Last weekend was Pitchfork, the music festival of the music website where people play music. I’d gone once before, when I was more sensitive to sweaty crowds of people clouded in pot stink. I hated it and left early. But this time I was prepared! This time I loved it! I saw some of my favorite artists, danced with my friends, and accepted the fate of music festivals, which is that you WILL get smelly and your hair WILL get gross and people WILL be annoying and you just have to ROLL WITH IT because LOOK, THE BREEDERS ARE PLAYING, and if that isn’t enough for you, you will be happier at home.
These are some of the acts I saw, accompanied by shitty Instagrams. I wish I could also offer up witty observations of Solange and Waxahatchee, too, but I only caught tail ends or butthole beginnings of them! Mark my words, though, they were solid.
An ideal venue for a Joanna Newsom performance would be her own personal treehouse or the hollowed trunk of a toadstool, but her subtle emotional superpowers were sneaky enough to make even a massive outdoor festival feel intimate. I couldn’t see her face the whole time—HARPS, I tell ya—but that was OK? It made her more mysterious. Most of her songs are really long, which is good when she plays one you love but can take you out of it if she plays one you don’t. Actually, that’s not true—it doesn’t matter if you love it or hate it because either way she’s still totally captivating. Not even a drunk lady who poked me and said, “I should totally take a picture of her!” before dropping and breaking her phone could take me out of the Joanna magic. Nor could the skeptical gaze of the ~VIP~ section I was watching from made me feel shame for tearing up when she did my favorite of her songs, “In California.” I know she gets a lot of flack for seeming delicate and coy (thanks, sexism), but nobody goes onstage with a big-ass harp and plays eight-minute ballads if they don’t take themselves seriously. She totally owned it, all of it.
You know, sometimes being up close for a performance just isn’t worth it. I don’t mean legitimately up close, I mean off to the side, by a fence, technically within an artist’s forcefield but not really feeling like part of the action at all. My friends and I caught a glimpse of Björk’s lion helmet before deciding to go to the way back, by all the people who were just chilling out on blankets. There we had room to dance and could get a full view of the stage/lights/weird starfish-sex footage projected behind our ice queen and fully appreciate the general “Circle of Life” vibez she was giving. We also got to witness interpretive Björky moves delivered with zero self-consciousness by a middle-aged man who looked like Jeff Foxworthy (“More like Jeff UNFoxworthy, like not even worthy of a fox!” —my sister and me when we first discovered our mutual hatred for him.) Björk was OBVI amazing, but we were OK merely reveling in her presence instead of getting up close and personal—we danced like crazy, spooned on the grass, and noticed the moon and the church across from the stage and the clouds and the lightning behind it. That silly Björk was SO good that not even the weather could contain itself! Close to what might have been the end anyways, she announced that a storm was a’ brewin’ and the show would have to end. It was a bummer, but how could we all live with ourselves if we’d seen her sparkly face-orb fizzle out from some errant lightning bolt? “This wouldn’t happen in Iceland, I’ll tell ya that!” she chuckled. No, “chuckled” is too grotesque a word for her shining laughter. I’ll think of a better one eventually and put it on my headstone.
This was the highlight of the concert for me, for sure. My friends and I got close to the stage early on and waited for about 40 minutes, downing energy drinks, talking ourselves out of needing to pee, and in my case, as a shortypants, using duct tape to fix a pair of platform shoes packed specifically for this performance.
Where most bands would be like, “Grumble grumble, thanks for coming out to hear our two-decade-old album, grumble, what about the new stuff, grumble,” Kim and Kelley Deal graciously thanked us all for “celebrating” (Kelley’s choice of words) the Last Splash anniversary with them before launching into a set that sounded exactly as recorded, only better, because now we could see their energy, too. Everyone onstage just seemed to be ENJOYING themselves, emanating that perfect balance between wanting to give a good show and not taking themselves too seriously. The thing about their music, especially that album, is that every instrument has the same sensitivity for inflection and cadence as a singing voice. Every instrument speaks, as dopey and basic as that sounds. The Breeders’ cacophony just splits the difference for me between feeling and thought, subconscious and conscious—among their fuzziness is a controlled gentleness, and discovering it with every listen is like watching a nature show and learning about how precise mating calls and bird craps really are.
Once they did all 15 songs on the album (my heart fell apart during “Do You Love Me Now?” and “Drivin’ on 9”), Kim announced they would do a couple more. One of my best friends and I have always had a mutual thing for the song “Oh!” from their album Pod (which I sometimes think might be even better than Last Splash, but that’s for another time). When we first met a couple years ago, she told me to listen to it and keep my ears open for when Kim’s voice crack, and that it was the most pure, raw thing she’d ever heard. We both told each other we’d be friends for a long time; because I am bad at life, I recently let us both down, but it felt symbolic when we got the Breeders to play that song just for us. “‘OH’ FROM POD!” we shouted, and we were heard! “For the ladies,” Kim announced, motioning to our crew, and then, with a laugh: “I’ve never said that before.”
