Oh baby, Sunday (9/12) was a fun one at Pitchfork Music Festival 2021. Here’s a bunch of photos from the day, organized in alphabetical order by artist: Andy Shauf, Caroline Polachek, Cat Power, Danny Brown, Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Keiyaa, Mariah the Scientist, oso oso, Thundercat, The Weather Station, and Yves Tumor. Check them out below!
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Please enjoy this collection of photos taken on Saturday (9/11) of Pitchfork Music Festival 2021. It includes the following artists, in alphabetical order: Amaarae, Angel Olsen, Bartees Strange, Divino Nino, Faye Webster, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Horsegirl, Jamila Woods, Kim Gordon, Maxo Kream, RP Boo, St. Vincent, Ty Segall, and Waxahatchee. You can find them all below!
Here’s a collection of photos taken on Friday (9/10) of Pitchfork Music Festival 2021. It includes the following artists, in alphabetical order: Animal Collective, Big Thief, black midi, DEHD, Dogleg, Ela Minus, The Fiery Furnaces, Hop Along, Kelly Lee Owens, Phoebe Bridgers, The Soft Pink Truth, and Yaeji. Continue past the jump to see them all!
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.
Guitars and powerful voices were the two things that absolutely dominated Pitchfork on Saturday. There were great sets all around, but especially in the early and late parts of the day. Here’s a comprehensive summary of all the amazing things I witnessed during Day 2 of the festival.
Technically speaking, Chicago trio Horsegirl only have three songs to their name so far. It was enough to get them signed to Matador Records, but not enough to fill a 40 minute festival set opening up Saturday at Pitchfork. The great news is that Horsegirl do in fact have more than just three songs, and they played enough of them to prove there’s lots more greatness to come. Despite forming shortly before the pandemic and not having a lot of live shows under their belts, they still managed to sound better and operate more tightly than bands who have been around for a while. Their unique blend of shoegaze and post-rock might have felt more at home under cloudy skies and stormy conditions, but a sunny day with a cool breeze was almost as effective. Can’t wait to hear/see what they do next.
Speaking of up and coming talent, Bartees Strange came charging right out of the gate like he had something to prove to an early afternoon crowd at Pitchfork. Rest assured, if anyone there hadn’t heard of him prior to his set, they absolutely knew who he was by the end of it. The man is a multi-talented wonder, capable of thrusting his guitar into the air while tearing into a killer solo as well as singing with deep conviction through an energized rock song or a tender ballad. He played most of the songs from his debut album Live Forever, most of which sounded as good if not better than the recorded versions thanks to his beefed up band. He also covered The National’s “Lemonworld”, which was part of his early 2020 EP featuring five songs from the popular indie band titled Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy. “Boomer” wrapped things up and sent the crowd into an excited frenzy. Expect bigger stages and better time slots for Bartees Strange in the very near future.
Pitchfork Music Festival made its glorious return to Union Park on Friday afternoon, two years and two months later than usual. In that time, some things have changed.
The pandemic is the main point of concern, as it resulted in the festival’s cancellation last year and could very well have canceled it again this year were a number of safety precautions not in place to help prevent the spread of the virus. Among those precautions? Requiring all attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken at an approved vendor within 24 hours of entry. Masks are also strongly encouraged. By all accounts, everyone in attendance followed proper procedure, and there were no major hiccups at the entrance gate (outside of a very long line). Once inside, I was pleased to see that close to 50% of people were wearing their masks when not actively eating or drinking. Unfortunately that percentage dropped significantly the larger the crowd got throughout the day. By the end maybe 25% of people kept their masks on, which honestly is still better than Lollapalooza back in July, where fewer than 10% of people were masking. Lolla didn’t result in a super spreader event (that we know of…), so hopefully the same holds true at Pitchfork.
Outside of the pandemic, everything else was nearly exactly the same as previous years. There’s a basketball court behind the Green stage that typically has snacks/fun booths from sponsors and such, but this year that area is covered by a large tent and has picnic tables inside instead. In fact, there appear to be far fewer sponsors this year overall. No booths giving out free bottles of antioxidant flavored water or kefir ice cream or custom screen printed shirts. Goose Island is the beer sponsor. White Claw has their own area, as does Door Dash. Not a whole lot else beyond that. Same goes for food vendors. There are about 5-6 booths when there would normally be a minimum of 8-10. It’s a bit weird to see things stripped down that much.
Lastly, there are fresh signs of gentrification in the area. Right between the Red and Green stages, you can see three brand new high rise buildings under construction, located about 2-3 blocks away. Let’s hope it doesn’t have any effect on park business such as the multiple music festivals (including Pitchfork) that happen there every year. I get the feeling new residents might not like loud music blasting up to their balconies for multiple weekends each summer.
