No summer storm could quash the fervor that accompanies Pitchfork Music Festival. While the crowd did at times seem abnormally small compared to recent years (especially on Friday), the anticipation running through those who dared to brave the thunderclaps on their bikes on day one, or those who braved crowded CTA busses on day two, or those who hitched a ride in from the suburbs on day three didn’t dip a bit.
Thanks to the chilly pulses of wind and rain, there were some new fashion trends to add onto your typical face-painted nuts in swimsuits and nerdy looking dudes in old school NBA jerseys (though there were, as always, plenty of those). We’re talking trash bag ponchos, newspaper hats, and galoshes galore on the first two days. The glaring sun on day three pushed thoughts of all those aside, and brought with it lots of snap-backs and Ray Bans. The excited grin, though, remained the most widespread accessory throughout. Despite crowds split between scene-mates (the Deerhunter boys and the San Fran garage psych scene playing at essentially the same time) and the relatively mellow headliners, and thanks to a few surprise appearances, fans were in for another successful Pitchfork Music Festival.
Photography by Joshua Mellin.
Friday, July 13th
Lower Dens – Red Stage – 3:30 p.m.
While the stormy weather pushed back the opening of the festival by approximately half an hour, the opening set by drony, hazy Baltimoreans Lower Dens felt just right in the resulting bog. “Hi,” vocalist/guitarist Jana Hunter smiled. “Thanks for your patience.” The group proceeded to churn through a set of swirling, krautrock inspired jams. Hunter’s work, whether on icy guitar or trembling keyboard, proved the key to the space exploration, particularly on the excellent “I Get Nervous”, from 2010’s Twin Hand Movement. As the set progressed, the quartet pushed further into their interlocking tunes, finding sunny synth-pop pulled out of the inside of introspective, noisy worlds, to the increasingly ecstatic crowd that began to amass, eventually hitting a peak with the entrancing “Brains”. -Adam Kivel
Willis Earl Beal – Blue Stage – 4:15 p.m.
Of all the many great quotes from Willis Earl Beal’s set, Im going to have to go with: “You come out and you wanna hear folk songs, rock songs. That other shit don’t make no goddamn sense to me. So if you didnt know the Chicago singer was an outside artist, now you do. Beal is doing everything in his power to amass a cult following, and his live show is the choice setting for new converts. Theres more than a little Tom Waits and at least the physicality of Klaus Nomi in Beals aura. All four of his limbs work overtime on stage, bounding up on a chair, whipping his belt, falling to the ground, prowling across the stage. His effusive, sometimes histrionic energy is more than half the reason you cant take your eyes of him. It was a dangerous, Jack Daniels-soaked, blues revival performance backed by music spinning on a — no shit — reel to reel player behind him on stage. The final combination of Evenings Kiss, a touching ballad played sitting down with on a slide guitar, and a raucous call and response blues-stomp closer showed just the beginnings of Beals immense range as a performer and songwriter. I expect his next show in Chicago to be packed. Thats an order. –Jeremy D. Larson
Olivia Tremor Control – Green Stage -4:35 p.m.
As longtime heroes and members of the Elephant 6 collective, the Olivia Tremor Control seemed an odd choice to be only the second act in the main field. That early, just-escaped-the-storm unease that seemed to wash back into the festival with each new group of fans through the gate was combatted valiantly by the ADD script-flipping of these multi-talented multi-instrumentalists.
Kicking off their set with Black Foliage opener “A Peculiar Noise Called ‘Train Director'” and never looking back, the eight men on stage led some group singalongs with plenty of eager, longtime fans. The set picked and chose from the poppier moments in their varied catalog, making sure to stop at gems like “Define a Transparent Dream”, playing with wacky abandon. Guitarist Bill Doss shook out his sleeve, Will Cullen Hart did his best wildman, and everything culminated in “The Opera House”. The strongest moment, though, may have been the raw energy of the melody to “I Have Been Floated”, which has gained some serious legs in years of performance. The fans at the front will likely be the ones that enjoyed this set the most, but the unbridled enthusiasm (and accompanying grinning, occasionally off-key glee) certainly caught on even in the back of the crowd. -Adam Kivel
Tim Hecker – Blue Stage – 5:15 p.m.
Just when the gloomy clouds seemed to have been beaten back, the rain returned just in time for Tim Hecker’s contemplative, ambient, electronic soundscapes. The timing couldn’t have been much better; the drizzle chilled the temperature as Hecker’s layers of twinkling synth samples and looming bass thunder grew in intensity. Pockets of conversation started to intermingle with the Montreal-based musician’s slow-burning compositions, reversed loops, and spinning synths washing out over the field. The bass from A$AP Rocky’s sound system across the park burst too loudly into the mix, but for those focused intently on Hecker and his creations, the music offered a moment of calm in what was sure to be an over-stimulated day. -Adam Kivel
Japandroids -Blue Stage – 6:15 p.m.
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated set of the day came from Vancouver noise pop rock duo Japandroids. Guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse took their time with the soundcheck, but then tore through their set with an intensity that would make other punky indie rockers blush. King promised they would “cram in as many songs as possible” before adding a note about the weather: “Who cares if its raining? Its Friday night, let’s get wild!” Prowse quickly tore through a kick pedal, and King rampaged around the stage, jamming his face as close to the microphone as he could. The crowd at the Blue side-stage may have been the single largest for any set on Friday, and it was unsurprisingly also the rowdiest. Cuts from the recently released Celebration Rock got some serious moshing going, particularly the epic “Younger Us” and the hard-charging “The Nights of Wine and Roses”. This was the shot in the arm that many needed to finally get over the blahs of the rain-soaked earlier half of the day. -Adam Kivel
Dirty Projectors – Red Stage – 7:20 p.m.
Dave Longstreth and Co. stepped out onto the big stage quietly, and immediately set to work. The band powered through a good portion of the recently released Swing Lo Magellan to solid response, particularly lead single “Gun Has No Trigger”. While performances supporting their last album pushed Amber Coffman’s vocals to the forefront, her impeccable guitar work shone in this set. Whether adding a shifty counterpoint on “See What She Seeing”, or the plinking cuts to “About To Die”, Coffman proved an essential part of the instrumental. That said, Longstreth’s always impressive guitar work led through Bitte Orca hits like “Cannibal Resource”, and bassist Nat Baldwin’s funky, new underlining to “Stillness is the Move” gave the old hit new life. A few “thanks” from the frontman qualified for the majority of the crowd-work in the beginning of the set, the six-piece (complete with a third female vocalist to stand in for the on-hiatus Angel Deradoorian) letting the music speak for itself. Unsurprisingly, the biggest applause came for tracks like “Useful Chamber” and Mount Wittenberg Orca standout “Beautiful Mother”, the crowd rightly astonished by the raw power of the multi-part vocals and Longstreth’s genius songwriting. -Adam Kivel
Purity Ring - Blue Stage – 8:20 p.m.
The two talented Canadians of Purity Ring (Megan James and Corin Roddick) have accomplished quite a bit in their two years as a unit. While they’ve released only four singles and have their first album due out in just over a week (though they did have a limited number for sale at the festival), they’ve built their way into a headlining slot at Pitchfork through beautiful live performances and serious vision. The stage decorations were entrancing (oblong shapes shifting in light and color), and Roddick’s custom tree synth/drum trigger lit in kinetic patterns as he reached for each new tone. No other act throughout the day took this much advantage of the theatric, visual potential that this sort of stage offers.
While many might only be familiar with a handful of songs by this Montreal-based duo, the strong (yet brief) set was enough to entrench some more favorites. The pitch-shifted double vocals and chattering percussion of “Lofticries” brought on plenty of grooving in the crowd, James carrying around some sort of lantern as she crossed the stage. The dramatic, swanky “Obedear” worked things up even further, the dancing getting closer and smoother. If, earlier in the day on the same stage, Japandroids was the shot in the arm, this was the triumphant dance-club capper. Nothing, though, could beat the epic electro-pop melody of “Fineshrine”, Roddick reaching out and lighting the stage mesmerically, James coolly controlling the teeming crowd. For such a young band (both are under 25) with only two years together on this project, this was a masterful set, their ability to hold such a large crowd in their hand nothing shy of impressive. -Adam Kivel
Saturday, July 14th
Psychic Paramount – Green Stage – 1:00 p.m.
The machine-cut riffs and thundering drums that announced the opening of Pitchfork day two could only belong to Psychic Paramount. The crowd more than made up for their too-small number by nodding with every beat and howling out cathartically. The grand, motoring, metallic hooks of guitarist Drew St. Ivany and bassist Ben Armstrong never seemed to stop, building in volume and power. The trio were clad entirely in black, and the lack of microphones meant the entirety of their interaction with the crowd were polite waves, yet there was a connection seen in the head-banging set appreciating the heavy psych. Jeff Conaway’s shimmering cymbals and thudding bass drum controlled the pulse, pushing and pulling at the startling wavelengths. -Adam Kivel
Lotus Plaza – Blue Stage – 1:55 p.m.
