The Very Best
The Very Best

Intro | Friday | Saturday


1 PM Michael Columbia Like many of the mostly local bands in the incestuous circle surrounding the Obey Your Brain label, Chicago trio Michael Columbia plays an avant-garde brand of jazz-inflected funk that might come off as pretentious if it weren’t buoyed by such a sense of fun. On one hand you’ve got complex time signatures and tricky arpeggios, but on the other there are burbling synths and the particular kind of spacy goofiness that Can was also really good at. a Balance Stage —MR

1 PM The Mae Shi As the always-the-bridesmaid, never-the-bride band of the posi-wave scene orbiting LA all-ages venue the Smell, the Mae Shi don’t have the hipster thunder of No Age or Mika Miko, but back home they’re just as vital to that scene as their better-known cohorts. The renegade electro party rock on their latest record, 2008’s HLLLYH (Moshi Moshi/Team Shi), is the song of wild young dudes shrieking and squawking, synthing and snarling—and it sounds like a fabulously bratty fun time. a Aluminum Stage —JH

1:45 PM Dianogah Pitchfork’s Chicago roots are showing. This local two-basses-and-drums trio hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire with its fusion of postrock and posthardcore—though the band has sustained a cultish following for nearly 15 years, thanks in part to its mastery of dynamics and sometimes lovely melodies, that following is just about exclusively Chicagoan. a Balance Stage —MR

1:45 PM Frightened Rabbit This Scottish band is like Coldplay for people with self-respect. Their latest, last year’s moody, twinkly The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat), has plenty of impassioned songs about feelings and sexual relationships, and while its highs are pretty triumphant, the lows aren’t too terribly low—rather they’re dramatic and tense. Frightened Rabbit also headlines the Bottom tonight. a Connector Stage —JH

2:30 PM Blitzen Trapper On last year’s Furr (Sub Pop), this superb Oregon group tones down the wiggy, sugar-rush energy that makes the roots rock on its third album, 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation—a mix of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and the Band—so fun and irresistible. But Furr is hardly a disappointment: steady touring has sharpened the band’s chops and helped focus their songwriting and arranging, and what they’ve lost in playfulness they’ve more than gained in power. A new EP, Black River Killer, is due in August, so it seems fair to expect some new songs at this show—it’ll be exciting to see what these guys do next with their surplus of ideas and talent. Blitzen Trapper also headlines the Empty Bottle tonight. a Aluminum Stage —PM

2:40 PM Killer Whales Name a genre and this Chicago outfit will probably be able to work it into their giddy mishmash. A typical Killer Whales set touches on blunted reggae, dizzy disco, and a tweaky, twitchy, punked-up bastardization of Afropop—if you’re not confused by their aesthetic or annoyed by their goofy hippie-hipster vibe, then you’re probably in for some happy dancing time. a Balance Stage —MR

3:20 PM Pharoahe Monch Though his affinity for brainy, politically loaded rhymes and pre-ringtone-era beats has helped earn Pharoahe Monch a reputation as a conscious rapper, this Queens-born MC has teamed up with plenty of artists who don’t have a speck of backpacker DNA, including Method Man, Busta Rhymes, and Mobb Deep. And he’s no soft-spoken coffeehouse type—with his forceful delivery, he can hold his own even against quintessential NYC street thugs like M.O.P. a Connector Stage —MR

3:35 PM Women Basted in springy reverb, swaddled in the special sound you can only get from analog tape, and jumping discontinuously from style to style with the perfect instincts to make every leap feel right—just like your favorite Swell Maps side—this Calgary outfit’s self-titled debut album for Jagjaguwar reminds me of what was great about first-generation postpunk bands, at least before the bills came due and they had to appease their major-label paymasters. But cool production techniques mean nothing onstage, so it’s a good thing Women write tunes as catchy as the Association at the top of their game. a Balance Stage —BM

4:15 PM Thermals Over the years the Thermals have picked up some artsy trappings—in 2006 they put out a full-on sci-fi concept album, The Body, the Blood, the Machine—but at heart they’ve always just been kids with a knack for making pop punk sound fresh and exciting. On their recent Now We Can See (Kill Rock Stars) they’ve rounded off a sharp edge or two, but they’ve still got more than enough scrap left in ’em to do justice to their raw early work. a Aluminum Stage —MR

Stefano Giovaninni
Stefano GiovaninniCredit: DJ/Rupture

4:30 PM DJ/Rupture It’s been eight years since his immortal Gold Teeth Thief mix, which made room for Missy Elliott and Luciano Berio on the same dance floor, and DJ/Rupture has only gotten better. His panglobal sound clashes—like laying an erhu solo atop Shackleton’s frantic dubstep assault “Naked” on last year’s Uproot (Agriculture)—are more inclusive, daring, and accomplished than ever, flowing into one another with an effortless logic and never feeling a bit showy or glib. But as good as he is at making things fit together, Rupture is truly excellent at blowing shit up—like when he slings towering beats and electronic squiggles at the bloody-knuckled riffs of Ex guitarist Andy Moor on their CD Patches (Unsuitable). a Balance Stage —BM

