Standing on the Corner:
Standing on the Corner, led by Gio Escobar, has proven to be a tough act to decipher. With music that blends jazz and hip-hop with a slew of other genres, the only certainty that comes with the group is the promise of constructed chaos. Walking up to the Green Stage, one might have been surprised to see a 25 piece jazz band, including Escobar as its conductor. For a musical project so reliant on the use of samples, the lineup might have confused much of the crowd. But that confusion quickly turned itself into wonder as the band began to play. The performance ranged from loud and bombastic to jubilant and playful. Through it all Escobar darted about the stage, nudging performers and even once asking the eager audience to hold their applause. The set was nothing short of effervescent, and set the tone for a weekend of musical highs.
Things were looking pretty grim as the sun beat down on a melting crowd filled with fans awaiting the arrival of one of hip hop’s rising stars. As Rico skipped onstage and immediately jumped into “Bitch I’m Nasty,” however, a refreshing wave of energy and excitement washed over us all. Rico’s cadence and style is unprecedented, emphasizing how she has a point to prove and wants you to hear about it. The seemingly effortless way she pounces on the beat is one of the most notable features on Anger Management, her latest album released earlier this year, and let me tell you, it is just as amazing to witness in a live performance. With a set including “Smack a Bitch,” “Cold,” and her verse on Doja Cat’s “Tia Tamera,” Rico flew from song to song, matching the wild energy of the crowd. The beautiful duality of a Rico Nasty live performance includes harshly powerful and demanding lyrics paired alongside her wide smiles and loving interactions with the crowd. With all of the moshing and dancing, this was hands down one of the liveliest performances I witnessed all weekend. Towards the end of her set, Rico took a seat at the foot of the stage to cool down and continue admiring the energy of the crowd. With someone as electric and ethereal as Rico Nasty leading us, could you even blame us for not being able to keep still?
The crowd surrounding Pitchfork Fest’s blue stage was transported back to the 1980s, courtesy of Chicago-based duo Grapetooth. Clay Frankel and Chris Bailoni are both self-proclaimed fans of ‘80s Japanese new wave and that passion shines through in their own upbeat, fun, and gregarious music. Not only is their music defined by the decade known for big hair and leg warmers, but Frankel and Bailoni also dress on theme too, with short shorts, baggy colorful t-shirts, and funky sneakers. The entire performance was enhanced by their style and movement, Frankel dancing energetically the entire time, at one point even fake fighting with the crowd by throwing fists and kicks. If the name Clay Frankel sounds familiar to you Chicagoans, that’s because it is – he’s the singer and guitarist for Chicago indie darlings, Twin Peaks. Chicago’s music scene is one of the most supportive I have ever witnessed; and this proved very true during Grapetooth’s set, as I saw fellow Chicago musicians such as Whitney, Lala Lala, Ohmme, and other members of Twin Peaks backstage rocking out to Frankel and Bailoni. All of these artists/friends came out at the end of the set for their own little party onstage, dancing together and having a blast. The energy was tangible and transferred to the crowd, creating one of the most high-energy sets of the weekend.
As someone who is very vocal and transparent about her struggles with anxiety and mental health issues, Sky Ferreira’s courage and commitment to take the stage for the first time in over 2 years despite all apparent obstacles was inspiring and admirable. With this being a highly anticipated performance of Ferreira’s, the stakes seemed to be set incredibly high by none other than DIY Pop Queen Ferreira herself. I truly believe that the crowd of excited and adoring fans would’ve cheered for her even if she chose to yodel for 50 minutes. Still, Ferriera would not settle for anything less than the best she could offer. Although she seemed frustrated by miscommunication and faulty sound equipment, Ferriera powered through some classics off her 2013 EP, Night Time, My Time. As the clock-ticking intro of “24 Hours” began pumping through the speakers, an indescribable energy flooded over the crowd. Ferreira then plowed through “Boys,” “Ain’t Your Right,” and “I Blame Myself,” all of which highlight her self awareness and emotional depth through both her lyricism and effortless wails. Ferreira also snuck in a beautiful rendition of ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” followed by two of her most famous tracks “You’re Not the One” and “Everything is Embarrassing.” Ferreira then introduced a new song “Descending,” an eerie yet graceful track that crept over the crowd, leaving us all hopeful of the release of any new recordings in the near future. As I walked away from her performance that night, I was equal parts proud of what Ferreira was able to accomplish and share with us and also excited for what the future holds for her. Whether she continues to work on new music or bring awareness to mental health, I will always be a thankful fan of hers.