So that’s the basic outline of what’s new at Pitchfork this year. Now let’s get to the music. Here’s a recap of the performances I witnessed over the course of Friday. It was a pretty solid day overall, with a couple of real standout sets.
And just like that, the 2021 Pitchfork Music Festival officially kicks off tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a long road to get here, and things will certainly feel a bit different this year, but let’s appreciate the fact that it’s able to happen. My introduction to the Sunday preview guide always includes tips on how to enhance your festival experience, so here’s the 411. If this were happening in mid-July as usual, I’d say that your top priority should be staying hydrated. Technically that remains true in September too, just the temperatures will be more manageable and you won’t be sweating as much. Drink plenty of water and you’ll feel better every day. Wear sunscreen and bug spray. It seems obvious, but people forget. Bring a poncho, ideally one you can keep folded in your pocket. Rain is always a possibility, even if it’s just a pop up shower. And of course have your mask and either a proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test at the ready because you won’t get in without them.
If you’re not interested in watching performances all day long and need a bit of a respite, there are other activities on the grounds of Union Park to distract yourself. There are lots of food and beverage options. You can stop by sponsored tents/kiosks with games you can play or free stuff being given away. The CHIRP Record Fair has plenty of vinyl and other music goods you can check out. The Flatstock Poster Fair brings in artists from all over the country showing off and selling posters they’ve created for concerts and other things. There’s also the Renegade Craft Fair, which showcases a bunch of handmade goods from artisan crafters. You may just find a cool little tchotchke to carry around with you for the duration of the festival and beyond. So yes! If you’re headed to Union Park this weekend, I hope you’ll have a blast and stay safe for this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. For those of us focused on the music, here’s the guide to what you’ll see and hear on Sunday.
Easy Access: Lineup Playlist, Friday Preview Guide, Saturday Preview Guide
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.
Easy Access: Lineup Playlist, Friday Preview Guide, Sunday Preview Guide
On paper, and perhaps in execution, Friday seems like it’ll be a somewhat strange day at Pitchfork Music Festival. The lineup and the way it’s organized is kind of all over the place from a genre perspective. Rap that tests the limits of the art form, electronic stuff to get you dancing, hard-nosed punk to rev up the energy, psychedelic/experimental to cool you down, and of course emotionally heavy indie rock that may bring tears to your eyes. That level of sonic diversity is not for the faint of heart, but pays dividends to those willing to explore and test their own limits. It should be a whole lot of fun, too!
If you’re planning to attend the festival and are at all unsure about what artists to see during what time of day, my hope is that this preview guide will help you make some critical decisions. I’ve broken Friday’s lineup down by hourly time slot, and included my personal recommendations on what’s worth checking out in case you need it. Really though, it’s all pretty fantastic and there are no wrong choices. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss on Friday, which basically amounts to encouraging you to show up early.
Easy Access: Lineup Playlist, Saturday Preview Guide, Sunday Preview Guide
We’re quickly approaching the two-year anniversary of The Courtneys’ excellent sophomore album II, and they’re still touring in support of it. Their commitment is admirable, and the reward is hopefully a wealth of new fans eager to hear more from the Canadian trio. A stop at Thalia Hall in Chicago on Friday night actually marked the end of their tour with Cloud Nothings, so they celebrated with a wildly fun performance that perfectly balanced their winning charm and sadder sensibilities.
“I’m learning to like Chicago,” Protomartyr singer Joe Casey said toward the end of the band’s set at Thalia Hall on Thursday night. Protomartyr hail from Detroit, which has a storied Midwestern rivalry with Chicago, so the minor bit of animus is understandable. He also may have been kidding, but his detached demeanor on stage made it difficult to tell. That’s by design of course, befitting a singer and band that crafts songs so relentless and emotionally intense they often seem on the verge of total collapse. You can’t allow your feelings to become too invested when performing songs about the ails of the world, lest they hold you in a masochistic pit of despair.
So you’re headed to Lollapalooza. Whether it’s your first time or your thirteenth (points to self), spending four days in the heart of Grant Park is never easy, but if done properly, is always a ton of fun. And while there are plenty of activities to do and things to consume, the real reason you’re there is to see and hear some of your favorite bands and artists perform as well as maybe make some new discoveries. So in between waiting in line to get in and waiting in line to get a beer and waiting in line to use the restroom and waiting in line to get food, you could realistically catch a good 8-10 performances each day. The punishment on your body won’t be great, but the rewards will likely be worth it when all is said and done. Whether you’ve already planned out your Lolla weekend or are simply going to play it by ear, it helps to at least have an idea of some of the top artists for every hour of every day. This guide is here to help! After the jump is a roadmap to four days of festival fun that will hopefully ensure a quality experience with fewer challenges and scheduling conflicts.
