Arriving at the park ready to go at 2 p.m. on Friday for Pitchfork Music Festival, naturally it started to rain. Not exactly the way I envisioned this weekend starting out, considering all the outdoor music festivals I've been to in the past have pushed 100 degree temps on the reg. Rain was the story most of Friday and Saturday, but there was a lot of music to be seen, so we weren't going to let a little rain stop us. You know what they say, rain or shine, the show must go on. Here's a run down with photos and recaps of all the shows we saw throughout the weekend, and you can check out the entire photo album over on Facebook.
Our good pal Ben Valocchi helped out with a bunch of show summaries from Friday. Unless it's noted otherwise, all other show summaries are from me. Big ups to Sean O'Connor for all the photos from the whole weekend.
Lower Dens :: Red Stage, 3:30 p.m.
Getting off to a late start due to a storm that hit the festival grounds earlier in the day, Lower Dens wasted no time in delivering a terrific wake-up set. Mixing metronomic post-punk with washes of wide-open guitar noise, their sound was a perfect antidote to the almost-brutal humidity and steam rising from the fields. Covering a large chunk of this year's fantastic Nootropics, the Baltimore band's set hit a notable high during the motorik workout "Brains," which featured frontwoman Jana Hunter hopping between keyboards and guitar to great effect during a "Kidsmoke"-worthy outro jam. — Ben Valocchi
The Olivia Tremor Control :: Green Stage, 4:35 p.m.
The Olivia Tremor control are surprisingly inconspicuous in a live setting. Their albums -- especially the essential Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One -- marry the careening, uptempo pop that the Elephant Six collective is so famous for with dark and claustrophobically dense production. I was expecting the band to be hidden behind an assortment of props and lights, but the sun, steam and humidity wicking off the grass would have rendered this a poor choice. Going simple -- no visuals, no stage antics, no banter -- worked like a charm, and despite a second storm beginning to threaten and a mix that never quite got dialed in, the group were nonchalantly firing on all cylinders from the first notes of "A Peculiar Noise Called Train Director" and "I Have Been Floated" through to the raucous closer "the Opera House". Augmenting standard rock instrumentation with violin, clarinet, trumpet, and tuba, they veered from lysergic, fractured pop ballads to blasts of punkish noise, creating a sound that compelled the crowd's attention; ear candy for a generation that can't seem to focus on less than three things at once. — BV
One member of A$AP Rocky's enormous crew.
A$AP Rocky :: Red Stage, 5:30 p.m.
Clearly having taken notes from Odd Future's live show, the Harlem-born emcee (real name: Rakim Meyers) delivered an outstanding set that perfectly toed the line between get-your-motherfucking-hands-up cliche and earnest, intense energy. After the required warm-up cut from his posse, Meyers took the stage, resplendent in his signature braids and a black jacket with "A$AP RSVP" emblazoned in silver across the back. As the skies opened for the second time in the day, "Pretty Flacco" whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and A$AP's live presence and impressive flow — which sits somewhere between Infamous-era Mobb Deep and a purple, blunted drawl — were on full display. The rain hit in force about halfway though the set, but the enthusiasm and tempo never waned. After a quick nod "to the wet blunts", A$AP was right back into the show, breaking up a fight in the front, sharing joints with the audience, and bringing out a mic stand to croon arguably his biggest song, the Clams Casino produced "Wassup". In the end, the amount of pure energy and enthusiasm coming off the stage overwhelmed any weather-related issues, making this set a clear highlight of the day. — BV
Japandroids :: Blue Stage, 6:15 p.m.
Japandroids are a known quantity at this point, but that only seems to solidify their position as some of the best party starters currently operating. The rain that continued to fall during their set combined with a healthy pit, and before long, the mud, shoes and bodies started to fly. Due to a shortened set, the Vancouver two-piece made an announcement that they would forego stage banter to focus on cramming as many songs as possible into their set. The urgency translated well, as the Vancouver two-piece ran through a kinetic set of songs from this year's Celebration Rock, only hitting a few songs from the soon to be classic Post-Nothing — a runaway "Wet Hair" early in the show, and a massive version of "Young Hearts Spark Fire" into "Heart Sweats" combo to close. While I have to question Pitchfork's logic in putting these guys on the festival's small stage, which was uncomfortably packed despite overall low attendance on the day, the mud-covered festivalgoers exiting the pit certainly seemed to enjoy it. — BV
Clams Casino :: Blue Stage, 7:15 p.m.
