Sadly, another Pitchfork Festival has come and gone. The lineup this year contained many wonderful artists across plenty of different genres ranging from spiritual jazz to footwork to hip-hop to indie. Throughout a lovely weekend in July, the lawns of Union Park were filled with a gorgeous array of different sounds and vibes. Check out our recaps of each day below:
Car Seat Headrest
The timid voice of a generation, Car Seat Headrest kicked off Pitchfork festival with a short but sweet mostly comprised of tracks off their new album, Teens of Denial. Lead singer/songwriter, Will Toledo sported black rimmed glasses, which he kept having to push up throughout this set, and a non-distinct, unassuming grey tee shirt. They began their performance while the majority of Pitchfork goers we’re still funneling in, and played to a modest but energetic crowd. The band did a wonderful cover of “Blackstar”, by the late great David Bowie, and Toldeo’s vocals served the song incredibly well. “Vincent” was a also highlight, made even better by a brief but intense bout of rain that began midway through the song. Fans sang along and bounced inflatable killer whales along to the melancholic and powerful “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”. The band closed their set with a powerful rendition of “Something Soon”, setting the perfect tone for the rest of the weekend.
Julia Holter began her relaxed and minimal set with “Why Sad Song”, a track she played as a “peaceful response to all the horrors in the world”, referring to the too many awful events that had been populating news outlets for the past week. Holter’s set was a mesmerizing chamber pop odyssey. She, along with her cellist and violinist, treated the audience to a wonderful fifty minutes of buoyant and refined singer/songwriter bliss. Playing mostly tracks from her latest album Have You In My Wilderness, their setlist was gentle and gliding sonic journey, and absolutely gorgeous to listen to. Some of the songs had a loose structure, harkeing back to some of Holter’s earlier work, and gave just the right amount of bite to her otherwise easy going and blissful setlist. To make things even better, the sun came out and provided the perfect weather for the first artist on the green stage for Pitchfork friday.
It’s hard not to be entranced by the charm that is Whitney. The band, lead by Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, could barely fit all the members onto one stage. However, this did not deter them from playing one of the best sets of the day. It was their first time playing Pitchfork as Whitney in their hometown. They opened with “Dave’s Song” as Ehrlich’s voice echoed into the crowd, wrapping around us like a hug. As the show progressed, the band got more comfortable on stage, dancing and joking around with each other. They even covered Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” The audience was smiling and bopping around, just happy to be there. Ehrlich was quite humble in his commentary between songs, making us feel more like friends than fans. As they played the opening notes of their hit “No Woman,” the audience shrilled in delight. They finished with “Golden Days,” leaving us with the warm fuzzy feelings few bands can deliver.
Broken Social Scene
Playing only their second show in the United States after a five year hiatus (the first was the night prior at the Metro as a Pitchfork pre-show), Broken Social Scene sent festival goers into an hour-long trance. Playing old favorites, and even a new song with members of the band Aurora, Broken Social Scene had everyone feeling the summer vibes the whole night. Multiple band members took the stage, most of which switched instruments between songs. From rocking trombone solos, to riveting guitar rhythms, and spectacular vocals and harmonies, even those who never heard of Broken Social Scene were dancing enthusiastically. When it is summertime in Chicago, you just can’t go wrong with some good old indie rock.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen might seem like an odd choice for a festival focusing on indie music, but her Friday set fit right in. With an ever-changing backdrop and a slew of backing dancers on stage with the Canadian pop star (also, the saxophones!!!), Jepsen’s set was as entertaining as it was eye catching. Running through tracks from her album E•MO•TION, one of a recent string of pop albums to reach acclaim in indie circles, Jepsen and her legions of adoring fans put on a set so strong that she can no longer be considered simply guilty pleasure music. The guest appearance from Devonte Hynes of Blood Orange during “All That” was a nice touch as well.
After starting almost 25 minutes late, Mick Jenkins delivered a powerful performance at Pitchfork Music Festival’s blue stage. Tucked in a corner of the park, fans and music lovers packed the tree-covered stage and danced and grooved to Jenkins’ beats. Playing tracks from his two released records, and some new ones off his upcoming release, THC, his performance was high energy and engaging. In between tracks, Jenkins kept the fans invovled with his performance by saying “Drink some”, then pointing out to the crowd as they responded “water”. In addition, Jenkins and his on stage team, a live drummer, vocalist, and DJ, did a small NWA cover of “F*** da Police”. Also during his set, Jenkins gave the crowd a taste of what his vocalist was working on: Summer Campman. Jenkins is a large advocate for peace, as he was constantly sharing the message of love and peace during his set. Mick Jenkins treated his hometown of Chicago to a great performance on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival.
