Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein (Photo: Robert Loerzel)

With torrential downpours and abrasive heat, this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival felt like more of an endurance event than a lackadaisical summer kickback. Still, with dozens of excellent bands, including Run The Jewels, Chance The Rapper, Wilco, and Sleater-Kinney turning in solid sets, there were still plenty of highlights to be had. As always, The A.V. Club was there, capturing in superlatives what we believe to be some of the best, worst, most, and least noteworthy moments of the entire three-day affair.

Craziest set of murder-mayhem-melodic music

Over the past three summers, rap duo Run The Jewels have solidified their place as one of the fieriest live performers on the festival circuit. For their slot at Pitchfork, El-P and Killer Mike kicked things up several notches with a guest list that included producer-collaborator Boots for the song “Early,” Gangsta Boo for “Love Again” and the reclusive Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha for “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).” The energy and intensity from the crowd was insane and the mosh pit up front hardly stopped swirling for the entire hour-long set. [Corbin Reiff]

The most obvious next big thing

To be a star you have to act like a star and in his festival closing performance Chance The Rapper had all the swagger and charisma of some the biggest names in the game. His control over the crowd was absolute as he sang, rapped, and danced to tracks from his solo mix-tape Acid Rap and his collaboration with Donnie Trumpet titled Surf. Chance made it clear that it was an “historic night” for him and declared that it would be his final show in his hometown for a while as he moves onward and upward in his career. Given the kind of show he put on at Pitchfork, the sky’s the limit for the 22-year-old. [Corbin Reiff]


Ballsiest move from a band that’s generally anything but

The fact that Wilco released a new album, Star Wars, the day before it headlined Pitchfork was definitely not a coincidence. The group has some internet marketing acumen, after all. That message was really hammered home on Friday night, when Wilco kicked off its headlining set by playing the entire 11-song album in order from start to finish. The group eventually veered into older standards, like “Heavy Metal Drummer,” but testing the audience with Star Wars was both inspired and insipid. Star Wars isn’t the band’s best material, and hordes of casual Wilco fans fled after six or seven tracks, but rapid Tweedyites may have found the choice inspired. It was a heaping helping of brand new material, if nothing else. [Marah Eakin]

Grandest romantic gesture

Ever the jokester, Mac DeMarco’s late afternoon set was packed with cartoonish voices and absurdist remarks from bandmates Pierce McGarry and Andrew Charles White (“Thanks for coming guys, Red Hot Chili Peppers are up next!”). But all kidding aside, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more genuine declaration of love than DeMarco’s “Still Together,” which he dedicated to his girlfriend Keira. After having the audience join him in a “Happy Birthday” sing-along for his lady, the set-closer found DeMarco crooning (and the crowd swooning) for his “easy love.” His voice may not have been at its strongest, but he still managed to hit the chorus’ B.W. Stevenson-aping high notes. And, as it has become routine, DeMarco laughed in the face of the humidity to wrap up the song with a sweaty, minutes-long crowd-surf that drove the audience wild: All in the name of love. [Cameron Scheetz]


Best good-natured shaming

During her band’s Friday night set, Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches asked the crowd if the artist who played the Red Stage before them—Mac DeMarco—had been smoking, because cigarette butts littered the stage. (If she’d seen this promo photo of DeMarco, she needn’t have asked.) Mayberry chided DeMarco, saying Chvrches were going to leave a bunch of garbage at his house. Chvrches’ tidy set leaned heavily on songs from 2013’s excellent The Bones Of What You Believe, but also featured the second-ever performance of “Leave A Trace”—released the day before—and “Make Them Gold,” both from the forthcoming Every Open Eye, due out September 25. [Kyle Ryan]


Biggest new presence

Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno is a force to be reckoned with. Together with the rest of her band, Bognanno tore through songs from the band’s fairly limited catalog on Saturday, absolutely shredding tracks like “Milkman” and “I Remember.” Though the band is fairly new to the indie rock world, just earning Pitchfork’s coveted “Rising” designation this March, Bully must be doing something right: Though the band played the much smaller blue stage, it drew about as big a crowd as the enclosed area could handle, with hundreds of sweaty punk kids crowd-surfing and moshing throughout the group’s set. [Marah Eakin]


