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The Best and Worst of Pitchfork 2015

There was a lot to love (and a thing or two to hate) at Pitchfork’s 10th anniversary.

Sleater-Kinney   Photo: Allison Ziemba

Pitchfork Music Festival had its tenth birthday in Union Park this weekend, and things got theatrical to say the least. Marked by whacky weather and an unprecedentedly local lineup (two of three headliners), the weekend was one of the festival’s most memorable (if craziest) in recent years. The best, worst, and everything in between below.

The Best

Sleater-Kinney saving Saturday

The fest had suffered from a surprisingly middling slew of performances by its biggest names (mainly Wilco—more on that soon) until Saturday night, when Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss stepped onstage and delivered a performance more ferocious than anything that had come before it (including the thunderstorm that had evacuated Union Park hours earlier).

Freddie Gibbs’s seamless rhymes

The Gary, Indiana emcee rapped circles around his Sunday-afternoon crowd in a set that felt simultaneously improvised and flawless, during which he frequently shushed DJ/collaborator Madlib and zipped through intricate, minutes-long a cappella verses (one of which he appropriately punctuated with, “Yeah, I can rap.") The result was thousands of dropped jaws and a start to the festival’s far-and-away best day of music.

How To Dress Well’s huge sound

Chicago R&B singer Tom Krell isn’t known so much for a deafening wail as he is a sweet falsetto, but backed by a four-piece band Sunday afternoon, he delivered one of the weekend’s most unexpectedly booming sets. The only thing more painful than Krell’s material itself was that his set was cut short by 15 minutes for soundcheck.

Flor carpet squares

Whichever Flor marketing rep had the idea to hand out carpet squares to fest attendees turned out to be a prophetic genius. Whether tossed atop a mud puddle, used as a dry surface to sit on, or turned into a makeshift umbrella, Flor outshone flower crowns as the must-have accessory of Pitchfork.

Kirk Franklin’s unexpected cameo

All Sunday night the rumor mill was churning: Would headliner Chance the Rapper bring out a surprise guest whose name starts with a ‘K?’ Alas, Kanye didn’t appear. But Kirk Franklin, arguably gospel’s most famous living artist and the subject of Chance’s frequent, vocal admiration, did. During the portion of Chance’s set dedicated to collaborator Donnie Trumpet’s recent album Surf, Franklin bounced out and led the crowd in a medley of some of his biggest hits (“Melodies in Heaven,” “Revolution,” “Brighter Day") before segueing seamlessly into Chance and the Social Experiment’s gospel-influenced “Sunday Candy.” “It’s Sunday,” said Chance. "I wanted to do this for my grandma and take y’all to church." With Franklin’s help, he did.

An all-star lineup of female rock vocalists

Take a moment to consider that between Saturday and Sunday, festgoers heard a mind-boggling selection of the top women singing in rock today: the ladies of Sleater-Kinney, Kathleen Hanna (the Julie Ruin), Mary Timony (Ex Hex), Courtney Barnett, and Alicia Bognanno (Bully). Special commendation to Bognanno, who, in a 1:55 p.m. slot on the Blue Stage, growled her way to a sleeper pick for one of the weekend’s best performances. 

Run the Jewels’s triumphant return

At Pitchfork 2013, rappers El-P and Killer Mike played two separate mid-afternoon sets before teaming up for a truncated performance as their new hip-hop super-group, Run the Jewels. This year, they returned to Pitchfork with a choice evening slot and a massive, rabid fan base ready to do as they commanded. As usual, the two emcees delivered banger after banger—with an appearance by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha to boot—which made for one of the best performances of the whole weekend.

Shamir’s adorable debut

After an interminable soundcheck, 20-year-old Vegas native Shamir danced his way onto the Blue Stage and into the hearts of antsy fans with his winsome, boogie-friendly set. No visible nerves, no shoes (literally), no sweat.

Plentiful water bottles passed into the crowd

At a 90-degree festival, you’d think this would be a no-brainer—but you’d be surprised at how many mega-fests let their front-row crowds swelter in the heat.

The Worst

Having to pick between Sleater-Kinney and Vic Mensa

Whichever fans picked for their finales Saturday night meant making both the right and wrong decision and a painfully acute case of schedule anxiety. Learning after the fact that both artists played stellar sets doesn’t help. Don’t make us face our FOMO, Pitchfork.

Jeff Tweedy just being over it

If you closed your eyes Friday night, Wilco sounded great. But it was impossible to watch the band onstage and not feel like front man Jeff Tweedy was disengaged from his hometown crowd. His lackadaisical stage banter (“Good job. You all look good. You’re really taking care of yourselves") didn’t help.

The Blue Stage’s sound troubles

On top of soundcheck issues that ate into the sets of Tobias Jesso Jr. and How To Dress Well, the Blue Stage’s acoustics faltered for those standing behind the sound booth. Even A$AP Ferg’s party-rap anthems were barely audible over the New Pornographers set on the Green Stage (by no means a deafening one). Unless you were standing in the house’s acoustic sweet-spot—a difficult feat given the stage’s unprecedentedly packed sets—you were doomed to an indecipherable mix of Green Stage and Blue Stage acts.

Future Brown’s miscellaneous hype-men

The progressive DJ collective’s Saturday-afternoon set was fine in itself, but the half-dozen hype-men they brought onstage to encourage the lackluster crowd to “turn up” every four bars wasn’t only distracting, but awkward.

Saturday’s weather

Yes, it was hot, and yes, the rain sucked. It ruined shoes and turned the park into swampland. But the worst part about Saturday’s thunderstorms were the acts they interfered with—Ex Hex and Kurt Vile due to a 70-minute evacuation, and Vince Staples due to flight troubles. Boo.

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