5:15 PM Walkmen Lightning struck the Walkmen‘s first two records and sent them shooting into the indie-rock firmament, but that perfect combination of right sound and right time may never come again for the band. They don’t seem particularly concerned about it, though, and they don’t need to be. Since then they’ve proved they have more interesting things to do with their time than gamble on another big break. Almost perversely eager to mess with their own formula, they’ve tackled everything from literate cowboy mariachi—a subgenre they may have invented—to the entirety of Harry Nilsson’s notoriously strange album Pussy Cats with nary a stumble along the way. Though best caught in a dark club, the Walkmen are an amazingly consistent live band and can easily surmount the difficulties of a daylight festival set. a Connector Stage —MR

5:30 PM Japandroids Vancouver’s Japandroids answer a question I just know has been nagging at you: What if early-80s Bob Mould had sold 30 percent of his soul for the inspiration to pre-invent mathy late-90s posthardcore, then dragged it back through the garage? This stuff’s a lot of fun for me—70 percent of Bob Mould is still a lot of soul—but I’ll be honest, my cat hides behind the oven. a Balance Stage —AS

6:15 PM M83 M83‘s 2006 album Before the Dawn Heals Us has always reminded me of David Lynch’s Lost Highway: lush and abstract, it’s unsettling in a way that’s hard to put your finger on yet still deeply pleasurable. But for last year’s Saturdays = Youth (Mute) the group’s mastermind, Anthony Gonzalez, applied his talent for fascinating sonic textures not to cinematic nu-classical compositions but to actual pop songs—and it turns out he’s good at both. The album is a tribute not only to the music that teenage goths have been swooning over forever—lots of delay, lots of synths, a breathy chanteuse singing alongside Gonzalez—but also to teenage gothdom itself, most noticeably in its immensly catchy centerpiece, “Graveyard Girl.” a Aluminum Stage —MR

6:30 PM Vivian Girls Of the many Brooklyn bands at the festival, the Vivian Girls are perhaps the most magical, and provide ample reassurance that the world of modern music isn’t totally full of fadtastic bullshit. Carrying forward the classic dreamy sha-la-la fuzz pop of Tiger Trap and Look Blue Go Purple, the all-female trio’s albums are sweet and plump with harmonies, with a naivete that doesn’t offend. a Balance Stage —JH

7:25 PM Grizzly Bear Veckatimest (Warp), the third and best album by Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear, is art-rock of the highest caliber, a bizarre amalgam of heavenly pop harmonies (think Beach Boys or vintage Phil Spector productions) and constantly shifting instrumental textures and patterns. Hotshot composer Nico Muhly created choral and string arrangements on a few tunes, but he mostly expanded on ideas already embedded in the music: reverbed-out guitar parts, vocal leads, and shimmering backup harmonies all move in different directions and modulate at different rates, so that the songs seem to hover and billow rather than drive and rock. Though this gives many of the tracks a similar overall feel, the record is also packed with satisfying details, so that listeners are spoiled for choice—they can give themselves over to the captivating melodies or work to parse the music’s more outre elements. a Connector Stage —PM

7:30 PM Mew Pitchfork picks tend to be used to small stages and sometimes have a hard time making the transition to an enormous festival, but this Danish indie-prog act has a sound big enough to pull it off. Though they seem to have a sense of humor about being called pretentious (and they’d better—their next album, due in late August, has an entire poem for a title, usually shortened to No More Stories . . . ), their songs still sound overcomplicated and self-indulgent. a Balance Stage —MR

8:30 PM The Very Best When Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya was working in a secondhand furniture store in London and sold a bike to half of Radioclit, the dance duo already had the beginnings of a reputation for combining trendy European club sounds (say, rave-reviving bloghouse) with rhythms from the indigenous club scenes of Africa and South America. Mwamwaya seems to have added something essential to their music, and their collaborative material as the Very Best is on a whole different level than even the best Radioclit tracks. Last year’s free Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit Are the Very Best mix tape has enough steel-pan drums and sub-Saharan beats to satisfy your average world-music fan, but the best parts play those flavors against Western elements: booming drum machines, house-worthy synth lines, Michael Jackson samples, even a sly reworking of Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Their upcoming Warm Heart of Africa (Green Owl) is lusher and prettier, but retains the mix tape’s kitchen-sink approach and sense of humor—”Mama” is built on samples from Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” a Balance Stage —MR

8:40 PM Flaming Lips At least for most of the past decade, the Flaming Lips seem to have chosen showbiz overkill over musical substance. On the two full-length albums they’ve released since their 1999 masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin, they’ve calcified into predictability, and for years they’ve been playing essentially the same live set—which might be why they initially balked at participating in Pitchfork’s all-request Write the Night series. With any luck people have been voting for some of the great songs the Lips shelved ages ago, not quasi-anthemic fluff like “Do You Realize??” a Aluminum Stage —PM

Intro | Friday | Saturday