The witchiest witch that ever lived! Los Angeles based singer/songwriter/witchy woman, Julia Holter, cultivated a reflective and slightly spooky atmosphere at Pitchfork this year which I enjoyed immensely. Her five-plus person band spanned across the blue stage, including a violinist, cellist, pianist (Holter herself), drummer, and more. Holter is an expert at layering instruments over her haunting vocals, turning some tracks into almost chant like ritualistic songs that transport the listener into another dimension. Her long black hair tinted with silver is synonymous with her music and heightens the pleasantly eerie sound of her band. By the time her set rolled around, the weather had cooled off a bit and a delicious breeze seemed to be brought among the crowd by Julia herself, with her music being so in tune with nature and emotion itself.
Sophie Allison in holographic biker shorts. Need I say more? Also known as Soccer Mommy, Nashville based singer/guitarist Sophie Allison had one of my favorite sets of the entire Pitchfork weekend. With her signature pigtails dancing on either side of her beautiful head, Sophie started out her performance with Last Girl, one of the many cathartic songs on her 2018 debut album Clean, which threw her straight into the spotlight. Sophie is only 22 years old, yet she writes as if she’s had many more trips around the sun – with class, talent, and relevance. Her lyrics speak to so many people, allowing a space for anger and love all the same. Her large crowd voraciously sang along with her, myself included, to songs such as Blossom (Wasting All My Time), Out Worn, and Your Dog. I felt lucky to witness a new song titled Lucy, which Sophie only partly joked, “My mom really likes it.” This new track featured a slow build up of every instrument in the band into a roaring crescendo and the same raw intense lyricism that all of Sophie’s other songs have. Her glinting bike shorts and the fact that she counts down every track while also providing the acute emotional gravity in each song prove Sophie is the nucleus of her five piece band. I haven’t been more excited for new music from a group in a long long time.
The scene around the Pitchfork grounds was hazy and sluggish when the dreamy slowcore veterans Low took to closing the Blue Stage. The heat index had bathed the park in sunlight and its blaketing heat had been weighing us down for a little while at that point. When something like this happens at a festival, the best escape is to slug your water and lose yourself to music. Elsewhere, Mavis Staples offered an escape from the heat by embracing its hot energy, but tucked away in the alcove of trees surrounding the Blue Stage, Low offered a subdued and elemental escape. Lit by the golden hour, the band colored the haze with their cathartic meldies, soft and building to a steamy swirl of guitar, bass, and drums. The three piece lineup presented cuts from last year’s album Double Negative next to some classic tracks to an audience of festival attendees who preferred the think and feel the heat out of their bodies rather than dance it out – a real moment of beauty.
Most, if not all performers at this weekend shouted out to the crowd, exclaiming the name of the city they were performing in. Nobody at the festival has earned the right to use Chicago’s name more than rhythm and blues legend Mavis Staples. During her graceful set, she smiled and waved at members of the crowd in a manner that made it seem as if she personally knew everyone present. As all magnificent hosts are, she was charming, funny, and welcomed everyone with a warm embrace. She preached messages of peace and social justice, she cracked jokes, she played originals from across her catalog and covered the likes of the Talking Heads and Buffalo Springfield. Most of all, she just wanted to make everybody feel good for a little while. As she put it, “We’ve come this evening folks, to bring some joy, happiness, inspiration, positive vibrations. We hope you feel good.”
