If the weather forecast is to be believed, this could very well be one of the hottest Pitchfork Music Festivals ever. 97 degrees on Friday. 92 degrees on Saturday. 83 degrees on Sunday. When you factor in the heat index, two of the three days are probably going to feel like 100+ degrees in Union Park. Self care is so incredibly important, especially at a music festival where you’re outside in the heat all day! Dress for the weather. Always keep water close at hand, and drink as much of it as humanly possible. As security or medial personnel for water if you need it, and they will get it for you. Stay in the shade if you can. Whatever it’s going to take so you don’t wind up dehydrated or passed out. Yes, it’s fun to drink some alcohol and maybe even take a drug or two to make your festival experience more enjoyable, but don’t do it at the expense of your own health! Maybe wait until after the sun goes down and the temperature cools off a few degrees before having a beer? Just a thought. Okay, that was your moment of parental advice in this preview guide. Now let’s take an hour-by-hour look at which artists will be performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday. As always, my personal picks will be starred (**), so keep an eye out for those. Here are links to other Pitchfork Fest 2019 guides in case you need them:
**Lala Lala [1:00-1:40]
Lillie West writes simple songs about complex topics under the name Lala Lala. Her second LP The Lamb arrived last year with a healthy amount of buzz, at least among the music faithful of Chicago where she’s based. It falls into a similar category with recent records from Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail as a deeply personal collection of songs about working through psychological and emotional trauma to find and care for yourself. Sparse electric guitar melodies give way to louder and more explosive choruses packed with hooks that stick in your brain long after the songs have ended. I’ve seen Lala Lala perform live a few times, and it might not be the wildest or most energetic thing you’ll see on Saturday, but a nice way to ease into things.
**Ric Wilson [1:45-2:25]
Chicago’s Ric Wilson is a multi-hyphenate talent in the best sense of the word. He blends different genres and styles of music with absolute ease, shifting from hip hop to funk to R&B to soul in the blink of an eye. It makes him notoriously difficult to pin down or gain any real sense of what to expect from him next, but you can pretty much always count on whatever he does to be uniformly excellent. He’s put out three EPs in the last three years, and each one has marked another strong step in his growth as an artist. We’ve been blessed with a couple of new songs already this year and a debut album should be arriving at some point this fall, so maybe we’ll be treated to an early preview during his Pitchfork Fest set.
Bitchin Bajas [2:45-3:30]
Japanese band CHAI coordinate their outfits and their moves on stage, yet they’re not a product of some larger corporate J-pop machine. Instead, they’re just an incredibly earnest and incredibly joyous quartet who play their own instruments and write their own songs about being true to yourself, hanging out with friends, and living without regrets. Their goal is to change people’s perceptions of Japanese beauty standards and fetishization through the empowerment of women. Songs from their excellent second album PUNK are insanely fun and energetic, which should make for a wild performance – one of their first in Chicago. Speaking of Chicago, after Tirzah was forced to drop off the lineup at the last minute due to visa issues, local boys Bitchin Bajas gracefully stepped in to take her place. The trio make experimental music that’s stylistically all over the map, though its roots are probably in free-form jazz and drone. Their records often feel like journeys and are best digested in one sitting rather than via individual tracks, even as some of those tracks can extend well beyond the 10-minute mark. They’re really very good live, but simply can’t compete with the rare and wild energy CHAI are sure to bring to the stage on the other side of Union Park.
**Cate Le Bon [3:20-4:10]
The work of Cate Le Bon is fascinating and alien, but in a warm and inviting way. Her early records focused largely on spectral and psychedelic folk, but she’s grown well beyond those parameters with her two most recent efforts. Her fifth album Reward, released this past spring, marked her strongest and most realized work to date, examining life from an existential viewpoint where loneliness and death lurk around every corner. Yet the melodies themselves are full and positively buoyant, surging with lush synths and smooth saxophone offering comfort as you stare into the black abyss. Her mid-afternoon Pitchfork set might be a little sleepy, but if you can find a cooler spot in the shade it might be nice to sit for 45 minutes and take a breather.
Jay Som [4:00-4:45]
**Parquet Courts [4:15-5:10]
The first two Jay Som albums, 2016’s Turn Into and 2017’s Everybody Works, were recorded in her bedroom. Thanks to modern recording technology though, they don’t particularly sound like it. Given the layers of instrumentation and the occasionally heavy amounts of guitar distortion, you’d be forgiven for thinking she had a full band at her disposal. Yet her songs still manage to sound intimate and personal. It helps that she’s also a bit of a stylistic chameleon, able to veer from grunge and shoegaze to indie pop and R&B with relative ease. She’s got a new album on the way later this year, recorded with a band in a studio. Judging by the first two singles she’s released from it, we’ll be getting another great one. It’s a bit of a tough choice pitting Jay Som against Parquet Courts, but the choice of which one to see rests almost entirely on whose catalog works better in an outdoor festival setting. Parquet Courts have played Pitchfork at least a couple of times over the years, and they’ve always been pretty engaging and fun, which I guess is one of the main reasons they keep getting invited back. Yet they’ve also been on a journey of maturity over the last couple of years, slowly moving away from their punk and ’70s art rock influenced roots and towards something darker and heavier. At least that’s what 2016’s Human Performance implied. Last year’s Wide Awake! however, flipped the script again by going in another direction entirely, focused on polyrhythmic dance rock complete with almost Devo-esque freak outs. It’s fun stuff, and fun stuff goes over well in a festival setting.