Clearest demonstration of who owns this year’s festival

Somewhere around the time of The Hot Rock and All Hands On The Bad One, Sleater-Kinney went from being “a great band” to “one of the greats.” This year’s comeback tour cemented their status as one of America’s better live acts, and on Saturday night, the group had barely begun “The Fox” when it became clear it was the undisputed boss of Pitchfork 2015. As much a victory lap as a performance, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein offered up a set jam-packed with exhilarating explosions of ferocious rock passion, as Janet Weiss pounded the entire audience into submission with her heavy-hitting style. Not even a mid-song kick that sent her right onto her butt could keep Brownstein down, as her jagged, angular riffing propelled the songs forward and cleared space for Tucker’s speaker-rattling wail. Despite a sound mix that too often kept that lead guitar overshadowed by Tucker’s bass-heavy ax-work (notable especially when Tucker’s guitar went nearly silent after a particular pedal was turned off, during “One More Hour”), Sleater-Kinney owned every frame of the stage. And judging by the rapturous crowd reception, it owned every acre of the entire park, too. [Alex McCown]

Best throwback to a time before Pitchfork

At times during Courtney Barnett’s Sunday set, anyone watching the big screens in Union Park would’ve been forgiven for thinking they’d slipped through a time warp and ended up at Reading Festival circa 1992. Barnett and bassist Bones Sloane slashed and tore through songs from Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit as if auditioning for a spot in the Alternative Nation rotation, Sloane appearing like he could shake three or four grunge acts out of his unruly mop. Remaking slack lyricism and Fender Jaguar scuzz in her own image, Barnett and the self-proclaimed CB3 delivered the most energetic set of a hazy Sunday afternoon, tightly wound verses exploding into huge choruses in a quiet-loud-quiet style recalling the era that made Pitchfork, the festival and the publication, possible. (And was that Barnett’s spiritual forebear Corin Tucker standing side-stage for most of the set?) [Erik Adams]


Best appearance by a Kathleen Hanna

Whether or not Corin Tucker was side-stage for Courtney Barnett, she definitely caught old pal Kathleen Hanna tearing it up with The Julie Ruin. Tucker, Bully’s Alicia Bognanno, and other strong, badass women lined the stage for the group’s Sunday afternoon set, and with good reason: Not only is Hanna a punk and riot grrrl legend, but The Julie Ruin puts on a hell of a show. With Hanna both remarking on how, as a 46-year-old, she can sound like a camp counselor when she’s talking about “kids” making art and reminding the world that, damn, even a 46-year-old can still dance and growl her ass off, the show was a non-stop feminist party. [Marah Eakin]

Best product placement


All the mud made the free carpet square samples provided by Flor probably the festival’s most popular accessory, at least next to the free ponchos provided by a few vendors. [Kyle Ryan]

Biggest collection of band geeks on one stage

Tobias Jesso Jr. might be billed as this Taylor Swift-wooing California crooner with a Randy Newman voice and dashing mop of curly hair, but his Saturday set revealed him to be nothing more than a big band geek. Performing for the first time ever with a full backing crew behind him, Jesso Jr. turned his sweet and plaintive songs funky with brass and stand-up bass, a move that wasn’t always welcome. Clad in oversize T-shirts and baggy jeans, the Jesso Jr. band looked like a bunch of high school kids playing their friend’s garage, and while that’s not always a bad thing, the show felt a little tossed off.


Side note: At his aftershow that night at Schubas, Jesso Jr. reportedly asked the crowd several times whether they’d rather hear “the reggae version” or the “regular version” of each song. The audience voted with voices, and the band responded accordingly. A fun idea, but repeatedly? A little much. [Marah Eakin]

The “But Mom, I Don’t Wanna Go Outside” Award

An issue that’s only been precipitated by the sweep of summer festival season is the fact the some acts are just better suited to indoor shows. Take Panda Bear, for instance: In broad daylight, Noah Lennox’s set is just a man and a machine, unable to be anywhere but dead-center stage. With a tarp covering Wilco’s gear as a backdrop and strobe lights that just barely pierced through the rays of the early evening sun, there wasn’t much to focus on (unless you count the looping video of a psychedelic Grim Reaper, too far away from Lennox to feel like part of the show). To be fair, the sound was sharp and the added thump of some choice cuts from Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper raised the pulse, but the set never seemed to build to anything. What could’ve been a multisensory experience inside amounted to a bit of a musical lull, putting sun-beaten festival-goers in a trance as they waited for Chvrches to start on the adjacent stage. [Cameron Scheetz]


Least successful closing song

It’s hard to imagine what made Jimmy Whispers think that closing his 1 p.m. set on Saturday with an attempted sing-along and slow dance to Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” was a good idea, but it unsurprisingly landed with a thud. Whispers—who threw flowers from the stage during the song—prefaced it by saying people always ask him why he does it, when the world isn’t such a great place at the moment. “I mean what a wonderful world it could be,” he said. Watching Whispers lying on his back onstage while an indifferent audience looked on, it was clear this wasn’t going to solve things. [Kyle Ryan]


