Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pitchfork Revisited

Weeks like this week make me wish I had a few more hours in each day. I would have loved to stay up late last Sunday night to write about Pitchfork while it was really fresh in my mind, but alas, life gets in the way of my creative endeavors once again. I enjoyed Pitchfork far more this year than last, despite a less exciting lineup (in my opinion). The only act I was really looking forward to seeing was The Flaming Lips, so I decided to just make the best of being outdoors, people-watching and hearing some music that I haven't had the chance to check out yet.

We skipped Friday night, even though we had tickets. I was exhausted, since I hadn't been sleeping right all week (stitches in my head = uncomfortable nights in bed, boooo) and to be honest, I'm just not great at going out on Fridays anymore. I also knew pretty much nil about the bands playing Friday, other than the fact that I "should" like Yo La Tengo and Built to Spill, but never gave them a fair chance. It was also really cold and rainy, so I pulled an "I don't wanna" and skipped it. In hindsight, I'm 100% glad I did, because being rested for the weekend definitely helped me enjoy it more.

We got there on Saturday just in time for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who were decent enough. Poppy, summery, upbeat sort of music, even though their name seems to suggest a certain level of angst.

Towards the middle/end of their set, we decided to grab a bite to eat so we were free to roam about for the rest of the day, and this proved to be a very wise decision. As I was walking with my strange vegan tempeh dish in hand, I heard Jon yelling my name. I turned around to see him talking to none other than Charlyne Yi and Jake Johnson (mentioned in my previous post) from Paper Heart. I was shocked and rambled on about nerdy things, as I do when I meet people I admire. They were both very sweet and they seemed not to be annoyed with us stopping them, though we were praising their film, so who would be annoyed at that, right? I'm kind of bummed that I didn't ask for a picture, but it was completely unplanned and I had food and water in my hands and didn't even think to get out my camera. Oh well, live and learn.

So Jon got some food and we met up with Catherine, who we know through Jon's brother Matt. She was kind enough to let Jon stay with her when he was up here apartment hunting and she is just really cool and sweet in general. She also has great taste in music and comedy, so how could I not like her, right? We hung around with Catherine and her friend, Kate, for the rest of the day, which was really nice. Good company and an abundance of people-watching opportunities always make for an enjoyable afternoon, in my world.

(More people to watch HERE)

Bands/artists we checked out that day: Final Fantasy, Beirut, DOOM, Ponytail, and finally, The National. I've seen The National twice before, both times in very different settings (first at the Club Downunder at FSU and again when they opened for REM at the United Center). Seeing them outdoors was cool, but they sounded pretty much the same. They aren't the most dynamic band live, but towards the end of their set, there was a cool moment when Matt jumped down into the space between the stage and the barrier and climbed up a garbage can to sing right to the crowd. He has such a great, deep voice. Give them a listen if you have never heard their stuff.

We left during the last song to beat the masses to the train (unlike Lolla, we can't just walk home from the park, and there's really only one way of getting out of there, so it can become quite the crazy mob scene at 10:00 when the bands stop playing). I like that it ends at 10:00, but it does sort of limit the headliners' sets. They only get about an hour and 20 minutes, which is nothing for bands that are used to playing for an hour and a half, going offstage for a bit and coming back on for an encore. Not complaining, just observing. Rules are rules.

Sunday was almost solely dedicated to The Flaming Lips. My plan all along was to get there and camp out right in front of the stage where they'd be playing. Jon was a little less keen on this plan, but ended up doing it anyway. I guess he figured it would be worth it to be close for their show (and ultimately, I think it was). We got to the park in time for The Thermals, who were pretty darn good and claimed our spot. We could faintly hear The Walkmen playing over on the other stage after The Thermals were done, but I do feel bad that Jon didn't get to head over there and see them for real. I think he was afraid to leave me at that point...he most likely wouldn't have been able to get back to where I was and he worries about me in crowds, I guess. Even though I've been to what seems like a million concerts over the years and I'm positive I'd be OK, it's always nice having someone there with you who cares about your well-being.

M83 played next on the stage we were camped out by and I have to say I'm glad we had the spot we did (good booking on the part of Pitchfork organizers!) because they were probably the highlight of my weekend. We'd seen them not too long ago opening for The Killers, and they were good then, but somewhat forgettable...

Apparently playing mid-day at an outdoor festival is the place to see them, because they were anything but forgettable this time. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands. Everyone around us was into it, whether they knew who M83 was or not. The couple right in front of us was adorable. They knew every word to every song and I think they'd come specifically to see them. I am not a huge fan of the techno/beat/dance genre of music, but they do it so well that you can't help but love it.

