One of the things I admire most about the Pitchfork Music Festival every year is the dedication to crafting a lineup that’s diverse in style, background and gender. While that is always showcased throughout the entire weekend, it feels particularly prominent on Saturday this year. You can gravitate from rock to folk to funk to pop to R&B to hip hop all in the course of a few hours, and at least half of those artists and bands prominently feature female members. A third have persons of color, though that’s actually the lowest amount of all three days. The point being, other festivals should take note, and make more of an effort to be inclusive. I feel like it creates a better sense of community among the attendees too. The strangers I encounter at Pitchfork Fest every year are among the nicest and coolest people you could ever meet, so don’t be afraid to say hello to me or anyone else.
Okay, let’s get into this preview of Day 2. After dancing yourself clean with LCD Soundsystem the night before, I can understand that it might be hard to get out of bed and be ready to hit it hard first thing the next day, but there are rewards to those willing to show up early. Join me after the jump and I’ll explain why.
A couple of things you need to know about Laetitia Tamko right away: she’s got an impressive, powerful voice, and she can play guitar like nobody’s business. After moving to New York from Cameroon as a teenager, Tamko has been building a steady following these last few years as Vagabon. Her excellent debut album Infinite Worlds is loud, brash and very DIY in nature. In other words, it’s high energy rock and roll that will provide the wake up fuel needed to take on a full day of music festivalgoing. Many of Vagabon’s songs are about finding your community and getting along with others who are different from you, which feels like the perfect message for a Pitchfork Fest crowd.
1:45-2:25 Jeff Rosenstock
If you’re not familiar with Jeff Rosenstock, chances are you’re not paying close enough attention. He’s regarded as a revolutionary figure in the underground punk scene, as well known for his ability to craft a strong and memorable song as he is for forging his own path and abiding by his own ethical code – fame and fortune be damned. Rosenstock is living his truth – every painful, blissful moment of it, and we’re lucky enough to be along for the ride. His latest album, 2016’s WORRY., is a masterpiece that plays with genre conventions and contains more hooks than a preschool classroom. Expect a very lively set, probably with a touch of mosh pit, plus a good number of sing-alongs, even for those of us that don’t know all the words.
2:30-3:15 Weyes Blood
2:45-3:30 Cherry Glazerr
One of the best things about Weyes Blood’s music is how it manages to subtly modernize classic sounds. Many of the songs on Natalie Mering’s latest record Front Row Seat to Earth conjure up memories of ’60s psych-folk, ’70s AM gold and even classical Renaissance twee. But rumbling underneath that placid surface are synths and bleeps and the occasional odd noise or sample that helps you understand things are just a little bit off from your expectations. That subversive ability is a strength, and her confident, often near-operatic vocals only put a finer point on it. Her performance should unfurl delicately, with a healthy dose of folk-strewn psychedelia thrown in for good measure. Dynamic as that will be, it’s likely to feel just a touch too light for the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. Listening to these songs while baking in the hot sun won’t be nearly as wild or fun as what Cherry Glazerr will be throwing out over on the Blue stage. They’re here to save rock and roll, one performance at a time. Then again, maybe rock and roll doesn’t need saving in the first place. But the trio is armed with killer riffs, punishing drums, and the brash vocals of Clementine Creevy, among other things. Their latest album Apocalipstick finds the crossroads between glam rock and post-punk in the best sort of way, teeming with the sort of high energy and ferocity that makes you want to cower in fear of it one moment, and punch a wall the next. On stage, Creevy takes over and glues your eyes to her magnetic presence, as she howls through most songs and amps up riff after fuzzed out riff. You’re not going to want to miss it.
3:20-4:10 Arab Strap
The Scottish duo of Aidan Moffatt and Malcolm Middleton were always a bit of a curio that never quite caught on in America the way they probably should have during their initial run. There was something weirdly charming about the frankness and honesty of their lyrics, often focused on bad sex and drunken nights while delivered in Moffatt’s off-kilter, heavily accented sing-speak style. Of course the real dynamic was how all that played against Middleton’s instrumentals, which ranged from bare-bones folk to crushing post-rock depending on the album. There hasn’t really been anything quite like Arab Strap in the decade since their breakup (though Frightened Rabbit might be considered a distant cousin), which I suppose is one of the reasons they’ve decided to start playing shows again. They haven’t played a lot of dates since getting back together, and they’re unlikely to keep it going for much longer, so Pitchfork Fest represents a rare and perhaps final opportunity to see these guys. They’ll have 30 minutes with no competing stage in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, so grab a spot in the shade and listen to their dark confessional tales for the first and/or last time.