A quick "hello" or "thanks" would have been helpful here, but when your beats are as astoundingly good as Clams Casino, I guess you can let the music talk for you. Despite a criminally short 30 minute set -- the early storms seemed to throw a major wrench into the timing on the Blue Stage — the New Jersey-based producer kept a welcoming crowd moving, even grinding, from start to finish. Drawing evenly from both of his Instrumentals mixtapes, the biggest roars of approval came for "Motivation", "All I Need" and the masterful "I'm God". Whatever you want to define it as — hip-hop, chillwave, downtempo — Clams ultimately falls under the bass/dubstep umbrella. He certainly isn't ashamed to let a great vocal sample carry a track, but the maximalist, everything turned up to elevent philosophy of a Skrillex or Nero is replaced with a hazy, nuanced and alarmingly pretty approach to production. While the PA wasn't quite up to producing the bass oomph of his studio albums, the show was ultimately unaffected. — BV
Dirty Projectors :: Red Stage, 7:20 p.m.
The sun settled down for the day at Dave Longstreth & co. came out onto the Red Stage for their set, predictably prepared to deliver a bunch of new material to the oversized crowd looking on. Swing Lo Magelian dominated the set, pumping out the first five songs of their set from that record. I kind of wished they didn't just come out and play the songs everyone was expecting them to play, but for what it was worth, the new tracks were entertaining. It'll be interesting to see how much more they can develop the new ones by the time they pay a visit to Urbana in September. With all of that said, some of the new ones that I felt a bit underwhelmed with from listening to their album did translate well and had more kick to them, including "Dance For You" and "See What She's Seeing". Some of the now "older" tracks, like some of the Bitte Orca gems like "No Intention" and "Useful Chamber" felt a bit hidden in the set.
Purity Ring :: Blue Stage, 8:20 p.m.
This was the absolute ideal situation for Purity Ring to be in for this festival. Put them over at the Blue Stage with the sun basically away for the night, and let them show you what they've got. The popularity of this band is pretty remarkable considering their debut record Shrines isn't even out until next week, but this was one of the highlights of Friday under my watch. Corin Roddick and Megan James absoultely dazzled underneath the trees playing opposite of Feist, pushing through track after track of synth-pop beauty. Their stage presence is pretty captivating, with huge white blubs that hang from the top of the stage, flashing back and forth with every beat the duo conjured up. The custom made instrument Roddick uses as his personal glitch/sample factory did wonders while James kept the crowd going. The music these two make has this innocent feeling to it created by James' vocals, its almost addicting to listen to.
Feist :: Green Stage, 8:20 p.m.
Dressed in a blinding white dress, Leslie Feist was every bit the apex of the indie to mainstream crossover that she is supposed to be. Playing to a rain-depleted crowd that ranged in age from 10 to 65, her performance was appropriately major-key and inclusive without sacrificing her music's more experimental aspects. Backed by a seven-piece band that included an auxillary percussionist and a three-piece vocal section (also outfitted in white), Feist gave a soothing performance to cap off a draining day full of humidity and intense performances. While the must-play singles "I Feel It All" and "My Moon My Man" were met with cheers from the crowd, a major highlight was the creeping, sinister version of "Mushaboom" that came early in the set. — BV
The Psychic Paramount :: Green Stage, 1:00 p.m.
Day two began as humid as Friday left off with The Psychic Paramount trudging through their 40 minute (tops) set. I don't know where they got their drummer from, but damn, can that guy play. One of the better instrumental performances from someone behind the kit that I saw all weekend. The early sets are typically under-represented by the festival-goers, but the several hundred that were there to catch this one got a taste of one of the more obscure acts on the bill this year. Even though most of their tracks blended together (difficult for even casual fans to follow what they are playing), it was fast-paced and to the point for these guys.
