Festival Review: Pitchfork Music Festival

pmf-chicago-poster-preview

This year was the first year I finally decided to go to Pitchfork. I’ve always had interest in the festival, as they tend to get some of the best up and coming acts to perform and have had big names in the past like Carly Rae Jepsen, LCD Soundsystem and even snagged Chance the Rapper a few years ago.

I had always been a little anxious about the idea of attending Pitchfork from my own insecurities. To try to say this as non-offensively as possible, I went to college with a lot of people (cough cough, Pitchfork’s primary demographic) who I have never really gotten along with and who, for the most part, tend to be a little elitist and snobby about music taste. I know it’s a HUGE judgment from me and I think finally attending the festival and feeling comfortable has changed my perception on it, but it really has stopped me from going to the festival in the past.

After contemplating purchasing a one-day ticket for Friday or Saturday for this year’s festival, I decided to go with Saturday. There were a handful of artists I was really interested in checking out and it was easier to attend a festival over the weekend rather than taking time off of work. 

The artists on my list to see where Nilüfer Yanya, Girlpool, Blood Orange and Fleet Foxes. I ended up seeing all but the first – Nilüfer played just a tad earlier than my arrival time (around 4pm), but she’s only just starting to blow up and I’m sure she’ll be returning to Chicago for her own show incredibly soon. I would highly suggest listening to her stuff, she has an incredible voice! 

Upon arrival, we decided to walk around and explore a bit. Since I had never been to the festival, everything was new to me. I’m used to Lollapalooza and not much changes from year to year there, so going to a new festival in Union Park (located on Chicago’s west side), there was much to explore.

There were lots of things for sale aside from general Pitchfork merchandise, including clothing, jewelry, artwork – all sorts of things you would expect to see at a craft fair. It was all localized in one area of the festival, which was nice and easy to maneuver through. You could even talk to a staff member about the festival and why you decided to come for 10 minutes and make $20 off of it. I’m still kicking myself for not taking advantage of this. Alas, next year.

After a bit more wandering, we went to the green stage (the main stage at PItchfork. There are three: green being the biggest and blue the smallest) to check out the last half of Moses Sumney’s set. Sumney is a indie rock/soul artist who has performed along the likes of the Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent and Local Natives. His debut album, Aromanticism, was critically acclaimed following its 2017 release and was called “bold, exquisite, and dreamlike” by Pitchfork’s Jason King, who gave the album an 8.6/10.

I always think that an NPR Tiny Desk concert is a great way to understand an artist’s sound, so check this one out below:

I have only heard a handful of songs by Sumney but was extremely intrigued by his unique sound and was very curious to see what he was about. We ended up taking a seat pretty far back from the main stage on the grass, where lots of people were relaxing (some even napping) and I had an extremely hard time hearing the audio. It was really unfortunate because I’ve heard some incredible things about Moses – and this wasn’t his first time performing at Pitchfork (which says a lot). For the moments I could hear clearly, I enjoyed the performance. It was very mellow and laid-back and I had a hard time really getting immersed in it because of the bad audio quality, but it seemed like the people in the front of the crowd were enjoying it.

Next up: Girlpool. I have listened to Girlpool on and off for awhile but like I’ve said in posts before, it’s next to impossible to listen to all of the music all of the time, and Girlpool is one that has often slipped through the cracks for me. So when I saw they were playing on Saturday, it was another reason to buy a ticket. Girlpool is an indie rock band comprised of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. Their first EP was self-released on Bandcamp in 2014 and have since released albums via Wichita Recordings and Anti- two labels home to artists like Bright Eyes and Japandroids (who played Pitchfork on Sunday this year).

Girlpool relies heavily on the indie rock genre while still being able to harmonize on par with bands like First Aid Kit – an interesting combination that is not as prevalent in the genre. There were lots of  indie/alternative acts with female vocals on the Pitchfork bill this year like Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, Courtney Barnett and more, but I hadn’t had a chance to see one yet on Saturday so I knew I had to get my fix with Girlpool.

I enjoyed the 40 minute set by Girlpool. They have a very interesting aggressive yet soft quality to their music that really comes together. However, I have to admit that I was left a little unsatisfied as they didn’t play a couple of my favorite tracks – tracks that also happen to have some of the highest streams on Spotify. They left “Cut Your Bangs” and “Before The World Was Big,” two songs I was sure that they would sing live. Maybe next time!

Side note: I did not realize before writing this post that one half of the Girlpool duo, Cleo, has recently came out as transgender and identifies with them/they pronouns. You can read about their story via Vice.

I headed back to the main stage to check out Blood Orange, whose music I’ve been very interested in for years. Dev Hynes is the brains behind the artist, has written and produced music for well-known acts like Solange, Carly Rae Jepsen and Haim, to name a few. I have never been too heavily involved in Hynes’ discography under Blood Orange, but have never heard a song of his that I disliked. I knew his style was going to be different than anyone else I had seen perform at Pitchfork that day (I can’t think of two sounds more opposite than Blood Orange and Fleet Foxes).

Despite not knowing every single song that he performed, I felt encapsulated by his energy and his ability to maintain the crowd’s attention from start to end. I usually have a hard time staying involved in sets when I don’t know the songs, it’s just something that I’m not the best at, but I felt extremely into it from start to end. It was definitely one of my favorite sets I’ve seen in 2018 so far. I loved hearing “Best To You,” probably my favorite song from Blood Orange and one of their most popular tracks. It sounded even better live.

After Blood Orange, we grabbed dinner and chilled out before Fleet Foxes. The food and drinks are reasonably priced at Pitchfork – all beer is $6 and I got a double cheeseburger for $7. Next up was some time to sit in the grass to hear a bit of The War On Drugs – a band that I can only classify as dad-rock and a Bruce Springsteen-esque group of dudes. Their music was essentially interchangeable. I had seen some of their live performance at Boston Calling a few years ago and it’s not really my cup of tea, but they are very talented. I just felt like the entire 25-30 minutes I saw them sing was just hearing one long song, nothing felt different from another, etc. But I can’t deny that they are very talented.

Finally, the act I was most excited for: Fleet Foxes! I had seen FF perform at the Chicago Theater last year on my 23rd birthday (which was as magical as it sounds) but something about seeing them again at Pitchfork just got me incredibly excited. They opened with one of my favorite tracks – “Grown Ocean,” and I knew that it was just going to be an emotional mess onward. Although they managed to play only TWO songs from Helplessness Blues – which is my favorite album of theirs (by a LONG SHOT), I enjoyed the performance probably more than I did at the Chicago Theater. Fleet Foxes is critiqued as being boring live, but I think that’s only applicable if you’re not too familiar with their music. Robin Pecknold is a phenomenal vocalist and sounds just as strong live as he does in-studio.

The majority of the set featured songs from their latest release, Crack-Up, and fan favorites like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Mykonos.” The third to last track, “Helplessness Blues,” came and went so fast it was like I didn’t even hear it, probably because I was so absolutely entranced in it. I’ve loved that song as much as any other on the album, but hearing it live again was like hearing it for the first time ever, I still have all these feelings thinking about getting to hear it live just two days ago.

One of these days, Fleet Foxes WILL play Montezuma live for me (my favorite song that I haven’t heard them sing live after two times). Some day.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend attending Pitchfork if you never have. It’s reasonably priced (I paid $88 for one day and it’s only $175 for three days) and it’s very contained and has a relaxing, laid-back, casual atmosphere. If you’re overwhelmed by a festival as big as Lollapalooza, this is a beautiful alternative.

I’m seeing Sylvan Esso tomorrow, then Lollapalooza next weekend. Many exciting things ahead!

– Krisitn

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