We’re knee-deep in the spring concert season, and great shows are blooming up just about everywhere you look. Case in point, about three weeks from now Lady Lamb (aka Aly Spaltro) will be rolling through Chicago for a headlining performance at Schubas. If you’re not familiar with Lady Lamb and her music, allow me to provide a little bit of background. The year was 2013 when a young upstart from Maine unleashed her debut studio album Ripely Pine under the moniker of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. It was a critically acclaimed work of depth and complexity, anchored by Spaltro’s harrowing vocals and lyrical poems that were intensely personal and powerful. A song like “Bird Balloons” does a fantastic job of capturing all of those qualities, to the point where I named it one of my favorite songs of 2013. This year heralded a new record called After, and the dropping of “the Beekeeper” from her name, most likely for the sake of verbiage. But just because she’s no longer tied to bees doesn’t mean she never gets stung. The album focuses on loss, be it a relationship, friends, family or even your sense of home. Spaltro gets even more personal with her reflections, and ferocious in her melodies. Perhaps the best thing about it though is how it manages to surprise at almost every turn, with many of the songs morphing over their duration so you never quite know what to expect. Take a listen to “Spat Out Spit” and “Billions of Eyes” (below) to better understand Lady Lamb’s sound and unique style. She’s more than worth checking out in a live setting too. Back in 2013 I had the privilege of seeing her open for Torres at the Empty Bottle, and it was an impressive showcase of her talents. Not only did Spaltro perform completely solo, but she managed to bring the entire room to complete silence by belting out her opening song completely a capella without even the use of a microphone. There’s just so much fire and passion in her voice that you’re compelled to stop whatever you’re doing and just soak it in. It’s my understanding that with this current tour there are some backing musicians to help flesh out the new songs a bit more, and maybe even add a bit of extra power. In short, you’re probably not going to want to miss this stop at Schubas on Wednesday, May 6th. There are very few tickets remaining for the show, so jump on it quick. Tickets are $12, it’s an 18+ show, and starts at 9PM. Hope to see you there!
Tag: live Page 2 of 9
Let’s not sugar coat this: Foxygen aren’t for everyone. They’re the sort of band that thrives on doing their own thing and not apologizing for it, which can really rub some people the wrong way. If you want to listen to and enjoy music that’s safe and comfortable that’s fine, but if unsafe and uncomfortable music is more up your alley, then by all means give Foxygen a try. Their 2013 album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic represented the band at the height of their powers, taking cues from classic artists like The Rolling Stones and The Kinks while at the same time blurring lines between psych-pop, soul, funk, gospel and straight-up rock. They took that smorgasbord of influences and doubled down both figuratively and literally with last year’s …And Star Power. Across two discs and 24 tracks, Foxygen had crafted something akin to a 70’s glam rock concept record along the lines of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy. Of course both those albums are classics, while Foxygen’s latest effort was met with more of a collective sigh from many critics and fans. Much of the good will the band had amassed the year prior had been wiped away by that point anyways, thanks to band in-fighting, shows being cancelled and an overall sense of fatigue that came with spending too much time on the road. Some artists progress slowly and steadily, while others push themselves to extremes and flame out quickly and in spectacular fashion. For all practical purposes, Foxygen appear to be the latter.
Last week they let everyone know via Twitter that this will be their final tour. Now before you go crying tears of sadness or joy, depending on your opinion of the band, I think it’s important to remember the following: they may not be 100% serious about it. Allow me to offer up a reasonable explanation. Upon the release of …And Star Power last fall, Foxygen decided to go all-out spectacle with their tour in support of it. They put together a true production with a large crew, elaborate stage design and extra band members that included backup singers/dancers. Then they kind of but not really changed their name. I’m not sure if they settled on Foxygen and Star Power or simply just Star Power, but to avoid confusion everyone kept calling them just plain Foxygen anyways, so it doesn’t matter so much. Upon claiming that this is their “final tour,” that could have multiple meanings. Will this be the final tour in support of the …And Star Power record? Will they be breaking up “Star Power” only to reform again as Foxygen? Will they simply be ending their extravagant live show with extra band members and will scale back to normal? It could be any/all of those things, none of which truly spell the end of Foxygen. More than anything, I’m convinced they’ll disappear for a few years, then resurface with a new album.
Whatever they choose to do, it’s likely to be interesting if not a bit bothersome and annoying. But that shouldn’t stop you from going to see Foxygen play what could be their final show in Chicago on April 9th at Metro. At the very least it’ll be the last time they come through town for the foreseeable future with a whole big event-style performance. To give you at least a taste of what that might entail, check out their visit to Letterman from back in January where they blew him away with “How Can You Really”. Pretty great, right? Anyways, tickets to their show at Metro are $18 in advance and can be purchased here. It’s an 18+ show and starts at 9PM, just so you’ve got all the necessary details. I hope to see you there!
Multiple studies done over the last decade have pretty much all determined that our own personal tastes in music become established between the ages of 14 and 24. As these are the most formative years of our lives, from puberty to the completion of our education in high school and college to the friends and social groups we settle into, it makes sense that this would be a testing ground for the kinds of music we like. The reason I bring this up is because at the tender age of 19 I discovered the band Cursive. To be fair, I discovered a LOT of bands at that age and have continued to for a good decade since, but for one reason or another Cursive holds a special place in my heart. Their 2003 concept(ish) album The Ugly Organ very blessedly blurred the lines between alt-rock, indie, punk and emo so it provided a rather easy entry point for music fans of all stripes and colors. Working at a college radio station in the Midwest also brought the band to my attention, and few were the days when you couldn’t find me in the DJ booth jumping around to “Art Is Hard” as it blasted over the airwaves. ‘Twas a simpler time. But I digress. The point being, The Ugly Organ was a record I really got into and apparently a whole lot of others did as well. So much so the band decided to reissue it last fall with a bunch of bonus material, and follow it up this winter/spring with a two month U.S. tour in celebration. The band finally reached Chicago at the tail end of that for a sold out show at Lincoln Hall on Wednesday night. Here’s what happened. (cue Law & Order ::dun dun::)
One of the more noteworthy things about The Ugly Organ is that it’s Cursive’s only release that prominently features the cello. The band recruited cellist Gretta Cohn in 2001 to play on the record and tour in support of it, but in 2005 she left to pursue other interests and was never replaced. While Cohn did play a show or two with Cursive recently when they stopped in New York (where she now lives), she hasn’t rejoined the band or anything like that. The good news is that all of the other stops on this tour did have a cellist to help ensure that the album was properly brought to life, not to mention the bonus of adding cello parts to a bunch of other songs across the Cursive catalog.
Unlike a majority of bands who have adopted the trend of performing a classic album from front to back, Cursive decided to shake things up a bit because they didn’t want to be like everyone else. That was clear right from the beginning of their set, which kicked off with “Sink to the Beat” from 2001’s Burst and Bloom EP followed by “Big Bang” from 2006’s Happy Hollow. Those were but a couple of many interesting choices the band made across close to 90 minutes and 21 songs. Yes The Ugly Organ was technically played in full, but there were detours taken along the way to throw the crowd off and celebrate other records in bits and pieces. Of the non-Organ records, 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen got the most love, but not by much. The biggest surprise of the night was probably “Excerpts From Various Notes Strewn Around the Bedroom of April Connolly, Feb. 24, 1997,” a song that appeared on a 2002 split EP called 8 Teeth to Eat You. That, or the song “Nonsense,” which was found on the Saddle Creek 50 compilation. Both of those tracks actually are included in the deluxe reissue of The Ugly Organ so it makes sense that they’d be played, but context aside they’re absolutely rarities and not the sort of songs you expect to be performed live pretty much ever.
As for The Ugly Organ itself, let’s just say it’s the sort of record that holds up really well. The 1-2-3 punch that is “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand” into “Art Is Hard” into “The Recluse” still hits with the same force, only this time you’ve got a room full of people shouting along to every single word. “Art Is Hard” in particular is just a powder keg that set a lot of people off. Similar things could be said about the late set heroics from songs like “Bloody Murderer” and “Sierra,” the latter of which kicked off the encore. As great of a time as the crowd seemed to be having, the band looked like they were having a blast too. Frontman Tim Kasher seemed to suggest that the tour had been going on forever and they were all a little worse for wear, but there were no telltale signs outside of a couple small coughing fits that Kasher had between songs. Illnesses can be tough to recover from when you’re on the road and are unable to rest or take really good care of yourself. So long as it doesn’t degrade the performance though, such things are manageable. Turns out a night honoring The Ugly Organ was anything but ugly. It’s my sincere hope that Kasher and the rest of Cursive take inspiration from that record and this tour as they write and arrange material for their next effort. The world could use more albums like it.
Let me set the scene: It’s a Saturday night at the end of January in Chicago. According to the weather reports, something wicked this way comes. Specifically, a monster snowstorm set to pile on more than a foot of the white stuff between Saturday and Monday morning. It has the real potential to be a record breaker too, possibly capturing a coveted spot on the Top 10 biggest snowfalls to ever hit Chicago. Yet in spite of this and the myriad of warnings from meteorologists to avoid travel if possible, the bands Pearl and the Beard and Wild Child still performed in front of a sold out crowd at Lincoln Hall that very evening. We Chicagoans are a tough and proud people, refusing to let winter keep us away from enjoying some live music. Thankfully bands like these are also willing to come around when we’re at our weather worst. So how did it all go, conditions outside notwithstanding? Let me give you the play by play.
Pearl and the Beard are a Brooklyn-based trio with a fascinating dynamic and sound. While Jocelyn Mackenzie handles drums, Jeremy Lloyd-Styles plays guitar and Emily Hope Price does the cello and keyboards, when it comes to vocals there is no technical frontman or frontwoman or lead singer. All three of them are equally talented at their individual instruments, yet can also belt out a song with ease. They may all take turns behind the microphone, but more often than not add a little extra grace and beauty to their songs with some highly impressive harmonies. The cello goes a long way to contribute some additional beauty as well, all of these things contributing to the band’s unique and difficult to describe sound. Their set at Lincoln Hall was the final stop on their tour with Wild Child, and though they confessed to being a little bit worn down and sick, as one might expect during a long winter touring cycle, it seemed to have little to no effect on their performance. Just about every note hit with the right inflection and energy, engaging the crowd and encouraging sing-alongs for those familiar with some of their singles. Not being terribly familiar with their records, this show was a bit of an introduction for me, and a pretty positive one at that. Their eclectic approach and style may make them hard to pin down, but quite easy to like. That they all seem to have a pretty great sense of humor helps too, providing a few laughs between songs keeps everybody in a jovial mood. If the handful of new songs they played from their forthcoming record Beast are any indication, 2015 might just be the year that Pearl and the Beard reach a whole new audience.