Most deadpan

Most of the time, Protomartyr frontman Joe Casey looks detached on stage, like his expression would be no different if he were doing his taxes. Dressed in dark pants, a dark blazer, and a dark shirt—and looking less like a toner salesman than he often does—Casey faced the hot early-afternoon temperatures on Saturday with typical impassiveness: “I didn’t dress right.” He stayed laconic through his band’s set, which mixed new material (“Blues Festival” from this year’s split with R. Ring, songs from The Agent Intellect, due out this October) with tracks from last year’s excellent Under Color Of Official Right and 2013’s No Passion All Technique. [Kyle Ryan]

Annual “nice try, stages this close together” award

While the smaller blue stage generally managed to carve out its own space regardless of the acts performing several hundred yards away, Jessica Pratt got the short end of that stick when ILoveMakonnen kicked in on the main stage three or four songs into her set. Her haunting, spare, and ethereally beautiful tunes just couldn’t quite overcome the pulsing bass echoing over our heads. To her credit, she dutifully ignored it (save for an “apologies for my ringtone” joke about the sound), and did her best with nothing but a second guitarist quietly accompanying her affecting music. At a certain point, the gentle lilting melodies lost out to the boom-bap. Hopefully it was enough to get some festival-goers to give her music a listen in the quiet of their own homes. [Alex McCown]


Performance most suited for a right-wing propaganda video

If only the culture-war zealots vying for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination could license footage of A$AP Ferg’s performance Saturday afternoon, they’d be set for scary fund-raising videos. Few things would get nervous conservatives to open their wallets like Ferg bounding around onstage during “Dump Dump”—“I fucked your bitch, nigga! / I fucked your bitch / She sucked my dick, nigga! / She sucked my dick!”—and his DJ punctuating the end of every song with gun-shot sound effects. (Thirty-four people were shot in Chicago over the weekend.) It almost played like a parody of hip-hop excess. That said, translating the atmospheric sound of 2013’s Trap Lord live at an outdoor festival is a tall order. Ferg compensated by emphasizing the beats as much as possible—they hit harder live than they do on record—but it still fell short. Ferg relied too much on hype man Marty Baller and, at least during one song, a backing vocal track to do much of his rapping. It didn’t matter to the crowd that ate it all up, dutifully yelling when Ferg and Baller asked which side was the loudest (and then, naturally, men versus women) and, at one point, crowd-surfing a trashcan up to the stage. A rowdy festival crowd made less inhibited by rain isn’t going to stop and ask, “This is all kind of obvious, isn’t it?” [Kyle Ryan]

Best commingling of A.V. Club interests

Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney dedicating “A New Wave” to Bob’s Burgers’ Tina Belcher. [Kyle Ryan]


Saddest missed connection

Just three weeks ago, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples dropped his fiery debut album Summertime ’06 to tremendous critical acclaim. Suddenly, his innocuous mid-afternoon, second day set became a can’t miss event… except for Staples himself, who never even made it to Chicago. Due to some kind of mechanical failure, Staples found himself stranded in Detroit tweeting his intense displeasure with Delta and his regrets to the Pitchfork crowd for missing out on the festivities. Even had he made it, a torrential downpour that lasted for the entire duration of his slotted time all but guaranteed that the show would never have gone on. [Corbin Reiff]


Best excuse to get ratchet

After the crushing disappointment of Vince Staples’ cancellation and a messy set from A$AP Ferg, it was clear that the muddy folks toughing it out at the Blue Stage were in need of a resuscitation. Luckily, Shamir brought the goods and delivered a dance-heavy performance that was like a second wind, his infectious energy pulsing through the crowd. Going into things, it wasn’t immediately clear how tracks from his debut album (the ridiculously fun Ratchet) would translate, but Shamir’s cheeky blend of pop and R&B was a natural fit for the festival stage. From his unmistakable falsetto to the clanging cowbell, the songs were popping off at full force and the crowd ate it up. By the time he let his hair down and the looping horns of standout “In For The Kill” kicked in, it seemed pretty obvious that we were watching a young pop icon setting course for a successful career. [Cameron Scheetz]

Best mass hypnosis of a crowd

Opening slots on the first day of a festival are tough gigs under the best circumstances. Add close to 100 degree temperatures and a steady stream of people walking past the main field to get to some shade, and it’s well-nigh thankless. Yet Natalie Prass managed to charm a crowd of restless, sweltering people still antsy to explore the grounds into a laid-back collection of swaying fans. Her set kicked off with a sultry torch-song vamp (all she was missing were backup singers crooning “Sha-bop Sha-bop”), and then swung through bouncy upbeat numbers, psychedelia-infused explorations, and even some Ani DiFranco-esque sing-speak sass. Though the music threatened to get a little too generic adult-contemporary at points, her musicianship and charisma transformed a hot outdoor sunny day into the feel of an intimate, smoky nightclub. Rarely has the phrase “mellow grooves” had such a positive connotation for me. [Alex McCown]


