With the rain completely out of the forecast and temperatures dipping back into the 80s, things were certainly looking up for Sunday at Pitchfork. Just about all of the muddy spots in Union Park from Saturday’s storm were now cleverly covered up with some quick dry solution and a whole bunch of carpet square samples. One of the big product placements over the weekend was a company freely handing out recycled carpet squares so people could sit on the ground without getting their pants dirty. I doubt becoming patchwork quilts atop mud pits was their original intention, but at least it was functional and made walking around easier. There was plenty of great music to watch as well, so join me after the jump for a recap of the third and final day at Pitchfork Music Festival.
Besides the carpet squares, the first thing I noticed on Sunday upon arriving in Union Park was all the people wearing Sleater-Kinney t-shirts. There must have been at least 20 people, all of them female, who I’d spot over the course of the day wearing the exact same shirt (which I also coincidentally own and wear regularly, just not today). I’m assuming most everyone purchased their shirts from the merch tent yesterday after being blown away by Sleater-Kinney’s headlining set, and wanted to show their excitement/support the very next day. The great news is that Sunday also had a very strong female-first lineup in the afternoon, starting with Spain’s Mourn. Their set up and sound is simple in concept, but complex in execution. PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt and yes, Sleater-Kinney could be considered primary influences for these teens, who were born after those artists had already released essential albums. Still, it’s nice to see the torch being passed to a new generation. Mourn played through most of the tracks on their self-titled debut album, and then sprinkled in a few new songs as well, all of which sounded on par with or even better than their recent work. In short, the future continues to look bright for this band. The only thing they could use a little bit more of is stage presence, which is something that takes awhile to develop for certain artists. They’re a really young band who are still kind of starting out, so I have no doubt that the more shows they play the better and more confident they’ll get.
It doesn’t feel particularly fair to get people all emotional so early on a Sunday afternoon, but that’s exactly what Waxahatchee‘s set did. Pulling largely from her latest album Ivy Tripp and its predecessor Cerulean Salt, Katie Crutchfield and her band ran through a litany of songs about love, loss and growing up. She’s definitely grown more confident both on stage and in her songwriting since her last Pitchfork appearance, and graduated from the smaller Blue stage to the larger Green stage as a result. The beefed up arrangements with the full five piece band seem determined to wring every bit of turmoil or sweetness out of the words being sung, leading to blissful highs and devastating lows. Great as the set was, and a portion of the crowd was really into it, some seemed to struggle a bit listening to these songs after awhile in the hot sun. “You’re less than me and I am nothing,” Crutchfield sang on “<", even though it was quite clear from her set that she absolutely is something. If Waxahatchee's set toyed with my emotions, The Julie Ruin‘s set threw them into full upheaval mode. The band, led by original riot grrrl and Bikini Kill legend Kathleen Hanna, presents themselves and their music as a big party in the vein of The B52’s. Buried underneath the slick exterior and Hanna’s forceful stage presence are some intense and controversial themes. “This next song is about euthanasia. Happy Sunday, Pitchfork!” Kenny Mellman told the crowd during the introduction of the song “Party City”. That, as well as other stage banter such as Hanna talking about feminism and her pride at seeing so many young artists and bands these days carrying that torch, really connected with her legacy and will hopefully inspire others to adopt those values as well. There were moments during The Julie Ruin’s set that I caught people quickly wiping away tears, overwhelmed by not only the band on stage but just about everybody in the crowd who also understood and identified with these songs and what they represented. More than any other set all weekend, it was truly nice to be enveloped in a space filled with love, equality and acceptance of one another.
The themes of The Julie Ruin carried over into Perfume Genius’ set. “Somebody asked me if I wanted to wipe the lipstick off my face before going on stage, and I told him no,” Mike Hadreas said early on in his performance. “I could have told him ‘no’ forever.” Statements like that, along with the collection of songs on his latest album Too Bright, project a new level of confidence into Hadreas’ work as Perfume Genius that simply wasn’t present earlier. He’s no longer shy or meek, but intense, dominant and fully owning who he is and what he stands for. Songs like “Grid,” “My Body,” “Fool” and “Queen” showcase the powerful pop star he’s become, while piano ballads like “No Tear” and “Too Bright” highlight a much more tender side. Both were very much on display during his set, and though the latter isn’t ideal for an outdoor festival, spreading them out was helpful and effective. Those who stuck around to watch him were primarily fans already, but I’d like to think that anyone who walked up with an open mind would have genuinely enjoyed the unique place Hadreas has carved out for himself in the music world.
Courtney Barnett has come a very long way in the last couple of years as both a songwriter and performer. The best part about it is how completely relaxed and down to earth she’s been despite her rising star. The increased attention hasn’t fazed her one bit, and as someone who’s seen her live a handful of times now I can certainly testify to that. She was all smiles and hair-whipping guitar solos mixed together with some quality rock songs sung in her Australian-accented sing-speak style. Yet her Pitchfork set was a little different than all of those other times, though I can’t quite explain why. Perhaps it was because she had this huge stage and huge crowd, which pushed her and her band into playing like they had something to prove (not that they’d ever play any differently). Let’s call it a coronation of sorts; a moment in time when you just knew an artist was about to hit it big. If you didn’t know the name Courtney Barnett prior to seeing her set, it would have been burned into your brain by the end.