There is no explaining the mythical powers of Victoria Legrand. She approached her keyboard hidden under the hood of her sparkling cloak, giving off a witch-like vibe. As the band started with the opening notes of “Levitation,” Beach House had the crowd all under their spell. The cool colors that flashed onto the backdrop of tiny starlights lent themselves to the trance-like state the we had all slipped into. The wind blew through the crowd as the band played big songs like “Wild” and “Myth” along with quite a few tracks from Depression Cherry. It was a great ending to the first day of the festival.
Circuit Des Yeux
Circuit Des Yeux kicked off day two with one of the most intoxicating and intricate sets Pitchfork had to offer. The outfits the band wore were as eclectic and fascinating as the music they played. The lead singer wore an baby blue jumpsuit and a cowboy hat, which, along with her long brown hair and the microphone, obscured her face for the duration of the set. The keyboardist donned a hospital white sportcoat and pants, a bright orange wig, a candy apple red cowboy ha,t and black John Lennon style glasses. The music they played was slow burning, ghostly, and rooted . The band had perfect chemistry, and each of the five members added something unique and beautiful to the haunting mix. The vocals hit a perfectly warbling midpoint between Antony (ANOHNI, Antony and the Johnsons) and Robbie Basho, and evoked images of the old west. It’s fair to say that Circuit des Yeux were the most underrated and underappreciated band at Pitchfork.
All the way from Dublin, Girl Band scared away the older crowd and brought in a mosh pit of the younger generation with their post-punk sounds. Loud drums, loud yelling, high-octave bass riffs, and a noisy and distorted electric guitar filled Pitchfork early on Saturday. This was nothing but an intense show through and through, and kept drawing people in wondering what was going on over at the red stage. Halfway through, people started leaving because they slowed it down and heard what was going over on the green stage which suited more to their liking. For those who stayed and enjoyed Girl Band’s set, they sure gave them a warm welcome to Chicago, as it was their first time in the city.
When you’re at a Kevin Morby show, your emotions are either at a mountain, or at a valley. Morby played selections from his three albums, including his latest single “I Have Been to the Mountain”. For a few songs, Will Miller, known for his being in the band Whitney, played trumped in Morby’s backing band. The band included three back up vocalists, one of which was Katy Goodman of La Sera, a lead guitarist/back up vocalist, a bassist, a drummer, and Kevin on rhythm guitar and lead vocals. They surprised the audience with a new live arrangment for “Miles, Miles, Miles”, which ended up being a highlight of their set.
As the smoke danced with the sunlight that slipped between the trees surrounding Blue Stage, there stood Martin Courtney. Formerly the front man of the band Real Estate, now performing as a solo act. He didn’t say much, and he didn’t look overly excited to be there, but what more could you expect. The crowd wasn’t fazed by this at all though, as they swayed and took in the serene sounds. Courtney exuded the same kind of melancholia you feel while listening to his album. He mostly stood in place, strumming his guitar and looking around at the crowd. He ended with his most popular song “Vestiges,” and thanked everyone for coming as he made his way off the stage.
Savages are without a doubt one of the best performances currently touring. The lead singer Jehney Beth sported all jet black clothing: a sport coat, pants and sunglasses. By the end of her set, she had been jumping and screaming around the stage to the point where her whole body was glistening with sweat. The crowd one of the rowdiest at pitchfork, and a circle mosh pit formed by the second set. Savages brought the sounds of the apocalypse to Union Park. T.I.W.H.G. was a particular highlight, and just about everyone in the packed crowd was either moshing or pumping their fist, or both. If they hadn’t already, Savages earned their name at Pitchfork.
The next big pop star? That question kept going through my head whilst in the crowd during Blood Orange’s set on Saturday. From the second the beat dropped in the first track, music lovers literally couldn’t stop themselves from dancing around. Featuring new songs off of their latest release, Blood Orange, provided the grooviest, if not the sexiest performance at Pitchfork (so far). Not to mention that Carly Rae Jepsen was invited to join Blood Orange for a new track from their latest as well. Also to perform new music from their latest, Blood Orange brought out Empress Of! For a track! Aside from his amazing talent with singing, playing the piano, and shredding on guitar, Dev Hynes had the best dance moves at the festival, hands down.
