We sent some staff members to Pitchfork Music Festival this year, and here are some key highlights.
Day 1: (photos)
A little rain didn’t slow The Curls down, as they brought their tasty grooves to open this year’s festival. The Curls have played shows before where there were three members performing, but now touring and performing as a six-piece band, enabling them for the full sound they want to give. However, for Pitchfork, a six-piece ensemble wasn’t going to cut it. They invited their friends to perform with them, making it a full 11 piece band bringing high energy new wave funk, spoken word, and indie rock guitar trickery. The music came with a message – written across each member’s shirts was the organization No Cop Academy and throughout the set, The Curls’ singer Mick championed their mission of reinvesting community funds away from militarization and policing and used for community education and health programs.
The set included selections off of their last album Super Unit (Slice of Life, Big Bong, Violence). Take a listen to our interview with The Curls here!
–Scott Clancy, Paul Quinn
This certainly wasn’t Melkbelly’s first time playing in Chicago, but it was their first time playing on stage at Pitchfork. They were the first act on the red stage and as the rain came down hard at the start of their set, the band chugged on like a noise-rock freight train spewing not steam or smoke, but heavy riffs and powerhouse rhythm. Singer and guitar player Miranda Winters looked like a rock n roll Princess Merida with her long red hair, while she screamed, slurred, and sang through songs like “Kid Creative” and “Off The Lot.” An obvious highlight of the set was the incredible rhythm section of drummer James Wetzel and Liam Winters. Wetzel pounded those drums like the wheels of the freight train, propelling it forward, with Winters’ bass like a heavy, steady pump of the engine keeping the whole thing powered. It was such a cool set – A local band showing up to punch Pitchfork in the face (in the friendliest way possible). Take a listen to our interview with Melkbelly here!
I cried a lot during this set. What can I say! Lucy Dacus knows how to pull at the heart strings. Having recently released her sophomore album Historian earlier this year, Dacus took the stage slightly hesitant of getting electrocuted due to the weather. Luckily, the skies cleared rather quickly, almost as if the heavens were opening up to bless us with her presence.
Dacus has a voice to soothe your soul. Her lyrics felt like a nice comforting hug over the entire crowd at the Green Stage. Before performing “Yours and Mine,” Dacus shared that her inspiration for the song came from the passion she has found for protesting and standing up for what is right. In a time of so much uncertainty and darkness in our world, singing along to this song was moving and inspiring, as Dacus reminded us of the necessity of making our voices heard.
Between songs Dacus shared that she was an attendee of Pitchfork four years ago. Fast forward a couple years and she’s on the lineup! I am so proud of how far she has come and I am excited to see all that lies ahead for Lucy Dacus. She closed out her set with “Night Shift,” a clear fan favorite as the crowd belted along.
Julie Byrne led a peaceful and beautiful set over at the blue stage on Friday. She first came out on the stage solo with her acoustic guitar to play a few tracks, but was later joined with a larger ensemble consisting of a harp, synth, and violin, engaging the crowd to enter a trance-like state as they progressed through their set. Though her set seemed like one of the shorter sets of the day (having only performed less than 10 songs), she delivered one of the most beautiful sets of the day.
Having released his latest album Care for Me earlier this year, 23 year old Chicago rapper Saba is on a roll in 2018. The clouds slowly disappeared while he energized the crowd on the red stage, giving Pitchfork some of its first sights of sunlight. He performed tracks off of his latest album along with some from his debut, The Bucket List Project. He commanded the crowd extremely well, instructing them to repeatedly put their hands up and jump together throughout the set, and took a moment to memorialize his brother John Walt, a fellow member of the Chicago rap collective, The Pivot Gang, who was murdered last year. “Long live John Walt!” he chanted with the crowd. He then explained the stage props behind him – a replica of his grandmothers’ kitchen complete with a fake refrigerator, oven, and cupboards, telling the crowd “everything I do goes back to my upbringing.” At the end of the set, a surprised crowd, that had already started slowly moving away from the stage, quickly returned when Saba (now shirtless) ran back with the entire Pivot Gang for an encore performance of “Westside Bound 3.”