(Jon's M83 set HERE)

Grizzly Bear played on the other stage, so we couldn't hear them too well, but from everything I was reading on Twitter that day and the next, we didn't miss much. No one in our vicinity was paying any attention to the other stage anyway, because The Flaming Lips began setting up their stuff nearly an hour before their performance was set to start. All the excitement helped pass the time, which I appreciated very much. Wayne Coyne paced back and forth, talked to roadies, talked to the rest of the band, talked to the people in the front. He took "gifts" from them. Why the quotes? Well, the "gifts" included such treasures as a pirate eye patch, a squirt gun, and a used (probably sweaty) flannel shirt. It was all very entertaining, I must say (because I'm easily amused).

Right as they took the stage for real, though, the crowd began their usual "let's all rush the stage" push, which was slightly more intense than I think I've ever seen before. It was Sunday and people had been drinking and partaking in other (more illegal) substances for two and a half days straight. They were full of adrenaline, aggression, and drugs, and not really thinking about anything but having a good time for the last time that night. Factor in that the audience was roughly 70% male in the front, and you have a recipe for possible danger. Luckily, the worst we got was slightly crushed, a mildly injured big toe, a kick in the head and a glasses scare, so all in all, I probably won't remember the bad in the long run. Jerks in the audience aside, it was a really incredible show.

(Jon's Flaming Lips set HERE)

The Flaming Lips know how to keep your attention, even after an extremely long weekend seeing band after band after band. They pulled out all the stops: the hamster ball rolling around over our heads, the costumes, the confetti, the giant screen beaming colorful images from behind them, huge balloons for the crowd to smack around, and as usual, lots of between-song banter. They originally signed up to do a "Write the Night" set, which was voted on by anyone who had purchased Pitchfork tickets. Then they backed out. Then, due to controversy over this decision, agreed to stick to the original plan and let the ticketholders vote. Once they were up there, however, "Write the Night" pretty much got thrown out the window. They did play the top two songs from the list, Do You Realize? and Yoshimi, but they would have anyway.

All in all, it was a good set. They played two brand new songs (obviously not voted on by anyone), as well as Bad Days, a personal favorite of mine which they haven't played live in ages (since 1998?) and Mountain Side, which they might never play live?

It was a great way to end the night and I'm glad Jon stuck around for it, because I would've felt a little closer to death had he not been there to protect me. The two (pretty tiny) girls next to us seemed grateful for his protection too. I won't get into it in this post, since it's long enough already, but I do have a huge issue with drunk guys at concerts not knowing their own strength and making life hell for everyone around them for a few hours. It's highly unfair to those of us who don't happen to be as tall, muscular, or rowdy as they are and I really feel like it needs to stop. Maybe it's just because I'm getting older, or maybe it's because the problem is getting worse and people care less and less about others, but it bothers me a lot more now than it ever did. Look for a ranty post on concert etiquette from me in the future (I know you can't wait, right?).

Don't want to end things on that note, so I'll talk for a second about In The Loop, a movie we saw on Wednesday. If you like quick, snarky humor (especially of the British variety), you'll love this film. It's based around the politics leading up to the Iraq war, but it's funny...I know that might seem counterintuitive, but you'll just have to believe me. Check out some reviews or at least the trailer. It's worth a look.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paper Heart

We just got back from a screening of Paper Heart, a half-documentary, half-film about love. While that may sound cheesy, it's really not.

Charlyne Yi and Jake Johnson were on hand for a Q&A after the screening and they were just as funny and adorable in real life. Jake is actually from Chicago as well, so a few members of his family were there to see it along with us. I don't like recommending films that I think some people may not like, but I have no hesitation when it comes to putting my stamp of approval on this one.

It's sweet, quirky, funny, honest, charming, and pretty unique. If you're one of those people who doesn't like Michael Cera because he always plays himself, though, you definitely won't like this. He literally plays Michael Cera. Everyone else, enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tonight, I Write

I am sorry, dear blog, that I have neglected you. I have a feeling it is a combination of summer interfering with my downtime and me feeling completely unmotivated (read: intimidated) to write at length about anything when I do have the time. Well, here's what's been up with me:

I had surgery on Friday. My first surgery, in fact (yay?). While I was terrified, it was a relatively minor deal and much less painful than I thought it would be. Now I have stitches, which get removed on Monday. If anyone needs a plastic surgeon (don't worry, I didn't get anything fun like a new nose) in Chicago, I now know a great one. His assistants are lovely as well. One of them has a daughter named Alissa Marie (my middle name is Marie, in case you didn't know). She is 30 (I'm almost 29). I'm sure she is an absolutely lovely, gorgeous, intelligent, and well-rounded person, though I may be biased.