As far as headliners Wild Child go, let’s just say that they’ve already built a rabid fan base for themselves. I mean, they probably could have sold out Lincoln Hall without any openers if they had wanted to, and it stands to reason the next time they come through Chicago it’ll be at a significantly larger venue. What’s fascinating to me is that they’ve done all this with no radio support or mentions from a number of prominent music publications. Still, NPR has really championed them, and most of their singles have gotten a massive amount of streams on YouTube, Spotify and The Hype Machine, so clearly people are catching on anyways. In case you’re not familiar, here’s a quick play-by-play. The Austin seven piece have released two full lengths to date, 2011’s Pillow Talk and 2013’s The Runaround. Their sound is described by most as indie pop, though with so many members and instruments it’s more like a collection of styles and genres incorporated into traditional pop structures. I’d say that folk pop is sort of their base, as most of their songs fall somewhere on the spectrum between The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Of Monsters and Men, Vance Joy and The Head and the Heart. There’s that acoustic guitar base, the male and female traded off vocals/harmonies, touches of violin, cello and banjo, and choruses that everybody can collectively sing along to. In fact, such actions are strongly encouraged during their live show.
The crowd at Lincoln Hall was more than happy to oblige with the request, leaving the band equally grateful and blown away by the extreme enthusiasm. What else can I say about their set? It was lovely, it was fun, and it was full of should-be hits from across their catalog. The best moments offered up a range of emotions, like when they transitioned from a joyously high energy song that had everyone on stage singing and playing as hard as they could, then followed it up with a stirring ballad that featured only principal members Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins while the rest took a short break. Through it all what shone through most was their passion, both for the material and for their fans. While I can’t quite call myself a fan due to a general ambivalence in regards to their music, at the very least they know how to put on a good show. That’s really all I was hoping for, and am thankful that Wild Child was able to deliver in that aspect.
The time between Christmas and New Year’s is always a dead zone. Very little gets scheduled or happens in the pop culture world during this period unless you’re talking about all the movies the studios release in a last ditch effort to qualify for awards season. The music industry is particularly quiet, with no album releases and no high profile shows. The big holiday bashes are over, and nobody wants to get right back to touring after taking a couple of days off for Christmas and such. Yet in this rather subdued week or so, there’s inevitably a fun little thing or two that pops up on the radar that seems to boast the attitude of, “Why not?” And so it was, on a chilly Saturday night in Chicago that the trio of local bands Wavepool, Minor Characters and Empires gathered together at Lincoln Hall for a show that helped wrap up a successful year for all three acts.
While I didn’t arrive in time for most of Wavepool’s set, I want to give them a quick mention as they were on the bill and deserve a little love and support. They’re a relatively new emo/punk band, but are starting to build a following thanks to some shows around town and a couple of songs released via Bandcamp. The couple of songs I managed to catch upon arriving at Lincoln Hall were quick, hard-hitting and fun. Here’s hoping that bigger and better things are in their future.
Speaking of bands with a bigger and better future, Minor Characters had a pretty solid 2014 overall. They began it with a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to get their debut LP Voir Dire mastered and released, which was quite successful. While I wasn’t able to review it this year, I’ll say this much: it’s a beautifully composed record that grows on you over time. My only real issue with the album is that it fails to fully capture the excitement and intensity with which the band performs these songs in a live setting. I actually saw Minor Characters back in October when they headlined a show at The Hideout for their album release party, and noticed the difference between the recorded and live versions immediately. Simply put, it feels like their music was composed for the stage, and that is where they excel and seem to be most at home. Perhaps that’s also because they’ve been playing most of these songs for years now, but only recently got around to recording them. Their set at Lincoln Hall on Saturday only furthered that assertion, as just about every song teemed with such forceful power and emotion that you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Their vocal harmonies were top notch too, in particular on a song like “Neighbors,” which elevates things to another level. To me, it also says something about a band if the other members sing along with the lead vocalist whether a microphone is in front of them or not. Just like when a die-hard fan does the same thing in the crowd, it shows that you’re passionate about the material. So yes, Minor Characters put on a great show. It’s just a shame they haven’t really been able to do much in the way of touring this year, so other states and venues might have the chance to see them at their best. Maybe that’ll happen in 2015 if we’re lucky.
Empires did embark on a national tour in 2014, and that was just one of several things that went right for them this year. They released an album called Orphan to solid critical acclaim. They were on Letterman and played Bonnaroo and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, among other places. Their singles “How Good Does It Feel” and “Please Don’t Tell My Lover” received national and international radio airplay. Those are just some highlights that tell you this is definitely a band that’s on their way up to the big leagues. So when you have a year like Empires did, a hometown show is a perfect way to celebrate those many accomplishments and wrap everything up in a nice little bow. The crowd at Lincoln Hall was primed for their performance, and the band was more than happy to deliver a high energy, catalog spanning set that perfectly showcased their strengths. It really was quite thrilling to watch, and a remarkable improvement on the show of theirs I saw back in the spring. An extensive amount of touring will do that to a band, as all the members learn how to best click with one another in service of a song, plus how to extract the most out of every performance. Empires are now a well oiled machine, and lead vocalist Sean Van Vleet is the wild-haired ringleader at the center of it all. He wasn’t just singing the songs, but throwing them out into the universe with the sort of gusto and celebratory nature often reserved for big name stadium bands. Empires may very well get there some day, and the effortless blend between pop and rock on Orphan is definitely a start in that direction. At various points during their set I recalled bands like The National, The Killers and U2, and not just because certain songs sounded similar. It was there in the style, the energy and even a bit in the vocals too. Throwing it all out there with such wild abandon can become a powerful elixir and really work the crowd into a frenzy. Given that they were playing in front of friends, well-wishers and others right here at home, of course things got a bit rowdy. What impressed me most was how many old songs that Empires included throughout the show, including a couple they hadn’t played in years, and how a majority of fans not only expressed excitement at this prospect, but sang along to every word as well. That’s the sort of devotion this band has sustained for several years now, and at this point it’s thrilling to think about how much farther they can go and how much more they can do once 2015 rolls around.
There are some things that, no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t un-see. Images are burned into your brain for all of eternity, in many cases haunting you and giving you nightmares. It’s the sort of stuff where you want to look away, but for whatever reason are unable to do so. I had one of these such experiences at Lincoln Hall this past Wednesday night with a triple bill show of Oscillator Bug, The Stargazer Lilies and TOBACCO. Let me tell you the story of how it destroyed me mentally.
Opening the night were Chicago’s own Oscillator Bug, who have been on this tour for a little over a week but are just now getting around to playing a hometown show in celebration of their debut album Bursts of the Million. While they’re technically a quartet when performing live, pretty much all of their fractured songs and compositions are built by frontman Zaid Maxwell, who started the project because he had these sounds and melodies in his head that wouldn’t go away and wouldn’t fit with any other band or project he was working on. The results are something truly unique, though most people describe Oscillator Bug’s sound as synth psych-pop. You’ve got to find some way to sum it up concisely. To my ears though, it’s more like a sonic assault. Songs overflow with more noise than often feels sensible, yet there’s still a clear melody and strong beats propelling everything forward. While there’s a central groove to most of their songs, sound effects and synths buzz around your head at all angles to the point where sometimes it can feel like there’s a little ADHD going on with too much to try and pay attention to. Of course it’s things like that which make the record worth repeat listens, mostly so you can pick up on everything that’s going on. Meanwhile in a live setting the assault extends beyond the mere auditory and into the visual, as lights surround the band on all sides and are consistently changing in time with the music. They’re not tremendously bright though, as ample attention is also given to the projection screen behind them, which shows a variety of psychedelic imagery. The band is a highly functioning machine while performing, and Maxwell plays ringleader throughout. I’d best describe his demeanor on stage as “staccato,” which is really to say he’s moving at a mile a minute, whether that’s in his halting vocal delivery or switching back and forth between a guitars, synths, pedals and other sound manipulators. He’s a one-man wrecking ball, and his three bandmates are right there at the core because there’s so much to do. Overall, Oscillator Bug’s 25 minute set was extremely high energy, fun and just a bit nuts to experience. More than a few people standing near me commented about how impressed they were after the band wrapped up, and in no way do I disagree with that sentiment.
Things got a little different with The Stargazer Lilies’ performance, but not in a weird or uncomfortable way. It was simply a sonic shift from the technicolor psych of Oscillator Bug into a world shrouded in muted tones and drones. The New York-based trio powered through a 40 minute set that was heavy on ambient and shoegaze melodies. It was glorious and beautiful and loud, which is really just as it should be. One of the main things I came to realize over the course of their set was that they have the word “stargazer” in their name partly because their music intends to be more uplifting than downtrodden (naturally, it’s also a type of flower). You may be inclined to gaze at the ground out of pure genre habit, but pay close enough attention to the way their songs are structured and do what you can to discern some lyrics, and suddenly there’s this positive harmony that shines through the cacophony. That’s a somewhat rare quality for a band like this to have, which is probably why they’ve been steadily on the rise over the course of the last year or so. There are two small areas in which their live show could use some improvement, and those are with the presentation and vocals. I understand that with most ambient drone-style performances the crowd is supposed to let their minds drift and internalize just about everything, but those not fully entranced may find the band’s deep lighting and projected images to be a bit boring. They’re not hyperactive like Oscillator Bug, nor are they danceable and showing crazy videos like TOBACCO (more on that in a minute). Then again, if you’re the filling in that band sandwich, there’s very little you could do that wouldn’t be perceived as boring. Aside from that, Kim Field does great work on the bass, and is equally talented behind the microphone – when you can hear her, of course. Guitars overpower everything in this style of music, but the vocals are there to function as their own gorgeous instrument and if they’re not properly mixed they’ll be completely drowned out. Field’s voice was barely audible during the songs, and the couple of times she attempted to engage in stage banter it was nearly impossible to hear and make out what she was saying. Outside of those couple of things, it was a highly enchanting set.
The evening’s headliner was TOBACCO, but it might make more sense to call the guy “wacky tobacky” based on how much strange and offbeat humor played into his live set. Thoroughly aware that having a crowd watching a guy behind a table of buttons, knobs and laptops while lights flash can be pretty boring, one of the main elements in TOBACCO’s live show are videos projected on a screen behind him. He started his set by showing a clip of “The Jerry Springer Show,” which included a hilarious story that a guest told about finding his fiancee cheating with his best friend. From there, it was all about the weird, wild, perverse and strange, set to pounding beats and highly manipulated vocals. If you’ve heard of TOBACCO and maybe even heard his music, then that only tells one small part of this guy’s aesthetic. Music videos for songs like “Streaker” and “Super Gum” (both very NSFW) give you a much better idea of the visual and auditory madness that’s rules his set. I mean, that second video features re-edited video from an actual porno from the 80s wherein people have sex with a strange, female version of E.T.! Any newer videos that were shown during the performance, including “Streaker,” may have been shot within the last few years but had just the right tint and grain to make it look like a product of the 70s or 80s to keep with a running aesthetic and motif in the world of TOBACCO. So what you do during the set is watch the (mostly) psychologically damaging videos while dancing your ass off. Part of me wants to detail all of the figurative war crimes that my eyes bore witness to, but it’s probably better if you don’t know, just in case you want to discover and explore this box of horrors yourself. So is the TOBACCO live show worth your while? I’d liken the experience to a car crash – it may look nasty, and there’s certainly the possibility that people were hurt, but through whatever morbid Curiosity you can’t help but want to look. The man reaches into the dark recesses of your human inclination and plays around in the blood and pus. You’ll walk away feeling violated and maybe even a little offended, but some part of you also loved it and craves more. It’s incredible how close our sensations of pain and pleasure are to one another.
