High temperatures and relative humidity hung over Chicago’s Union Park as the main gates opened at Pitchfork’s 10th anniversary festival on Friday, 17 July. Fortunately, fest organizers had heeded the weather forecast and were well-prepared.
The media tent was just steps from the press entrance and was already stocked with water, while the first scheduled act of the day, local psych-folk artist Ryley Walker, was about to start his set on the heavily shaded “blue stage,” a short distance from the main pitch.
Walker and his band, which included Will Oldham collaborator Ben Boye on keyboards, played with free jazz fluidity, improvising on tracks from the recent album Primrose Green. We hung around the blue stage for the following set by Canadian singer/pianist Tobias Jesso, Jr, and he and his backing players ran through tunes from debut LP, Goon. Fan favorites “Bad Words” and “Without You” found Jesso in fine form, channeling Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman to the delight of the crowd.
After making our way around the entire park (stopping here and there for food and drink; shopping at the Flatstock poster booths; catching up with friends and colleagues from CHIRP Radio, TMB LTD and Chicago Mixtape), we made our way to the green stage for day-one headliners Wilco.
Often cited as “elder statesman” here in Chicago (and band leader Jeff Tweedy did look quite distinguished in his Stetson hat), Wilco proved to be rather iconoclastic by performing the entirety of a new album (one called Star Wars, no less) that they had just released that very day without any advance notice. Only a band as charming and talented as this could get away with making the punters wait until the end of the set to hear the classic tunes “Handshake Drugs,” “Camera,” “Via Chicago” and “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
Our Saturday got off to a bit of a rocky start as Ex Hex’s midday performance on the red stage was delayed by light drizzle and then cut short by a torrential downpour, and the festival was briefly evacuated. Luckily, the team at nearby venue/restaurant/bar Bottom Lounge was prepared and rain-soaked music fans were able to dry off a bit over burgers and pints before returning to the park. Sunshine and mud greeted our return as we caught a good chunk of Parquet Court’s noisy set on the very same stage where Ex Hex had briefly made its mark.
Our attempt to catch Las Vegas-based up-and-comer Shamir on the blue stage proved to be futile due to gridlock, more mud and set delays, but veteran power poppers The New Pornographers were within earshot and we made our way back to the main pitch for sun-kissed three and four-part harmonies.
Later day-two highlights included a bouncy synth-rock set by Baltimore’s Future Islands and a stunning headline performance by the recently reunited Sleater-Kinney. The core trio of Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss was augmented by a fourth musician on bass and keyboards and they tore through songs old and new including “The Fox,” “No Cities to Love” (which Brownstein admitted that she wrote here in Chicago), “All Hands on the Bad One,” “Words and Guitar” and “Dig Me Out.”
We re-entered Pitchfork on Sunday to the strains of Calgary, Alberta’s Viet Cong and headed directly to the blue stage for The Julie Ruin, led by Bikini Kill front woman and riot grrl lifer Kathleen Hanna. The band put on a high-energy dance party (with strong hints of the B52s) that also sent a playful message to the younger women in the crowd that there is sill, indeed, a riot going on. Later in the day, Perfume Genius (essentially a vehicle for performer Mike Hadreas) transformed the blue stage into an intimate bedsit for lullabies embellished with primal screams, industrial keyboards and Twin Peaks roadhouse guitar.
Back on the main pitch, Courtney Barnett turned in a fiery performance on the green stage as she led her bassist and drummer through the sharp, literate tunes that made her famous: “Elevator Operator,” “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party,” “Avant Gardener” and a killer encore version of “Pedestrian at Best.”
A bit of the “festival fatigue” was setting in as Sunday afternoon gave way to Sunday evening, and our paced slowed dramatically. There were longer rest periods with vendor friends (thanks for the beer and use of your deckchairs) and a brief foray to the red stage to check out Run the Jewels, but we were quite content to call it a weekend as headliner Chance the Rapper closed out another great Pitchfork Music Festival.
[above; Festival crowd and festival goer AJ at Pitchfork Festival 2015]
Written by August Forte