Pitchfork Music Festival, this year and in the past, has never been your average music festival.
There’s no EDM — at least mainstream EDM — nor any artist that is not critically acclaimed in addition to being adored by the masses. Indeed, the best festival for indie and alternative tastes returned with another scintillating array of music’s past, present and future.
Pitchfork presented its attendees with a curated, multi-course meal of delectable musical artists from all over the world and from across the genre continuum.
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Choosing just a few acts as the best of the three-days of music feels unfair. Given the range of styles present, it’s difficult to give some performers the titles of best performances without some parameters in place. With this I’ve divided the acts into three categories: newcomer, star and legend.
Best Newcomer: Tierra Whack
Whack, one of rap’s brightest and most original new stars, had big shoes to fill coming into this weekend. A few days before his slated Friday performance, Odd Future alum and virtuoso rapper Earl Sweatshirt cancelled, the latest of in a trend of such incidents for the 24-year-old.
Pitchfork’s team found Tierra Whack a most suitable replacement for Earl Sweatshirt. Whack, unlike Sweatshirt, is known for the variance in her style and her stubborn refusal to dwell on any one subject. Her debut project, Whack World, contains 15 songs, each one minute in length.
As original and refreshing as Whack World was, there was no guarantee her free-wheeling style would translate to a live setting.
All of the creative energy Whack flaunted on WW was converted into performance energy during her set. Dressed like a denim version of the Yo, Gabba Gabba! dude, Whack and her DJ captivated the crowd with extended cuts of songs from WW as well as older tracks too.
Honorable Mention: Saba
In his first show in Chicago in 2018, Saba and the rest of Pivot Gang did not disappoint, moving the crowd to tears and to joy — and back again.
Best Star: Tie: Courtney Barnett/Tame Impala
A pair of Australian artists closed Pitchfork’s first night, but it was not just their shared national origins which made for a sublime pairing.
Courtney Barnett, especially on her latest record Tell Me How You Really Feel, has made her fame by staring directly into the peculiarities, frustrations and vexations of life, and making uneasy friends with all three. She carefully wrestles them, sometimes succumbing, but ultimately maneuvering these slippery forces into a stalemate of mutual respect. In a live setting, the twists and turns of these conflicts spike. Her losses are shattering, but her triumphs ring loud and clear.
Followed immediately by Tame Impala, who played much of their poppier record Currents, your correspondent received a much different approach. In it and their live performance, Tame Impala surrender themselves to the tumults of the present day and in doing so, urge the crowd to jump in after them. After all, the water’s fine.
Best Legend: Ms. Lauryn Hill
The festival’s final headliner was it’s best. Celebrating 20 years of her seminal, ground-breaking Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the rapper and singer came fully prepared to deliver a performance that seemed to fluctuate time itself. Though she was late on getting on stage, much to the ire of some ungrateful fans, she would make up for it by going nearly 20 minutes past her set.
With her DJ spinning classic hits, her full band in tow, and the onset of the video vignette of the album’s classroom’s roll call, Ms. Hill transported the audience through space and time.
Making her way through the album’s cuts, and some older Fugees offerings, Hill would eventually give a monologue toward her performance’s end that both reflected on her and the album’s past, while also making clear how she and the album were both very much part of the present.
Following that up with “Doo Wop (That Thing)” proved these points even more so.
Honorable Mention: Chaka Khan
What else can be said? Khan’s music probably inspired at least 60 percent of the weekend’s acts in some way or another.