After offering a bill headlined by Vampire Weekend, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Feist last year informally, the best headlining bill of five years ago Pitchfork one-upped themselves for 2013 with, unequivocally, the best headlining bill of 1997. But the all-veteran status of its main acts was only half the news. Aside from breaking out back when cassettes were important, the three artists occupying the top line of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival roster combined for almost certainly the widest-spanning stylistic range the festival has ever seen.
Never before have Pitchforks three headliners each occupied such extremes of such unrelated movements: the psychedelic art pop of BjÃ¶rk, the charmingly twee rock songs of Belle and Sebastian, and the marquee status of international R&B sex symbol R. Kelly. Maybe the organizers simply thought it would be more fun it certainly was or maybe it was their way of responding to a centripetal, Internet-sparked force on all corners of pop music today. As we recently heard from Chuck Klosterman, Because medias become so democratized and theres so many people sort of jockeying for space in this universe, there literally is no artist that you cannot take seriously. Enter Mr. Trapped in the Closet.
Between rain-accompanied sing-alongs, dusty mosh pits, and a fair share of emotional performances, this years annual union of music geeks in Union Park was an overall success even if each day bizarrely saw perfect weather right until the moment its headliner took the stage. And yet, all three managed to turn in among our favorite sets of the whole weekend. Here, along with seven more, are our reactions to the best of P4K2013.
Photography by Meghan Brosnan.
Mac DeMarco’s unlikely, weekend-kickoff cover band
For most weekend festivals, any Friday afternoon slot before seven p.m. is an inherently tough, uncomfortable gig. People are arriving straight from work, tired and sober, and internally calculating cost-benefit analyses between finding a second wind or just passively watching and gearing up for a real early afternoon Saturday start. If they were wise, every weekend festival this year would go after Mac DeMarco for that 4:30 p.m. Friday job. DeMarco charmed the pants off the not-yet-relaxed crowd with humorously cliché compliments, a faux-emcee persona, and that toothy, near-psychotic grin.
After burning through nine songs from Rock and Roll Nightclub and 2 and calling his surroundings sexy roughly 10 times, DeMarcos band ended on fire with an absurd medley: a Taking Care of Business cover, a Beastie-fied take on The Beatles Blackbird, a loyal cover of Limp Bizkits Break Stuff, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, and lastly, 2 closer Still Together. For that one, DeMarco brought out his (formerly mysterious, now well-known) girlfriend Kiki for some 15 seconds of slap-and-tickle, and then to sit on his shoulders as he wailed its irresistible hook one last time before signing off to the finally relaxed crowd with enjoy the weekend its only just started!” –Steven Arroyo
Hearing Joanna Newsom’s new material
When the adorable 31-year-old singer took the Red stage Friday evening, the ears of the crowd were transitioning from boisterous post-punk guitar of Wire’s preceding and neighboring set. Even for the always eclectic festival, the switch was stark. Joanna Newsom held the stage all on her own with the help of her signature harp and a grand piano, both of which dwarfed her doll-like figure, although she commanded her instruments with power and grace.
The sets vibes can be summed up by the seemingly emotionally stunned set of admirers who hung over the front railing, some of which had letters with Newsom’s name penned on the front one even held a bouquet of fresh flowers. Onlookers stuck toward the back of the crowd complained the shows volume was far too hushed, but those whose proximity allowed for them to hear new tracks Look and Despair, The Drivers Wife, as well as Newsoms latest Untitled found themselves charmed into the evening by the soon-to-be Mrs. Samberg at her only 2013 show thus far. –Amanda Koellner
BjÃ¶rk’s sort of, but not really rain-delayed set
Pitchforks Friday crowd showed up expecting rain all day but didnt see any sign of precipitation until BjÃ¶rk showed her face. Except, she never really showed her face. Emerging with a sparkled-out choir behind her and what appeared to be a giant ball of tinsel for her head (not on her head, not around her head for her head), BjÃ¶rk unleashed her current setlist and a series of spastic jog-dances to stunning results an overall success, even if it was cut short by 25%. It was all-systems-go from the 8:30 p.m. start, which is exactly when the storm clouds that were promised all afternoon finally showed up.
Her stage-lighting setup (especially the booming, bullet-like beats towards the end of The Hunter, accompanied by staccato blasts of light) reflected off the low clouds in a way that felt eerily planned as did the massive winds that kicked up during Moon. But at 9:37 p.m., the showstopper everyone feared was coming arrived 23 minutes too soon: Weve been told by the weather station to get off the stage, she announced, audibly as disappointed as anyone else. Wouldnt be that much in Iceland. A chorus of frustrated fuck yous ensued, and then an orderly evacuation, and then at 10:15 p.m., a few hours of positively apocalyptic weather over Chicago. –Steven Arroyo
Savages vs. the sun = Savages 1, sun 0
This year’s honorary Gang of Four dressed in black, faced an angry heat, and assaulted the yellowed clouds of baseball field clay in the dry season. Savages delivered a set worthy of Les Savy Fav and captured the peyote noon glow of a Bauhaus show in Arizona. Jehnny Beth screamed Shut Up and skulked the stage, oozing bestial notions as she issued warnings to the Fuckers, while Ayse Hassans lifeguard bass lines battled Gemma Thompson’s surging riptide of experimentation on guitar. The group trucked through a number of cuts off their debut record, Silence Yourself, and left the crowd stunned. It was a hot day with an unworthy timeslot, but The Breeders – later warned about the rising temperature – used Savages as a rally cry against their own solar oppression: Fucking Savages didnt hide from the sun!” –Dan Pfleegor
Belle and Sebastian’s actually rainy (and super choice) headlining set
Belle and Sebastian follow a long line of great, but are they really headliners? acts that have filled the Saturday night premiere slot at Pitchfork, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor last year, Fleet Foxes in 2011, or pre-High Violet The National in 2009. Predictably, they had the smallest crowd to work with, but it wasnt to their detriment quite the opposite. While the Glasgow lit-rockers were never going to be able to challenge the extravagant wonder-productions of a BjÃ¶rk or an R. Kelly, what they lacked in glamor they made up for in coziness, pulling together a performance that felt truly spontaneous and special.