The Haim sisters took Pitchfork to CHURCH with an incredibly professional and jam packed set of absolute wonder Friday night. Not gonna lie, Haim was *That Band* for me when I was 14, so leading up to this show I was mostly looking forward to dancing along to my high school jams and reminiscing on the impact these sisters had on my teenage years. While that certainly did happen, I am also happy to report that the Haim sisters delivered in so many ways beyond what I could’ve possibly expected. First, they graced the stage wearing matching shimmery jumpsuits. Need I say more? Second, these women did not come to Pitchfork to play games. It was evident that Haim put an enormous amount of preparation and effort into this performance. The sisters walked onstage to the intro of “Falling,” a staple introduction to any Haim live performance. What came next was a lovely blend of songs off 2013’s Days Are Gone and 2017’s Something to Tell You. The Haim sisters showcased all of their undeniable and unbelievable talent during songs like “Don’t Save Me,” “Nothing’s Wrong,” and “Want You Back.” While their talent is otherworldly, their banter between songs brought them back to earth as they joked and laughed alongside the crowd. Halfway through the set, sisters Alana, Danielle, and Este perched on some stools to get intimate with the crowd. They then gifted us with a rare performance of “Go Slow,” a deep dive off their first record, and Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and the Dawson’s Creek classic “I Don’t Want to Wait.” Later, Haim welcomed a saxophonist and a double bassist to the stage to join them in introducing a brand new track “Summer Girl.” Danielle shared that the song is dedicated to Lou Reed, a clear influence on the song and the seeming trajectory of the band’s sound. Haim closed out their set with a haunting rendition of “Right Now,” which concluded with a passionate and energetic sister drum sesh, which our Production Director Elise accurately compared to the looks of a witching hour of casting spells and summoning mystical powers from beyond.
It was hot. Very hot, with no cloud coverage and no tree nearby, when Chicago’s own Lala Lala opened up the day on day two of Pitchfork. For those attendees familiar with some of the Chicago DIY scene, they may know that Lillie West’s musical project has taken on various forms in a live setting. Revolving around her songwriting, vocals, and downtempo, dulcet guitar strumming, this iteration of Lala Lala featured some of the faces you can find playing in DIY bars and venues across the city on any given night. With Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on bass, Vivian McConnell on guitar, Kaina on backup vocals, and Sen Morimoto on keyboards and saxophone, the band played cuts from last year’s album The Lamb as well as a cover of Perfume Genius, sung in West’s beloved deep cooing vocal style broken by screams of emotion, backed by a lush sound from the band. A slow set to start the day, but one appreciated in the light of the sun.
After tuning in to the slow, emotional set by Chicago’s Lala Lala, things were about to change with the Chicago’s Ric Wilson. The disco-rap artist encouraged the early festival goers to sing and dance around and to enjoy each other’s presence as Ric performed songs from his 2018 release BANBA. If you were to think that a local act wasn’t going to bring out friends to party with him on stage, well you would have been wrong. During his performance of “Sinner”, Evanston’s own and 2018 Pitchfork artist Kweku Collins joined Ric and his band on stage. If you haven’t seen Ric Wilson live before, it is hard not do dance, especially when he wanted to break the world record for the longest Soul Train. Leading the crowd to split to allow for space for the Soul Train, Ric jumped down into the crowd and danced with everyone, turning the grounds at the red stage into one large dance floor. From the what could now be the world’s largest Soul Train, to bringing out Kweku Collins, to bringing out a high school marching band (yes, this happened too), Ric Wilson’s set really was the one to kick of the party on Saturday.
Hailing from Japan, CHAI entered the stage all in matching outfits, large smiles on their faces, and a high energy that was instantly spread throughout the crowd. With honoring Pitchfork’s Best New Music with their album “Punk”, festival goers flocked to the stage to see what this quartet had to offer. CHAI isn’t a punk band, they aren’t a pop band – they cannot be put into a genre that fits them, and that is one of the reasons as to why their set was so enjoyable to watch. The energy they brought on to the stage, coordinated outfits, coordinated dance moves, and even a coordinated (and very colorful) costume change, all this solidifies CHAI as a band that needs to be seen in a live setting as their performance is one not to be missed.
When Jay Som graced the stage, the sun was beating down on festival goers as they swarmed the Blue Stage to catch some of the California band’s signature DIY indie rock. Frontwoman and singer songwriter Melina Mae Duterte kicked off the set mostly with tracks from her 2017 Polyvinyl release, Everybody Works. Melina’s soft bedroom pop centers around melodic guitars and breezy vocals. The pace of each song grew with intensity, making for a dance-worthy daytime show by the end of the performance. Melina also teased the audience with two new songs, announcing a forthcoming album later this summer, which contributed even more to the exciting energy in the audience. About midway through the set, however, gloomy clouds rolled through Union Park, foreshadowing a brutal thunderstorm that would later cancel performances from Kurt Vile and Amber Mark. As sun glasses came off and the temperature finally backed off, Jay Som concluded her performance with the synth powerhouse Baybee. WLUW was stoked to catch Jay Som play new and old hits before the storm evacuation.
