Ah Sunday. If you’ve been attending the Pitchfork Music Festival for two days already, chances are your body will be beaten and tired. Drag yourself out of bed, pour some caffeine down your throat, and gear up for one last day of amazing music. Much like Friday, Sunday is packed with local Chicago performers who are both legends and up-and-comers. It promises to be a great day, and if you’re not sure about who you should be seeing, well, that’s kind of the purpose of this preview guide. So follow me past the jump and we’ll get right into it, yeah?
Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here for the Saturday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back for coverage of the festival all weekend long!
** = Recommended
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya [1:00 – 1:40]**
One of Sunday’s most vibrant and entertaining sets will undoubtedly come courtesy of local hip hop favorite Nnamdi Ogbonnaya. A multi-instrumentalist who’s been a member of or contributed to a shockingly high number of different groups and bands, his work as a solo artist is tremendously goofy and fun. He’s a genuine joy to listen to, and it seems reasonable to assume he’ll make the absolute most out of his stage time, even though it’s at the start of the day and many of those wandering in will be riding the struggle bus.
Irreversible Entanglements [1:40 – 2:25]**
Pitchfork has a tradition now of booking jazz bands to perform early on Sunday (I call it the “pitch and fork jazz brunch hour”), and this year that honor goes to Irreversible Entanglements. The locally based free jazz collective released their self-titled debut last year, and attracted attention thanks in large part to the socially conscious poetry that is read aloud over their brass, bass, and drums ensemble melodies. However this set goes, I can promise you it won’t be boring.
Kweku Collins [2:30 – 3:15]**
Kelly Lee Owens [2:45 – 3:30]
Chicago rapper and producer Kweku Collins has been on a steady rise ever since his 2016 album Nat Love came out. In many ways he’s the embodiment of DIY culture, as he writes, produces, and records his own material. That’s taken him down some very interesting detours, including last year’s Grey EP, which saw him exploring the limitations of his voice while also highlighting just how much his life has changed following some recent successes and a rigorous touring schedule. Get on board with him now, because he’s only going to keep growing in popularity over the next couple of years. One of the things I love most about Welsh-born musician Kelly Lee Owens is her ability to effortlessly blend two distinct genres of music. On her self-titled debut album, she transforms ambient electronica textures into dream pop songs you can dance to. Her songs bounce, wheeze, and pulsate as her voice floats in the ether, coated in reverb. In some ways it reminds me of Chromatics, but a little weirder and more ethereal. I’m very intrigued to find out how all of this will come together for her live show, which just might wind up being the biggest dance party of the weekend.
Ravyn Lenae [3:20 – 4:10]**
The Chicago streak on Sunday continues with a set of lush R&B from 19-year-old Ravyn Lenae. Her distinctly soft falsetto and premium songwriting chops brought her early success thanks to collaborations with everyone from Saba to Noname to Smino to The Internet’s Steve Lacy and more. She’s released two EPs and toured with SZA all within the last year, so yeah, you could say things are going reasonably well for her at the moment. Most importantly, she’s still growing as an artist and figuring out exactly who she is and what direction she’d like to take. Pitchfork will be a great test to see if she’s ready for the next level, and where better than to work out those details than in Union Park with a hometown crowd?
Japanese Breakfast [4:00 – 4:45]**
Smino [4:15 – 5:10]
After a relatively lo-fi, shoegaze-adjacent debut album Psychopomp back in 2016, Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) upped her game last year with the sci-fi concept album Soft Sounds From Another Planet. The studio polish really brought out the nuances in her melodies, which often feel breezy and bouncy but manage to have a strong undercurrent of distorted guitars to add some real darkness and power. She’s a real powerhouse on stage as well, not afraid to push songs to their limit to get a reaction from a crowd. Very excited for her set. If you’re not yet familiar with Zero Fatigue crew, they are like the Save Money, Top Dawg, or Odd Future crews in that they’re a collective of musicians who each have their own thing going on, but also collaborate a lot with each other and lend support whenever needed. Zero Fatigue was formed a couple years ago with Smino, Ravyn Lenae, and Monte Booker. They also include Bari and Jay2 in their ranks. Poised as Chicago-based hip hop visionaries, if you’re interested in seeing the future of the genre just stick around the Red and Green stages from 3-5pm on Sunday as Lenae and Smino go back to back. For his part, Smino takes hip hop in an interesting direction, showing off his versatility by using funk and soul melodies as the starting point for a lot of his raps. He also sings and is a remarkably sharp lyricist. His set should be a great time, so get on it!
Noname [5:15 – 6:10]**
Alex Cameron [5:15 – 6:00]
If you’re into Chicago’s hip hop and R&B scene even a little bit, chances are you’ve heard of Noname. Also known as Noname Gypsy, she’s been making a name for herself locally for the last few years, to the point where she caught the attention of Chance the Rapper who gave her some features and helped to elevate her profile on a national and international stage. One of the things I love most about Noname is the specificity in her lyrics. She likes to write about Chicago and the things she’s seen and experienced, and even though I can’t always relate to the stories she tells because my life has been quite different, I do always recognize my city – both the good and the bad parts. Her set should be filled with a bunch of cool summertime bops, and maybe even a few new ones off the new record she’s apparently been working on. I struggle with my feelings about Alex Cameron. The guy has a weird aesthetic that makes me both uncomfortable and appreciative of what he’s trying to do. Specifically, he makes psychedelic pop music that’s just a little weird and from the perspective of a character who’s a lecherous creep. His lyrics are often blunt and raunchy as he digs into hookup culture, kinks, and fetishes. This would all feel like a throwback to a time before the #MeToo movement were the whole thing not a parody intended to teach a lesson. No, Cameron is not an actual creep. The perverts in his songs always prove themselves to be idiots and deeply misogynistic to show you what NOT to do. At the very least he’s got an interesting thing going, so if you want to be disgusted in a good way, maybe go check him out.