Lotus Plaza :: Blue Stage, 1:55 p.m.
Even though this set started about ten minutes after Cloud Nothings began (had to pick this set because Cloud Nothings will be in C-U come September), Lockett Pundt's crew came out basically right as the rain began to come down again. Sheltered slightly by the trees over at the Blue Stage, the set kind of drug on and didn't really have any ups or downs — basically even-keel throughout. Considering his best release Spooky Action at a Distance came out ealrier this year, what I expected happened exactly — he played about 6 tracks from that record, jamming out the outros of the majority of them to the point where it got a bit stale. A bit disappointing that I ventured over there instead of sticking it out for what sounded like a pretty good set from Cloud Nothings. At least I'll have a chance to see them come September.
Atlas Sound :: Green Stage, 2:30 p.m.
Another Deerhunter member got started over at the Green Stage right after Lotus Plaza ended, and it was basically more of the same, unfortunately. The always-weird Bradford Cox came out with his face fully painted white for some reason, noodling a Parallax highlight "Te Amo" for about 10 minutes (about twice as long as it should've been), and most of his tracks from that point on were dead before they could even take off. The sound was not great for this set, and I'm not sure who set up the scheduling for this one, but putting black metal beasts Liturgy at the Blue Stage during this set missed the mark. Maybe that was one of the reasons that this one was a bit lazy, but it just didn't seem like Cox was all there. Sure, there were some good portions, including the Panda Bear-less "Walkabout", but Liturgy just drowned this stage out.
Flying Lotus :: Green Stage, 3:45 p.m.
After watching a pretty lackluster set from Cults over at the Red Stage (pretty underwhelming that frontwoman Madeline Follin had trouble singing her own parts), it was about time something awesome happened. That something was Flying Lotus, who took me by total surprise with his wild set. Luckily this was the gap during the day which hadn't sparked my interest with any of the other artists, so I ended up over at this stage. What a great decision. It was an absolute party from Stephen Ellison, who made an unbelievable amount of things happen from behind his MacBook Pro, which I typically find unappealing. His records definitely do not indicate the type of DJing he brings to the live setting — remixing tons of tracks, ranging from Watch The Throne hits to paying tribute to the late MCA with a pretty badass rendition of "Intergalactic". Towards the end of the set he even stopped and said "I just realized...I'm drunk as fuck" — maybe this is why he moved towards playing those hits and remixing others than playing a bunch of his own tracks. Regardless, FlyLo exceeded any expections I had.
Wild Flag :: Red Stage, 5:15 p.m.
Any set that opens with a prestine cover of Television's "See No Evil" is automatically off to a great start, which is exactly what Wild Flag did mid-afternoon on Saturday. In what ended up being a pretty sweat-filled set under the evening sun, most of the time guitarist Mary Timony and frontwoman Carrie Brownstein looked like they were fighting the heat against their pure white skin. The band seemed a bit rambunctious at times — getting off course for a few songs and putting the train back on the tracks several times. Regardless, Wild Flag came out and pushed through their set, filled with songs from their 2011 self-titled record, including the fantastic and jammed out version of "Racehorse".
Sleigh Bells :: Green Stage, 6:15 p.m.
This set takes the cake for most energized of day, even following a pretty beefed up Flying Lotus set a few hours prior. Stacks of Marshalls, sparkling lights and a stage flooded with smoke definitely emphasized the fact that there was about to be a blowout on the Green Stage when they started. It's insane to think of the amount of people that were at this set (considering 2 years prior they were over hidden in the Blue Stage), and this year they're pushing the crowd all the way back close to the entrance. The duo of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller added a third guitarist to throw down pretty huge guitar licks in an even more robust fashion than is even necessary. Tracks from Treats certainly carried the set, but the one thing I was thinking during this set was "how the hell this is going to fit in Canopy Club for Pygmalion?" The answer is beyond me, and however it works out, it's probably going to rule.
Chromatics :: Blue Stage, 6:45 p.m.
