Friday, August 15, 2014

PITCHFORK FEST 2014: DAY THREE

This has been an amazing music festival so far. Lots of diverse acts, great fans, and good times have been had. Pitchfork has long been a source for new and under the radar music and it’s been exciting getting the Chicago experience along with all this great tuneage. But I think I’ve learned something about myself; I’m not a festival person anymore. Not that I ever really was. There’s something about being in super close-quarters with total strangers that puts my perception mechanism into overdrive. It’s like walking into a hoarder’s house -- way too much stimulus to make sense of anything. But I also like the excitement of always having something on the horizon. My drug is anticipation. Compared to our own Loufest, I think Pitchfork could learn a couple of things from the Gateway City:

Litter. The fest was set for johns, but not for trash receptacles. I only counted a few. Back alley style trash cans with a small recycling bag duct-taped to the side. As a result, trash was everywhere in Union Park. It was filthy. I couldn’t imagine how long it would take someone to pick-up. In St. Louis, we have a trash table with a trash coordinator, who takes your trash and separates the proper recycling into the proper tubs. It’s amazing. It’s clean. And it’s smart.

Time Slots. Festival producers book lots of bands in order to sell more tickets. What that means is that on a series of stages, bands are required to play simultaneously in order for everyone to play. Which also means that if two of your favorite groups are playing at the same time, you have to make a decision to see one or the other, or miss a little of each set in order to see both. I found this happening quite frequently and it got obnoxious fast (You’re telling me I have to choose between seeing Perfect Pussy and DIIV?! How dare you, sir!). I know it’s going to happen at LouFest, especially since we’ve added another stage and, of course, I’m still going to go (I’m sorry Ms. Jackson!) but I don’t have to like it. I am for real.

But there were a couple of things that Pitchfork Fest did right:

Side Stages. These were only for VIP members, but each stage had its own side platform directly across from it, rather than one big VIP only platform out in the middle between two stages. I was so close to Deafheaven during their set that I could have picked their pockets. It was also cool that the main stages were labeled Red, Green and Blue and not sold to corporate sponsorship.

Extras. The shopping booths that sold silly tchotchkes and hipster gear were highly unnecessary, but the best time spent away from the stages were at the Flatstock Poster Show series presented by the American Poster Institute and The CHIRP Record Fair. Flatstock is a showcase of independent designers and printing presses that create stunning music posters and other unique works of art. The CHIRP Record Fair was two tents full of vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and other music swag. An unprecedented collection that would have kept me busy for hours. Had I time…



SUNDAY

When I arrive by cab to the festival, I am dropped off on the opposite side of Union Park. Press check-in is on the north side. I see an opening with no line so I go up to the nice young man. I show him my press badge and ask if it’s ok I go in this way and cut through, so that I don’t have to walk around the entire length of the park. He says yeah no problem, man. This man would end up being my hero for the day.

When I walk through the opening, I realize that I am in the VIP area. I look around. There are cheap food booths, beautiful Chicagoans handing out Goose Island beer, Jim Beam whiskey, Kind granola bars and flowers, Ketel One coffee drinks, veggie drinks, bottled water, and so much more. I’ve died and gone to rock and roll heaven. I wandered up the back pathway, behind the two stages. I caught glimpses of Real Estate. Of Grimes. All within arms reach. The stages have side platforms for VIP members to see the band up close and personal. Of course, there are only two stages connected to the VIP area, which means to see any performers on the Blue stage, I have to leave VIP. I ask myself, “What would Pusha T say?”

“Every hero got theme music, I guess I need me some drums.

It suddenly occurs to me that I am not leaving the VIP area. It will take a band of sniveling Pitchfork volunteers to drag me out. I resign myself to the fact that I will only cover Red and Green stage acts and Blue stage acts will have to suffer this time. I wonder at the possibilities of cloning myself. The world could use a little more me. I keep my gaze on the ground, never daring to make eye contact lest my ruse should be discovered. I help myself to several VIP freebies. Several times. My apologies to all of the Blue stage acts for my selfish and shameful display. It was a moral imperative.

1:30  |  MUTUAL BENEFIT
Fanciful, introspective and otherworldly, Mutual Benefit blends sound samples from soft-spoken planes of existence. I was impressed with this opener’s kinship with bands like The Shins and Bon Iver. It’s nice for a Sunny afternoon. I wish more people would are here to listen and give these band their due, but stragglers really don’t start showing up for another hour. There is ample room on the side platform for me to dig.

1:55  |  DIIV
Wow. What a great show. And a great sound! I am two for two so far, and my guilt for infiltrating VIP is slowly starting to melt away. For starters, I am able to enjoy DIIV’s entire set. When they rip into “Douse,” the crowd starts shifting and roiling in waves. A terrific blend of indie, shoegaze and west-coast wave pop, DIIV puts on a great live performance and the music translates well to festival goers looking for a sound to mitigate their hangovers from the previous evening.  



2:30  |  DEAFHEAVEN
I am very excited to see Deafheaven, as well as the rest of the crowd, as they pack-in tightly to see the metal band perform. There is a kind of clarification that needs to be addressed: Deafheaven is metal, and is typically classified as black metal, but there is an urgency, a hopefulness that takes the band from out of the confined shadows of black metal and into incandescent metal. Mixing elements of heavy, fast beats, thrashing chords and visceral lyrics, the band is something of a welcome anomaly in a genre that is increasingly becoming more uniform by the day. It’s also worth noting that they were really the only sort of band playing this kind of music for the festival. Which made them even more important to see.



3:33  |  EARL SWEATSHIRT
Day three of Pitchfork is definitely dominated by hip hop and rap musicians. Earl Sweatshirt kicks off today’s mantle like a pro. He’s a hip-hop boy wonder, taking control of the stage and the crowd that has now doubled in size since this afternoon. He raps intelligent lines that are at times psychological, at times preternatural. He kicks out the song “Chum” singing “Too black for the white kids and too white for the black / From honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks.” It seems strange and somewhat unfair that a man this young can rap about such deep and complex experiences. He a promising young talent who promises not to squander it. Not bad for not being old enough to drink.



