Pitchfork Music Festival 2014: The Indie-Rock Dad Awards
From "Worst Manners" to "Festival MVP," check out what Pitchfork Fest's resident father (& his son) thought of this year's fest.
On the crowded subway ride home from the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival, a kid in glasses, gauges and a D.A.R.E. shirt asked my dad where he was coming from.
"Oh, from Pitchfork Fest," my 59-year-old father answered while clutching a backpack full of merchandise and trying not to bump into any teenagers in the packed green-line subway car.
"Yeah? I was there too," the D.A.R.E. kid said, his interest piqued. "I liked the girl who played toward the end, with the two dancers. She was great."
"That was Grimes," my dad replied excitedly. "She is great! She was even better tonight than she was two years ago at the festival."
And there I stood, amazed.
Somehow, my father, Dave Lipshutz, has morphed into a Pitchfork Fest regular, the guy who coolly strides into the festival grounds with a greeting to the familiar security guard at the gates, ready for another day of ironic t-shirts, mosh pits, 'Best New Music' jokes and overeager rap fans. In 2012, he was the newbie, an attorney from South Jersey accompanying me on a work weekend and playing the fish-out-of-water role, and I wanted to get his take on all the unfamiliar sights and sounds, from Feist to A$AP Rocky. That turned into an article, "Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Invading Hipster Central with My Father," that he didn't know I was writing until it was finished. My dad had such fun soaking in alt-utopia that year that he wanted to come back for more, and while I wanted to incorporate his age-inappropriate thoughts into another recap for 2013, I knew that he'd be wise to the sly note-taking that followed all of his offhand remarks. So last year, he and I combined for a "father-son conversation," in which we kept a running diary of the weekend and bounced our reactions of Bjork, R. Kelly, Belle & Sebastian and (of course) Lil B off of each other. Needless to say, my dad appreciated Belle & Sebastian's gentle twee more than Based God's "You can fuck my bitch" refrain.
Now in his third year as a Pitchfork Festival attendee, my dad fully knows what to expect from the hipster haven, can identify what changes they've made to the grounds, can tell anyone which food vendors to avoid and knows what to say when a now-familiar face exclaims, "Hey, you're back again!" In 2014, he is able to greet Sky Ferreira backstage and jubilantly proclaim, "You played a great set here last year," or compare Kendrick Lamar's headlining show to the one he performed on Sunday afternoon on the side stage in 2012. Although my dad has a history with Pitchfork Fest now, he still doesn't know almost any of the music that is actually being performed prior to landing in Chicago the day before the festival begins. This year, he knew (and loved) Grimes and Real Estate from their Pitchfork performances in 2012, and was familiar with some music (as in: a song or two) from Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, Kendrick Lamar and Dum Dum Girls ahead of the festival weekend. But Pusha T? Deafheaven? tUnE-yArDs? FKA Twigs? These were all new names to my dad, who is not a regular Pitchfork reader, and he was once again prepared to make snap judgments based on 45-minute performances. Hey, that's what festivals are here for, right?
Instead of diving into a father-son dialogue again, we decided to shake things up in Year Three and create the Indie-Rock Dad Awards, a series of honors (and dishonors) made to capture this year's Pitchfork Festival through the eyes of someone pushing 60. We experienced the three-day festival together and kept sharing our opinions of the various artists, with wildly different results. When the dust settled on Kendrick Lamar's Sunday headlining set, I tossed out a few "award categories," he came up with a handful of his own, and we wrote down nominees separate from each other. These are the results of a father and son surviving the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival together:
BEST CROWD RAPPORT
Dad: Kendrick Lamar -- the only performer with any crowd rapport beyond "Hey, Chicago!" and "Isn't this weather great?" He talked intelligently with the crowd for several minutes, asked people to hold their lighted cell phones, made reference to the murder rate in Chicago, and promised to play Pitchfork Fest again.
Son: I thought Neneh Cherry did her absolute best to rile up a largely somber crowd on Friday afternoon. It was an imperfect set from Cherry, who hadn't performed in literally decades, but she still knew what to say in order to get unfamiliar folks dancing.
BEST NON-MUSICAL MOMENT
Dad: The crowd of young people shouting "Gior-gi-o! Gior-gi-o!" at the end of Giorgio Moroder's set, and Moroder obviously loving the reaction, to the point where he never wanted to stop his set.
Son: Pusha T's Lil B diss. Pretty positive my dad isn't aware of what the four words "Based God my DICK!" represent, but he should know that rap storms are a-brewin', and that Pusha probably isn't winning the NBA championship anytime soon.
Dad: Grimes and Real Estate. I saw both at Pitchfork Festival in 2012 -- both are now much more polished and confident, and with longer catalogues of strong songs.
Son: Kendrick Lamar obviously has a lot more material to work with than he did at Pitchfork in 2012 (at that point, he had just dropped "Swimming Pools (Drank)" as a new single). However, his whole demeanor and stage presence was leaps-and-bounds better on Sunday night -- no longer the occasionally introverted rap nerd from "Section.80," King Kendrick was simultaneously unhinged and thoughtful in front of a live backing band, and altogether a commanding headliner.
Dad: Pusha T. He started 34 minutes late, provided no explanation and didn't apologize at any point while onstage. Hey, we all stood there for 34 minutes waiting -- a "sorry" wouldn't have taken away from his talk of being the self-proclaimed "best rapper alive." It would just show some courtesy.
