Special Report: Ghettoblaster at Pitchfork '08

Words: David C. Obenour
Daniel R. Obenour
While Dan flew, I drove to Pitchfork – making his 1,150 mile trip shorter then my 300 mile one, where’s the fairness in that?  Either way, Pitchfork really did it this year and fully justified the nearly 3000-combined mile journey.  Great bands, great city, great beer, great food and great art.  The only thing that wasn’t so great was hot, humid and at times rainy weather, but we can hardly blame them for that (that is, unless we were being ridiculously over critical but who would do a thing like that?).
Opening up the weekend’s was one of the acts I was most excited to see, Mission of Burma performing Vs. in its entirety.  Now I won’t front the fact that I am a late-comer to the scene and spent most of my early years converting dollars to pounds as I bought Oasis and Stone Roses singles off Ebay.  But when Matador dropped last year’s reissues I knew enough to know that I should care.
Fast-forward me becoming completely enamored with the group that seemingly everyone else had already been in the know on, Mission of Burma was what I had really made the trip for and they did not disappoint.  The songs were loud and raw, played with an intensity I found really surprising coming from a 26-year old album.  I couldn’t help thinking though, that it would have been really kick ass to see them in some dive bar back when it originally came out – but then again, I’m not sure how many dive bars would readily invite a 5-year old in their midst.
Next up was Sebadoh doing Bubble & Scrap. Now this is another band I definitely respect, but once again am coming in late on the game.  I guess it surprised a lot of folks that this album had been selected from the band’s pretty stellar and varied discography, although I’m sure the same could be said no matter which album was picked.  No one seemed more surprised that they picked any of their albums at all though then the band themselves – which is part of what makes them so great in the first place.
Rounding out the day was Public Enemy doing the classic, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  The lights go up, the beats start, here come the Bomb Squad… 5, 10, 15 minutes later, still no Public Enemy.  Apparently they were trying to kill time while Flava Flav got back from whatever the hell he was doing (although, I’m sure we could find out if we watched whatever new reality TV show he’s pimping now).  It got old quick though and the self glorification didn’t stand well against Sebadoh’s self-effacing.  I made my way over to the record tent.  Later on that night around a fire (why the fuck they lit a fire on an 80+ degree night is beyond me) I heard Public Enemy hadn’t even performed their entire album.  Whatever, I’m just psyched I got 1000 Hurts on vinyl.
After taking some time to get in some sites and fully wear a hole in my 2-year old Sambas (a mistake which lead to a lack of sole support that would haunt me for the remainder of the fest), my brother and I headed on down in time to catch Caribou.  For every bit as good as those guys are on records, the live show was even better.  Switching instruments on almost every song, the guys at time even rocked the double drummers – don’t worry, in a good way.  It’s hard to deny how talented this band is and it’s great that they don’t let that fact getting in the way of them still making really accessible and catchy music.
The gameplan next was to stay up front at the Connector stage while Fleet Foxes played so we’d have a good spot for Dizzee Rascal.  I don’t think we missed much.  I mean, if you like mopey old 70’s folk, then Fleet Foxes are caring your banner bravely into the 21st Century (although I’m not exactly sure why).  Dizzee Rascal on the other hand, brought a little (ie, a lot) more energy to the crowd (a fact that didn’t escape him as he referenced the previous band).

Heading over the Balance stage for the first time on the complete opposite end of the park, I caught the end of The Ruby Suns.  There’s a good chance these guys could be entertaining on disc, but you could never tell it from their live set.  When you have to synthesize most of your instruments, having two people play auxiliary percussion isn’t the most engaging of choices.

After hearing that “Elf Power was the most boring band” at a previous Pitchfork, I was a little nervous about this set.  I’m a big E-6’er and really didn’t want to believe that Elf Power would be boring.  And they weren’t, my friend must have been out of it.  Well, it wasn’t like they were the most thrilling band to watch, but I wasn’t expecting them to be.  They doled out their blissfully lazy, shimmering anthems and I had a damn good time.