4:17  |  SCHOOLBOY Q
Schoolboy Q rocks it like no other. There seem to be even more fans now at the Green Stage. From VIP, I can see them all, waving hands, phones, cigarettes in the air above their heads, in perfect rhythmic unison with the Q. “This song’s so fucking dope,” he sings the hook before rapping out morphine-induced sex lyrics. There are quite a few kids making out to this and it’s easy to hear why.



5:15  |  REAL ESTATE
I make sure to grab a steady spot on the VIP platform to catch these guys. I’m not alone. It feels like it might topple over. Fans have already been lining up all day in the crowd just to get a good seat for these guys. Their patience has finally been rewarded. RE comes out on stage, nice and tight, kicking off with their exquisitely crafted dream-pop. “Past Lives” is played and I’m transported to out of mind.



6:15  |  SLOWDIVE
Much like Neutral Milk Hotel the night before, everyone is looking forward to the return of Slowdive. People leave the Real Estate set early in order to grab good vantage points. I follow suit. The band broke up in 95, after releasing a handful of highly acclaimed albums. Slowdive is straight navelgaze. Large, expansive chords soaked in reverb, with little distortion over top. I’m reminded of a less fuzzy version of My Bloody Valentine or The Daysleepers. Singer Rachel Goswell leans out over the crowd as best she can. You wouldn’t think that their music would be conducive to festival going, but the crowd is so into the reunion aspect, it doesn’t even matter.



7:25  |  GRIMES
It’s too late to get good VIP seating for Grimes. Everyone is on top of their game and have filled up every available good seat. I make friends with a fellow Chicagoan as we peel down some of the tarp covering a railing and create our own view. We actually can see the stage pretty damn good, so we decide to stick with it. Grimes comes out on stage and immediately kicks off with bass beats and distorted synths behind a DJ table. She comes front and center and dances a bit. Two other dancers join her on stage and begin twirling about in a kind of 80s, ‘In Living Color’ sort of way. It’s slightly confusing, but the music is infectious. Dance electronica with Grimes’s child-like singing layered over top. Haunting yet catchy. I get the impression she’s trying to be the next Lady Gaga. She might have a handle on that.   



8:30  |  KENDRICK LAMAR
Kendrick Lamar is a hip-hop great, on his way to becoming a hip-legend. Flanked by a full band and incredible film slides that appear on the screen. Kids begin making out to this like crazy-- there was no stopping them. One couple had just unrolled a blanket and started going at it. I watch in awe as fans raise their hands in unison to the mad beats. I’ve seen his show before but he is even better here, spurred on by the energy of the festival and the gorgeous night that has unfolded in front of him. He plays almost everything from his debut album, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” and it seems like the show is too good to end. “Bitch don’t kill my vibe,” he sings. I am thinking the same thing, Kenny. He holds a commanding presence over the band, the crowd and the festival at large. A proper headlining act, now and for future sell-out concerts.

11:00  |  EPILOGUE
My plane, scheduled to depart for home at 11 p.m., has been pushed back 3 hours. I don’t make it home and in bed until 3:30 a.m. And then I’m back to work at 8 a.m. I’m getting too old for this shit. But that’s rock and roll, baby. Burnout. Fade away. No sleep. Late deadlines. Lost luggage. Hip replacement. Whatever. As long as you have a killer time. Thanks, Pitchfork Fest 2014!


By Kevin Korinek

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PITCHFORK FEST 2014: DAY TWO





It’s another gorgeous day in Chicago. Warm, no humidity, a cool breeze.  People are paddle boating on the Chicago River between the Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune buildings. Idyllic and impossibly perfect weather for festival going. Everyone is in a good mood. I head to the Chicago Art Museum to see the Magritte exhibit before taking the Pink Line to Union Park and taking refuge in the silent company of strangers.

A couple of reflections on the festival thus far:
  • A lot of kids try to practice the art of looking cool, with off-colored sunglasses, ironic t-shirts. They like to practice smoking cigarettes. You can tell they’re early smokers by the way they hold them; lightly, between the tips of the thumb and forefinger, attentively. Look at me. I’m smoking, they seem to say.
  • Whenever you’re trapped in a crowd, trying to get to the stage, but there’s just too many fans to break through, wait for an ambulance fan. Invariably, a hefty and determined die-hard fan will come along and begin to carve their way through the traffic, chipping away at the open spaces of the crowd and making new space where none existed a moment ago. As they pass by, take the leap and jump into the space just behind and follow them. But you have to move quickly, as the traffic will close up around him after they push through.
  • Some crowd goers seem more interested in the festival surroundings than the bands themselves: Flatstock, food booths, beer lines, the CHIRP record fair. Some are just sitting around talking with friends, like they might be at a park. I don’t get you people. Call me old-fashioned, but it seems disingenuous to claim you saw a group perform if you never actually paid attention to their set. I refer to these people as scenesters: people who are interested in having the ability to claim they were at a place or event for bragging rights, but showing no interest in that place or event whatsoever. As in the following sentence, “Look at all these fucking scenesters at Pitchfork.”

1:15  |  TWIN PEAKS
This Chicago-based group is a bold, brash, in-your-face rock group with nuances of melodic grunge, 70’s punk and echo-drenched pop. They orchestrate and alternate guitars and vocal lines, with a snarling, obstinate swagger that evokes Black Lips (one of my current music obsessions). The set ended in guitars being smashed, singer Cadien James jumping into the crowd, regardless of the fact that he sang and played from a fucking wheelchair. That’s what I’m talking about; not even a broken ankle can stop these guys. A massive wave of heartbreak after the set was over - it was criminal that they weren’t higher-up in the order of bands, but these guys are definitely going places.

