Saturday’s schedule was underwhelming to say the least, a day filled with artists I never bothered to check out and bands that seemed undeserving of Pitchfork’s raves, but their mass coverage of the artist before the album seemed to predicate them attaching a best new music tag to the group’s album or single — artists like Gang Gang Dance and Julianna Barwick. Fittingly, I saw Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast walking around during the day.
I didn’t bother showing up until No Age played– again, one of those bands I just never got around to. Their two-person punk rock was energetic, but the show made me wish I was watching the more energetic, anthemic, and impressive Japandroids. Guitarist Randy Randall’s rig was nothing short of impressive, with three huge cabinets and a massive array of effects pedals, but he only ever seemed to use one distortion sound and, at the beginnings of songs, would occasionally loop and delay the feedback that inevitably ended every song. Perhaps I missed something due to the sound levels; clearly, the engineers were still tuned in to dance act Chrissy Murderbot, who had played the Red Stage before No Age, as the only thing audible for a good half of No Age’s set was drummer and vocalist Dean Allen Spunt’s bass drum. Indeed, bass-heavy mixes were a complaint for most of the festival.
Following No Age, I vaguely watched Gang Gang Dance, but aside from “Mindkilla”, they did almost nothing exciting, even with their extraneous band member/interpretive dancer who spent the entire set waving a small flag around. Following Gang Gang Dance was the first impressive set of the night– Destroyer. Dan Bejar, with Neko Case and children watching from the side, performed many songs from his excellent 2011 album, Kaputt. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the entire set was the band’s ability to replicate every sound on the album live, including the reverb-drenched horns. Indeed, Bejar spent a lot of time crafting his live sound to replicate his studio sound, right down to his vocal inflections, made more impressive because Bejar almost speaks while he sings. He lectures the audience: “Don’t be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves.” Bejar, the seasoned performer, had audience members following his every word.
Skipping out on the Dismemberment Plan and the Radio Dept. for much needed nourishment, the next set I saw was DJ Shadow, who unfortunately had to compete with the sunlight to perform his complete set. Shadow normally performs behind a giant ball where two projectors reflect a light show off of the ball onto a projector screen for, from what I could gather in the light of the sunset, a pretty mesmerizing show. Unfortunately, about halfway through, Shadow gave up and rotated the ball to reveal its open backside where he performed from. Not used to having a crowd able to see him, Shadow performed about as energetically as any DJ in his or her bedroom, but honestly, it hardly mattered. Shadow’s set ruled. He dedicated about half of the set to what people knew– cuts from Endtroducing… But instead of simply playing them, he gave them a new dubstep and drum and bass influenced aesthetic, making songs like “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” a manic energy. He also played some songs from his new album, including “I Gotta Rokk”, and giving them the same remix treatment. He even spun a full remix of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” near the end of the set. Although set back by sunlight and a lack of physical energy, Shadow is a seasoned, classic DJ who can run a party at any time of the day.
Finally, Fleet Foxes closed the night. Perhaps I’m biased, giving their Helplessness Blues a perfect score in my review– my first such rating on a new release– but their show was, to me, simply resplendent. Unlike many bands, who will play through their album in order, thinking that their flow on an album translates perfectly to the stage, Fleet Foxes changed up everything in their setlist to make something new out of completely familiar songs. Surprisingly, they opened with the instrumental “The Cascades”, flowing into Helplessness Blues closer “Grown Ocean”. It was a bold move, and one they sold with complete conviction, with the instrumental opening building into one of the most energetic songs they’ve composed to date. The most unexpected songs, like “Blue Ridge Mountains”, gave the most chills. Once again, the sound engineers fed too much bass into the mix at times, even making the band’s upright bass sound too dominant, but as the levels evened out, the better the show became. My only complaint: no “Montezuma”. While they ditched Helplessness Blues’ opening for something more powerful, surely one of the album’s best cuts could fit the set elsewhere. Otherwise, the rest of their best songs made an appearance, including the one-two punch of “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood” from the group’s self-titled debut. Pecknold’s vocals were pitch-perfect, down to the rasp in “The Shrine/An Argument” when he sings, “Sunlight over me no matter what I do.” The harmonies were effervescent. Subjectively, Fleet Foxes put on the best show of the festival.