Tom Krell was NOT happy with his soundcheck. As the man behind the How to Dress Well moniker, he so desperately wanted everything to sound right that he took more than half of his set time just to make sure everything was calibrated properly. By the time he and his band finally started playing, it was less because they were ready and more because they had less than 20 minutes left and needed to do SOMETHING. All that effort unfortunately yielded very little payout, as the handful of songs they were able to get in just didn’t quite connect in the way they should have. None of it sounded off to my ears, but Krell’s frustration was apparent for the duration which in turn affected his performance. It’s a real shame too, because I love all the How to Dress Well records and wish him the best. Pitchfork was just not the right time or place I guess.
Of all the glorified DJ sets across the entire weekend, none was more precisely constructed than Jamie xx‘s. That’s meant as a compliment. Standing around watching somebody twist knobs behind a mixing console can be a very boring affair, even if there’s plenty of great beats to dance to. What Jamie xx had going for him was the new record In Colour, which has proven to be one of 2015’s finest and a huge boost to his solo work outside of The xx. Though it was a bit disappointing that he didn’t bring any featured guests (Romy, Young Thug) from the album with him for this show, it turned out that simply spinning the singles with a giant disco ball behind him was enough to send the crowd into a frenzy. Jamie carefully built up to those big moments to make them feel earned and hold that much more weight when they finally dropped. It was a thing of beauty and insanity to watch the ground nearly shake when “I Know There’s gonna Be (Good Times)” and “Loud Places” resulted in the largest dance parties of the festival.
One of the best things about Caribou‘s live show is how Dan Snaith fleshes his solo electronic records out with a full band playing live instruments. It gives each song a different feel and is actually interesting to watch instead of just your standard console/laptop setup. Also, by getting into it and showing kinetic energy on stage, you’re pushing the crowd to join you in a dance party. While Caribou’s set didn’t quite reach the highs Jamie xx managed to pull off without any live instruments, the goals and intentions of both artists are fundamentally different. Snaith strove for greater atmosphere with his songs, threading long, ambient passages in between more pop-influenced moments. The inherent beauty in many of the arrangements felt right for the setting and time of day. call it a slow comedown from the electronic side of things while building to the closing hip hop sets that were to follow.
The crowd wasn’t exactly huge over at the Blue stage, but a respectable number of people did gather to see A.G. Cook and his unique spin on pop music. Unfortunately like many in the PC Music record label family, the concepts are brilliant but the execution a bit less so. Cook stood behind a table with three consoles on it and moved between each one to trigger melodies and samples as needed. While it was visually plain, the music pumping out of the speakers was one sugar rush pop song after another, essentially mimicking the world of K-pop while also pushing it in new and exciting directions. Those who were there seemed to know exactly what they were getting into, and they embraced each song like it was the greatest thing they’d ever heard. All the jumping, the dancing, the hands in the air and the cheering between each transition was genuinely nice to see. Though evidence suggests this particular style of future pop/electronica may just be a temporary flash in the pan or a niche genre that will never quite catch on with the masses, in those fleeting minutes of Cook’s set the only thing that mattered was the present.
It’s been two years since Run the Jewels last performed at Pitchfork, and everything had changed as much as it stayed the same. For starters, Killer Mike and El-P are still those two guys who come at a crowd with full brute force, bouncing off one another like a verbal tennis match. It’s impressive to watch, and by this point they’ve got it down to a science. With the release of Run the Jewels 2 last year, their popularity has grown exponentially as people continue to catch on and critics lavish praise on them. This was my fourth time seeing Run the Jewels, and it was arguably the best and most special. They came out to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” and suddenly it was like a match had been lit and thrown into the crowd covered in gasoline. The noise was deafening and the excitement more palpable than any other set I saw all weekend long. There were traditional RtJ hand gestures. There were sing/shout-alongs. There were surprise special guests, including Rage Against the Machine’s Zack De La Rocha, BOOTS and Gangsta Boo. In essence it had all the elements of a headlining set with the exception of the time slot. It was as if Killer Mike and El-P were out for blood and to prove themselves worthy of such praise and adoration. Should everything go according to plan, expect them to return in another two or so years, following yet another record and a necessary bump to top billing.
Chance the Rapper‘s Pitchfork set was a hello as much as it was a goodbye. Now fully minted as a headlining artist and Chicago’s greatest musical prospect since Kanye West, he used his 90 minutes on stage at Union Park to celebrate his many accomplishments these last few years and then kick them to the curb. In his words, he’s “got some growing up to do” and will be working on that, plus taking some next steps for the immediate future, meaning this marked his last Chicago show for awhile. What exactly he meant by all of that will be uncovered in the coming months, but as a parting gift Chance left us with a highly memorable set on Sunday night that was purposely a bit scattershot in approach. He came out as a ball of energy, running side to side across the front of the stage and flinging water at the crowd while he pounded out a few songs from his Acid Rap mixtape and his band played behind him. It was exhilarating to watch, but not something you can keep up for an entire show. A few introspective ballads brought the tempo down for a little bit, then a section devoted to his recent collaboration with Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment marked a jazzy detour before the show rounded itself out with a bit of gospel courtesy of special guest Kirk Franklin and a choir. Chance put on a somewhat similar show on Sunday night at Lollapalooza last year, though it wasn’t nearly as nuanced or diverse as this particular spectacle. Despite his claims of wanting to do more and grow up, the musical range and maturity it takes to push yourself to those sorts of limits offer a mountain of evidence that he’s already made that transition whether he knows it or not. Of course his interpretation is likely different from my own or anyone else’s. At this point we’ll just have to wait and see what he does next. If it’s anything like the smart spectacle that wrapped up the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival, the world will be in for a treat.
Coming Soon: Photos! Lots of photos! And maybe a final wrap-up of the weekend.