5 Memorable Moments From Pitchfork Fest 2015 Friday
If you’ll permit me to get self-indulgent here for a second, the Pitchfork Music Festival and I have some history. I was at the first one of these festivals, 10 years ago, when it was still called the Intonation Festival. I’d just started writing for Pitchfork then, and this was the first time I met plenty of people who went on to become lifelong friends. I went to the first seven of the festivals, actually, and it’s always been a highlight of my year. Usually, when music critics write about festivals, we only know a few people there, and it’s a weird and solitary experience. This is one of the few times I get to experience a festival the way the vast majority of people do: Surrounded by friends, running into people I know all the time, often skipping entire sets just because I get into a really good conversation. It’s the best way to do these things.
I’m fairly biased when I say this, but it’s still true: Pitchfork is probably the best-booked, best-run, most generally human-friendly festival I’ve ever attended, which is why I keep coming back. (This is my first of these festivals since I left Pitchfork in 2011, and now I wonder why I didn’t keep go to all of them.) It’s small enough that it’s never overwhelming, and you never have to walk a mile between stages. But it’s big enough that the best moments feel like actual spectacles. The organizers program artists who make sense together, and who are generally at least pretty good live. Some of the artists who play Pitchfork aren’t all over the festival circuit yet, and the ones who are still seem to enjoy it more than a lot of other festivals. And there’s usually space to move around and shade to sit in and little-to-no port-a-potty line. They just know what they’re doing.
This year’s festival started out sedately, with a whole lot of supremely chill artists and virtually no rage-out music. That’ll come later, and a little more of it would’ve honestly been nice. But it made for a pleasant way to ease into what should be a big weekend. Here are some highlights.
Wilco Say "Fuck It" And Play Star Wars Straight Through
Before Thursday, Wilco's headlining set seemed like a fairly perfunctory thing: Local heroes with tons of festival experience show up to play the songs that so many Chicagoans have heard so many times. It turned out to be a different thing entirely. With the surprise release of the free-download album Star Wars, a Wilco festival set was suddenly newsworthy. And, perhaps confident that they weren't going to lose a Chicago crowd that's stuck with them for so long, Wilco opened their set by playing the whole new album front-to-back, only omitting the instrumental intro "EKG." And those new songs already sound like they belong in a Wilco set. They sounded warm and assured, like they've already played these songs a million times. And playing live, without the goofy production touches on the record, Star Wars sounded even better. "So that's Star Wars," said Jeff Tweedy after they got finished with the album closer "Magnetized." They followed it up with nearly an hour of the hits, and they sounded renewed when they did.
Chvrches Hold Down The Cut Copy Spot
Every festival needs a new band like Chvrches: Breezy, accessible dance-poppers who know how to project. The second-from-last spot at this festival, which I've come to think of as the Cut Copy spot because of how great that band was in that place a few years ago, might now be the Chvrches spot. They've got a new album coming out, and it was exciting to hear new tracks "Clearest Blue," "Leave A Trace," and "Make Them Gold," which already sound like they belong in the band's set. But the best part of the set wasn't hearing those songs. It was hearing the ones we already knew, sounding huge and anthemic as the sun set and the day's oppressive heat finally lifted.
Tobias Jesso Jr. Demands Sax-Solo Greatness.
Between songs, Jesso seemed nervous and unsure, rambling and repeatedly cussing out his piano. When he was singing, though, that wasn't a problem. His voice was as warm and crystalline as it is on Goon, his debut album, and now he has a live band that can give his songs the arrangements they need. I believe this was Jesso's first time playing with a big full band, and it sure helped to have a couple of horn players and a violin up there. Best part: During "Can't Stop Thinking About You," Jesso asked for "sexy sax," and his saxophonist responded with a few bars of straight-up smooth-jazz slickness. It sounded ridiculous and also awesome, and everyone onstage seemed to know it.
ILoveMakonnen's Fans-Only Moment
On a day full of low-energy acts, iLoveMakonnen was an anomaly. He was the day's only rapper, and probably also the only act on the bill who makes straight-up party music. And he took the stage with force and confidence, running through just about every notable song in his small catalog, some of them more than once. As soon as he got done with "Tuesday," his sole real hit, most of the crowd dispersed, heading off to other stages. But he followed that one up with probably his best song to date, "I Don't Sell Molly No More." It was his second time doing the song, but it was great seeing the people who weren't just waiting for "Tuesday" rush to the stage, giddy at getting to howl along with it again.
The Prass/Pratt Connection Starts The Day
Natalie Prass and Jessica Pratt don't actually sound anything like each other. Prass makes warm, jazzy, heavily orchestrated pop-soul, while Pratt makes quiet, spectral folk. But they both make relaxing music, they both released albums on the same day, and they both have almost the same last name. So at least in my brain, the two are inextricably intertwined. And maybe the same is true of Pitchfork's organizers, who booked the two of them to play practically back-to-back. Prass opened one of the two main stages, making for an extremely pleasant introduction to the weekend. And after Prass (and a spacey, improv-heavy Ryley Walker set), Pratt brought her hushed sound to the third stage. Both probably work better in small clubs, where you can focus attention. Here, they were both more or less background music for thousands of conversations, Pratt especially. But they were great background music.