1:50   |  KA
Ka is more lyrical street magician than street rapper, living out hip-hop the way it’s meant to be lived; like a bulletproof vest. The way it should be. Darkly lyrical and slightly menacing, KA adopts a street thug mentality with a poet’s heart, but it’s the latter that shines through. The crowd is digging it and I’m reminded of what Sun Kil Moon’s Kozelek was talking about yesterday: “There’s a lot of white people at this festival,” he said. I amuse only myself. But that doesn’t put Ka off his game and he breaks into another winner, “You Know It’s About”. The fans are loving the beats, but some seem lost. Like they’d rather be somewhere else.  Ka seems itching to get off stage and get back to his creative juices. “I got more writing to do after this last joint,” he confides, before “Cold Facts” kicks out of the amplifiers. The crowd is enthusiastic and gives their approval in hollers and fist pumps. KA let’s them know he’s not going anywhere soon. “I got more shit coming, I’m a be here for a while.”

2:00  |  CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Planes fly overhead, suggestive of the massive trip the crowd is about to take with this group’s mind-bending and infectious sound. A semi-psychedelic grab-bag of indie, fun house rock, and chamber pop, formed by singer/painter Will Cullen Hart. Fan favorite “Just In Time To See You All” made the setlist, a Beatles-inspired jam that sounds like a demo the fab four would have cut in their “let’s discover ourselves in India” days. The group of multi-instrumentalists, who effortlessly move from drums to guitar, clarinet to violin, oboe to synths, prove that this is a band on the run and having fun. The set is a little dampened by a security guard busting a young kid for smoking dope. Seems like Pitchfork is cracking down on it today, but it is still fairly pervasive. The kid tries to play dumb, but it’s not working. Even after the kid offers the security officer to take a hit. I don’t think the officer appreciated that, but you have to admit, it was mighty courteous. In the meantime, I amuse myself by sucking in plumes of second hand smoke floating past to see if I can and obtain a contact high.

2:42  |  WILD BEASTS
England’s Wild Beasts are a frontrunner for fan favorites, as their darkly luxuriant  80s new-wave set showed Chicago what it was missing. I thought this band might actually summon the clouds to cast over our pretty day, but I think it actually intensified the colors of the afternoon sun. The need for people to dance in slow time was excruciating, with more kids making out than I would have expected. Like No Age or Wild Nothing, the group utilizes a lot of low-end synths and bass to reign in a good mood before the drums kick in and set a driving pulse. They excel at crafting keyboard hooks and letting the fans bob in the ocean of the crowd before reeling them in, as kids push through to the stage to get closer. Their attitude is tangible: a slight-snarl is bandied about on stage, before the singer picks up a bass guitar and starts playing/singing a melodic falsetto as the heavy bass thumps harder and before you know it, a hit is born. Alive and breathing. A howling, bemoaning, neon-infused caterwaul, set outside for young lovers learning the intricacies of who they are, who they could be. I have to secure a good spot for Cloud Nothings, so I depart, but I hear the singer between cuts, “We’re from England, we’re not used to this sunsine. Or people looking so pretty either.” Proper lads with a proper way about them.

3:00  |  EMPRESS OF
Bjork-like beats and rinsing synths, punctuated by short bursts of electric horns. This is a surprising sound that is instantly digable. I’m reminded of Canadian band BRAIDS or maybe a set of bonus tracks from the Drive soundtrack. Brooklyn singer, Lorely Rodriguez, cute as a button, bounces up and down to get the crowd addicted to the down beats. The live drumming adds gravitas to the dance beats. Some of these acts have been hit or miss but Empress Of is really great at selling herself in this genre and ended her set with several new fans.

 

3:20  |  CLOUD NOTHINGS
Recently, Dave Grohl gave the keynote speech at SXSW, lamenting the loss of rock and roll and calling on a new generation to find their voice.  Cloud Nothings have found their voice; now they are on the cusp of bringing back the rock and roll. They’re a grunge punk trio. A rock and roll wet dream. Visceral and vitalic, singer Dylan Baldi rocks hard on a dingy white Gibson SG and creams into the microphone. Cloud Nothings are really what good rock is all about. Energetic. Lucid. A resurrected memory of a musical ethic long forgotten. They rip through fast chords and hard-hitting triplets and the crowd goes haywire. They’re the perfect amalgamation of low end thrust, bass kicks to the nuts and indie-rock strut. Just the way a solid rock band should be. Dave would be proud.

4:55  |  PUSHA T
Pusha’s set was short lived as he was over ½ hour late but the crowd hung on like death; such hip-hop was not easy. Someone asked if he is trying to pull a Lauryn Hill, making all his fans wait til the last possible minute. Unfortunately, Pitchfork has a schedule to keep and wouldn’t allow him to play longer. Fans weren’t going anywhere until they had the chance to bust-a-move to some of his top cuts from his lauded album, “My Name is My Name.” Anger and frustration begins to set in, but Pusha T is able to recover as soon as he and his DJ set feet on the stage.  I find myself caught in a bevy of kids raising their fists in the air and singing along to every hard-fought lyric, impressed that this many people know all of his lyrics.  For really having the worst set of the festival so far, everyone in the whole park is chanting to his “King Push” lyrics: “I rap nigga about trapped niggas, I don’t sing hooks. ” He is only able to play a handful of songs before giving up the stage and letting tUnE-yArDs take the spotlight.

5:05  |  THE RANGE
The crowd for The Range is diminished due to Pusha T’s push in the schedule. When he does, the crowd gravitated to the one-man block party there, leaving James Hinton of The Range to digitize philosophic with die-hard fans. DJ samples metamorph into a full-course of hypnotic house techno and club dance, replete with break dance demeanor. It’s as expansive as an atmosphere and just as invisible, creeping up on you slowly, unobtrusively. Before you know it, you’re breathing the whole thing in. Hinton sings out, along with all his samples, a clear indication of how invested he is in his craft.

 

5:18  |  tUnE-yArDs
Merrill Garbus, the African-indie rock goddess that incorporates more third world trouble than any third world country in her highly acclaimed group tUnE-yArDs, brings everyone in the entire park together. Her wildly rhythmic drumming, windmill dancing and neon-infused setting seems brighter than the late afternoon sun. And she doesn’t waste any time, saying “I’m gonna shut up so we can pack as much music in this little time that we have.” Then the band launches into “Real Thing.” These are definitely big-anthem, singalong hooks made for festivals. Soulful and funky, the patchwork of influences utilized is both disorienting and astounding. In short, it belongs in a class all its own. When the opening wail of “Gangsta” is heard, the entire crowd mimics. Union Park becomes one big police siren. Then the hit “Powa,” with three-part vocal harmonies and distorted ukulele. The crowd can’t get enough. Be sure to see them at The Ready Room in September. Expect it to sell out; they are definitely the real thing.