Another year, another Riot Fest. It’s the 10th anniversary of this unique festival, which started as a bunch of punk bands playing at a handful of Chicago venues. Since then, it’s moved outdoors to one central location, added a carnival, and expanded its lineup significantly. This year is the biggest Riot Fest ever, with 130+ bands across 7 stages being held in a new section of Humboldt Park that’s better equipped to accommodate everything. Coincidentally this is also the first year I’ll be covering Riot Fest on the site, though be forewarned it’s going to be in a very quick and dirty fashion. This festival was built on punk spirit, and I’m going to maintain that by not writing too much and taking more time to truly enjoy myself. With other festivals like Pitchfork and Lollapalooza I get a bit more in depth and run everywhere to see as much as possible. Now that the weather is starting to turn colder and the general excitement of summer has all but worn off, I’m going to take in everything as it comes my way. Hopefully it will be a blast.
The lineup for this year’s Riot Fest is the best one yet, and points towards a bright future if they want to continue in this same vein. When it was first announced, I claimed it was the best festival lineup I’d seen in 2014, and I’m willing to stand by that assertion. There’s going to be plenty of things to see and do, so here’s a quick look at the bands and time slots you should make a priority this weekend when you’re not playing carnival games and such:
Here’s where the weekend finally caught up with me. After exiting Grant Park on Saturday night riding high thanks to an excellent set from Cut Copy, I jetted off to a Glen Hansard aftershow that would eventually become my downfall. See, the headlining set for most aftershows lasts 90 minutes or less, so attendees get out at a (somewhat) reasonable hour for another day of festival-going. Well, Hansard seemed to feel like he wanted to give the crowd a proper SHOW, and decided to play for a little more than 2.5 hours. That’s following an opening band, too. It was incredible but also took a more serious toll on my body than expected. Add in an early morning brunch that was previously scheduled, and suddenly I needed a nap just to ensure I’d make it through Sunday at Lolla. So I arrived on the grounds a couple of hours later than I had the previous two days, and missed a couple of artists it might have been nice to have seen. Alas, this is one of the problems with getting older – you can’t always do as much as you might like. Here’s a closer look at the music I saw on Sunday:
After a healthy 30 minute wait to get through bag check (which was a bit longer than Saturday but about equal to Friday), I made it through the gates to find that thanks to plenty of rain earlier in the day, Grant Park had once again become Mud City. Getting dirty wasn’t so much a choice as it was an occupational hazard, particularly if you wanted to get anywhere close to the stage to watch your favorite band perform. I had arrived in time to see the final 15 minutes of London Grammar‘s set, but noticed significant gaps in the crowd where the mud was just so thick nobody wanted to stand in it. That’s not something I wanted to embrace at the start of my day either, so I hung back a bit and enjoyed them from a distance. To my delight, the band was actually pretty fantastic. I think that singer Hannah Reid said at one point that the overcast skies and light drizzle felt just like home, as they are from the UK. And indeed, London Grammar seemed quite comfortable in their performance. My only gripe was that they ended a bit early, with about 20 minutes left to go in their time slot. Of course they’re a relatively new band and only have an album and EP under their belts, so it’s entirely possible they just ran out of material.
Speaking of artists running out of material, the hip hop pairing of El-P and Killer Mike, aka Run the Jewels, also wound up in that same situation. Of course because they’ve had lengthy solo careers they also know a thing or two about stretching for time. When they ended their set with about 15 minutes still left, they came back out and asked the crowd if they wanted to hear some new, unpremiered material from the forthcoming Run the Jewels 2 record. It was something they had “just recorded like five days ago,” and though they claim they probably wouldn’t remember the lyrics, seemed to get by just fine. Following that, they left the stage again, only to return due to chants of “one more song.” They were technically out of material, but did one of Killer Mike’s tracks on which El-P guested before Run the Jewels ever came into existence. As for the rest of their set, it was nothing short of stellar. They plowed through the only Run the Jewels record in masterful fashion, and though the crowd was a bit thin, just about everyone had a blast. Well, except for one person, who got into it with security. El-P stopped in the middle of a track to yell at security for roughing up a girl, only to be told a moment later that it was a guy. Whoops. A brief guest appearance from Z-Trip helped to make up for it, elevating the set to an even higher level than it was already at. As a whole it wound up being one of Sunday’s best, and it’s just a shame so many people missed it in favor of Cage the Elephant or other options.
The 1975 are another band from the UK, and they too pointed out that the rainy, overcast weather reminded them of home. Unfortunately, they didn’t sound very at home during the first half of their set. At first I thought they were dragging a bit out of sheer apathy, like they didn’t want to be there and decided to give a half-assed performance. Watching more carefully though, I spotted a couple of band members drinking wine straight from the bottle in between songs. Singer Matt Healy was also talking pretty slowly and slurring his words, which gave me the impression at least he was drunk. Whatever state the band was in wasn’t increasing their likability, though I’m not entirely sure how many people really cared. They were just there to hear The 1975’s two hit singles “Chocolate” and “Sex,” which they naturally saved for very last. For whatever reason, they perked up for those two, and made me wish the entire set was at that level. I think their record is okay, and from what I’ve been told by friends who know or have met them they’re very nice guys, but their Lolla performance didn’t do much for me.
As the rain began to increase just a bit, I sought shelter in the trees near the BMI stage, where Betty Who happened to be performing. More accurately, I wanted to be there, as I’ve heard good things about the up-and-coming pop singer-songwriter. She’s got two EPs to her name, a full length album out later this fall, and will be opening for Katy Perry on the Australian leg of her world tour this November. In other words, she’s about to blow up. The moderately large sized crowd for her set at Lolla could certainly be an early indicator of future success. They were there to sing and dance, and Betty Who wasn’t about to let them down. While the first half of her set was very upbeat and fun in a similar vein as Swedish pop star Robyn, the last few songs were where things really started to get interesting. She performed one song for what was likely to be the last time in a very long time (for whatever reason), slipped into a seriously crowd pleasing cover of the Destiny’s Child hit “Say My Name,” and then wrapped everything up in a nice little bow with her rising hit single “Somebody Loves You.” Her band played it cool, and was reliable through every twist and turn. She may be on the small BMI stage for right now, but rest assured next time will be a much different story.
Somewhere about three or four songs into The Airborne Toxic Event‘s set, it started to pour. Like soaked to the bone sort of pour. I had my poncho on and was huddled up underneath a large tree but was still getting pretty wet, just to give you an idea of how heavy it really was. It actually almost put a stop to the band’s set too, as they quickly went into their biggest hit “Sometime Around Midnight” and implied that the plug was likely going to get pulled at any second. Yet it didn’t, and they were able to play for their full time in spite of everything. As for the crowd, well, those already stuck in the middle of things just embraced it, while small groups on the outer edges made a break for drier ground. Mostly though, everyone stuck it out with the band, who was extremely appreciative. They kept the energy high, spaced out their singles pretty evenly, and even managed to fit in a new song from their next record. Overall I was pretty impressed, quite possibly because I went in with low expectations in the first place. As soon as the band’s time was up and they left the stage, the rain stopped. Funny how that happens sometimes.
Following that extremely heavy downpour, the wet and muddy conditions became extremely sloppy. It was messy any time you stepped off the pavement, and what used to be puddles had quickly become small lakes. If you knew the right spots to go however, you could stay relatively clean amidst the mud people. With that logic in mind, I ventured over to see how Childish Gambino was doing. If the gigantic crowd was any indication, he was doing quite well. Decked out in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and swim trunks, Donald Glover looked like he was on vacation and ready for a day at the beach. He got a day in the mud instead. That didn’t seem to have any effect on him though, as he strutted back and forth across the stage to work the crowd and kept throwing up his hands in an effort to control them like a puppet master. He earns serious points for stage presence and charisma. Towards the end he even tossed some serious pyrotechnics into the mix as well, with gigantic flame cannons shooting up from the front of the stage. With all that flash, was there any substance? I’d argue not really, but judging by how much the crowd seemed to love every second, clearly I was in the minority.
Having stayed for the duration of Childish Gambino’s set, I missed about half of Flume‘s over at the nearby Grove stage. There was a pretty huge crowd already there when I arrived, and it only got bigger as more people filtered over like me from other stages. Given that Flume is essentially an electronica act and that he effortlessly blends his own original compositions with remixes of tracks by popular artists, he probably would have been more at home on the Perry’s stage. Not that stage placement really matters in the end, anyways. People showed up to his set to dance, and he delivered the music that allowed them to do so. Armed with his super cool looking Infinity Prism and busting out remixes of tracks from Lorde and Disclosure (among others), the sounds and crowd enthusiasm reminded me a whole lot of Girl Talk when I saw him perform at Lolla a few years back. Will Flume soon become an equally respected household name in the world of dance music and remixes? That seems like a reasonable assumption.
Exactly 366 days after his Lollapalooza debut on the tiny BMI stage, Chance the Rapper was now primed and ready to headline Perry’s stage. Last year, he attracted such a huge crowd on the side stage that people bled out into the major walkways and caused a huge traffic jam on that end of the park. This year, he managed to fill the huge field set aside for Perry’s and then some. To say he’s become huge would be an understatement, and it’s even more incredible that he hasn’t really released any new material in that time either. Compared to the no frills approach he had last time, suddenly he had all the frills, including gigantic smoke machines, dynamic, multi-colored lighting, and screens for huge graphics. I jammed myself in on the sidewalk as close to the stage as I could get without venturing out into the huge mud pit, and still felt like I was watching from a pretty extreme distance. That was about as good as it was going to get, and I wasn’t planning on staying the whole time anyways. The 25 or so minutes of the set that I saw were pretty fantastic. It’s clear that Chance is not only ready for but fully embracing his sharply rising star in the hip hop world. He dedicated the performance to his home, the City of Chicago, and in turn the city embraced him. He and his full band were still going strong when I stepped away to go and see what else the night had to offer. Afterwards, I heard he brought out R. Kelly for a couple of songs, and even tried to teach the crowd a new dance. Sounds like it was a blast.