**Amber Mark [5:15-6:00]
Kurt Vile [5:15-6:10]
Amber Mark makes the kind of R&B that feels timeless. There’s a bit of a smooth jazz influence in many of her songs as well, that adds a little bounce that makes you want to cozy up next to someone special and sway back and forth in rhythm. People like to compare her to Anita Baker and Sade (she even covered the latter’s song “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” on an EP), and that feels largely accurate. The two EPs she’s released have shown remarkable maturity and smart songcraft on a level it takes most artists a good decade to achieve. Her voice is incredible, as are her lyrics, and she knows her way around a hook better than most. She’s bound to become a superstar sooner rather than later, so now’s the perfect time to jump into her orbit. As for Kurt Vile, he’s always been the kind of guy who takes it easy. His records have largely reflected that mentality while crafting beautiful guitar pieces and surprisingly catchy songs that draw you into their world slowly. Yet his last album, 2018’s Bottle It In, felt a little flat, like he was a bit lost but didn’t particularly care to be found. To re-purpose one of the song titles from that record, he got all turned around “Bassackwards.” It was a rare misstep in an otherwise excellent catalog. As a live performer, it’s interesting to watch him play guitar and nail some challenging solos. But there are also a lot of very proggy, psychedelic detours that while technically impressive, lack the energy required to give you a late afternoon boost in sweltering 90+ degree weather. Maybe find some shade, lay down in the grass, and listen from a distance?
Freddie Gibbs [6:30-7:15]
This cannot be stressed enough: Stereolab, one of the best and most influential indie bands of the ’90s, are playing their first North American show in 10 years at Pitchfork. They’ve been gone for a decade, but now they’re back and playing songs from their classic catalog. So much of their music is strange: drones, electronics, avant-garde French pop, German psychedelic rock, etc. You get the idea. Their influence has bled into a countless number of bands making music today, but a vast majority of Americans either don’t know who they are or can’t name a single one of their songs. Hopefully their return means they can build a whole new legion of fans. If you’re a little too weirded out by Stereolab’s experimental aesthetic, Freddie Gibbs would actually be a great alternative. The Gary, Indiana native came out swinging in his early work, showcasing an impressive but highly serious take on gangsta rap. He’s grown quite a lot over the last few years, and released a lot of material, mostly in the form of collaborative mixtapes. His latest effort Bandana marked his second team-up with inventive beatmaker Madlib, and it’s another fantastic showcase for how Gibbs can adapt when pushed into strange and experimental beat territory. He claims he can rap over anything, and more often than not manages to prove it. On stage he’s nothing short of a lyrical boxer with a laser-like focus on crushing whatever gets in his way. I wouldn’t call it fun, but I would call it inspiring.
**Belle & Sebastian [7:25-8:25]
Belle & Sebastian’s 1996 album If You’re Feeling Sinister is a modern classic. They’re going to perform it in full at this year’s Pitchfork Fest. It will be the first North American performance of that album. All of those things are reasons why you shouldn’t miss it. You’ll get to hear the majesty of “The Stars of Track & Field,” the pomp and circumstance of “Me and the Major,” the contemplation of “Like Dylan in the Movies,” and the steady bounce of “Judy and the Dream of Horses”. The record is basically a collection of sad songs masquerading as (brilliantly) catchy indie pop, and it should provide a nice salve as the sun begins to set on Union Park. Of course as it gets darker and with the sweat glistening off of so many bodies, you might find yourself in the mood for some sexy R&B. Jeremih will have that covered in spades. 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of his breakthrough hit “Birthday Sex,” which seems like the perfect opportunity to break it out for the hometown crowd. He played Pitchfork back in 2016 and was powerful enough to inspire at least few make out sessions (that I spotted). It might not be politically correct to say, but Jeremih has been following in R. Kelly’s musical footsteps minus all of the illegal activities. Love a good slow jam with a memorable chorus? Jeremih will satisfy nicely.
**The Isley Brothers [8:30-9:50]
Celebrating 60 years of R&B legends The Isley Brothers by having them headline Saturday night at Pitchfork Music Festival seems like an odd idea. When I saw their name on the lineup, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. They’re the sort of legacy act that would get booked at Ravinia, where Baby Boomers and Gen Xers can enjoy the smooth sounds of their classic catalog while enjoying wine and cheese on a picnic blanket. Then again, Pitchfork is known for taking some chances, and I’m admittedly curious as to how the crowd will respond as the trot out hit after glorious hit. Just to name a few: “Who’s That Lady?” “Between the Sheets” “Summer Breeze” “Shout” “Twist and Shout” …and the list goes on. Provided they still sound great (I have no reason to think otherwise) and can deliver a high energy set with a hefty dose of sexiness, it should be a pretty great time. If all else fails, just go with the flow.