The Spanish lad in front of me suggests that maybe it is the emotion. Could be, or perhaps it is the booze, drugs, or the wet, cold, and nasty weather. Fact is, two rather large blokes faint right in front of us in a timespan of about five minutes. We are at the rather brilliant gig of the long dormant Slowdive however, so who knows whether or not the Spaniard was right (though I’m not sure people actually faint because of music aside from the church choir).
This all happens hours after John Grant, who plays on one of the main stages that day, has managed to summon rain, rain, and then some more of that, his sunglasses an apparent disguise that masks his true intentions. Supported by about five other guys Grant works his way through a set that combines songs from his debut album with that of his more recent Pale Green Ghosts. So on one hand you’ve got songs like ‘GMF’, ‘It Doesn’t Matter To Him’, and others where he really needs the big band, and on the other hand his older work seems to require less assistance. That is, up until the finale of ‘Queen of Denmark’, where they go all out with sudden big bangs to support his outcry of why the heck this guy doesn’t take it out on somebody else.
Queue run towards home, a shower, change of clothes, after which I find myself wrapping my shoes in toilet paper to save whatever is to be saved of these suede covered sneakers (well that was dumb, wasn’t it? In my defense, when I checked that afternoon, that shower wasn’t predicted. I still believe, in that case, the rain doesn’t really count).
And then back in time for Slowdive.
Slowdive is a shoegaze band that made three albums in the 90s, and since haven’t really been heard from. Our loss, apparently, because they are definitely multiple shades of brilliance. The soundscapes they create are magnificent, and both the male and female vocals are deliciously dreamy and such a perfect accompaniment to the sounds they create. They actually have to cut a song because they have run over, for which they excuse themselves and shyly say that they “Haven’t done this for a while”. All is forgiven by the time ‘Golden Hair’ rolls around to end what must be one of the surefire highlights of the festival.
The most amazing moments are the ones where they build up that whole wall of guitar, and then through that dark haze project this shimmer of light courtesy of the second guitar player on stage (not to mention that sometimes they have three guitars out there, not even counting the bass). Those moments are amazing. To me, it is the ultimate proof of how expertly they have crafted their songs. So yeah, maybe those two guys did faint because of all this, though still, I seriously doubt it.
On the same stage it's The National’s turn to shine about two hours later. These guys have become massive in recent years, Boxer pole vaulted them from (relative) obscurity to critically acclaimed niche rockers, with the two albums since seeing them skyrocket to stardom. As such, there's lots of folk in attendance, and though people like to label them as gloomy bastards, here, today, they are bona fide rockstars. The pandemonium that takes place during the last string of songs, as Matt Berninger starts to run around everywhere to absolutely nowhere, is something today’s A-list rock/punk bands would certainly sign up for.
Going to The National is kind of like opening a booster pack of a card collecting game. You’ve got your commons (singles ranging from Boxer up to the new Trouble Will Find Me), but you’ve also got some uncommons and rares in there that do not always appear in the set. Given their rise in popularity in recent years they give the audience a healthy dose of work from their latest LP, though for me there is nothing quite like ‘Squalor Victoria’ or other “older” material. They really vamped that one up for the live shows, with a huge finale which starts after Berninger pathetically (in a good, theater way) delivers lines like “Out of my league, I’ve got birds in my sleeves, and I wanna rush in with the fools”. Those vignettes, those captured moments of the tragic everyman hero, those are the ones that hit home.
One of my favorite tracks is the “uncommon” ‘About Today’, a song from their Wasp Nest EP that they play live on occasion, though never when I’m around. My hopes of hearing that one live have faded and faded as, with more and more songs to their back catalogue, statistically I wasn’t doing so hot anymore. And then, suddenly, they start to play those guitar chords, and that was such a thrill right there. Talking about moments captured, that verse of “hey, are you awake?” is brilliantly small, tragic, and heartfelt in all its insecurity and angst. After that, the band invites members of The Walkmen on the stage (Justin Vernon already got invited on earlier) to go big in the finale, with the heavy hitters ‘Mr. November’ and ‘Terrible Love’. That ending sees both the fans as well as Berninger scream and shout it all out. Not just for gloomy people who are curled up in the corners of their minds anymore, I think.
The Pitchfork stage has been running late the whole day, and even with the hard work of all involved, it’s still about fifteen minutes behind schedule that the trio of Factory Floor appear on stage. They slide in the beats effortlessly, though it is a more adventurous form of “dance” music then you normally get. The beat and drums allow you to dance, but the noise and all kinds of other additions (like guitar and distorted vocals) are all very much ingrained into the sound. There are moments that you’d wish they would transition to the next phase a tad faster, sometimes meandering a bit in their own noisy soundscapes. Though as closing band (the talented dj/musician Pional will take the stage after) they seem to fit nicely on this strange, eventful, and rocky day that certainly wouldn’t have been done justice by a “cleaner” party band.