Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago 2016 Recap
Three gorgeous days in the Windy City listening to groovy tunes and catching pokemon. Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago 2016 was everything it was hyped up to be and then some…The festival gods blessed us with perfect weather and flash-mobs. The days were spent with brass, even more jazz, cameo-performances, and unmissable covers.
This year’s lineup was spectacular and included Beach House, Sufjan Stevens, FKA Twigs, Carley Rae Jepsen, Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds, and many, many more. Almost every show had someone hopping on stage to take on a verse, whether it was another act at Pitchfork, a proud parent, or someone that played you in a movie *hint* *hint*.
Okay, but who didn’t squeal when Brian Wilson brought out John Cusak to perform along-side him.
Or when Chance the Rapper came out to perform “Birthday Sex” with Jeremih?
It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
WIUX kept everyone up-to-date through its Instagram and a fun “Dad’s like Pitchfork too” trilogy; Now, read about the buzz-worthy acts reviewed by Sierra Witham and Dalia Erkman.
Don’t forget to check out the WIUX//Pitchfork Photo Gallery! (see below)
Car Seat Headrest
Car Seat Headrest began their set with “Fill in the Blank,” the opener on the band’s excellent new(ish) record, Teens of Denial. The crowd knew the words, which delighted drummer Andrew Katz, who himself was a delight. Katz is a smiley dude, and it was he, not frontman Will Toledo, who thanked everyone for coming out. Toledo, a self-proclaimed “Internet Guy,” thanked the people who were watching online. Toledo’s not your typical rock-band frontman. He mostly stood in one place and, squinty-eyed, stared straight ahead, as if he were still doing the soundcheck. The wunderkind is, however, a student of rock. On “Strangers,” a track off last year’s Teens of Style, he sings, “Car Seat’s nervous and the lights are bright. When I was a kid I fell in / love with Michael Stipe.” Michael Stipe, as you may know, was R.E.M.’s lead singer, and “Michael’s nervous and the lights are bright” is a line in R.E.M.’s “Strange.” So it made sense when the band followed “Fill in the Blank” with a cover of David Bowie’s “Blackstar.” Four songs in, during “Vincent,” what was a drizzle became full-on rain. You could say the rain suited “Vincent.” (“They got a portrait by Van Gogh / on the Wikipedia page / for clinical depression / Well, it helps to describe it.”) You could also say the people moshing looked pretty dang happy.
Toledo didn’t go for the Alex G-like falsetto in “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” and, when he introduced the final song, it dawned on two guys standing behind me that they wouldn’t get to hear “Drugs with Friends.” They were disappointed–understandably so. Not to reduce the track to a song-meant-to-be-played-live, but Toledo does, right before the closing refrains, invite the listener to sing along! Anyway, they finished with “Something Soon,” a track off Style. Comparatively few people sang along, which suggests something about fans’ relationship with Style versus their relationship with Denial. The former’s a compilation of songs Toledo released on his Bandcamp before Car Seat was a Matador-signed four-piece. That is, Style isn’t as cohesive as Denial. Perhaps in part for that reason, perhaps also because Style’s way more lo-fi, it seems fewer people have an attachment to it. – Sierra Witham
Roots, Brass, and Beer
This [Light Upon the Lake] is the past two years of my life – Julien Ehrlich
From the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, brings you the beautiful collab of Whitney. With an album released only a month prior to the festival, Whitney sure drew a crowd to the Blue Stage. Whether beloved fans or Light upon the Lake virgins, everyone was grooving to Whitney’s sugar-coated melodies that remind you of a warm summer night and a brass section like that of those old Chicago blues bars.
The high falsetto of Julien’s voice fits right into place in a small bar or on a festival stage. The melancholy of summer nights coming to an end and the revelation that we truly are living in the “Golden Days” brings an almost somber perspective to the act: a certain gloom that can only subside while dancing. You could hear the epiphany as we all echoed Julien during “Golden Days.”
When it came time for Whitney to play the title track from their album Light Up the Lake, they brought out a string quartet to help them. The violin’s sound soared through the open air on “No Woman” and Pitchfork attendees were left with a new appreciation for string instruments in a festival setting.
