and some nachos. Come October, though, we won’t be talking about their performances in July.

The regular season is where these kids show what they’re made of, and the venue of Summer League says everything about its place in basketball - what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

I refused to link this website to my Facebook (because Facebook is kaput), but anyone who’s got me on there will notice the double bump I’m giving Jessie Ware by posting her latest here too.

This gorgeous - read: GORGEOUS - video just takes what’s been my favourite track of the last month to a whole new level.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any real writing after the Raptors trounced my heart a couple months ago. I don’t have any more conspiracy theories to denounce, despite having watched Loose Change (3rd edition!) during a recent spell of insomnia. I do, though, have interest in other things - and recognize the importance in keeping this site fresh.

So despite this sounding like a clichéd “writer promises to write more” post, I do promise to use this design refresh to the best effect I can. I’ve been sitting on some photography I’ve yet to share here, and will get that up as well.

I’ve moved my professional materials to LinkedIn, which, if you scroll up just a bit, is just a click away.