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The Best and Worst of Pitchfork 2014

Here are 19 of the festival’s most memorable moments—for better or worse.

The best, the worst, and all points in between   Photo: Clayton Hauck

The Best

DJ Spinn and Treated Crew: A local act and festival highlight

After the untimely death of fellow footwork pioneer DJ Rashad earlier this year, few knew what Spinn and the amorphous rap collective would have in store at the Blue Stage on Sunday evening. But as soon as the beat dropped and the dancers started, everyone—juke devotees, suburban kids, the 20 or so people onstage—got down and wilded out. It was a fitting, memorable tribute. 

Giorgio Moroder’s disco dance moves

The Italian disco relic might not have performed the weekend’s most DJ-intensive set (it basically consisted of pressing play on a MacBook), but that left him with two free hands for unlimited finger-pointing and hand-clapping. Plus, the crowd loved him; how long until Logan Square gets its very own ironic disco night?

Sharon Van Etten’s fantastic opener

The New Jersey native made a quiet entrance but sounded confident and self-assured even though her onstage banter was shaky. Her subdued, well-layered set was a lovely way to kick off the weekend.

Kendrick Lamar’s earth-shaking bass 

We’re not sure how he did it (okay, maybe by enlisting a drummer, a bassist, and a DJ), but Kendrick Lamar’s weekend-closing set was so loud they could probably hear it in Indiana.

Danny Brown’s dirty a cappella

Of all the songs this Detroit rapper could’ve picked for a solo run, he, of course, chose his filthiest: “I Will.” The lyrics are blushworthy—Google at your own risk.

Nehneh Cherry’s sweet high tops

The Swedish trip-hop star played her first US set since 1992 wearing a pair of blue high-tops that could’ve been plucked from the very same era.

Perfect Pussy’s loud wake-up call

It’s rare for a punk band to command a festival crowd so well—they do better in small clubs and houses with a fraction of the people—but Meredith Graves and company were positively vicious during their early-Sunday time slot. If anybody was snoozing at the beginning of their set, they weren’t by the end.

Tune-Yards’s ukelele warrior act

With face paint smeared across her forehead like a lady rock warrior going to battle, Merrill Garbus’s set on Saturday was equal parts fierce and innovative. Combining woodblock, a ukelele solo, and pygmy-style rhythmic choral harmonies in the background, Tune Yards was like Zap Mama by way of Talking Heads.

Earl Sweatshirt having a ball

After canceling his summer tour, Earl’s show seemed like it could be a bored, catatonic set. Instead, he came on stage dancing to his DJ like he was any 19-year-old kid who hopped over the fence and snuck in. He started off his set with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” dubbed a fan “Brent” because of his aviator glasses and insufficient hypeness, told the crowd to go “World Cup,” lectured on Chicago’s meatpacking history, and clearly loved being at Pitchfork performing.

St. Vincent just being incredible 

Saturday was a celebration of ladies who rock, and St. Vincent made it official. Who else can so deftly combine high fashion, guitar shredding, and rolling around on the stage? With brilliant musicianship, she delivered her set with total confidence from the first bar.

The return of the ribbon dance

It was like the second-coming of the fly girls at the red stage during Grimes’s set on Sunday evening. Grime’s herself, flanked by two dancers channeling the year 1994, has clearly found her on-stage confidence since she first played the Blue Stage two years ago.

Jeff Mangum’s perfectly preserved voice

The only positive about the Neutral Milk Hotel singer’s multi-year retreat from performing is that his voice is intact—as nasally and emotive as it sounded on NMH’s beloved In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

The secret side entrance to the festival

You had to walk through an alley lined with broken glass and barbed-wire fencing to get to this tiny Washington Street entrance tent. But intrepid explorers (and readers of the fest’s info booklet) found just a five-minute wait to get in, even during the busiest times on Sunday.

The amazing weather

After several years of extreme heat and torrential downpours, this year’s mild, clear, and just gorgeous weather was a delight (and a big relief).

The Worst

The reverb on Mark Kozelek’s voice

Part of what makes indie-folk act Sun Kil Moon so engaging is singer Mark Kozelek’s hyper-raw tenor. So why muck it up with a bunch of echo?

Neutral Milk Hotel’s no-Jumbotron rule

Ever since emerging from ten-plus years of reclusion in 2010, Neutral Milk Hotel front man Jeff Mangum has enforced a strict no-photo policy, which extends to Jumbotrons. Compounded with heavy backlighting, the band was little more than a bearded silhouette on Saturday night.

Overlapping sets by St. Vincent and FKA Twigs

Fans of each of these two ladies overlap quite a bit. Why, Pitchfork, why must you make us choose?

Pusha T’s disappointing show

The former Clipse MC arrived 30 minutes late, apparently due to his tardy DJ and delivered a truncated set that while fierce on delivery, lacked momentum or any sort of pacing. Capped by an inexplicable diss at Pitchfork favorite Lil B, King Push was anything but.

The beer situation

Waiting in three different lines—one for a wristband, one for drink tickets, and one for beer—is two lines too many for a 12-ounce cup of Goose Island.

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