 

5:59  |  KELELA
Brings the indie R&B deep cuts, with beats that drop slow and heavy, backed by electronica that is forward-thinking. With only the help of a DJ, Kelela prowls the stage like a girl on a mission, donning Army-green overalls and stalking fans from above; this girl is ready for war.
This is the kind of slow jam burn, a dreamscape soul-aura that only partially satisfies, leaving you wanting more. And that feels good somehow. The crowd does seem a bit torn between seeing this and tUne-yArDs, but ultimately the latter wins out. However, this is too damn good to miss entirely and I decide to stay for the remainder of the set.

 

6:15  |  DANNY BROWN
The DJ takes a few minutes, a few preliminary songs to warm up the crowd before DB even comes on stage. But as soon as he does, the party has officially recommenced. It’s almost as though he was riding the wave left behind by Pusha T. Immediately stepping into his high-pitched crazy rap hooks, he flows through line after line of blatant and belligerent lyrics, disregarding the principles of conformity when it comes to rap and hip-hop. And this crowd wouldn’t have it any other way.  I don’t think he was able to push the crowd to the frenzied extremes of Pusha T, but he’s equally as foreboding and definitely more surreal than any act so far. His is a mercenary brand of rap that takes no prisoners. An amazing set.



7:00  |  THE FIELD
A technological meditation on the values of beats which, measure for measure, builds the audience excitement in moments, in tiny leaps of musical evolution, pleasure for pleasure. A live drummer adds an analog feel to the digital beats overtop the synths and DJ samples. Chicago fans unite and love it together -- even the trees seem to sway to the songs. Each cut is an extensive jam that fluidly bleeds into the other, soaking up everything slowly, until a tripped-out Rorschach blot emerges in your mind. With only a couple of key spots that are lower and sort of deflate the energy level, the set is flawless and well received.

 

7:25  |  ST. VINCENT
I’ve never seen St. Vincent play anything so much as a spot on Jimmy Kimmel, but this was a true act for the ages. Her intense brand of indie pop is from another planet. She shimmies out her body onstage, her own unique, indelible version of the duck walk, fueled by outer-space synths and low-end keys. Excitement abounds. The band kicks off with “Rattlesnake.”  Dressed all in black with a large, oversized gold painted flower arrangement on her shoulder, her hair is pulled tight around her head and painted silver. By the second song “Digital Witness”, she is adorned with a guitar and rips into an effect-heavy solo. “What’s the point of even speaking?” she sings. That’s what I’m talking about. The fuzz pedals are doing most of the heavy lifting for her, but she clearly knows what she’s doing. She shimmies back some more before shaking it all out and casting her body forward over the guitar, as though it’s controlling her and not the other way around. She’s done a lot of great work with David Byrne recently and the lessons from those collaborations seem to be paying off. She is 100% performance, 110% of the time and elicits a commanding confidence that emanates from the stage, the amplifiers and the artist at large. It’s a monolithic sound that refuses to be ignored. And no one does.

8:00  |  FKA TWIGS
Pick-pocketing roughly 1/4 of the crowd from St. Vincent is london-based FKA Twigs and my attention is officially captured by this this sex-laden trip-hop artist. Another soul bird songstress holding romantic high notes as love letters and sending them to anyone in the crowd, like a cosmic message in a bottle. The big beats and booming bass is guaranteed to break the bed and bend your mind. The R&B serenity is a condition of the organic intricacies of her voice and was fractured momentarily when yet another person is caught with weed. Only this time, he gives chase, creating quite a spectacle. Like-minded individuals cheer him on. But I digress. Three electronic drummers help create the enemy-at-the-gates boom that reverberates through the entire park. Hard to compete with her sullen cat walk on stage or her echoing sound. St. Vincent may have met her match.

8:30  |  NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
The emotional and triumphant return of one of the greatest indie-bands of the 90s started off with “Holland, 1945” a jangly, poppy, neutral-milky pop anthem. Horns blared. And the crowd leapt about in an ecstatic fury that has been building since the band’s demise in 1999. The fan-favorite “Kind of Carrot Flowers” is next, with lead singer Jeff Mangum singing “I love you Jesus Christ.” Big, happy horns add to the big happy sound which is brashly overcome with fuzz-loved guitar. They sound so good, it’s crazy. Like they never went anywhere. They employ a clever use of the 90s quiet/loud dynamic without using it for nefarious, angst-fueled purposes like most bands relied upon back in the day. ‘’I really love to hear you sing with us on this next one,” Magnum confides to the crowd. Can’t he hear everyone in Union Park singing every lyric? I can. It’s the biggest campfire sing-along that ever existed. Willis Tower’s lit up spires in the background, a cool 60 degree breeze casts piles of litter about my feet. It’s almost as if there is a temperature control in heaven and God has set it to chill the fuck out man. Neutral Milk Hotel are back together for one night only. “Two-Headed Boy” is next and is a romantic reminder that life is beautiful, that people are strange and beautiful. It could put the devil in a good mood. However, I was most excited when they launched into “Song About Sex,” the lead track from their first album. It’s amazing how music you listened to at a certain time of your life can transport you there, like a time machine. Their terrific set ends with “Oh Comely,” a reminder of Magnum’s folk roots and a surreal and lovely send-off to end day two of Pitchfork Fest.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

From The Road: PITCHFORK FEST 2014 Day 1



SHIPPING OUT
When originally asked if I was “in” to cover the 9th annual Pitchfork Fest at Union Park in Chicago, Illinois, my response was as follows:

“I’m in. 
In style.
In vogue.
In high demand. 
In, as in the opposite of out.
In like a dirty shirt.
In.”

I’m not sure if it was my intense, unruly attempt at a haiku that got me the spot, or maybe no one actually wanted to do it. But I made the cut. 

