Slap on some sunscreen and hose yourself down with bug spray, because Pitchfork Music Festival is starting early this year! Well, a couple of hours earlier than usual. In past years, the opening Friday has always been a shortened day, typically kicking off around 3PM. I’m not exactly sure what the point of that was, beyond letting some people take a half day of work and still make it in time, or perhaps working a full day and not missing too much. Maybe it was also a budgetary concern, as the cost of booking another 3 or 4 artists to fill out the lineup might have been just a touch more than they wanted to spend. Whatever their logic, it seems like the organizers have stopped kidding themselves and are finally ready to extend the overall festival experience by a couple of hours. Gates on Friday open at Noon, and the first artist takes the stage at 1PM.
Of course just because we’re getting a full day on Friday doesn’t mean there are more names on the lineup to help fill that extra time out. Instead, a number of artists at the start of each day will perform unopposed, meaning you’ll have the choice to either watch one specific performance, wander around Union Park and explore other areas of the festival (/drink more/hang with friends), or simply show up late. The choice is yours, but I would strongly recommend arriving early all three days. You’re likely to discover something truly great as a result. There is at least one set starting before 2PM each day that has the potential to be among the best of the entire weekend, and it’d be a shame for you to miss out! Then again at Pitchfork, just about every set is a must-see. Navigating the weekend filled with such great music can be a little challenging, which is why this day-by-day preview guide is here to help! Join me after the jump for a breakdown of Friday’s lineup and schedule, where I’ll do my best to point you in the direction of exciting, fun, and amazing things to do, see, and hear.
1:00-1:40 Madame Gandhi
Madame Gandhi is the moniker under which Kiran Gandhi performs. The L.A.-based singer, electronic artist and drummer crafts smart dance pop that celebrates the female voice. Solo artists that work with laptops and sequencers aren’t always the most exciting to watch, but with the right style of music can be a blast to listen to. If you’re showing up early on Friday, strap on your dancing shoes and prepare for a very fun and just a bit freaky set from Madame Gandhi. A great way to start the weekend!
Nothing Feels Natural is the debut album from the Washington D.C. band Priests, and it’s one of the year’s finest so far. A mixture of punk, surf and garage rock, their songs and styles feel like a blend between Bikini Kill and The B-52’s. I’ve seen them perform before, and can promise you their set will be one of the weekend’s biggest highlights. They exude a wild, rebellious energy that’ll leave you feeling invigorated and ready to take on the world (or just three long days in the hot sun).
2:30-3:15 Dawn Richard
After getting her start in the girl group Danity Kane, Dawn Richard (aka D∆WN) has spent the last several years cultivating a strong solo career, most recently completing a triptych of albums that shared similar themes but wildly different moods. She came out swinging on 2013’s Goldenheart, fell into a darker headspace on 2015’s Blackheart, and then found her way back on last fall’s Redemption. Through it all she has been redefining modern R&B with creative production and vocal approaches. It’s quality music, and often uptempo enough to get you dancing.
3:00-3:50 Hiss Golden Messenger
Moving away from electronic beats or high energy rock and roll for a spell, Hiss Golden Messenger is set to bring a lovely calm to the middle of the afternoon at Pitchfork Fest. The folk and alt-country tunes performed by M.C. Taylor and his band often take on the auditory equivalent of a sunset or a leisurely drive through fields of crops. Neither will be present at Union Park, so you’ll just have to mentally take yourself there. Perhaps it’ll be a great time to seek out a spot in the shade and just hang out for an hour. Honestly though, the songs are great, and if you like bands such as Phosphorescent or Wilco then definitely don’t miss Hiss Golden Messenger.
4:00-4:50 Vince Staples
4:00-4:45 William Tyler
The first conflict of your Friday isn’t actually much of a conflict at all. It simply depends on your own personal tastes, because Vince Staples and William Tyler couldn’t really be more different. Vince Staples was originally scheduled to perform at Pitchfork Fest a couple years back, but was forced to cancel due to weather cancelling his flight to Chicago. Hopefully he’ll more than make up for it this time, especially since he’s got an incredible new album Big Fish Theory that’s one of the year’s best. Expect an energetic and intense performance from Staples, who will hopefully also show off some of the charm and humor on display in his recent Sprite commercials. If hip hop isn’t your thing, William Tyler will be a strong transition coming out of Hiss Golden Messenger. Actually, Tyler used to be a member of HGM before pursuing a solo career. While his past records have focused on solo folk instrumentals, his latest, last year’s Modern Country, saw him recruiting a full band (including members of Wilco & Megafaun) and taking things in a slightly louder and more psychedelic direction. So go chill out and let the smooth and beautiful instrumentals wash over you, should that be of any interest.