Certainly the most confusing part of the day was showing up to see Chromatics around 7:20 (in my mind, to catch whatever I could) to see that the set that hadn't even begun yet. Fairly baffling because the weather was pretty tame at that point in the day, and I wasn't sure if Schoolboy Q had gone late or something, but it wasn't all together over at this stage. Not only that, but the few songs they did play in their abbreviated set were so quiet, I could barely hear them towards the middle section of the crowd where I had posted up. A lot of question marks at this one, so it would be unfair to say this set was poor because it was set up to fail to begin with.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor :: Green Stage, 8:30 p.m.
Perhaps the biggest question mark of the weekend was how the post-rock juggarnauts Godspeed You! Black Emperor would fare outdoors. Creeping through the first section of their set with quite a bit of drone and building rambling instrumentation, only patience could to get you through to the rewarding parts of the magnificent 90-minute set they played. There's no doubt that the middle 12-minute section of their nearly 25-minute version of "Storm" was the most brilliantly executed thing that happened in the park that day, and perhaps the entire weekend. Even though it's no secret that most of the 20-something females sprinting over to dance around to Grimes, the reward for watching the perfectly cinematic construction of Godspeed's performance can not be emphasized enough.
Dirty Beaches :: Green Stage, 1:00 p.m.
The fuzzed-out duo that is Dirty Beaches made some noise to begin the third day of the festival. The material from this project is pretty spooky and a lot more open ended than on the recordings he's put out. There wasn't a lot of variety in the set, which was filled with some skuzz from Alex Zhang Hungtai's partner-in-crime (name still unknown) guitarist and Hungtai's fogged yelps into the mic. There were some pretty steady and hypnotic jams that made the hot Sunday sun a bit hotter.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra :: Red Stage, 1:45 p.m.
One band I wasn't expecting to have time to see were these guys, and they quickly made me regret missing their set at last year's Pygmalion. I had listened to their material prior, but never thought that it would amount to what they came out on stage with that day. Definitnely surprising how grimey they actually were, pumping through most of their self-titled and pretty underrated debut record. Both guitarist and bassist were sharing duties on the mic, and it was pretty nuts how similar they both sounded vocally. There were still a ton of people at this stage despite the sun really coming out for this set, making the people's skin color match the stage for the first time during the weekend.
Iceage :: Green Stage, 2:30 p.m.
Iceage's material can be tough to digest at times, and it certainly wasn't easy during their set. Most of the time their songs were unrecognizable and completely disoriented. It almost seemed like they were completely lost up there, even though some of the time they really felt like they had it together. I understand punk is supposed to be dismantling and rugged at times, but the only thing that I heard that even resembled anything on New Brigade was the title track itself. This totally isn't a rip on their age either — I mean, these guys are 19- and 20-year-olds up there playing, but they've been playing for a while now. I don't think that had anything to do with it. There were moments with technical difficulties as well, and just random 5-10 minute gaps early in the set. I'm not quite sure what was going on, so this was one set I left a bit confused. Luckily I could see most of what they had to offer before heading over to Thee Oh Sees.
Thee Oh Sees :: Blue Stage, 2:50 p.m.
This could've been the show of the weekend. John Dywer was absolutely on point with everything he was playing, it was almost like he was making it up right there on the spot. It felt so damn fluid with everything else the other members were doing, and their other guitarist was impressive as he possibly could have been. Opening with "Carrion Crawler" was no surprise to me, but the songs kept getting better and better as the show went on and the crowd got loosened up and even rowdier. The shout outs to touring pal and fellow San Francisco native Ty Segall happened a few times throughout, but they kept their mouths shut most of the time and just ripped through tracks mostly from their most recent record. Definitely one of the more impressive sets from the weekend and blew me away how good they could sound on the festival stage.
The Men :: Blue Stage, 3:45 p.m.
As if anything could have followed up Thee Oh Sees and succeeded, The Men picked up right where John Dwyer & co. left off a half hour before when they walked off the stage. These guys have been working on a new record (even though they put one out in Marhc), so the beginning batch of new tracks was to be expected. Hearing Open Your Heart highlights "Turn It Around" mesh flawlessly with "Open Your Heart" during mid-set was phenomenal and totally unexpected in my mind, and it was like they were meant to be one song the whole time. "Bastille" was the bludgoning follow up to that lengthy jam and capped one of the best sections of any show I saw all weekend.
