After two long days of live music, I needed a little extra rest in order to make it through Sunday at Pitchfork intact. Unfortunately, that meant missing an act like Special Interest, who I was excited to see but also had one of the first sets of the day. I’m sure Tomberlin would have been wonderful too, but it just wasn’t quite meant to be this time. Here’s a recap of all the artists I did end up seeing on Sunday, which basically amounts to everyone else on the lineup.
I arrived at Union Park a little bit into KeiyaA‘s set, which was going strong on the Green stage. Upon wandering over and listening to a handful of songs, it was generally quite lovely. She had a three-piece band with her, which I think helped flesh out the R&B songs from her album Forever, Ya Girl a bit more than the recorded versions. While that generally meant a more energized delivery, and KeiyaA’s voice was operating at full power, I’m still not sure it was enough to really grab my attention and snap me out of an early Sunday afternoon haze. The sun was out, a breeze was blowing through, and I just wanted to sit down somewhere and relax to her music.
Meanwhile oso oso looked a little crowded together on the Blue stage. They’re not a large band by any stretch of the imagination, but their multi-guitar attack paired with a singer just looked like there wasn’t much room to move around. They tried though, which is more than I can say for the crowd watching them. oso oso songs are fun pop-punk throwbacks, and should have inspired some jumping around. Maybe a mosh pit or crowd surfing too. Instead, everyone just kind of stood there and listened as the band tried to liven things up a bit. Maybe it was successful early on in the set (which I missed), but the last few songs were met with a lot of crossed arms and shrugs.
Mariah the Scientist will be huge some day, but Sunday at Pitchfork was not quite her star-making performance. It’s clear she’s got fans, you could hear them screaming loudly at multiple points during her set. But as a live performer she could definitely use some more practice. First of all, she started her set 10 minutes late and ended it 15 minutes early. She was given 50 minutes but only took half of it, despite having enough material to fill the time. Then there was the singing with a backing vocal. It’s not unheard of and not necessarily frowned upon if used sparingly, but she seemed more reliant on that to carry the weight of most songs so she could stop singing to make a random comment or say hello to a fan and the vocals/instrumental wouldn’t be interrupted. She seemed distracted by random things for much of the set, and her DJ playing the tracks would just cut something off after a verse or two and move right on to the next song. At one point she talked about how much she loved Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and felt it was the perfect song for a festival, so she wanted to cover it. She asked the crowd to sing with her, and when it became clear not enough people either knew the lyrics or felt comfortable participating, she gave up on the idea halfway through. To be clear, Mariah the Scientist seems very nice and has a great voice. I like her albums, and continue to believe she’s got big things ahead of her. Hopefully she can figure out a live show that works in the near future, but sadly her set at Pitchfork wasn’t it.
The Weather Station had the good fortune of performing at Pitchfork in support of her album Ignorance, which has only solidified its placement among the top records of 2021 as the months have passed. The opportunity to hear those songs rendered live on the Blue stage was too exciting to pass up. Tamara Lindeman brought a large band with her that included saxophone and special guest Macie Stewart (of Chicago’s Ohmme) on keyboards to help ensure everything sounded as full and beautiful as it was originally conceived on the album. The results were nothing short of stunning, as each composition brimmed with life and beauty in ways that felt natural amid the tree-lined stage. The Weather Station played nearly every track from Ignorance over the course of 45 minutes, with only minor detours into her prior two records. It may not have been the most exciting set to watch, but the material stood up on its own and retained an emotional resonance that felt just right for the time, place, and crowd.
One of the best things about Thundercat‘s live performances is that even if you’re not familiar with or a fan of his music, there’s still a great chance you’ll be able to appreciate what he’s doing on stage to some degree. His talent is undeniable, and it’s something of a marvel to watch him shred on the bass. You get some of that on record, but the perfection of the recordings often leave no room for genuine improvisation or detours into the unknown. Thundercat’s set at Pitchfork managed to blend the best of both worlds, as he hit highlights within his catalog (“Dragonball Durag”, “Them Changes”) while also jamming out when the mood struck him. Most of it was a whole lot of fun and incredibly impressive, however I did get the impression from some in the crowd that portions of the extended jazz breakdowns went on too long and generated a fair amount of frustration/boredom. I get it. Not every moment felt like it was firing on all cylinders. Those who were high probably had a great time, though.
