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The A.V. Club braved the heat (and an evacuation) for the 2019 Pitchfork Fest

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Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage (Getty Images)

Pitchfork Music Festival was full of surprises this year, not the least of which was in the weather: scorching afternoons gave way to thunderstorm evacuations, then afternoon downpours brought on breezy, sunny evenings. The music side was just as unpredictable, with many performers plagued by sound issues, or, more enjoyably, featuring notable drop-ins from other (often Chicago-based) artists. Below are some of the weekend’s highs and lows.


Most amiable response to the heat

It was a brutal 97 degrees (and felt like 106, according to my phone) on Friday afternoon as Pitchfork 2019 began, but rapper Rico Nasty took to the stage as though it were a cool nightclub, with little more than a “fuck, it’s hot” to acknowledge the sweltering weather. At her first show back in the States after a European tour, her DJ liberally doled out the usual air horn samples and explosions to keep the crowd on their toes, but it wasn’t really needed; the crowd of excitable fans was just happy to see the long-haired artist perform “Smack A Bitch,” “Big Dick Energy,” and other profane tracks with laid-back bravado. [Alex McLevy]

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Most immersive

Julia Holter
Photo: Jackie Lee Young

Julia Holter’s Friday set ignited with a bang, with “Turn The Light On” from last year’s Aviary piercing the soupy air with its rippling, anxious mass of brass, synths, and strings. Holter’s voice, an amorphous powerhouse, yelped and belted beneath it all, no doubt shocking the stoned masses more familiar with the artist’s earlier, dreamier work. Her set exhaled a bit about halfway through, with the baroque piano and swooning melodies of Have You In My Wilderness’ “Sea Calls Me Home” and “Feel You” lulling the crowd into a state of lovely, late afternoon bliss. For anyone whose energy drained with the heat, Holter’s set served as the perfect backdrop for an hour of rest and recharging. [Randall Colburn]


Biggest time warp to 35 years ago

By the time Grapetooth finished its Friday-afternoon set, the already-sweat-drenched crowd was even more so, and not just because it only seemed to get hotter as the day progressed. The duo (who add a drummer for the live set) plays music that sounds like it was recorded in the early ’80s. That time-travel vibe extends to every note of the set list, retro yet ebullient in its old-school dance-pop mindset, albeit with some shout-along vocals to up the energy level. You can’t help but admire singer-guitarist Clay Frankel’s proudly, almost determinedly uncool aesthetic, dressed and dancing like a suburban dad at a 4th Of July picnic playing Jimmy Buffet covers. Despite some technical issues (guest singer Lillie West could barely be heard in the mix), Grapetooth’s party mood made the heat feel alright. [Alex McLevy]

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Best Pitchfork debut that felt like a return appearance

With only one album under her belt, it’s startling to see just how comfortable Soccer Mommy, a.k.a. Sophie Allison, already is in front of a festival crowd. (Touring with heavyweights like Paramore and Kacey Musgraves has probably helped.) The Nashville musician seemed right at home facing the Chicago audience, rocking the Blue Stage like it was a home away from home and winning over even those in the far back of the audience with her slow-churning but compelling set. The opening chords of “Your Dog” were greeted like a long-lost child by the enthusiastic festivalgoers, and the appreciation only increased from there. [Alex McLevy]

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Most impressive display of artistry in front of a sweaty festival crowd

Steve Garrington of Low
Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage (Getty Images)
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If you ever need a reminder of just how tame and predictable 95 percent of all bands are, get yourself to a Low concert. The Minnesota trio took to the stage as the sun began setting on Friday, and delivered a bold and uncompromising set of mostly recent songs as electric and artistically ambitious as anything in town the whole weekend. They maybe played six songs total during their set, because “Do You Know How To Waltz?” exploded into a sonic explosion of drone and feedback that became profoundly cathartic in its upending of expected festival good-time vibes, a masterful demonstration of what deeply committed artists are capable of despite the big-tent setting. God, what a band. [Alex McLevy]

Best Paula Cole tribute

Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim feel like old pros at this point, their headlining set on Friday as tight and vibrant as their stellar live reputation suggests. Still, the hour-plus set packed a handful of firsts. Not only was this Haim’s debut outing as a festival headliner, but it also marked the first time the sisters indulged in, their words, “a sit-down acoustic bit midway through the set.” On stools, the Este-led trio offered up a rare, affecting rendition of “Go Slow” from their 2012 Forever EP (and 2013 debut album Days Are Gone), as well as not one, but two Paula Cole covers. The first, “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” riled up the crowd as you might imagine, but it was the trio’s weepy, faithful take on the singer’s “I Don’t Want To Wait”—the iconic Dawson’s Creek theme song—that united the thousands in attendance in one cathartic, nostalgic singalong. [Randall Colburn]