My final stop of the entire festival would be a return to The Grove stage, where DARKSIDE were closing out the weekend. By comparison to the other stages, they had a rather paltry few hundred people in the crowd, but anybody that skipped them missed out on one of the truly unique and brilliant performances of all three days. DARKSIDE’s debut album Psychic was one of 2013’s finest, and the duo’s set was just about at that same level. Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington aren’t ones for stage banter, choosing instead to let the music and atmosphere do their talking for them. They sounded fantastic, their experimental electronica consistently shifting between cool dance floor beats and slower, more subtle flavors. The show played up the visual as much as it did the audio, and through careful use of lighting and fog the duo appeared in shadow almost the entire time. The small crowd that was there seemed to love it. Most were dancing, some were whipping around glow sticks on strings, while a couple other guys decided it would be a good time to roll around in the mud while moving to the music. Overall it put a nice little bow on this year’s Lollapalooza, once again providing enough incentive that I want to do it all again next year.
After the first day of Lollapalooza, I was in pretty rough shape. Not following my own advice, I didn’t sit down for about 12 hours straight, and that’s definitely not a pleasant experience for the human body. So I made it a point on Saturday to be smarter and look out for my own well being a little bit more. After all, I needed to power through the full three days. And so the chronicle continues, with a recap of all the music that I saw on Saturday:
Following Friday’s lengthy fiasco that took about 45 minutes to get into the gates due to heavy security, Saturday was light by comparison. This time it only took 15 minutes, either because I went to a different gate or because security wasn’t being as thorough. Either way, it was a benefit, and one that allowed me to see the final 10 minutes of Benjamin Booker‘s set. And oh what a final 10 minutes they were. Having never seen Booker before and only being familiar with a couple of his songs (his debut album comes out in about two weeks), I was immediately struck by his passion. He positively attacked the final three songs of his set, singing his heart out with that sandpaper voice of his, and playing guitar riffs like his life depended on it. Rarely do I witness a live show where I repeat the word “Wow” over and over again just completely impressed by everything happening on stage, but this was one of those times. At the very end of his set, Booker removed his guitar and proceeded to smash it on stage, Pete Townshend style. I’m a total sucker for moves like that, which in turn immediately made me want to declare the set one of the festival’s very best. For all I know the first 20 minutes of his set could have been a total trainwreck, but somehow I sincerely doubt they were. At the very least, Booker has quickly become someone to watch very closely.
From one guitar virtuoso to three, following up Benjamin Booker’s set I walked to the nearby Palladia Stage for the start of Parquet Courts‘ set. I saw them live for the first time last summer, and went in with such low expectations that I wound up being completely shocked by their wild attack dog style of performing. They’re pretty unassuming guys who you might think are slackers with sloppy playing styles, but the delightful surprise is that they’re none of those things. When they get going on high energy numbers like “Borrowed Time,” not only are they pushing forward like there’s something to prove, but know all the right ways to add frills like excessive distortion to push things beyond what you might hear on record. The set list was ordered a bit like a rollercoaster or a wave, building in speed and vigor until a peak is reached, then plateauing out for some slower cuts before racing towards the finish again on the downslope. The band does it all very well, though the quicker numbers that turn the crowd into a frenzied mosh pit can feel particularly special.
Kate Nash has become an increasingly reliable live act over the last few years, thanks in no small part to her embrace of louder and more visceral rock sounds. Nobody is going to confuse her with a hardcore punk or heavier alt-rock artist, though she does seem to be taking notes from the riot grrrl movement and innovative bands like Bikini Kill or The Runaways. She may have had multi-colored balloons all over the stage and she and her band may have worn dresses, but they made it very clear that rock and roll was priority number one. Along the way, Nash screamed, wailed, shredded and ran around the edges of the stage barricades giving the fans a more up-close and personal thrill. She brought a bunch more fans up on stage to dance and have fun for a few songs as well. And towards the end, she encouraged all the females in the audience to pick an instrument and start playing, because the music industry needs more women. If those women turn out anything like Nash, I completely agree.
I wasn’t particularly psyched about seeing the John Butler Trio perform, but I do enjoy a handful of their songs and decided it might be enjoyable if I were to sit down somewhere and relax while listening to their set. That turned out to be a wise decision, as my legs needed rest and my body needed shade. While I did stand and watch a couple of songs, the band wasn’t really doing much on stage so sitting down and listening didn’t change much. Ultimately what I heard and partly saw was a halfway decent, if unremarkable set. They performed the songs almost exactly as they were on record, and sounded pretty good doing so. I only wound up sticking around for about half of their set, as I was soon being beckoned by friends to join them on the other side of the park.
On the other side of the park, Fitz & the Tantrums were performing on the big stage. They’ve become a much bigger, more popular band over the last couple of years thanks to their most recent record, which has spawned at least two hit singles so far. The band treated their set like a gigantic party, keeping the energy very high and encouraging the crowd to participate by clapping or singing along to various parts. It seemed like a show I’d seen before, done by better bands who didn’t seem like they were trying as hard. Shortly after their set, I tweeted that Fitz & the Tantrums are the Dave Matthews Band of funk and soul these days. It’s a statement I stand by, as they had a huge crowd of devoted fans, but very little of the band’s performance could be described as much more than hollow platitudes. A friend of mine would tell me later that day it was her favorite set, and I totally understand why some people might feel that way. In many respects they’ve had the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes (and ears).
Manchester Orchestra is a band that I was passionate about for a hot minute around seven years ago, and haven’t thought about much since. They’ve continued releasing a steady stream of music, and have even performed at Lollapalooza a few times, though I’ve only seen them live once before at a non-festival show back in 2007. As I recall, they put on a pretty decent show back then. The Manchester Orchestra of 2014 still puts on a pretty good, possibly even great show. In a world where the genre of alternative rock has shifted in meaning a bit, they remain one of the true holdouts by still unleashing pummeling guitar work and vocals that require a good scream every now and then. Sure, there are other bands doing the same thing, but very few of them get late afternoon slots at a massive music festival like this one. I suppose what helps separate this band from the pack is their passion and precision. They appear to love what they do, and it shows. Their crowd wasn’t very large – probably one of the smaller ones of the day – but those that stuck around hopefully walked away with a greater appreciation for Manchester Orchestra than they had going in. I know that I did.
Unlike Fitz & the Tantrums’ set from an hour earlier, Foster the People appear to know the secret formula to an exciting live show. What is that secret exactly? I’m not entirely sure – earnestness, maybe? Whatever it was, it worked. The reason I’m comparing Fitz & Foster is partly because they were on the same stage, but also partly because I like both bands almost equally and view them as more hit single oriented than brilliant full album oriented. Whereas Fitz & the Tantrums may have been trying a little too hard to engage with the crowd during their Lolla set, Foster the People found the right vibe, played it cool and stuck with it. Singles were spread generously through the half of the set that I saw, and Mark Foster danced around the stage like he was just there to have a good time and play music for some fans who just happened to number in the thousands. Though I was having a good time, about 30 minutes in I decided it was time to venture back to the other side of the park.
Having seen Spoon headline an aftershow on Friday night, I wasn’t too concerned about seeing their full festival set on Saturday. They’re such a great live band though I wanted to see at least a little bit of it. To my partial surprise and actual excitement, the portion of Spoon’s set that I did wind up seeing was largely different than what I’d seen the night before. Songs like “Jonathon Fisk” and “My Mathematical Mind” are favorites I was hoping to hear, and suddenly my wish was granted. Beyond that, it was a pretty strong show overall. Maybe not quite as amazing as their full set in a smaller venue, but still great. My singular gripe with Spoon at the moment concerns their hit single “The Underdog,” which they’re obliged to play at every show from here throughout eternity. They’ve done away with any actual horns (which is an essential part of the track) and replaced them with artificial keyboard horns. It makes the track sound dinky compared to the muscular recorded version. If they could get just one band member to play trumpet for that song it’d make a world of difference. While I loved Spoon’s set, it’s worth noting a friend told me he was disappointed, claiming they “sound much rawer on record.”
If there was one set on Saturday I was most excited for, Jenny Lewis‘ would probably be it. I’ve been a fan of hers for many years, but had never seen her perform solo until now. It was a long time coming, and ultimately a delight. She didn’t attract a huge crowd thanks to her time slot facing off against The Head and The Heart along with the beginning of Outkast, but it made those of us who were there feel that we were witnessing something a little more special and intimate. About half of her set focused on the new album The Voyager, and the rest pulled from her previous two solo efforts along with a couple of tracks from the Rilo Kiley catalog. Dressed in a lovely and colorful airbrushed suit and with her now signature airbrushed acoustic guitar, people danced and sang along for the full 45 minute duration. What more could you ask for?
Part of me had serious gripes about going to see Outkast. I love most of their records, but this whole reunion thing is essentially a huge cash-in, and they perform the exact same set list at every single show. The sheer lack of spontaneity and the clear dislike that Andre 3000 and Big Boi share towards one another have left me apathetic about Outkast. Yet with a 30 minute window between the end of Jenny Lewis’ set and the start of Cut Copy’s, I decided it might be nice to see the hip hop duo do at least a couple of songs. That side of the park had an absolutely massive crowd that was probably the biggest all weekend. People were shouting and rapping/singing along with their favorite tracks the whole time, which I’m sure was great for them but served as a distraction. In the 20 minutes I spent watching the set from very far away, I got to hear “Ms. Jackson” set to Soldier Field fireworks, plus “The Way You Move,” among other things. It was okay, and then I left.
Officially closing out my night would be Cut Copy, who were performing on the small Grove stage sandwiched in between Calvin Harris and Outkast. There was so much noise coming from those two big stages, you couldn’t really hear Cut Copy until you got pretty close by. But wow, what a great set. Over the course of an hour, they plowed through almost all the highlights in their catalog, including old favorites like “Hearts on Fire,” and new favorites like “We Are Explorers.” A decent sized crowd danced like crazy for the duration, and the band peppered their performance with some really eye popping visuals that only enhanced the overall experience. They closed things out with “Lights and Music,” and everyone went absolutely nuts. My body may have been extremely tired from spending all day on my feet at a music festival, but suddenly I forgot about all of it and just wanted to move my body. When it was all over, the crowd chanted for one more song, and for a brief minute it seemed like the band might come back out and oblige. Sadly, it was 10 p.m. and the noise curfew was officially in effect so nothing happened. I exited Grant Park on a serious high, and primed to do it all again on Sunday.
Welcome friends, to the start of Faronheit’s Lollapalooza 2014 coverage! This weekend, more than 100,000 music lovers will pack into Grant Park each day to see around 140 different artists perform. It’s a behemoth, and essentially one of the largest events to happen in Chicago every year. As somebody who hasn’t missed a day of the festival in the last 10 years, I can promise you it’s a very fun time. My main advice for surviving the full weekend intact are as follows: Take it easy. Trying to see a little bit of everything will wear you out quickly, especially with a festival this huge. Choose who you want to see very carefully, and maybe make some compromises on others so you don’t have to walk from one side of the park to the other over and over. Be sure to sit down at least a couple of times a day to rest a bit. You’ll need the break more than you think. Always be prepared for the weather. Most of the time it’s going to be sunny and hot. Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Bring a poncho and/or umbrella, just in case it rains. And most importantly, have fun!
