The weather was mostly pitch perfect for the weekend at Chicago’s Union Park, insignificant showers on Saturday, 70 degrees on Sunday. The audience, as usual, was informed, committed and up for anything, but the aptly named Fucked Up gave some of its fans more than they bargained for when they leapt from the Aluminum Stage with their guitars. Rapper Daniel Dumile (a.k.a. MF Doom) was one of few carrying the hip-hop flame this year with his stage mask, wild camouflage attire and massive dreadlocked sidekick—not to mention his relentless, articulate flow. Beirut’s Zach Condon blended Balkan brass music with French chanson, doubling on trumpet and ukulele in front of a fresh-faced seven-piece band that featured accordionist Perrin Cloutier. Although the National headlined Saturday, it was on the Balance Stage at the south end of the park where most of the action was happening. Something of a Scandinavian enclave, this stage hosted Norwegian mixmaster Hans-Peter Lindstrøm and Danish rockers Mew, but it was the manic pop duo of Matt And Kim followed by the insurgent Black Lips that set that side of the park alight. The Atlanta-based Lips hit like extras from Pirates Of The Caribbean, storming onstage with abandon. Almost immediately, Ian Saint Pé made matchwood of his guitar, and later the band urged the crowd to surge and worry security. Despite their reputation as hell-raisers, the rest of the set was strictly business, an outlaw stew of garage punk, busted well beyond the garage.
Still, it was the Flaming Lips and their wacko costumed characters that won out with an impossibly arty finale. Topping off a Sunday night that included Grizzly Bear, Vivian Girls and the Walkmen, the Lips’ Wayne Coyne made perhaps the safest crowd surf of the festival in his trademark plastic bubble, subsequently bestriding a giant gorilla head. Coyne’s between-song patter was surprisingly inane, but as night descended, the spectacle became as trippy as a close encounter, with streamers and giant balloons festooning Union Park. Coyne largely obliged Pitchfork’s “Write The Night” demand, including confused-machismo anthem “Fight Test,” “Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear” (from the band’s Fearless Freaks film) and the wishful “Bad Days,” closing out with 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly.” The Lips’ psychedelic orange-clad tech crew had worked since 7.30 a.m. setting up for this big send-off, much to the amazement of Pitchfork staff, who are probably still clearing the park after the awesome rain of confetti at this otherwise recycle-conscious event, now firmly entrenched as one of the hippest in the Chicago calendar.
—photos and text by Michael Jackson