Some of the most down-to-earth guys, Whitney took to the Chirp tent on Saturday to sign albums, cell-phones, and faces. They humbly conversed with their fans and stood with the crowd during Sufjan Steven’s set later that night. WIUX was there and posted photos to its Instagram page of the interaction. This wasn’t WIUX’s first time hanging with Whitney; as we all remember Whitney performed at Culture Shock in April. – Dalia Erkman
“I just wanted to start with some kind of response to the horrors of the world,” Julia Holter said before playing “Wise Sad Song,” whose chorus has the line: “I am begging all for forgiveness.” Right after the song ended, we heard an ambulance siren. Holter, smiling, told the crowd, “I thought that ambulance was Dina [Maccabee] on viola,” and Maccabee proceeded to mimic a siren with her viola. The two seemed to be of the opinion that we oughta laugh while we mourn. There was only Holter’s keyboard, Maccabee’s viola, the emotive Devin Hoff’s double bass, and Corey Fogel’s drums on stage, so the sax solo on “Sea Calls Me Home” was replaced by a viola solo, which Maccabee nailed. The sun came out just as Holter’s band began playing the poppy “Feel You.” This was a little ironic considering the last line in the song’s first verse: “You know I love to run away from the sun.” Let’s not conflate the art and the artist, though. Holter didn’t come off as someone who’s sun-averse. Soft-spoken and prone to smiling warmly, she had a lovely, almost grandmotherly vibe to her. The gray streaks in her hair probably added to the effect.
During “Betsy on the Roof,” when Holter sang “oh oh” as Betsy, it was unclear if she was smiling because that’s just her disposition, or if maybe this Betsy character, standing on the roof, perhaps about to jump off, is relieved to leave whatever suffering she’s been enduring. When Holter sang as Betsy’s friend–“Looking up, won’t you please tell me the answer / You know the answer, Betsy”–Holter’s voice lost its pleasantness, became a desperate yell. It was a captivating performance, arguably the highlight of a never-less-than-stunning set. – Sierra Witham
Twin Peaks played the Red Stage Friday afternoon and man did they bring a show to their hometown. The crowd anxiously waited for the chance to rush the stage. The moshing was quite tame considering the cool summer day – mostly jumping and bumping and the occasional shoving. Adrenaline was flowing and the crowd was feeling it. Twin Peaks was right there with us the entire time. Their energy mirrored that of the crowd. They played their hits like “Making Breakfast” and even some slower ones to let the moshers take a breath.
We all chanted the lyrics to “Wanted You” as some type of anthem for the socially-awkward, pubescent teen with a crush. Now adults, we’re angry and want to shout: “I wanted you, but you didn’t want me.” Twin Peaks’ set was full of surprises like when a tupperware dish of goodies was thrown to the crowd and when Whitney’s brass section came on stage to preform side-by-side. Two Youthful Chicago Locals; One Stage: What more could you ask for in the Windy City. – Dalia Erkman
Broken Social Scene
Reunion of the Year
There were substantially more post-twentysomethings standing in the front for Broken Social Scene than there were for Car Seat Headrest. This wasn’t surprising. Car Seat’s first studio album came out last year; Noise Factory Records released Broken Social Scene’s debut album Feel Good Lost back in 2001. Feel Good Lost isn’t BSS’s most feel-good album, though. That’d be You Forgot It in People. And six of the twelve songs they played are from You Forgot It. They wanted us enjoy ourselves. Who definitely had fun was co-founder and guitarist Brendan Canning, a 46-year-old with more zest than like 46 toddlers combined. Nearly every time I looked at Canning, he was dancing or jumping or kicking his left leg way up. BSS’s other co-founder, vocalist and guitarist Kevin Drew, said the Toronto-based band loves Chicago, that they made Forgiveness Rock Record in the city, and that they want the people of Chicago to “do the right thing this election.”