Pitchfork is this weekend. In 2008, I had the dreaded boot (walking cast) to hobble around in, and it looks like 2009 is the year of the stitches in my head (I'd take stitches over the boot any day, for the record). Hopefully all will be well again in time for Lolla, though. Truth be told, Lolla is much more important to me again this year, despite the rather lackluster lineups associated with both festivals. I'm excited about Depeche

While I'm still sort of on the subject of medical problems, I'd like to say something about the proposed healthcare reform bill. Don't worry, I won't delve too deeply into it on here, because I don't think any kind of social networking site is necessarily the right forum for serious political discourse. I did, however, have a lengthy conversation last night with my boyfriend about the issue. I don't mean to label him, but I think it needs to be said that he is a Republican because as a Democrat, we have differing opinions on the matter and yet were able to have a civilized chat about it and not piss each other off too much in the process. That's where so much of it goes wrong in my opinion...once you throw broad-reaching insults like "crazy Democrats" into the mix, you are most likely eliminating the possibility of having a rational discussion. One party gets defensive, and it devolves from there into partisan blahbityblah.

The topic of healthcare insurance is near and dear to my heart, since I had none between the ages of 18 and 28. Luckily, I didn't have a medical crisis. I fractured my leg last year about two months before my coverage kicked in, so I walked around on it for those two months and then got it fixed. It got me thinking, though...what if it had been something that couldn't wait two months? What if something worse had happened when I was just 18? I thought I was invincible, but truth is, I was just stupid and lucky. Millions of people know what it's like to worry every day about their health and wonder how they're going to afford care if they need it. It is the MOST important issue in our country. Period. And something needs to be done.

Maybe...just maybe, before you start calculating how much it will cost you as an individual, you should take a moment and think about what it might mean to someone else to have a sense of security that they've never had and that many of us take for granted.

I know many don't agree with the President's plan. I don't know enough of the specifics of it to dissect it with any degree of accuracy, but I do believe that this administration's goal of healthcare reform is grounded in good intentions. The idea is to get more people on cheaper plans and to force the large healthcare conglomerates that are overcharging to rethink and retool their rates. I don't know if this outcome is entirely possible, or if it will truly cost those who are currently on plans through their employers thousands of extra dollars each year. I do know, however, that something needs to happen. This is a scary time when a lot of Americans are out of work and out of insurance. Not everyone will be as lucky as I was, and it gets me choked up to just think about it. What I'm trying to say, as simply as I can think to say it, is that this is a serious issue that can not and should not be overly summarized, simplified, and made to seem black and white. You are not going to change anyone's mind in 140 characters or less, nor should you try to. The plan is not all bad and it is not all good. The sooner people realize this, the faster we may see a more agreeable compromise.

And now onto something much less depressing and much more enjoyable!

Two videos you must see:

1) I mentioned The Boxer Rebellion a while back. In fact, I put together a whole post on why you should love them, or at least give them a chance. Well, I checked out their website again today to see what was new and found out a few things. First off, they are releasing physical copies of their newest album in a few countries, but not the U.S...yet. Next, it seems they are playing shows in Toronto and New York City, but not Chicago...yet. Finally, they have a newish video up which perfectly showcases why I adore them as much as I do...they are just so good live. Give it a little listen, will ya? What can it hurt?

2) Aziz Ansari is one of the comic geniuses behind Human Giant. He is a regular on Parks & Recreation. He was responsible for one of the funniest scenes in Observe & Report. And now, he's making mocumentary-type promos for the forthcoming film, Funny People (which really truly honestly looks to be very very funny, people). He is Raaaaaaaandy...a character that almost too blatantly serves as a critique on the "comedy" of Dane Cook and others like him (all style, no substance, as they say).

Moving right along, the Sears Tower is changing its name to Willis Tower tomorrow, so on the way home I thought I'd stop by and say goodbye to the old name. Problem is, there's nothing to say goodbye to! There is no sign of the word "Sears" anywhere around the building anymore. All signage has been replaced, with the new logo up, but fully covered in anticipation of the big reveal tomorrow. If I were a tourist, I think I would be mighty confused. I have a feeling it will perplex quite a few who have no idea that the change is even happening. I plan to go back and explore the new, terrifyingly-named addition to the 103rd floor Skydeck, "The Ledge," in a few weeks, assuming Dan is game when he's in town for Lolla. I feel much better about doing touristy things when I am with an actual tourist, you see.

I've seen a few films:

1) Transformers 2 - just as dreadful as everyone said it was
2) The Hangover - just as hilarious as everyone said it was
3) Bruno - funny, in a Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of way, where the humor comes from the cringey moments that you can see coming, but hope you're wrong about
4) Ice Age 3D - pretty much the same as the other two, but it's in 3-motherflippin-D, yo!

Well, I think it's time to call it a night. Political rants drain me. ;)