In the eight years since the Pitchfork Music Festival began in 2005, it’s become one of the coolest, most fan-centric rock events of the summer, bringing tens of thousands of music nerds to Chicago’s Union Park for one weekend in June every summer. This year, the fest featured an exceptionally diverse line-up, hosting everyone from ‘90s alt-rockers The Breeders to crooning hometown icon R. Kelly. While that musical diversity didn’t make for one of the fest’s best years—the heat and rain also didn’t help—there were still plenty of bands, beer, and bad tattoos to draw members of The A.V. Club staff to the fest. We picked the best, worst, and rest of what we saw, from yet another surprise Lady Gaga appearance to Björk’s Tesla coil.
Best example of what happens when you taunt Mother Nature: Beneath a giant, sparking Tesla coil, and dressed in a shiny jumpsuit and giant spiked headpiece that made her resemble a human fireworks show (or an electrified dandelion, or Dallas’ Reunion Tower, or a fabulous dilophosaurus, etc.), Björk spent her set in witchy communion with electricity and the elements. Her video displays spun through neon fractals, waxing and waning moons, and scenes of earthquakes and wriggling, underwater life. She sang of the “emotional landscapes” of “Jóga” and shifting “tectonic plates” of “Mutual Core,” all backed by a robed army of her—a female chorus who lurked behind the spectral vocal swells of “Hidden Place,” then broke into wild, tribal dancing when the set shifted to crackling numbers like “Crystalline” and, yes, “Army Of Me.”
Eventually, all that nature talk and shamanic energy finally got the heavens’ attention: After an hour of ominous heat lightning in the distance, Björk announced that “the weather station” had informed her the show was being cut short due to the oncoming storm. “Wouldn’t be much in Iceland, I’ll tell you that,” she shrugged, evoking laughter that turned to boos as a fest spokesman got on the mic to ask everyone to leave quickly. Copies of Björk’s set list later revealed that the rain had washed away chances of hearing “Hyperballad,” among others, which was certainly disappointing, even after an already-enchanting hour. Still, maybe that’s what you get when you build your show into one giant cloud-burster. [SO]
Most endearing flub: It’s been some time since Joanna Newsom took her harp-and-piano show on the road, with Pitchfork marking her first major live performance of 2013. That meant some new songs sprinkled in among selections from The Milk-Eyed Mender, Ys, and Have One On Me (including one that whose opening lyrics sounded suspiciously like “Hey Andy”)—but it also meant shaking the rust out of the singer-songwriter’s knuckles. Not that the densely packed Red Stage crowd seemed to mind, mouthing along to the likes of “Sadie” and “Cosmia,” presumably working just as hard as Newsom to remember all of the words. After some “funny sounds” cropped up near the end of “In California,” she copped to wondering if something was wrong with her signature instrument’s pedal, concluding with a chuckle “I think I just played the wrong note.” If the audience wasn’t eating out of Newsom’s hand before this modest admission, they were after it. [EA]
Most perfectly Wire-like set from Wire: Wire has spent its entire career refusing to look backward, moving from the spiky yelps of Pink Flag to the eerie moodscapes of Chairs Missing and 154 to the dark club beats of The Ideal Copy in a process of continuous, constant reinvention. So it was no surprise it arrived at Pitchfork playing almost entirely material culled from the new, aptly titled Change Becomes Us—plus one song frontman Colin Newman announced they’d written only last week—just as it’s refused to play “the old stuff” on nearly every tour since the mid-’80s. Fortunately, even