If there is one thing we all need in today’s 24-hour news cycle, it’s a break.
A break where we can kick back, relax and tune out — which is exactly what Chicago’s annual three-day alternative music festival, Pitchfork, allowed attendees to do this year.
From enjoying the reunions of old bands to celebrating their identities through liberating performances, Pitchfork blessed its adoring fans with more than just the usual arts and music fest.
Here were some of the highlights we found at Union Park this weekend.
Arca & Jesse Kanda
If you look up the definition of “extra” in the dictionary, you’ll probably find Venezuelan electronic producer Arca dancing in a backless bodysuit, mesh shorts and nude heels, drinking Veuve Clicquot while screaming cogéme — “fuck me” in Spanish— into a microphone.
With the visuals of the set accompanied by longtime collaborator Jesse Kanda, Arca’s midday set at Pitchfork wasn’t simply extra with a purpose — it was extraordinary. At times, it was difficult to remember you were stuck in a crowd in the middle of Union Park instead of an underground gay bar somewhere in Europe.
The mix of intoxicating Latin beats and chills-inducing ’90s techno synths left the crowd entranced as Arca blended out tracks from his latest releases. And if his deejaying weren’t enough, artist Jesse Kanda’s hypnotic visuals certainly led the crowd to wonder whether or not they had accidentally popped something they shouldn’t have.
Arca, responsible for producing bangers like Yeezus himself, took to his own work to discuss issues such as gender and sexuality. Having struggled with accepting his own sexuality as a gay man, frustration lays deep within his work — but that still couldn’t keep the crowd from feeling it as it vibrated the Blue Stage.
While most artists aim to calm and entertain their crowd, Arca & Jesse Kanda sought the opposite — to disrupt and provoke. When the music intensified, so did the visuals, as calm nude figures embracing quickly shifted to goats giving birth and kittens having ear surgery.
It was surprising to watch, even cringeworthy at times, but what sets Arca & Jesse Kanda apart is that they don’t try to be most artists — they simply seek to be themselves, congruent to Arca’s own personal struggle of accepting his own identity.
Pitchfork weekend kicked off with Friday night’s headliner, LCD Soundsystem. Throughout the performance, a relaxed, amiable vibe enveloped every corner of Union Park. With a giant disco ball hovering over the stage and various single-color scheme backgrounds evolving and transforming with each song, LCD’s visuals were captivating digital arrangements in motion.
About a half hour into their set, the crowd’s energy spiked as the band belted “Someone Great” with sunset-resembling graphics in the background. The audience fell into dance and got groovy. The energy rose as the band gifted the audience with their most recent release, “call the police,” singing along to the repetitive lyrics, “We all know this is nothing.” As the show progressed, digital hues of dark blue and purple matched the Chicago sunset, and the mood became more serene.
Lead singer James Murphy’s humility and relaxed attitude was present throughout the entire set as he continually expressed the band’s gratitude to have returned to Chicago, detailing how they once drove 15 hours to the Windy City to play a show in 1993. Ironically, in the next few songs, skyline graphics of a city at night flashed in the background as they sang “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.”
The band closed off the first day with popular tracks like “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends.”
Honorable mentions: Kamaiyah, Vince Staples, Frankie Cosmos, Dirty Projectors
Francis and the Lights
The world is your stage, and Francis and the Lights took that literally during his Saturday performance as he took the Blue Stage, the rafter and a nearby elm by storm. Greeting the audience with “See Her Out” in an all-black ensemble and shades, he showed off his innovative, unique dance moves as he simultaneously sang, played the keyboard and flipped his hair. As always, Francis demonstrated his undeniable talent for engaging the crowd and taking things to the next level with his exaggerated —and almost humorous — facial expressions and hand gestures.
Francis’s stage presence is entirely unique — it is almost as if he is acting in the process of his vocal performance. He also stands out for his lack of digital graphics — instead of background images, he opts for simplicity, and bright purple lights lining the stage allowed him a more commanding presence.
After several songs, he introduced himself as “Francis and the Lights,” and launched into his most popular song, “Friends” before climbing up onto the rafters, stunning his adoring audience. As he serenaded the crows with “Like A Dream,” he jumped off, spurring a new energy. His unparalleled lyrical abilities were emphasized during his performance of “My City’s Gone,” notable for minimal instrumentals, sounding more like a ballad.
Closing off with “It’s Alright to Cry” and “May I Have This Dance,” Francis and the Lights blew the crowd away, masterfully, combining his characteristic one-of-a-kind dancing techniques with beautiful elements of surprise.
Angel Olsen performed on the Green Stage Saturday evening, delivering a high-quality performance to a massive crowd of excited fans. She started the set with higher-energy tracks, first playing “High & Wild.” Then she played her hit, “Shut Up Kiss Me,” which she introduced by making the simple statement: “It’s hard to be real with people,” with a serious, yet humorous tone that the audience embraced.
