On paper, and perhaps in execution, Friday seems like it’ll be a somewhat strange day at Pitchfork Music Festival. The lineup and the way it’s organized is kind of all over the place from a genre perspective. Rap that tests the limits of the art form, electronic stuff to get you dancing, hard-nosed punk to rev up the energy, psychedelic/experimental to cool you down, and of course emotionally heavy indie rock that may bring tears to your eyes. That level of sonic diversity is not for the faint of heart, but pays dividends to those willing to explore and test their own limits. It should be a whole lot of fun, too!
If you’re planning to attend the festival and are at all unsure about what artists to see during what time of day, my hope is that this preview guide will help you make some critical decisions. I’ve broken Friday’s lineup down by hourly time slot, and included my personal recommendations on what’s worth checking out in case you need it. Really though, it’s all pretty fantastic and there are no wrong choices. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss on Friday, which basically amounts to encouraging you to show up early.
Armand Hammer [1:00 – 1:40, Green Stage]
As a rapper, billy woods has been nothing short of prolific. He’s put out a handful of albums in the last two years alone, including collaborations with Kenny Segal and Moor Mother. While his solo efforts more than prove his bonafides, it’s the Armand Hammer project with Elucid that’s perhaps gained him the most attention despite still being regarded as part of the underground rap scene. Last year’s Shrines and this year’s Haram (with The Alchemist) showcase these two talents at their most potent. woods is a storyteller of the highest order, filling his lyrics with characters that learn lessons and worry about the world around them. Elucid doesn’t waste time with stories and instead focuses on real world issues filtered through abstract lyricism. They play off one another exceptionally well, and experiment just enough to grab and hold your attention.
Dogleg [1:45 – 2:25, Red Stage]
The Detroit band’s debut album is titled Melee, and honestly that’s what it feels like while you’re listening to it. Just a writhing ball of punk rock energy ready to smack you in the face and keep right on moving. Actually, it’s larger goal seeks to build up and unleash the energy inside of you. One of the biggest shames of the pandemic has been that Dogleg gave us this record but couldn’t tour behind it. That changes with their performance at Pitchfork, which should send the crowd into an early afternoon frenzy that may not be repeated for the rest of the day. Video from some of their 2019 performances included lots of crowd surfing and legitimate flips through the air, so try not to avoid hurting yourself before the weekend even starts!
DEHD [2:30 – 3:15, Green Stage]
DJ Nate [2:45 – 3:30, Blue Stage]
It’s a Chicago vs. Chicago battle in the first official matchup of Friday. In one corner of Union Park you have DEHD, a three-piece rock band whose latest album Flower of Devotion was among the best of 2020. In the other corner you have DJ Nate, innovative producer and patron saint of the footwork scene whose 2019 record Take Off Mode saw him return in excellent form to the genre that made him famous. As someone who’s witnessed a couple of DEHD performances over the years, I can promise they bring a confident and confrontational energy on stage that should mesh well with an amped up crowd coming out of a wild Dogleg set.
While I haven’t seen DJ Nate live, his records have a fun vibe to them that should hopefully get people dancing. This is a pretty tough call, but I’m inclined to recommend DEHD based both on the strength of their material and impressive sets in the past.
Hop Along [3:20 – 4:10, Red Stage]
It’s fascinating to see Hop Along on a Pitchfork lineup in 2021, mostly because it seemed like the band was on a minor hiatus while Frances Quinlan recorded, released, and toured in support of a solo record. Hop Along haven’t put out an album proper since 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Yeah, it’s only been three years, but certainly feels like longer. That said, Quinlan’s solo album was strong but not nearly as great as anything in Hop Along’s discography so far. It’s better we’re getting the full band experience, as they manage to bring even more energy and emotion to the table than the recorded version of their songs. Quinlan’s voice is a powerhouse and brings the stories to life in ways you might not expect. Should be a lovely mid-afternoon respite to chill in the shade on a blanket.
The Soft Pink Truth [4:00 – 4:45, Blue Stage]
black midi [4:15 – 5:10, Green Stage]
Matmos member Drew Daniel has been moonlighting under the moniker of The Soft Pink Truth for almost 20 years now, and the handful of records he’s released in that time have served to make the project extremely difficult to pin down. The core is always built on electronic music, but the wild ways he experiments with that idea have pulled influences from black metal to disco to found sound collages and beyond. His latest, Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?, was one of the best things released in 2020 and played around with improvisational jazz, house music, and minimalist melodies. It’s weird, it’s fascinating, and sometimes you can dance to it. No clue how that’ll translate in a live setting, but the Blue stage should be a great place to find out.
Meanwhile, black midi return to Pitchfork only a two years after their last appearance, technically making it back-to-back festival appearances since 2020 was canceled. Back in 2019, their early afternoon performance followed a rain storm that created a large mud pit right near the stage. The area was blocked off, but the band put on such a wild and heavy show that some wanted to take things to another level and ventured into the swamp. It was a crazy thing to watch, both on stage and off. The band’s eccentricities have only expanded since then, playing with freeform jazz and going louder than ever in spots on their recent record Cavalcade. You might not always love the sounds that black midi make, but damn if they aren’t taking music to weird and wonderful places.
The Fiery Furnaces [5:15 – 6:10, Red Stage]
Ela Minus [5:15 – 6:00, Blue Stage]
Apologies to Ela Minus, because The Fiery Furnaces are back with their first live performance in a decade. The duo of siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger crafted several excellent records throughout the 00s, most notably 2004’s Blueberry Boat, which for my money is a perfect album. Both Eleanor and Matthew have released strong solo records in the past decade, but they’re never quite as powerful as when they’re together. And while Fiery Furnaces albums have a tendency to be very strange and meandering and occasionally off-putting (see their 2005 album Rehearsing My Choir, a “piano opera” where every track contains spoken word stories from their grandmother), in a live setting they are a completely different animal. They transform the recorded versions of their songs into wild mash-ups that bleed into and collide with one another in unexpected ways. A quietly meandering piano pop song might become a bouncy punk tune on stage, or something high energy may get smoothed out into a slow groove. They don’t typically stop between songs either, so just sit back, enjoy the ride, and make sure to cheer once they come up for air 55 minutes later.
Those in need of a dance break may want to check out Ela Minus and her coldwave beats. Her 2020 album acts of rebellion showcased her skills as a producer/singer/drummer in intriguing and inventive ways. Most of the songs float with a lighter, if detached, touch as if stretching out to the darkest corners of a club beckoning you to move just a little. No idea how that’ll translate in the late afternoon at Union Park, but it could be fun to find out!
Animal Collective [6:15 – 7:15, Green Stage]
Kelly Lee Owens [6:30 – 7:15, Blue Stage]
In 2008 and 2011, Animal Collective were headliners at Pitchfork Music Festival. A decade later, they’re essentially listed third on Friday. We’re a long way from their Merriweather Post Pavilion heyday. Despite diminishing returns and some minor career missteps, the band remains important and worthy of attention, even if they’re not nearly as popular as they once were. Here’s the thing about the Animal Collective live show however: you’re never entirely sure which version of the band you’ll get. Sometimes they’re pulling out the classics and firing on all cylinders, and other times they’re playing it fast and loose, experimenting with sounds to the point where much of their set ends up improvised and with no real foothold anywhere in their catalog. Either way it’ll be some form of psych-pop, so if you’re interested I’d recommend smoking up or taking an edible shortly before their set and see where that takes you.
The one thing I’ll say about Kelly Lee Owens is that while she’s not the most exciting person to watch on stage (there’s lots of buttons being pushed and knobs being turned), the music pumping out of the speakers is always uniformly fun and danceable. If you’re looking to enjoy yourself and move a bit without being forced to focus on someone shamelessly trying to hold your attention, you really can’t go wrong. Her self-titled album from 2017 and her 2020 release Inner Song are built on strong beats, loops, and hooks that ooze with effortless cool and never outstay their welcome. That’s all you really need to have a good time.
Big Thief [7:25 – 8:25, Red Stage]
Yaeji [7:45 – 8:30, Blue Stage]
Big Thief are on something of a rare hot streak right now. Very few artists manage to string together three uniformly incredible albums in a row, so it’s important to recognize and appreciate that level of achievement while it lasts. When the band performed at Pitchfork in 2018, they hadn’t yet given us the 1-2 punch of U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, but still managed to stun and deliver an emotional gut punch with a late afternoon set on the Blue stage. Didn’t expect to be crying in the middle of Union Park, but it felt justified. Their return to this festival aligns with their continued rise in profile to fit the critical acclaim of their records. Expect them to deliver intensity in all things on stage, from tenderness to sadness to righteous anger.
As for Yaeji, she’s pretty great too, and the perfect artist to cap off a day of mostly dance parties at the Blue stage. Unlike some of her electronic music counterparts, Yaeji’s live show tends to be a bit more fun and interactive than simply watching her stand behind a table of equipment. She’ll set a beat or melody in motion, then step to the front of the stage and sing along while trying to pump up the crowd. It works, and helps that she’s got a bunch of bangers to get people moving. When a song like “Raingurl” hits, the palpable joy that pumps out of the speakers is the equivalent of a lit match being dropped into a pool of gasoline. You simply cannot help yourself and must surrender to the feeling.
Phoebe Bridgers [8:30 – 9:50, Green Stage]
Phoebe Bridgers has had a year. You could say it’s still very much in progress. Against all odds, she’s managed to fully level up during the pandemic thanks largely to her album Punisher falling directly into the sonic wheelhouse of emotionally resonant pop/rock music that’s become exceedingly dominant in the public zeitgeist. Simply put, she put out the right record at the right time, then managed to promote it with all types of virtual talk show appearances and placements in acclaimed TV series/movies. She was listed as one of the sub-headliners for the 2020 edition of Pitchfork Music Festival that never happened, and has since leveraged her newfound popularity into an elevation to headliner status. I’ve seen Phoebe Bridgers perform three times in three different incarnations – once solo, once as part of Boygenius, and once as part of Better Oblivion Community Center. Each time she’s been lovely, affable, and humble. She’s sounded great, too. Wish I could say that resulted in something super exciting and mind-blowing you shouldn’t miss, but really she’s simply a solid performer who may boast some fresh lighting and video projections stemming from her increase in profile. And hey, I haven’t heard any of the Punisher songs live yet, so maybe those will end up blowing everyone away. After all, “I Know the End” was my favorite song of 2020.