Open Mike Eagle
Chicago’s own Open Mike Eagle demanded the stage. With a personality as vibrant as his, it was almost impossible to keep from smiling, laughing, and dancing along with Eagle as he guided the crowd through an amazing and memorable performance.
Eagle’s performance was full of energy. He shared many rare snippets of unreleased songs, some unfinished, some finished as recently as the night before, but all equally amazing. Eagle also showed off his impressive freestyling skills while interacting with the crowd, making quick witted jokes and smart commentary on his surroundings. Rapper Serengeti joined Eagle on stage to surprise the crowd with a love song written for Chicago, “Dennehy.”
Eagle brought a really great perspective to the lineup at Pitchfork. Growing up in Chicago inspired his concept album Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, which focuses on the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes building on the southside of Chicago, a home to over 11,000 lower class and predominantly black Chicagoans, including some of Eagle’s family. In 2007, the building was demolished by the city, leaving many homeless. Eagle’s album discusses the pain that many faced when their home was taken away from them. Through his performance of “Daydreaming in the Projects” and “Brick Body Complex,” Eagle’s passionate message hit home. This was easily one of my favorite performances from Pitchfork weekend.
Many crowded together at the Blue Stage on a gloomy afternoon in anticipation of Julien Baker’s set. From the moment she walked out on stage, it was clear that Baker has a massive stage presence. Her ability to seamlessly execute song after song was truly impressive. Baker has a voice to send goosebumps across your whole entire body with a single passionate wail. With each and every belt, Baker had the audience wrapped around her finger.
There’s a special kind of sadness in Baker’s music. Known for her ideology “sad songs make me feel better,” there’s a silver lining of therapeutic comfort found in each of her songs. With songs like “Sour Breath,” “Sprained Ankle,” and “Appointments,” it’s safe to say that Baker took this crowd to church with her performance of raw emotion and vulnerability this past Friday.
As we heard Saba’s fans cheering in the distance, Baker gushed that she sometimes wished she was the type of artist would could scream “make some noise!” to an audience like Saba. Her wishes were then granted as the audience immediately followed suit, cheering her on loudly and proving that she could easily achieve whatever she pleased. Baker then closed out her set with “Something,” which admittedly brought a single tear to my eye. Okay, fine… a couple tears.
The same day that LA hip-hop singer-songwriter Syd performed on the green stage at Pitchfork, her band The Internet’s latest album Hive Mind was released, so it was pretty cool to see her solo set at Pitchfork despite that new great collaboration. It was a smooth, sensual set – just Syd in a white t-shirt in front of a white backdrop and a few lights. She cooly walked around the stage and ran through some solo tracks from her debut Syd, singing it for the women in the crowd but letting the men take in her chilled out and captivating stage presence. The rain, on and off all day, came down in a slick wave. “It’s slippery” she warned Steve Lacy, another member of The Internet, who joined Syd for a few tracks. What made the set really great was when the entire band came out at the end to crank out a hit or two, plus Hive Mind’s smooth talking track “Come Over.” That’s what made the set feel like a whole event – the new Internet album, out that day, a killer solo Syd performance, and of course the whole band to complete the package!
If you’re ever in the mood for a good cry, listen to Big Thief. Usually a music festival isn’t the most conductive place for a cry, but that didn’t stop the tears when Big Thief performed “Mary.” Something about Adrienne Lenker’s melodic, airy voice takes it out of me. Maybe it’s also because her lyrics deal with emotional topics like accounts of death, domestic abuse, and primal love. The second song on Big Thief’s bill, “Shark Smile,” follows a story of a loved one dying in a car accident and wishing death had taken you instead. Even though Big Thief has reach a big following, they were incredibly modest on stage (with the exception of guitarist Buck Meek’s inexplicably tight pants). Lenker shyly smiled at the crowd when they cheered for her. Big Thief ended their emotional rollercoaster ride of a set with a new song, “Magic Dealer.” By the sound of their new song, I’m eagerly anticipating a new album soon.
Known for a wicked onstage presence, Courtney Barnett brought the heat to her performance at Pitchfork this year. She started her set off with “Hopefulessness,” a song that begins with eerie guitar strums alongside Barnett’s haunting voice and slowly but surely builds into a headbanger. This was a magnificent kickoff to the rest of her performance, where she highlighted many songs from the most recent album of hers, Tell Me How You Really Feel.
