This year, WLUW took on the crowds in Union Park for Pitchfork Music Festival's 12th year, and boy was it an event. Here's what we thought of some of the killer acts we saw this year.
Weekends like Pitchfork make your knees scream louder than the artists performing, and sets like William Tyler’s offer a much needed reprieve. The Nashville guitarist, perhaps most well known for his time in ambitious alt-country bands Lambchop and Silver Jews, managed to transport the audience to the Blue Ridge Mountains for 45 minutes with his fully instrumental set, with the bulk of the material coming from last year’s excellent Modern Country. Tyler’s unique blend of Fahey-inspired fingerpicking and psychedelic dynamics was backed by a full band that was partially comprised of members of Hiss Golden Messenger, an earlier performer. Even the short delay due to a faulty amp did not hurt his set, almost serving instead as a period to digest the performance up until that point. His songs occupy a strange space where they function perfectly well as background music but are exponentially more rewarding when listening with an active ear. While it appeared most were content to sit and converse in the back during the performance, William Tyler played an accessible and unobtrusive set that showcased one of greatest guitarists in recent memory.
Washington D.C. quartet Priests do not make sunny music, yet they were tasked with being one of the first bands festival attendees saw walking into day one. Fresh off their eye catching debut Nothing Feels Natural, Priests were one of the more anticipated early day acts of the weekend but fell short of a truly memorable set. Katie Alice Greer was one of the most arresting and commanding vocalists of the weekend and the band behind her was energetic.
Between twitter squabbles and locking down an endorsement with Sprite, Vince Staples has been keeping busy this summer. After dropping his second album Big Fish Theory in June, Staples has continued to op the charts and keep the crowds feet moving with 36 minutes of boasting electronic bangers. Featuring on “Ascension” from the Gorillaz latest album Humanz has helped solidify his popularity. Pitchfork festival goers were all hyped for fan favorites from Summertime ‘06 such as “Senorita”,“Lemme Know”, and “Norf Norf”. Newer tracks “Yeah Right” and “Big Fish” evoked the whole crowd to shout the lyrics and cram together at the drop of the beat. Although he has caught some flack for his dark lyrics, it doesn’t look like Staples wave will crash anytime soon.
There’s nothing stopping 36 year-old Daniel Sewell, our beloved Danny Brown, from turning the crowd to a rowdy one. Performing staples like “Bruiser Brigade” from his 2011 album, XXX, to more recent tracks off of 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition, Brown lifted the crowd up with an incomparable energy. Utilizing call and response interaction and his relentless, energetic bars, the crowd was moving with a strong vigor. One former WLUW staff member left the concert with a head injury that bled into his shirt– let that speak for the performance itself.
LCD Soundsystem announced that they would no longer be a band a few years ago. They made a documentary film of their final performance at Madison Square Garden, and everyone thought they were done. That was until last year they came back to the music world with a few festival performances, leading up to this year where they announced a new album and played one of the best performances at Pitchfork this year. Kicking things off with a fan favorite “Yr City’s A Sucker” and leading straight into “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”, LCD Soundsystem kicked off their headline set with a whole lot of dancing. In the heart of their set, they also played two of their new songs “Call the Police” and “American Dream”. The most memorable part of the show was when they played their hit song “Dance Yrself Clean”. A simple sing-along to the “Ahhhh”’s that turned into the festival’s largest dance party. Concluding with “All My Friends”, LCD Soundsystem gave the festival-goers an excellent ending to day one.
Since 2002, the Dirty Projectors have released eight full-length albums fronted by David Longstreth. Between 2007-2013, Amber Coffman was a major contributor to the group including my personal favorites and (in my opinion) Dirty Projectors staples, like Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan, both of which were fronted by the harmonized vocals of Coffman and Longstreth. Following the end of their relationship both romantically and musically came a 2017 self-titled release featuring only the vocals of David Longstreth. Having followed the Dirty Projectors and being familiar with the dynamic of having two vocal performers in the project, the most recent dynamic for the act felt more along the lines of Dirty Projector, opposed to their plural title. David Longstreth held his own during the set in a much different way, toying with experimentation both vocally and instrumentally. The set was both interesting to watch unfold as well as it was enthralling to watch Longstreth become comfortable leading the group’s most recent sonic development.