Probably the most anticipated performance for most, Brian Wilson started his set a bit on the early side. After very politely thanking everyone for coming, he and his band launched into their 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds. The crowd sang along to every single lyric, and everyone used their best falsettos to hit the trademark high notes of Brian and Mike Love. The whole performance was magical, and Wilson’s aged voiced worked quite well in a live setting. Wilson’s backing band were also incredible, and the instrumental “Pet Sounds”, yielded several solos, which were without a doubt a highlight of the show. Without a doubt, though, God Only Knows was the most wonderful and heartwarming song of not only his set, but probably the whole weekend in general. You could all but feel the love in the air as everyone sang in unison to the now legendary song. In a odd but awesome turn of events, John Cusack stepped on stage along with Wilson’s wife and sung along to “Sloop John B.”. After the last track from Pet Sounds, “Caroline, No”, Brian and his band closed their set by playing a few of their hits, most notably: “Good Vibrations”, “Surfin USA”, “Help Me Rhonda”, and “Fun Fun Fun”. The set was a beautiful celebration of a sublime work of art, and the vibrations emitted from Brian Wilson and the crowd alike were very, very, good.
They should rename this show the Sufjan Stevens Experience. After listening to his latest album Carrie & Lowell, I expected this to be a relaxed set where he played guitar and swayed around stage. Boy, was I wrong. He began the show by saying he was tired of sad songs and wanted to play upbeat ones, and that he did. Songs that didn’t have fast beats suddenly did and it was like one crazy dance party. There were at least three costume changes, bright rainbow colored lights flashing everywhere, and crazy backup dancers. Fellow Pitchfork performer Moses Sumney played along with him and sang along for the closer, “Kiss” by the dearly missed Prince. The accompaying visuals were so whimsical that by the end I wasn’t sure whether I was watching Sufjan Stevens or a crazed version of The Wiggles. I mean that as a compliment of course, and I have the utmost respect for an artist like Sufjan who can take something relaxed and make a loud and colorful production out of it. He even made himself into a human disco ball. It was wild.
Porches started off Sunday the right way. They played funky tunes that got everyone dancing, even in the blazing sun. The front man, Aaron Maine decked out in a Madonna tour t-shirt, was thrilled to see such a large crowd for the beginning of the day. “I thought there was going to be 30 people here and it was going to be sad, but it’s happy.”, Maine joked. They even surprised us by bringing out Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), to sing their hit “Forgiveness.” Overall, they were even better than expected. They danced, they joked around, and they sounded even better live than on their record.
Sun Ra Arkestra
Experimental Jazz legends, Sun Ra Arkestra were the first act on the blue stage for Pitchfork Sunday. Their set began with a few cosmic themed poems read on behalf of their late baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, who passed away earlier that week. In total, the Arkestra had thirteen members, and collectively produced a wonderfully whimsical and far out sound. Their 92 year old lead saxophonist brought the non existent house down with his wailing, abrasive saxophone solos. Yes, you read that right, he was 92 years old. The band got a little bluesy about halfway through their set, and each of the band members took a short solo to some jazz blues changes. The crowd vibed along with the group throughout, bobbing their heads. Their set ended with a somewhat awkward teased encore that didn’t end up coming to fruition. Nonetheless, Sun Ra Arkestra proved that cosmic jazz is alive, well, and kicking.
Kamasi Washington sauntered out and blew everyone’s pink pastel hats right off their heads with a mind blowing set of high energy jazz. Playing just a four songs, Washignton and his band displayed their chops and proved themselves to be one of the best jazz bands touring today. Washington brought his father out to play along with the band on “Cherokee”. Washington Sr. proved that he could keep up with the youngsters, and played an absolutely astounding several minute long solo. Their bassist, Miles Mosely had perhaps the most impressive solo of the set, though, playing a bass solo so groovy and complex that I almost had the wind knocked out of me. Their keyboardist was also fantastic as well, and along with the two, count ‘em, two drummers, Kamasi had the perfect backing band. It should come as no surprise that the man himself also provided a number of mesmerizing solos. The crowd was fairly packed, proving once and for all that jazz is still relevant, and still popular.
The 6-piece group sounded perfect as you could focus on any instrument and hear it. A few songs into the set, the band invited a seventh member, a trumpet player, to play a track from their latest release: Sun City Eater in the River of Light. It wasn’t hard to figure out that most of the band has had experience playing jazz music, as when there were breaks in lyrics, it seemed like Woods was just jamming on a chord progression, showing off their musical skills with impressive solos. With the chill vibes they were putting out, Woods provided a perfect backdrop to a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon.