“City Looks Pretty,” one of Barnett’s most popular songs, was eagerly welcomed by the crowd. For a piece that starts off upbeat, it sure does take a turn into a languid and heavy beat. The crowd sang along to the undeniably relatable lyrics, “Sometimes I get sad, It’s not all that bad.” Barnett often smiled companionably at the crowd while playing, giving off the feeling that she was right there with us.
In between songs, the crowd began chanting, “Courtney! Courtney! Courtney!” Barnett smiled ruefully, chuckled, and said, “That was my first chant!” While the audience was having a blast, Barnett’s band might have been having more fun. The bassist couldn’t wipe the grin from his face and Barnett often lifted her guitar into the sky in the throws of a passionate run.
Barnett closed with an explosive rendition of, “Pedestrian at Best.” The chorus, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” was screamed along with Barnett by the crowd who jumped and headbanged their way through this rocker of a song. Dropping her guitar at the finish, Barnett left the stage with a wave and a smile.
The Aussie neo-psych rockers closed day 1 of Pitchfork and turned Union Park into a outdoor neon dance party. A lot of festival goers have the goal to get as close to the stage as possible, but I would venture to say that where a few of us from WLUW were standing, pretty far in the back, was the best place to lay witness to the experience that is Tame Impala outside in the summertime. Back there, people were spaced out, with room for dancing and taking in the beautiful light show accompanying the music. It was raining of course, as it was for a lot of day 1, but it only added to the psych experience because the spitting rain was like a wavy, transparent curtain reflecting the green stage lights and created a moving haze over the band, who were silhouetted black standing in front of the stage lights. Whoever creates the light shows for the band deserves the highest praise for what they do! The band had beams of light shot over the crowd into the falling rain, which inadvertently recreated the look of the Northern Lights atop the audience, red and green lasers criss-crossed in the sky and hit the trees around the park, creating a cool cosmic atmosphere for songs from the set like “Apocalypse Dreams,” “Elephant,” and “Eventually.” The giant screen behind them showed geometric symbols rotating, pulsing, waving, hazy nature scenes, and the occasional person obscured by light filters. Tame Impala successfully closed out day 1 with equal parts euphoria, stunning visuals, and a danceable sonic adventure through the cosmos.
Day 2: (photos)
Chicago’s Paul Cherry set off the second day at Pitchfork with his signature groovy psych pop sound, sometimes referred to as “weirdo pop”. Although he was the first performer of the day, Paul Cherry drew quite a crowd. I ended up standing directly behind his mom in the crowd, who kept occasionally shouting supportive messages at the stage. Surprisingly, Paul Cherry had six people in his band up on stage with him (although one of these people was devoted solely to the shaker). Paul Cherry managed to perform almost the entirety of his new album “Flavour,” and of course played his hits “Like Yesterday” and “Hey Girl.” You could tell this show was a big deal to him because he seemed a little nervous on stage and wore an awe-struck smile almost the whole set.
Zola Jesus came out onto the stage completely covered in a red cloth, as she began performing early on Saturday afternoon. As the music she was performing grew more intense, the more active she became on stage, until she eventually lost the red cloth. Having put out a proper album in 2017 (Okovi), she also released a deluxe version on that came out earlier this year. Zola put on an empowering and charthic set that was not to be missed at this year’s festival.
Circuit des Yeux
Circuit Des Yeux is the project of Haley Fohr, a Chicago musician who put out their third record last lear on Chicago’s Drag City label. Performing at the blue stage, there was a packed crowd ready to experience the uniqueness of Haley’s voice paired with her masterful songwriting. Though Circuit Des Yeux added to the relaxing vibes of Saturday’s lineup, Haley and her band stood out amongst others, and kept drawing more and more festival goers as their set progressed.
Moses Sumney is a force to be reckoned with. He strolled onto the stage at Pitchfork this year with ease and confidence, a manor that doesn’t preface his powerful and imaginative voice. Sumney wore his “performance uniform”: a beautifully drapey black button-up and loose baggy black pants cinched with a belt, an ensemble he’s seen in at almost all his concerts.
