Pitchfork Music Festival just wrapped up their tenth anniversary, celebrating ten amazing years in Chicago. The music festival continues to improve, and this year rivals any other year, putting it in contention for the best Pitchfork Fest ever.
Below, we recap the festival’s fantastic sets, after parties, and events, including a little bit of rain (okay, a mass amount of rain).
To be fair, there are no bad sets at Pitchfork Music Festival, at least that we saw throughout the three days. Some stood out more than others though, and there were some mishaps last weekend.
iLOVEMAKONNEN – DAY 1 – RED STAGE
Our first set we caught during the festival, after a typical amount of traffic rolling in to Chicago delayed us getting to the gates at the time they opened. At around 4pm the lines into the main gate, which are now limited to a single entrance (for reasons unknown to us), were insanely long, wrapping about 3-4 blocks around the festival grounds.
I was pleased by the sound coming from The Red Dragon Makonnen’s stage. His vocals were crisp and clear, the bass was loud and impactful, and the crowd was enormous for a mid-afternoon day one set. Hip hop has a crazy draw to Pitchfork Festival attendees, some of the most insane crowd activity I’ve ever seen have come from Schoolboy Q, Danny Brown, and included this weekend’s rap acts. While Makonnen’s set lacked the fire some of the hip hop sets over the weekend, it was still surprisingly good. I walked in to his 4:35PM set time expecting a train wreck of muffled sound and an unenthusiastic Makonnen, but left the set pleasantly surprised. Makonnen finished the set by FaceTiming his mom from the stage, thanking her for the blessings he encounters every day.
KURT VILE – DAY 2 – RED STAGE
After a mini-monsoon hit Chicago on Saturday afternoon, the grounds were evacuated for 30-45 minutes. After the rain passed, the grounds were a giant pit of mud and puddles, and eventually proved that I was an idiot for wearing white sneakers that day. Set times were pushed back, and there was a mass amount of confusion about who was playing when, and whose sets were cancelled. Vince Staples cancelled, which was a huge disappointment for those looking to see Staples perform tracks off Summertime ’06 one of the best hip hop albums of 2015. The rain pushed back set times, Ariel Pink found difficulty in sound check, and had me running around trying to catch bands and artists, and eventually led to me missing the majority of the beginning of Parquet Courts.
An artist who was scheduled to take the stage in the heart of the storm, Kurt Vile took it all with grace, not seeming to mind if he was throwing off the schedule. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kurt Vile’s music. But overall, Vile’s sets are fairly boring in a festival scene, and would probably have much more impact and grace if played in a mid-sized club setting. In the end, I would’ve traded Vile’s set for Vince Staples, or catching all of Parquet Courts’, despite the fact that missing the beginning may have partially been my fault. But maybe I’m just projecting.
HOW TO DRESS WELL – DAY 3 – BLUE STAGE
The blue stage was somewhat notorious for troublesome sound and performances last weekend. The most unfortunate tragedy to this was the always uncanny Tom Krell, who performs as How To Dress Well and was set to take the stage at 4:45 on Sunday, up against the noise at The Red Stage from Courtney Barnett, one of the few times I’ve ever seen noise from another stage carry over. Krell and Company didn’t start until around 5PM, with no real clear reason why. When we arrived to the stage at 4:50, Krell was still working on troubleshooting instruments, eventually, the show just had to start. It was a shame, because How To Dress Well still sounded incredible, and Krell carried it with the undeniable amount of grace he’s been known to exhibit since his arrival to the indie music scene. Krell is a class act with a great voice, and an even more incredible group of musicians surrounding him in a live setting, so I was heartbroken to not catch as much of his set as I would’ve liked.
WILCO – DAY 1 HEADLINER – RED STAGE
One day prior to Wilco’s headlining set at Pitchfork on Friday night, the group released a surprise album, Star Wars, for free to their devout fans. The group would play that entire album at the beginning of their set on Friday, and therein lies my beef with their set that night. I, like many fans of Wilco, didn’t necessarily come to see them play Star Wars front to back. Fans who aren’t necessarily in love with the new music, but the old; who hold their own, personal connection with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”; who have always wanted to see them play “Via Chicago” in Chicago; who sacrificed seeing Ought, one of the hottest names in indie rock, especially live indie rock, to see a staple of their formative “indie” years. Granted, they did play a great set, including fantastic versions of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” which turned into a singalong, and they played “Via Chicago” in Chicago, which gave me goosebumps. I understand the novelty of playing the album front-to-back, and the handful of fans who really appreciated the moment aside, I don’t understand why they chose such a large stage to do it.
PANDA BEAR – DAY 1 – RED STAGE
There’s nothing like a festival set to help you realize how impactful an artist can be. Noah Lennox, founding member of Animal Collective now performing as Panda Bear, has a crazy amount of fans, a handful of them were dressed up as pandas roaming the grounds at Union Park on Friday. His crowd was completely enthralled that evening, and for good reason, Lennox’s set was damn good. Dance-worthy indie electronic infused with dizzying vocals, and to make it even better, the sounds were all coming from one man behind a board of keyboards, beatpads, and a shit load of wires. I’m also unsure if Lennox’s eyes were ever opened during his set, seemingly doing it all basically blindfolded.