as Wire changes, it remains essentially the same: The group remains a master of sustained tension, cathartic blasts of fury, and creeping paranoia, and the new material hits the same pleasure centers, even if Wire demurred on meeting the usual, big festival expectation of playing the “hits” to a crowd that might not have been as invested in its continued legacy. For those people, there was only a cursory run through “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W” (introduced as “a song about the Midwest”), which the band buzzed through like it just couldn’t wait to move on to the next thing. In other words, it was Wire. [SO]
Best showcasing of an excellent record: Mikal Cronin’s latest, MCII, dropped earlier this year in Merge Records. While it’s not necessarily one of those records everyone’s talking about, MCII really is a contender for, if not top 10, one of the top 20 records of 2013. Anyone who isn’t convinced need only to have seen Cronin’s fierce delivery of tracks like “Weight” and “See It My Way” on Friday to be swayed. Seriously, though: Listen to MCII. It’s great. [ME]
Best new hometown hero: While Angel Olsen might be a relative newcomer to the Chicago scene, she drew a fairly huge crowd for her Friday afternoon set. Some of the people might have come because it felt like 110 degrees in the sun and her 5:15 set was under a bunch of trees, but once there, everyone was treated to an absolutely stellar set of singer-songwriter goodness. Olsen was still a little awkward on stage when she wasn’t singing, but tracks like the excellent “Acrobat“ more than made up for any weirdness [ME]
Best cover medley: Nobody can deny that Mac DeMarco and his band were having a ton of fun on Friday afternoon, as they introduced songs with joy, took playful jabs at all the equipment Björk had onstage for her headlining set, and goofed around recording backstage interviews all day. But for shits and giggles, DeMarco busted out several joking covers throughout his set—beginning with a brief bit of Sting with DeMarco adopting a faux-gruff voice—and even throwing together a Weird Al-esque medley including “Takin’ Care Of Business,” a rocking version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and “Enter Sandman.” They laughed their way through it all, but that positivity was infectious. [KM]
Most satisfying bit of fan service: Bringing a triumphant spin through “I’m A Cuckoo” to a close, Belle And Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch remarked upon the idyllic setting of Union Park and voiced his hope that the clouds gathering above the Green Stage held no rain—tempting the gods of irony by then transitioning into the Life Pursuit deep cut “Another Sunny Day.” By the next song, “The Stars Of Track And Field” (the first of many callbacks to the band’s 1996 classic, If You’re Feeling Sinister), a light drizzle began to fall, becoming a full-on downpour a few songs later.
Yet, unlike the thunderstorms Björk conjured the previous night, Saturday’s rainfall kept itself in check, a steady shower without the park-closing threat of lightning. As the precipitation brought out the latent hippie children of Pitchfork, Murdoch and band cherry-picked favorites from every era of Belle And Sebastian, tempering the “hits” (“The Boy With The Arab Strap,” “Judy And The Dream Of Horses”) with non-album tracks and B-sides (set-opening instrumental “Judy Is A Dick Slap,” slinky disco pastiche “Your Cover’s Blown”). Early audience-participation bits—a fan providing the spoken-word interlude of “Dirty Dream Number Two,” another giving Murdoch a Clockwork Orange-esque mascara job during “Lord Anthony”—turned into a full-blown on-stage dance party by the time of “The Boy With The Arab Strap,” a move made all the more necessary by the uninterrupted sheets of rain.