Beginning with, “Don’t Bother Calling,” the crowd shuffled in anticipation. His setlist only contained seven songs, partially due to his allotted amount of time, but mostly because Sumney has a way of drawing out each song into long, lilting, highly emotional ballads that never bore. For example, the recorded version of “Make Out in My Car,” is only 2:36; when he sang it at Pitchfork, it lasted well over five minutes.
Every now and then, a song comes along that seems to pierce my heart. Sumney’s “Quarrel,” is one of those songs. I crossed my fingers that he would perform it and to my delight, it was the third piece on his shorter setlist. Sumney’s soothing voice is layered over a gorgeous harp, a perfectly timed drum beat, and some electronic notes. He always enhances the experience of his live music by dancing in exact accordance to his voice, swaying and undulating to each note.
Sumney finished off his enchanting performance with “Plastic,” undeniably his most popular song. The first few notes drew an excited cheer from the crowd. Sumney is no stranger to music festivals, having performed at Pitchfork Paris and Coachella, but his Saturday performance was definitely one for the books.
Girlpool was one of the bands I was most excited to see play day 2 of the festival. Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad create a hypnotizing duo. They began their set with the classic “1 2 3” and ended up playing one of my favorite songs “It Gets More Blue” halfway through the set. The combination of Cleo and Harmony’s voice gave me goosebumps (in a good way). Cleo Tucker recently began transitioning and their voice was noticeably lower. It seemed as though at times they had to strain to reach the right note. Evenstill, their performance was mesmerizing and the crowd was huge. Their personalities definitely came through on the stage. At one point when Cleo was tuning their guitar, Harmony went on a tangent about bell peppers at the grocery store.
Dev Hynes, otherwise known as Blood Orange, oozes coolness. He owned the Green Stage at Pitchfork this year, effortlessly launching into his set with a cover of Sky Ferreira’s song “Everything is Embarrassing,” which he co-wrote with Ferreira a few years back.
Famous for his unique collaboration with incredible women (Sky Ferreira, Carly Ray Jepsen, and Solange Knowles among a few of them), Hynes’s own performance on Day 2 of the festival this year was nothing short of electrifying. He has a humble nature and down-to-Earth presence which cultivates an atmosphere that’s not easily achieved at a big music festival. Hynes is, “keenly gifted at making any space feel intimate,” a talent that’s immensely admirable.
Picking songs from each of his released albums, Hynes performed “Desiree,” “Better Than Me,” and “Chamakay,” all 80’s inspired bops following “Everything is Embarrassing.” Among these dance anthems, Hynes introduced a few not yet released songs, to the crowds delight. With his upcoming album, Negro Swan, on the horizon, the audience drank up the unpublished pieces.
Two absolute stars who shared the stage with Hynes were Ian Isiah and Eva Tolkin, his background singers for this performance. Isiah and Tolkin did everything except blend into the background, and I’m sure that was purposeful on Hynes’s part. The three shared the stage together, blending voices beautifully and dancing with one another in adorable shows of clear friendship.
The War on Drugs
Pitchfork was only one stop on The War on Drugs’ current tour. Dominated by festivals, the Philadelphia reigning band will also be hitting up 5+ more festivals in the next few months, gracing even more people with their chill Indie-Rock sound.
The moment Adam Granduciel walked onto the Red stage, their expansive audience went wild. They began with “In Chains,” from the 2017 album, A Deeper Understanding. A solid choice to kick-off their set, the seven minute long song set the scene for a great show.
Picking and choosing different pieces from their last three albums, The War on Drugs played, “Pain,” “An Ocean Between the Waves,” and “Brothers,” all songs that somehow provide a nostalgic glow. The thirteen-year-old band has gone through multiple different members, losing and adding new musicians. Yet, their sound remains constant and their fans remain loyal.
“Red Eyes,” the bands most popular piece, was seventh on the setlist. The already rowdy crowd became even more animated, the first few rows clapping their hands above their heads and jumping to the beat. Granduciel sang passionately into the mic, ripping on the guitar and the saxophone brought the sound to the next level. The bright red lightshow surrounding the stage enhanced the performance by going off in bursts of excitement at the apex of the song.
