When it came time for her set, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast practically jumped her way on stage. Her undeniable energy was also exhibited in her outfit, consisting of a long-sleeved racing top, sparkly skirt, and space-buns hairstyle. Originating from Philadelphia, Zauner showcased her multi-instrumentalist abilities by switching from guitar to synths to just vocals throughout the show. Backing her up was her band, consisting of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer who provided vocals at times. The set was a good mix of Zauner’s dark, dreamy tracks (“Heft,” “Boyish,” “The Body Is a Blade”) contrasting with her happier, synth-driven songs (“The Woman That Loves You,” “Everybody Wants to Love You,” “Machinist”) that proved perfect for dancing. The band also surprised the audience with a hard-rock cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries at the end of their set, resulting in an entire-crowd sing along.
“Chicago! Wassup wassup wassup WASSUP?!” were the first words out of Noname’s mouth as she took her place on the Red stage. Announcing that she was “a little bit high,” Noname first played some new tracks off of her upcoming album, words coming out of her mouth faster than one could comprehend them. However, she soon stopped, saying that she had smoked too much and thus forgot the lyrics. After playing her hit “Diddy Bop” off of 2016’s Telefone, she stopped her set to ask for the photographers to clear out of the photo pit before continuing on with her set, rapping her verses on Smino’s “Amphetamine” and Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable.” Throughout her set, Noname enjoyed using the audience to enhance her music, having them adlib various “oo’s” and playing some call and response games. For her last two tracks, Noname played “Forever,” during which Ravyn Lenae (who had performed at the fest earlier that day) and Joseph Chilliams came out. This was followed directly with “Shadow Man,” during which Saba and Smino (both performers at the fest as well) contributed their verses. Despite some hiccups, with Noname’s guest appearances and conversational demeanor, her performance had the crowd swelling with Chicago pride.
(Sandy) Alex G and his band members walked on the Blue stage to the tune of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway,” giving their set an ironic start. However, it soon got serious as singer Alex Giannascoli led the band’s moody instrumentals with his soft, melancholy vocals. After playing through “Forever,” “Proud,” and “Bobby,” which the crowd chanted and swayed along to accordingly, Giannascoli welcomed Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast on stage to sing “Brite Boy” with him. Harder songs such as “Brick” and “Horse,” played toward the end of their set, started a mosh pit in the middle of the crowd, but by “Sportstar,” the audience’s eyes were once again glued to the stage, bodies swaying along. After the last chords of “County” rang out, the crowd immediately demanded “One more song!” most likely because the band never played their most popular track, “Mary.” This was enough to get Giannascoli back on stage, but only to scream “HEY, SHUT UP! WE CAN’T DO ONE MORE SONG!” before mumbling a meek “Thank you” and exiting for good.
Although Japandroids are only two men strong – Brian King on guitar and vocals and David Prowse on drums – they built a wall of sound during their set at the Blue stage. Opening with “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” off of their 2017 album of the same name, the crowd began moshing and singing along immediately. King’s speak-singing and Prowse’s insane drumming skills made for the perfect environment for this. After playing straight through “International” and “Heart Sweats,” King announced that “The boys are back in fucking town!” and then dedicated “Younger Us” to their original Chicago fans. Basically every song in their set was melded together with seamless transitions and formidable breakdowns and builds, making it an exciting listening experience. Naturally, they ended their show with “The House That Heaven Built,” inspiring several crowd surfers and lots of head nodding.
