I know this is pretty overdue, if I was a real professional music journalist I would have posted my festival coverage this past Monday in a timely fashion. But since I'm not, here it is, a week later.
After slogging through a horrendous amount of Chicago traffic (thanks, Dan Ryan), we arrived in Union Park on Friday just in time for Mac DeMarco's set on the green stage. The Canadian rocker is notorious for being goofy, and a couple of my friends had seen him at Russian Recording in Bloomington a few weeks before, so I was expecting an exciting set to start of my weekend. DeMarco played a handful of recognizable favorites from his most recent release "2," including "Ode To Viceroy," "The Stars Keep On Calling My Name," and "My Kind of Woman," which he dedicated to Friday headliner Bjork. The band closed with a medley including covers of BTO's "Taking Care of Business," a punk version of the Beatles' "Blackbird," and Metallica's "Enter Sandman." The medley and the set ended with "2" closer "Still Together," at which point DeMarco invited his girlfriend to the stage for a touching conclusion. As silly as the set was, though, the band sounded very good together. The drummer especially played really well and was a solid timekeeper. It was refreshing to see a band that was well-rehearsed and prepared, but didn't take themselves too seriously and had fun with their set. Rock and roll is a fun music, and this is one of the ways it can really succeed. Some people might say rock and roll has hit a brick wall recently, but I still say it's my favorite music because of how much fun it is. Mac DeMarco nailed it.
Another way rock and roll can succeed is by being really noisy. We took a break after DeMarco's set to get some food, the fatigue of spending an hour in bumper-to-bumper Chicago traffic still with us. Then we made our way back to the green stage to await Wire. We heard a bit of Woods, whose set closed with an overlong, boring IndieJam. I found what I heard of their set to be annoying, frankly. The singer couldn't sing his too-high, weak melodies. However, as Wire began their set, I knew we were in for a treat. Even though frontman Colin Newman is nearly 60 and appeared to be reading lyrics off of an iPad, he and the rest of the band still know how to rock. Wire were loud! Their set was probably beaten in decibel level by only one other set the entire weekend (I'll get to that later). I'll admit that I didn't know any of the songs at the time and I had to look them up, but it was still a great, enjoyable set. They chose a nice mix of older and newer songs, opening with "Marooned," from 1978's Chairs Missing, and closing with "Spent," from 2003's Send. They didn't pull any punches, and avoided sounding old and washed-up. The only complaint I have is that the drummer tended to rush, but he was close enough for punk. Wire presented one of the most electrifying sets of the entire festival.
Leading up to the festival, I was really excited to see Joanna Newsom. Her expansive 2010 album Have One On Me is a delight, and I looked forward to hearing some of my favorites from that album. Unfortunately, her set turned out to be a bit disappointing. We were too far back from the stage, and near people who wouldn't stop talking. They effectively drowned out Newsom, who appeared on stage without a band and only her harp and piano. She used the opportunity to debut new material, which would have been really cool if we could have heard it. And although she played a few album cuts from earlier albums, including "Bridges and Balloons" and "In Califoria," she negated some of her more well-known songs. It's unfortunate that she was next to last on the lineup on that night. It seemed that most of the people couldn't care less about a warbly harp player and were only there to see Bjork. But that is bound to happen at any festival, I suppose. I quickly forgot my disappointment, though, as the next set began.
Bjork was incredible. She appeared on stage with two musicians, a percussionist, and a guy who handled electronics and synths. She also had a group of 12-15 female singers, who walked out in flowing, electric-blue robes. And Bjork was wearing a metallic gold dress and what I can only describe as a dandelion headdress. The choir started singing a ghostly whisper which transitioned into Biophilia cut "Cosmogony" to open the set. As the massive bass of that song kicked in, Bjork's angelic voice sang the melody flawlessly. Behind her, three LED screens showed images of the solar system as she sang the lyrics about the universe, the heavens, and the earth. I knew it would be transcendental and unlike any live show I'd ever seen. As the ensemble transitioned into "Hunter," with captivating energy, I was totally drawn in. One of the most interesting aspects of Bjork's music is that her melodies are like tornadoes. Her songs often have an established beat or loop, and then her melody comes in, writhing in and out of time, doing whatever it wants. They wreak havoc throughout a song in the way a tornado might lay waste to a town. It sounds like she improvises the melodies on record, and they are surely very hard to duplicate live. Nevertheless, Bjork's voice was impeccable. I can't recall her missing a note. At age 47, she still deserves to be called one of the best vocalists on the planet.
She played more fan favorites, including "Joga" and "Hidden Place." One of the highlights of the concert was "Army of Me," which doesn't really live up to its potential on record. But the band treated it with massive, heavy energy onstage and turned it into a huge rocker. The percussive ending of "Crystalline" was Friday's most danceable moment. Last was "Mutual Core," a Biophilia track I was really looking forward to hearing. Unfortunately, her set was cut short due to the forthcoming monsoon. We missed out on "Hyperballad," and everyone was pretty angry. Even Bjork remarked "This wouldn't be much in Iceland, I'll tell you that!" But it turned out to be a sound decision by the festival runners, because 15 minutes later Chicago was assaulted by a massive downpour. I would have liked to have heard some of my favorites from Debut, the first Bjork album I ever heard which is still probably my favorite. I was also hoping for Post cut "Enjoy," and it would have been awesome to hear something from Medulla, like "Who Is It." But you can't ask for everything, and "Mutual Core" turned out to be a pretty satisfying conclusion. Even being cut short, Bjork's set was without a doubt one of the best I've ever seen by any artist, right up there with Bruce Springsteen last year. It was the best set of the festival, and I'm so very glad that I got to see it.
We left the festival and cured our temporary thunderstorm-induced disappointment by visiting Three Floyd's brewery in Munster on the way back to the place we were staying in Dyer. We enjoyed some quality pints and received excellent service, contrary to everything I'd heard about the place. Friday was a great first day to the festival, and we looked forward to the next two days.
Thanks for reading! My write-ups of Saturday and Sunday at the fest are forthcoming. I stole all the pictures I put on here from Pitchfork's site, you can see the rest of them here.