The War on Drugs closed with, “Burning,” a long song from their 2014 album, Lost In The Dream. Many smiles were seen in the crowd, with most everyone dancing to the 80’s sounding ballad. The show left me feeling happy for the upcoming audiences along The War on Drugs’ tour, for they also get to experience the band’s enigmatic live sound.
Day 2 of Pitchfork was interesting to me in that the day’s genres spanned a rather wide array. The afternoon went on with neo-soul from Raphael Saadiq (who kills it on the guitar by the way), veteran English punk from the reunited This is Not This Heat, and the Grammy nominated, twenty-first century yacht rock from The War On Drugs, but all came to a close on day 2 with the folksy anthemic rock of Fleet Foxes. The band is on tour supporting last year’s album Crack-Up and stopped in Chicago to play some songs from the record like “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me,” “Cassius, -,” “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Secco/Thumbprint Scar.” Prior to Pitchfork, I never gave Fleet Foxes a proper listen, but I found myself right at the rail for their headlining set and was surprised at the rowdy response from the crowd. I didn’t think their soft-leaning folk would elicit such loud fans, but more often than not this close to the stage, the singing from fans was louder than Robin Pecknold’s singing or acoustic guitar playing. The set’s opener “Grown Ocean” caused mild hysteria around me, which was pretty consistent through the rest of it. Between songs, the crowd shouted the typical “I love you!,” “Robin!!!,” even an obscure Spongebob reference which I thought was hilarious (E-Minor!). It was also one girl’s birthday that night and upon hearing someone shouting that at him, Robin wished her a happy birthday – she was elated…I know because she was right next to me. Towards the end of the set I left my coveted spot right up front for the spacious back and actually found it a bit more enjoyable – I could actually hear Robin’s quick strumming and his voice, though being up close before did allow me to take a look at the band’s stage presence. Cool instrumentation like flutes and brass, and a bowed electric guitar gave the acoustic folk songs a sweet, eclectic touch. The set ended with a cover of The Impressions “Fool For You” and with that, day 2 at Pitchfork came to a happy end.
Day 3: (photos)
Nnamdi had a late start on Sunday, as the gates were delayed for “weather reasons” (but really it was due to Lauryn Hill’s private soundcheck). Yet, Nnamdi and his band made the most they could with their shortened set. Balancing hip hop with punk sounds, Nnamdi brought a variety of fans to the stage, including many other performers from the festival. In addition, Nnamdi was one of many local acts to take the stage on Sunday, and oh boy did he set the bar high with his performance.
The moment a crew member brought out a mic stand completely covered in a bright red feather boa, the crowd roared in excitement for what was to come. Ravyn Lenae then greeted Chicago from offstage, and it felt like a true angel was speaking to us. As she walked out in a glistening glittery getup with a huge smile on her face, Ravyn immediately stole the hearts of her fans. Lenae was clearly right at home on stage, as she showed off her angelic and smooth voice with each song.
Lenae was beaming as she exclaimed how excited she was to be playing at Pitchfork in her hometown of Chicago. “It’s so good to be home,” shared Lenae excitedly in between song lyrics. Her bubbly personality and undeniable true talent were two of many highlights of this performance. Lenae connected to the crowd by asking questions about relationships and love. The crowd agreed with Lenae as she spoke about the troubles of dating in the computer age which was shortly followed by her song “Computer Love.” Lenae also sang “4 Leaf Clover,” “Sticky,” and “Thirsty,” all of which showcased Lenae’s ridiculous talent.
Audience participation was a big part of Lenae’s set, which created a special connection between Lenae and her fans. Through her clear effort to bond with the crowd at Pitchfork, Lenae ensured that her audience felt right at home through her music.
Based out of Philadelphia, Japanese Breakfast is the solo project of Michelle Zauner. From the moment Zauner and her band walked on stage, this four piece could not stop grinning. As Zauner began her set, the audience could not help but dance along with the band. Following the release of her 2017 album Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Zauner is known for her distinct voice tones and ability to sing so passionately it seems as if her heart might burst. With lyrics so real and intense, it felt as if my heart would burst right there with her as I was watching.