Before her performance at Pitchfork, Dawn Richard was one artist that a few festival goers thought, “Who?” But after her performance on Friday, few could deny the artist’s sound and talent. Energy uncompromised, Richard commanded the stage and captured her audience’s attention with her vocals, charm and candor with a sick outfit to boot. Performing songs from her latest album, REDEMPTION, Richard had the crowd soaring with fan favorites like, “Love Under Lights” and turned her fourth studio album’s high-energy, electronic sound into one that translated easily to a festival environment with a live band.
Hot off of their 2016 album Next Thing, which Pitchfork named “Best New Music” when it was released, Frankie Cosmos, aka Greta Kline, took the Blue Stage on Friday afternoon in front of a large crowd on the opening day of the festival. Rocking what seemed to be a fresh buzz cut, a beautiful purple guitar, and an all-black outfit, Kline lead her band into sing-a-longs with new songs such as “Fool” and “On The Lips”, to older fan favorites like “Birthday Song”.
Arca & Jesse Kanda
Venezuelan producer/songwriter/mixing engineer/DJ Alejandro Ghersi, aka Arca has produced for legends like Bjork among others while creating three solo albums from 2014 onwards to critical praise. A set from this ethereal mixing genius can’t exactly be articulated into coherent words, so I’ll leave you with a few comments from WLUW’s staff and audience commentators from the set:
“Reminded me of a fever dream”
“I haven’t seen an artist perform who was so sure of what they were doing
“Latin jungle beats party”
Natalie Mering sang her prayer-like hymns with vocal precision during her Saturday set, taking the crowd into the other-worldly that she creates and has created under the moniker of Weyes Blood ever since she was 15. Her vintage, 70’s sounding rock perfectly matched the intense afternoon heat with drowsy, shoegaze-esque instrumentation. A wonderful act to see live, as her mystical voice sounded better in person. She ended her set with a cover of CAN’s hit, “Vitamin C.” and I freaked the f out.
When the Parliament Funkadelic took the stage Saturday, fans looked around at each other wondering “Where did the rainbow hair go??” As George Clinton took the stage wearing a fedora over his head, with not much hair underneath. The lack of rainbow dreads didn’t stop Clinton and the Funkadelic from putting on a performance of all sorts of fun tunes. Aside from the funky music, the stage antics really got the crowd going. With appearances from “The Nose” (A guy with a long nose, which was picked, white furry pants, and a furry coat) who showed off some incredible dance moves, the Parliament Funkadelic took over the show at times with George sitting on stage, drinking his water, with one of the largest smiles on one’s face. Playing a variety of Funkadelic favorites from “Get Low” to “Give Up the Funk”, to closing with “Atomic Dog”, I saw the nostalgia in the older Funkadelic fans, and the “WOW I’m seeing a LEGEND” faces on younger fans. The funk was alive and well on a beautiful day.
Ah yes, the angel herself. There is something so utterly charming about her that she could say anything (funny and not) and the crowd would laugh. Aside from her commentary between songs, her rich voice took the large crowd into a trance of pure emotion that she purveys in her new album Woman, as well as her previous album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Playing songs from both albums the quality was A++ now she has a full band to fully flesh out her minimal songs. During the set I couldn’t help but think of her as a modern day Dolly Parton or some iconic country music star of the next generation.
Now I’ll admit, PJ Harvey was in a tough spot at Pitchfork on Saturday. She followed Angel Olsen, and was right before A Tribe Called Quest. So unless you snuck out of Angel’s set to get a solid spot for PJ, you were in a mix of festival-goers who were grabbing their food and drinks to wait for Tribe’s set, which included lots of conversation, which took away from the on-going performance. However, I was “that guy” who snuck his way up to have a good view of the talented sax player and vocalist. From the colorful outfits at the Angel Olsen set, I thought it was cool to see the opposite, as Harvey and her band only wore black and white outfits, and the video screen was also in black and white to amplify their effect. The set consisted of a good chunk of selections from Harvey’s new record The Hope Six Demolition Project, in which the set opener and closer were from her latest release. With the emphasis on the new record, Harvey and company still snuck in there some of her best songs such as “50ft Queenie”, “Down By the Water”, and “To Bring You My Love”. One of the sets that turned people’s heads as they were passing through for a Tribe Called Quest.