The rest of the show was slightly more mellow with a quieter tone, including songs such as the older track, “Acrobat” and the more recently released song, “Sister.” The crowd swayed along to Olsen’s show cultivating a relaxed, content atmosphere with a calm energy. Unfortunately, she ran out of time on stage and ended the show by promising to play the song “Windows” next time.
A Tribe Called Quest
First things first — RIP to Phife Dawg.
As the remaining three members — Jaribo White, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip — made their way onstage, shouts of worship and adoration from fans young and old could be heard miles away from the packed Union Park. A Tribe Called Quest was ready to take the crowd on a journey of a discography spanning more than two decades.
Opening the show up with “Space Program” from their most recent and (sadly) final album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, the trio wasted no time building up energy for their hour-and-a-half set. One would expect the rap veterans, who have all boasted decades-long careers, to take the crowd on a smooth, nostalgic trip.
But they don’t get down like that.
Instead, they worked their moves up and down the stage to keep a positive energy afloat as they performed for the first time without their late friend who passed away last March. Phife was undoubtedly missed, as projections of his face and old footage flashed on the big screen. Despite the void of their late friend, the group still showed their respect to their time with Phife by working through classics like “Electric Relaxation” and “Bonita Applebaum.”
At the end of their set as the sun set on one of their final live performances, the crowd was roaring for an encore, so ATCQ gave them one — over and over again. Closing off Saturday night with “We The People” on repeat, ATCQ held their fists proudly in the night sky and reminded everyone in tumultuous times that “we the people, we all equal.”
Honorable mentions: Madlib, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Mitski
Hamilton Leithauser began his Sunday set with his song, “Sick as a Dog,” followed by “The Morning Stars,” which is characterized by the catchy refrain, “If the man that you need / Honestly wasn’t me / Tell me, honey / Who could that be?” Next, he performed “A 1000 Times,” his most well known song. He certainly did not disappoint with his live performance, and keeping everyone engrossed with his vocal talent, guitar, and even harmonica.
Leithauser has relatable lyrics that portray universal feelings, such as “there’s a letter I wrote / that I’ll never send” from his song “You Ain’t That Young Kid,” which speaks to the difficulty of moving on from a past relationship. His lyrics are universal in a way, yet also about specific moments in his life. During his performance, he was open about sharing the stories behind his songs. Of the song “The Bride’s Dad,” Leithauser explained that is was the true story of a sunny day in New York six years ago, when a “flawed father” caused a scene at a wedding. The audience seemed to appreciated Leithauser’s brief story fragments that complemented the upbeat and personal nature of his music.
Over on the Blue Stage, Pinegrove put on a show that was both quirky and heartfelt in equal measure. His first song, “Size of the Moon,” drew the crowd in, which included avid fans close to the stage as well as people on the outskirts of the area relaxing on picnic blankets. Next he played a song called “Problems,” which asks the rather existential question, “What if I waste my life up?” Pinegrove’s songs are structured in a poetic way, and “Problems” is a particularly prime example of this, as the lyrics reveal his inner thoughts, with a vague, peripheral story line and more elusive background.
The lead singer, Evan Stephens Hall’s soft-spoken musical sound carried over and was also evident in his interactions with the crowd. He was friendly yet relatively quiet with a low-key stage presence, cultivating a more intimate environment. Midway through the set, Stephens Hall mentioned that it was Zack Levine’s birthday (the drummer), and he played a unique, simple birthday song in his honor. Then he played “Old Friends,” a likable track that prompted the crowd to dance along. Overall, Pinegrove exceeded expectations with a live performance that matched the quality of the recordings fans have come to appreciate and expect.
Solange headlined Sunday evening, closing out the Pitchfork festival with an epic show. In addition to her stellar vocal and dance abilities throughout the set, Solange also revealed a more personal side of self during the show. After singing the 2016 track, “Cranes in the Sky,” portraying the challenge of trying to escape a feeling with various distractions, Solange expressed her sincere gratitude to old and new fans for their loyalty, and for supporting her throughout her musical career and her ever-changing musical choices and style. She exemplified her dedication to the fans who have stood behind her for years as she then performed the 2009 hit, “T.O.N.Y.,” which laments lost love with the lyrics, “And he wasn’t just some regular guy / Tony’s actually the other night oh why / I could’ve been in love by now / If it wasn’t for Tony.”
Her performances of the songs “Losing You,” “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Mad” were particularly energetic, complete with a group of backup dancers playing an assortment of instruments and dancing in unison in front of a red-hued stage. Throughout Solange’s performance, it was clear she laid it all on the table, pouring her emotion, energy and soul into her music, making for a multi-faceted experience that was both visually and musically outstanding.
Honorable mentions: Jamila Woods, Nicolas Jaar, Joey Purp, Isaiah Rashad