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE
I left Thursday evening, packing one bag, as is my typical travel rule: travel light. I even dress lighter than usual: Flying Tiger Motorcycle t-shirt, sneakers, cut-off sweat-shorts, sunglasses. This is all from my Lebowski Collection. I never dress like this in public, because I’m not a bum. But god damn if it isn’t super comfortable. On the way to the airport, in the cab, I lose my wallet. It slips out of my super comfortable Lebowski shorts. Of course, I don’t realize this until I’m at the TSA door, primping for my pat down. The beautiful blonde cabdriver graciously brought it back to me. I graciously offered to buy her dinner in heaven and ran back into line. My plane departs at 8pm. It’s 7:40 at this time. 

Once on the plane, I sit next to another beautiful blond girl. Am I on celluloid? Am I in a Hitchcock film? Hopefully all ends well for both of us. I’m not nervous on planes anymore. I tell myself, “If I’m going down, I’m taking this plane with me.” I downloaded an episode of Shameless. I always download an episode of Shameless when I go to Chicago. Seems fitting. And it gets me jazzed for hi-jinks. The plane leaps into the sky. The stewardess dims the lights. I have a granola bar, but need to maximize snack time, so I hold off.  I compose another poem to occupy my time:

TAKING A PISS WHILE TRAVELING ON A BOEING 737 THAT’S FLYING 511 MPH AND EXPERIENCING MILD-TURBULENCE

Thank Christ there’s a handle. 

Here comes the old girl. The stewardess hands me two miniscule bags of pretzels and one of peanuts. Then she brings me a screwdriver. Snack time commences. 

Touchdown In The Land of the Delta Chicago Blues
Made it to CTA. Tickets please. Orange line to the Loop. I love Chicago at night. A rusty saxophone sings on a street corner. A man tries to scam me for money. The El barrels above, with all the timidity of an exploding volcano. Dinner at Vapiano, Italian pizza. Silliest restaurant ever. But they give you free gummy bears as you leave! #Winning. Find bed. Crash. 

FRIDAY
8:30am  
I wake up early and head out before the event. Pitchfork Fest is a fairly diverse crowd of bands. The city reflects such diversity and, likewise, needs to be experienced. I have coffee and a Belgian Waffle to die-for at The Bourgeois Pig in Lincoln Park, before traveling north to Simon’s Tavern. I love a good dive and this place rivals my beloved Club 34 in St. Louis. Simon’s Tavern has been open since 1934 and has been largely untouched by time, other than the modest jukebox on the wall. They have Schlitz on draft. I share my astonishment with the great bartender as he sets a pint down in front of me. I go to the jukebox and pick out a few tunes in the following order: In The City by The Jam, Shine a Light by Constantines & Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio by The Ramones (RIP Tommy). I head to Logan Hardware, the vinyl shop and vintage arcade. I’ve always imagined heaven as a kind of record store. But the free arcade machines in the back are just icing on the cake. I play Frogger, Dig-Dug, Joust. Games I played as a kid. Then I played Ms. Pac-Man. That’s my jam. I take the EL to Union Park. Now I’m ready for Pitchfork Fest. 

3:50  |  HUNDRED WATERS  
Hundred Waters is privy to the time slot they are set with and make the most of it. Drenched in ethereal, underwater chorus and echo effects, singer Nicole Miglis has a siren call that simply captivates you. It’s an alt-rock, soft grind with some light techno nuances that  sort of recall a slower, more foreboding CHVRCHES. Or a far better evolution of Evanescence.  Punctuated with the occasional falsetto vocal lines and intriguing beats to put you off your clubbing frame of mind, Miglis eventually added flute to one of their songs to class up the joint. 

4:15  |  FACTORY FLOOR
It’s a little early in the day for this dark and banging type of techno. It simply does not lend itself to the happy-go-lucky sunny day. Luckily, Factory Floor leaves bodies on the floor, large groups of fans crowd surfing, swaying back and forth. I’ve never seen so much weed at a concert. An middle aged lady sat on a blanket next to me, lighting a spliff the size of a hog leg. God I love this city. The clash and din call to mind a Nazi Terminator taking control of the Matrix while his digital turntable starts skipping. They’re crushing Disneyland and mainlining german tech-metal. But it looks like these fans are into a proper daytime dance rave. Guitar and drummer work well together, while the digital maestro in the back thickens the din, leaving little to be reviewed here as the set becomes repetitive. 


4:44  |  NENEH CHERRY WITH ROCKETNUMBERNINE
With her slow and euphonic voice, and the trip-hop influenced Rocket No. 9 duo, Neneh Cherry is showcasing some new kinetic and soul-pleasing vibes that make your spine slither. “I’m addicted to you,” she sings, leaning down towards the crowd and pointing an accusatory finger. 
London brother’s Ben and Tom Page (aka Rocket Number Nine) have been collaborating with Neneh Cherry for her latest album and the results seem to be working. It’s a dirtier groove laid bare beside her old catalogue of 80’s rap. She’s been in the music world for some time. Her father is legendary trumpeter Don Cherry. “I haven’t played in the US since 1992, she admits. “That’s how old I am.” The band plays “Out Of The Black,” a synth heavy tune, with jazz-influenced vocals that don’t back down. “We only have a few minutes left; time flies when you’re having a good time.” The end with her 80’s hit “Buffalo Stance” before giving it the new and improved Neneh Cherry experience. 

5:20  |  THE HAXAN CLOAK
This, again, is a type of claustrophobia industrial melee.  Of walking through all nine circles of hell and never finding a place to rest.  I do love the occasional drone metal band, but I usually enjoy hearing them put out more wattage, more firepower, typically as an extention of stoner metal. But I was unimpressed by this limited endeavor; the songs are nightmarish. Not to mean that they are bad, or poorly composed. But they are downright frightening. This is theme music for serial murderers who get away with it. And maybe that’s why they’re so damn good. The back lights flash and pulse. The spectacle is mildly intimidating. Thank god there’s still some daylight out. 

