Saturday was the first day of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival to sell out. When you take a close look at the daily lineups, it makes perfect sense as to why. While the entire thing is pretty stacked, Saturday in particular looks extra heavy on quality. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, you get to see all this great music in one day, meaning if you don’t have a ticket for the entire weekend it seems like the best deal for your time and money. On the other hand, you can’t see everything, leading to a nasty pile-up of conflicts that can be problematic. If you’re concerned about that, and you should be, allow me to offer some help and guidance to make the most of your Saturday at Pitchfork. Join me after the jump for the hour-by-hour breakdown of who’s playing when, complete with recommendations on what you can’t/shouldn’t miss.
If you missed my previous Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 posts, go here to hear/see/download songs from every artist on this year’s lineup. If you’ll be at Union Park on Friday, you may want to look over my preview guide for that day by going 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.
Jimmy Whispers [1:00]
Friday’s first set is from Chicagoan Ryley Walker, and Saturday’s first set is from Chicagoan Jimmy Whispers. The former Light Pollution frontman is making bedroom pop under this new moniker, which showcases bouncy keyboard melodies backed by drum machines and his often quivering vocals. Whispers’ debut solo record Summer in Pain came out in March to modest reviews, primarily citing insecurity and a tendency to overthink as small issues with an otherwise lovely collection of songs. For 45 solid minutes, he’ll be out on the Green stage with nobody on any other stage to compete with. In other words, if you arrive early enough, Jimmy Whispers will be your one and only choice. It might be nice to show him some hometown love. Once Whispers wraps up, Protomartyr will start up on the Red stage and officially kick the day in the teeth. They’re the closest this year’s Pitchfork Fest will get to a metal band, even though you can’t really place them in that genre. If you’ve not heard their great 2014 record Under Color of Official Right, it’s definitely worth a listen to better understand their loud and ferocious approach to post-punk. They actually just announced a new album and released a new single that feels like a tension tug of war. Meanwhile on the Blue stage, Bully will be stirring up a whirlwind of anger and angst, 90’s style. Their debut album Feels Like arrived just last month to high praise, and festival bookers must have been anticipating that as Bully will now be the first-ever band to appear at both Pitchfork and Lollapalooza in the same year. Previously that always seemed like an impossibility given the two Chicago fests are only a couple weeks apart and Lolla notoriously enforces a radius clause that rarely gets waived. So yes, there’s plenty of hype surrounding this band. Alicia Bognanno’s powerful scream is a major selling point, but so are their grunge style melodies that skew just enough into the pop realm to make them striking and memorable. No doubt about it, the choice between Protomartyr and Bully is a tough thing to deal with at the start of your afternoon, and honestly you should arrive early to see one or both. If you’ll be at Lollapalooza maybe you can skip Bully this time, but if not I think you’ll have more fun with them.
Future Brown [2:30]
Mr. Twin Sister [2:50]**
Future Brown are a foursome who specialize in defying tired concepts such as genre and style. Their music is a product of their extremely diverse backgrounds, and that means you get a blend of sounds from just about anywhere and everywhere. While their primary goal appears to be finding ways to make you dance, they’re not really EDM or any subgenre within. You’ll hear elements of grime, dancehall, drill and other things, but there will also be guitars and hip hop guests plus maybe some tribal drums thrown in for good measure. It’d all be endlessly fascinating if it also didn’t come across as strangely ambiguous and scatterbrained most of the time. You get plenty of tastes when what you really desire is a full meal. How will that translate into a live show? I have no idea, though it’s likely to be high energy and fun but maybe a little boring to watch if they stay behind consoles twisting knobs the whole time. As for Mr. Twin Sister, you can expect their set to be lively and danceable, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. Last year’s self-titled record was an important step forward for them, fully embracing synth pop in all of its sweeping disco ball groove. While it was one of 2014’s best, it was also something that felt firmly rooted in darkness. The only way to truly understand and enjoy these songs was under cover of night, with street lights or colored floor panels shining. How it will play in the middle of the afternoon at an outdoor festival is anybody’s guess. Considering their strong track record though, I’m willing to bet they’ll pull it off in just the right way.
Ex Hex [3:20]**
Vince Staples [3:45]
Great to have Mary Timony back at the Pitchfork Music Festival. The last time she was in Union Park it was with her other band Wild Flag, of which Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss were also members. What are the chances the three of them will get back together and tease us with a song or two from that record? Slim to none, but it’s nice to dream about. Besides, both Ex Hex and Sleater-Kinney are better off in their current states and members. Last year’s Ex Hex debut Rips was one of 2014’s best, and the best summer record to have been released in the fall. Good thing they’re now going to be performing those songs at an outdoor summer festival, where they’ll match the atmosphere perfectly. Their sound is best described as power-pop, but in more the style of a Tom Petty or Thee Oh Sees, which is meant as a compliment. Expect a high energy performance that’s not to be missed, especially if you love lots of guitar solos. Over on the Blue stage, Vince Staples should be serving up plenty of material from his recently released Summertime ’06 album. You can’t particularly consider the record to be evocative of the season it’s named after however, as it dives headfirst into dark territory that’s incredibly powerful but not exactly fun or anthemic. He’s a hip hop artist who says exactly what’s on his mind and documents everything he sees which is often steeped in tragedy. It’s a double album you need to hear and absolutely one of 2015’s best so far, but I can’t imagine how well it will translate with a predominantly white crowd at an outdoor festival. I’m sure he’ll be great, but maybe not the ideal choice for this particular hour at this particular location.
Kurt Vile and the Violators [4:15]
Ariel Pink [4:45]**
At this point in your Saturday, it’s been a few hours and maybe you’re looking for a spot in the shade to sit and relax while listening to some music. Kurt Vile is more than happy to help you with that. His songs are primarily lackadaisical jams that are perfect for staring at the sky and contemplating life on a bright summer day. Though the pace might not be frenetic most of the time, he is a very interesting guy to watch on stage, especially for the rather mind-blowing guitar solos that dominate most of his albums. All three times I’ve seen him have left me shocked and impressed with the depth of his talent. You can’t go wrong with a Kurt Vile set. Of course if you’re interested in getting goofy, weird and just plain wild, allow me to present Ariel Pink for your consideration. His albums of oddball psych-pop are critically acclaimed, though they’re definitely not for everybody. Similar things could be said about his live show, which has such a WTF/”anything goes” factor that you’ll either be confused or amused. One thing you definitely won’t be is bored. Pink’s set at Pitchfork is sure to be a circus, the question you’ll have to ask yourself is how much you enjoy the clowns.
Parquet Courts [5:15]**
A$AP Ferg [5:45]
When presented with an opportunity to see Parquet Courts live, do yourself a favor and don’t skip it. They’re spiritual cousins to Mac DeMarco, who will provoke a similar reaction from the Pitchfork crowd on Friday around the exact same time. That reaction will be laughter. The last time I saw Parquet Courts, I think they told about two jokes between every song, and they were topical observations that definitely weren’t rehearsed. As much as they love goofing around, they’re surprisingly all business when it comes to playing music. The bouncy, fast paced material works exceptionally well with festival crowds, and the number and quality of guitar solos they’re able to work into the mix feels like an added bonus. Things can get a little…shaky if they play a couple of slower songs back to back, but outside of the occasional lull there’s nothing else to worry about when it comes to Parquet Courts. Over on the Blue stage, hip hop returns with a set from A$AP Ferg. Unlike Vince Staples however, Ferg is all about the high energy. shout-along anthems. He wants to get the crowd pumped up and having a great time. There will be a lot of participation and celebration, and if we’re lucky a couple members of the A$AP Mob might just show up in some support roles. If you’re up for that sort of party, I encourage you to join it. Be prepared for gunshot and air horn sound effects, instructions to throw your hands in the air, and a selection of tracks that are fun but lack true substance. In other words, if there was such a thing as a “standard” hip hop show, it might look and sound a lot like what A$AP Ferg does. That’s not meant as an insult; plenty of people love that type of set, as evidence has shown over the years at Pitchfork and elsewhere.
The New Pornographers [6:15]
Are Neko Case and Dan Bejar performing with The New Pornographers these days? They contribute songs and vocals to each album, but their membership in the touring band is flexible and primarily based on scheduling. It’s similar to what Broken Social Scene was back in the early-to-mid 00’s, when people like Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines and more were only present for some shows despite having a heavy presence on the records. As nice as it’d be to see Case and Bejar in Union Park, The New Pornographers will put on a delightful and winning set at Pitchfork with or without them. At this point they’ve got their indie pop sound down to a science, and if one song doesn’t make you tap your feet with an earworm for a chorus, the next one almost definitely will. Yes, it’s a guaranteed good time. But in this particular case, I’m placing my bets on Shamir. Not only is his debut album Ratchet one of 2015’s finest, but it’s the best party record I’ve heard in awhile. You can turn it on and people won’t be able to stop themselves from dancing. In that same vein, I’ve heard from a few people I trust that Shamir puts on an incredible live show. An exact quote: “If you don’t walk away from a Shamir performance with a huge smile on your face and the belief he’s about to become the next big superstar, there’s something wrong with you.” That gets my attention for sure, and I hope it gets yours too. Let’s keep our fingers crossed he not only impresses, but winds up with the best set of the entire weekend.