BJ the Chicago Kid
I had never seen BJ the Chicago Kid live before his set at Pitchfork, and he did not disappoint. I was completely taken aback as he grabbed the mic and belted out he first notes of his opening song. This guy really has an incredible voice. He also has a great stage presence. Whether he was banging on the drums or serenading the fans in the front row, he kept everyone’s attention. He played other well known Chicago rappers like Kanye and Chance to get people hyped up between songs. Taking the mic, he told us that his job wasn’t just to perform but to help us forget about the bad in the world. With bumping rhythms and great vocals, it was easy to get lost in the music and do just that.
Neo Jessica Joshua is possibly the cutest thing to ever come out of the U.K. People around me were shocked as this tiny British girl, with her squeaky little voice, belted out the first notes of her opening song. She may be small, but boy is that voice mighty. She danced around the stage and the audience was immediately captivated by her, cheering and dancing along to every song. She never stopped dancing, and neither did the crowd. Joshua was so humbled by the number of people there, putting her hand on her heart as she continuously thanked us for coming to see her. It was hard not to fall in love with everything about her.
Empress Of was one of many victims of the blue stage delays. Playing about a half an hour later than expected, Lorely Rodriguez aka Empress Of took the stage alone and delivered a powerful performance. Her set was a bass-heavy, dance-a-thon and the crowd fed off of her amazing energy. Many of her songs flowed perfectly into one another, and the totality of her performance was as cohesive as it was energetic. Near the end, Empress Of played a short clip of Under Pressure by the late great David Bowie and Queen, which prompted many of the people standing around me to sing along while the bass drum slammed into our ears. All of Empress Of’s songs translated perfectly into a live setting, and she proved herself to be one of the most creative alt pop artists making music today.
The whole band came out in matching outfits of entirely black and white, contradicting every preconceived notion I held that they would be wearing neon at the show. Although their outfits were bland, the set was not. They immediately had the crowd waving their hands in the air and dancing around by the second song. The lead singer, Alan Palomo, rocked around the stage and proved to us that he had some pretty serious dance moves. They played old classics like “Deadbeat Summer” and ended with “Polish Girl,” which got everyone really excited. They even tried to play one more song until they were told to shut it down by festival staff for running overtime.
The sun was setting behind the church just outside the park, providing a perfect scene for Thundercat at pitchfork music festival. Festival goers found a sanctuary amidst upbeat dance music that filled the festival earlier in the day. Rocking a massive 6-string bass guitar, Thundercat filled the blue stage with smooth jazz, and light vocals. It wouldn’t be a jazz show without members alternating on solos, each showing off their talent that took years and years of practice. Thundercat sure gave the fans packed in at the blue stage as they played what seemed to be an orchestrated jam session.
Miguel was one of the highlights of Sunday afternoon. His band, all decked out in white, came out first and played a long intro before he finally joined them onstage. He was greeted by a screaming crowd who was very excited to see him. He immediately got everyone jumping and dancing within minutes of coming out. Miguel has a rare stage presence that most artists strive for. He’s a great dancer, and when he smiles audiences shriek in delight. In between songs, he spoke about solidarity and love and being advocates for change, to which the crowd loudly applauded in agreement. It seemed like a peace rally and a dance party all bundled into one show. Many were sad to see it end.
Coming all the way from Amsterdam, and playing their second show ever in America, LUH (Lost under Heaven) was greeted to a large crowd, especially since they were going up against FKA Twigs on another stage. Unfortunately due to sound check problems and the stage already being behind schedule, LUH’s set was cut down to a mere 20 minutes. But that didn’t stop them from bringing their thumping bass and powerful vocals to liven up a Sunday night in Chicago. Playing only a handful of tracks from their debut album Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, LUH gave it their all until they were practically kicked off stage from the festival planners. But before they left, they made a promise to fans at their set that they will be returning again to Chicago soon.
FKA Twigs is probably one of the best performers of our lifetime. I know that is a bold statement, but once you see her live you will understand. She plans her sets out so well that it feels like you’re attending something so much bigger than a concert. With eccentric costumes, backup dancers, and perfectly timed light shows, you can’t help but be amazed. Not only does she have an amazing range, but the girl can dance. People around me that had never seen her before, left as newly converted Twigs fans. She puts on a beautiful and unforgettable show, ending Pitchfork festival with a bang.