As Parquet Courts took to the stage, one could tell that the band knew they were about to play to a crowd that really likes their music. The air was tense as the band strung up the opening notes of “Master of My Craft,” and the band held those notes just a little bit longer than they do on record, soaking it all in. Then they dove into it, and the rest of their set was a cathartic blast of political art punk. The band mostly played from their recent full length Wide Awake!, but peppered in a few old favorites like “Borrowed Time.” They were in their element, and it seemed as if nothing could stop them. In fact, nothing would. They announced that their set would be cut short due to weather, and then launched into one last tune with “Wide Awake!”. When their sound cut out for an announcement that the festival would be evacuated, Parquet Courts simply kept playing, and the crowd was all the more encouraged for it. The sound came back on almost as if to acknowledge the band’s unwavering dedication to their fans and their performance, and then the set ended to thunderous applause followed by actual thunder.
Kurt Vile: it rained.
Personally, as I trudged through the rising rainwater falling overhead from the Green Line tracks, along with my fellow festival evacuees, I thought “I will be very upset if I’m not able to see Stereolab.” This is a band namechecked as influences on many of today’s favorite indie bands, legends in the field, and a band I never thought I’d ever catch, that is until they announced a slew of reunion shows earlier this year. Thankfully, the potentially devastating thunderstorm ravaged the grounds quickly, and as soon as the gates were announced open, in I was and there they were. Standing on the Green Stage, bathed on the golden light of the sun stood Lætitia Sadier, Stereolab’s legendary French chanteuse, synth and guitarist in a flowing rainbow dress, to sing for us the post-storm rays of the band’s churning, percussive, and melodious music. With the choppy and simple yet driving guitar playing of Tim Gane, the band’s second songwriting half, who did experience some technical issues that switched his guitar off for a period, the band lulled the crowd into a head bopping reverie through classic cuts and less known but equally appreciated tunes.
Familiar with their work beforehand, I did expect to really dig the simple and breathy melodies the band plays over only a few chords within a song, what struck me about them was how very disciplined each player is on stage. Tim Gane simply stands and waves his head back and forth strumming with a furious right hand while the drums and synth beat and pulse in rhythm for as long as is needed to create a reverberating line of sound for Lætitia to get lost in as she sings and plays her keys. Stereolab was a relief after a break in the heat. To me, it felt as if the festival could then truly begin without the worry of the weather in the back of everyone’s mind.
Belle and Sebastian:
Walking around Pitchfork on Day 2, I overheard several people mention that they were most excited for Stereolab and Belle and Sebastian. I even caught long-time fans sporting old merch from the 1996 album If You’re Feeling Sinister, which sent the Glasgow college group from local heroes to international sensations. Lead singer Stuart Murdoch and the 12-piece band cut straight to the chase with their setlist comprised of the entirety of the 1996 sonic debut. Merdoch narrated the ten tracks with intimacy and devotion to the crowd of folk-rock fans, joking that “the rock and roll gods have smiled upon us” after the rain subsided. There was something enchanting about being apart of thousands of people singing and nodding along to “Seeing Other People” and “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying.” Isobel Campbell equally shared the spotlight onstage with her pensive cello alongside glimmering ‘60s-inspired guitars. The finale song, “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” sparked electricity with its eclectic lyricism and grand trumpet solo.
While Belle and Sebastian certainly made their name in the 90s, they are hardly a “90s band.” Primarily, the band sounds all-too-similar to current trends in folk rock today to throw them into a genre of either retired or forgotten punk bands. Instead, Belle and Sebastian continued on through the 2000s with several LPs worthy of their cult-like following. In fact, the band is planning for a new album this year called Days of a Bagnold Summer. Their Pitchfork performance was a great way for them to reconnect with their Chicago fanbase.
The Isley Brothers:
So… WLUW might be a little biased with this one, seeing as three members of the executive staff found themselves dancing onstage with the Isley Brothers for the headlining performance. Nevertheless, we are giving our honest opinion when we say that the Isley Brothers totally rocked Union Park on Saturday night. The performance began with purple lights and Prince’s eulogy (“Dearly beloved… we are gathered here today to get through this thing we call ‘life’”) from the track “Let’s Go Crazy.” No doubt, the Isley Brothers deeply influenced Prince as much as Prince influenced the Brothers.