5:34  |  SHARON VAN ETTEN
While Haxan Cloak drudged on, there were fans camping out for good spots to see Van Etten up close and personal. Sharon is a massive talent. A sweetheart indie songwriter, with a jangly Fender Jaguar and a full backing band behind her. “Every time the sun comes up, I’m in trouble, she sings from a new song. Hard to imagine that this thankful and magnetic singer would be in any kind of trouble. She goes to great lengths to introduce and thank her band, as well as thank the band they just ended their tour with, before thanking the audience. There’s not a mean bone in her body, which translates her to music well: it’s nice rock. Heartfelt and hopeful, at times whimsical and subdued, this indie kid has got a lot of good streaks left in her.



6:19  |  SZA
SZA, aka Solana Rowe, brings her brand of drowsy, ethereal RnB and cloud rap with a sultry smile on stage. It’s the type of voice that recalls a Corrine Bailey Rae, or Lana Del Ray. But without a smaller venue to encapsulate such a large sound, SZA loses some of her allure, making it more difficult to keep fans interested in seeing what she has to offer. I’m only able to catch a two or three songs before moving on to the next great group. But, as SZA is technically a St. Louisan, she will be on my list to see again when she comes through. Definitely worth listening.


6:37  |  SUN KIL MOON
Mark Kozelek’s songwriting flare takes a decidedly southwestern feel to craft his stories. Akin to an acoustic folk version of The Nationals, SKM feature a languid yet balanced set. The songs start off with Mark Kozelek’s classical guitar, strummed in a spanish style with his fingers. He’s very adept at this style of playing. It requires careful consideration,  placement and fluidity. Which seems to be how Kozelek also focuses on his songwriting as well. Profound and layering lyrics that indulge in details at every turn. Before you know it, he has you hooked, while making it all seem so effortless, with devastatingly true storytelling and melancholy recollections of his family life, turning so much pain into beautiful sounds.  

7:20  |  AVEY TARE’S SLASHER FLICKS
Kiddo punk rock for the Urban Outfitter crowd. And yet, there’s something here, beneath the endless saccharine hooks, that really call for your attention. Maybe it’s the creativity, the uniqueness, the silliness. Being the side project of Animal Collective’s Dave “Avey Tare” Portner, I can only surmise that whatever wires and lines are getting crisscrossed in that man’s head, he’s finding a way to play it out all on stage. Whatever it is, it’s working for the band in spades. It’s a psychedelic and groovy rollercoaster of a band that seems as disorienting as a funhouse mirror. But that’s ok, because those are quite fun. The crowd loves every minute of their set and seems less interested in departing for Giorgio Moroder. But there is more to see. 


7:30  |  GIORGIO MORODER
Giorgio Moroder used his set to DJ some of his classic collaborations work as a producer with a big screen light show straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The crowd goes hangs on every beat and classic hook: Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” Donna Summer’s “On The Radio” and, more recently, Daft’s Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder.” He was a giant in his day, helping to pioneer disco and dance music and influencing several generations of musicians. 


8:35  |  BECK
The way Beck rails on the guitar as he plays the “Devils’ Haircut” riff, you would think that that riff would define him. But there is so much Beck to love. I first listened to Beck in early high school, much like many of us did. “Mellow Gold” was an album that would have a lasting effect on me, in terms of it’s poetry, it’s unpredictability, and it’s star singer; the first of the freak-folkies, but who could also get funky when the time called for it. Flash-forward twenty years and Beck is larger than life now. Or at least much larger than he ever thought he would be, recording junk store songs on an 8-track in a basement. 


The crowd is thick as thieves in heavy cream. One humongous, multi-headed siamese twin. They given up on the poster selling FlatStock and the gift booths surrounding the perimeter. Here was the act they all came for. Beck, adorned in a trademark black Amish hat and coat, moved all over the stage. He recently played St. Louis the past week, and I have to admit, I wish I would have caught him at The Pageant. While this is an amazing experience, seeing him in St. Louis would have been much more intimate, a much easier show to take part in. Here, I feel like a middle child, shoving siblings for more elbow room, constantly vying for more resources. I’m close at first and am able to grab a good vantage point for a few hits. But waves of crowds pour in from all sides and I’m caught in a current that sweeps me back out farther. However, the large screens next to each stage allow me to pick-up what I’m missing. I, like many others, are waiting for Beck to roll through all his greatest hits of yesteryear. “One Foot In The Grave.” “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack.” His recent album, “Morning Phase” gets a proper treatment. It makes me think maybe Beck isn’t the best sort of festival act to be had. His new material, though exceptional, is really quite low-key and passive, which really isn’t how anybody likes to see him. I did get to hear a stirring, active rendition of his original hit, “Loser,” which I surprised to learn that I still know all of the lyrics to. I was quite proud of myself. 

By Kevin Korinek
Photos by Jason Stoff

Friday, July 18, 2014

Win Passes to the new James Brown Bio-Flick "GET ON UP"

For your chance to win passes to see GET ON UP, Either share this post on Facebook OR email us at contest@elevenmusicmag.com with the answer to this question:  What was the first James Brown song to reach #1 on the R&B charts?




GET ON UP has been rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned – Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13) for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY

IN THEATERS JULY 25

Monday, July 7, 2014

LoFi Cherokee Finale! #16 - Pokey!

Pokey LaFarge - "Good Lord Giveth" at The Bomb Door


'Nuff said.


              

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lofi Cherokee video #14

LoFi Cherokee has posted another video!  We're coming to the end, only a couple left, we'll post another one later todya!



Monday, June 30, 2014

Lucky #13! Ryan Spearman

It's Monday and that means we get more video releases from LoFi Cherokee!

Check out Ryan Spearman - "No Name Blues" at Smalls Tea & Coffee 

       

Dialogues of the Carmelites Answers a Higher Calling

By Rob Levy

In dramatic terms, Dialogues of the Carmelites is as intense as any film by Lars Van Trier or Quentin Tarantino.



Francis Poulenc’s second opera is perhaps his most famous. Its subjust is the sixteen Carmelite nuns of Compiègne, who were executed during the Reign of Terror in 1794. These brave sisters, in refusing to renounce their vocation, showed indelible courage by remaining loyal to their faith. This twentieth century opera has an almost filmic quality to it: it is both epic and tragic, as its protagonists find themselves at the center of a maelstrom of events they cannot control.

