Chicago’s Union Park has hosted Pitchfork Media’s music festival for 10 years. Other than some stage banners and festival merchandise noting the anniversary, the festival operated just like it was any other year with a finely-curated selection of new buzz bands, hip hop, DJs, and indie rock legends.
This was my ninth year in a row at P4K, and it’s still my favorite of Chicago’s numerous summer fests. Pitchfork is quite a bit smaller than Lollapalooza and much easier to see every artist you want to from a reasonable distance. Plus, after a decade of doing this, the festival runs like a well-oiled machine. Weather permitting, of course. The only real down note of the weekend was Saturday’s rain storm explosion that caused the park to be evacuated leading to some shortened and canceled sets.
Best of Pitchfork Music Festival :
With the release of her debut album Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit-Courtney Barnett has been riding a wave of success to a prime slot on Sunday afternoon. Barnett’s goofy, conversational lyrics carried over surprisingly well to a festival crowd, but what really made the set work was Barnett’s lean, crunchy guitar that took her songs to new heights’particularly an especially noisy take on single ‘Pedestrian at Best’ that closed the set.
A relative newcomer to the scene, Nashville’s Bully, led by Alicia Bognanno, pull from the glory days of SST hardcore, Steve Albini noise rock, and early Nirvana. Full translation: glorious amounts of feedback-drenched guitars, catchy hooks, and raw vocals. Bognanno, who worked for Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, in particular was an awesome front woman with her powerful voice, guitar skills, and fearsome mane of hair.
Chance the Rapper
Chicago’s very own Chance the Rapper is well on his way to being the biggest name in rap music. Coming off a celebrated showcase at Lollapalooza last year, Chance and his backing band, Social Experiment, closed out the festival Sunday night with an outrageously fun and huge set.
Pitchfork Music Festival lightshow
Besides the band, Chance brought out a gospel choir, the minister Kirk Franklin, backup dancers, the Chicago Bulls bucket boys, gave up the floor to his band leader Donnie Trumpet for a few songs, had multiple outfit changes, and came armed with backing video and a huge light show. Playing tracks from his hit mixtape Acid Trap and the new Social Experiment album Surf, Chance expertly worked the crowd like a master showman and made every minute a blast.
When Scottish synth pop trio Chvrches debuted in 2013 with the incredibly catchy The Bones of What You Believe In, the group seemed more suited to the studio than the stage. Now after a lot of time logged on the road and a second studio album on the way, Chvrches have transformed into a band capable of captivating a festival crowd. Front woman Lauren Mayberry was full of energy on stage and had terrific stage banter, especially when she called out Mac DeMarco’s band for leaving their cigarette butts all over the stage. Her vocals were on point and the band reached a satisfyingly loud conclusion to each track.
The Julie Ruin
Kathleen Hanna’s latest band, the Julie Ruin was supposed to play last year, but had to cancel due to Hanna’s struggles with late-stage Lyme disease as depicted in the inspiring documentary The Punk Singer. The Riot Grrrl-pioneer was full of life on stage, vocally going toe-to-toe with the furious punk pace and slashing guitars of her backing band while speaking honestly to the crowd about herself and the meaning of her songs in between the music. It was beyond cool to get to see Kathleen Hanna perform and the cherry on top was the Julie Ruin really kicks butt.
Parquet Courts emerged as a goofy, nerdy indie rock band that sang jittery songs about having a desperate case of the munchies. Now a few years into the project, the band puts on a blisteringly noisy show where guitars rage and howl and the sing-speak vocals that appear on their albums sound more like violent arguments (all in a good way, of course). After getting soaked in Saturday’s storm, seeing Parquet Courts gave me the energy to forget my water-logged feet and continue on enjoying the day.
Run the Jewels
Pitchfork didn’t schedule a token metal band this year, but no one told that to Run the Jewels. The hip-hop duo of Killer Mike and El-P came out hard and never let up the intensity and the crowd continued to throb and mosh throughout the set. While the duo’s rapid fire verses and booming backing tracks would have been enough to keep the crowd going, everyone collectively lost their minds when Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha stepped out to perform his guest verse on ‘Close Your Eyes.’
When bands get back together, there’s no telling if they’ll be able to recapture that old energy or if they’re just in it for the paycheck. Recently reunited Saturday night’ headliners Sleater-Kinney played like they had something to prove, ripping through tracks from their newest album No Cities to Love'(plus older hits).
Corin Tucker’s searing vocals sounded better than ever, while I mentally struggled to reconcile Carrie Brownstein as both Portlandia star and guitar goddess. They definitely showed up fellow indie rock elder statesmen Wilco, who headlined Friday night and thought playing their entire new album they released the night before was a good idea.
Featuring two former members of the band Women, Viet Cong follow in the post-punk tradition of jerky rhythm sections, noisy guitars, and questionable political-themed band names. The Canadian group’s self titled debut album is one of my favorites of the year, and they don’t disappoint live. The bass and drums sound like a military marching off to war while the guitars range from pretty twinkles to searing razors (if you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of noisy guitars). What’s most impressive about seeing this group live is witnessing how each member is able to take all these seemingly discordant parts to make a thunderous whole and it somehow winds up still a little catchy.
Jimmy Whispers may have started off Saturday at 1:00 p.m. with people still groggily finding their way to Union Park, but he had one the most outright entertaining sets of the weekend. The Chicago native, and former member of indie pop band Light Pollution, can be found hanging out and playing at dive bars on the regular, and I was looking forward to seeing what he would bring to a festival stage.
Whispers started off by singing along to his simple lo-fi, lovelorn songs playing off his iPhone while jumping up on monitors and out into the crowd. In between songs, Whisper’s banter moved from earnest to hilariously self-deprecating. Whispers had all sorts of surprises’ like a group of dudes throwing water balloons into the crowd while waving American flags, ripping off his clothes to reveal a sultry red cocktail dress, and bringing out a massive backup band featuring ex-members of the Smith Westerns. Jimmy Whispers puts on a hilarious, incredible live show. I’d recommend checking him out the next time he’s playing around town.
West Loop Salumi
Pitchfork picks a solid variety of food vendors each year with West Loop Salumi taking the number one spot this year thanks to their stone oven cooked personal pizzas. Fully assembled and cooked on site, the sausage pizza had a crisp yet fluffy crust, zesty sauce, and complex, perfectly-spiced sausage. There was a bit of a wait, but the pizzas came out incredibly fast and piping hot. Here’s hoping they’ll be back next year.