As the sunshine poured over the Windy City for the weekend for Pitchfork Music Festival 2014, we were very fortunate to be able to head up there once again this year and check things out. As the festival continues to grow, the people were out in full force as the sold out festival featured a bunch of great bands again this year. Most things went very well, but some things did not, as you'll see below in our recap.
Unless otherwise noted, all write ups by Patrick Singer. Photos by Kelly Hickey and Jack Murphy.
Arriving at the festival grounds a bit before the gates opened, there were plenty of people waiting to get into the park before the first bands started performing. This year, that privilege went to Hundred Waters, which was taking the stage for the first time at Pitchfork. 3:30 p.m. sun was beating down on the crowd, but a sizable amount of people had arrived to the park already for this one. "This is my first festival" lead singer Nicole Miglis said as she led the way with her higher-pitched/falsetto vocals (which reminded me of Chairlift from the year before at this same festival). They were terrific in translating their "digital folk" — as they've been dubbed — to the festival stage. Those The Moon Rang Like A Bell tracks were very lush ("Murmurs" and "Out Alee" in particular), and the songs felt much more refined than their past material. Definitely a pleasing set to start out the weekend.
Factory Floor took the stage at the Blue Stage, tucked away in the south side of Union Park, following the conclusion of the Hundred Waters set. This would have been a cool set to see late-night, but alas, it was mid-day, so that was something to work with for the trio. Similarly to The Field (which will be discussed later), this is one of those sets where the audio is the selling point rather than the stage show. Yeah, the show was cool and sounded good, but not much in regards to a stage performance for some dudes and mixers.
Sharon Van Etten
Champaign-Urbana will get the chance to see Sharon Van Etten later in the year when she heads to the Highdive, but for now, she took the Red Stage at Pitchfork. I remember seeing her in Hundred Waters' spot in 2010 as the opener for the festival, and this time around, things were much different. With the success of her recent material, there's no questioning the projection of where her career is heading (or is already, for that matter). Nearly the entire set featured tracks from Are We There, which is predictable enough, though her delivery was splendid with a full band.
Sun Kil Moon
Moving on to another future visitor to C-U, Sun Kil Moon took the stage on Green as the sun was moving down in the sky in Chicago. Although the material was great, heavily mixing Benji into the set as expected, this wasn't a good situation for Mark Kozelek to be in with the live delivery that SKM should have. A huge outdoor stage with thousands of people huddled around and crowd noise to go along with a poor mix wasn't going to work out. It was something I thought might happen prior to the set, and I'm not sure what is more to blame — but I think the mix had a lot to do with the vocals getting too drowned out by reverb. Either way, it makes me feel a lot better that he'll be in Champaign soon, performing at Krannert Center, because that is a much better situation than this weekend at Pitchfork.
After walking around checking out the park a bit more between Sun Kil Moon and Beck, I managed to catch a small portion of Giorgio Moroder, which was interesting enough, but nothing worth sticking around for. Beck was the real treat to close out night one at the festival. As his catalog continues to expand with his Morning Phase material, just throwing in a fraction of his "hit" songs — "Loser", "Debra", "E-Pro", "Where It's At", "Devil's Haircut", "Girl" — Beck could perform a fraction of what he's known for and it would be terrific. Times throughout the set he'd put down his instrument and become an emcee of sorts with the mic, as his music tends to allow that from time to time.
Day two started with Chicago local outfit Twin Peaks, which had a lively crowd for 1 p.m. on Saturday. "Who wants this shit?" as the frontman prepared to toss the neck of the shattered guitar into the crowd, "Is everyone OK? I hope so. Please don't sue me — because I ain't got nooo money baby." he said after another crowd surfer went up and down during the later portion of their set. I would say that I hope they soak up the set because it is in one of the marquee festivals not only Chicago, but in the world, but I have a feeling they'll be playing shows much bigger than this in years to come.
I managed to catch a few minutes of rapper Ka's set at the Red Stage, which was pretty bare-bones with just a mic and a mixer on stage. Wild Beasts began shortly thereafter, which was one of the more impressive sets of the day. Their catalog is four records long, and they manage to capture their sound particularly well during their live show, as tracks that have become "popular" of theirs like "All The King's Men" and "Bed of Nails" continue to sound terrific. This was one of my favorite sets of the day under the sun, and the only thing that I was questioning when I left was why guitarist/vocalists/everything member Tom Fleming was wearing a black beanie during the set.
I had seen Cloud Nothings and Pusha T once before on this tour, so this being the second time within the last few months, I had an idea of what to expect from these two this weekend. Cloud Nothings tore through their psyched-out rock tracks from their last two records, and it made me realize how catchy their songs actually are. I partially feel that they arrive at that sound unintentionally, but at the same time, know what the hell they are doing at this point in time. Although the set was fairly tame, the new songs meshed quite well with the Attack on Memory highlights. Dylan Baldi's stage banter was to a minimum, as his I-don't-give-a-shit beard and hair (for the record — awesome) and guitar work did the talking. Pusha T's set was fairly uneventful (on top of starting 30 minutes late), even though the crowd was particularly huge at this point in time at the Green Stage. Although some of the hip-hop that I saw this weekend was memorable (as I'm about to get to that), this was not the case.
