As the sun went down Sunday evening at Union Park, the seventh annual Pitchfork Music Festival came to a close after a long, hot day packed with music that was, nearly without exception, exceptional. While we're not going to say the beastly temperatures and aggressive sunlight may have caused some artists to bring their "A" game, there's probably a strong argument to be made for some sort of correlation.
Either way, compared to both day one and day two of the festival, Sunday's lineup was probably one of the more diverse and strongest one-day showings this writer can recall over the course of the last four festivals. From the cooing softness of How to Dress Well in the early afternoon to the unforgiving brashness of HEALTH in the evening, the music covered a lot of ground, genre-wise, and festival organizers did about as well as could be expected in attempting to lessen the impact of the day's brutal weather. The price of water was reduced from $2 to $1, hand fans (at least partially thanks to the Between Friends-led anti-violence coalition) were readily available and no major heat-related problems were observed.
Sunday, also, was far and away the most notable in terms of the performers' hair, which was, in many cases, very long, varying degrees of straight and varying shades of brown, black or (in the case of Twin Sister's Andrea Estella) seafoam green. It was a "whip my hair" sort of day, particularly for the day's (festival's?) most singularly entertaining performer, HEALTH's bassist John Famiglietti.
Below is our final dispatch from the festival, in addition to a real whopper of a photo and video gallery from the day's festivities. Have thoughts on your own personal highlights from Sunday or the festival as a whole? Moments that we missed? Let us know by leaving a comment.
After a slow, hiccupy Blue Line commute toward Union Park, I again missed the opening pair of sets, but I made it onto the festival grounds just in time to catch the majority of Yuck's Red stage set. While these bands are a bit of British youngsters, their music rightfully draws comparisons to any number of mostly American alternative bands who thrived in the '80s and early '90s. Most of the band wasn't even alive when Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth were first releasing albums. Despite wearing these influences on their sleeves, the band does, however, bring a unique and adept edge to their live performance, particularly on songs like the yearning, anthemic "Rubber," and were a fantastic way for festival-goers to pass some time lying in the shade and easing into the event's final day.
Speaking of ease, Tom Krell, a.k.a. Brooklyn R&B artist How to Dress Well, provided an even softer listening experience for those festival goers looking to pace their energy output throughout Sunday. Playing the Blue stage, Krell left his small audience transfixed by his soulful, androgynous, not-of-this-earth voice, which was accompanied by a mini-string section and piano. Though obviously not providing the sort of sound that lends itself best to an outdoor festival setting, Krell managed just fine to carve out a niche for himself in his airy, almost sublime set. By the time he concluded with a cover of Janet Jackson's 1993 hit "Again," it was clear he'd won over fans among onlookers with even the hardest of hearts.
After Krell lulled all who watched his set into blissful calm, Kurt Vile and the Violators turned the energy notch up expectedly high during their Red stage set. While much of Vile's recorded music skews toward the sleepy, headphones listening experience, in the festival setting, Vile came alive, singing and strumming hurriedly while a large fan pointed at his face blew his impressive mane around him. The experience bordered, very unexpectedly, on transcendent.
Back over on the Blue stage, curiosity attracted this writer to get a quick flavor of Twin Sister's set. Maybe it was because the heat may have been keeping some people away from rushing the stages, waiting (instead) in the water bubbler line for up to a half hour in some cases, but the sound generally at the festival's side stage was much better throughout Sunday compared to the festival's previous two days. The Brookyn band's weird-psych-disco-folk sounded downright fabulous, as some danced and others simply stood in constant marvel at lead singer Andrea Estella's aforementioned, waist-length sea foam green hair (which I'm thinking was most definitely a wig, after getting a closer look later near the press tent). Major props to the band for keeping the energy level high throughout.
Next, I begrudgingly headed over to the Red stage to, like many others I would imagine, "see what would happen" when the young festival's most controversial booking to date, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) took to the Red stage shortly after they reportedly delivered cupcakes to the Between Friends booth (and the collective's leader Tyler the Creator tweeted, "Went And Gave The People Who Don't Like Us Some Cupcakes." The result? Aside from an endless stream of "smack you, b*tch"s and "f*ck everyone"s and some impressive crowd surfing, it was a set that was far tamer than expected. It was also a set that was entirely dependent on the "shock" value of obscenities, shellacked with a whole lot of physical theatrics that began to feel gimmicky, the sort of which likely contributed to Tyler being in a leg cast. Honestly, after four songs, I was disappointed: I'd expected something more shocking, or at least surprising, from those who claim to have cornered that market at the moment.
Offering up hip-hop of an entirely different variety were Shabazz Palaces over on the Blue stage. After spending quite a bit of time sorting through some sound issues, they began their set and, only one song in, they dropped more "f*ggot" bombs than Odd Future had in the entire first half of their set which, admittedly, was far more entertaining than the preceding act.
While too far away from the stage to decipher the ever-important, oft-overlooked lyrical context, I found it interesting that no one was calling out this collective on what appeared on the surface as comparably questionable content. Why throw one band under the bus and give another a pass when the issue at hand is a far larger than one act alone? The Between Friends coalition did a fabulous job of not laying the blame directly on Odd Future's shoulders, but the vast majority of media accounts of the controversy failed, and continue to fail, at placing the issue into its appropriate context.