And while the rain meant the second soggy end in two nights for the Pitchfork Festival, the persistence of audience and band felt thematically appropriate. Here was Belle And Sebastian—a band that wasn’t even a band when Murdoch began writing the songs that would become Tigermilk—affirming its status as a legacy headliner, plowing ahead through the showers and reaching out to fans who’ve stuck with the band through worse than a little rough weather. (And the fans reached back, treating Morrissey devotee Murdoch to his own Moz-esque laying on of hands any time he scaled the photo-pit barrier.) As the band’s music has grown more slick and sophisticated, the gap between Belle And Sebastian and the dreamers in its fanbase (and the dreamers Murdoch and his bandmates once were) has only widened. And so it was nothing short of thrilling to feel such warmth and accessibility from the version of Belle And Sebastian that performs with a full string section and displayed no difficulty navigating the transitions of “Your Cover’s Blown.” As if to confirm their “of the people” bona fides, the band pared itself down to its core players for an encore of the If You’re Feeling Sinister standout “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”—but it didn’t have to. The entire set was evidence that the intense connection fans have with the band is a two-way street—underlined by the fact that they didn’t make anyone in the crowd risk pneumonia by standing out in the rain for more than one encore. [EA]
Oddest rockstar moment: A few minutes before Belle And Sebastian closed out Saturday night on the Green Stage, festival security locked down the backstage area to clear a path for two white 15-passenger vans with pitch-black tinted windows. The gates to the backstage area of the Green Stage opened and then immediately shut after the vans arrived, with nary a pasty Scot to be seen. If Belle And Sebastian is doing that, we expected Kells to arrive by helicopter or something the next night. [KR]
Best time out: Andy Stott creates moods more than music, with low, pulsating throbs buried under languid female vocals that are sleepily seductive, and existing almost entirely in the abstract. In other words, it’s the sort of thing you normally listen when you’re trying to come down from a hectic, over-stimulating music festival, not right in the middle of one. Yet for those seeking a breather, Stott’s set—perfectly timed for twilight—offered a respite from a day filled with noise. Starting off with a bit of pitch-shifted demonic dialogue and some jungle drumbeats, that harshness proved to be a fake out, as Stott quickly segued into the slowly building, airy rumbles and ghostly sighs that make up his particular haunted chill room, with recognizable strands of “Luxury Problems” and “Numb” threaded throughout. It was dreamy, peaceful, and pretty unexciting—especially given that you’re just watching a dude look at his laptop (a dude in a plain white T-shirt, for that matter—absolutely nothing to see here). But for those who’d maybe had enough excitement for one day, Stott provided a refreshing disco nap. [SO]
Best display of old-school showbiz verve: A little bit of razzle-dazzle sticks out like uninked flesh at the Pitchfork Music Festival, but the 2013 edition had more of it than usual, thanks to consummate showman R. Kelly and, on Saturday, Solange Knowles. Before Solange took the stage and opened with “Don’t Let Me Down,” her band and backup singers played a funky vamp, warming the crowd for her arrival. She and her group punctuated the songs with synchronized movements and lots of dancing—Solange ordered the crowd to “turn this into a motherfuckin’ high-school grind fest” during “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work.” Before “Losing You,” she asked the crowd to put their phones away so they could “just fucking lose it” and forget their troubles (though the heartsick “Losing You” isn’t exactly carefree). Nothing cuts through the irony on display at Pitchfork like some genuine soulfulness, which Solange had to spare. [KR]
Least expected but most welcome R&B tribute: Approaching the Blue Stage for Low, it wasn’t clear that there was any music being performed—that’s the curse of being the quiet band outside in the late afternoon. Closer to the stage, everything snapped into focus. Low stayed with its latest record, The Invisible Way, for most of its short eight-song set, but ended with the bracing, incredible “Pissing” (from 2005’s The Great Destroyer) and, strangely and amazingly, a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” that confounded some people, who recognized the song but couldn’t quite place it in its slowed, mystified context. Low should hit the studio and record it post-haste. [JM]