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Most chaotic (in a bad way)

Sky Ferreira’s been more steeped in the film and TV world than the pop realm of late; her last album Night Time, My Time hit shelves almost six years ago. Anticipation was high, then, for the multi-hyphenate’s Friday set, wherein she’d hopefully premiere a new tune or two. She did (it’s called “Descending” and it sounded great), but not before a litany of technical problems foiled her two previous attempts and the majority of her afternoon set. Fucked mics and uneven levels ate into bangers like “Boys” and “You’re Not The One,” a bummer since this was likely the first time fans have been able to hear them live in a few years. “24 Hours” still delivered, though; not even the fickle festival gods can spoil that kind of perfection. [Randall Colburn]

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Best costumed dance routine

There’s no reason Chai shouldn’t be the biggest band on Earth. The Japanese neo-kawaii act’s inspired fusion of J-pop, punk, and disco is both of the moment and deliciously crowd-pleasing. The bright, matching outfits and cheeky banter could resonate as gimmicky, but the music is anything but. “Fashionista,” “I’m Me,” and “Family Member,” standouts from this year’s excellent Punk, unfold with gusto onstage, retaining their innate cuteness even as the riffs and synths rattled our guts. There’s still room for bits, though—a brief cover of Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” came with a dance routine, as did the set’s epilogue, which found the quartet donning feather-flecked Snuggies for an extended romp. [Randall Colburn]

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Most magnetic

Pusha T
Photo: Michael Hickey (Getty Images)
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Pusha T’s late afternoon Pitchfork set on Friday clashed with that of Soccer Mommy, the burgeoning indie rock act I’d hoped to catch at the festival. Walking to the Blue Stage, however, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the fury of Push’s performance, which, despite containing no real surprises, still ignited the whooping, bouncing audience into a frenzy. I ended up catching a few Soccer Mommy songs, but, the heat draining my energy, the distant, galvanizing thump of cuts from the rapper’s Daytona was a siren song. It was the right choice—Push was locked in tight with the audience, his every declaration of “we ain’t done” drawing roaring approvals. There are few festival pleasures more welcome than the set you can’t ignore. [Randall Colburn]

Most unexpected cover

Saturday began with a raucous, sun-soaked set from Chicago’s Lala Lala, who released one of last year’s best rock albums with The Lamb. Album highlights “Destroyer” and “Water Over Sex” formed the spine of the set, but singer Lillie West (and bassist Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, who played last year’s fest) also gave the crowd a searing cover of Perfume Genius’ “Slip Away” that highlighted the 2017 art-pop hit’s painful, screaming catharsis. The crowd spent, West followed it with “See You At Home,” one of The Lamb’s most thoughtful, lyrically rich cuts. We hung on her every word. [Randall Colburn]

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Best abbreviated set

Perhaps fitting with the band’s punk roots, Parquet Courts had to do a lot in just a little time Saturday, as its set was cut short by the temporary weather evacuation. No matter—the foursome still ran through a list of hits, from the one-two punch of “Master Of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” to the crowd-pleasing “Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience” and “Total Football,” a hoarse, red-faced Andrew Savage yell-singing his lines like he was being chased. After nine songs, when told there was time for just one more, the band got the crowd dancing to “Wide Awake,” off of last year’s album of the same name, before sending them (momentarily) on their way. [Laura Adamczyk]

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Most surprising use of the festival grounds

Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian
Photo: Michael Hickey (Getty Images)
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Having zipped through a faithful, front-to-back rendition of the 1996 album If You’re Feeling Sinister, Belle & Sebastian had some time to spare in their hour-long set on Saturday evening. The band took the opportunity to switch gears from the indie pop for which they’re best known to the synthy disco groove of “The Party Line” off of 2015’s Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. Stuart Murdoch used the dancier tune as an excuse to stretch his legs, as he jumped offstage, skipped down among the audience, and hopped up on the crowd divider to bob and sing. It was hard to tell just how many of the younger festivalgoers had been connecting with the group’s older, gentler material, but Murdoch working the crowd certainly didn’t hurt. [Laura Adamczyk]