Stopping at Pitchfork during her 20th anniversary tour of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ms. Lauryn Hill made sure that everyone was aware of her star power. Dressed in a wedding gown with a collared shirt over top and asymmetrical makeup, Hill sang through every song on the album, even though it meant going nearly 30 minutes over when her set was supposed to end. Her band consisted of a brass section, guitarist, bassist, drummer, two keyboardists, a hype man, and three backup singers with matching outfits down to their shoes. Perhaps the climax of her set was “Forgive Them Father,” during which videos of police brutality played on the monitor and Hill broke down crying. Also notable was when the cameras flashed to Chance the Rapper singing his heart out during “Nothing Even Matters,” drawing a large response from the crowd. Although Hill appeared to be having issues with her mic stand as well as her band – she kept on pointing to certain members and requesting that things be turned down or adjusted – nothing could stop her set from being as meaningful as it was. Before playing her hit “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill made a speech about the album: “There was a tremendous amount of resistance when I made this album… [but] I felt a responsibility to soldier through the adversity to speak for my generation… God and the universe blessed this endeavor and blessed people through this music. It was so huge that I had to step back from it… I just wanna thank you. Thank you for sharing this moment with us. If this album touched your souls, it’s because the universe gifted you this music and just used me as the medium.” Despite the slight technical difficulties, these words from Hill brought her down to earth and made for an awe-inspiring moment.
ES: You just finished your set at the festival. How was the experience for you?
PC: It was very bizarre. I have been coming to this festival for like the 8 years I’ve lived here I think. I’ve come every year and I never ever thought in a million years that I would play this festival. Even just opening it up, it was so special. It felt so amazing. It was so surreal. I saw so many friends in the crowd. It was just so fucking cool.
ES: How did you prepare for the festival?
PC: Basically, I saw on the advance info that I could just put however many band members I wanted down. So I have rotating members – people that come in and out – and I just wanted all of them to be there, so I got as many of them on stage as I could. And my friend Kevin Krauter, whose got amazing music, hit me up and he was like “Can I play with you at Pitchfork?” and I was like, “That’s bold of you to ask, but hell yeah, come on.” So he did backup singing and it was really fun. We practiced all week long and I took the week off of work. I took it pretty easy last night and didn’t go to any after parties or anything because I had to play early and didn’t want to fuck up. But now it’s my time to party.
ES: How did you first get into music?
PC: Well I went to music school here, at Columbia College, for composition. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 10. It was never a question of what I was going to do with my life. I feel like I said when I was 10, “I like music. I want to do that,” and then my mom was like “Okay, you like music, we’ll do that now.” And then I went through guitar lessons and orchestra in middle school and high school, and then it was time for college and I was like, well I just want to keep doing music. So I did that. I think life is about just picking one thing and doing it, like it doesn’t really matter what the one thing is to a degree. When people can’t figure out what they wanna do, I’m like, just pick one thing and then do it for a while, and do it really hard, and see if you like it. So I just did the one thing for a really long time, and now at age 26, it’s starting to really pay off.
ES: How would you describe your sound?
PC: I would say it’s very happy music that sounds pretty drugged out.
ES: Do you record your songs yourself? Do you subscribe to the whole “bedroom pop” craze that’s going on right now?
PC: I record all of my music myself. I do it with some friends too, but I’m the head engineer on all of my own things. And yeah, it is basically bedroom pop style. I recorded all of Flavour in my apartment with my friend Matt. We had this big, open space and recorded it all there.
ES: Who have been your biggest personal inspirations?
PC: I’d say Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren. At this point, Mild High Club is probably my favorite band, and I’m getting more into house music right now, so I think the music I make for my next album is going to sound a lot different with some house influence, which is weird.
ES: You definitely shifted your sound between EP On Top and Flavour. What brought on this change and how did you execute it?
PC: Well that was a four year gap [in between projects], which is so long. And that first EP, it was weird that people liked it at all because I made it so hastily in my apartment in Bridgeport just for funsies, and then it got a lot of plays on Soundcloud. But then I thought, I wanna make good music. Like, I don’t wanna make hasty music, I wanna make extremely good music. It took me other four years to make Flavour. I recorded two albums that I scrapped and I took some of those songs and revamped them. It took me a while to feel like what I was doing was cool. And then seeing the response off of that, the wait was worth it I think because the response I have been getting has been really crazy. It’s really bizarre to watch.
ES: What does being a Chicago artist mean to you? How has being from and living in Chicago influenced your music, if at all?
