(Pitchfork returns to Union Park this weekend for three days of music including LCD Soundsystem, A Tribe Called Quest, Solange, George Clinton and many more. We’ll be there all weekend and will be updating this story with updates as we cover the artists of the weekend.)
Friday (Coverage by Travis Leatherwood)
Priests, the punk outfit out of DC, kicked things off on the main stage. The band ripped through their set mostly focused on their excellent 2017 record, Nothing Feels Natural, with a few old cuts scattered in. Fronted by an excellent front-woman in Katie Alice Greer, the band continues to prove themselves as a formidable live act. While their sound tends to lend itself to be more suited for a small sweaty venue, the band was able to command the crowd at Union Park pretty easily.
Dawn Richard entranced an early crowd at the blue stage. Her mix of experimental R&B with some hints of EDM music had an early crowd moving and dancing. The set was a great start to the day, getting things going early.
Vince Staples performed to an excited crowd, but the set seemed to fall flat for many. Alone on stage without a DJ or a backing band, he played a set mostly focused on his 2017 record Big Fish Theory. He still sprinkled in some classics though, as well as his track from earlier this year with the Gorillaz, “Ascension”. It seemed though that something was missing, and often he would let the backing track play the vocals instead of rapping the lines himself. This killed some of the potential energy that could come from his critically acclaimed tracks, and it was definitely noticeable in the crowd.
On the other hand, Danny Brown came next on the stage and with a similar arrangement had the crowd in a frenzy. With just one DJ on stage with him, Brown commanded the crowd with his energetic rap music. The set spanned his whole career, with almost equal love given to his last two albums along with some hits sprinkled in from 2011’s XXX. A three song punch of hits from his album Old in the middle of the set really got the crowd moving, nearly as much as the night’s later headliner did, and cemented the set as one of the best of teh day.
LCD Soundsystem capped off the night with their very anticipated set. LCD shirts could be seen all throughout Union Park as it was clear that a lot of the crowd came out specifically for them. Their star has only grown since the last time they played Pitchfork (2010), and it showed with a huge crowd that emphatically sang and danced along to nearly every song. One of their new tracks, “Call the Police”, went over extremely well and fit in perfectly with the classic dance-punk tracks from their storied discography. It was followed by a second new track, “American Dream”, which slowed things down a bit to create a more dreamlike atmosphere. The energy was quickly picked back up though with a string of classics that ended the set.
Saturday (Coverage by Matt Rahn)
Floods of angry tweets, posts, and messages from Union Park on Friday were already off-putting about the festival this year before evening entering the gates Saturday. Horror stories of security to get into the fest taking literally hours, lines for beer tickets spanning the entire park, and general scheduling and sound issues ran amok. That being said, any issues that transpired on Saturday seemed noticeably milder compared to rumors from Friday. Pitchfork has a history of listening to their attendees and this year was no different.
The blue stage area was finally expanded outward this year – a much needed change since Pitchfork lineups have gotten bigger and started placing more popular electronic acts on the timid stage in a small corner of the park filled with trees. Cherry Glazerr opened the stage Saturday with a wonderful taste of the weird – Frontwoman Clementine Creevy crawled onto the stage on all fours and teased a synth-poppy introduction to the band before strapping on a guitar and laying down plenty of thick, garage rock riffs that echoed across the tree lines and quickly roped in one of the largest crowds the blue stage has seen at such an early hour.
Jeff Rosenstock, one of punk rock’s preferred gems of the past two decades or so – and easily the most out of place act on this lineup – put on his self-effacing best with his latest band as the hipster crowd found their muddy Riot Fest dancing shoes and skanked the afternoon away with pop punk tunes and ska jams. Also featured: Jeff giving a shoutout to “whoever got fired for paying us $7,500 to play this festival.”
A newly praised act on the indie scene – bassist and singer Mitski Miyawaki, brought the tone down at the blue stage with a swooning and gorgeously mixed variety of ballads and light rock jams as the young rising star likely won over hundreds of new fans.
In the distance, a strange mixture of The National and Sun Kil Moon reverberated across Union Park as Arab Strap gently lulled the crowd into a poetic summer daydream, laced atop minimalist electronic beats and instrumentation.
George Clinton (yes, THE George Clinton,) came out with an armada of dancers, backing musicians, and hip hop emcees, featuring covers of both classic old funk tunes and modern pop hits. A strange interlude occurred when one of the musicians had to pause the show and explain to the crowd which member on stage was George Clinton as he no longer dawns the “rainbow dreads” anymore.
A lull comes over a good portion of the crowd as no strong feelings are shown for The Feelies one way or the other and the lines for food and beer grow exponentially. The newly added Goose Island beer garden tables and Dewar’s whiskey bar near the entrance are welcomed features for dead time at a festival, complete with servers and free food features.
The queen herself, PJ Harvey, makes her return to Chicago after 8 years to promote her latest effort, The Hope Six Demolition Project under a perfect sunset scenario with black and white camera work, a feathered black gown, and a slew of men in black outfits at her side – including the likes of Mick Harvey from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Alain Johannes of Them Crooked Vultures. A balanced setlist of classics and hot new tracks pleased all crowds as the singer/songwriter wasted no time in filling the set with as many crowd pleasers as possible.
With a full 90 minute set, A Tribe Called Quest’s first full show back in the States since the loss of Phife Dawg was as perfect as any fan – old or new – could have hoped for. The 25 song setlist featuring hits and new bangers from We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service seemed to bring smiles and bounces across the entire park (a crowd that spanned all the way back past the red stage and bled into the streets outside the festival) as the band wasted no time with banter and continued to keep kicking it, if you will, with Q-Tip and co. putting on one of the best sets the festival has seen from a headliner since its inception.
If I remember correctly, Kamasi Washington was put in a similar Sunday time slot last year and got the crowd dancing early and often. With that, it's great to see history repeating itself as another saxophonist brought the crowd to full on dance party. Colin Stetson is just flat out talented. Oh, and is that a black metal t-shirt I see him wearing? Also, why am I not surprised?
Ride is bar none one of the most underrated bands on the planet for nearly 30 years. At no fault of the band, their era of music also included shoegaze/dream pop icons like The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Stone Roses and more. Their set on Sunday gave the crowd a nice walk down memory lane, performing "Seagull" and "Vapour Trail" off their 1990 debut 'Nowhere', "Leave Them All Behind off their sophomore effort 'Going Blank Again' and kicking off the show with one of their first album in over 20 years ("Weather Diaries") with "Lannoy Point". I will keep hoping that one of these days they dust off one of their best tracks ever, "How Does It Feel To Feel". Please?
The Avalanches.....cancelled. *SIGH* Moving on then to....
We've all had that dream where that mega-popular band is a last second cancellation and a replacement is needed ASAP. Well, that became reality on Sunday for Jamila Woods. Woods seemed noticeably nervous to begin her set and rightfully so. Her audience was at least double what she could have expected but with The Avalanches having to cancel, the stage was hers (she had been moved to the larger main stage versus the smaller stage she was originally set to perform on). However, as the show progressed, Woods got her footing and her catalog of music in a graceful but powerful way which played perfectly to the crowd.
The fact that Jeff Rosenstock and American Football landed on this year's bill made this year's lineup stand out versus other years. American Football stuck to their emo roots that led to their popularity (being from Illinois doesn't hurt either). After nearly three days of great music, it seemed earlier in the day the crowd was looking a little tired. This set was the perfect remedy for that festival poison. As the crowd grew more and more animated, the band dropped "I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional". Coincidence? I think not.
Everyone can now exhale as Solange did indeed take the stage to close out this year's Pitchfork Music Festival. There was some concern as she did have to cancel some dates overseas. Her stage presence was just beautiful illuminating the entire stage in ruby reds as every lyric and every move seemed to be perfectly choreographed by everyone on stage. Filling the stage were what looked like 15-20 additional singers, musicians and dancers which assisted in turning this last set of the weekend into something memorable. With her live performances better than ever and her 2016 release (A Seat At The Table) wildly considered one of the best albums of that year, Solange seems primed for headliner status for years to come. Like Chance The Rapper, the Pitchfork Music Festival caught that early. There's little doubt we'll look back several years from now and ask ourselves "Remember when Solange headlined Pitchfork?" as we consider flying out for her Glastonbury headlining set.