Most representative example of the “complete album” set losing its luster: With her recent departure from the reunited Pixies, Kim Deal’s sunset performance on Saturday could have been a “living well is the best revenge” moment. The Breeders’ Last Splash is a good album, and the 20th anniversary reissue added a ton of bonus material, but it peaks early with “Cannonball.” Pitchfork has booked Sonic Youth, GZA, Mission Of Burma, Public Enemy, and others to play front-to-back classic albums at previous festivals, making the Last Splash the latest in a declining trend, and the track list pushed some of the better B-sides out of the set. Playing complete albums in order in a live setting makes sense when there is a distinct narrative sense to an album, but Last Splash is a typical album in that it puts the big hit up front and litters other singles throughout the record. Even with a lot of playful banter from the Deals on stage for a celebration of a strong album, it didn’t make a case for these kinds of sets in the future. [KM]
Best blast from 1993, non-Breeders Division: Standing next to The A.V. Club during Merchandise was a woman in an old-school (but new-looking) Nirvana shirt—the “FLOWER SNIFFIN KITTY PETTIN BABY KISSIN CORPORATE ROCK WHORES” one—with red 10-hole Doc Marten boots. Affixed to her black knit cap (temperature: mid-80s) was a button that said fuckthemedia.com. We saw those buttons several times over the weekend, but the URL doesn’t work—fuckthemedia.org hasn’t been updated in more than three years, either. Whatever it is, it’s so contrarian that it doesn’t even have a working website. [KR]
Best legacy act not resting on its laurels: Over the course three decades, Michael Gira and Swans have disdained predictability, so it’s fitting that the band opened its midday set with a lengthy new song. As the song ached forward, it felt like Swans’ (effective) attempt to get any casual bystanders to vacate the premises. Those who stuck around, and saw the opener as a promise of new material as opposed to an act of alienation, were rewarded as Gira lead the band for an hour that included world-music-inspired post-punk, droning interludes, and a highly combustive crescendo. Following two of the fest’s most talked about young acts (Savages and Metz), Swans had its work cut out for it, but the band sunk deeper into its comfort zone instead of bending to pressure. It took a while for Swans to get its wheels turning, but once they started moving, it was easy to understand why the band is best experienced when the destination is less important than the experience of getting there. [DA]
Best full-body convulsions: Canadian post-hardcore trio Metz plays with ferocious abandon, as warranted by the blistering songs on its 2012 self-titled debut. The band’s sound is deliciously intense and unsettling, the lyrics guitarist-vocalist Alex Edkins shouting mostly unintelligible. So it’s not surprising that Edkins frequently ends Metz songs with violent, full-body shaking, like he’s convulsing. It’s the logical conclusion to songs like “Knife In The Water” and “Wasted.” [KR]
Strongest fight against the tyranny of the sun: Savages’ debut LP, Silence Yourself, has built a steady buzz for a band that’s only been gigging for a couple of years, granting Savages swift admission into the summer-festival circuit. That’s great for Savages, but not so great for Silence Yourself, whose dusky post-punk is doomed to be played during daylight hours while the band climbs the festival-lineup hierarchy. Undeterred, the U.K.-based quartet offered challenge after challenge to Saturday’s cloudless skies, beginning with its customary all-black wardrobe and ending with the wound-up horror show of set-closer “Husbands.” The heat seemed to pin the band’s feet to the stage floor, but frontwoman Jehnny Beth still found ways to embody the menace of songs like “Fuckers,” beating back the sun with each prowling step she took from the mic stand. Who says a band can’t make a Chicago park in mid-July feel like a windswept moor at the twilight of civilization? [EA]
Best transformation from album to live performance: On this year’s Totale Nite, Merchandise sounds like a descendent of the early ’90s Britpop scene, not three guys who grew up in Tampa’s hardcore underground. (The lead guitar line in “Anxiety’s Door” could’ve appeared on the Charlatans’ Some Friendly.) But live, Merchandise bares its teeth; some of that credit certainly goes to new full-time drummer Elsner Nino, whose bombastic playing gives the programmed beats of Totale Nite some welcome oomph. The record sounds dreamy and a little distant; live, Merchandise’s punk roots stay pleasingly close to the surface. [KR]