Then they played “Fire Eye’d Boy,” a song Drew claimed was written about the 2016 presidential election. Given that “Fire Eye’d Boy”’s on their self-titled album, which came out in 2005, Drew, um, lied. But he could have been telling the truth. The chorus goes, “Fire-eyed boy gave them all the slip / If you’re going to come, you better make it quick / Fire-eyed boy gets his ass whipped.” Or, a potential paraphrase: “Trump is hateful and petulant, and he doesn’t exactly try to appeal to people who aren’t white, male, and Christian. / Immigrate now before there’s a giant wall. / Just kidding, Hillary’s gonna win by a landslide.” They played a new song, a song that could also be interpreted as referring to this campaign season. This one’s chorus goes, “Things will get better / ‘cause they can’t get worse.” The song’s called “Gonna Get Better,” and it features new band member Ariel Engle, who’s got a great voice. She and Amy Millan (of Stars) harmonize well. Did the crowd enjoy themselves? Well, when five proficient guitarists are playing simultaneously, as was the case during “Cause = Time,” it’s very hard not to grin. – Sierra Witham
Dark and Beautiful; Hypnotic
Love is the key word. I feel love for a lot of people. I feel love for people I don’t even know. It’s called empathy and it’s a really underestimated emotion. – Victoria Legrand
As Friday night’s headliner, some say that Beach House was a safe choice, but no one cared. Beach House was alluringly hypnotic. The entire performance was almost like a trance; time no longer existed. The showcase was mesmerizing to say the least – you couldn’t look away. The lights colored the smoke and the soft guitar melodies filled the air. Beach House couldn’t have played at any other time, their music is purely for those sleepless nights.
Beach House played everything from Teen Dream to Depression Cherry. Victoria’s Legrand’s gravelly, voice ascended into the night sky during “Myth” and broke your heart. The beauty brought a tear to your eye and made you want to climb onto a roof and watch the city lights. We were all 17 again with so many hopes and dreams. Beach House transcended the boundaries and created a euphoric sense of self for everyone listening.
Beach House even performed a cover of the Korgi’s “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” – a song that already sounds like a Beach House song. – Dalia Erkman
Post-punk Savages have asked people not to use their phones during their shows. At a venue in Seattle, on tour supporting their debut album Silence Yourself, the band posted a sign that read: “We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves.” Surely by now you’ve heard the claim that, because no one wants to see the stage through someone else’s iPhone, taking a picture or video during a show is rude to whomever’s standing behind you. You’ve probably also heard the claim that using a phone at a show is rude to the musicians you’re seeing. “Rude” doesn’t feel like a strong enough word after you see frontwoman Jehnny Beth perform. Beth so obviously wanted to engage with the crowd.
The four-piece started their set with “I Need Something New,” and Beth made eye contact and pointed at a different person each time she sang “I need you.” It’s a sexual sentiment, in a sexual song. Keep that in mind. She pointed at people as she sang–also not a strong enough word; let’s go with declared–other phrases, too. She pointed at a person for each “what else” in “Sad Person.” She pointed at a person for each “to be said” in “Slowing Down the World.” I could go on. Before they played “Hit Me,” another sexual song, she asked us, “Do you want it louder?” People yelled, “Yeah!” “Do you want it faster?” “Yeah!” “Do you want it…dirtier?” “Yeeaaaahh!” The band never played “She Will,” a standout track on Silence Yourself. This had to disappoint some fans, but its exclusion felt right. “She Will”’s a great song with a great message, just not the right message for this set. You see, “She Will” asserts that women can have sex whenever they want and “you’ve got to get used to it.” Jehnny Beth’s performance seemed less concerned with whether or not “slut”-shaming is wrong, and more concerned with whether or not music fans would feel comfortable using their phones while having sex. – Sierra Witham
I’ve been traveling around the world for a year singing songs about death and loneliness and heartache, so if you don’t mind, we’ll try to stick to upbeat stuff tonight – Sufjan Stevens
After smashing his banjo at the end of “Seven Swans,” Sufjan Stevens told the crowd he’s been touring the world playing songs about death, and, “if you don’t mind, maybe tonight we’ll try to play some more upbeat songs.” Then he launched into “Too Much,” one of six songs from Age of Adz on his setlist. Shots of Stevens posing like a glamorous pop star flashed behind him. He lowered our expectations by introducing “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!” as a “word salad” that’s in 5/4. This wasn’t wise of him–he couldn’t quite keep up. “This is too fast,” he said, before laughing. He only played three songs from last year’s Carrie & Lowell, and they were all danceable. “All of Me Wants All of You” was a slow jam the crowd waved their arms along to, and “Fourth of July” had drums and horns and chimes and two electric guitars. People fist-pumped while singing, “We’re all gonna die.”