Future Islands [7:25]
It’s Future Islands vs. future pop in the early evening hours on Saturday. If you had the chance to watch The Late Show with David Letterman during its final weeks, you certainly would have seen a collection of Dave’s favorite musical guests over the years perform on the program one final time. Future Islands were among those returning for an encore performance, thanks to their highly memorable rendition of “Seasons (Waiting On You)” in March of 2014. The band went on to greater acclaim for their album Singles, and wound up making a number of year-end “Best of” lists. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them in concert twice before, and can assure you that it’s exhilarating to watch the band charge through their songs like bulls in a China shop. Samuel T. Herring is undoubtedly one of the more compelling frontmen in recent memory, and his wild dance moves matched with a certain vocal exuberance can’t help but make you smile. While Future Islands should be a blast for the most part, I’ll confess to finding their approach and unique style a little annoying after awhile. Whether or not you feel the same way is a choice you can make, and after 20 minutes going across Union Park to catch Sophie could seem like a great idea. Of course Sophie also has a certain level of quirk that might not appeal to all audiences. Sophie is the moniker that London-based electronic music producer Samuel Long performs under. There was and continues to be a lot of mystery surrounding the project, to the point where there are no official press photographs of Sophie, and the ones fans take with their phones often turn out blurry. The primary aim is to focus exclusively on the music, which might best be described as hyperactive J-pop with a modern twist. The vocals are always distorted to give the impression a woman (or a chipmunk) is singing, and the beats and hooks are so strong you’re likely to have them stuck in your head for days. There are not more than a handful of Sophie tracks that have been released to the public so far, but he’s closely collaborating with Charli XCX at the moment on her next album. So what can we expect from a Sophie live show? High energy and more dancing than you’ll know what to do with. This, and A.G. Cook’s set on Sunday will be the biggest parties of the festival.
Vic Mensa [8:45]
The big stage headliner for Saturday night is Sleater-Kinney, and if you’re not already excited about that then you need to brush up on your 90’s rock music. Like many legacy acts these days, Sleater-Kinney are celebrating their return after an extended break. They called it an “indefinite hiatus” at the time in 2007, and that wound up lasting a good seven years while the trio went off and pursued other interests. Guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein achieved a new level of fame by working with Fred Armisen and starring in Portlandia. Guitarist/vocalist Corin Tucker started a family, spent some time raising her kids, and formed The Corin Tucker Band under which she released two albums. Drummer Janet Weiss became part of former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus’ band The Jicks, as well as contributing to a number of other projects. Brownstein and Weiss also teamed up with Mary Timony (Ex Hex) to form the short-lived Wild Flag, which I mentioned earlier in this post. But now that they’re back and have a new album to promote, they’ve gone about reclaiming their title as America’s best rock band (according to Time Magazine and Stereogum). I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment, because Sleater-Kinney know how to put on a SHOW. Tucker’s voice wails with ferocity. Brownstein’s intricate guitar work is made that much more impressive with her high kicks and powerful energy. Weiss hits a drum kit with more gusto and precision than just about anyone I’ve ever seen. Together they pack a serious wallop, and have the quality catalog to back it up. I saw them back in February for the first time in 10 years, and they hadn’t lost a single step. It’s going to be electric in Union Park watching the crowd go nuts for this band. It makes me feel badly for local hip hop hero Vic Mensa, who will be trying to energize the Blue stage at the same time. Then again, maybe there’s a purpose behind this scheduling. Granted, Mensa’s hip hop is the antithesis to Sleater-Kinney’s rock and roll, but beyond that there are whispers about some truly special moments planned for his set. A quick look at his 2013 mixtape INNANETAPE and early plans for his forthcoming full length debut Traffic (due later this year) reveals a number of guest vocalists including fellow Chicagoans Chance the Rapper and Kanye West. With Chance scheduled to headline on Sunday and Kanye walking the Earth when he’s not in the studio or spending time with his wife, it’s highly likely that one of them will show up on stage to support Mensa. Let’s be honest: Kanye probably won’t bother with it, but there’s always a lingering…Chance. Ignoring the guest stars, Vic Mensa is a talent on his own, and should put together a really aggressive, celebratory set that will appeal to anybody who’s a fan of his music or hip hop in general. Definitely recommended for people with discerning tastes.
Preview Guide: Friday | Sunday | Mixtape/Audio Streams