Best crowd-surfing moment: Parquet Courts’ debut full-length, Light Up Gold, is best enjoyed live, as the Brooklyn quartet rages through the tracks at break-neck speed and challenging each other to ratchet up the intensity. “Borrowed Time” inspired the most fervent reaction from the crowd, but also an unexpected one: A group of young guys halfway between the sound booth and the stage watched as one of their friends started crowd-surfing, immediately surging to the front where he was nabbed by security. Instead of going around the crowd to find their friend, one by one the rest of the group got up on the crowd and followed suit, united again as security guided them to the side of the masses gathered for the best garage-rock revival of the weekend. [KM]
Most underwhelming country rockers: Phosphorescent makes good records, but live and in the daylight, the band’s actual performance was a little boring. While “Song For Zula” off the group’s latest, Muchacho, was pretty solid, the rest of the set was more sleepy than anything else. The songcraft is there, but maybe Phosphorescent just isn’t a 2 p.m. act. [ME]
Best use of a promotional tank top: Rather than sully his own white tee with his on-stage antics during his set, Pissed Jeans singer Matt Korvette wore a promotional Tito’s Handmade Vodka tank top nabbed from a table behind the stage. That kind of exposure might sound great for the brand, but Korvette proceeded to rip and tear at it throughout the band’s raucous set, eventually reducing the whole thing to a ring around his waist and demanding someone on the nearby VIP platform throw him a new one. They did, and he did the same thing to the second shirt. While probably not what Tito’s intended when it put the swag out for VIPs, it was still pretty sweet to see. [ME]
Best band to abbreviate its own set: Opening a festival is hardly an easy task, and White Lung’s early afternoon slot on Pitchfork’s biggest stage certainly presented the Vancouver band with a load of challenges. Taking them mostly in stride, White Lung made its presence felt quickly, and ripped through a set with few pauses. In 25 minutes, the band tore through tracks from its various releases, and even offered up a new song titled “Blow It South.” Singer Mish Way dedicated the song to the state of Florida, her lyrics taking the state to task for the Trayvon Martin case. When White Lung left the stage, it left the small, enthusiastic crowd wanting more, proving that hardcore is best when relegated to tight, no-nonsense sets. [DA]
Best use of dove-shaped balloons: By mainly singing choruses and maybe a verse or two, R. Kelly managed to pack 38 of his hits into a 75-minute set Sunday night. While a 30-second version of “Ignition (Remix)” might not have been exactly what the crowd wanted, all was made okay when Kells finished the set with a soaring, full-length version of his 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly.” With gospel choir accompaniment and what seemed like hundreds of dove-shaped helium balloons, the semi-hokey song turned into a surprisingly moving moment as what seemed like the whole crowd sang along with every word. It should’ve given anyone who thought Pitchfork booked Kelly as a lark a moment of pause. [ME]
Most star-studded side stage: As a rule, the Pitchfork Music Festival doesn’t draw many backstage celebrities, unless one of the guys from No Age counts as a celebrity. This year and last, though, Lady Gaga has popped into the fest. Last year, she came to see her pal and protégé Kendrick Lamar, and this year she was side stage for M.I.A. While the rapper’s set underwhelmed—she’s always better on record than she is live, and her new material left a lot to be desired—fans including Gaga got to watch a ton of cool dancing and some neat light-up stage props. [ME]
Either the most astute commentary on the current state of hip-hop, or the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen: Lil B is an enigma wrapped in a performance art piece wrapped in an I Can Has Cheezburger? meme. What he is not is much of a rapper—or at least, the sort of rapper who values cleverness, lyrical dexterity, or even coherence. Not that any of this matters: He incited an incredible religious fervor before even taking the stage amid shouts of “Thank you Based God,” then proceeded to reward those followers with some of the dumbest shit anyone has ever said on a microphone. But, like the real God, the Based God has the power to imbue even his dumbest pronouncements with a sense of mystery and importance. And whether you think Lil B is just parodying hip-hop’s most ignorant obsessions through his knowingly primitive shtick—like some kind of Andy Kaufman/Wesley Willis mash-up of satirist and idiot savant—or you’re simply into taking that stuff on its face, there’s no denying the response it provokes. It’s fun even when it’s grating, like watching your drunk friend freestyle.
