Now that the dust has settled and I’ve washed all three sets of clothes that grew to reek of sweat and weed smoke over the weekend, I’m able to type out my thoughts on Pitchfork Music Festival: three days of sunshine, 8.0+ music and #branding all bunched into Chicago’s Union Park.
This year’s Pitchfork was yet another annual example of how the beloved indie tastemakers put on one of the finest festivals in the United States. Unlike many of the behemoths that have grown to loom over the summer festival schedule, Pitchfork has remained a relatively low-key affair, with cheap tickets, manageable crowd sizes and lineups rife with fresh young talent. Sure, 12 oz. beers cost $6. Sure, the sound bleeding between stages can be a little distracting. Sure, some audience members are trying way too hard. But to focus on the negatives is to completely negate the fact that Pitchfork is ultimately one of the most stress-free and fun festival experiences out there. And besides, you’ll get expensive beer, sound issues and douchebags at any music festival.
I wasn’t sure of the best way to recap my experience, so I’m just going to go through each act I saw and sum up their set in a sentence or two. Badger Herald Photo Editor Joey Reuteman was there to take it all in, so enjoy his pictures while you read my recap of a very awesome weekend.
I started off my Friday experience at Pitchfork as all festival experiences should start: by showing up late, standing in a long line of people waiting to get inside and nearly missing all of Hundred Waters’ set, which opened the day’s lineup. The crowd was an immovable object, standing around quietly like museumgoers ogling a Matisse painting. The VIP section, full of Pitchfork writers and other important indie tastemakers, looked similarly bored/unimpressed. But it was fun to see Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber sipping presumably free cups of Goose Island backstage.
I decided to get a feel for the festival grounds. Tents for Whole Foods, Uber and some kind of granola bar called Kind made me realize the extensive amount of branding that accompanied the festival, but I was willing to accept this as long as it meant free Twinkies, pretzels and probiotic popsicles. Throughout the weekend, whenever I felt hungry but didn’t want to spend $8 on a blueberry sausage, I’d just get a bunch of free food. And here we see the budding seeds of brand loyalty.
Sharon van Etten’s set was pleasant, but the booming dark ambient sounds of The Haxan Cloak distractingly bled over into her set, making for an interesting sonic jumbo.
I was about 10 rows out for Sun Kil Moon. Mark Kozelek sat unassumingly throughout nearly the entire set, singing heartfelt songs about death by aerosol can explosion. “Dogs” was a highlight: five or so minutes of Kozelek sharing his sexual history and making it sound as sad as possible.
Because I’ve wanted to see Beck live ever since he became my favorite artist from sixth to seventh grade, I remained by the green stage while Giorgio Moroder hyped up the crowd at the adjacent red stage. For a 74-year-old, he’s a pretty awesome dude who can really rock some aviators.
Beck was a festival highlight. He cherry-picked material from his entire discography, playing hits such as “Loser” and “Where It’s At,” while also exploring the softer side of his catalog (“Soldier Jane,” “Wave,” “Lost Cause”). His Morning Phase material was the best it’s sounded yet, and I almost cried during “Blue Moon.” It was a show of tremendous energy. Beck seems like a pretty likeable guy, and it helped that his backing band was just charismatic — if not more so.
Day two began just like day one: showing up late. Because my legs were absurdly sore from standing non-stop the previous day, I sat through Wild Beasts’ set, which did absolutely nothing to convert me into a fan of the band.
Cloud Nothings came on next. Maybe I was jaded and tired from the previous day, but the band did nothing to excite me, despite the fact that I somewhat enjoy their studio work. Other people were clearly enjoying it, as a mosh pit formed near the front of the stage during several songs.
I moved closer to the red stage, trying to get up close for tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent’s sets. Pusha T, playing on the green stage, was more than half an hour late, which meant his set was cut considerably short. Yet it was somehow one of the most electrifying shows of the entire weekend. He spit into the mic with a manic look in his eyes, encouraging a crowd filled with thousands of white people to recite lines about moving dope.
tUnE-yArDs’ set was also one of the weekend’s best — a showcase of Merrill Garbus’ tremendous musical talent, including her amazing looping abilities and elastic singing voice.
I had to watch Danny Brown from across the grounds because I wanted to be close for St. Vincent. His show was heavy on the bangers, which made for a rowdy crowd. But I couldn’t help feel some sadness that his live set covered very little of the softer material that makes up considerable portions of both XXX and Old. It’s material obviously less suited for a live setting; but this also means his live performances aren’t indicative of the artist he truly is.
If you’ve been following Pitchfork recaps at all, you’ll know that St. Vincent was considered one of the weekend’s best. It’s an undeniable fact. She can shred on the guitar like no one I’ve ever seen live, and her robotic dance moves evoke a David Byrne at his most lively. It was a tremendous set with near-theatrical qualities.
Neutral Milk Hotel closed the night. I had seen them here in Madison in February, so I felt no strong push to get up-close for their set. The sound was a little on the quiet side, and the giant screens to the side of each stage were turned off (at the request of singer Jeff Mangum, who is averse to video recordings of his shows). This was probably a little upsetting for people standing in the back. Ultimately, it was still a great show and a testament to Neutral Milk Hotel’s godlike status among lovers of indie music.
DIIV kicked off the last day of my Pitchfork weekend. The band’s lush, reverb-heavy tunes sounded just as good live as they do recorded. But I couldn’t shake the thought that singer Zachary Cole Smith would probably be very boring to hang out with.
Among the festival’s orgy of free food samples, gratuitous advertisements and unabashed social media campaigns was a stage dedicated to Ray-Ban. On my first day at the fest, I noticed a sign on the stage that promised free haircuts so long as the barber could choose the style. On Sunday, I decided to seize upon the American Dream, the reason I had come to the festival in the first place, the only reason for living — I decided to get that free haircut. So I waited on the Ray-Ban stage for nearly two hours — watching Deafheaven, Earl Sweatshirt and Schoolboy Q in the process — until I was finally able to sit down and get that haircut. My God, was the wait worth it. Thanks, Ray-Ban. Maybe I’ll buy your glasses some day.
Real Estate was the most boringest act of the entire weekend. Their set was all too pleasant, but it provided a nice time to sit down and eat a hot dog.
Slowdive followed with one of the more ethereal sets of the weekend. Their walls of sound translated perfectly to the stage, especially after such an extended hiatus (nearly 20 years!). The band was well-received by members of the audience sporting Slowdive, Ride and My Bloody Valentine shirts; it was watched confusingly by those who were just hanging out by the stage to be close for Kendrick Lamar.
Grimes was the most danceable set of the weekend and also one of the cutest. She drank tea onstage, shared timid banter between songs and got the crowd shaking its collective ass for “Go,” “Oblivion” and “Genesis.”
Kendrick Lamar capped off the weekend with one of the best sets of the entire three days. I saw the current king of West Coast hip-hop open for Kanye West in Chicago in December, playing to a quarter-full United Center. The small crowd size on that December date took away from the intimacy of his show, which features a live band and videos of Compton projected widescreen behind him. It became very clear that many of the people in the crowd had ONLY purchased tickets for Kendrick’s set. He was truly a remarkable closer. The rapper covered nearly every song on good kid, m.A.A.d. city and sprinkled inspirational monologues throughout. During “Sing About Me,” Kendrick told everyone in the crowd to hold up their phones. The entire park became illuminated by the lights of more than 15,000 phones as the crowd sang, “Promise that you will sing about me,” over and over again. It was beautiful. I almost cried.
All in all, Pitchfork Music Festival is dope.