Despite all the hype, when it comes to the award for shellacked theatricality or generally raising the most stink, however, Odd Future will need to settle for a red ribbon in these categories. If that's the sort of musical path they want to continue to go down in their live show, they could stand to learn a thing or 10 from Ariel Pink's late afternoon set on the Green stage. While beginning coherently enough, alongside his Haunted Graffiti band, the set quickly unraveled. At one point Pink was flipping off the audience. At another, he seemed to get his microphone stuck in his long, scraggly, dishwater blonde hair. He sat on the floor, with his head down almost as though he was preparing for a tornado to touch down. At one moment, he struggled for several minutes to light a cigarette while stumbling through some indiscernible lyrics. Finally, out of nowhere, he reportedly stormed off the stage, cutting the set at least 15 minutes short. Diva, please. While Pink's latest release, last year's Before Today, was arguably brilliant, it's far wiser to leave the histrionics to the young guns who don't have another means of generating buzz.
Having lost patience with Pink's set, I headed to the shady Blue stage to take in 21-year-old electronic musician Will Wiesenfeld (a.k.a. Baths)'s set. His euphoric, sampled sounds-heavy music and energetic live performance likely attracted a large number of new fans who had also grown tired of Pink's big-stage hissy fit. On songs like "Animals," he had the entire audience bopping, dancing and nodding along to their every turn. Other electro pop/fill-in-the-blank wave acts take note: This is how you put together a live performance that engages and enthralls. This set was almost certainly among Sunday's high points.
At this point, spending much of the day running around the grounds in the sun, I took some time to have a seat, hunt down some grub and check in at the press tent. I watched Vile play with his hair while chain smoking during several interviews. I watched the Yucksters chat it up with our friends over at Chicagoist. And, most importantly, I stocked up on some bottled water for the night's conclusion.
Unfortunately, during that time, I missed a big chunk of both Superchunk and the festival's token metal act Kylesa's sets, though, from the bits and pieces I heard, these were some very, very commendable sonic efforts as well.
Deerhunter's set on the Greek stage, beginning at 6:15 p.m., was another of the festival's high points. No strangers to live performance at this point, the Atlanta, Ga.-based band, and especially singer Bradford Cox, has managed to grow from art rock obscurity to verge on wider, arena appeal -- all without losing a punk sensibility along the way. "He Would Have Laughed," off their latest album, Halcyon Digest, sounded chillingly beautiful.
I pulled myself away from Deerhunter to catch a bit of Toro y Moi's Blue stage set and, honestly, their brand of chilly disco was a bit too chilly for the sort of music I was hoping to see. This time, though, I don't think sound concerns were to blame for this set not leaving much of an impact.
Then it was time for Sunday's trio of night- and festival-ending acts. Up first were Australian synth-popsters Cut Copy. While their first two albums -- 2004's Bright Like Neon Love and 2008's In Ghost Colours -- were exceptionally dance-y, it sounded (based on the first several songs they played), the wonders from down under are veering toward standard-issue arena rock on their latest release. One song in particular sounded like their take on an Arcade Fire gem -- just sped up slightly. Another ("Where I'm Going") had a chorus that Black Eyed Peas would find trite. It wasn't until their set offered up some older hits that they seemed to get the audience really moving. Definitely not my jam, though others seemed to be having the times of their lives out there.
In need of a different sort of performance energy, it was back over to see the Blue stage's final act: HEALTH. Much like No Age, their buds from LA's The Smell-centric punk scene, these guys did not at all disappoint with their chanty, noisy, bass-intensive, explosive sound. Sticking mostly to some of their biggest hits like "Crimewave" and "Nice Girls," they got a solid mosh pit going and provided a much-needed jolt before the festival's final headliners took to the stage -- some songs even had a nice dance beat going on. While they are clearly of a more limited appeal to the average concertgoer, their energy level could not be denied and they held their own against the headlining talent competing on the bigger stages.
Finally, it all wrapped up with TV on the Radio's Green stage set, which sounded very on point from the back of the large crowd assembled to watch the Brooklyn band, whose set even reportedly included a cover of Fugazi's "Waiting Room."
Since I'm more a fan of commutes that don't resemble post-apocalyptic Hollywood scenes, I headed off the festival grounds a bit early, but not before passing by the Whole Foods tent where one attendant's call of "Everything's free!" initiated a panicked, primal dive among all those passing by for packages of various mayonnaise-based salads and any remaining, wilting flowers.
Day three trendspotting: As the festival's hottest day, Sunday's fashions were predictably skimpier, and we saw a wide proliferation of undersized rompers on women and shredded-to-spagetti-straps tank tops or otherwise unfortunately cropped tops on men and women alike. Fewer babies-wearing-designer-headphones today, but still many children were exposed to the overbearing heat due to their parents' unwillingness or inability to hire a sitter or resist indoctrinating their child's future musical taste, apparently.
Three highs: Deerhunter, Baths, HEALTH. Three lows: Cut Copy, Ariel Pink, back sweat.
Like what you heard at the festival and want to relive the sun-drenching memories with some free tunes? Check out eMusic's Pitchfork sampler.