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The Best and Worst of Pitchfork 2016

A joyful Sufjan, a despondent Brian Wilson, and a surprise appearance by Chance.

Sufjan Stevens   Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

The Best

Sufjan’s surprisingly uplifting set

When you tap as a headliner the guy whose most recent release quietly explored, among other things, his relationship with his drug-addicted, bipolar, and schizophrenic mother, you’re probably not planning on a sunny closer. But Saturday night, Sufjan Stevens came out clad in neon, tinsel, and monstrous swan wings, and drew heavily on his peppier previous release, The Age of Adz. By the end of the night, the dude was covered in balloons, singing Prince’s “Kiss” along with Moses Sumney, and giving one of the weekend’s most energetic performances.

Pitchforkers welcome jazz

Even more refreshing than sets by Kamasi Washington, the Sun Ra Arkestra, and Thundercat—Pitchfork’s rare jazz and funk billings—was the fervor with which people welcomed them. Hint hint, Pitchfork: more next year.

Chance joins Jeremih onstage

The South Side R&B crooner’s homecoming set was wild in its own right—and on his birthday, no less—but an appearance by local emcee Chance the Rapper (and, later, G Herbo and Jeremih’s mother) pushed things to full-on mayhem:

Miguel leaves the Pitchfork bubble

Sexy, woke, charming—what’s not to like about Miguel? The singer, who’s often unfairly compared to Frank Ocean, made an irrefutable case for himself Sunday evening, bolstering his dense lyrics with a full band that upstaged the weekend’s rock headliners. He was also the weekend’s first performer to directly address this month’s spate of police shootings, taking nearly 10 minutes out of his set to address matters outside the music festival and calling for a festival’s worth of arms raised in solidarity with the fight for equality.

Miguel  Photo: Cousin Daniel

NAO arrives

East London soul singer Neo Jessica Joshua (a.k.a. NAO) is on the brink of a breakthrough. Despite her late start Sunday afternoon (the standard at Pitchfork’s technically insufficient Blue Stage), the songstress wowed crowds with a fierce backing band, powerhouse vocals, and effortless dance moves in the day’s poppiest moment.

Anderson .Paak wins the Blue Stage

If Anderson .Paak is not headlining Pitchfork in a few years, it will be only because he’s gotten too big. The rapper, singer and drummer—who made a splash this year with a knockout LP and appearances with Dr. Dre, Snakehips, and Kaytranada—performed as if his life depended on it Saturday, bouncing across Pitchfork’s intimate Blue Stage with a fervor that invoked James Brown. For fans, an hour simply wasn’t enough.

The rise of Moses Sumney

This powerhouse vocalist took the stage amid serious soundbleed from Twin Peaks’ set across the park, but it only took a few minutes for Sumney to build his own wall of sound with little more than a vocal looper. Sumney’s music (and set) largely defied categorization; fans of innovators like Prince and Michael Jackson had best keep an eye on the rising star.

LocalFork

Pitchfork has a solid track record when it comes to booking locals, but this year felt like a backyard barbecue. Sets by BJ the Chicago Kid, Mick Jenkins, Homme, Whitney, Twin Peaks, RP Boo, Circuit des Yeux, and Jeremih—plus Chance and G Herbo—left the festival with an overall communal tint. Which, on that note:

Crazy collaborations

It wasn’t enough for Whitney trumpeter Will Miller to anchor the band’s Friday afternoon set; he went on to join both fellow hometown heroes Twin Peaks and folksy rocker Kevin Morby for their performances. Dev Hynes of Blood Orange also popped up to back Carly Rae Jepsen, who returned the favor the next day singing “Better Than Me” with Hynes. Chance and G Herbo, of course, joined Jeremih; BJ the Chicago Kid popped in with Anderson .Paak; and Moses Sumney, in one of the best cameos of the weekend, punctuated Sufjan Stevens’ set with a pitch-perfect tribute to Prince.

Carly Rae dazzles

The wildcard of the weekend—a pop star at Pitchfork—pulled in some of the festival’s largest crowds. These weren’t fair-weather fans, either. Based on the sheer number of people singing along with Jepsen’s every word, the vocalist was responsible for a sizable chunk of Pitchfork’s Friday crowd.

Carly Rae Jepsen  Photo: Cousin Daniel

The Worst

A despondent Brian Wilson

Throughout his Saturday performance of Pet Sounds, Brain Wilson seemed affectless if not downright miserable. It’s hard to blame him: The 50-year-old album was largely a solo endeavor, and Wilson’s band at Pitchfork—coaxed along by Beach Boys guitarist Al Jardine—left little room for him to participate in his own oeuvre. It hardly seemed a fitting tribute for an album and artist who means so much to so many.

Brian Wilson  Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

The same-old, same-old food

A fest with the foresight to cast someone as avant-garde as FKA Twigs as its Sunday night headliner should be more willing to take a risk with its dining options: Aside from the addition of the Doner Men food truck, there wasn’t much new to munch on this year, and the lines were as oppressively long as ever. Maybe next year, an entire fleet of food trucks? More ice cream? Anything?

#LateFork

Pitchfork’s Blue Stage is notorious for running behind schedule, but this year was particularly bad. Apparent technical difficulties had the stage running late all weekend—from Moses Sumney on Friday to Thundercat on Sunday—and the Red and Green stages followed suit at various points Saturday and Sunday. The result was an unnavigable mess of a schedule, with fans miffed by unexpected set conflicts (Jeremih and the Hotelier) and some seriously frustrated artists (Sumney).

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