With so many artists on the lineup, there’s absolutely no way you can see them all, and even the biggest music fan won’t recognize every name performing. So what I’ve tried to do is compose a bit of a preview guide for the weekend. I’m not going to go over every single name on the lineup, so instead I’ve broken down the must see artists by hour and day. That way, no matter what time it is, you’ll have something good or great to check out. Join me past the jump to see the hourly breakdown and learn a little bit more about the best music to see this upcoming Lollapalooza weekend! Then be sure to check back over the weekend for daily recaps of all the things I’m able to see. I’ll also be providing updates when possible via Twitter, so follow me there for up-to-the-minute news (when reception allows). Thanks everyone, and if you’re headed to Lollapalooza with me this weekend, stay safe.
After a relatively calm and relaxing start to the weekend on Friday courtesy of artists like Sharon Van Etten and Sun Kil Moon, Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival found quite a bit more rhythm and energy and was all the better for it. Not only that, but with plenty of hip hop, R&B, electronica and loud rock bands to go around, it was also the most widely diverse day of the weekend. As with Friday, I attempted to scatter myself around Union Park as much as possible to get a little sample of just about everything. On the whole,the day was rather delightful. Here’s my recap of how it all went down.
I skipped out on the first couple of bands on Saturday so I could finish some writing and post my recap from Friday. That may not have been the best idea as it turns out, because I got word from a few different people that sets from Twin Peaks, Ka and Circulatory System were all incredible and some of the day’s highlights. Of course there were plenty of highlights later in the day too if you knew where to look for them. I arrived on the premises in time to catch most of Wild Beasts‘ performance, which made for a lovely start to Saturday. Their dark and at times intense melodies thankfully translated well to the sunny outdoor festival setting, and much of the crowd danced along accordingly. Singer Hayden Thorpe looked a little toasty wearing a denim suit, and given the highly sexual nature of many of the band’s songs, if he didn’t mind the warmth perhaps leather would have been more appropriate. While a majority of the set list focused on their most recent album Present Tense, they did incorporate a fair amount of older material as well, including a glorious version of “Bed of Nails.”
The last time Cloud Nothings performed at the Pitchfork Music Festival, their set got rained out about halfway through. They were in the final couple of minutes of an extended jam session when the power was cut to avoid a serious safety hazard. The band finished the song anyways, even though you could barely hear them. It was an incredible and memorable moment, one of the best in the history of the festival. Now two years later, the band still seems angry they weren’t allowed to finish their set back then. They come out like a blitzkrieg attack and throw everything they have into a rage-filled performance that doesn’t let up for more than 45 minutes. It drives the crowd into such a frenzy that security is forced to kick all of the press photographers out of the pit within two minutes due to an excess of crowd surfing and moshing. I didn’t visibly see anybody get injured during that set, but wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it happened. Still, it was an incredible display of aggression and release, which I think everyone desperately needed. Mark them down as one of Saturday’s best, no question about it.
Because he’s a member of my Class of 2014, and because his debut EP Worth is….worth your time, I stopped by the Blue Stage for a bit to see how Mas Ysa (Thomas Arsenault) was doing. For the most part, his set was going relatively smoothly. His setup was basically an army of varying different electronic machines on a table, and he spent the majority of time pushing buttons and twisting knobs to get the particular beats and sounds desired. Not the most exciting thing to watch, though Arsenault made things significantly more interesting simply by his behavior and facial expressions. When he’d be playing around with various sounds, more often than not this expression of extreme pain came across his face. Of course he wasn’t in any actual pain, it was just how the music was affecting him on an emotional level. You could hear it in his vocals too, which were also modulated with who knows what sorts of effects that emphasized his upper register while giving off the impression he was singing underwater. Those vocal moments were also when he broke away from his table of electronics to bring a greater physicality to the performance and the points he was trying to get across. My only real issue was that it didn’t always sound like Arsenault was singing on-key the whole time. Maybe it was the modulation effects or maybe it’s his own unique yelping style, but there were moments when I genuinely said to myself, “That doesn’t sound quite right.” All the instrumental stuff was fine and great, it was just the vocals every now and then that threw me off.
Speaking of throwing people off, Pusha T wasn’t exactly doing himself any favors by starting his set 35 minutes late. Apparently his DJ failed to show up on time, and that was the cause of the delay. As a result, he did his best to make the most of the 25 minutes left for his time slot. He raced through track after track, often cutting each one off after a verse or two, just to ensure he touched on the maximum amount of his catalogue. In spite of everything, it was a pretty decent set, almost as if Pusha was working extra hard to knock it out of the park to make up for the earlier issues. It makes me wonder though how much better it might have been had he used those first 35 minutes and actually performed full tracks instead of only giving us a little taste of each. Maybe next time.
tUnE-yArDs remains a formidable live act, as Merrill Garbus and her band continue to grow with each new record. When she performed at Pitchfork a couple of years ago, she was trapped on the smaller Blue Stage in the early afternoon, yet still managed to deliver one of the weekend’s finest and most remarkable performances. Now graduated to a big stage with a late afternoon slot and a gigantic crowd, she sought to make the most of it. Honestly, while I loved just about every second of the show, it also disappointed me a little. She’s touring in support of the new album Nikki Nack, and devoted much of the set list to songs from that record, which quite frankly isn’t her best. It’s not a bad record by any stretch, nor was her performance, but I feel almost like her ferocity has somewhat diminished. Like, before she was an underdog, but now she’s the alpha and is taking a victory lap. As little as a year or two ago, she would build almost every single song using loops, would go beyond what’s on record to have fun in extended jam sessions, and would invigorate the crowd by yelling things like, “Do you wanna live?” There wasn’t much of any of those things this time around, and now I kind of miss them. Her voice is as powerful as ever though, and the songs are still amazing, not to mention there’s all sorts of polyrhythms and crazy percussion. The point is, there’s still tons to love about tUnE-yArDs, just maybe not quite as much as there was before.
Saturday was a big day for my Class of 2014, and I was particularly excited to see how Kelela would fare in a festival environment. She makes some fascinating experimental R&B, which is nice because it breaks away from some of the more standard stuff that gets the bulk of the attention these days. Backed by only a DJ, she worked the stage with total confidence and control, sticking largely to tracks from her Cut 4 Me mixtape. That brought a different sort of energy to her set – one that was equal parts upbeat, sensual and intimate. The ability to conjure something like that up on a sunny, late afternoon outdoor stage is a rare quality, and it attracted more people over time like moths to a flame. That, and her smooth, syrupy vocals just made you feel good all over. I was quite impressed, mostly that she truly lived up to the hype that goes along with being a promising young artist. Whatever she does next, it should be pretty great.
There’s not a whole lot that I want to say about Danny Brown‘s set, mostly because I wasn’t paying close attention throughout most of it. When I did, all evidence suggested that the crowd was having a great time. When I say great, I mean GREAT. Like hands waving, jumping around, smiling and laughing sort of great. Perhaps that’s because Brown was powering through all of his most excessive and salacious material, while completely ignoring the more introspective and sincere tracks in his catalogue. That’s understandable given the summer festival setting, but also a bit shallow on the whole. You can celebrate with “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” and get into a “Kush Coma,” but those are the favorite topics of almost every other rapper out there. Brown could have separated himself from that world for at least part of the set, and it would have made a great difference. Instead, he told the crowd he wanted to hang out and party. Not much wrong with that. Not much right either.
What can be said about St. Vincent‘s performance at Pitchfork? Nothing really. Over the course of the last several years, Annie Clark has become a powerhouse of rock and roll. Put a guitar in her hands and watch her conquer even the most apathetic of music lovers. Following her highly choreographed live show and tour with David Byrne in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 version of St. Vincent has incorporated many of those same ideas into her sets. There are certain routines for most songs, followed very precisely by Clark and her bandmates. It lacks a certain spontaneity, but looks pretty cool. Besides there’s still plenty of room for freestyling, particularly on the guitar solos, which she absolutely ripped through on tracks like “Rattlesnake” and “Marrow.” Then there’s the slow descent into madness that is the show-stopping finale of “Your Lips Are Red,” leaving her thrashing around in the crowd and on the ground, making all sorts of sonic hell with her guitar. Not only is it thrilling to watch, but also thrilling to listen to. I’ve never ever seen a bad St. Vincent show, and sincerely hope that I never will.
My final stop by the Blue Stage on Saturday was to catch part of the set from the third Class of 2014 artist performing that day, FKA twigs. The R&B artist has been strongly building up hype over the last couple of months with the announcement of her debut album due out in mid-August, and preceded the white hot new single “Two Weeks.” Her set presented a great way to preview the new material as well as get further absorbed into the unique world that she has carved out for herself. The end results were decidedly mixed. She was supported on stage by a total of three percussionists with electric drum pads, which were used for both rhythmic purposes as well as to trigger samples and beats. In some ways her songs were even thinner and more skeletal than Kelela’s earlier in the day, which would be fine if you couldn’t hear the sounds of St. Vincent’s roaring guitar out in the distance. twigs, aka Tahliah Barnett, didn’t do a whole lot to help herself early on either, particularly as the vocals for her first song were more whispered than they were sung. Of course there was steady improvement after that, and it seemed like she found her footing as she moved around the stage dancing to the beats and softly cooing as required. Try though she might, Barnett was unable to reach the same level of intimacy nor display the same level of confidence and poise that Kelela had already shown was possible. The two artists aren’t the same and certainly have their own unique styles, just at the moment its clear one is more practiced and better at performing for a large outdoor crowd than the other. twigs managed to pull in a pretty sizable crowd who were rabid fans eager to hear material from EP1, EP2 and the forthcoming LP1, and most I’m sure felt like they got exactly what they wanted. Personally, I’m intrigued to see if a dark, indoor venue would make for a better live delivery system of her gorgeously fragile songs.
Having seen Jeff Mangum perform solo back in 2012, I was pretty sure what to expect when it came to Neutral Milk Hotel‘s headlining set on Saturday night at Pitchfork. Sure, the songs and setlist were just about the same, but it turned out to be a far different beast than anticipated. First all of the songs sounded mightier and more energized with the full band behind them. In particular, “Holland, 1945” and “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2-3” hit with such a great impact that it drove the crowd into a frenzy that included a strong push forward to get closer to the stage, followed by some actual moshing, which is not really something you’d ever expect from a Neutral Milk Hotel show. There were sing-alongs galore, especially for anything on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and the middle part of the set that was decidedly short on that material allowed the earlier insanity to mellow out a bit. The night wrapped up with Mangum taking a largely solo turn on the epic “Oh Comely,” which is exactly as it should be. With a strict no photos/filming policy (even the video screens were shut off), there was a certain comfort in knowing that the crowd wouldn’t be preoccupied with capturing the show on their phones and instead just living in that moment for once, acknowledging others around you and realizing we’re all in this together. That was probably the band’s intention, and I exited Union Park that evening feeling tired but also more connected.