Son: I heard that Pusha T was late because of his DJ, and lack of apology aside, how can you not drop "Grindin'" to thank the exceedingly patient crowd?
BIGGEST GENERATIONAL GAP
Dad: All the rap -- Pusha T, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar. I simply cannot understand why every rapper feels obligated to snarl "motherfucker" and other profanity a thousand times in every set. I loved Killer Mike and his social awareness last year, but even he relied too much on curse words. It obscures the otherwise powerful lyrics! I just can't get past it.
Son: I appreciated the subtleties of the quirkier sets -- Majical Cloudz, FKA Twigs, Hundred Waters -- more than my dad, but it's gotta be Perfect Pussy. The go-for-broke punk energy was lost on my pops, and as for the band name… let's just say he would never pick up a Perfect Pussy t-shirt, even if they sounded like the Beatles 2.0.
MOST DAD-FRIENDLY SET
Dad: Giorgio Moroder. He transported me back to the 70's and 80's with Donna Summer, Irene Cara and Blondie. Dance party tunes, and a ton of fun.
Son: Giorgio! An artist playing "Call Me" and "I Feel Love" at Pitchfork Fest was like giving my dad an expensive present that I didn't remember buying. Even if you were an anti-disco, too-cool-for-school dad, Moroder dropped a remix of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" that Top 40 enthusiasts could get behind.
Dad: A three-way tie: The two lead vocalists of Wild Beasts -- one high and one low in pitch -- meshed perfectly with the great guitar licks and fine rock tunes. DIIV had Fleetwood Mac-like guitar melodies and soft vocals, which made for a polished set. And Factory Floors -- somehow, the long electronic movements worked!
Son: I had yet to see FKA Twigs live before, and her constant motion was enthralling. My dad thought the songs were too slow, but the sinewy R&B tracks and Twigs' contorting dance moves compelled me to look up her future tour dates the next morning.
Dad: Sun Kil Moon. He had intriguing lyrics, but the slow, mournful delivery made it feel like I was back in trigonometry class.
Son: Love Sun Kil Moon's records, and "Benji" is an absolute must-hear for 2014. But damn, Mark Kozelek stood up from his chair for the final song and the entire audience roared like it was a stage-dive. Let's just say that Sun Kil Moon was not the Major Lazer of Pitchfork Fest 2014.
Dad: The offering of vinyl records from every generation and musical genre was truly amazing.
Son: At the Flatstock Poster Convention, there was a beautiful GZA print that apparently glowed in the dark. I didn't buy it because I already have a Wu-Tang Clan poster in my apartment, but the regret is already setting in.
BIGGEST MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Dad: Hundred Waters had great glimpses of pop with some stellar vocals, keyboards and even a flute solo or two. Unfortunately, they tried too hard to be edgy and experimental. "Animal," for example, grabbed the crowd and then lost it by ditching what worked in the song.
Son: Wild Beasts were terrific on Saturday afternoon, and the songs from new album "Present Tense" were nestled into their set list with care. But if they had done their tender cover of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball," which they had been playing on tour earlier this year, the crowd would have gone bananas.
Dad: A crowd of thousands of young people, and virtually no one going up to the 'voter registration' table.
Son: My dad's look of disgust after Majical Cloudz finished their set. I usually know when he'll loathe a musical act -- we didn't catch too much of Deafheaven for this reason -- but he surprisingly couldn't get down with Devon Walsh's "spoken word" theatrics, which were negatively influenced by a broken MIDI controller. I might have to send him Majical Cloudz's awesome "Impersonator" album and force a flip-flop.
MOST INTERESTING STAGE PERFORMANCE
Dad: St. Vincent, who had a diva-like entrance and a mischievous grin throughout her set. In addition to the bizarre outfit, she had a little tiptoe dance that she often demonstrate during her songs.
Son: Beck impressed me with his dexterity -- he was a funk god for "Sexx Laws," a wide-eyed heartbreak victim for "Blue Moon," a pop menace on "Girl" and a playful culture observer on "Loser." There were so many eras and styles to cover, but Beck and his band made the transitions between personas appear seamless.
Dad: 1. "Fuck The Real World"
2. "Kill The Hippies and Take Their Weed"
3. "It's Usually The Nuts That Change The World"
Son: "The Wrens: Making Fans Wait Since 1989." Can't deny an inside joke about a cult indie band!
Dad: Beck. A high-energy set from a pro. The crowd was dancing and singing along to every song, and the harmonica solos were a nice touch. Plus, his band played Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" immediately following Giorgio Moroder's DJ party, which was a great tip-of-the-cap.
Son: Kendrick Lamar. All three had their strong points, but K. Dot was on fire for his whole performance, starting parties with "Fuckin' Problems" and "m.A.A.d City" before making fans think with "Poetic Justice" and "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst." Pitchfork has needed a stellar rap headliner, and they got one this year.
Dad: Grimes, who had a knockout set that was impossible not to dance to. The two backup dancers and Grimes' own maniacal gyrations added to the positive mood.
Son: Grimes is absolutely going to blow up when she releases her next album; the "Visions" material still knocks with a rubbery punch, and the new songs sound explosive, like a synthesis of dance music's kinetic energy and pop music's pinpoint melodies. Before that album actually comes out, Claire Boucher is a live presence one cannot afford to miss.
But really, my dad -- he's the actual festival MVP, for listening to dozens of unknowns with an open mind. He gets the rare 10.0 rating.