As we continue Pitchfork Music Festival Week here at Faronheit, it’s always a pleasure to offer a closer, more in depth look at not only the artists on the lineup, but some analysis as to the scheduling so you can make the most of your weekend. There are always inevitable conflicts with artists you might like to see, as well as times when it might feel like a dead zone where there’s nothing to interest or inspire you. Fear not! There’s plenty of fun to be had every hour the gates of Union Park are open, whether you know it or not. Sure, there may be some tough calls to make at times, but one of the best things about Pitchfork is that there are never more than two stages going at once. They’re also not that far from one another, meaning that if you really want to see pieces of different sets, it’ll be a five minute walk to pull it off. Minimum effort for maximum musical reward. So without further ado, please join me after the jump for an hour-by-hour look at what Day 1 (Friday) has to offer.
If you missed yesterday’s post featuring audio and video streams/downloads from every artist on this year’s lineup, you can find that post right here.
Note: Artists are color coded by stage. All artists marked with a ** are the recommended pick(s) for that particular hour of the day.
Ryley Walker [3:20]
Natalie Prass [3:30]**
Friday kicks off later than the other two days of the festival, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting or important. Right off the bat there are quality offerings thanks to sets from Ryley Walker and Natalie Prass. If you’re really into the local Chicago music scene, hopefully you’re aware of Walker. While he does live in town and has played nearly a handful of shows here so far in 2015, it’s important to note that he’s more than just a local favorite. His latest record Primrose Green was released on Dead Oceans last March to critical acclaim. It’s done in the style of Nick Drake’s classic folk records, which is definitely saying something. Walker is also an excellent guitarist and it’s impressive to watch him work. The issue here isn’t so much quality as it is style. If you’re interested in hanging out in the shade and relaxing for a bit at the very start of your weekend, then maybe catching Walker’s set at the Blue stage will be your cup of tea. For a touch more energy and fun, Natalie Prass should fit that shoe nicely. Her self-titled debut album bears the sonic signatures of everyone from Dusty Springfield to Feist, and she positively radiates charm on stage. Backed by a full band, anticipate plenty of head bobbing, toe tapping, smiles and general feel-good vibes. It won’t be the most rousing set of the day, but a great warm-up for what’s to come later.
Jessica Pratt [4:15]
Stick around after Ryley Walker’s acoustic folk songs at the Blue stage and you’ll encounter something similar with Jessica Pratt’s set. Actually, Walker and Pratt are good friends and have toured together quite a bit these last few months, so it makes sense they’d be scheduled next to one another at the festival. Pratt earned a bit of attention with the release of her latest album On Your Own Love Again back in January. It’s exactly the sort of minimalist, singer-songwriter record that lovers of 60’s folk and Joni Mitchell can get behind. As highly as I’d recommend her album and the importance of seeing her perform, setting is very important for her particular style of music. An outdoor festival isn’t exactly ideal to capture the intimacy and passion she has to offer. Which leaves us with iLoveMakonnen. The guy is a rising star in the hip hop world, brought on largely by the smash hit “Tuesday,” which took off when Drake contributed a verse. Will Drake make a special guest appearance at Pitchfork as a show of support? There’s about a 99% chance he won’t (prove me wrong, Drake!), but Makonnen’s got a lot going for him besides big name guest stars. The tracks on last year’s self-titled EP were remarkably great, and though the Drink More Water 5 mixtape from earlier this year wasn’t quite a worthy follow-up, none of that really matters when you factor in performance. There will be energy, hands in the air, sing-alongs and much more to entertain the masses. You’ll probably have a great time watching him whether you like his music or not.
