With six years of facial hair growth, the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago has garnered a lofty rep for curating one of the more singular Summer festivals. They veer towards eclectic bands on the ascent or they revisit their rise through reunions of classic records.
But two of the few vets booked this year are The Dismemberment Plan and Guided By Voices — while the rest of the lineup is packed with mostly younger artists heavily Pitchforked over the past year. Like EMA, the first artist I caught Friday, who received Best New Music for Past Life Martyred Saints just over a month ago. Playing unopposed, the LA artist used the schedule to her advantage with a commanding presence and a belting out the massive “California” to a still-filling in crowd.
Across the field, Battles followed with a chaotic 45 minute blur, which aside from James Blake, evidenced some of the most impressive musical chops of the day. The set mostly drew from their new album Gloss Drop, and two of the members switched off instruments like the Arcade Fire on Canadian meth. Even after Animal Collective’s amazing performance later in the evening, I still heard murmurs of the Battles set, which seemed to leave quite an impression on the kids in the crowd.
After Battles, the rest of my day was mostly spent lamping at the lovely, shaded Blue Stage area, where I first saw Curren$y perform to fans and marijuana connoiseurs, all of whom showed love for the New Orleans-born MC with tufts of smoke and shouts of “Jet Life!” In return, Curren$y ran through another an impressive mix of songs from his new album Weekend At Burnies, along with a seemingly random array of mixtape cuts, freestyles and classics from the Pilot Talk series like “Michael Knight” and “Airborne Aquarium.”
And them came Das Racist, the less said the better. Before they decided they had nothing better to do than rage Twitter war with Doc Zeus, I’d caught Das Racist shambling through set opening set up for Yelawolf several months ago. I knew what to expect. But taste is subjective, so I felt somewhat vindicated when everyone I spoke with afterwards told me how disappointed they were in their set. Apparently, Danny Brown came out later on, but I left early. Look, I’m from Louisville. I understand how the combination of alcohol and the summer heat can make you lethargic, but when your stage presence consists of dousing people with water and bragging you’re not being ironic artists, you’re on some LMFAO type shit. But hey, it plays on the radio at Urban Outfitters and all your friends doped up on Zoloft love it. It must be good.
Luckily, James Blake redeeming things with a spellbinding set later on that evening, featuring a mix of songs from his EPs and self-titled album. As bass-heavy as some of his material is, the sound translated incredibly well to an outdoor setting. Rhythm-heavy songs like “Klavierwerke” and “CMYK” blended well with the more vocally-dense songs like “Limit To Your Love,” creating a soft vibrant atmosphere as the sun set behind the trees. It was transportive music. You’d never have thought you were in the middle of Chicago.
That feeling continued to Animal Collective on the main stage, with people dancing throughout their hour and a half long set, the Sears Tower looming in the background. Along with the psychedelic images cycling through the Jumbotron, the band’s stage setup they brought along with them was so visually engaging that I’d imagine few people even had the desire to look up at the skyline — lest they miss a minute of the band’s incredibly well-crafted new material, which took up the first half of their step. With Animal Collective, it’s difficult to know when songs stop or start, but the crowd didn’t mind.
For the younger audience not as familiar with their live performances though, it grew tiring towards the middle. Towards the end, they trotted out a few instant-classics from Merriweather Post Pavillion, including a wonderful new rendition of “Summertime Clothes” that featured an almost-Mannie Fresh sounding, Dirty South drum pattern, that helped prop up the dance-heavy feel of the set. Panda Bear largely stayed behind the drum kit however, leaving most of the vocals to lead singer Avey Tare, whose passion for music and performance was evident to everyone in Union Park. And when we all went home, you couldn’t help but feel a little bit of the lingering buzz.