The 10 Best Things At Pitchfork Music Festival 2013

Max Herman

The 10 Best Things At Pitchfork Music Festival 2013

Max Herman

This past weekend, Chicago’s Union Park played host to Pitchfork Music Festival. The two-and-a-half-day event was packed tight with performances from the indiesphere’s current marquee artists and its icons. But it wasn’t just music — there was also a large fair offering crafts, handmade wares, and records; a mini-festival of print posters (a lust item for any huge music fan); and a book tent boasting independently published materials that also featured a reading from an array of music writers, including Stereogum weekend editor Liz Pelly.

The performances ranged from gods of heavy, Swans, to luminary Brit punks Wire, to the Breeders playing their classic Last Splash in its entirety, to Blood Orange covering Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing” a few hours before Ferreira would take that same stage, to Chicago rap upstart Tree stealing the show, to Lil’ B bringing his based philosophy to the Midwest — he literally said “R.I.P. to all your loved ones” at the end of his set. The weekend was diverse. Here are the 10 best things that happened.


09. Flatstock

The Flatstock poster show is its own special place within Pitchfork. This is where you can find the best merch of the weekend, as many of the artists displaying work have been commissioned to design for bands for that weekend. The savviest designers, though, just went rogue, and riffed on the endlessly quotable R. Kelly. Burlesque Of North America, for instance, were shilling packs of 24-stickers festooned with Kells's face and punchiest lyrics, and T-shirts of Kells adorned in Paul Stanley's KISS makeup -- with the word PISS in the band's signature typeface.


08. M.I.A.'s Dance Moves

Before she became a divisive pop presence, M.I.A. was a film student in Philadelphia who was deep into the city's DJ culture. And while her origin story is buried beneath the controversial interviews, polarizing lyrics, and her own sheer magnitude as musician, her live show is rooted in her roots. With a team of booty-popping backup dancers, M.I.A. provided a blueprint for breaking it down to her music (and just how much legwork is necessary to do so). She was doing so much eagle work, at points, she would have to sit down on the stage just to continue rapping. The few instances in which she had her DJ shut off a song mid-performance were disorienting, but she looked like she was having so much fun dropping it to the stage floor, it outweighed those blips.


07. Joanna Newsom's Quiet Storm

On Friday night, Björk's set was cut short as distant lightning approached Union Park. It seems entirely possible Joanna Newsom's bewitching set lured in the electricity. What made her gentle performance so enchanting was not the weird girl whimsy she infuses into all her music, but that she maintained her sparse arrangements when performing for a crowd whose own noise could have devoured her set. When you can hush a festival crowd at the end of the day, you're a special kind of badass. 


06. Chairlift Opens With Opera

Chairlift's Caroline Polachek is a beacon of hidden talent. Last year, we learned of her acting range in the interactive, choose-your-own-adventure clip for "Met Before." We also learned that she's fluent in Japanese when Chairlift released an alternate-language version of "I Belong In Your Arms." But instead of kicking off their Sunday set with one of those Something hits, they opened with synth static and Polachek blowing away everyone with a full operatic vocal glow. Bonus points for making a full sea-foam ensemble look super chic.


05. Rustie's Rain Rave

Saturday night was primarily about indie-pop royalty Belle & Sebastian, but tucked away from the big stages was the Blue Tent, hosting a slew of smaller artists, as well as playing home to most of the weekend's rappers and DJ set. Glasgow DJ Rustie maintained a positive crowd as the most invasive rain of the weekend drenched the park. No matter. Cuts from his phenomenal 2011 release Glass Swords, as well as like-minded rap tracks (with a heavy presence of Danny Brown cuts) kept the crowd euphoric, as if the weather was all part of the party.


04. El-P And Killer Mike Perform Together As Run The Jewels

Without a doubt, the entire weekend was pregnant with anticipation for Sunday night's closing set from R. Kelly, performing hits in his hometown, but El-P and Killer Mike were the secret kings of the weekend. Their afternoon sets, mere hours before Kells made it rain on Union Park, waffled from being a church-like, love-filled experience -- Killer Mike talking to the crowd about spirituality, protecting one another, and how he and his wife attend Sunday service but also go to strip clubs together -- to El-P's solo snarls into a vicious shared set of songs from the duo's collaborative album Run The Jewels. After El performed "The Full Retard," he ducked backstage so he and Mike could walk out together to George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone." The chemistry evident on the album, as well as on Mike's R.A.P. Music, is just as potent on stage, but it wasn't just their stage show that made them marquee members of the festival line-up. The duo also had their own beer, brewed by Chicago's Goose Island, on tap. 


03. Mac DeMarco's Covers Medley

Canada's scuzz-pop king Mac DeMarco closed his Friday-afternoon set with a grip of covers. He and his band ran through Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care Of Business," a punky rendition of the Beatles' "Black Bird," some of Limp Bizkit's stress bomb "Break Stuff," with Metallica's "Enter Sandman" as the conclusion. It would have been a perfect raucous ascension to end his set, but he chose to leave on the sweetest note of the festival, pulling his girlfriend onto the stage with him before performing "Still Together," an ode to enduring romance. As if nuzzling her before kicking off the cut weren't "aww"-inspiring enough, he hoisted her atop his shoulders and held her up there, as he "oooh"-ed out the last hook. Love is pretty cool, guys.


02. The Incredibly Strong Presence Of Women On The Bill

A recent slew of articles and op-eds have taken festival-booking culture to task for the dearth of women headliners and performers booked, but the female presence at Pitchfork was strong. From icons like Björk and the Breeders to White Lung and Waxahatchee, Solange and Sky Ferreira, as well as Angel Olsen, Julia Holter, and more, women dominated the weekend. It would have been nice to see the already minor rap presence have some girl blood -- especially in a city touting Sasha Go Hard, Chella, and Katie Got Bandz -- but this lineup was a great lesson in balance.


01. R. Kelly's Slow Jams

Amrit's recap of R. Kelly's Bonnaroo performance is almost to a tee how his Pitchfork set played out. He, sadly, did not descend from the sky in a cherry-picker to start the show, but there were dove balloons, a choir, and even his "riff" about how he was asked not to curse (which, duh, Aziz Ansari has a whole routine about this part of Kelly's live show, so the spoilers have already been out there) and that he performs with no breaks. But knowing these things was of no consequence. And while a large chunk of the crowd was amped most for "Ignition (Remix)" or "I'm A Flirt" -- and, seemingly, it was just true Chicagoans going in for "Thoia Thoing" and the like -- Kells was at his best when he was crooning. His passion is palpable, especially when he's asked the crowd to sing along with every part of Ciara's "Promise" -- and you feel like you're her -- or when he mashes "Down Low" and its remix together and there's no way Ron Isley isn't going to retreat from the heavens to perform it with him. Kelly may have demons that trail him, but you can tell that when he's performing, he's only making music because he wants it to make the world a better place. I don't know anyone who didn't cry when the bird-balloons were relinquished into the sky during his "I Believe I Can Fly" finale.

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