Saturday at Pitchfork 2021 should be a little weird and a little fun, which honestly is kind of right in this festival’s wheelhouse. The diversity of artists increases from Friday, but the number of genres represented decreases overall despite a few acts that blur a lot of lines with experimentation. The day builds in energy early but then hits a small speedbump in mid-afternoon before picking back up again to close things out. The Blue stage is the place to hang out if you’re interested in high quality rap and R&B, while Red and Green will focus largely on rock acts. Unfortunately there aren’t really any electronic acts on Saturday, but if you really want to dance I’m certain you can find a way.
There are some major schedule conflicts on Saturday that may be difficult to navigate for the astute music listener, however the good thing is that the stages are close enough you can easily split your time between them and not have to worry about missing too much. I’ve done my best to help you make some hard decisions with some descriptions and recommendations below. Perhaps the best advice I can give is to challenge yourself in some way by checking out an artist you’ve never heard or seen in concert before. If you’re not enjoying a set, just walk away. There’s almost always another stage in action, and if not, you can explore the grounds of Union Park a bit and maybe get some food. Don’t hesitate to seek out “Better Distractions”, as Faye Webster would call them. Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s lineup, broken down by hour and conflicts.
Horsegirl [1:00 – 1:40, Green Stage]
Horsegirl are something of an enigma. They’ve only been around since 2019, and in that time the Chicago trio have released a grand total of three songs. One assumes that things like a pandemic and still being in high school have contributed to their somewhat slow start. And hey, those three songs are quite good – at least good enough to get them signed to Matador Records and booked into the first slot on Saturday at Pitchfork. Also, thanks to a Zoom performance from earlier this year I can attest they have enough music to fill a 40 minute time slot. As for their sound, Horsegirl like to blur the lines between genres a bit, but tend to skew toward the shoegaze, slowcore, and post-rock styles, punctuating their somber melodies with occasional squalls of noise. Not sure how that’ll come across in the early afternoon, but they’re absolutely worth checking out, if only to say you saw them in the early days before anyone really knew who they were.
Bartees Strange [1:45 – 2:25, Red Stage]
Speaking of up-and-coming talent, Bartees Strange managed to have himself a great quarantine in 2020 by bursting onto the scene with his critically acclaimed debut album Live Forever. It’s 35-minutes of style hopping as he takes detours through rock, folk, rap, and soul yet feels completely at home in each. Prior to the album he earned attention with an EP covering songs by The National, and just in the last month gave us remixes of Phoebe Bridgers’s “Kyoto” and illuminati hotties’ “Pool Hopping” that functioned more like re-worked duets. The guy is crazy talented, and I have no doubt he’ll become a household name in indie circles over the coming years. To some degree he already is. Consider his Pitchfork set an introduction if you’re not already familiar. I suspect this might end up being one of the best sets of the entire weekend, so show up early!
Divino Nino [2:30 – 3:15, Green Stage]
Maxo Kream [2:45 – 3:30, Blue Stage]
Perhaps the best word I can use to describe Chicago band Divino Nino is “malleable”. They’ve consistently proven an ability to change and adapt their sound to achieve specific ends. One might use that point to argue they try so many different things out of a general lack of direction, like throwing a bunch of shit against a wall to see what sticks. But the thing is, everything they do sounds purposeful and fully intentional, and they’re so damn good at all of it. They have a wide palette of influences, and wear them on their sleeves. A little ’70s AM Gold here, a little psych-pop there, a little Spanish-English mixed lyrics everywhere, and it’s all pretty delightful. They’re a rock solid live act too.
While I haven’t seen Maxo Kream on stage before, his albums have a fair number of medium and uptempo beats on them, which typically translates well from a performance perspective. He’s a natural storyteller, and his last record Brandon Banks dives deep into his family history and his often conflicted relationship with his criminal father. In many ways the material and general cadence reminds me of Killer Mike, and if he can come anywhere close to matching that level of style and flow during his set it’ll be utterly magnetic to watch.
Amaarae [3:20 – 4:10, Red Stage]
Amaarae’s The Angel You Don’t Know was one of 2020’s best records, a highly distinctive yet addictive debut that managed to effortlessly blend Afropop, R&B, rap, and rock sounds with her silky smooth vocals. The languid ballads are balanced out by the occasional bop, so one minute you’re dancing and the next you’re horizontal on the couch just trying to absorb the emotional bombs dropping from every direction. That should make for an interesting dichotomy in her mid-afternoon set, inspiring some to find a shady spot to relax and others to engage more freely with the material. Hopefully it results in a lovely performance befitting the wonderful album she’s supporting.