Steve Gunn [5:15]
Mac DeMarco [5:30]**
The relaxed folk vibe again continues at the Blue stage, this time courtesy of Steve Gunn. One of the big positives I can say about him, outside of his lovely 2014 album Way Out Weather, is that he’s more than just a man with an acoustic guitar. In fact, some of his songs actually don’t use acoustic guitars at all. He’ll have a full band backing him up, which is a big plus, and his guitar playing is at a level greater than maybe any other artist on the lineup all weekend. If you’ve got a few free minutes, definitely stop by and watch a couple of songs just to see him tear through some carefully picked solos. That said, energy is yet again a factor when making the choice on who to see, and in that case there’s nobody I’d rather recommend on Friday than Mac DeMarco. He’s also an impressive guitarist whose songs have a largely laid-back, summery vibe to them, but they can also be very catchy and goofy in a way that Steve Gunn simply can’t replicate. The last time he performed at Pitchfork, he spent several minutes running through a mish-mash of covers that included everyone from Eric Clapton to Limp Bizkit. When I saw him last fall at the Hideout Block Party, he brought an audience member on stage to sing a song, while he crowd surfed for longer and farther than just about any other artist I’ve ever seen while chain smoking the entire time. Simply put, DeMarco will likely put on the funniest, weirdest and most compelling set of Friday.
Tobias Jesso Jr. [6:15]**
Panda Bear [6:25]
It’s tough for me to recommend Tobias Jesso Jr.’s set at Pitchfork. Don’t get me wrong, the guy’s got a great debut album Goon that needs to be heard in a live setting, it’s just that much of it is made of Randy Newman-esque solo piano songs. By this point in the day hopefully you’ll be craving a spot to sit and relax for a bit while you chow down on some food, and the Blue stage area has those features. At the very least, you need to check out the wild “piano face” that Jesso adopts while singing and playing. It’s similar to John Mayer’s guitar solo face or Este Haim’s “bass face”. Meanwhile on the Green stage, Panda Bear should be offering up his signature psychedelic vibes to anyone interested. The last time I saw him perform solo at Pitchfork was in 2010, a couple years after the release of his seminal, modern classic record Person Pitch. There was genuine excitement to hear some of those songs, but unfortunately he didn’t really play any of them. His set wound up being more of a formless psych trip that hinted at songs but never fully delivered. Add that to the non-excitement of watching one man twist knobs and occasionally sing into a microphone, and it falls into the realm of boredom. Now it’s entirely possible the Panda Bear live show has very much changed in the last five years. I watched a few clips from some recent shows and they were pretty decent, particularly once you factored in the lighting and projections. Sadly the sun will still be shining brightly in Union Park at 6:30pm, rendering those elements ineffective.
When Iceage performed at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival, they were one of my biggest picks to click for the weekend. Expectations were high, and they…did not deliver. Perhaps the heat got to the Danish band, who also decided to wear all black on stage. More likely though is that they weren’t the rough and tumble punk band that had been sold to me by videos from their early days. Songs that felt so fresh and exciting on record suddenly sounded stale and lethargic on stage. They’ve since gone on to release two more critically acclaimed records, and perhaps are seeking redemption at this year’s festival. One can hope. The band I can promise is a solid bet for this hour though is Chvrches. They’re alumni of my Class of 2013 project, and I’ve spent the last two years watching them grow into a powerhouse band beaming with confidence. Their debut album The Bones of What You Believe has charmed many, many people. While the spotlight has been firmly affixed on them for awhile now, it’s set to become even brighter upon the release of their new album, which is still TBD but they finished recording last month. Will there be new songs played? I’m willing to bet at least one. Will they bring a high energy and fun set worthy of a festival such as Pitchfork? Count on it.
Poor, poor Ought. They’re forced to face off against headliners Wilco, and don’t stand a chance. It would have been nice if they were slotted earlier in the day against some less formidable opponent, because they are an interesting band building a reputation for quality records and live shows. Their sound is often described as Talking Heads-esque, which is a fair comparison but certainly isn’t a catch-all. If you’re not a fan of Wilco but would still like to see some live music, Ought is a fine alternative. For everyone else though, hometown heroes Wilco will be the only choice to make. They’re the biggest, most popular band performing all weekend long, and while they certainly don’t make music for the stereotypical Pitchfork “hipster” audience, their success and groundbreaking work cannot be disputed. A record like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot remains as one of this century’s standout pieces of musical perfection. Not only that, but they’re a seasoned live band that knows how to put on a great show. I’ve seen them more than a dozen times, and have not once been disappointed. There are very few artists I can say that about. If you’ve seen Wilco perform before, you should be excited to see them again. If you’ve never had the opportunity, you’re in for a treat.