Have you checked the weather forecast for Pitchfork this weekend? I have. Partly sunny skies, with temperatures in the upper 70’s and low 80’s for all three days. In other words, it’s looking to be a perfect weekend, weather-wise. Make sure you wear sunscreen! That’s a top priority. Also, you might want to be aware of what you are and are not allowed to bring with you onto the festival grounds. The last thing you want is to wait in line at the gate, only to be turned away because you brought a folding chair or something. Check out the rules concerning approved/prohibited items, along with policies related to photography/recording and other important bits of info. Also, are you aware that there’s a record fair, poster fair and craft fair all on the grounds of Union Park? Yes, this festival is about more than the performances and the food/drink necessary to keep you alive. Do some digging, especially if you’ve never attended before, so you can plan ahead. Speaking of planning ahead, here’s your preview guide for the music on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned previously, the artists are paired according to the hour of their time slot. I’ve included a little bit of information about each, and my official recommendations are denoted with a **. In case you missed them, here are links to the Artist Guide (aka playlist), Friday preview and Saturday preview. Stay informed, stay protected and stay hydrated!
Speedy Ortiz [Blue Stage, 1:00]**
Mutual Benefit [Green Stage, 1:00]
Sunday is the day with the most artist conflicts for me personally, and it starts immediately with Speedy Ortiz and Mutual Benefit. Stylistically speaking, the two bands are pretty different. Speedy Ortiz is throwback 90’s garage rock, in a style somewhat similar to Veruca Salt or The Breeders. Their album Major Arcana was one of last year’s finest, and they’ve already followed it up with the Real Hair EP. Speedy Ortiz are a pretty great live band as well. If you’re in the mood for some distorted rock and roll in the early afternoon hours of Sunday, check them out. Of course if you’re attending the festival all three days, by Sunday you might be pretty worn out already. Maybe you’d prefer to ease into the day with something you can just kind of sit down and enjoy. This is where Mutual Benefit comes in. Their album Love’s Crushing Diamond was one of my absolute favorites from last year, reviving the carefully orchestrated folk sound that was largely propagated by Sufjan Stevens several years back. The record is so warm and comforting. I’m not sure if it’s ideal festival material as you bake in the hot sun, but with a good breeze and some shade it could be quite lovely. I’m putting my vote towards Speedy Ortiz here only because of their energy, but honestly you can’t go wrong showing up early for either of these two bands.
DIIV [Red Stage, 1:45]
Perfect Pussy [Blue Stage, 1:55]**
The two bands performing in this time slot share a fascinating commonality that you might not realize. While the styles of music they play are very different, both of them craft songs based around sonic textures and the emotions that they can inspire. For DIIV, it’s about guitar-based dream pop melodies that drive forward with unflinching confidence. For Perfect Pussy, it’s about hardcore punk rock that’s so ear-piercingly loud that you believe the world might just be on fire. Both bands have lead vocalists, but you can barely make out what they’re saying on every song, either due to extreme reverb or simply being drowned out by everything else. The safe pick here is to go and see DIIV. Their 2012 debut album Oshin is pretty incredible and surprisingly accessible. They’re also working on new material, so expect them to try out a track or two on the crowd. Of course Pitchfork isn’t about safe. Having seen Perfect Pussy perform earlier this year, I can honestly tell you it was one of the loudest, most intense 18 minutes of my life. But there’s a brilliance and a sense of catharsis to it, largely in how the band legitimately gives you every last ounce of themselves on stage. If you get your hands on a lyric sheet, you would know that singer Meredith Graves is a true poet and she sings about some extremely heartwrenching stuff. Even if you can’t hear what she’s saying, you can FEEL it. Perfect Pussy’s set is likely to send a number of people running in the opposite direction. Those that stay will likely be rewarded with one of the best performances of the entire weekend. Bring earplugs specifically for this.
Deafheaven [Green Stage, 2:30]**
Isaiah Rashad [Blue Stage, 2:50]
Pitchfork likes to have a token metal band or two in the lineup every year, and for all practical purposes Deafheaven is that singular entity for 2014. But oh my what an entity they are. Last year’s Sunbather was probably the best metal album of the year, and certainly a top contender for best of the decade. It’s a 60-minute masterpiece that moves beyond what might be regarded as traditional metal and into the territory of post-rock and shoegaze without even blinking an eye. In other words, they reached across genre lines and managed to capture the attention and imaginations of a far larger group of music fans. With what looks to be an incredible set at Pitchfork, they’ll likely succeed in turning a whole lot more people onto their unique sound. If you’re not into loud guitars, you’re of course always welcome to check out Isaiah Rashad and his unique brand of hip hop. Much like a lot of the other hip hop artists on the lineup this year, Rashad stands out because he’s not afraid to get very emotional and confessional on his tracks. So instead of popping bottles of Cristal with some girls in a club to celebrate, you’re sitting alone in the middle of the night with a glass of whiskey, worried about personal crises or world issues. Outside of topical elements, the guy is a genuinely talented MC who can really string together a verse in a unique and impressive way. Both of these artists are great choices, so go with the one you might enjoy the most.
Earl Sweatshirt [Red Stage, 3:20]**
Dum Dum Girls [Blue Stage, 3:45]
It’s some kind of miracle that Earl Sweatshirt is performing at this festival. Just about a week ago, he announced that he was cancelling his remaining tour dates due to exhaustion. Initially that included his set at Pitchfork, but in the end he decided to honor the Chicago shows he had booked. There were probably some legal threats, and maybe even a bit of begging required to convince him, but he relented in the end. If you’re concerned that we may not be getting Earl Sweatshirt at his best, that’s sound logic. Ultimately though, even if he’s only operating at about 75% of his normal capacity he’ll still be worth checking out. His album Doris is proof of that. Plus, he’s still a teen barely old enough to drive, so I’m sure he can bounce back pretty quickly. When it comes to Dum Dum Girls, I’m a fan. They started out as this lo-fi garage rock band in a similar class with Vivian Girls, and have since evolved into a clean-cut pop-rock band with serious synth-pop leanings. They’ve had their songs featured in commercials, TV shows and movies, yet retreat from the spotlight just as quickly as they stepped into it. These days, the band is both pretty easy on the ears and pretty easy on the eyes. Interpret that however you’d like. I was all set to recommend them over an exhausted Earl Sweatshirt, but then I remembered about the complaints. It seems frontwoman Dee Dee Penny has had some vocal troubles for awhile now, and so their live shows can be a little hit-or-miss as a result. I’m holding out hope it’s going to be great, but can’t give them my full endorsement at this point. The risk factor is simply too high.
ScHoolboy Q [Green Stage, 4:15]
Jon Hopkins [Blue Stage, 4:45]**
ScHoolboy Q is a key part of what’s commonly referred to as Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Hippy” crew, which is basically a collection of talented rappers who are working to reinvent West Coast hip hop. Over the last few years, they’ve been doing just that, and Q is one of the most talented of the bunch. What I find most fascinating about him are the levels of contradiction in his work. His 2012 album Habits & Contradictions seemed to actively point them out, and then this year’s follow-up Oxymoron only pushed that idea further. Unlike many of the rappers on the Pitchfork lineup this year, Q is equally at home talking about the dangers and the dark side of gang life as he is celebrating it with wanton abandon. One minute he’s depressed about the street violence killing his friends, and the next he’s out on the corner selling drugs and essentially being part of the problem. These are largely characters and fictional stories that Q puts together, and in all honesty it’s made for a fascinating dichotomy. It will be intriguing to see which side of him he chooses to favor for the Pitchfork crowd. As far as Jon Hopkins goes, he’s also the sort of artist that shows off two very different sides of his personality. The man is a classical composer, producer and well-known keyboardist, working with everyone from Imogen Heap to Brian Eno to Coldplay, and that largely informs the sort of music he makes on his own. Think of it as electronica with a twist, because instead of simply chopping together samples of audio on a laptop or touch pad, Hopkins throws in splashes of keyboards here, or an orchestral section there. The results can be light, airy and fun, but there’s also a much darker and aggressive side he’s able to show off, in particular on his last album Immunity, which was one of last year’s best releases. In a festival setting, expect that sonic diversity to play particularly well, as one minute you’ll be relaxing in the shade while a glistening and summery track breezes by, and the next you’ll be up and dancing furiously, suddenly inspired by a hard-hitting beat. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. How about you?
Real Estate [Red Stage, 5:15]**
Majical Cloudz [Blue Stage, 5:45]
I’ve seen Real Estate perform in festival settings a couple of times before (including once at Pitchfork), and their particular brand of relaxed indie rock provides a very natural soundtrack to the day. If you can find a shady spot in the grass somewhere to just chill out and stare up at the sky, you’ll never want to get up again because all feels right with the world. Over the course of three albums now, Real Estate have been perfecting this sound, and it’s now reached a peak thanks to the nearly perfect Atlas record from earlier this year. It’s going to be a genuine pleasure hearing them perform the new stuff. Of course it could all go horribly wrong too, because if you’re stuck standing around in the hot sun somewhere, their lackadaisical style might not be enough to distract you from the pools of sweat building up across your body. It can’t be worse than going to see Majical Cloudz though. Don’t get me wrong, I love Majical Cloudz and their debut record Impersonator. The thing is, their music is completely allergic to sunlight, heat, and large crowds. Seriously, all of their songs are very slow, and so intensely personal in nature that an outdoor festival is the antithesis of where you should witness their performance. Devon Welsh is such an intense guy on stage too, and his ability to pull you into his dark and disturbed world is what makes every single Majical Cloudz performance so special. To witness that at 5:45 in the afternoon with the hot sun overhead? The power and intensity has to get stripped away, right?
Slowdive [Green Stage, 6:15]**
DJ Spinn [Blue Stage, 6:45]
The remainder of Sunday from this point onward is pretty much into the no brainer sort of territory. If you’ve never heard of Slowdive before, they were a shoegaze band that released three pretty great albums in the early 90’s, and then broke up. Now nearly 20 years later, they’ve decided to reunite, and Pitchfork will be their first show in the U.S. since 1995. That’s kind of a big deal, right? In a lot of ways, they fit in right alongside today’s modern bands like Deafheaven and Deerhunter, so you could almost say they’re more relevant than ever. Meanwhile on the Blue Stage, DJ Spinn will be playing some great electronica, if that’s your thing. He’s spent a lot of time working and collaborating with DJ Rashad, and the two of them were supposed to perform together at the festival until Rashad’s death turned it into a solo set. Expect Spinn to pay tribute to his close friend in grand fashion, meaning it should hopefully be an out of control, super fun dance party. Compelling as that sounds, Slowdive is just too important to pass up.