Los Angeles native, Clementine Creevy fronts the power punk outfit, Cherry Glazerr. Creevy, along with Hannah Uribe and Sean Redman formed back when they were in high school in 2012 and have continued to evolve in their noise pop punk sound up until their most recent release, Apocalipstick. Bringing a powerhouse of drums, bass, guitar and vocals, Cherry brought vigor to Saturday afternoon’s performance at the Blue Stage. With ample hair flipping, drawn guitar solos and quite a bit of energy bouncing between bandmates, Cherry Glazerr has evolved since their high school formation and bring along a new air of confidence.
A Tribe Called Quest
In Tribe’s first live concert appearance since the tragic death of founding member Phife Dawg, there was a palpable loss felt between the remaining members of the Queens rap collective and throughout the audience. A mic was left open for Phife to spit posthumous bars, which left an eerie feeling, yet one that was met with the crowd in awe. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip and Jarobi White with an appearance from Consequence, put on a show incorporating a mix of older tracks off of records like The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, to 2016’s We Got It from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service. Tribe put on an energetic and legendary set on Saturday night that sent an incomparable energy over the waves of people in Union Park.
RIP Phife Dawg.
We had a chance to sit down with Jason from NE-HI a few months ago at their album-release show and talk about their latest record Offers. A few months later we caught the local indie-rock quartet playing at a festival that, according to the band, was only a few blocks away from home. Their set comprised of a lot of dancing on stage to their music, with playing quite a few songs from their latest record. Kicking the show off with their single “Stay Young”, NE-HI played a set of their more upbeat tracks, filling the festival grounds with some rock n roll. A very energetic set from the band brought people in wondering who they were, and having them leave as a new fan.
This was probably one of the best Pitchfork sets I have seen, and my personal favorite at this year’s festival. Colin Stetson is just a man with a saxophone, but his music is a whole lot more. He mastered circular breathing, which is an extremely difficult technique, but it allows him to continuously play his instrument without a break in the sound. Dressed as the stereotypical sound guy at a show, Stetson intrigued the early crowd with his experimental jazz set. The continuous playing already made his set special and unique, but with him adding percussion with the slapping of the keys on his saxophone, and, what sounded to be yelling through his saxophone while he was playing, made his set easily one of the most complex and interesting performances.
Attracting more of the older crowd at Pitchfork, Shoegaze listeners perked up once Ride finally hit the Red Stage after tending to some technical issues. Frontmen Mark Gardener and Andy Bell conjured forth ethereal sounds from past and presents albums. Pushing forward their reunion album, the band performed the first two tracks off Weather Diaries, “Lannoy Point” & “Charm Assault” early into the set. Considering their turbulent past, the crowd welcomed and appreciated the new, reformed Ride but showed enthusiasm for more classic tracks such as “Vapour Trail” & “Leave them all behind” from Nowhere & Going Blank Again, respectively. After a dreamy performance completely engulfing the senses with searing guitar and upbeat drums courtesy of Loz Colbert, the band signed records and talk with fans like myself.
Chilean-American composer Nicolas Jaar warmed up the swath of people getting a spot for Solange, as well as attracting his own sizable crowd during his evening DJ set at the red stage. Hunched over muddling words into the mic to create multi layered, spacey soundscapes, Jaar was welcomed by all ears. The sonic textures eerily scraped, glitched, and popped the background while simultaneously being swayed by building, colorful synth loops in the foreground. The trancey set of experimental electronic music felt like a breath of fresh air from tired festival goers.
Francis and the Lights
Francis Farewell Starlite’s dance moves are next to none. Starlite’s R&B project featured himself (Francis) and a fair amount of Lights on stage. Although he was performing entirely solo, he fully occupied the space with moves like I’ve never seen before. At one point during the set he scaled the stage, and in other track, climbed a tree and performed from the branches above the crowd. Starlite drew comparisons to Phil Collins in his performance both in vocal tones and in the way that both performers put their whole selves into their live shows. If you get a chance to see Francis live, you’ll pick up a new move or 2 for sure.