4:15-5:10 George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
Mitski’s Puberty 2 was one of 2016’s finest albums. It very unironically felt like Mitski Miyawaki had come into her own, crafting a collection of songs that chronicled her quest for happiness while anxiety crept quietly behind every door she opened. Dark, compelling and intensely emotional, the often distorted electric guitars recalled the familiar ’90s crunch of Weezer in the Pinkerton era, though maybe a little less immediate in the execution. The songs translate really well on stage, and Mitski is a dynamic and seasoned live performer who should have no trouble delivering an incredible set worth your time. Yet for the majority of her time she’s forced to compete against George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, and that’s simply not fair. Really placing any artist in direct conflict with George Clinton is a bad idea, because he and P-Funk are going to bring Union Park to its knees with some seriously fun and funky jams. They’ve been doing this since the late ’60s, and the party just keeps on going. Realistically any chance you have to see Clinton and his band is one you should take, and I predict even the most hardened of skeptics will have trouble resisting the charms of some of the greatest funk songs ever created. It’s going to be a weekend highlight, for sure.
5:15-6:10 The Feelies
5:15-6:00 Francis and the Lights
Between Arab Strap, George Clinton and The Feelies, Saturday afternoon on the main stages is really all about classic veteran bands proving to the young crowds that newer and fresher isn’t always better. One of the great things about The Feelies is that they were well known throughout the underground and indie circuits all throughout the ’80s and early ’90s before breaking up. Then, like so many nostalgia acts today, they got back together in the late ’00s ready to explore and expand upon their previous output. There have been two surprisingly strong albums since then. The first came in 2011 and marked a return to their roots, while the second arrived earlier this year and explored their quieter side. Still, what that album lacks in noise it more than makes up for in intensity. The Feelies are the rare act that have managed to transcend and enhance what’s been done in their past, reconciling it with a promising future. It’s been eight years since I last saw them live, which is coincidentally also the last time they performed in Chicago. They were tight knit and completely locked in back then, and there’s no reason to believe they’re any less so now. They’ve got great energy and come across like a blend of The Velvet Underground, R.E.M. and Violent Femmes. If for some reason that’s not your cup of tea, there’s always the contemporary R&B stylings of Francis and the Lights. For those unfamiliar with the famed producer Francis Farewell Starlite, he’s an artist and producer who’s managed to build up an army of famous friends. He’s done production work for Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper. He’s toured with Drake and Kesha. And he’s independently released a few EPs and a couple of albums as Francis and the Lights. It’s easiest to describe his sound as a cross between Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak and Bon Iver’s self-titled album (both of whom he also collaborated with on the song “Friends”). Smooth production work and lots of synths paired with Autotuned/processed vocals. There are some good moments and memorable hooks, even if he does play things pretty safe. Not sure how it’ll fare in the late afternoon at an outdoor music festival either, but there’s at least a little potential there. Of course there’s also the possibility that Francis’s good friend Chance the Rapper will make an appearance (as he’s been known to do at Pitchfork) to throw out a verse or two and do a little dancing. Most of the crowd will probably show up exclusively for that reason.