As a light rain threatened attendees with déjÃ vu, Stuart Murdoch was informal and friendly, inviting some 50 joyous fans onstage and making the rest feel like they were in a friends backyard or perhaps a schoolyard. Impromptu, drunk versions of London Bridge and Ring-Around-the-Rosie broke out behind the sound stage during If Youre Feeling Sinister and The Boy with the Arab Strap, creating a hilarious scene of a few thousand sloppy and damp adults practically recreating the sample of children laughing and playing that opens Sinister”. Headliners, for sure. –Steven Arroyo
Foxygen’s Sam France — or, the charming brat
At the very same Red stage abused by Odd Future two years prior, Foxygen challenged the now-ubiquitous troll-rap crew (and their metal affiliates Trash Talk, who induced enough thrashing to stir up a dust storm in the Blue Stages pit on Friday) for the most reckless, scary-young-people-wrecking-stuff set in Pitchforks almost decade-long history. Actually, frontman Sam France challenged them single-handedly. What most attendees probably knew of France is that hes irreverent, funny, perpetually wired, and prone to risky behavior (like jumping about 12 feet from the stage scaffolding). What they might not have known is that he does it all spontaneously and unabashedly, like a true jackass, to the point of making his bandmates as nervous as the audience. Nutshell moment of dialogue between the France and co-bandleader Jonathan Rado:
Rado: Its so hot I cant even see my tuner.
France: [mocking Rado] Its so hottttttt.
Rado: Fuck you, Sam.
France: [turns to audience] Fuck you, Pitchfork! Thanks for coming! [Shuggie commences.] –Steven Arroyo
Killer Mike chokes up about Chicago
Photo by Zach Hart
“I wanna challenge you to do simple things like get to know your neighbor,” Killer Mike professed, his throat stuttering as he held back a dam of tears. See, before he was slinging rhymes with El-P or Outkast, the ATL rapper and barbershop owner was a community organizer, keeping his eye on a better future. A quarter of the way through his set, he stopped the music to remember his past friend and mentor, Alice Mary Johnson, a passionate Catholic woman whose “whole life was about freedom, justice and equality for all.” It was a vulnerable moment for a very funereal set that touched upon the recent Chiraq killings that plague the city day in and day out. Before he asked the crowd to throw their Ric Flair fours up in the air or admitted he wore Air Jordans to feel like a champion, he warned the locals that something has to change: “If you take too much pressure, after awhile people will simply burn this motherfucker down.” The thing about chaos is… –Michael Roffman
Sky Ferreira’s tear-stained performance of “Ghost”
Pain in denim is the best way to describe Sky Ferreira’s set on Sunday afternoon. The 21-year-old model-turned–alt-pop-sensation hit the Blue stage with a face that screamed, “How did I get here?” Overwhelmed by the thousands that packed the slightly forested area, Ferreira spent most of her afternoon set rotating through emotions: surprised, proud, overwhelmed, and happy sad. The latter cracked her beatific features during a turbulent performance of “Ghost”. The country, but not really country ballad just pummeled Ferreira until her raccoon eyes turned into waterfalls. She stopped herself shortly following, adding: “Everything just got real. I forgot what these songs are about.” Life didn’t return to her face until Dev Hynes arrived for a closing duet of “Everything Is Embarrassing”. By then, we were crying that it had to end. –Michael Roffman
[Stray thought: Ferreira also writhed through a number of newer tracks off her forthcoming debut, I Will, specifically “24 Hours” and “On Top”, both of which are guaranteed to rattle your sweet tooth come 2014.]
Glass Candy’s moon dance
Photo by Dan Pfleegor
Ida No and Johnny Jewel can saunter with comfort and tease like old friends who used to do aerobics together. The Portland duos affable hand waving and pigtail twirling attracted a Blue stage gathering that was ready to pounce on each and every beatific harmony. Some were there to escape MIAs sound problems, while others just wanted to dance in the shade. No knew the sun was going down and the moon was coming up. This descent into the night encouraged Glass Candy to pulse out skating rink landscapes like an Italo-disco flashback, rebuilt in an abandoned Chicago gutter. No charmed. She screamed. And rode the crowds hands for 10 minutes following the set. –Dan Pfleegor
R. Kelly needs a towel in Union Park
R. Kelly certainly stands out as an anomaly not just amongst Pitchforks past headliners, but every act theyve ever hosted. Even when the festival brings in pop stars, theyre never the ones going for top dollar in the summer circuit: Public Enemy, Diplo, Robyn, and Wu Tang Clan are probably the closest theyve come to Billboard-regular name-power. This year, Kelly and his opener M.I.A. enabled Pitchfork to send a message that no sector of pop music is automatically outside their scope. And it worked.
A huge, but manageable, crowd was floored by the hometown heros bedazzled medley that spanned just about every hit save for The Worlds Greatest, culminating with a flock of doves being released at the peak of perfect fest-closer I Believe I Can Fly. Second best moment: Kelly and his band’s 30-second slow jam of Can I get a TOWELLLL?/ To wipe my FAAYEEECE?/ Cause Im sweaty as a muhfucker/ Cause Im sweaty as a muhfucker”. –Steven Arroyo
[Editor’s Note: Check out this hilarious R.Kelly-Pitchfork-related meme our own photographer Heather Kaplan put together.]