After a set full of band classics such as “Everybody Wants to Love You,” “In Heaven,” and “Road Head”, Japanese Breakfast surprised the crowd with a rendition of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.” This cover just felt so very right. Japanese Breakfast conquered the Blue Stage Sunday afternoon with a set full of energy and great music.
“Clap for my sadness!” laughed Fatimah Warner, a Chicago rapper known by her fans as Noname. When you take a closer listen to her upbeat and catchy tunes, you hear lyrics which touch on heartbreaking loss, fear, and black oppression. During her Sunday set, Noname’s lyrics would resonate with the crowd so intensely that there would be moments when she would need to remind the audience that it was okay to clap.
With a personality as lovable as Noname’s, it’s no question that she has many friends. During “Forever,” Ravyn Lenae and Joseph Chilliams joined Noname on stage for an incredible performance. And that’s not all! During “Shadowman” both Smino and Saba pranced out on stage to effortlessly knock our socks off. Needless to say, I had to physically pick my jaw up off of the floor. I could feel the love as I watched these Chicago young creatives share the Pitchfork stage in both awe and excitement of how far they’ve come.
Noname also graced the crowd with many sneak peaks at her upcoming album Room 25. By sticking true to her pattern of painfully vulnerable and real lyricism, it seems that this album is shaping up to be stellar.
Big Baby DRAM knows how to put on an entertaining show. With an infectious smile and a lovable personality, DRAM made every audience member feel right at home and ready to dance. His message of loving others and staying hydrated shows that he truly does care about his fans and making the world a better place.
This past Wednesday, DRAM released his latest EP That’s a Girl’s Name. To celebrate the new release, DRAM performed these new songs for the very first time in front of a crowd right at Pitchfork! The crowd seemed to love his new tracks just as much as his classics.
“Cha Cha,” his first viral hit and claim to fame, was dedicated to all of DRAM’s day one fans in the crowd. There was something in the air as this song pounded through the speakers, as both DRAM and his fans clearly loved this throwback featured in his set. DRAM shared that it was because of songs like “Cha Cha” that he was able to write “Cash Machine,” a song which celebrates DRAM’s success.
DRAM closed his set by getting up close and personal with the crowd during “Broccoli.” As an artist, DRAM makes sure to remind his fans that they are the reason he is able to continue finding success through his music. By jumping into the crowd, DRAM was able to interact with fans on a whole new level at Pitchfork, reminding them that they are just as big of a part of DRAM’s success as he is himself.
(Sandy) Alex G
After getting turned off by Alex Cameron’s first song of his set (which included the lines, “pussy in the bed” and “she’s almost 17”) I returned to the blue stage to see my forever crush Alex Giannascoli. The four-piece band laid down silky yet rugged rock-renditions of their folk punk melodies; and they melted me down into puddles. They played from a range of their albums including “Proud,” “Poison Root,” “Witch,” “Soaker” and a beautiful duet of “Brite Boy” with Japanese Breakfast’s, Michelle Zauner. Their glum songs nurtured my angsty heart on the grey Day 3 of the fest and I felt grateful to hear Giannascoli’s bedroom rock in a new setting.
Ms. Lauryn Hill
In true Lauryn Hill fashion, Hill was about 20 minutes late to her set. But all was forgiven the moment she walked onstage to the intro off her 20 year old album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which was also the moment just about every Pitchfork-goer in the audience felt chills go down their spines. Hill then rolled right into “Lost Ones,” which sparked so much excitement throughout the entire crowd. As Hill and her band jammed out, their passion and energy was contagious. Hill continued to please the crowd with a trip down memory lane while playing classics such as “Forgive Them Father,” “Ex Factor,” and “Everything is Everything.” With such an important album turning 20 this year, this performance was a celebration of all that Hill has accomplished and inspired over the past two decades.
I absolutely could not imagine a better ending to Pitchfork than this performance. As the night came to a close and I said goodbye to the weekend, I felt thankful to have experienced all that is Ms. Lauryn Hill.
Thank you, Pitchfork for a wonderful festival! See you next year!!