That is not by happenstance. The roots of the opera can be traced first to a novella and then to a proposed film. Failing to reach the silver screen, the work was then adapted unsuccessfully for the stage before it landed in the hands of Poulenc, who thought this story of martyrdom would be ideal as an opera.

Timing is everything, and this opera is filled with it. Blanche De La Force is an aristocrat who yearns for something more than the good life. Like many of her class, Blanche fears that the revolution is coming to her doorstep, and she wants no part of it.

As the opera opens Blanche informs her father that she is leaving home to answer a higher calling. She joins the Carmelite order in Compiègne but finds that the Mother Superior is not thrilled to have her in their commune: the ailing Prioress, Madame De Croissy, has a premonition that her arrival will bring ruin to them. Nonetheless, she takes Blanche under her wing and encourages her to find her true self.

The first half of the opera closes with the death of the Prioress and a sense of looming dread. Things only get worse as the revolution, which suppresses religious orders, comes to the monastery. This places Blanche and the other sisters in great peril, since they are housing an aristocrat in addition to their other supposed “crimes.” As Blanche flees, the sisters are sentenced to execution by guillotine. All seems lost — but the sisters’ inner strength is their absolute faith.

The great thing about Poulenc’s opera is the music. Conductor Ward Stare and members of the St. Louis Symphony do an excellent job of framing the tension on tage with a score that is at times both perfectly subtle and necessarily overstated. The score is as tenuous as the Carmelites themselves and it perfectly underpins the production.

Native St Louisan and opera legend Christina Brewer returns to Opera theatre as Madame Lidoine. Although she has a smaller role her presence is felt with yet another superb performance. Brewer is one of the biggest names in contemporary opera and having her appear in the opera is quite a coup.

Soprano and audience favorite Kelly Kaduce stars as Blanche. In the role she excels at bringing both a naïve vulnerability and inner turmoil to the character. The result is yet another powerful performance of a strong female character. Kaduce is the glue that holds the production together. She holds her own with some heavy hitters onstage, enhancing her reputation as one of opera’s young American talents.

As the Prioress Madame De Crossiy, another favorite, Meredith Arwady steals the first half of the production. Playing a dying character is never easy and she simply takes over the part and pours ever fiber of her being into the role. She creates a sense of empathy that connects with the audience; she is a commanding force to be reckoned with. A dynamo onstage she does a balancing act of being at the core of the drama without overshadowing Kaduce or her other cast mates.

There also is a sterling debut from mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas as Mother Marie who holds her own amidst a cast of audience favorites and OTSL veterans.


Dialogues of the Carmelites is a tragedy and infinite despair and sadness. Yet the music, set design and performances from an all-star cast makes it the perfect closing note for Opera Theatre’s 39th season. It’s penetrating production that stays with you long after you leave your seat.  The ensemble does it job by creating an opera that is vividly heroic, passionate and heart wrenching.

27 IS A FEISTY PREMIERE

By Rob Levy

In a season filled with operas centered on strong women, Opera Theatre of St Louis has unveiled 27, a world premiere production featuring two provocative women, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. 27 was commissioned as part of New Works, Bold Voices series (which began with last year’s Terence Blanchard excellent boxing opera, Champion), a three-year cycle of world premieres by American composers for the company.  This project came to fruition through the hard work and collaboration of vocal music wunderkind Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek.  



The Paris art scene centered around the home of Gertrude Stein has been a richly mined source for plays, movies and books. Now her tempestuous life of complexity, creativity and passion comes to life in a vivid new production that focuses on her life in the City of Lights between the World Wars. The intense drama is set entirely at her home at 27 Rue de Fleurus, a hub of creativity where Stein and her lover, Alice B. Toklas, served as beacons for artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Man Ray and writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 27, Stein interacts with the visionaries of her time. Here Matisse and Picasso jockey for recognition while Stein and her brother Theo slug it out over who owns what in the collection. Whereas Stein had an eye for art, she had no understanding for the events of her time. She tragically believed that no war would break out in either 1914 or 1939, a fact that would tarnish her reputation for decades. And inevitably, as times changes, Stein and Toklas shared in the suffering of the war.

At the core of the opera is the relationship between a controlling, dominant and unnerving Stein, and the more practical and reserved Toklas. Despite dire times, they never lost their spirit; through bombings and occupation they never wavered in their efforts to embrace the creativity around them. The larger-than-life Stein was a tastemaker of her time, and her approval or disapproval could make or break an artist. Her taste in art was wide-ranging, and her passion for developing literary talent was just as vital; she was more responsible than anyone in bringing Modernism into the public eye.

This world premiere event showcases an amazing ensemble cast. Stephanie Blythe, a powerhouse of opera debuting in her inaugural production with OTSL, gives a mesmerizing performance. She is both an incredible vocalist and mentor to her compatriots. Her co-star, soprano Elizabeth Futral, stars as Alice B. Toklas. Futral’s work is not to be missed. Like Blythe, she rarely leaves the stage, carrying the emotional weight of the libretto. As a duo, Futral and Blythe are pure electricity.

The supporting cast fills multiple roles, which allows a small ensemble to focus the intense drama on stage. Theo Lebow gives Picasso haughtiness and a brooding tone that works well with Blythe and Futral. Tobias Greenleigh’s Matisse is snarky and pouty, a perfect fit for a production focused on the dealings of the art world.

The design team has outdone themselves. The opera utilizes one set with great effect, allowing the actors room to roam and breathe. Yet when the stage needs to close in for a more claustrophobic feel, it is pliable enough to do so. Allen Moyer’s set elegantly captures the mood of the times while also serving as a soft-toned backdrop for passionately emotional opera.
The use of picture frames to create living portraitures is a remarkably effective technique for concentrating the focus of the audience.

Oftentimes the words “world premiere” lead straight to material that turns out to be weird, unfinished or even frighteningly experimental. With 27, Opera Theatre of St. Louis has created a multi-textured production that is as emotionally deep as it is visually exquisite.