Faye Webster [4:00 – 4:45, Blue Stage]
Waxahatchee [4:15 – 5:10, Green Stage]
I love Faye Webster. Her music is wonderful. Not sure if it belongs at a festival, but it’s still excellent all the same. I say that because almost every one of her songs moves at a somewhat glacial pace. Unhurried might be a better way to describe it. Someone sauntering along a wooded path with nowhere in particular to go. It’s a little bit R&B and a little bit country (thanks to the occasional pedal steel work). Webster’s greatest strengths lie in her lyrics and the way they’re delivered. She’s very direct and to the point, so much so that her plainspoken approach can appear simplistic at first, but it’s the economy of the phrasing that really gets you. She also expresses a lot of emotions, many of them sad, but sometimes happy or in love, often peppered with a little joke. But also her vocals don’t really inflect the emotion she’s describing, instead maintaining a smooth and tuneful melody no matter how she’s feeling. It’s weird and cool and great. All that stuff is present in her live show too, which makes me think it’d be a nice time to sit in the shade by the Blue stage and just chill for a bit in the late afternoon.
I could have sworn that Waxahatchee has played Pitchfork Music Festival at least 3-4 times in the past decade, but research shows I’m wrong. Katie Crutchfield and her band have actually only been on the lineup twice before, in 2013 and 2015. Guess those were two memorable years, because I recall both of those performances vividly. No clue as to why, especially since they felt (and still feel) rather plain in comparison to other, weirder/wilder sets. Perhaps it’s the songs that have stuck with me, as Waxahatchee records tend to be uniformly great. The newest one Saint Cloud might just be her best work to date, moving away from lo-fi, distorted arrangements and toward folk and Americana. Those songs seem likely to mellow the live show out a bit more than usual, but honestly the songs are so lush and lyrically strong it’ll just be nice to hear them in any capacity.
Ty Segall & Freedom Band [5:15 – 6:10, Red Stage]
Georgia Anne Muldrow [5:15 – 6:00, Blue Stage]
Ty Segall is tough to pin down, and I suspect he likes it that way. He’s got a whole lot of projects under a whole lot of different names, and releases a whole lot of records every year whether you ask for them or not. The bulk of his early work tended to focus on intense guitar rippers with plenty of distortion and more solos than you could shake a stick at. In recent years he’s mellowed a little, diving further into psychedelia and psych-folk in a way that seems almost proto-Bowie (or maybe even St. Vincent to a degree). Then again, his new record, the surprise release Harmonizer that came out about a month ago, falls somewhere in the sonic middle of his catalog – a solid mixture of quiet and heavy. My grand point is that it’s tough to keep up with everything Ty Segall is doing, and he’s released so many records over the past few years I haven’t always been able to keep up. At the very least, his live show absolutely rips, and when he’s not twisting out crazy guitar solos he may just be wearing weird Halloween masks and trying to antagonize people (in a fun sort of way). Catch his set to be impressed by his technical skill and amused by his antics.
Georgia Anne Muldrow might best be described as a neo-soul singer, though maybe it’s a little reductive to place her in such a limited box. Her catalog plays with convention as she embraces R&B, jazz, and even pop elements on occasion. Much of it feels cut from a similar cloth, and honestly her voice serves as the anchor to hold your attention no matter what else a song might be doing. She reminds me a lot of (Sunday headliner) Erykah Badu, and while it would have made sense to schedule them on the same day, perhaps fate had other plans. As it stands, Georgia Anne Muldrow will be back to back on the Blue stage with Jamila Woods, and that’s an extremely great combination on its own. Find a spot to relax a bit, maybe take a little something to enhance the mellow, and let these divine melodies carry you away.