6:15-7:15 Angel Olsen
Over the course of three albums, Angel Olsen has evolved from a quiet and downtrodden folk singer-songwriter into a confident and loud force of nature. Olsen’s 2016 album My Woman was her finest to date, a treatise about love and relationships that placed an emphasis on remaining true to yourself even if others don’t stay true to you. That sort of sentiment could only come from an artist that truly understands herself and feels comfortable in her own skin. There are powerful yet quiet moments abound, but also loud and ferocious ones to balance them out in equal measure. Sometimes love requires a bit of tenderness, while other times you need to fight for it tooth and nail. Through the whirlwind Olsen remains a compelling and dynamic presence, her guitar work saying almost as much as her vocals. There’s a real vibrance to seeing those songs performed on stage as well, exuding a raw and unpolished quality that lends additional humanity to the already very human feelings being expressed. Some of the more somber acoustic material might leave the crowds at Pitchfork Fest a touch bored and possibly a little sweltering in the late afternoon heat, but the breezy highs are worth the miserable lows. As for Madlib, I’m a bit curious about what he’s planning to do during his Blue stage set. His catalog is incredibly extensive, and spans more than 18 years. In that time, he’s done a wide variety of things. He’s probably best known as a rapper, who’s put out pretty much as many solo mixtapes and albums as he has collaborative ones. For example, in the last four years he’s released an album with M.E.D. & Blu, Hemlock Ernst (aka Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands) as well as Freddie Gibbs. He’s also done three solo projects in that time, including a soundtrack. Beyond hip hop, he’s also a well-regarded multi-instrumentalist, DJ and producer. So what does a prolific and talented artist such as Madlib do in a festival setting? Will he rap? Will he bring out guests? Will he spin some tracks and remixes? Will he play some instruments? The answer is probably all of the above. I’d say expect more hip hop than anything else, delivered with entertaining flair and a solid amount of energy. It’ll probably be more exciting than Angel Olsen’s set, but potentially a little clumsier in the execution.
7:25-8:25 PJ Harvey
7:45-8:30 S U R V I V E
It’s been seven long years since Polly Jean Harvey performed in Chicago, and quite frankly that’s about six years too long. Then again, I’m not entirely sure I’d want to see PJ Harvey perform at any point in the last decade or so – at least not in a festival setting. Her 2007 album White Chalk was entirely composed of piano ballads, while her 2011 record Let England Shake emphasized minimalist arrangements using the autoharp. The latter was actually quite great, one of her finest to date, as she highlighted the cost of war on a country. It’s just not exactly exciting, you know? If you’re going to see her perform those songs in a church or seated theatre, I’m sure they could be quite striking live. Thankfully, last year’s The Hope Six Demolition Project had Harvey picking up her electric guitar again and getting back to some of the more brash and gritty songs that earned her lots of popularity throughout the ’90s. There’s enough vibrant and loud material there, when combined with her early albums, to craft a pretty great rock show worthy of a festival crowd. There may be a few dips into the piano ballad and autoharp pool just to make sure we touch on her entire catalog, but anticipate some good energy along with a few classic hits tossed in towards the end. I’m really looking forward to it, and you should be too. Over on the Blue stage, the Austin-based synth band S U R V I V E should be emerging right as the sun begins to set. The biggest reason why they’re likely placed at the end of the day is because their music thrives in darkness. Did you watch the Netflix show “Stranger Things”? Did you like the theme music and general soundtrack elements that seeped in throughout the first season? Well, two of the guys from S U R V I V E were responsible for that. Yes, they play some “Stranger Things” material, which I’m sure will be half the attraction factor for those that show up to see them. I caught one of their live shows last fall, and it was all about the atmosphere, with lots of fake candles, red lights and smoke machines. Because they’re an instrumental synth band, all four of them stood behind a variety of keyboards, synths and Moogs to craft these unsettling, ’80s-style melodies. It’ll be a great time to just sit back and let the mood wash over you, if that sounds like a good idea.
8:30-9:50 A Tribe Called Quest
What can be said about the first A Tribe Called Quest performance in Chicago since 2008, outside of the fact that their Pitchfork Music Festival set this weekend will also be their last performance in Chicago? Tribe are in the midst of their final tour, in support of their final album, which took 18 years to make. There have been long periods of breakups and a couple dozen or so reunion shows in the late ’00s and early ’10s since then, but things really changed following the death of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor early last year. It’s what pushed remaining members Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White to finally complete We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service. The record is a modern masterpiece, and showcases Tribe at the height of their powers. It really manages to distill all of the elements that made them great into a collection of songs that fit remarkably well into today’s hip hop landscape. There’s a remarkable ease to all of it, but also lots of energy and fun, despite some serious (and politically relevant) subject matter. Having Tribe close out a night at Pitchfork to celebrate their legacy and their highly impressive catalog while also paying tribute to Phife just feels right. Let’s make this a night to remember, because there’ll never be another one like it ever again.