In a season laden with formidable ensembles and dominant singing, 27 sets the bar. It has everything you want in a powerful opera and its execution is flawless. This inaugural production has resonated with audiences while putting the opera world on notice that OTSL is capable of creating innovative and dynamic new work.

THE MAGIC FLUTE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD

Its always risky business to update a classic. Opera Theatre of St. Louis is well aware of the risks involved in such an endeavor — nonetheless they persevered, and added one of Mozart’s most popular operas to their 39th season.



Reimagined by fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi, this production of The Magic Flute is a daring break from the traditional. It is set on a Hollywood sound stage of the 1950s, an interesting choice that gives this rendition access to all of the glitz and glamor of that era. The stage is soaked in bright colors: the flamboyant blues, yellows and greens that Mizrahi has selected for the costumes and set make a statement that this production is as vibrant and energetic as a Hollywood musical. Complementing the color is a Tinseltown dose of sass in the form of the ensemble and a troupe of dancers.

The story centers on a handsome prince named Tamino, who has been recruited by The Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the clutches of the diabolical Sarastro, the High Priest of the Sun. When Tamino sees a portrait of the princess, he is instantly smitten and agrees to rescue her.

Tenor Sean Panikkar is at the center of this production. As Tamino he is heroic and dashing, channeling the panache of the Golden Age’s biggest stars. He gives the prince a fragility not seen in most modern interpretations. Meanwhile, Claire de Sevigny plays The Queen of the Night with a sophisticated aloofness that adds to the mystery of her character. Every piece of her performance recalls that golden age of screen sirens like Dietrich or Garbo.

Matthew Anchel clearly enjoys playing the bad guy. In his hands Sarastro is a seriously creepy dude who will stop at nothing to get his way. Elizabeth Zharoff is a star on the rise as Pamina. Her chemistry with Panikkar is electric, and she brings new layers to one of the most familiar characters in opera. Her performance is stunning. Levi Hernandez’s turn as the bird watcher Papageno is refreshingly bright. Mozart wrote him as the character that propels the action on stage. Although Papageno is a comedic character, his actions border on the heroic.

The Magic Flute is as interesting as it is confounding.  There’s no real ending in the traditional sense, and each of the characters clearly pursues a personal agenda, making each more a shade of grey than black or white. Mizrahi has also utilized Masonic imagery in his version, a play on the fact that Mozart, a mason himself, sprinkled its symbolism throughout the opera. Mizrahi, in turn, amps it up, making Masonic iconography the centerpiece of the set and costume design.

Tan, rested and ready, Opera Theatre of St Louis has given a complete makeover to its production of The Magic Flute. Sashaying around tradition and staging it with unrelenting boldness, the company’s take-no-prisoner attitude captures the quintessential essence of a big time Hollywood production. The dancers hit their marks and offer a nice change of pace from the staid. Splashy, sophisticated and uncompromising, this is a new production of an old classic with a bright new coat of paint.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

LoFi Cherokee Video #12

It's always a little sad on Wednesday, knowing it'll be another week before we get more LoFi Cherokee to enjoy, but first, enjoy Al Holliday & The East Side Rhythm Band doing "Little Woman Of Mine" at Saxquest!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back to Back! Lo-Fi Cherokee video #11

Right in the heals of #10, here's #11, the great Cree Rider Family Band playing "Straight From The Bottle" at Strange Overtones


            

Lo-Fi Cherokee video #10!

Wow - the weekend went so fast, we missed Monday!  So we need to catch up!  Lo-Fi STL posted the 10th video for the 2014 installment of Lo-fi Cherokee, here it is - Kentucky Knife Fight playing "Father"


                      

Friday, June 20, 2014

ELIXIR OF LOVE TRIUMPHS AT OTSL



It may sound strange to compare Opera Theatre of St Louis’ production of The Elixir of Love to a great scoop of ice cream, but bear with me.

The company’s production of Donizetti’s comedic opera is sugary, sweet and goes down smooth. Its rich set design and creamy musical score are topped off by great performances from an ensemble that takes sugary material and adds some flavorful texture.

The Elixir of Love shines as a bold work of operatic entertainment. Stage director Jose Maria Condemi has stripped down the lavishness in order to emphasize the dramatic love story at the center of the plot. Moving the setting from Donizetti’s Basque country to the Grant Wood-esque serenity of bucolic small town America of 1914 is an audacious move that resonates with a modern American Midwest audience.

The story centers around a peasant ice cream vendor named Nemorino who falls head over heels for Adina, a strong-willed uptown girl. Knowing that guys like him don’t catch girls like her, Nemorino buys a love potion from devious and dubious Dr. Dulcamara on the assumption that it will help him win her heart.



As he waits for the potion to do its thing, Nemorino is dismayed to learn that Adina has capitulated her heart and agreed to marry a sergeant named Belcore. Helpless and frantic, Nemorino spirals into an emotional mess, not knowing that he has already won the affection of his dear Adina, who hopes to use her engagement to Belcore as motivation for Nemorino to get on the stick and win her over. Act Two details the several twists, turns, missteps and mishaps as Adina’s wedding day approaches, culminating in a passionate and tumultuous final scene loaded with deceit, emotion and passion.

The ensemble is led by tenor Rene Barbera as Nemorino, and Barbera’s mesmerizing performance is the bedrock of the entire show. His Nemorino is uncorrupted and captivating. Tim Mix plays the conniving Belcore, and in his hands we see a character who will sneak and slither to any depth to win the heart of Adina. Mix plays this role with great relish, and he clearly enjoys playing the heavy.  Patrick Carfizzi plays Dulcamara as a smarmy, strictly self-interested huckster; Carfizzi’s a joy to watch onstage as he manipulates poor Nemorino. Susan Biller debuts with OTSL as Adina, a woman’s whose charm and intellect turns every head in town. Strong yet vulnerable, Biller’s Adina can hold her own and is not afraid to scheme herself in order to get one she wants.

Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of The Elixir of Love is a fun romp and a timeless tale of unrequited love, anchored by a great cast. Scheming, dreaming, lust and love have never been this much fun!

All performances are presented at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University. For showtimes and more information visit the Opera Theatre's home page

By Rob Levy