Best case for headliner status

Like St. Vincent’s mind-melting outing at last year’s festival, Future Islands made the most of their pre-headliner slot and further solidified themselves as an essential live band. And, similar to Annie Clark’s rock god stage presence, Samuel T. Herring is the band’s howling life force, a singer so emotionally attached to his music that it pours out of him through guttural growls, King Kong-style chest beating, and—holy crap—those dance moves. The hip-swinging and high-kicking kept the energy at insane levels as the band powered through a near perfect set of synth-heavy jams, both old and new. “Seasons (Waiting On You)” was an obvious smash, but new single “The Chase” was the most pleasant surprise, another great track from the band that just takes on a whole new life when performed live. If Future Islands keeps it up, we’ll be seeing them at the top of festival bills in no time. [Cameron Scheetz]


Most in need of a guest list

You can’t hold it against Jamie xx for the lack of special guests during his Sunday set, but, man, it would’ve been incredible to have Young Thug magically appear on stage for their “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” collaboration. And, sure, it’d have been nice to see an xx or two, but this was rightfully Jamie’s moment to shine (he even brought out an oversize disco ball to make that point clear.) He didn’t disappoint in the beats department, encouraging some pockets of dance parties amid the massive crowd, but his laid-back style meant that the show was lacking some momentum. Luckily, his sampler platter of musical influences kept the sounds diversified enough to keep things interesting, from trance to soul to the steel drums of calypso. In the end, it was a good time, I just wish Jamie xx would’ve invited more friends to the party. [Cameron Scheetz]

Most practical stage attire

Caribou came to the stage shortly after Jaime XX reduced the masses to a puddly mess in the Sunday sun. Fortunately, Dan Snaith and company long ago adopted an all-white onstage wardrobe, putting them at an advantage over the heat and the glare. As if to prove they weren’t about to let a stupid celestial body push them around, the band members tucked directly into a marathon version of “Our Love,” its digital wobbling allowing for minimal downtime between Jaime xx’s dance party and their own. And the lack of any light-absorbing colors on the band mean they could maintain the beat well after Snaith sat down to start whacking away at his own drum kit. [Erik Adams]


Most hyper-literate way to close out a Friday night at Pitchfork

People looking for the rock ’n’ roll found it on the blue stage Friday night, fused to Ought’s jittery, verbose set. Singer-guitarist Tim Beeler doubled down on his affected vocal deliveries, blowing up his Lee Ranaldo-meets-Gordon Gano shtick to near-operatic levels of a performance. The band sweated through a short and sweet set of stutter-stop, drone-meets-Fugazi numbers, earning shouts of approval from pogoing kids just hitting their stride. Lyrical references to obscure political movements and artists may have been drowned out by the swagger and distortion, but in the moment, nobody cared. [Alex McCown]

Best understudy

Live performances by The New Pornographers have always been at the mercy of its members’ other commitments: The only time it’s a bad idea to have Neko Case or Dan Bejar in your band is when Case and Bejar are occupied with their own projects. There’s an easy fix when the Destroyer frontman is out (just skip the Bejar songs, a small fraction of the New Pornos’ discography at this point), but a permanent stand-in for the band’s biggest, brassiest voice has proven elusive. A decade after Kathryn Calder first stepped in to take Case’s parts (but then became a full-fledged Pornographer), the band brought another potential keeper to the Green Stage: vocalist-violinist Simi Stone. Together with Calder, Stone filled out the all-important harmonies on New Pornographers classics new (“Backstairs” and “Dancehall Domine,” from 2014’s Brill Bruisers) and old (“The Laws Have Changed,” “The Bleeding Heart Show”). And with bow in hand, she even managed to bring some of the chamber-pop heft of “Moves” to Union Park. [Erik Adams]


Snappiest comeback

You’d think Pitchfork would be the type of festival where a guy could wear makeup and not worry about getting hassled for it. And yet, as Mike Hadreas, a.k.a. Perfume Genius, reported between songs on Sunday, “On my way to the stage, a guy said to wipe off my lipstick.” Hadreas’ response: “And I said ‘No.’ And I could’ve said ‘No’ to him forever.” And by the time Hadreas and band took the synth-blues single “Fool” into its operatic midsection, he was essentially saying “No” in multiple vocal registers, too. [Erik Adams]