The rain that dominated so much of the conversation on day one returned early during day two, hitting hard throughout Lotus Plaza’s set. The rain damaged a keyboard and soaked through the crowd, meriting a polite “That sucks…sorry” from frontman Lockett Pundt. Plenty of Deerhunter fans found their way to the stage for Pundt’s side project, only to wander back to the main field as soon as Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound began. But those that stayed likely found the smoky, shoegazey grooves familiar, more laid back than on record, and akin to a smoothed out version of that “other band” he’s in. Closing out on the breezy, introspective “Jet Out of the Tundra” made sense in the chilly rain, the crowd making the most of being doused and standing in mud, riding on Pundt’s wafting guitar. -Adam Kivel
Cloud Nothings – Red Stage – 1:45 p.m.
This was the rain portion of the festival, and like Lotus Plaza, Atlas Sound, and Liturgy, Cloud Nothings played like true champions through the whole thing. I’m sure they played other songs before “Wasted Days”, but that’s the song that everyone will remember, and it all revolved around the tension of their bass player plucking the same note over and over again as it the rain poured down. That one note played to a motorik beat might have been my favorite moment of the whole fest. Then the drums came in, and the band crashed and jammed around within the song for the better part of 15 minutes with the not letting up one bit. Then the house speakers stopped working and there was only sound coming through the band’s monitors and they kept playing and the crowded mustered their best rally call to help Dylan Baldi sing the final words “I thought I would be more than this!” over and over again. This legitimately rivaled Foo Fighers playing “My Hero” in the rain at Lollapalooza last year. -Adam Kivel
Liturgy – Blue Stage – 2:50 p.m.
The sound of some sort of dark metal lawn sprinkler (you know, the kind that spins around) during Liturgy’s soundcheck suggested the way that the band would be replacing their recently departed bassist and drummer. Guitarist/vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix opened the now-duo’s crushing set with a looped, multi-part vocal incantation, before he and fellow axman Bernard Gann proceeded to drown the moans in layer upon layer of chunky guitar drone. Add in the evil drum machine and some pterodactyl howls from Hunt-Hendrix, and the waves of churning black metal were complete. While the crowd was more than ready to get their bleak aggression on in the sharp, cold rain (metal fists were everywhere), the return of the sun near the end of the set got quite the pop of applause. -Adam Kivel
Youth Lagoon – Blue Stage – 3:45 p.m.
“What are y’all drinking?” Boise, Idaho youngster Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) asked from the stage, waiting perhaps half a beat before adding, “I’m drinking Snapple.” That beverage’s sugary familiarity works as a comparison to his set as well, wrapping tunes like “Cannons” and “Montana” in a warm keyboard blanket. Powers’ “friend Logan” added guitar over the keys and beats, bringing some youthful sweetness to the Blue stage immediately after the metal pummeling of Liturgy. The set dragged at times, but when Powers finds a melody that works, it’s something hard to get rid of. -Adam Kivel
Flying Lotus – Green Stage – 4:15 p.m.
Jumping ship from Youth Lagoon to the big field for Flying Lotus was like a shock to the system. Gone was that easy-going warmth, and in its place a wild, high energy, nonstop dance party. Producer Steven Ellison’s hyper-mixtape brought together bits and pieces of all your favorite hip-hop jams, with new flourishes and intersections to boot. To get seamlessly from “Niggas in Paris” (sped up and hypercharged) to a clackier take on Drake’s “Headlines” seamlessly is a challenge, and Ellison’s mile-wide grin and enthusiasm showed no sign of it. “I know the MDMA’s kicking in about now, so we gotta make sure mothafuckers awake and lively,” he smirked before dropping into Pharaoh Monch’s epic “Simon Says”. The dancing got frenzied, the big screen stuttered crazily, and Ellison walked the stage, looking out at the gigantic party he started. -Adam Kivel
Wild Flag – Red Stage – 5:15 p.m.
When Wild Flag opened with a cover of Television’s “See No Evil”, it was clear that something epic was about to happen. The simultaneous guitar prowess of Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony ripped through the large crowd, Janet Weiss’ masterfully controlled thunder-drumming pushing things forward. Brownstein’s high-kicks and slick soloing on “Electric Band” proved an early highlight, while Weiss and keyboardist Rebecca Cole’s cooed backing vocals on “Glass Tambourine” provided the perfect pop note to blend with the angular guitars. The set was peppered with a couple of what would appear to be new tracks, but the highlights from their recent debut album were the highlights here as well. While “Racehorse” occasionally felt like a down-tick on vinyl, its expanded, spacey live self was a clear highlight, Timony jabbing at her guitar as she held it behind her head. At various points, Brownstein held her guitar in mid-air and upside down like a crutch, Weiss always providing the perfect backbone to the guitar feedback freakouts. “That last song wasn’t a love song, but this next one is. And it’s for you guys,” Brownstein said before closing out with a razor-sharp take on “Romance”, leaving the stage triumphantly. -Adam Kivel
Schoolboy Q – Blue Stage – 5:45 p.m.
