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Sebadoh's Lou Barlow, jumbotron-ed

My decision to skip SXSW this year in favor of attending festivals in other cities (i.e. Pitchfork in Chicago this weekend

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Pitchfork Day One

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Sebadoh's Lou Barlow, jumbotron-ed

My decision to skip SXSW this year in favor of attending festivals in other cities (i.e. Pitchfork in Chicago this weekend and All Tomorrow's Parties in New York this coming September) was entirely justified last night, and there are still 38 more bands to see over the next 48 hours.

The last time I was in Chicago, it was to attend the Touch & Go 25th anniversary celebration, which turned out to be the most well-organized and enjoyable festival experience I've ever had. If last night's Don't Look Back-sponsored episode is any indication, Pitchfork '08 may match the high watermark of T&G 25.

The festival is taking place in Union Park in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, which is a pleasant 10-minute stroll from where I'm staying with friends. Mission of Burma took the stage precisely at 6 pm, and ripped mercilessly through the entirety of Vs., their 1982 debut. Despite guitarist Roger Miller's frequent references to being "80 fucking years old", they sounded phenomenal and not the least bit out of shape or under-rehearsed.

Sebadoh was up next, and though it was a thrill to hear my favorite record by the band (1993's Bubble and Scrape) played song-for-song, they were markedly more shambolic than their predecessors, and suffered from several weird bouts of self-conscious and juvenile between-song-banter ("What is this called? Pitchfuck? Why did they invite us?").

Watching the crowd start to sway towards the neighboring Public Enemy stage in anticipation of hearing It Takes A Nation of Million To Hold Us Back only accentuated their silliness, especially when the Bomb Squad prematurely launched their initial sample loop, cutting into Sebadoh's last two songs. While a production runner raced by frantically, yelling "Two more songs, two more songs!!" into his headset, Barlow dropped is hand from his guitar strings and said, "that's cool, we'll stop," sounding only half-serious.

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The pre-show PE stage

The Bomb Squad let Sebadoh finish, but the damage was already done; almost all the crowd defected to the PE stage. I could certainly understand the exodus in effect. Hell, when I bumped into Chuck D backstage and he smiled broadly, greeting me warmly with that distinct baritone voice of his, I pretty much turned into a fan girl puddle. Dude's my fucking hero.

I've seen PE half a dozen times, and they never disappoint. It doesn't matter how much Flavor Flav tries to sour their legacy with dumb-ass reality TV programing, they always sound awe-inspiringly heavy and unstoppably tight. Even when Flav was foolish enough to bring up his "number one hit TV show" he was met with resounding boos and Chuck quickly segued back into the work at hand. There's something exceptionally electric and elegant about all the ceremony and ritual at their shows, whether it's the S1Ws standing motionless at attention and periodically busting out into military-precise dance moves or the way the Chuck and Flav circle each other perpetually, both stalking and stoking the other, a PE performance really isn't something you can take your eyes off for an instant. Every track was sick, but "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic" (dedicated by Flav to the retired Terminator X) and "She Watch Channel Zero" were particularly inspired. It's stunning how powerful that record sounds, even 20 years after its conception. Here's a little bit of "Bring the Noise":

As if giving us all of It Takes A Nation of Millions wasn't enough, they continued playing well past their 10 pm curfew, tossing out "Shut 'Em Down", the title track from the He Got Game soundtrack, "911 is a Joke", "Can't Truss It", and "Welcome to the Terrodome." Pure bliss. I slept like a baby.

On today's agenda: our own Fleet Foxes (Aja Pecknold, I'm coming for you), !!!, my dear pals the Hold Steady, No Age, and a Dirtbombs-helmed afterparty at the Abbey Pub. Time to take my vitamins.

 
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