How to Dress Well
Let’s pretend all that racist PBR&B talk never happened and just be excited about the state of contemporary r&b. Simultaneously looking forward and back, from overlooked ‘90s gems to today’s bright future, Tom Krell’s How to Dress Well project is beautiful on wax but still finding its legs live. Krell is nervous. From where I stood, I watched his hands shaking. The timidity and thinness of his vocals mesh perfectly with the fuzzy, topping and bottoming out sounds on his debut LP, but live it feels amateurish. This is headphone music. Hopefully he’ll make the transition to moving live performer soon. The string arrangements certainly helped. What to add next? (No brass or reeds, please.)
The moment we’d all been prepared to wait for. By the time Odd Future took the stage Sunday afternoon, it was clear that all the talk about organizations protesting the performance had amounted to little more than a booth speaking out against sexual violence and light-blue paper fans that read “COOL IT! DON'T BE A FAN OF VIOLENCE.” The kids of OF chipped in to the pre-festival hype by playing the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love” before they spewed vitriol into their mics (they do it so well). It’s a shame that Tyler was in a cast for Sunday’s performance—it hurt the energy level, and it must have really hurt whoever’s face it smashed into when Tyler dove into the fans to crowd surf.
After the Odd Future show, I made my way to the Blue Stage for Shabazz Palaces. Lined up with a group of photographers, I found myself mired in a stupid conversation. A guy approached me, saying, “Pitchfork—on one stage you get a group that’s setting black culture back twenty years, and on the other you have a really, really progressive group.” Don’t kid yourself, asshole. Nothing is that simple.
Okay, I lied. One thing is that simple, and that’s that Shabazz Palaces have put out one of the best albums of 2011. Black Up is a roiling masterpiece of paranoid beats and memorable lines that pushes the envelope on hip-hop’s recent mainstream flirtations with electro. Shabazz Palaces, the new project from Ishmael Butler of Digable Planets, probably won’t get the attention it deserves, and that’s a damn shame. Then again, they’re running up ahead while we’re only catching up.
Toro Y Moi
Underneath the Pine, the latest album from Toro Y Moi came in at #5 on our list of the 25 Best Albums of 2011 (So Far) and live Chaz Bundick and company demonstrated that they excel off wax too. Touring has turned this live band into a tight company. Bundick’s vocals still sound weak in places, but the rhythms are on point, and for funk music, that’s most important.
TV on the Radio
There is no live act right now better than TV on the Radio. Their rejiggered renditions take a few seconds for even the most well-versed listener to recognize, infused as they are with new, rollicking energy. A track like “The Wrong Way” goes from a chug-chugging slow-burner to a sprinting funk monster live.
Their set at Pitchfork, the festival’s last, didn’t lean too heavily on any one of their albums. It was the sort of set you’d expect from a band with a large catalog of great songs. Any lingering pseudo-folk aftertaste left over from the previous night’s Fleet Foxes performance was ground out by the opening number “Halfway Home,” a fuzzy rocker that nods to the Ramones.
Near the set’s end they brought Shabazz Palaces, among others, on stage for “A Method.” Past, present, and future, all on stage at the same time. The set could’ve been twice as long and everyone would’ve been more than happy to continute sweating it out.
At Festival’s End
Pitchfork’s curatorial approach to festival scheduling is correct. As All Tomorrow’s Parties consistently proves, taste is important, and Pitchfork’s increasingly catholic one makes for an exciting three days of music.
A number of Chicago natives complained that Lollapalooza had grown too big, that it no longer did right by the city. Pitchfork seems just right by comparison.