ARTICLE AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS ALVAREZ AND AMANDA BARTELS
JULY 17-19 | CHICAGO—The Pitchfork Music Festival, now in its 10th year, has come a long way from its humble beginnings as Intonation in 2005. At that time, boutique festivals were few and far between in North America, so Pitchfork easily stood apart from such behemoth events as Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo. The Pitchfork Music Festival carefully selects its talent to represent that moment in music, and this year's event was no different, with a plethora of artists (old and new) that aimed to please serious music lovers' palette. At the core was the representation from the city of Chicago with seven artists on the lineup, two of which were headlining. It was only fitting that they opened and closed the festivities.
The weekend was not without its share of high and low points. Weather played a factor all weekend. Heat and humidity was rampant on Friday. A thunderstorm rumbled into the city at around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, which prompted a full evacuation of the park. The evacuation lasted just under an hour, but a number of sets were either cut short or outright canceled. Ex Hex was on stage just before the storm hit and was only able to perform five songs. Vince Staples did not even make an appearance as he was stuck in Detroit due to the weather. Kurt Vile and Ariel Pink were each relegated to about 20 minutes of stage time. Sophie consequently canceled, which in turn made the Blue Stage scheduling for the remainder of Saturday wildly inconsistent. Despite all of this, the organizers and audience made the best of it. And with that, here are 10 highlights of the weekend to celebrate 10 years of the festival.
First, a non-musical highlight, as it proved to be an unexpected hit and crucial item for the entire weekend: While free stuff is nothing new to the festival, the presence of FLOR carpet, who handed out free 20"x20" carpet squares just after you entered the festival gates, proved to be a standout. An estimated 5,000 carpet squares were given out, and while not exactly convenient to carry around all day, these durable patches certainly came in handy. On Friday, they lent a homey vibe to the sunny, communal picnic in the grass, while on Saturday, many used them as temporary shelter from the torrential downpour. Later on, they were used as safe spots to walk on, in order to avoid the ever-growing mud pits around the park. For the final day of the weekend, those lucky enough to get their hands on one of these bad boys were rewarded with a rare, dry spot to sit and rest. — A.B.
Friday's afternoon sun, combined with the humidity from the previous evening's storm, made it challenging to take the blazing heat of the Green Stage. iLoveMakonnen managed, however, to pull a decently sized, hyped crowd out from the cool of the shade, especially after he dropped a snippet of his biggest hit "Tuesday." After just a few beats, a stream of fans came running from their hiding spots, not having expected it so early in his set. It was only a cruel tease though, but even those with just a casual interest stayed in the sun. During "I Don't Sell Molly No More," iLoveMakonnen jumped and danced around the stage like a 5-year-old hopped up on Redbull, trying with all his might to impress his mother as he would mention afterward. He then resorted to facingtiming her, to show off his success and how thankful he was, and then playing her favorite song "Mo Ma'am." While the crowd's energy seemed like it might have been waning, he brought it back by finally playing the song everyone had waited to hear. While he may not have time to party on the weekend, we were all certainly glad he had time to put in some work at this Pitchfork party. — A.B.
Wilco closed out the festivities of day one, choosing a bold path by performing their brand-new surprise album Star Wars in its entirety. Since the album was just released the day before, the majority of the audience undoubtedly had not been able to listen to it. But that small detail did not dissuade the band one bit. Although the songs had never been performed in front of an audience, as Jeff Tweedy proclaimed early on, each song felt as if it was a staple in the band's vast repertoire of music, which spans more than 20 years. After the set of new songs, another hour of classics followed. With a curtain of LED lighting behind them, which delivered a vast spectrum of color, songs such as "Art of Almost" put the audience in a musical and visual trance. Another light show was happening in the sky behind the Green Stage, as a thunderstorm was passing through Downtown Chicago, delivering prolonged bursts of lightning. It seemed very fitting during the outburst portions of "Via Chicago," which had strobe lights that mimicked the storm behind them to near perfection. Closing the set was "I'm the Man Who Loves you," from breakout album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—it was a vibrant and succinct number to end the evening. "Misunderstood" was actually going to follow that up, but Wilco ended early due to time restrictions. — C.A.
One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was the Kathleen Hannah-fronted punk collaborative The Julie Ruin. After canceling last year due to Kathleen's health problems, the group certainly didn't hold back. Their midday set drew a sizable and diverse crowd to the Blue Stage, and whether they came for the raucous tunes or the feminist musings of Hannah, everyone seemed to be immensely pleased with the short, but oh so sweet set. Before playing "Lookout," off their album Run Fast, Kathleen said, "As women, we are always made to feel like outcasts, to sublimate our talent, and to say sorry. But this song serves as a Post-It note to myself and by extension all of us to not feel so inclined to do such things." As they sped through a rambunctious set, the audience bopped up and down along with the energetic vocals and chords of songs "South Coast Plaza," "Party City," and "Kids in NY." While setting up the latter, Kathleen spoke of an admiration for seeing the younger generation coming up, even though it made her feel like a camp counselor to say so: "It's really all about kids making art!" Before launching into the closing song "Oh Come On," the fierce frontwoman reminded us all that sometimes when the only way to make the person you care about happy is to kill yourself for them, maybe it's time to get rid of them, and your life might get better—like hers did. — A.B.
