Some 40-plus acts take the stage in Chicago’s Union Park this weekend, many of whom put out some of The A.V. Club’s favorite albums of 2018 and 2019 (so far). Which means that, even if Pitchfork is one of the city’s more manageable high-profile summer fests, there’s more great music to hear than humanly possible. Below we’re highlighting some of our most-anticipated sets once things kick off Friday afternoon, sweltering heat be damned. Check back on Monday for a recap of how it all went.
Earl Sweatshirt had to cancel his appearance at last year’s fest at the very last minute, which bummed us out but inadvertently blessed us with the chance to see Tierra Whack instead when she replaced him on the lineup. Later in 2018, Earl’s dense, searching third album, Some Rap Songs, became one of our favorites of the year, and his set this Friday will likely be heavy on that material, easing into the weekend with dusty, hypnotic loops.
5:15 p.m., Red Stage
Sophie Allison’s debut record as Soccer Mommy was full of potent, slow-churn imagery and sounds, one of our favorite indie albums of last year and an addictive listen. But all those near-whispered melodies and moments of stillness should be magnified to a wrenching intensity in a festival setting, as her achingly personal music gets filtered through speakers that can blast even the rawest intimacies of her music back into the cheap seats. Plus, she’s got a few rockers that absolutely kill live.
6:30 p.m., Blue Stage
Hometown hero Mavis Staples has been lighting up Chicago with her voice ever since she was a kid singing gospel in South Side churches with her family group The Staple Singers. Throughout her decades-long career, she’s been honored by the Grammys, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and the Blues Hall Of Fame, and more recently has collaborated with such indie acts as Arcade Fire and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Best known for the soulful, feel-good classics “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” Staples is the perfect act to enjoy in the warm, waning light of another beautiful day in the City In A Garden.
7:25 p.m., Red Stage
It’s a rare band that delivers arguably the most experimental album of its career 25 years in, but that’s what happened last year with Double Negative, Low’s sonic dive into electronic trickery and tape distortion magic. It was a technical achievement that was nonetheless tough to emotionally connect with at times, so the live setting is a perfect opportunity to see the band work these new tracks into its usual heartbreakingly intimate set.
7:45 p.m., Blue Stage
As in years past, Pitchfork has saved each day’s opening slot for a hometown act, and this Saturday belongs to adopted Chicagoan Lillie West. With Lala Lala’s sophomore album, last year’s The Lamb, West put forth a cohesive statement of moody guitar-driven angst and vulnerability, making 2019 the ideal time to introduce her act to a larger audience. Her take on dark, slowed-down grunge is just the thing to get heads gently bobbing, warming up the crowd for another day in the sun.
1 p.m., Green Stage
L.A. wunderkind Jay Som makes peppy, peripatetic bedroom pop that remains intimate despite the depth of its influences, which encompass rock, shoegaze, R&B, and a healthy dose of studio pop. Her sound is clearer and brighter on the lead singles from her upcoming sophomore effort, Anak Ko, with “Superbike” riding loose strums into an ecstatic chorus and “Tenderness” turning the tinny pops of a drum machine into an enveloping R&B jam.
4 p.m., Blue Stage
Parquet Courts have never had trouble getting a crowd to move in the past, and coming off of last year’s rousing Wide Awake!, the Brooklyn punk quartet could stir up even more energy than usual. The combustible “Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience” pushes lead singer Andrew Savage’s shout-singing to nearly breaking, while the cathartic “Freebird II” has a sing-along already built in. Even with the occasional comedown song sprinkled in, the set could very well be the most raucous hour of the festival (except for Belle & Sebastian, of course).
4:15 p.m., Green Stage
It’s a year of looking back for Stereolab, who is spending 2019 reissuing all seven albums from its first decade of existence on Elektra Records. For fans, it’s a chance to re-experience the iconic European art-pop group’s back catalog for the current tour; expect to hear some of its signature krautrock-meets-lounge grooves stretching all the way back to 1993’s Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements. Fair warning: The French-English band has a tendency to get the restrained-swaying dance party started.
6:15 p.m., Green Stage
In their 60 years together, The Isley Brothers have made an immeasurable impact on popular music; their songs continue to be sampled and studied by each new generation. And as Pitchfork 2019’s banner legacy act, they’re going to throw a big ol’ party Saturday night to celebrate that fact. Expect the music to be impossibly smooth and, as with Chaka Khan’s set last year, the crowd to know every single word.
8:30 p.m., Green Stage
Chicago songwriter Tasha describes her chill, snappy tunes as “bed songs,” and described last year’s lovely Alone At Last as a celebration of “the radical political act of being exquisitely gentle with yourself.” One couldn’t really ask for more from a midday set on what’s sure to be a warm, sunny day—placid, comforting tracks like “Kind Of Love” and “Alright” sing like soft gusts of wind on overworked, overheated souls.
2:45 p.m., Blue Stage
Whitney’s sunny jams persevered long after they were introduced via 2016’s Light Upon The Lake, thanks in no small part to a cosign from Elton fucking John. The band’s lush new singles—“Giving Up” and “Valleys (My Love)”—sound of a piece with its previous work, with spritely plinks of piano and a blooming brass section giving heft to drummer Julien Ehrlich’s sun-dappled falsetto. As always, though, it’s the nimble, angular guitar work of Max Kakacek that provide the most striking textures.
6:15 p.m., Green Stage
Lindsey Jordan’s riffs aren’t exactly ferocious, but they’re certainly powerful. Her excellent debut album from last year made a strong case for the new artist as one of the better purveyors of mid-’90s indie guitar pop, hitting a sweet spot between gentle grooves and just-crunchy-enough distortion to elevate the material, as though Belly had run smack into a modern-day Bandcamp confessional singer. Live, Jordan promises to kick those tunes into overdrive with a loose energy not captured on record.
7:45 p.m., Blue Stage
Nobody puts on a show like Robyn. The influential Swedish pop singer is known for her ecstatic, full-body performances, dancing her ass off from set start to finish and seemingly exorcising all of her emotional energy on stage. Her festival closer on Sunday night, then, is a must-see. Her latest album, 2018’s excellent Honey, was only nine tracks long, meaning there’s a ton of room for songs from Body Talk and earlier to work their way into the setlist. And Robyn likes to mix things up, so count on a few of those arriving via fresh new remixes, too.
8:30 p.m., Green Stage