Grimes [Red Stage, 7:25]**
Hudson Mohawke [Blue Stage, 7:45]
Hudson Mohawke performed at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival as part of TNGHT, his collaborative project with Lunice. That earned him quite a bit more attention, especially since it helped him catch the ear of Kanye West. But at the end of 2013 the duo decided to go their separate ways once more, though the door remains open for them to get back together at any time. As a solo artist, HudMo is best known for his unique take on hip hop and R&B, often infusing those styles with other genres to form something truly original and unexpected. Where he ran into trouble was sometimes trying too hard or bringing in too many different elements so tracks ventured into overkill territory. Has he managed to scale back those tendencies in the last couple of years? Somewhat, yes. There is every chance he’ll put together a pretty great mix for his set at Pitchfork, but I still don’t think it will come close to matching what Grimes will be up to on the other side of the park. One of my absolute favorite things about Grimes is that she’s firmly committed to doing everything herself, and that means holding court on stage as she plays instruments, builds loops and modifies her vocals. 2012’s Visions put her onto everyone’s radar as an experimental pop star to watch, and since then she’s raised her stock considerably. She’s in the midst of recording a new album, and has already started to play some of the new songs in concert, to even more incredible response than before. Her new single “Go,” which was originally written for Rihanna, feels like a brilliant step forward in her sound as she inches more and more towards the mainstream. If there was ever a time to jump on the Grimes bandwagon, now would be it. She’ll be all over pop radio and playing massive venues before you know it.
Kendrick Lamar [Green Stage, 8:30]**
When Kendrick Lamar performed at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival, he was on the small Blue Stage sometime during the afternoon. His debut album wasn’t out yet, but he was already getting praised by people like Dr. Dre, claiming he was the next great talent in hip hop. Hell, even Lady Gaga showed up to Pitchfork to see his set. Now two years and one album later, Kendrick Lamar truly is the next great talent in hip hop. good kid, m.A.A.d. city turned out to be an incredible achievement, and he’s managed to follow it up with some stellar guest verses on a number of tracks, as well as some high profile touring with the likes of Kanye West. I’ve now seen him perform a total of 3 times, most recently last fall, and each set was better than the last. The man’s come a long way and has earned the success he’s achieved so far. Now he returns to Pitchfork on a victory lap, this time with full headliner status. Realistically speaking it should be a great show, he’s likely to bring out more than a few guests (see: ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad), and might even preview a couple of tracks from his forthcoming sophomore album that’s currently being recorded. It will make for a fine end to a fine weekend.
FRIDAY: Day One Recap!
Of the three days that comprise this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I think that Saturday might be the most eclectic and strange. If you love hip hop, R&B or electronica, there’s a whole lot of wild choices to make. There’s also plenty of other genre-baiting stuff too, in accordance with the different strokes for different folks balance. I will say this much though: the quality of artists here is completely off the charts. Some of the choices you’ll need to make might be a little harder than you think. Which is why I’ve put together this handy preview guide to try and provide some sort of guidance. As a reminder, the artists are listed by the hour block in which they’ll be performing, and my official recommended picks are denoted with a **. In case you missed any of my previous posts, you can click here for the Artist Guide, which features music from every single artist on this year’s lineup. You can also have a look at the Friday Preview Guide as well, should you be attending multiple days. Enjoy, and share who you’re most excited about seeing this year in the comments!
Twin Peaks [Green Stage, 1:00]**
Similar to Hundred Waters’ standalone time slot on Friday, Twin Peaks get 45 minutes of unopposed performance time to kick off Saturday. That’s likely due to The Julie Ruin dropping out some months back due to Kathleen Hanna’s health issues. But that loss is Twin Peaks’ gain, as the local Chicago garage rockers are sure to put on a high energy and fun set that will be a fantastic way to pump you up for the day of music ahead. Their debut album Sunken was more of an EP than anything else, packing in a bunch of songs across only 20 or so minutes, complete with a whole bunch of sloppy, Replacements-style guitar jangle. That’s meant as a compliment. They’ll have another new album called Wild Onion out in less than a month, and they’ll likely be playing a bunch of unheard songs from that as well. If the new stuff is on par or better than what we’ve already gotten from them, look for this band to start breaking big sooner rather than later.
Ka [Red Stage, 1:45]
Circulatory System [Blue Stage, 1:55]**
At last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, Killer Mike made an incredibly strong impression with a set that was a lesson in emotionally invested storytelling. He proclaimed that hip hop wasn’t something that needed to advocate for guns and violence, and could in fact be used for good, positive messages. Ka’s version of hip hop doesn’t really have positive messages, but instead seeks to inspire change in our culture by chronicling the issues on our streets in a very informative way. He’s an excellent lyricist, but it’s the highly emotional way that he says those words that really force you to take them to heart. For all practical purposes, his set could be pretty dramatic and remarkable. Meanwhile, Circulatory System is basically an Elephant 6 band featuring a majority of the members from Olivia Tremor Control. If you only understood about half the words in that last sentence, let me try to clarify a little better. They’re basically a lo-fi indie pop band with particularly creative, often odd or twee leanings. Consider them a companion and warm up to Neutral Milk Hotel, headlining later in the day. It’s entirely possible that even Jeff Mangum himself might pop on stage to contribute to a song or two. The collective’s leader Will Cullen Hart composed their latest album Mosaics Within Mosaics by dusting off some old unreleased recordings and repurposing/re-recording them for the present. It’s a good record, and the band’s first in 5 years. They’re not particularly active, nor do they tour often due to Hart’s health issues, so the rare chance to see them at Pitchfork might be worth your time.
Wild Beasts [Green Stage, 2:30]**
Empress Of [Blue Stage, 2:50]
The last time I saw Wild Beasts perform, it was about three years ago in an outdoor festival setting on a particularly warm and sunny day. Considering that their highly sexualized and highly stylized R&B sound is best experienced in a dark and intimate setting, it felt a little bit out of place. But the band did their best to make the most of the situation, and it turned out to be rather enjoyable overall. I’m expecting them to fare even better this time around, considering their new record Present Tense is their liveliest and most gorgeous to date. They’ve dramatically increased their use of synths and complex percussion, which should be fascinating to see recreated in the live setting. That, and frontman Hayden Thorpe’s vocals remain utterly arresting. If you’re looking to keep your energy high in the early afternoon hours however, your better bet will be going to check out Empress Of (Lorely Rodriguez). She’s only got an EP and a couple of singles to her name so far, but has already made quite the impression with material that ranges from damaged art pop to bubblegum synth pop. Yes, most of her songs are catchy and danceable, and she might be best described as a slightly more mainstream-oriented version of Grimes. The thing is however, since this is still a relatively new project (less than 2 years old) and we haven’t heard a ton of material from it yet, there’s a bit of an uncertainty about how well her performance might go. I’m sure she won’t be bad by any means, but will she likely be a much better performer about a year from now? Probably. Empress Of’s set will be what you make of it, so don’t be afraid to let loose and have some fun!
Cloud Nothings [Red Stage, 3:20]**
Mas Ysa [Blue Stage, 3:45]
When Cloud Nothings performed at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival, it was in the middle of a tremendous rainstorm. Their set didn’t start that way, but it absolutely finished that way. The most fascinating thing was that as the rain got heavier, the band played harder. You could say they wanted to match the intensity of the weather. They were forced to stop when conditions became too dangerous and electricity was cut to their stage. They still finished the song they were playing though, screaming into the crowd because the speakers weren’t working. That’s passion and dedication, and it made for one of the best musical memories of that year. Hopefully the weather stays dry this year, and they’re able to get a full set in. It’s going to be some high energy, incredibly raw punk rock. Dylan Baldi’s voice still absolutely shreds too. Meanwhile on the small stage, composer Mas Ysa (Thomas Arsenault) will be whipping up his unique blend of emotional, experimental pop. His only released recordings to date were compiled on the Worth EP, which came out this past winter to strong reviews. What that EP primarily showed was that Arsenault was capable of a wide range of styles and tempos, but that his intensely heartfelt vocals took center stage no matter if he was belting out a ballad or soaring on a wave of pure energy. The guy is clearly talented and has great things ahead of him. It’s probably why I also named him as part of my “Class of 2014” project. With a debut full length on the way, it might be interesting to see what he decides to do during his Pitchfork set.
Pusha T [Green Stage, 4:15]**
The Range [Blue Stage, 4:45]
It’s critically acclaimed hip hop vs. critically acclaimed electronica for your four o’clock music choices. The choice is easy if you prefer one over the other, but what if you prefer both or neither? If you’re stuck, here’s my advice: go with the more interesting stage show. In this case, that’s clearly Pusha T. Hip hop can be really exciting to watch, especially when the crowd is into it and chants choruses or key lines from tracks. There’s likely a “hype man” trying to keep up the energy, and guest stars are always a plus too. I’ve heard good things about Pusha T’s live show, and some of the clips on YouTube make it look like an absolute blast. Then you have The Range’s instrumental electronica. James Hinton is the man behind the name, and he does a remarkable job blending a variety of different styles and influences into this very clean-sounding dance music. If you love drum & bass or Disclosure-style R&B, this should be right up your alley. Of course it’s also likely just going to be a guy sitting behind some turntables or a laptop the whole time. If you can ignore what’s happening on stage and simply commit to dancing mindlessly, perhaps The Range will be where you want to be.
tUnE-yArDs [Red Stage, 5:15]**
Kelela [Blue Stage, 5:45]
If you’ve never seen tUnE-yArDs perform live before, you’re missing out. Seriously, I’ve seen Merrill Garbus a handful of times now, and have been blown away during all of them. Her powerful vocals are her biggest selling point, but acclaimed records like w h o k i l l and this year’s Nikki Nack also showcase amazing songwriting and highly experimental song structures that make you want to dance and cheer at the same time. It only gets better witnessing it in person, particularly when Garbus is able to construct many of her songs using looping pedals. Per some reports I’ve read surrounding her touring for this new album, she appears to be doing a little less looping than before, but some is still more exciting to watch than none. It makes me feel a little sorry for Kelela, who has a lot going for her but simply can’t compete in this time slot. If you’re not familiar with Kelela, she’s a fantastic R&B singer who’s been on the rise for the last year or so thanks to her debut mixtape Cut 4 Me. What separates her from similar artists are her experimental leanings. She’s able to add some significant twists to traditional R&B thanks to creatively stimulating compositions that have also caught the attention of some of the dance crowd. She’s already released a new single and a collaboration with Tink this year, but if we’re lucky we might also get a full length album this fall. Perhaps she’ll offer up a little preview at the festival?