After Nicholas Jaar’s Blue stage set ran late, Schoolboy Q was working hard to catch up, throwing every ounce of wit, swagger, and enthusiasm he had at the growing crowd. He was also the first to cannily address the festival’s sponsors, giving a shout out to Pitchfork for giving his Habits & Contradictions ”Best New Music” and an “8 point whatever, I don’t know.” The early portion of the set was dedicated in part to illegal substances (particularly the infectious “iBETiGOTSUMWEED”), but late set highlights “There He Go” and “A.D.H.D.” (courtesy of Q’s fellow Black Hippy mate Kendrick Lamar) got the crowd going. Giving a shout-out to Frank Ocean after taking his shirt off got a big laugh, but the crowd filled in all the blanks of “Hands on the Wheel” and seemed genuinely empowered by “Blessed”. The whole diverse thing was one of the more purely fun sets of the weekend. -Adam Kivel
Chromatics – Blue Stage – 6:45 p.m.
While the schedule said 6:45 p.m., what seemed to be sound problems pushed everything on the Blue stage back by nearly twenty minutes, meaning that Portland trio Chromatics kicked their much-anticipated (thanks to that Drive soundtrack) set off rather close to the projected start of Hot Chip, making some attendees visibly anxious. A good proportion decided to stay, Hot Chip be damned (myself included), and clearly enjoyed the breezy synthpop washes that followed. Guitarist Adam Miller’s slinky lines were the set’s bread and butter, propelling tracks from the recently released Kill For Love into the darkening Blue stage field. The New Order-y goodness continued into a Kate Bush cover (“Running Up That Hill”), the blithely dancing crowd entranced by vocalist Ruth Radelet’s moody coos. While they were cut short for timing concerns, they managed to show why their cool brand of electro-pop works for the dance-ready and chillout crowds in equal measure. -Adam Kivel
Danny Brown – Blue Stage – 7:40 p.m.
The delays continued on into Danny Brown’s Blue stage set, the Detroit rapper’s crowd getting larger and antsier by the minute. When “The Hybrid” finally took the stage to that ubiquitous air-horn sample (you know the one), the wafting clouds of weed smoke overtook the field. “My name is Danny motherfucking Brown…nice to meet y’all,” he added after tearing through an aggressive rendition of the excellent “Radio Song”. When not talking about sex (which, all told, wasn’t that often), he was more than happy to describe his habits (“Popping pills, writing, drinking and smoking haze” on “XXX” and “eating on an Adderall” on “Adderall Admiral”). The crowd ate every track up, plenty of scantily clad couples grooving slowly, and even more unattached, faded single-folk hitting every single line. -Adam Kivel
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Green Stage – 8:30 p.m.
Closing out the night, Montreal post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor made for controversial headliners. While there was certainly a dedicated group of followers packed into the front of the stage, the crowd seemed much smaller than any headlining set of the past few years. Perhaps it was the mud covering the field, or the big draw at the side stage that was Grimes, or maybe it just wasn’t the right genre (I overheard both: “I need something a little more rockin’ for a headliner” and “this is anti-music”). The opening drone was so subtle that the slow-burning joy that is GY!BE seemed to sneak up on the staff, as the giant screen projected advertisements for the first minute or so of the long, rumbling wash that the bandmembers took to the stage to.
The psychedelic, filmic, transcendental drones that followed were blissful when one could get past the bleating of Grimes’ bass from the other stage and/or the chatter of uninterested onlookers. After a lumbering bass wave opened things, the plinking, angular jabs of guitar and glockenspiel that followed provided cathartic bursts of energy. Later, a churning, eastern European-esque melody rushed in and out of focus as the band tweaked and teased the many layers of their composition, leading to a triumphant beauty. The most powerful drone of the night was set to a video of a growing flame, an eerie guitar lope accompanied by violin slides and a groaning whir of noise. After just the right amount of crescendo and build, the upright bass and drums crashed in, the flame on-screen building to some sort of volcanic explosion as the music accompanied it perfectly. This may not have been the headliner that many wanted, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor certainly proved that they have the power to fill a field and crowd of this magnitude. -Adam Kivel