Intonation Music Festival, Chicago Union Park
July 16 and 17
Ho ho ho conflict of interest.
But let’s see. After this weekend’s Intonation Music Festival in Chicago, as curated by Pitchforkmedia–the Odysseus to your Charybdis, the Nine Black Alps to his Detachment Kit–with no less than five hundred bands playing all at once for 48 hours straight, I have prepared a completely non-judgemental post in two a-critical parts. The first has to do, seriously folks, about two genius frontpeople screwing with live rock&roll stereotypes and the vocabulary of rock “moments”. The second part is a series of one-line summaries for all the acts at Intonation, so you can pretend you were there just like I pretend I was in my mom’s belly at the thirtieth anniversary of Woodstock.
Since I forgot to hand back the Voice camera to the photo department after the Dino Jr. show, I ended up taking a lot of photos at Intonation. Partly because I would have felt like a complete ass if I was standing a foot from the stage and not doing anything constructive (or at least pulling pranks), partly because photography is, in a way, its own sort of hilarious prank.
Indie rock, at least today’s change-your-life brand, is a bit behind the curve on swagger. Jumping in the air with your guitar, yelling at the sound man, putting on a fan’s sunglasses, punching fans in the puncher, autographing a person’s private parts with your own blood–these are things that rock stars have been doing since the Big Bopper crashed his own plane in 1961 just to prove how “big” he was (he was not very big).
Now I’m not gonna name names or fix weaves or nothing, but here’s what happened. Whenever any indie rocker started executing one of these pre-programmatic “really getting into it” rock&roll moments, all the photographers, understandably, grabbed their junk and fired off a few frames. Like, for the most boring shit we’ve seen done by every rocker ever–by the kid with a guitar and a Green Day cover do at his grade school talent show. And photos of these rock&roll cliches are running in dailies and glossies and web mags all around the world.
Great photos for sure, but to what extent have frontpeople run out of tricks? Are rockers stuck in a vocab of live cliches? Why do they do tricks to begin with? Do we call him Trick Grandaddy? With the exception of the first three questions, these are all important questions.
I need not sing of Tim Harrington, the face of Brooklyn punk rock band Les Savy Fav, but since he fits the bill, and since the band reunited to play Intonation, and since this was by far his most quintessential performance, allow me your inches.
Harrington’s answer to the what-to-do of live rock&roll cliches is simple: Do them all high fire, and be open that you’re doing them all high fire. He’s a master stripper (though tonight’s show was spent mostly in self-stained short-shorts and a wicker hat), a prop comic (bubble machines, pool floats, slip n slides, sponges and aluminum foil), a violent jump-in-the crowd sort (he jumped in the crowd), a fuck-authority sort (security men guarding the VIP section from VIPs [long story] found Harrington standing right by them in jabber-mock), the performance shapeshifter (Harrington switched from nervous rock star, disorganized rock star, braggart and has-been on the fly, his best moment when standing on top of the subwoofers with no clothes, pretending to shiver), shit-thrower, and crowd controller (audiences can do what they want, they have the control, he said, but then he managed to get a crowd of 15,000 people to sit on the ground with him and huff sexual).
Right, so “spirited performer” he is. Kill me, but Harrington’s approach strikes me as very Baroque, a multiplicity of identity and reflexivity (thanks, Burgard), a debut rap record with 46 tracks whose pace and enormity compensates for the cliche of one isolated 4th wall-breaking gaffe. And it’s not that Harrington has these overblown gestures a la Darkness, where sense of humor is impenetrable and the question of sincerity often is more fun than the band itself (sorry, friends). The commentary’s running and on the sleeve–Harrington openly invites our laughter without any Weird Al self-derailment, the charm but utter flaw of straight musical parody.
The other frontperson who killed me was Deerhoof’s Satomi, for precisely the opposite reasons. I’ve realized the band doesn’t exist in a vacuum, their musical influences sonic, youth, and traceable, but Satomi might be inventing her own on-stage language for rock performance. Her gestures are few and small and childlike (only the rain), not so much confronting rockpose as completely ignorant of it. We wait on her next hand quack or near-motionless 180 degree spin like we do a child’s first word or a wise man’s last or a bunch of cartoon dogs to get their shit together, smoke some cigars and play some poker. One of these things will happen soon.
In honor of my friend Ben Dougan who did similar with a Fox Sports column about college basketball a few months back (apparently the link’s broken, but check this out), here is a list of all the bands that played Intonation, with two words to describe their set.
Head of Femur: didn’t see
Pelican: slow friendship
AC Newman: power poop
Magnolia Electric Co.: please stop
Four Tet: no thanks
Broken Social Scene: weed kills
The Go! Team: no! team
Prefuse 73: no. (no.)
Death From Above 1979: two dudes
Tortoise: Oh Chicago…
Rob Lowe (DJ): not him
Laurent from Pelican: him, unfortunately
Will Oldham / Jean Grae: irony now
Thunderbirds Are Now!: actually good
Dungen: anger management
Xiu Xiu: they’re “serious”
Out Hud: Jon Caramanica?
The Hold Steady: friendly friends
Andrew Bird: handsome man
Deerhoof: mind-blowing, typically
The Wrens: dad rock
Les Savy Fav: August 26
The Decemberists: sorta self-impressed
Diplo: loves rap