Danny Brown [Green Stage, 6:15]**
The Field [Blue Stage, 6:45]
For the second time in a three hour period, you’ve got hip hop vs. electronica. I’ve discussed the pros and cons of each already above (see Pusha T vs. The Range), so really whichever you choose to go see may be dependent on previous material. The dynamic between Danny Brown and The Field feels a lot more intense to me, in no small part because both artists are quite prolific at what they do. On last year’s Old, Danny Brown reached a new peak by making a record that’s equal parts mature and immature, focused and unfocused. He might not be as goofy as he once was, but he’s more confident and weirder than ever before, which is a delight. Of course many people also find Danny Brown to be annoying and his voice to be a bit grating, which is completely understandable. Maybe then you can find comfort in the arms of The Field. Axel Willner has been making highly danceable electronica at a steady pace for the last few years, and his latest effort Cupid’s Head he may have just eclipsed himself. It’s a darker, more intense affair, which represents a great progression from his earlier material. The real question is what version of The Field will be showing up at Union Park on Saturday. In the past, he’s performed with a band, which brings a lot of extra gusto and crowd-pleasing moments to the show. More recently, he’s taken to performing solo, which makes it a more subdued and drone-intensive show. If Willner does have the full band, that almost tips the scales in his favor against Danny Brown. Notice I said almost. Of course if you’re just looking to dance and could care less, The Field will satisfy.
St. Vincent [Red Stage, 7:25]**
FKA twigs [Blue Stage, 7:45]
I love FKA twigs, I really do, but this one is kind of a no brainer. As St. Vincent, we’ve seen Annie Clark grow significantly as an artist these last few years. Her output only seems to be getting better and better as her songs and style become increasingly complex. By now she’s well established as one of the finest guitarists making music today. It’s a genuine pleasure to watch her tear into a solo with incredible intensity. Her latest album is self-titled, and is technically speaking a major label debut. She added some new digital and electronic wrinkles to many of the songs on that record, which somehow managed to feel like a natural progression. I keep thinking the bottom is going to fall out with the next new record, but it hasn’t happened yet, to my surprise and pleasure. So without a doubt, you should watch and enjoy a St. Vincent show if you have the opportunity, even though the crowd will surely be massive. I’m not sure how many people will be excited to see FKA twigs as the sun begins to set on Saturday, but there’s probably no better time for her to be performing. Her slow burn R&B draws you in like a moth to a flame, which is probably why her first two EPs earned her quite a bit of attention. She’ll be putting out a debut album called LP1 this fall, and the first single “Two Weeks” is pretty incredible. Expect her set to feature more new music, just don’t expect it to be high on energy. If you’re feeling a little tired and might like a nice patch of shade to hang out in as the day draws to a close, head over to the Blue Stage and soak in the FKA twigs.
Neutral Milk Hotel [Green Stage, 8:30]**
In 2012, Jeff Mangum emerged from whatever hole he was hiding in and decided to start performing again. He had been absent from the music scene for over a decade, though occasionally popped up here or there at shows for Elephant 6 bands and the like. I saw Mangum perform solo twice in 2012, and both times it was incredibly riveting as he ran through Neutral Milk Hotel’s two album catalogue with only an acoustic guitar in hand. Part of me questioned why he even needed to get the full band back together, but I guess the songs aren’t quite the same unless you’ve got all the musicians behind it playing along with you. So it shall go to close out Saturday at Pitchfork. Expect it to be fun, and expect a sing-along on an absolutely massive scale. I’ve seen Mangum do the intimate acoustic solo thing, now I’m intrigued to hear those same songs blown out and plugged in for the outdoor festival crowd.
And so it begins. Following yesterday’s artist guide, which exposed you to all the sounds of the artists performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I’m now proud to present the first of three previews guides leading up to the start of the weekend this Friday. Speaking of Friday, that’s what we’ll talk about right now. The way that this works is pretty simple: I’ve arranged all of the artists in order of their set times, and separated them according to the hour in which they’ll be performing. From there, I’ll talk a little bit about each one, and ultimately make a recommendation (as indicated by **) as to which you should see at that time, provided you’re able. Even though it’s a shorter day than the rest, Friday still has plenty of quality to offer. Learn all about it with the guide below!
Hundred Waters [Red Stage, 3:30]**
With Death Grips calling it quits, the singular obstacle that could have drawn people away from Hundred Waters has now been removed. The band has also gotten a promotion from the comparatively small Blue Stage up to the large Red Stage, as they’ll have a full 45 minutes to perform with no competition anywhere else at the festival. Now you may think this is a good excuse to show up later and skip this band, whose material you might not be very familiar with. But let me assure you, Hundred Waters are great, and very much worth showing up early for. In the weeks following the release of their second album The Moon Rang Like A Bell a couple months ago, I developed an addiction to this band that holds pretty steadfast today. They make very chill but very gorgeous electro-pop, and singer Nicole Miglis has the voice of an angel, often twisted in fascinating ways reminiscent of early Bjork. It should make for a delightful start to the weekend, so show up when the gates open!
Factory Floor [Blue Stage, 4:15]
Neneh Cherry with RocketNumberNine [Green Stage, 4:35]**
Factory Floor’s sound has been described as “industrial post-punk,” which doesn’t seem particularly accurate to my ears. They’re so much more than that, as they avoid easy characterization by pulling from a wide variety of sources that include disco and more traditional EDM. Primarily they’re able to craft interesting, beat-heavy dance music that keeps you guessing. Their self-titled debut album from last year proved to be quite worthwhile, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun watching them grow in both profile and songcraft. If you’re in the mood for a groove, Factory Floor are a safe bet. It’s somewhat tragic then that they’re paired up against Neneh Cherry, who is a legend. Cherry herself probably wouldn’t like that “l” word being tossed around so flagrantly, but she’s been making music for a few decades now, and when your career gets that long you earn that status whether you want it or not. Equally fascinating is how Cherry remains something of an unknown entity in the United States, where her only breakthrough “hit” was the song “Buffalo Stance” from her 1988 debut album. Perhaps that’s why she’s only ever played one U.S. show. Her set at Pitchfork will be her second, essentially turning it into a must-see situation. As an artist who is also always innovating and never sticking with one particular style or genre of music for too long, if she does a career-spanning set it will be all sorts of fun and maybe just a little weird. More likely she’ll play a lot of stuff from her latest album Blank Project, which is an understated but powerful record that features collaborations with Robyn, electronic duo RocketNumberNine (who will be performing at the fest with her) and Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet). So yeah, unless you really want to get your dance on at Factory Floor, Neneh Cherry is the one to see.
The Haxan Cloak [Blue Stage, 5:15]
Sharon Van Etten [Red Stage, 5:30]**
To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure why Pitchfork booked The Haxan Cloak to play this festival. London-based producer Bobby Krlic is the man behind the name, and while what he does is brilliant, it’s also incredibly minimalist and dark. The last Haxan Cloak album Excavation was one of my favorites from last year, however it’s so subdued and death obsessed that it’s never something you want to put on during the daytime. You listen to it in the pitch black of night, in your bedroom, by yourself, with headphones on. It could well function as the soundtrack to your favorite horror film. How this is going to translate via a late afternoon time slot on an outdoor stage is a mystery to me. Part of me thinks there’s no way it can work. It’d be great if Krlic proved me wrong. A far better bet is Sharon Van Etten, the dynamic singer-songwriter who continues to grow by leaps and bounds with each new record. When she performed at this festival for the first time in 2010, she performed solo with a single guitar, and at one point couldn’t continue because she broke a string. The guys in Modest Mouse lent her a new guitar so she could continue. Four years and two new albums later, she’s got a full band behind her, regular radio airplay, and a lot more guitars. Her confidence as a live performher has grown exponentially as well, making her shows lively, beautiful and altogether worthwhile.
SZA [Blue Stage, 6:15]
Sun Kil Moon [Green Stage, 6:25]**
This one’s a case of hip hop/R&B vs. folk. Without a doubt, even though SZA will be on the smaller Blue Stage, you will probably be able to hear her set by the Green Stage when Mark Kozelek aka Sun Kil Moon is performing. It’s the simple disparity in styles and volume. As to why I’m recommending Sun Kil Moon over SZA, that’s purely a selection based on quality of music, not quality of live performance. I’m betting that SZA will put on a thoroughly enjoyable, relatively high energy set, dominated with tracks from her debut album Z. The problem is, that record isn’t exactly great, or even pretty good for that matter. Meanwhile, Sun Kil Moon’s latest effort Benji is regarded by many critics to be one of 2014’s absolute best. It is truly a remarkable record, filled with engaging melodies and lyrical stories that come across like pure poetry. Yet like most solo folk records, it’s extremely laid back and bare. If you can find a spot in the grass near the Green Stage to lay down as the sun begins to dip in the sky, there’s some real potential that Sun Kil Moon could hit your sweet spot. Or you’ll just spend the whole time during his set talking loudly with your friends.
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks [Blue Stage, 7:15]
Giorgio Moroder [Red Stage, 7:20]**
If there’s a conflict to be had on Friday, it’s with this time slot. For those who love psychedelia, specifically Animal Collective-style psychedelia, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks delivers in spades. This is a more straightforward and catchy Animal Collective side project, and their debut album Enter the Slasher House is one of my personal favorites from the first half of 2014. Of course I’m happy to advise you to go and see them if their music is something you might enjoy. But your better bet would be to split your time somewhat unevenly and spending a fair portion at Giorgio Moroder. The man has been part of the music world since the 70s when he helped to turn disco into something huge. He’s continued his pioneering ways ever since, to the point of winning a Grammy last year for collaborating with Daft Punk on their Random Access Memories album. All indications are that his set will be very fun, very dance friendly and very familiar. By that, I mean he’ll be spinning mixes and remixes of classic dance and disco songs from the last few decades, so you can sing along while showing off your best (or worst) moves. What’s not to love?
Beck [Green Stage, 8:30]**
Beck’s headlining set should be a delight. You may be worried that his quiet, acoustic album Morning Phase will dominate the set list, but rest assured he’ll probably only play 3-4 songs from it. The rest will be tons of classics, from “Where It’s At” to “Sexx Laws” to “The New Pollution” and beyond. In other words, there will be no shortage of silly, off-the-wall energy. This is a music festival, and the man knows what the people want to hear. So yes, stick around and enjoy it. Sing or rap along to all the hits. I’ll be right there with you.
Welcome to the start of Faronheit’s annual coverage of the Pitchfork Music Festival! I’m thrilled to be providing you, dear reader, with an intensive look at this incredible boutique music festival for what’s now the fourth year in a row. Over the course of the next week, this site will provide you with a full play-by-play of Pitchfork 2014, right down to daily previews, recaps and photos. It’s set to be super fun and exciting, so please join me on this journey, whether you’ll be able to make it out to Chicago’s Union Park or not!
On this first introductory day, I wanted to just showcase all of the different artists on this year’s lineup, to give you a better idea of who they are and what kinds of music they make. So what you’ll find below is a list of every artist on this year’s lineup, in alphabetical order, along with links to their official websites, plus a track or two you can stream to help get a good baseline (or BASSline, as the situation warrants). In addition to all of that, if you have Spotify, I’ve composed a playlist featuring two songs from each artist (three for the headliners) ordered by when they’ll be performing over the course of the weekend. It’s also embedded at the very bottom of this post, FYI. This should give you no excuse as to why you haven’t heard or checked out all of this year’s stacked lineup. Even if you’re not attending, this is a good exercise in music education. So check it out after the jump, and enjoy making some new discoveries!