As the sun mercifully began to set, the Red Stage was jam packed with either Chvrches fans or people staking out a sweet spot for the headlining set of Chicago darlings Wilco. Undaunted, the Scottish trio launched into their set with the first of three new tracks, including "Clearest Blue," a song that let us know the band's new album would give us more of the airy synth pop we've all come to enjoy. They also performed a string of hits, including "Gun," "Lies," and "Tether," getting the majority of the crowd to dance and sing along. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry stopped a moment to muse on the fact that they haven't toured the U.S. in a while and also to ask who had been on stage before them, noting that there were dirty cigarette butts strewn about the stage. (That honor goes to Mac DeMarco.) Lauren also mentioned the new design on the band's backdrop and that the new album Every Open Eye would be out in September, before continuing with new single "Leave a Trace." Overall this sub-headliner gave a strong indication that they have much more to show us in the coming months. — A.B.
With a giant disco ball in tow, Jamie XX arrived on the Red Stage ready to set the tone with a batch of tunes that brought cooler temperatures and almost 20,000 bobbing heads. Far and wide, young and old, everyone in earshot had a relatable slice of music to enjoy during his set. Jamie XX performed tracks from his debut LP In Colour, including "Gosh," "Seesaw," and "Loud Places," which all drew loud cheers. Chicago house, disco, Motown, and also some dancehall made their presence known. You couldn't help but smile when the original version of "Good Times" from The Persuasions came over the PA. Was it foreshadowing the rest of the day's performances? Did it make you forget about the monsoon the day before? Or was it just precisely placed so that you didn't have a care in the world? It was all masterfully interwoven and became the perfect soundtrack for the Union Park crowd to feel as if they were at a giant backyard hangout with an amazing DJ at the helm. — C.A.
Sleater-Kinney finished off an eventful second day at Union Park. The Portland trio performed like they were booked at 3 p.m. on the Blue Stage and didn't hold back for one second. "This song isn't about you, Chicago. Trust me, we love you guys," exclaimed Carrie Brownstein as the band broke into the title track of new album No Cities to Love. Weaving in selections from their extensive catalog, it felt like a call to arms throughout their set. Janet Weiss's drumming sounded like bullets being fired at point blank range, while Corin Tucker's and Brownstein's guitars spun around like the storm from earlier in the afternoon. It all formed a brutal and relentless assault to the senses that left you wanting more. Even the dragonflies that were hovering around due to the post-storm conditions looked like drones cruising around the Green Stage, seeking their targets on the battlefield. Sleater-Kinney had found its target right in front of them, and everyone in the audience was happy to be on the receiving end. — C.A.
The first full set after the rain was by Brooklyn quartet Parquet Courts. The sun had just started to break through the last remaining clouds when the band hit the stage. Bassist Sean Yeaton broke out into a brief melody of Bush's "Glycerine," alluding to a moment almost 20 years ago when that band performed through a storm and were completely drenched. By the time Parquet Courts performed their third song in the set, "Black and White," a song about having an identity crisis, moshing and crowd surfing began in earnest. Everyone ignored the ankle-deep mud beneath them, as Andrew's and Max Savage's vocals and drumming, respectively, provided the perfect combination for chaos. Along with perfectly timed head bobbing and even pogoing, this high-energy performance set the table for the rest of the afternoon and evening. — C.A.
By the time The New Pornographers had taken the Green Stage, the afternoon sun shone brightly on the large, festive, and somewhat damp crowd, who danced the set away as if there had never been any rain at all. The sunny sound of the band's jangly pop perfection buoyed the energy of what could have been a wasted, washed-out day. A cacophony of amazing vocals and instrumentations shone throughout a hit-packed and well-timed set. This was definitely what everyone was waiting for before the rain hit. — A.B.
The first set of day two was the unusually entertaining Jimmy Whispers; his lo-fi style brought a solid, early day crowd to the Main Stage Lawn under an overcast sky. When he came out on stage, he prepared for his set with a few pushups and shouted, "If you're somewhere else in the festival, fuck you! Get over here!" He launched into a buzzy ballad, presumably called "I Love You," followed by the boppier "I Need a Vacation." His self-proclaimed "sing-along" songs were repetitive and easy enough for the crowd to latch onto. Within the first few songs of the set, it felt like Jimmy had the crowd in the palm of his hands—or at the very least intrigued about what exactly his deal was. About halfway through his set, he brought out a backing band, adding a fuller sound to his summertime anthem "Lost in You in the Summertime." As he stripped from a T-shirt and jeans to a flowy red dress, he asked the intimate crowd if they could keep a secret. He then confessed that he was 29 years old, had never kissed a girl, and was thinking of killing himself…before belting out the perfectly imperfect pop ballad "I've Never Kissed a Girl Like You." Whether his humorous banter was sincere or for show, you couldn't help but be a little bit charmed—and maybe worried. — A.B.