PC: It means lots of homies that make music. It means every time I go out I know that I’m going to see X, Y, and Z and I know we’re gonna talk about A, B, and C. Being a Chicago musician means having an arsenal of people that are so overly joyed to work with you and overwhelmingly accepting of who you are, and just ready to help you. Like everyone’s ready to help each other and nobody wants anyone to fall. The Chicago scene is special for that because the bigger bands help out the smaller bands and it just feels like everyone’s lifting each other up and it’s really, really tight.
ES: You recently announced that you will be touring Europe in the Fall. What are you most excited about in regards to these shows?
PC: What I’m most excited for is that I’m going to some really weird countries, like Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary. It’s really, really weird that I’m playing there, but it’s so tight that I get to. I’m super stoked on that.
ES: Could you describe your songwriting process?
PC: Lots of times, it’s very long and drawn out and exacerbated, like just listening to something over and over and being like, “This isn’t good yet. I don’t know when it will be good either. Fuck.” I feel like a lot of the songwriting process I make torturous for myself. I don’t know why, I just make it really hard on myself. But watching the pay off has been worth it in the end.
ES: In your lyrics, you talk about millennial culture and dating in the age of the iPhone. What do you hope to communicate about this topic through your music?
PC: I think that is part of the cultural zeitgeist of today, actually, and I don’t feel like that message is unique to me. Like, listen to somebody like Clairo, it’s the same thing. I was even listening to Jojo the other day, that song “Too Little, Too Late,” and a lot of those lyrics are about being on your phone. So I don’t think that it’s very unique. One of my songs [“I See You”] is specifically about being on your phone and looking at someone who broke up with you and being like, “Damn.” And that’s a thing! You know, when you get broken up with, you can still look at their Instagram. So, I don’t know if my lyrics are going to continue to be about that, but that’s what they were at the time.
ES: Who are some of your favorite artists of the moment?
PC: Lala Lala is so tight. Post Animal is super tight. Kevin Krauter – really sick. Clairo, love her. All my friends. Divino Niño are coming out with a sick record.
ES: What’s next for you? Is there another album in the works?
PC: Yeah, I’m working on a new one right now. Kind of changing up the sound a bit. Sitting on an album for a while and then touring it, you get to meet a lot of people that you respect. And then when you notice that people are giving a shit about your music, you get more liberty to say “Yo, will you work with me on a track?” So now, I’ve been just like, who do I really like and who do I want to work with, and will they say yes? I’ve been going out on a limb and being like, “Can we work together? I’ll come to you!” So, I love the band Hoops and I’m recording some songs with those dudes, I’m recording a bunch of songs with this band Shy Boys in Kansas City, I’m gonna go out to New York and record with my friend Adam [Intrator] who’s in the band Triathalon, I’m gonna go to LA and work on a track with my friend Dent May. So I’m like doing this friend collab thing where I just get to say, “Yo, let’s hang out, let’s make songs,” and everyone’s just been like, “Yeah, that sounds sick.” Everyone’s just into the music. So it’s been exciting. Really freaking chill.
PC: So you guys are from Northwestern?
PC: Well, have me play Dillo Day or some shit!
Chicago native Paul Cherry opened the second day of the festival. His yacht rock dream pop fusion of a sound provided good vibes and had the crowd swaying in agreement upon the first song, “Hello Again.” While Cherry played guitar, his extremely talented band backed him up on drums, bass, and keys. His set consisted of every song off of new album Flavour, except for an impromptu cover of John Martyn’s “Couldn’t Love You More.” Cherry’s excitement to be performing at Pitchfork was clear, and the crowd reciprocated his enthusiasm by jamming out, even to instrumental track “Cherry Emoji.” WNUR also got the chance to interview Cherry after his set – check that out here!
As soon as he walked on stage, Berhana’s raw talent was undeniable. Opening up the set with the groovy “Janet,” the crowd began moving and singing along immediately. His voice was incredibly smooth, running over intricate riffs with unbelievable ease. His DJ backed him up, playing intriguing samples before tracks and turning the bass up so high that you could feel it in your throat. With an infectious smile in between every song, Berhana played his cover of “Whole Wide World,” “Brooklyn Drugs,” and “80s,” intermixed with a few new songs including the just released “Wildin’.” He claimed he wanted to try out these new songs on the audience, and asked for everyone to put their “phones away for a second and just listen.” Berhana closed the set with his most popular song “Grey Luh,” sending everyone away with a smile and sense of relaxation.
London-based rocker Nilüfer Yanya started her set alone except for her mint green guitar, and was then met with her band – a saxophonist (doubling as keys) , keyboardist (doubling as bass), and drummer. Her rich Alanis Morissette-esque vocals complimented the jazz rock instrumentals nicely, providing soft jams and slow builds. Yanya played all of the tracks she has out, along with a few new songs (“Angels” and “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”) and a Pixies cover. Although her sound was intriguing, it did grow a bit repetitive over the course of the set – but for someone just starting out in the U.S., Yanya is well on her way to becoming an indie-rock darling.
Grunge-rock duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad took over the Blue Stage Saturday afternoon along with touring members Ross Wallace-Chait and Kevin Boog. As I listened to other audience member’s conversations, it seemed that the biggest topic in discussion was singer and guitar player Tucker’s current transition from female to male. Specifically, the group of girls next to me were wondering how Tucker’s voice change would alter their sound, once notable for the high-pitched harmonies between Tucker and Tividad. However, as they played through their set, it became apparent that Girlpool had not lost, but gained something. Tucker’s now octave-lower voice added a more rounded sound to their slow-building discography, introducing new harmonies and a pleasant rasp. More than anything, it was clear how much passion both Tucker and Tividad still had for their music, playing through “It Gets More Blue,” “123,” and “I Like That You Can See It,” “Ideal World,” and “Your Heart” as if it meant the world to them.
As soon as Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes stepped out in a Kangol driving cap and tiny glasses, it was apparent this performance was going to be old school. As vintage-looking footage of cars, an old interview with Outkast, and 90s music videos played on the screen behind him, Hynes proved that he is indeed a talent to behold. Switching from playing keys to guitar and back to keys, Hynes dove into his discography with the voice of a 70s crooner, à la The Commodores or early Prince. Highlights of his set included “Desirée,” “Best to You,” “You’re Not Good Enough,” and “E.V.P.” He also played a few tracks off of his forthcoming album that was just announced to be released on August 25th. However, the real star of Blood Orange’s show was his band – his two back up singers stunned with chill-inducing voices, and his saxophonist, drummer and bassist provided intricate funk-driven instrumentals. In addition, everyone on stage seemed to be having so much fun and bouncing off of each other’s energy. At one point, Hynes even broke out into dance, making the crowd – and his band – go wild. It was truly a feel-good set for everyone involved.
Seasoned rockers The War On Drugs seemed to bring everyone together. Teenage girls were in the crowd amongst married couples, 50-year-old men, and boys in their 20s. Frontman Adam Granduciel delivered his signature rasp and complicated guitar riffs in a leather jacket and Slowdive t-shirt, while the rest of his band followed along in perfect time. As they played through hits such as “Pain,” “Strangest Thing,” and “Brothers,” a combination of happy dancing and air guitar took over the crowd. Although not all of their lyrics can be described as joyous, The War On Drugs’ music seemed to put a look of peace and contentment on the faces all around me. The last third of their set was the highlight, playing “Red Eyes,” “Under the Pressure,” and “Burning” back to back. The combination of those three builds was enough to leave anyone in awe.
Our first set of the day was Tierra Whack, the rapper that Pitchfork booked after Earl Sweatshirt canceled on Monday. Whack was accompanied by her DJ, Zach, who warmed up the crowd by playing hits such as “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and “Feel Good Inc” by the Gorillaz. After about 15 minutes, Whack came on stage, bursting with energy. Sporting a denim bucket hat and denim dress, she led the crowd in several call and response chants, including “Crack kills if it don’t get you Whack will” before playing “Toe Jam.” Her signature super fast flow was definitely impressive, but her efforts to get the crowd moving didn’t seem to be working. After playing “Pet Cemetery” off of her newest project Whack World to little response, she asked the crowd “Alright y’all, what do you wanna hear?” A group of people yelled back “Fruit Salad,” and Whack obeyed. Luckily, this helped to boost the crowd’s energy for the remainder of the set.