But first! A couple of annual tips about how to manage your time at Lollapalooza, from somebody who hasn’t missed a single day since 2005. First and foremost – prepare for weather! Coat yourself in sunscreen and bug spray before even leaving the house. You’ll thank me later. Bring a poncho, because it’s probably gonna rain at some point. As I’m writing this, the forecast says rain on Thursday and Saturday, so you’ll want to stay dry as best as you can. Wear comfortable but disposable shoes. If it rains at all over the four days, Grant Park will turn into a mud-filled swamp, and your shoes may not survive, so don’t wear your new, flashy sneakers. Don’t pick flip flops or heels, either. You’ll likely be on your feet for several hours each day, and the last thing you’ll want is to feel like your feet are going to fall off. Speaking of which, don’t forget to rest every now and then! Get off your feet by finding a comfortable spot to sit in the grass or dirt. It can be near a stage so you don’t miss anything except maybe some sweaty bodies rubbing up against one another. Just be aware that if you stand the entire time and keep walking between stages, your body will take a huge beating and each subsequent day will be a greater struggle than the one before it. Tons of water helps too, so drink more of that than you’re comfortable with and use the park water stations to keep refilling containers for free. Lastly, a word about stage locations. The Grant Park, Lake Shore and Perry’s stages are all on one side of the park. The Bud Light, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, BMI and Pepsi stages are on the other side. It is about a 15 minute walk from one end of the park to the other. Make sure your daily strategy doesn’t involve too much back and forth otherwise you’ll get worn down fast. Similarly, if you want to see the start of a set taking place on the opposite side of the park, you’ll need to head out early to make it in time. With good planning and everything in moderation, you too can survive Lollapalooza weekend without taking a trip to the medical tent or at least feeling like death for days afterward. Now then, let’s get to that day-by-day artist guide!
If Autolux fans have learned anything about the L.A. trio since their 2004 debut album Future Perfect, it’s that they take their sweet time. In their case, the preferred incremental gap seems to be six years, which embodies the period it takes them to write and record new music, then tour in support of it. The space occurred between Future Perfect and 2010’s Transit Transit, then once more leading up to the just-released Pussy’s Dead, their third full-length in a dozen years. Frustrating as the wait can be sometimes, the time they take to refine and gestate their sound tends to shine through on their recordings. Six years is more than enough of a gap to allow for different genres to grow and decline, so each time Autolux re-emerges from their self-imposed stasis the music landscape is completely different. Yet while their sound continues to evolve from album to album, it is clearly not dictated by trends. Similar to their peers and friends in Radiohead, Portishead and My Bloody Valentine, they follow their own path and wait for the rest of the world to catch up to them.
It’s been just over eight months since Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres) released her sophomore album Sprinter, and I’m fairly certain she hasn’t left the road since then. At the very least, as of this past weekend she’s played three shows in Chicago over that time period – easily more than most non-local artists. I’d argue it’s the town that keeps drawing her back, but exceptional circumstances such as a tour opening for Garbage likely brought her back sooner than anticipated. This particular time she was asked to return for the Tomorrow Never Knows festival, a multi-day, multi-venue event focused on raising the profiles of up-and-coming bands/musicians. This is also known as “something for Chicagoans to do in the dead of winter when concert season is slow.” For the record, it’s a great way to pass the time with plenty of great live music. The triple bill of Torres, Palehound and Julien Baker is just a small testament to that, as all three left a sharp impression on 2015 with highly personal, emotionally devastating albums. It made me concerned I’d be walking out of Lincoln Hall on Friday night a shell of a human being, my insides shredded from so much anguish. Thankfully that wasn’t entirely the case.
The night began with an opening solo set from Julien Baker. Her debut album Sprained Ankle earned her a place on many “Best of” lists last year, with special attention paid to her powerful and raw lyrics delivered with the nuance of a strong gut punch. In a stunning six song set, Baker wrenched every bit of emotion from each moment. The packed room stood in hushed silence as the weight and beauty slowly became too much to bear. It was an incredibly compelling example of how a performer can fully connect with an audience and even drive a few to tears. My own eyes began to well up towards the end, and that’s a rarity. The 19-year-old Baker is undoubtedly a talent worth following with a long career ahead of her. This was her first-ever show in Chicago, and judging by how many people bought her record at the end of the night, it certainly won’t be her last.
After the delicate sadness that was Julien Baker’s set, it seemed like Palehound wanted to deal with serious emotional fallout in a completely different way. Very few of their songs could be considered delicate, instead opting for a much darker, angrier tone spiked with heavier ’90s style grunge guitars in the vein of Hole or (most accurately) Speedy Ortiz. Ellen Kempner doesn’t take relationships lightly, so getting emotionally wounded after a break-up fosters aggression and resentment rather than clear-cut sadness and depression. That’s what the record Dry Food is all about, and it hits hard. So too does the band’s live show. While Kempner played a few songs solo with just her and an electric guitar, a majority of the time she was joined by a bassist and drummer who helped flesh out many of the songs and give those wounds an extra little twist of the knife. The trio dynamic also allowed Kempner to take some sonic detours on songs like “Easy” and “Molly” with some solos that really gave the crowd a taste of her profoundly excellent guitar skills. While it certainly left me impressed in the first half of the set, things calmed down a bit towards the end, which would’ve been disappointing if this alternate side wasn’t equally as compelling. At one point we were treated to a new song she hadn’t played live before, taking care to note that it was written more recently when someone new had come into her life and changed her outlook in a more positive direction. It was just about the only love song that would be played all evening, and offered a glimpse into where Palehound might be headed next. No matter how things progress in terms of content or subject matter, the band made it pretty clear on Friday night that they are highly talented and a force to be reckoned with now and in the future. Don’t be surprised if you hear plenty about them in 2016 and beyond.
The biggest benefit of touring incessantly is that you develop a much stronger stage presence. That is to say you learn what works and what doesn’t to help create the best, most entertaining and engaging version of your live show as possible. Given that Mackenzie Scott spent a majority of her time on the road in 2015, it makes perfect sense that she’s all the better performer because of it. When I caught her last May, it was mere weeks after the release of Sprinter and there were clear indications she was still feeling things out a bit with the new songs. These are growing pains every artist goes through, and some handle it much better than others. In the case of Torres, eight months ago she sounded great and put on a confident, strong show, but a few small things like the set list could have used some adjustment. Specifically, the overall pacing was a little off, and there were a few moments when it felt like Scott was holding back just a bit. For all I know it could have been the circumstances of that particular day, mixing things up on tour for the sake of variety. No matter the factors, by all accounts the set on Friday at Lincoln Hall represented an increase in consistency and showmanship.
The somewhat ironic thing is that the set list was nearly the same as the previous Torres show last May, just the order of the songs had changed slightly. That served well to even everything out and create a clearer path from start to finish. From the slow burn opening salvos of “Mother Earth, father God” through the clawing descent of “The Harshest Light,” the nine song set felt very much like a journey into and out of darkness. The 1-2-3 punch of “New Skin,” Cowboy Guilt” and “Sprinter” slammed with the force and subtlety of a wrecking ball, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake. The weight of these songs also physically manifested itself through Scott’s body as she visibly trembled during the more intense moments of the set. This was particularly prominent during the back-to-back combination of “Son, You Are No Island” and “Strange Hellos,” the former of which was all underlying dread and the latter of which was all powerful, fiery release. For those few loudly punctuated minutes, everyone in the room was rapt with attention as the walls were painted with sheer ferocity and self-confidence. This was Torres at her most vital, suddenly coming into focus and finding her footing after wandering around lost in the darkness. Such a captivating catharsis contributed to what was the best Torres show I’ve seen to date. Can’t wait for the next one.
Have you heard the new Torres record Sprinter yet? If not, immediately put that on your list of priorities for the week. This sophomore effort takes everything about Mackenzie Scott’s project and harnesses it into something that’s equal parts intense, spiritual and personal. She’s gotten much louder and more aggressive compared to her folk-centric debut, and her lyrics have gone from vague, possibly untrue stories to very specific diary-like entries. To put it another way, a curtain has been torn down, and we’re now hearing more of the living, breathing Torres than ever before. Throw some credit to producer Rob Ellis for helping turn Sprinter into one of the better things 2015 has had to offer so far. Ellis is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, who’s probably as good of a reference point as any to what this album sounds like.
Prior to the release of the record, Torres played a number of shows primarily during and surrounding SXSW in March. The reason it’s worth mentioning is because not only were those performances offering previews of what Sprinter would sound like, but they also felt like something of a coming out party for Scott, the hype building at a fast and furious rate by catching the attention of all the right people. Simply put, Torres has become a hot commodity. Not that she wasn’t back in June of 2013 when she came through Chicago for a show at the Empty Bottle, but like her new record everything is bigger and the shouts of taste makers are louder this time around. She’ll be making a triumphant return to the Bottle next Thursday (May 21st), and all indications are it will be a very exciting and powerful evening. You should definitely be there if you’re in town. It’s a 21+ show, starts at 9PM and tickets are only $10 in advance. Buy them here and thank me later. And just in case you need a little more coersion, stream a couple of the new songs below.