He rapped in his clumsy, disconnected cadence about getting his dick sucked and fucking your bitch. One song was literally the phrase, “Ask me about Chicago” repeated around 25 times. He whipped the crowd into chanting, “Ellen DeGeneres!” and dropped non-sequiturs like, “I look like J.K. Rowling!” and the Borat-esque “Hos over here, West Side—okay!” At one point, he shouted out, “I love pie!” and “I value friendship!” The intellectual argument is that he’s mockingly deconstructing hip-hop clichés and exposing their often-contradictory artifice: After a speech about respecting women, he broke into a half-sung R&B ballad that bore the opening line, “No disrespect, I need pussy.” He interrupted “Connected In Jail” (really just him reciting the Drowning Pool-sampled lyric, “Let the bodies hit the floor”) to “thank everyone for all these wonderful gifts” being thrown on stage, before getting right back into the murder talk. It’s all a pose anyway, Lil B’s music says, and here everybody’s in on the joke. That he occasionally dropped some surprisingly deft a cappella verses, or capped things with the fully baked, Clams Casino-produced manifesto “I’m God,” only underscores that it’s a put-on.
The nonintellectual argument is that it’s also just dumbed-down, ironic fun—hip-hop in a hashtag age. And even if you just find it annoying (and after an hour and 15 minutes, even Lil B acknowledged he was testing the crowd’s patience), that also doesn’t matter: “Even if you don’t love me, I love you,” he announced, ending the show by climbing into the open arms of his followers, where being worshipped and laughed at are just flipsides of the same coin. [SO]
Most uncomfortable display of emotion: Sky Ferreira kicked off her set energetically with “Lost In My Bedroom,” backed by a stoic, all-male band thundering forward with echoing synths. But about halfway through her set, she started over-emoting and pontificating on naïve generalities of doomed relationships, playing to the high-schoolers squealing along to her hits. Ferreira openly wept throughout “Ghost,” struggling to keep her vocals from wavering, then apologized that she had forgotten who or what the song meant to her before singing it. The crowd cheered in support as she continued to struggle through “You’re Not The One,” making for a deeply uncomfortable 10 minutes while the singer apologized if the music didn’t sound as good as it could have. Thankfully, Blood Orange came out to help Ferreira save the set from devolving further with “Everything Is Embarrassing.” [KM]
Biggest victims of their own consistency: Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew have been so consistently good at being Yo La Tengo for such a long time that hardly anyone notices when they release another solid record like January’s Fade. After the double-dose of Killer Mike and El-P, the crowd on the main field started to thin out, but once Yo La Tengo took the stage to scattered showers (while the sun was shining bright) the audience beefed up again to hear another splendid set. With a few songs from their newest record, a trio of tracks from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, a few from Electr-O-Pura, and a great joke about opening for R. Kelly for the first time since 1996, Yo La Tengo played the role of veteran rock stalwarts perfectly. [KM]
Best band to turn acoustic numbers into doomy rockers: American Weekend, the debut solo album from Katie Crutchfield (a.k.a. Waxahatchee), is a quiet, lo-fi affair that recalls Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska in its sparse, simple arrangements and broken-hearted lyricism. The band’s follow-up, the stunning Cerulean Salt, expanded Waxahatchee’s sound with electric guitars and few extra musicians, and live sets have turned American Weekend’s frail compositions into full-on rock songs. On “Grass Stain,” there’s a layer of power-pop pep, while others lumber with the rhythm section channeling Nirvana’s intentionally dirge-like moments. It translated well in the festival setting, as heads bobbed in unison, and Waxahatchee’s early songs carried themselves in brave new ways. [DA]