Surviving members Ron and Ernie then appeared on stage sporting their groovy all-white suits. Immediately, the Ohio brothers dove into their discography of hits that dates back to the early ‘60s. Ron shared stories with the audience about meeting Bob Dylan, talking with The Beatles, and collaborating with Jimi Hendrix. It was truly astonishing to learn more about the band’s deep and rich history in the industry and pop culture at large. Whether or not you frequently listen to the Isley Brothers on your own, their songs are literally embedded in American society. Whether it’s “Between the Sheets,” which was sampled by Biggie, or party-favorite doo-wop song “Shout!,” the Isley Brothers have left their mark on music in an incredible way.
Joined by a crew of professional back-up dancers and a few audience members themselves, Ron and Ernie put on a show meant for dancing. From disco to gospel to R&B, the Isley Brothers showed variety throughout the night, reminding us all of their expansive influence.
A weather delay had fans waiting outside the festival gates long enough for Pitchfork to cancel Dreezy’s set, thus making Flasher the opening act to day 3. With delays and long waiting times to get to the festival, I unfortunately missed a good chunk of their set. After running through the gates to try and see what I can, I was happy to catch a few songs from the D.C. post punk band. Playing songs from 2018’s “Constant Image”, a lot of people stopped their journey to get a spot for Black Midi to stay and watch a few songs. Given the circumstances, Flasher proved to be a great festival opener with the likes of Black Midi and JPEGMAFIA soon to follow later in the day.
It was day three, I’d seen a lot of acts this weekend, not to mention been to a lot of shows in my life and never at a festival, seldom in general, had I ever gotten goosebumps like I did when I watched Black Midi. Some context is needed: the morning before the fest saw some heavy rain and a bit of ightning that delayed the gate’s opening for about an hour, cutting Dreezy out of the fest and making the grounds muddy and swampy. Black Midi took the Green Stage under a grey-clouded sky that sent breezes over an audience walking in the mud. In fact, it was so muddy that half of the ground in front of the stage was cautioned-taped off while crews vacuumed up the water and mulched over it. So Black Midi is from London – a city currently experiencing a flourish of interesting guitar based bands. They pull ahead of the pack with an art-school informed theatricality of extremely competently played noisey guitars, frenetic drumming, Lemmy-esque bass churning, and manic stabs and screams. Guitarist and vocalist Georgie Greep, dressed in all black, paced in circles while he plugged away, he ranted and babbled like a deranged preacher high on the holy spirit while the band flung wildly through their free yet tightly hooked frenzy.
I hesitate to use the word “rock” because of how much it all reminds me of something more powerful. Perhaps “preacher” is accurate in describing Geordie, and this is a testament to how the energy of an audience can really add to a performance, because when the crews finished mulching over mud, and the caution tape went down, the remaining half of the us rushed to be closer to the band, while over across the middle part, a tribal moshpit was romping in the mud, chanting at one point to the pulse of the drum and bass and dancing like followers in jubilation at the presence of this noise, of this nonhuman screaming, of the insanity that seemed authentic yet ironic. Black Midi’s debut Schlagenheim was released earlier this summer.
“Hi, I’m Tasha. I’m from Chicago,” singer, poet and activist Tasha said with a contagious wide grin as she performed at Pitchfork for the first time Sunday.
Tasha released her debut album, “Alone at Last,” in October of 2018, a seven-song collection of art and poetry reimagining our world as one filled with self-love and softness while simultaneously contrasting it with themes of pain and loss.
The artist began her magnetic set with “New Place,” a poignant song off “Alone at Last” contemplating imagined futures and how to get there.
“Maybe it’s right here, it’s right now,” she crooned. “Maybe with a future we envisioned all that time ago, maybe we still got time to go.”
Tasha’s lyrics incorporate poetic elements which set her music apart from other rising musicians in the Chicagoland area, with an originality in instrumentals that grabs the attention of festival-goers and music-connoisseurs alike.
The set was sequenced as two equal halves of songs played by Tasha with a full band, split by an interval in which she introduced several new songs and performed them as an individual.
Toward the close of her set, Tasha noted that this year marked her tenth attending Pitchfork and expressed genuine gratitude that she was able to stand on stage and sing her poetry.
“If I had seen someone up here doing this who looked like me when I was 16,” she said, “I would’ve started doing this a lot sooner.”