Kim Gordon [6:15 – 7:15, Green Stage]
Jamila Woods [6:30 – 7:15, Blue Stage]
Kim Gordon deserves the title of Artist with a capital A. She’s been kicking around the music industry for 40 years, and at no point could you ever describe the music she’s made as “normal” or “conventional”. All of her time in Sonic Youth was one gigantic era, then there were the three albums recorded with guitarist Bill Nace under the name Body/Head, and finally in 2019 we got her first genuine solo album No Home Record. There’s plenty of atonal noise, drones, skittering drum machine beats, lo-fi distorted guitars, and even electronic elements twisted in unexpected ways. Vocally she’s a bit all over the place, going from mumbling and whispering to shouting and legitimately singing with a range she’s never explored before. It’s not easy to enjoy, but so different and subtly brilliant you can’t help but sit up and pay attention. Who knows how all that will play out on stage, but I’m intrigued to find out.
Back in November 2019, I was lucky enough to attend a special, one night only Jamila Woods show titled Legacy! Legacy! Unfolded. Instead of a traditional set featuring songs from across her catalog, the R&B artist instead deconstructed her incredible album Legacy! Legacy! through audio clips, video clips, and poetry readings with live performances of each track sprinkled in between. It took an already revelatory record and spelled out its intentions clearly. The commentary was blistering and beautiful. Harsh and humorous. That’s the sort of experience unique enough to embed itself deep in your memory. Her set at Pitchfork will not include such depth or emotional exploration, but it will be intense and powerful in a different way. Jamila Woods is a Chicago treasure, and worthy of your attention.
Angel Olsen [7:25 – 8:25, Red Stage]
Jay Electronica [7:45 – 8:30, Blue Stage]
Angel Olsen has had a pretty incredible last couple of years. Her 2019 album All Mirrors saw a significant expansion of her sound by incorporating a full orchestra into every song, giving them an epic, widescreen feel to match the power of her voice. A “companion” record Whole New Mess came out the following year, stripping back many of those same songs to their acoustic original demos and adding a few b-sides. Then as if she needed a bit of a respite, she gave us the Aisles EP last month, featuring a handful of covers that transformed pop songs from the ’80s into more somber (but kind of fun?) affairs. It’s all been rather fantastic, and perfectly in line with Olsen’s long-standing reputation as a generation-defining talent. She’s performed at Pitchfork a couple of times in the past, and despite my apprehension that her quieter side might fall flat in a festival atmosphere, she’s always managed to find a way to keep a crowd rapt with attention in spite of excessive heat and other distractions. Perhaps her voice is just a siren’s call, and you can’t help but be drawn toward it.
One of the biggest surprises on this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival lineup is Jay Electronica. The rapper has established himself as a formidable presence ever since the release of his debut mixtape in 2007, and the legend has only grown since then. He signed to Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation in 2010, and managed to go an entire decade only doing guest verses without releasing anything of his own. Last year changed all that with the release of his debut album A Written Testimony, which somehow managed to live up to the lofty expectations that had been built for him over the past 10 years. Then came the surprise release of Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn) last fall, a long gestating record that was expected many years ago but ended up shelved for whatever reason. Some parts were left unfinished, but it still managed to earn near universal praise for the way it pushes hip hop into fresh and exciting territory. So yes, Jay Electronica has finally arrived and is ready to take his rightful place alongside Kendrick and Kanye and other major figures in the rap world. Catch his performance at Pitchfork to both see if it lives up to the hype and also be able to say you saw him on the small Blue stage at a boutique music festival back in the day.
St. Vincent [8:30 – 9:50, Green Stage]
A lot of people like to call St. Vincent “the David Bowie” of our current generation. Given her penchant for switching up styles and personas from album to album this comparison makes some sense, though feels a little short-sighted and lazy when you start to dig deeper. St. Vincent aka Annie Clark has proven herself to be monstrously talented over a handful of albums, to the point where she doesn’t really need any gimmicks or personality changes to win over fans or keep people engaged. But the switch-ups are fun, and I’m certain they’re partly motivated by purposeful obfuscation and a desire to push on creative boundaries. This has worked to mixed effect. Her new album Daddy’s Home, for example, embraces the seedy underbelly of ’70s New York with a bit of glitz and glam but also surprisingly personal lyrics about trauma within her family. Unfortunately the melodies aren’t quite as sharp, and some of the choices made on multiple aesthetic levels feel questionable at best. It’s her weakest record by a long shot, though things were already starting to wear a little thin when she gave us a stripped down piano-and-voice version of her 2017 record Masseduction under the retitle of MassEducation. That said, a St. Vincent live show remains one of the best things you can attend, as Clark feels fully at home on stage. Even when the songs are sub-par, the presentation is utterly compelling. And once she straps on a guitar? Look out, your mind may be blown.