Best set to brag to your parents about seeing

Pitchfork rarely books legacy acts as headliners, so we were curious to see how The Isley Brothers would land with the indie crowd during Saturday’s closing slot. It turns out the answer to that is “pretty well.” The trip back through the band’s ridiculously deep catalog, from “Who’s That Lady” to “Footsteps In The Dark,” was a ton of fun, and Ronald and Ernie’s backing band was one of the weekend’s tightest. Still, not even the bedazzled dancers could keep the energy from sagging through the second half of the set. The performance may not have matched the immersive experience of, say, Tame Impala’s Saturday headliner last year, but on the other hand, it was the goddamn Isley Brothers. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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Best literal and figurative smile

“Are you ready to have a nice, sweet time with me?” Tasha asked the Blue Stage crowd by way of introduction. The people were ready, and they did indeed have a nice, sweet time. Despite some noise bleeding through the trees from Black Midi’s set on the Green Stage, the Chicago singer-songwriter still delivered vulnerable lyrics and pretty harmonies along with her three-piece accompaniment, her smile rarely leaving her face, even when the material grew more bare and open, as in the utterly beautiful “Lullaby”: “Black girl, I know how much it hurts / To always prove your worth.” [Laura Adamczyk]

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Best set to smoke up or make out to

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Khruangbin’s set on Sunday was less a series of songs than a single extended mood, and that mood was, Hey, girl, let’s get comfortable. Anything you wanna do is all right by me. With guitarist Mark Speer slowly stalking the stage in a black iridescent suit and Laura Lee dipping and shimmying behind her bass, the Houston psych-funk trio were slinky and cool, the perfect thing to make out to, smoke up to, whatever. With a few bursts of energy via borrowed “Miserlou” and “Apache” riffs, they laid down a low-key groove and kept it there throughout the largely instrumental set, making for a very chill time. [Laura Adamczyk]

Fastest recovery from technical difficulties

By her own words, Neneh Cherry is an “old bitch,” but she “still has some life” in her. Plagued by unwelcome feedback during her Blue Stage set on Sunday, the 55-year-old avant-garde musician ripped out her earpieces and said, “Fuck it, that’s life. This is jazz,” and kept on going. Layering their sound with synth, electric harp, xylophone, hand drums, and effects, she and her backing band started low-key and built up momentum throughout their time onstage, at one point dropping a bass beat so strong that it beat my own heart for me. They finished things up with Cherry’s 1989 hit “Buffalo Stance,” getting everyone to sing along, sound problems be damned. [Laura Adamczyk]

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Most Pitchfork artists on stage at a single time

Whitney, the Chicago folk-soul act who captured the indie zeitgeist (and Elton John’s ear) with 2016’s Light Upon The Lake, used its Sunday set as a gathering place for some of the weekend’s most exciting performers. Fellow festival acts Soccer Mommy, Tasha, Ric Wilson, Lala Lala, and Chai lent their voices to the climax of Whitney’s sepia-toned “Golden Days,” imbuing the single with a tipsy, infectious abandon. The band, returning to the live scene for the first time in a year, went on to tease its upcoming Forever Turned Around with recent singles “Giving Up” and “Valleys (My Love),” as well as striking unreleased tracks “Day & Night” and “Before I Know It.” August 30 can’t come quick enough. [Randall Colburn]

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Best corruptor of innocent youth 

Charli XCX delivered all the hits during her Sunday evening set: “Blame It On Your Love,” “1999,” “Vroom Vroom,” and “Boys,” not to mention Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and her riff on the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” We regret to inform you, however, that the English pop star’s foul-mouthed singles are corrupting today’s youth, as this writer saw a gaggle of pre-teens shouting along as Charli sang, “I blame it on your love/ every time I fuck it up,” each time giggling into their hands while looking to make sure Mom didn’t hear. Of course things got a hell of a lot filthier when Chicago native Cupcakke joined Charli on stage for “Lipgloss,” but it nevertheless remained a perversely adorable sight, a reminder of the ways in which even mainstream pop can feel dangerous when you’re of a certain age. [Randall Colburn]

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Best set to dance on your own to

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Saturday night’s main-stage sequencing of Charli XCX leading into Robyn had Pitchfork seeing double rainbows, and all the queers came to dance. For that reason, it felt like Robyn’s set—which started with Honey’s airier, midtempo material—took a second to get going. In hindsight, of course, it must’ve been Robyn’s plan all along to build slowly to the club catharsis of “Love Is Free” and “Killing Me,” followed by crowd favorites “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend,” by which time the entire park was moving with abandon. In her encore, Robyn thanked Chicago for showing up and giving her the music she grew up on—a sentiment she surely felt radiating back to her from the audience. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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