Walking on stage, JPEGMAFIA stated that he was surprised that Pitchfork gave him time on stage with live mic, again, after performing at Midwinter. Peggy was alone with his laptop on stage, but that didn’t stop him from putting on one of the day’s, if not one of the weekend’s best performances. Kicking things off with “VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE”, his collaboration with Denzel Curry, crowd and Peggy went into a spirling mess of moshing and rapping along. Between raging as hard as he could in an unconstrained manner, JPEGMAFIA took breathers to sit down, catch his breath, and crack a joke or two before kicking off the next song. There were numerous times he would jump into the crowd and rap while crowdsurfing on to fans before going back to running back and forth all of the stage. Other than a few smoke breaks and times to sit and catch his breath, Peggy kept the crowd fully engaged with everything he did. Reportedly saying that he was unable to perform new music that he has been working on, Peggy kept it to a few crowd pleasers such as “I Cannot Fucking Wait Unitl Morriessey Dies” and “Macaulay Culkin”. His breakout album “Veteran” came out last year.
How many languages do you speak? One? Maybe two? French musical duo and twin sisters, Ibeyi, speak (and sing) FOUR languages. While I’m not shaming anyone for their lack of linguality, I am indeed praising (more like worshiping) Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz for being intelligent melodic queens who also act as social justice warriors through their music. Part way through their uproarious set at Pitchfork, they briefly discussed the current political administration in America, a country they don’t even permanently live in, and the many disturbing and scary advances it’s making on this country’s citizens. In response to the disappointing politics of the USA right now, Ibeyi lifted the crowds souls up with a song sampling Michelle Obama. Michelle’s empowering voice rang out over rhythmic drumming beats, chanting, “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” The sun came out after several hours of clouds and shone down on the beautiful sisters who sported matching tracksuits and some dope Nikes, their colorful and happy style reflecting the way the crowd felt during their entire Sunday set – absolutely joyous.
Bedroom pop singer-songwriter Clairo saw sudden and enormous success with the release of singles like “Pretty Girl” and “Flaming Hot Cheetos,” and that buzz followed her onto the Green Stage on Sunday. Her set started off with some of her sleepier tunes, but the fans knew she was waiting to pull out the good stuff. As the set went on, Clairo pulled out groovier and more upbeat tunes like “Softly” and “Bags” and the crowd responded with more enthusiastic cheers and more dancing. With this year’s booking of acts like Clairo and Charli XCX, fans of Pitchfork Music Festival should be thankful that they are seeing a few more acts that pull out pop bangers each year to dilute the many rock acts that dominate the festival’s sound.
Damon McMahon and his bandmates in Amen Dunes played it straight on Sunday. The music of Amen Dunes is hazy and hot. It seemed as if the band should have played on Friday or Saturday, which so far were the two hottest and most humid days of the year for Chicago. But after walking on stage the McMahon and crew settled into their groove and served up their tunes with grace. As a performer, McMahon is characteristically quiet and has few words for the audience other than the occasional “thank you,” but when he sings you can see his emotional connection to his own songs. He gets a mean sneer on his face when he’s singing the angrier songs like “Miki Dora.” He leans into the longing of tracks like his cover of “Song to the Siren.” The sound waves washed over the audience toward the end of a cool day and seemed to cleanse the audience of their sweat and sore feet. It was a no-frills set but it had so much emotion in it. Before playing their last song, McMahon announced this was the end of their long tour, and that he would be returning home to write a new album. Fans were left with a beautiful performance of “Satudarah” and the hope that they would hear from McMahon again soon.
The members of Houston based group, Khruangbin, wield their instruments as if they were weapons – with ultimate power and precision. Laura Lee (bass) is my personal hero. Her fingers strum the bass with such talent that the air around her rings like a vibrating tuning fork. She excites a crowd like no other can with the way she moves her body in accordance to the music – the Pitchfork red stage was alive with excitement as Lee bent her knees in exact alignment with the sound of her bass. Lee and Mark Speer (guitarist) both wear dark banged wigs while on stage, creating a unique look that is now iconically attached to the name Khruangbin. Donald Johnson (drums) impresses me to no end – his insanely stable drumming is the backbone of the trio; he provides a beautiful beat backdrop that enhances the majesty that is Lee and Speer’s bass and guitar work.