A$AP FERG – DAY 2 – BLUE STAGE
Remember what I said about hip hop shows at Pitchfork? Well multiply Makonnen’s set by about 100 and you’ll get A$AP Ferg’s set, the most rowdy crowd by volume of the weekend. Sure Run The Jewels’ crowd was equally as rowdy, but Saturday’s Ferg set at Blue Stage was ridiculous. I’ve never seen so many kids moshing to hip hop, packed in such a small amount of space. The set was good, sure, but A$AP Ferg is finding his spot here because of the crowd.
CARIBOU – DAY 3 – RED STAGE
Just like A$AP Ferg’s set on Saturday, Caribou’s place on this list is all about the crowd. But unlike Ferg, Caribou’s set was incredible, the crowd left a little bit to be desired. Filled with teenagers doing coke off of credit cards and smoking L’s lobbying to get a position for Chance The Rapper, set to take the stage housing Dan Snaith and his live band, who put out one of the best sets of the weekend.
It’s a shame when things like this happen, but it’s the nature of festivals. Your best bet is to just ignore everything around you and enjoy the music in your ears. Caribou’s amazing and brightly colored backdrop (the album cover of last year’s stellar Our Love) to Snaith’s incredibly gracious smile and hand waves after each electronic earworm were enough to make us happy. Rattling through tracks like “Odessa”, “Sun”, “Our Love” and the immense hit “Can’t Do Without You”, Caribou’s sets are rare and simply amazing. The live musicianship translates perfectly to a stage, especially for music that could be easily substituted by a one-man show, it’s something to be noted (and noted heavily) that Caribou’s live sets are something to appreciated whenever you can see them.
TROUBLE KNOWS ME (SAM HERRING of FUTURE ISLANDS + MADLIB) / VIC MENSA – FRIDAY AFTERSHOWS
Friday was by far the best night of after shows, featuring a Madlib After Show at The Mid and Vic Mensa performing live at the gorgeous Virgin Hotels Chicago.
The employees at Virgin Hotel Chicago were incredibly nice, and yes, I realize it’s their job, but they went above and beyond. The concierge and security were all helpful and accommodating, directing me as I wandered in solo, like a lost kitten in from the city streets. Bartenders served overpriced drinks, sure, but they were also not opposed to serving me free waters all weekend. The hotel itself is a sight to behold. Cerise, the rooftop lounge on the 26th floor, showcases an amazing view of the beautiful Chicago skyline, and Upstairs, the venue and bar on the 25th floor is well-lit and held surprisingly good sound for Mensa on Friday night.
Mensa’s set was brief, but completely worthwhile. Vic’s voice is completely infectious, and “U Mad” nearly had me moshing amidst the group of “faux-elite” surrounding me. The song alone would’ve been worth the trouble I’d encountered, had their actually been any.
After Vic Mensa’s set, we booked it over to The Mid, to catch a special Madlib DJ set. DJ sets are usually somewhat lackluster, but Madlib happens to be one of my favorite producers of all time, so this was as close to a must-see for me as DJ sets get. Not to mention that earlier in the week, a track surfaced from Trouble Knows Me, a collaboration of Madlib and Sam Herring, the front man from Future Islands. The kicker? It’s hip hop, with Herring on vocals.
Sam Herring brought the house down on Friday night. I mean, he’s really good. He brings the same intensity on stage that he does when performing with Future Islands: beating his chest, pacing the stage and delivering vocals with vigor and intensity. Keep your eye out for more from this duo of musical geniuses. It’s really fucking good.
SLEATER-KINNEY / VIC MENSA – DAY 2 HEADLINERS
Going in to the fest, I didn’t really realize the tragedy of these two artists being pinned against each other on Saturday. I missed the boat on Sleater-Kinney in the early-2000s, so I was never really a true fan. Their music has always been good, but they’re one of those artists that if you weren’t into them in the beginning, the impact just isn’t the same.
After catching a few songs from Mensa, which again, featured another crazy crowd that for the first time I’d seen all weekend, gave security a collective migraine. Between gate jumpers, VIP section shut down, and photo pit congestion, security members probably never want to hear the name Vic Mensa again. But I’d seen “U Mad” the night before, and was a little too tired (and still soaking wet), so I decided to go catch some rock n’ roll from a trio of badass women.
And Sleater-Kinney did not disappoint. The music played on Saturday night proved why the group’s return has been so sought-after: perfectly loud and emotional. Performances of songs “Modern Girl” and “Sympathy” amongst others made me somewhat bitter and angry at myself for missing the boat 10-15 years ago. Sleater-Kinney fans, I’d like to jump on the bandwagon… if you’ll have me.