Merrill Garbus is a beast. Recording under the name tUnE-yArDs, she released her second album, w h o k i l l, to roaring acclaim in mid-April and has been touring since. Like Dirty Projectors, tUnE-yArDs explores the possibilities of interlocking and ecstatic vocals through the polyrhythmic prism of East African music. Live, Garbus’ voice and talent shines even brighter. Deftly building layered vocal loops, Garbus accompanies herself, all the while playing percussion. Impressive isn’t the right word; there may not be a right word. You only have to see it.
Strange and numerous dudes with towels, lousy breath control, flubbed lyrics—Curren$y avoided all of the typical live hip-hop disappointments during his late-afternoon, post-Garbus set. (It was a festival highlight to turn away from her set to find a sea of people in Jets’ green descending on the Blue Stage.) Aside from being late, Spitta put on one of the best displays of live rap at Pitchfork.
Practically alone up there, he couldn’t have appeared happier. Great puffs of smoke from the crowd filled the line of sight from the back row as the New Orleans emcee prowled the stage in a Jordan jersey, performing greats like “Audio Dope” and “Michael Knight.” He bantered with the audience and frequently performed a capella. Few are working harder right now.
The Blue Stage showcased most of the festival’s rap and electronic acts. Odd Future were the only rap group to earn a spot on the larger, better positioned Red Stage, reflecting the fact that, though Pitchfork has happily embraced hip-hop, it still takes a backseat to more stereotypical indie rock fare. But maybe next year Das Racist can step into a larger spotlight. They deserve it. And with a proper (read: you must pay cash for) release slated to drop in September, they’re ready to find more ears, or at least more listeners that are willing to hear them as something other than the guys that recorded “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” In case you haven’t been paying attention, these guys are smart.
Performing live, DR’s hype man Dapwell did his best to capture the loose energy of Flava Flav while the lead emcees—Heems and Kool A.D.—worked through the hilarious and—not but—intelligent lyrics. The photo of Heems swaying his arms airplane style with a Heineken gripped in one hand is a nice visual metaphor for the set, if your imagination needs prodding. They rapped to each of us, and now none of us can say that DR never did anything for us. Because everyone left entertained and ready for Relax. Swate.
With the vocals of country siren Neko Case bleeding through, the problem of transporting James Blake’s show to an outdoor stage couldn’t have been more obvious. Of course, I had the additional disadvantage of having seen James Blake earlier in the week, at New York’s Webster Hall, giving me a fresh experience to compare it to.
The pockets of silence that are so crucial to his sound were impossible at Pitchfork. Still, the show was not without brilliant moments. The live version of “CMYK” destroyed, and offered a counterpoint to the detractors who call Blake sleepy and weak. Incorporating samples from both Kelis and Aaliyah, “CMYK” is a track for hip-hop heads. The audience danced with hands and shoulders to confirm this. The hands in the air, snapping at the wrists, might’ve been missing from Webster Hall, but they were in abundance on the Blue Stage Friday evening.