Halfway through their set, Lee and Speer ambled over to one of the speakers where a bottle of Malort, two shot glasses, and some beers awaited them. The crowd went wild as they downed the alcohol and continued to play. I have never seen a group move and play in unison as well as these three do – it’s almost as if they are one being, one entity when playing their music, so in tune with one another you’d think they wouldn’t have enough room left to invite an entire crowd into themselves. Yet, that’s exactly what they do. At their Pitchfork set this year, Chicago became one with Khruangbin.
Whitney put on what can best be described as a hometown show on a large scale as the Chicago-based band performed formally for the first time in over a year Sunday.
“So, [this is] a pretty good show,” laughed lead vocalist and drummer Julien Ehrlich.
The group’s already large seven-member ensemble – a group of musicians built around Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek – was joined by a string quartet, filling the entire stage and giving Whitney’s set an air of multidimensionality and community.
This feeling of community was only enhanced throughout the band’s set, as Ehrlich continually invited “friends” – other artists from the festival – to join the band during various songs throughout their set – most particularly during “Golden Days,” in which fellow Chicago-based musician Tasha, Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail, Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy and several others sang and swayed along. Tasha returned to the stage again later in the band’s set, finishing out Whitney’s performance with them.
Whitney performed several new songs during their hour-long set, including the live debut of unreleased track “Before I Know It” and the band’s newest release, “Valleys (My Love).”
Although the band performed on Pitchfork’s second-largest stage, the entirety of Whitney’s set felt like a gathering of friends more than it did a festival performance. All the traditional formalities of a concert setting seemed to fade away; this may be because Ehrlich’s drum set sat front-and-center on the stage, with the remainder of the musicians comprising Whitney forming a semi-circle around him – inverting the typical arrangement taken on by the majority of other performers at Pitchfork – or the sheer number of people on stage, or even a combination of the two.
Regardless, Whitney fostered a comfortable familiarity with the audience from beginning to end, leaving audience members looking forward to their upcoming album and tour.
Going up against hometown favorite Whitney is no easy task, but Swedish singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry made it look easy. Backed by a superb lineup of musicians (including a harpist!), Cherry took to the Blue Stage with a swagger and confidence unmatched by most other performers at the festival. Cherry filled most of her set with songs from her latest record Broken Politics. Each song carried a political weight that perhaps fueled the crowd’s dancing more than it slowed it. Cherry’s message was clear: we can’t let them put us down. As her set continued the energy of each song increased, and the crowd’s excitement became more palpable. By the time Cherry finished her set with “Natural Skin Deep” and “Buffalo Stance,” it appeared as if everybody was dancing harder than anybody had danced all weekend. Perhaps the best way to sum up the set is with a quote from Cherry, who proclaimed, “I’m an old bitch, but I got some life in me!”.
Despite a rocky beginning and end, Snail Mail pulled it together for a strong performance in-between at Pitchfork on day three of the festival.
Snail Mail emerged onstage Sunday with notable technical difficulties throughout their opening song, “Heat Wave,” one of the more popular tracks off of the band’s 2018 album, “Lush.”
Despite the issues which heavily interfered with “Heat Wave,” lead singer Lindsey Jordan seemed to remain upbeat about the rough start to the band’s debut Pitchfork performance and maintained a positive demeanor throughout the set.
Snail Mail’s performance was short, but covered all of their bases; from “Golden Dream” to “Full Control” to “Pristine,” the band played smoothly through the majority of their setlist.
Following “Pristine,” Jordan invited fellow Pitchfork artist Claire Cottrill, more commonly known as Clairo, to take the stage for a duet on the set’s closing track, “Speaking Terms.”
“Speaking Terms,” although one of the band’s more popular songs, was probably the set’s least successful performance. Both Jordan and Cottrill agreed that it was not great – after singing the first verse Cottrill audibly said into the microphone, “This is bad.”
Although Snail Mail’s instrumentals during “Speaking Terms” were executed faultlessly, the harmonies were not so spot-on. Cottrill and Jordan’s unique voices did not blend and the song sounded off-key compared to its original studio recording featured on “Lush.”
The two artists made light of their less-than-perfect “Speaking Terms” duet by laughing and dancing with one another onstage, and finished the set with a big embrace amidst a cheering crowd.
Photography by Paul Quinn, email@example.com