From the Westside of Chicago, Saba was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd (a “Saba” chant even broke out before he came on stage). Wearing his own merch and Adidas track pants, Saba flashed his charming smile and announced that this was “going to be a special show.” Saba opened with the first track on his new album Care For Me, “BUSY/SIRENS,” and the crowd sang along to the chorus. He then told the audience that this was his first time playing in Chicago this year, explaining why the show was so special. After playing a few more tracks off of Care For Me (“BROKEN GIRLS,” “CALLIGRAPHY,” “FIGHTER,” “SMILE”) he switched to his 2016 album Bucket List Project. “Stoney” was the highlight of the set, with Saba’s energy on stage being matched by the crowd. Towards the end of the set, he also made a tribute to his cousin and fellow member of Pivot Gang, John Walt, who was fatally stabbed last February. He ended the set with “LIFE,” which got the crowd jumping and yelling for more – resulting in him playing one more song to appease them.
“Today is all about Chicago and all about The Internet,” Syd said as she came on stage, winning lots of applause from the crowd. Although she has her own solo music, Syd is also a part of the band The Internet alongside Steve Lacy, Matt Martians, Christopher Smith and Patrick Paige II, whose album Hive Mind came out yesterday. However, at the start of her set Syd focused on her latest album, 2017’s Fin. She dedicated “Got Her Own” to “all the independent women out there,” and crooned her way through “Bad Dream/ No Looking Back.” Her performance was simple and effortless, and she even sat down on stage at one point to sing “Shake Em Off.” She then focused more on her collaborative projects, which was something I was not expecting but was grateful for. She played her hit song with Kaytranada, “YOU’RE THE ONE,” and even sang a little bit of “Take Me Away,” her feature on Daniel Caesar’s album Freudian. But this was not the biggest surprise that Syd had in store – after singing “Come Over” off of the newest The Internet record, Steve Lacy came out on stage to perform “La Di Da” and “Roll (Burbank Funk),” during which the rest of The Internet joined them. It was an extremely exciting end to an already impressive set, making it one of my favorites of the day.
Mount Kimbie performed at the blue stage, which felt like a whole different world compared to the crowds at red and green. The people waiting to see Mount Kimbie were a little bit older and more serious looking than those I had seen at Syd or Saba. You could tell they were purely there for the music. Mount Kimbie had an extremely impressive set, their ambient beats casting a spell over the crowd that resulted in a lot of head bobbing and trance-like dancing. The highlight of the set was “You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure),” which was one of the few songs they played that involved vocals. The rest kind of all blended together, but in the best way. Their set definitely provided a much needed break from the crazy crowd that seemed to be the norm earlier in the day.
Speaking of a crazy crowd, pretty much everyone who was at the festival gathered shoulder to shoulder to see Tame Impala – and it was definitely a show. Tame Impala’s usual trippy visuals were heightened with lasers and strobe lights, and the band themselves played on a platform on the stage. They opened with “Let It Happen,” and an insane amount of confetti was released during the drop. However, after the excitement of that died down, some of the crowd began to get upset because the band’s equipment was pretty quiet. This sparked a “Turn it up!” chant that echoed throughout the crowd, but alas nothing was changed. As misty rain began to fall, they played “Mind Mischief,” “Elephant,” “Yes I’m Changing,” “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and “Eventually.” During this, I witnessed a fight, a person wearing a panda costume crowd surfing, and an adorable 6-year-old boy sitting on his Cool Dad’s shoulders. Although all seemed right again when Tame played “The Less I Know The Better,” I couldn’t help but feel a little disconnected from the band itself. They didn’t stray far from their recordings, and the extra platform on stage and poor sound quality didn’t help.