The distance traveled by my brother and I became markedly insignificant in comparison to that of the half Kenyan based Extra Golden.  You could tell their excitement to be playing at a major US festival too.  While their mix of rock and benga would have been more then enough on its own, it really was the band’s energy and enthusiasm that sold the show.

Crossing the park again, I got to the Connector stage where I watched out the remainder of the Hold Steady’s set from across the field.  Those guys just keep getting better and better.  Although I’ve already seen them like 5 times, I did get a twinge of regret from not being able to have seen them again this year.

Although, who came from out of left field to steal the show other then Mr. Pulp (Jarvis Cocker) himself.  As mentioned before, I was something of a Britpop fan from way back and am well familiar with his previous band.  But given the sorry state of most musicians who are still making music from that scene, I wasn’t expecting much of anything (ie, Primal Scream, The Charlatans, Ocean Colour Scene – and no, I’m not going to mention Oasis, I still like them).  Jarvis blew me away though, it was really nice to see a frontman who was very much interested in the business of showmanship and very good at it.

By the time Animal Collective came on my feet were throbbing.  I hadn’t had much padding before walking all around the shorefront and had even less from tromping around Union Park for the rest of the day.  My brother and I crashed near a darkened stage’s sound tent and watched Animal Collective from the distance.  They played a Panda Bear song, which was tight, but the rest of the time I just felt like I was at a jamband concert and that shit just don’t fly.


Slipping in my brother’s sole pads (thanks Dan!) we were off for the final part of The Pitchfork Music trifecta.  After walking around the artists table and wishing that I had more walls in my apartment, my brother and I headed over to the Balance stage which unfortunately was running behind schedule.  Even more unfortunately this meant we caught some of HEALTH’s set.  At least most other hardcore, noisecore or whatever-else-core bands have the decency of only playing for 15-minutes because it’s humanly impossible to enjoy that shit for any longer.  Seeking refuge, we headed over to catch The Apples in Stereo, but the sour to sweet switch left a bitter taste in my mouth.

But the next two bands, King Khan & the Shrines and Les Savy Fav, just threw everything out the window.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but then again I’m not exactly sure what either of those bands’ shows mean either – other than the fact they seem to have a hella lot of fun doing it.  King Khan kinda sounds like a more psychotic James Brown and the Jaybees, while Les Savy Fav is kinda like if comedian, Zach Galifianakis started a punk band.  Two hours of fucking fun is what it was.
Following this up was a band my brother said we should check out and since there was nothing I wanted to see and they were on the same stage that Spiritualized would be on two hours later I figured “what the hell?”  The Dodos proved to be the weekend’s surprise, cranking out some really catchy tunes ala The Shins and banging on trashcans without every bringing Stomp to mind.  It was even more surprising after realizing they are on French Kiss, making the label a little more versatile then previously thought.

Again, I decided to set up camp infront of the dead stage as I waited out M. Ward for Spiritualized to start.  He sounded good from across the field, but not all that unlike how he sounds on record so I didn’t feel that let down for having missed him.

Without doubt, the loudest band of the weekend, Spiritualized’s set proved to be something of a mixed bag.  Maybe it’s just because I’m not as familiar with the newer songs, but they felt a little more plodding – wandering around Pierce’s drugged out depression without ever reaching his usual crescendos.  The old songs sounded good, but once again I think Spaceman’s completely non-existent stage presence, sans unnecessary grand finale amp smashing, kind of proved that they’re a band that work better on headphones on your couch.

Reaching the end of my endurance rope, Dinosaur Jr. and Spoon were watched from a distance on the comfort a few patches of dry mud in the middle.  Although I wasn’t initially excited that Spoon would be headlining – being it as the umpteenth-thousandth time I’ve seen them – I was really impressed with how varied their show had gotten.  Experimenting with noise, feedback and samples the set seemed much more lively then prior ones and I’m excited to see what that means come the next record.