Wasting no time kicking off his set, Tennessee native Isaiah Rashad didn’t address the crowd directly until about three songs in, where he evaluated the crowd and said, “Y’all look mature, so we’re gonna skip the bass.” Though on the contrary, Rashad did in fact bring the bass to his set. Rashad and his on-stage DJ fed off of each other’s energies and interacted with the audience frequently throughout the set. Alternating between flawless bars of storytelling, Rashad’s singing parts were really what blew me away. WIth slick yet vulnerable and raspy vocals, Rashad’s voice stunned while still immersing the crowd into his rhythms through repetitive versus sprinkled amongst the unraveling of of tumultuous storytelling. Set to bouncing, driving beats, the set was easily danceable to a steady groove. Rashad prefaced the set by saying he just wanted to make “energetic tunes to vibe to” which was entirely emulated in his performance.
Joey Purp played to his hometown in an animated and high-spirited set on Sunday afternoon. He referenced the countless times he had been standing in the crowd at Pitchfork Music Festival, pointing across the crowd saying, “I’ve been here before. And here, and there” which sent a message between performer and audience of being one in the same. With beats that are easily danceable and accentuated when paired with bouncy rhythms and bars, the crowd moved to Purp’s steady beat.
As one of Chicago’s very own I had predicted that Joey Purp would bring out a feature on his most popular song “Girls” and face of the Chicago hip-hop/rap scene, Chance the Rapper. The audience got 2 for the price 1 as he brought out other members of the SAVEMONEY enterprise Towkio & Vic Mensa at the Blue Stage. The squad's presence had the crowd thrown into a frenzy of moshing as beach balls, confetti, and streamers popped off.
Purp ended the set by referring to Chicago’s notorious negative news headlines and crime rates, saying that he intends to paint Chicago in a different light through his music. His last track set a positive tone ending on a more political note, singing, “All we need is peace / I’m still alive yall / But I wake up with bullets flying / But I’m still alive yall.”
-Kaylie P. & Frankie D.
Pinegrove was one of the bands I have been meaning to see for a while now, and I was really looking forward to their set Sunday at Pitchfork. When they first walked on stage, they were missing a member: their female multi-instrumentalist/back-up vocalist Nandi, or also known as Half Waif. She was on a tour supporting her project and not touring with Pinegrove at the time. I immediately knew this set was going to be different than what friends of mine have said about the Pinegrove live performances. However, the energy the band had on stage left me dancing and singing along to favorites such as “Cadmium”, “Old Friends”, and “Angelina”. What really made this set special for the band, it was the drummer’s birthday, which lead Evan (lead vocals/guitar) to sing a Pinegrove take on “Happy Birthday.” Though it was a little hard to see with the sun shining directly in my face, Pinegrove finished a strong setlist with a old fan favorite “New Friends.”
Chicago native Jamila Woods graced us with her Sunday evening set, incorporating her soul singing vocals with her socially informed and powerful poetry. With three backup singers and a full band, Jamilia shined center-stage with her stunning vocals and killer dance moves. Woods boasts a rhetoric of self-love and empowerment in her music, and when she swooned us with her track, “Holy”, the atmosphere of the show was one of liberation. On the track she sang with an air of effortlessness, “I’m not lonely / I’m alone / And I’m holy, by my own.” Closing the set with her compelling single, “Blk Girl Soldier”, Woods had the crowd both singing along and feeling politically charged.
Words cannot describe how perfect this woman is, and how fulfilling it felt to be part of the audience. While I tend to feel like Beyonce’s music represents my ideal self, Solange’s lyrics on A Seat at the Table embody my truest self: insecure and messy, but aware of and owning it; humble, but full of the confidence love enables us with. Solange’s performance on Sunday encompassed those emotions perfectly, and there was no aspect of her artistry that went unnoticed that night, from her choreography, vocal range, and charisma.
During her set, Solange addressed the audience by thanking them for allowing her the space to evolve as an artist throughout her career– from 2003’s Solo Star, to 2016’s A Seat at the Table- her first number-one album in the United States. Knowles also referenced the ways in which Pitchfork Music Festival has evolved as a festival over the years, so it was only fitting that the festival closed out Sunday night with an appreciation towards past projects, while leaving a space for growth in the future.
Closing up Pitchfork Fest’s weekend on a high note with “Don’t Touch My Hair”, there was not one festival-goer that left the grounds without a smile on their face.
-Sue N. & Frankie D.