Once they were done we ran backstage, clomping along like the zealous teenagers we are among confused critics (I literally imagine us having, like, HUGE feet and LONG legs and pushing through the crowd, looking like Dr. Seuss characters). We finally spotted Kim and Josephine and ran to them screaming, “We were the ones who asked you to play ‘Oh!’!!!!” They were so nice about it. Kim yelled “Solange alert!” and directed our attention to the singer zipping past on a golf cart. (The most humanizing thing a person you love can do is freak out about a person they love.) She and Josephine let us take a picture; Kim said the towel on her head made her feel like a nun, so she held us both by our shoulders and said, “Bless you,” over and over. Then she apologized for freaking us out. We weren’t freaked out at all, but we didn’t want to impose any more, so we thanked them and ran off, truly #blessed. Oh FUCK ME for making that into some kind of ironic internet joke. WE WERE BLESSED, REALLY REALLY REALLY.
P.S. ROOKIE TRIVIA! Last Splash soundtracked all the work I did the summer we started Rookie, and Pod soundtracked all the work I did the summer we made the first Yearbook. The Breeders are ingrained in our history!
This tantrum of a show was pure joy. The frizzy-blond one told us all to look at the Space Jam website because it hasn’t been updated since the ’90s, then apologized because it was a weird thing to tell people about. I wanted to shout out, “NO, I CARE, I LOVE WEIRD, ANCIENT WEBSITES!!!!” The brunette-y, toddler-ish one thanked Pitchfork and ESPN and Batman. Here he is, Sam France, goofing around, spreading good vibes.
I’ve gone out of my way in my personal history with Yo La Tengo to not know what they look like. They have the sweetest voices and I’ve wanted to keep them as just a floaty, faceless presence in my headphones, whispering words of comfort and release. It was worth devirginizing my eyes for them, though, because they, like the Breeders, seemed purely interested in giving us a good show. I like to imagine members of both bands going out for white wine after and being like, “Didn’t we have fun today? We had fun.” YLT was accompanied by a sun shower, and also the shower of my tears. During “The Point of It,” I just hoped that I could grow up and sustain the kind of earnest optimism that this trio delivers. There’s nothing corny or annoying about it—I just felt moved during their set by whatever it is that compels them to write songs like “Season of the Shark.” Let me be enlightened like you, Yo La Tengo.
Taylor Swift Friendship Action Network (TS FAN)
This is not a musical act, but I was psyched to run into Joe (one of Rookie’s token boys) and Jon (who is smart and fancy). We had a long Taylor Swift email thread going when Red came out, and Jon coined this name for us. Here is our club picture, decorated (sorry, ART DIRECTED) by me.
You know how I said I had to leave early the last time I went to Pitchfork because I was overcome by hatred for everyone and everything around me? This time I planted myself right in the middle of what had the potential to be an equally claustrophobic, drug-stinky, and violent affair, but was instead one of the BEST EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE.
First my friends and I were kind-of-close-but-not-close-enough-to-see the stage, and I suggested we go to the back like we did for Björk. Then our goddess came out, and we were just pulled toward her through some magnetic force (her shiny getup?) and I totally went with it. The jumpiness of the crowd shook me of my aversion to fist-pumping and I gave myself over to the power of her voice. By the end of her set we were pretty close to the front of the stage but spread out from one another, so I sang along to “Paper Planes” with a gaggle of girls I didn’t know and asked two strangers to hoist me up when “Bad Girls” started. (I had to pee the whole time, but I figured the only thing that could be more fun than crowd-surfing at M.I.A. was crowd-surfing at M.I.A. while relieving one’s bladder.) The coolest part of being up there (besides the literally COOLest part, that is to say, the layer of the music festival atmosphere that is not shrouded in body odor) was looking out and seeing no end to the crowd. For someone like me who is all WE’RE BORN ALONE AND WE DIE ALONE, M.I.A. made me feel weirdly connected to even the bro-iest of bros. I was shocked at how safe and secure it felt to be passed around. When I came down, an older brother-type who’d gently inserted himself into our conversation earlier told me he was proud of me and gave me a hug. There is something to be said for thousands of people, mostly on the brink of adulthood, singing along to radical songs about the abuse of power, even if some see it as just dance music.
I was wearing denim shortalls and they were completely sweat-soaked. When I got home my sister said she could smell me from the next room, and I tormented her by inching in closer.
It was a really great night. ♦