Real Estate :: Green Stage, 4:15 p.m.
This show might as well have been on a beach with all the beach balls, blown up palm trees, mid-afternoon dry heat and a band like Real Estate jamming out. Their songs could be the soundtrack to any trip to a beach. There was also a ton of sand all over the area by the Green Stage because it was so muddy the day before after getting a bunch of rain, so in a way it kind of felt like a beach (a really crappy one). Smoothly running through lazy tracks like "Beach Comber" and "Green Aisles" early in the set, definite highlights came towards the end with "It's Real" and "Kinder Bluman". Withstanding the heat and hearing "All The Same" extended out into a pretty awesome quarter-speed version capped off a set that put me in an absolute daze. It's pretty remarkable what a band like Real Estate has done with using simple chords and an easy vibe. Anything I saw during this set was enough to miss the rumored let-down performance by Kendrick Lamar, which actually featured Lady Gaga for a short stint. To be honest, Real Estate was enough to make me forget about everything I wanted to see that day.
Araabmuzik :: Green Stage, 6:15 p.m.
Even though dubstep and all the Skrillex-sounds isn't exactly my cup of tea, Araabmuzik does have a pretty good crossover appeal because he mixes electronic with some great sampling techniques at times. With that said, there was way too much dubstep thrown into his set and not enough of the type of DJing Flying Lotus was doing on that same stage the day prior. Even though the majority of this set was pretty capivating from just being in awe at how fast this dude's hands are moving (without stoping) and barely even taking his eye off of the equipment he was using, there was a bit too much womp womp that overpowered everything else. I only got to catch about half of this set, but the entourage of rappers that came on and pretty much stopped this set dead in its tracks didn't help. I was on to King Krule.
King Krule :: Blue Stage, 6:45 p.m.
"How old is this kid? He looks like he's 16!" was one of the many comments I heard about King Krule, aka Archy Marshall (born in 1994, mind you), prior to his fairly mild set. He seemed pretty timid the entire time as they played some new tracks and others off of his King Krule EP. Even though these kids are so young, the music is shockingly nostaligic and feel like they are aged so well. It's like they were made by someone with 50+ years of sadness and sorrow to sing and carry on about. Just a bizzare feel to what they have going on, but extremely pleasant set that battled the noise from Araabmuzik's set across the park.
Beach House :: Red Stage, 7:25 p.m.
Beach House drew one of the biggest crowds I saw all weekend, and I wish I had a lot of great things to say about it. Honestly the band didn't seem like it wanted to be up there for most of the time and letting the smoke effects try to make it look like they have a lot going on up on stage. They just seemed like they were going through the motions — even with the more impessive Bloom tracks like set closer "Irene" and "The Hours". The Teen Dream tracks are still very impressive and have a lot more life to them than the newer ones on stage, including the pummeling "10 Mile Stereo" and pure swoon of "Silver Soul". Sure, the songs sound pretty great if you're there waiting to hear the songs you enjoy, but as far as the live show goes, can't the set get more exciting than being shocked when guitarist Alex Scully actually stands up to play instead of sitting? Don't get me wrong — Beach House is one of my favorite bands of recent memory, but it just seemed like they were a bit darker and represeed than I had hoped they would be.
Vampire Weekend :: Green Stage, 8:30 p.m.
Alas, the concluding show of the festival. All the high school kids whose parents let them go to one day of the festival rushed over to the Green Stage to see the mighty Vampire Weekend. There wasn't much to this set, playing basically every track they have with one new one thrown into the mix, all songs followed up with screams of excitement and appreciation. The songs were pleasant and enjoyable, but I was just hoping for some newer songs since Ezra Koenig went on and on throughout about how they hadn't played in quite a while. It was a nice way to end out the festival weekend with something that did not require my undivided attention. One thing I did take away from this is realizing just how big VW has gotten over the past few years. It's pretty insane.