The eccentric and lively Danny Brown performance was much more valuable than the Pusha T set that preceded it. Old had plenty of highlights that fit into the set here and there, but the XXX tracks like "Lie4", "I Will" and "Bruiser Brigade" push the limit. The crowd at his set was massive as well. Definitely one of the more memorable ones from Saturday, and a highlight of hip-hop throughout the weekend, no doubt.
I headed over into the trees for The Field on the Blue Stage before St. Vincent and Neutral Milk Hotel, and as was similar to Factory Floor from day one, this was a set that, although entrancing, was one that doesn't involve much of a stage production. I was happy to catch his set from this year after missing it in 2012, and it featured Cupid's Head highlight "No. No..." which was great. The beats were heavy and a good break between sets.
St. Vincent was next, and what a performer she has become in the handful of years she's been under the moniker. Although the stage set up and live band are minimal (a three piece — drums, guitar, and keys), Annie Clark is the performer people come to see. The stage was complete with a huge white pyramid-like stand at the back, which Clark ended up utilizing later in the set. Hair tied up and braided (unlike her afro-like get-up she's had recently), she delivered St. Vincent material, mixed with highlights "Cruel" and "Cheerleader" from Strange Mercy, and more. One point she looked like she had cracked her head on something from getting raucous on stage, holding her head in her hands on the ground during one of the final songs.
Neutral Milk Hotel, in typical NMH fashion, delivered a set without screens or many bells and whistles to the thousands that looked on as the sun was setting in Chicago for night two. Opening with a Jeff Mangum-solo "I Will Bury You In Time", the band cruised through In The Aeroplane Over The Sea as expected, and as we saw back at Canopy Club in October — the band really hasn't missed a step one bit.
Although a bit late to the park on Sunday afternoon, I managed to catch the second half of DIIV's set on the Red Stage, highlighted by "Doused" and a couple of new songs scattered throughout made their droney-shoegaze resonate through the park to start things off. Although DIIV wouldn't make you feel too lazy, if you were about to see Deafheaven, you were about to be 100% woken the hell up. Although at the beginning, the mix sounded a bit off with George Clark's monstrous vocals and Kerry McCoy's guitar (both were a bit low in the mix), everything was fixed a few moments into opener "Dream House" and into "Sunbather" and their new track (which will be released in August). Clark is a terrific frontman, intense in his delivery, almost as a conductor and centerpiece between the crowd and the band. I felt that it was fitting when he tossed a white flower into the front of the crowd towards the end, as though the music delivered onto the patrons was gorgeous enough to begin with, this just added to that.
Although Dum Dum Girls were decked out in similar get-ups complete with white matching white guitars, they were in the most shaded portion of the park in the middle of the day. Although there weren't any particular sound issues, things were a bit more quiet than I would have hoped for, as a bunch of their material has louder, fuzzed-out portions that could have been on display more predominantly.
Real Estate delivered a solid set complete with Atlas material from earlier this year, and this was their third Pitchfork (2010 and 2012), as they returned to the Red Stage where they started in 2010. Their material continues to resonate and the shimmery guitar hooks and jams. As good as a summer festival band gets, honestly.
One of the more interesting portions of the weekend came when I made my way over to the Blue Stage for Majical Cloudz between Real Estate and Slowdive. Due to a serious issue with the main instrument they use on stage — this set turned into led singer Devon Walsh singing "Bugs Don't Buzz" and "Childhood's End" a capella while they tried to fix the damn thing. At one point, he went down and one of the crowd members sang while he danced and clapped, spinning in circles on stage. It was bizarre, but at least he did his best to entertain. They smashed that shit afterwards.
Although I wasn't surprised, Slowdive delivered what was undoubtedly the best set of the weekend, in my estimation. Standing near the middle of the crowd near the sound booth, I was afraid that things might not transfer well with sound, as their masterful shoegaze might be an issue outside. Boy, was I (gladly) wrong about that. The sound engineer earns an A+, as does the band, as they graciously weaved through their set (heavy on the of Souvlaki tracks) like heroes. The band was incredible — and although loud, they were loud in the best possible way. It really is remarkable how the band hasn't looked like they've missed a step in all these years, and knocked it out of the park on Sunday evening.
Grimes was one of the more buzzed-about acts leading up to the festival, as she moved from a late-night set a couple of years ago to one of the main stages on Sunday night before Kendrick Lamar. A good transition between indie/pop crossover acts, Grimes delivered a set full of Visions hits, as well as a cover mixed in and closed with "Go" and "Genesis". The set was full of theatrics and a couple of dancers as well, which was somewhat entertaining.
Kendrick Lamar is an absolute superstar, people. There's not really any other way to describe it, other than he delivered a star-studded performance to close things out. The massive crowd was there, and good kid, m.A.A.d. city tracks were on point, where Lamar really doesn't need anyone else on stage with him to make the performance memorable. Throw in "Fuckin' Problems" and "ADHD" with those, and it is seriously hard to believe he's gone from mid-day on the small Blue Stage to performing in front of thousands upon thousands closing out the weekend. Lighters and cell phones were held high in the air were appropriate as Lamar did his own to light up the city himself as well.
Check out the full collection of photos below.