As much as I admire Thundercat, those who managed to wander away and over to the Blue stage were gifted a performance by Yves Tumor that could in no way ever be described as frustrating or boring. Quite plainly, it was one of the best (if not THE best) sets of the entire weekend. Incredibly noisy and dripping in excess, Tumor and their band came out swinging with a brash “Gospel for a New Century” that sounded even better than it did on record. Pretty much everything leveled up thanks in no small part to an insane guitarist who looked like he’d been transported through time from an ’80s hair metal band. Watching him shred while doing kicks, jumps, and rolling around on the ground was a show unto itself. But Tumor made sure everyone knew they were the star attraction, and you couldn’t help but watch wide-eyed as they climbed out into the crowd, started up a mosh pit, swung the microphone around like a windmill, and sang like a person possessed by a demon. The Slipknot cutoff shirt, knee-high leather boots, and spiky wristbands as an outfit were statements unto themselves. The set list largely ran through songs from last year’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind and this year’s surprise The Asymptomatical World EP, both of which leaned heavily into glam rock and helped boost the energy on stage. Everyone was so into it, that when Tumor went a few minutes past the allotted time slot the festival was forced to cut off the audio. A minor rebellion ensued, and Tumor egged on the crowd as they chanted to turn the mics back on for just five more minutes. As the old adage goes, always leave them wanting more.
If you’ve never seen Danny Brown in concert before, you’re missing out. Witnessing his antics and energy on stage is always a delight, and he never fails to get the crowd hyped up to levels you wouldn’t otherwise expect. He runs back and forth from one side of the stage to the other with reckless abandon. Sticks out his tongue like it’s trying to escape from his mouth. Tosses one of his legs atop a speaker like he’s posing for a Captain Morgan bottle label. He’s a wild card and a charmer. If you’re near the front of the crowd, you’ll get the chance to hear everyone shout the lyrics to a bunch of his tracks right back at him. There were plenty of choice cuts during his Pitchfork set this year, kicking off with “Side B (Dope Song)” followed by “The Black Brad Pitt”, his 2012 collaboration with Evil Nine. “Smokin & Drinkin” took things to a whole other level, and diving into “Ain’t It Funny” and “Really Doe” halfway through made sure the energy never slipped. There was a minor hiccup toward the end when up-and-coming Detroit rapper ZelooperZ came out to do his song “Battery” with Brown and they were forced to restart a couple of times due to various technical issues, but outside of that everything else was smooth sailing. Union Park might as well have shut down when Brown ended with a pumped up version of his collaboration with Rustie, “Attak”. Honestly, the whole thing played out like a greatest hits set, and given the amazing catalog he’s built up over the past decade, it couldn’t have turned out much better.
Andy Shauf is Canadian, and my first inclination is to tell you that he’s quite pleasant as a result. Soft spoken and kind, he’s exactly the sort of artist you want to see in a small theatre or even within the confines of an upscale coffee shop. That’s not meant as any sort of slight against him, because we need all types of musicians in this world. Does he fit into the outdoor space and large crowds of a music festival? It’s an awkward placement, particularly with his softly strummed folk songs, but he did have a full band on hand to help flesh out the arrangements just a bit. The crowd at the Blue stage, for all their grace, was quiet and attentive through most of his set even though you could hear noise coming from Danny Brown on the Green stage in the distance. Shauf played through much of his excellent 2020 record The Neon Skyline, and it was really nice hearing those songs performed live. He even played a couple of new, unreleased songs, hinting that there may be another album on the way sooner rather than later. It may have been one of the least exciting performances of the entire weekend, but for about 45 minutes on a Sunday, Andy Shauf managed to make a music festival feel almost intimate.