Another Rundown From Pitchfork Fest
In only my second year of music festival-ing, I already felt like a pro entering Union Park last Friday for another weekend of music. My second-year status didn’t qualify us for any discounts on bulk pulled pork sandwich purchases (counting on this next year), but it did allow me to get a better sense of the festival as a whole.
Pitchfork, for all the value in their festival ($160 for this lineup is impossibly good), don’t really understand the dichotomy between great musicians and great festival acts. For all the talent to be put on paper, with lulls in energy on Friday and Saturday it was again apparent that not all talent lends itself to a hot, sunny Chicago afternoon.
That said, the whole weekend was not Sun Kil Moons, Haxan Cloaks and Sharon Van Ettens. There were many high points for me, as I spent a lot more time getting sunburned around the main stages - this year’s lineup was stacked with artists on my iPod, and there wasn’t a wasted second.
Hundred Waters opened Friday afternoon on the main stage, getting bumped up after a certain breakup. “I guess this is where we play Death Grips covers,” said Nicole Miglis to a quiet bunch of onlookers, who were receiving her music much more than her jokes. The quiet future-folk eased nicely into the weekend. Miglis is incredibly impressive live - anyone familiar with the band’s music knows her falsetto is near unreachable, yet she nailed each and every note with gusto, taking breaks to add flute to the waves of synth.
Unfortunately, the first day never really got past “warmups”. Chatty Cathies ruined the Sun Kil Moon experience - it’s hard to mentally separate a bro yell-talking about his friend jumping the fence from Mark Kozelek singing about his second cousin dying in a fire. Beck was Beck, and he generously played a lot of old cuts, but having to slow it down for the new material - which I was more excited for - sucked the energy out of his set. Of all musicians, Beck might have the toughest job of balancing his old and new selves in concert. It’s getting better, but it still wasn’t great this weekend.
We were fashionably late on Saturday to see Pusha T. Unfortunately, so was Pusha T. 30 minutes late to come on stage, he ran through a few cuts off his new album, threw out some feature verses from Cruel Summer and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, refused to apologize in very Pusha T form, and got out of there. The best part is, it was still pretty badass. Regardless, I hope he’s on time in Montreal next week.
From a distant spot in the grass, the crowd seemed to love tUnE-yArDs, and it was nice to toe tap while eating a sandwich. Merrill Garbus is wickedly energetic, and the Nikki Nack material had the dads dancing with their kids (after shielding their ears during Push). It was St. Vincent, though, who owned Saturday. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t rested on my laurels of seeing her in Winnipeg and been a bit closer - Annie Clark fed off the Chicago energy as 80% of the park packed into her stage. Her solos were louder, her dance moves were shufflier, and even as I waited in a nice stage left pocket for Neutral Milk Hotel, it was impossible not to applaud an artist so obviously performing at the peak of her powers.
On Neutral Milk Hotel, who were half the reason I bought tickets in the first place - the lack of a screen was a bummer, the white people moshing to “King of Carrot Flowers” ruined my initial vantage point, and the entire performance reeked of a band that didn’t quite fit with the times. The scheduling here was an issue - it’s hard to follow post-modern sex symbol Clark with anything, but throwing back to the guys who wrote your favourite album when you were 15 made me feel a bit lost in translation.
I have no complaints on Sunday. Thanks to an abundance of awesome festival acts, Sunday was again the highlight of the weekend - just as it was in 2013. Mutual Benefit, just like Hundred Waters, was another amazing ease-in act. The orchestral nature of their music was perfect for a handful of fans sipping Dark Matter coffee, and the band nicely offset their occasionally repetitive music with a bit of standup humour - at one point pointing out that seeing themselves on the big screen was weird, and should be saved for superheroes.
The superheroes, it turns out, came later in the day. Apparently a whole bunch of people jumped the fence for Earl Sweatshirt. I missed that drama, but Earl was not disappointing in my first live look at Odd Future. He was playful, getting the crowd to sing along to “Don’t Stop Believin” for no reason other than his own entertainment, and rattled off every banger in his collection. It came out as a great warmup for Schoolboy Q, who might have the best arsenal of hits in rap today - clocking out “Collard Greens”, “Blessed”, “Hell of a Night”, “Studio” and about five other hits that made me forget about the sun just long enough to come out hella pink.
After that, Slowdive acted as recovery music - shoegaze is so obviously perfect for Pitchfork’s festival and it was the perfect marriage of loud and melodic. Grimes came after, and stole the whole weekend - her stage presence has advanced from “meek” to “mini-Beyonce” so quickly in the Roc era that it’s hard to fathom. Claire’s dance moves were a little nutty, but she had professionals by her side as fans went nuts for “Go” and a couple other new tracks. Ultimately, though, it was the Visions cuts that acted as a warm blanket, with “Genesis” and “Be A Body” getting the extra live pop to go from introverted to awesome. Indeed, in a weekend of very now rappers, this was the most danceable set; not wasting a second to dwell on anything but getting the crowd moving.
Kendrick closed the weekend, and it should be noted - his live set, with a complete band, is very VERY good. Unfortunately, it’s been identical for two years now and is begging for new material. Even the Chicago banter of it being “his second city” was rehearsed; he spoke the same lines at last winter’s Yeezus shows. That doesn’t mean the Union Park-ers didn’t eat it all up, and his presence was a great barometer for how festival closers should be - brash, assertive and obsessed with providing a full-on experience.