Stevens messed up the timing of his lines on “Should Have Known Better,” and sang them prematurely, like he was enjoying himself too much to be patient. After “I Want to Be Well”–an aptly titled song; the titular line appears over 75 times–he told us: “Thank you. I feel better. There’s nothing like a mantra to make you feel better.” He was joking, but he, a guy who’s been putting platitudes in his lyrics for over a decade, also kinda meant it. “I Want to Be Well” was followed by a shortened version of “Impossible Soul,” during which Stevens put on a bunch of multicolored balloons and spun around and jumped off a staircase prop and just, like, frolicked around the stage. In the jubilant “Chicago,” after the refrain “I made a lot of mistakes,” he told us, “You’ve witnessed them all tonight. Hopefully you still love me. I love you.” This was a tad arrogant (“still”), but, you know, how can you not love Sufjan Stevens? “We’d like to end with a Prince cover ‘cause every night should end with a Prince song,” he said, before Moses Sumney, who up to this point was just on backing vocals, sang the first verse of “Kiss.” Sumney’s got a killer falsetto. Stevens took the second verse and botched the lyrics. The crowd laughed with him. After he and his backing band left the stage, we cheered for an encore and learned Sufjan’s a hard name to chant quickly. But when a voice on the speakers thanked us for coming to Pitchfork Music Festival, we had to accept that the celebration was over. – Sierra Witham
Undeniable World Jazz
I have never listened to Kamasi Washington before, but I had friends that had seen him at other festivals and guaranteed a good time. At first, I didn’t know how to feel about jazz at a “rock” festival. Now, I love jazz as much as the next guy, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like it might be out of place. After enjoying Blood Oranges’ jazzy slow jams on Saturday, I decided to give Kamasi Washington a chance.
His set only consisted on 5 songs – 5 very long songs. The first song left more to be desired; I just was not feeling it, but then Kamasi brought out “the man who taught him everything he knows.” Kamasi side-by-side with his father played some “old-school” jazz that made your bones weep. The saxophone solo gave you hope of better times to come and the trumpets took you on a trip around the world. Kamasi performed with two drummers and two bass players – which each had their own couple of minutes long solo. I could say that after hearing “Cherokee” I was sold. Say hello to Kamasi Washington’s newest fan. I truly believe that many fans were created then and there. It was impossible to resist the vocal harmonies and the organ player. You can’t deny the appeal of the brass. – Dalia Erkman
We all remember Neon Indian from this year’s Culture Shock. Who could forget when he performed for all of us and then hung out with a bunch of college radio nerds!
His Pitchfork set had to contain the most gusto and sweat. Alan Palomo brought it ALL to the stage. He’s got all his own moves and was thriving on the crowd’s energy. There wasn’t a second when he wasn’t jumping around mirroring the crowd. They played all their hits “Deadbeat Summer,” “Polish Girl,” and “Annie.” I was kind of upset when I found out that Neon Indian was going to be playing during the day. Just like Beach House, Neon Indian is a night show – but for the opposite reasons. The light show was at a disadvantage in the summer heat, but, regardless, we all still had a great time.
When they busted into “Annie,” Alan gave the crowd an unforgiving glare, so intense he was looking through you. He put on a performance only someone outside of himself could give. I’m not even sure if anyone at the show had a pulse or if their heart was beating too fast to tell.
One of the smartest musicians of 2016, you can’t list an artist to Alan that he hasn’t heard in one way or another. For as big as he is, he is deeply immersed in the smaller, more-underground indie community. If you ever get the chance to sit down and talk with him in someone’s kitchen, I highly recommend it.
Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago 2016 was one for the books – full of surprises, happy fans – young and old, and groovy tunes. We cannot wait for next year’s Pitchfork!
Photo Gallery from the Festival: