Say what you will about Pitchfork and its fanbase, but it does know how to run a music festival. Sure, every fifth person at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park was wearing cutoff jeans, every 10th person was smoking a cigarette, and almost everyone was white. Cups of craft beer littered the park as festival attendees walked toward the tents to buy vinyl. Yet, whether or not that is your scene, this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival delivered one of the best music fest lineups this year. On a mildly warm weekend at Union Park, artists taking the stage included not only indie-rock legends such as Beck and Neutral Milk Hotel, but also indie-pop icons St. Vincent and Grimes, hardcore rock bands Deafheaven and Cloud Nothings and rappers at the top of their game, such as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Danny Brown. Here’s a recap of a handful of artists who stood out from an already stellar lineup.
If there existed any doubts that tUnE-yArDs was just another eccentric, quirky, one-hit-wonder group, its Saturday midday performance dispelled any of those claims. Powered by frontwoman Merrill Garbus’s powerful, sharp vocals and drum-loop/layering abilities, tUne-yArDs had the audience grooving to a set mostly comprising tracks off of their latest album Nikki Nack. Dressed in colorful outfits and face paint in the style of Nikki Nack’s neo-pop cover art, Garbus’ live touring band, which includes a bassist, an additional drummer and two additional vocalists, showed a different persona than from her act three years ago. Yet when Garbus pulled out her electric ukulele to play “Powa” and other tracks off of 2011’s Whokill, the audience went wild, more than it did for most of the songs on Nikki Nack. Yet the secret stars of the show were supporting vocalists Jo Lampert and Abigail Nessen-Bengson, whose dance moves and rhythms delighted.
Neutral Milk Hotel
Like the presence of Anna’s Ghost, there was little that marked Neutral Milk Hotel’s performance. Forbidding any photography or video for the set — not even for the online live stream or billboard-sized screens around the park — the legendary group, led by Jeff Mangum, played on a bare stage with no fancy lightwork or projected video. Yet, even for this low-key affair, the audience went wild for every song, dancing and even moshing to opening songs “Holland, 1945” and “King of Carrot Flowers.” For the rest of the set that included songs from In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and On Avery Island, the performance evolved into a collective sing-a-long, something Mangum had encouraged early in the show. Although the only moments the audience fell silent were during rarely performed songs such as “Little Birds,” the collective spirit became part of the show rather than a nuisance. For an artist whose reunion is most likely short lived, Neutral Milk Hotel upheld its spot as an indie-rock legend.
Recently given the title the “New West Coast King” of rap by Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar certainly earned his name closing the festival Sunday night. Although showing up 15 minutes late to the set, no one cared when K.Dot finally took the stage, opening with an energetic performance of “Money Trees.” Featuring a live backing band and a Kanye-esque projection of three different video feeds of his hometown, Compton, on the background projector, Lamar still managed to own the stage despite the large amount of visual flair. His performance didn’t stray from many of the tracks on good kid, m.A.A.d city aside from a short performance of “F**kin’ Problem.” During “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “m.A.A.d. City,” the crowd was moving and rapping along with every lyric. Near the end of the set, Kendrick broke out in monologue in the middle of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” to thank Chicago and the crowd for its support, stating “I’ll be back,” but for that Sunday night, his performance was more than enough.
Enjoying Perfect Pussy live depends on what you plan on enjoying at a show. For the hardcore noise-rock band from Syracuse, if you simply want to hear live versions of songs off its stellar debut album, Say Yes to Love, expect its lo-fi sounds to be even more loud and sloppy on the live stage. But if you want to be consumed by a high-energy pit of fans moshing about while blaring noise rock engulfs the air, Perfect Pussy is the artist to see. Led by frontwoman and singer Meredith Graves, the singing performance was intense, though her onstage demeanor charmed the crowd. Graves’ screaming and yelling dominated the show, even though you couldn’t hear her lyrics over the massive amounts of guitar reverb and bass. Perhaps, purely as musicians, Perfect Pussy members are not good live. But as punk-rock riot, Perfect Pussy made the crowd run wild.
Opening on the last day of the festival, Speedy Ortiz straddled the line between an intense crowd-moving riot and a laid-back indie rock basement show at the festival’s smaller stage. Playing to a surprisingly large number of fans, Speedy Ortiz, which has mostly performed at smaller venues and recently toured with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, didn’t seem phased by the change of venue, continuing its manic yet mellow attitude of playstyle. Frontwoman and vocalist Sadie Dupuis occupied her space nonchalantly, charmingly interacting with the crowd. Performing tracks off of its critically acclaimed 2013 release Major Arcana, as well as its latest EP Real Hair, the band also managed to entertain the crowd with some new songs as well, scheduled for its next LP. By evoking vibes of many grunge and indie rock bands of the ’90s, its set filled in the rock ’n’ roll gap in Sunday’s lineup, making it hard to leave dissatisfied.