Most multi-tasking MC: As he told the Green Stage crowd Sunday afternoon, before Michael Render became the rapper known as Killer Mike, he worked as a community organizer. Render still brings the spirit of this old job to his live performances, and at Pitchfork he used the downtime between songs to advocate for the spiritual rewards of hip-hop, to inspire change in gun-violence-riddled Chicago, and take whatever political jabs he left out of last year’s incendiary “Reagan.” The banter could verge on preachy, were it not for the way Mike’s message and persona shifted as the preceding or following song dictated. Sometimes he was an activist. Sometimes he channeled the overlap between being a louder-than-hell MC and a larger-than-life professional wrestler (introducing “Ric Flair” with the eponymous grappler’s signature battle cry). Near the end of the set, he even turned his big, broad smile toward the purposes of pitching Goose Island’s Run The Jewels, a Belgian wheat ale named for Mike’s recent collaboration with El-P. All these sides of the rapper could lead to some mixed messages, but the a cappella reprise of “God In The Building” that wrapped the set broadcast the main theme of Mike’s between-song banter: Music is a healing force, and Killer Mike is here to administer it from each and every facet of his onstage persona. [EA]
Best hijacked set: Killer Mike had the 2:30 slot on the Green Stage Sunday, which was followed immediately by El-P on the adjacent Red Stage at 3:20. Considering the two just released a shockingly good collaboration under the name Run The Jewels, pretty much everyone expected Mike to make his way over to the Red Stage. El-P opened with “Drones Over Brooklyn” and “The Full Retard”—both from last year’s great Cancer 4 Cure—but after them, he announced “something’s missing,” and that he wanted to start all over again “with a friend of mine.” So he returned with Killer Mike—to the tune of George Thorogood’s “Bad To The Bone”—for what became a Run The Jewels set. No one complained. [KR]
Best banter: El-P dropped bons mots a plenty during his set, from prefacing “The Full Retard” by sarcastically saying it’s the most important, emotional song he’s ever written and how it’s about “the future of the children,” to telling Killer Mike, “I love you, you fat bastard. I love being the skinny guy in the group.” Mike got in some good ones as well, saying to El-P, “You’re drinking Hennessy. I’m drinking water. That’s a tough, ginger-headed motherfucker over there.” [KR]
Best set I was an art piece for: Given my unofficial motto of accepting any opportunity that will result in a weird story somewhere down the line, I found myself dressed as an art dealer (kind of like this) holding an empty picture frame during Autre Ne Veut’s early afternoon set on the Blue Stage. Though it was far from a glamorous job—even a light-weight picture frame makes your hand go numb if you hold it long enough—the set itself was packed with energy, with Arthur Ashin’s showmanship proving to be the set’s biggest asset. Ashin’s stripped down set of electronic-laced R&B highlighted songs from his recent full-length, Anxiety, and even without my literal handiwork it’s a set that would have proved memorable all the same. [DA]
The “everything old is new again” award: A running theme for this year’s festival seemed to be that everything old is new again, with ’90s-peaking acts leading the charge (Björk, Belle And Sebastian) and even the buzzing new bands looking more backward than forward. (Savages are terrific, but they sound like 1983.) That was massively true of Foxygen, who cleverly mix the Stones and The Velvet Underground, with much greater focus on the former. It’s shambolic and charming in limited doses, especially in the sunshine. [JM]
Best performance at a chicken restaurant: Sunday began not at the festival, but with a visit to Parson’s Chicken And Fish for a Summer Undercover session with Canadian band Metz, who played the festival the day before. The song choice will remain a surprise—it’ll air soon—but suffice it to say, the band was loud and blistering in all the best ways. [JM]
The (other) show must go on award: If you’ll indulge me in a slight divergence from the program: I attended the Pearl Jam show on Friday night instead of Pitchfork Fest, and I would have reviewed it separately, but I left during the three-hour rain delay. I mostly wish I hadn’t, but the situation seemed pretty dire: The band played seven songs (including powerhouse performances of fantastic deep cut “Present Tense” and “Elderly Woman”) before Eddie Vedder announced that they needed to clear Wrigley Field—did I mention this show was at Wrigley Field?!—which would take 30 minutes, then the storm would pass by in 30 minutes, and the band would be back on stage in an hour. As the storm intensified, I found myself in a pretty unpleasant crush of people, and texts from a friend in the suburbs described the storm as pretty insane—not to mention at least twice as long as earlier predicted. So I went home shortly after 10, and the band re-took the stage—curfew extended by the city—at midnight, playing two more hours. They even threw in a bunch of rarities (the third-ever live performance of “Bugs,” which I didn’t really need to hear) for the faithful who stuck around. So regrets, I have a few, because Pearl Jam is always incredible live. But there was more music to be had over the weekend... [JM]