DRAM [6:15 – 7:15]**
(Sandy) Alex G [6:30 – 7:15]
The thing about DRAM (aka Shelley Massenburg-Smith) is, he’s just so damn likeable. In all sincerity, I can’t recall the last time I saw a photo of him without a gigantic smile on his face – that includes the cover of his 2016 album Big Baby D.R.A.M., where he was also hugging an adorable dog. Music-wise, after his track “Cha Cha” went viral in 2015, it became the jumping off point for Drake’s biggest hit “Hotline Bling”. That resulted in a major label contract, and he’s had a handful of hip hop hits that include collaborations with Lil Yachty, Beyonce, and even Neil Young. The future is looking very bright for DRAM, and you can rest assured he’ll be smiling all the way. The white artist with a guitar alternative to DRAM in this spot would be (Sandy) Alex G. That last sentence might come across as a pithy piece of commentary, but honestly if you look at the lineup for Sunday there’s a racial divide between the main stages (Red and Green) and the smaller side stage (Blue). This wasn’t intentional I’m sure, nor should it really matter in the end. But back to (Sandy) Alex G. He’s a big DIY / home recording sort of guy, and has been releasing music at a steady pace for the last several years, most of those without any official backing from a record label. That’s earned him an underground, cult-like following that’s grown by leaps and bounds since his 2014 album DSU. His sound is best classified as experimental folk, and many of his songs both sonically and lyrically remind me of Elliott Smith or Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) but with a weird streak. Having only heard his most recent records, I’m excited to find out how those introverted songs translate to a live setting.
Chaka Khan [7:25 – 8:25]**
Japandroids [7:45 – 8:30]**
What can I say about Chaka Khan – diva and legend – that hasn’t already been said? She is the Queen of Funk and has been making music for the last five decades. If you haven’t heard her 1978 disco hit “I’m Every Woman,” you probably haven’t lived. She’s a Chicago native with enough cache to have a street named after her. She embraced hip hop and collaborated with rappers long before it was cool to do so, and remains a force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by her first new song in over a decade, “Like Sugar”, which came out last month. You’ll have the opportunity to worship at her altar this Sunday in Union Park, and probably shouldn’t skip it. Then again, over on the Blue stage will be one of the best rock shows of the entire weekend courtesy of Canadian band Japandroids. They’ve played at Pitchfork in the past and put on the sort of performance most simply described as “epic”. The guitar races like it’s been fired out of a cannon, and the drums pound like an elephant throwing a tantrum. Their set will be a weekend-ending bit of catharsis, and you can expect some mosh pits, body surfing, and beer showers. Chaka Khan gives you a baptism by funk, and Japandroids give you a baptism by fire. Choose wisely.
Ms Lauryn Hill [8:30 – 9:50]**
Let me preface this by saying that I have a deep respect for Ms Lauryn Hill. Her work in the Fugees reshaped the musical landscape, while her solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill stands as a towering landmark of ’90s hip hop that has withstood the test of time these last 20 years. So much so, that Hill hasn’t released a proper album since then. She’s given us a handful of new songs over the last decade, mostly as contributions to various soundtracks, and none of those have earned much in the way of attention or radio airplay. To many, Ms Lauryn Hill pretty much disappeared 20 years ago and hasn’t been heard of since. So what has she been up to? Well, she had six kids, spent some time in prison for tax evasion, and continues to tour on a semi-regular basis. It’s the touring part that’s of the greatest interest, but that also happens to be her greatest weakness. Over the last several years, Hill has become notorious for either showing up very late to shows or simply not showing up at all. There were even times when she was physically present at the venue and on time for the show, but refused to go on because she didn’t like the “vibe” of the crowd. In other words, booking Ms Lauryn Hill in 2018 is a highly risky proposition. Outside of the 20th anniversary celebration of her classic solo debut, I remain vexed as to why Pitchfork felt like they could count on her to deliver a festival-closing performance. Maybe they have an ironclad contract in place and a backup waiting in the wings should it come to that. Part of me also thought that Hill had really cleaned up her act and was newly committed to getting her career back on track, but reports from the first several dates of her current tour have almost all been problematic. Now when Hill does actually perform, I’ve been told the experience is nothing short of revelatory. Her voice is apparently still pristine, and she remains an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. If Ms Lauryn Hill shows up to Union Park and takes the stage on time this Sunday, I’ll be overjoyed. Anything less than that and I’ll be sure to make my disappointment heard.
That’s it for Pitchfork Music Festival preview coverage! Check back all weekend for recaps, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram for live updates!