5:00-5:50 Thurston Moore Group
5:15-6:00 Frankie Cosmos
The Thurston Moore of 1996 is not the same Thurston Moore of 2017, which is to say that as a musician he’s journeyed in a bit of a different direction following the dissolve of Sonic Youth. His latest record Rock n Roll Consciousness is a fascinating and intensely psychedelic journey that indulges his most prog-rock urges. The shortest song on it is 6.5 minutes, and a couple eclipse the 10-minute mark. In other words, expect a lot of loud and drawn-out guitar epics, which might be a fitting transition out of the instrumental folk William Tyler will deliver just before over on the Blue stage. In my limited experience with Thurston Moore shows, they can get a little boring, but perhaps the new material will spice things up a bit? Competing for your attention on the other side of the park will be Frankie Cosmos, the indie pop band fronted by Greta Kline. They’ve got 45 minutes for their set, but probably won’t use all of it considering that just about every Frankie Cosmos song is under 3 minutes long. That efficiency is refreshing and given the upbeat nature of the music, should make for a very fun performance. Their latest album Next Thing was one of 2016’s finest, so I guess the choice in the 5PM hour falls between rock legend and and up-and-coming band.
6:00-6:50 Danny Brown
Danny Brown is a Pitchfork Music Festival veteran at this point, as it seems like he gets booked every other year or so. There’s a reason for that, and it’s primarily because he manages to impress both on his records and on stage. His albums tend to be sprawling explorations of ideas and situations, oftentimes expanding on a story or building off a phrase from a track he did an album or two before, because why not? Lyrically he can be very dense, and that leaves the production and samples sometimes scrambling to catch up. His performances take on a similar manic energy, as Brown ping pongs around the stage, throwing out rhymes as fast as his mouth can spit them out. It’s a blast to watch, especially if the crowd gets really into it and plays along with him. There’s a similar vibe coming from Kamaiyah’s music, as it plays in the sandbox between hip hop and R&B. Her debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto was littered with throwback sounds and rhythms, delivered in such buoyant fashion it was tough not to smile while listening. Her first official album is still on the way, and will likely be out later this year, but earlier this week she put out the first single from it, “Build You Up,” along with a video that brought to mind some classic TLC. So it’s a tough choice on who to see! Perhaps the toughest choice you’ll make on Friday. I suppose it’s a good thing there’s only a 20 minute overlap. At the very least, you can probably rest assured that no matter how you choose to spend your time, it’ll likely be a wise choice.
7:00-8:00 Dirty Projectors
7:45-8:30 Arca & Jesse Kanda
Dirty Projectors are a very different band compared to when they last played Pitchfork Fest in 2012. When members Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman ended their relationship a couple years ago, he chose to essentially turn the project into a solo venture, and released a self-titled album full of reflective and somber R&B-styled pop songs earlier this year. It creates a bit of distance from the more experimental, upbeat and harmony-laden songs from their previous couple of efforts. So the question then becomes, how does that change the dynamic of a Dirty Projectors live show? Will some of the band’s bigger hits from previous albums be ignored, or will Longstreth rework them to fit with the dynamics of the musicians he’s currently working with? I guess we’ll find out. Pitchfork is the only Dirty Projectors tour date at the moment, so this will be something of a rare performance. Similar things could be said about Arca’s set, particularly since, according to my research, it’ll be his first time performing in Chicago. The Venezuelan artist also known as Alejandro Ghersi has been making experimental and confrontational electronic music for the last few years, earning him a lot of attention and praise, particularly when it’s accompanied by the arresting visuals supplied by Jesse Kanda. There’s a reason this set is scheduled to begin just after sunset, and that’s largely because Arca’s music embraces darkness and chaos in a strange yet expansive way. In terms of what to expect from a live performance, it’s probably best to expect the unexpected. Multiple costume changes. Gender fluidity. Near nudity. Disturbing beats you probably can’t quite dance to. Sadness, terror, excitement – all in equal measure. Maybe a touch of titillation. All of it will be compelling, and probably unlike anything else you’ll see this year. Stick around for 20 minutes before LCD Soundsystem and give it a shot. You might get so sucked in you won’t want to leave.
8:10-9:50 LCD Soundsystem
Last summer, LCD Soundsystem made their triumphant return, as frontman James Murphy chose to un-retire the band he originally put to bed in 2011. They wound up headlining quite a large number of music festivals, and played all the hits. This summer, it’s all about the beginning of their second act. The new album is finally complete and will be out this September, and we’ve already gotten a taste with a pair of new songs released a couple months ago. Expect to hear even more on Friday night as they turn Union Park into one gigantic dance party. There’s not much else I can say, except that LCD Soundsystem are one of the best live bands performing today, and you should seize any and every opportunity presented to you to experience that magic in person.