Leor Galil: Saturday was all about joy. The sight of RP Boo smiling as he busted out a fierce mix of footwork tracks while attendees on the ground danced hard enough to kick up dirt in the air; the reunited Digable Planets slipping into their classic 90s cuts like they’d just perfected them yesterday; a quasi-symphonic version of Circuit Des Yeux slowly building a melody that seemed to reach for the heavens. Hell, Super Furry Animals made the unpleasant experience of using a porta-potty feel, well, slightly more pleasant when I heard them rip through “Golden Retriever” as I relieved myself within earshot.
And yet I ached for sadness as the day drew to a close. It could’ve been the fact that I missed most of Blood Orange and all of Jlin. It could’ve been the glumness behind Brian Wilson’s eyes. But mostly it was my desire to see Sufjan Stevens play songs off last year’s devastating Carrie & Lowell.
He did, briefly, with some sense of obligation—as he mentioned at the start of his set, he was looking forward to performing more jubilant material after ritualistically singing about his mother’s death on tour for a solid year. I won’t fight him there, in part because Pitchfork Fest isn’t the ideal place for those songs; when I listen to his tremendous “Fourth of July,” I want nothing to get in the way of every detail in the music. (To the jabbering drunks who elbowed their way over to where I was standing and proceeded to talk through the song—fuck you.) But also I couldn’t help but fall for Sufjan’s whimsy. He knows that to make a great headlining set it takes a lot of practice, down-to-earth charm, and materials that looked like they were lifted from a party supply shop and an adjacent used car lot. Not that I needed the inflatable dancing figures to feel the joy—Sufjan’s enthusiasm did a lot of the heavy lifting. “The worst is behind,” Sufjan said as the heaviness of “Should Have Known Better” began to dissolve. The guy sure knows how to follow his feelings.
Philip Montoro: I walked into the park to hear Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux, whose unearthly singing carried across the grounds like the voice of an elder god shaking deep-ocean water from its back. When I got closer to the stage, I half expected to see naked cultists dancing around a bonfire. Fohr wore her hair in front of her face under a cowboy hat, so that every time the cameras zoomed in on her it looked like they were shooting the wrong side of her head.
The set I’d been looking forward to the most was Girl Band, and I was not disappointed. They played like they’d just discovered how to rip a hole into another dimension with a pipe wrench.
If you’ve ever loved a noise-punk record, you need to give these deranged Dublin bastards some ear time pronto. Their songs sound like the dismembered remains of rock ‘n’ roll, reassembled with a staple gun and set to dancing at the end of a jumper cable. I especially liked the bassist using a bottle as a slide—not the bottleneck, the whole bottle. The only thing I could’ve done without was all the clapping along from the crowd. I’m glad you’re having fun, but there are ways to express enthusiasm that don’t fight with the music. Head banging, for instance, is silent.
For the record, my new favorite way of saying I need to find a porta-potty is “I gotta go stand in a big plastic box full of pee.”
During Savages a cicada killer briefly landed on my head, causing me to flail around like an idiot, but otherwise their set was great. They share some features with Girl Band—especially a propensity to use the guitar as a noise faucet—but they lean much harder on familiar rock ‘n’ roll tropes in their rhythms, drive, and stage presence. Does it make sense for me to say that Savages are a better band, but I like Girl Band more? I can’t help myself. I want it weird, gross, and ugly.
Jlin started 25 minutes late, apparently afflicted by the same sort of technical difficulties that had delayed a couple Blue Stage sets on Friday. I’m glad I stuck it out—her odd, frenetic beats created a vast, busy sonic space by layering rhythmic patterns with wildly varying tempos, pitches, timbres, and stereo orientations. I think I’m still more interested in footwork music than in love with it, but to be fair, it’s really interesting.
A friend who’d seen a bit of Brian Wilson’s set described it as “a snooze” and “like Ravinia.” So I found a place to sit down and wrote this. Sorry, Sufjan.
J.R. Nelson: After so many years, I’ve learned to chalk it up to coincidence rather than some theoretical Jungian collective unconscious-enabled Pitchfork scheduling overlord: it seems like the artists in my yearly top-tier of “must see” festival acts always play on the same day, and I’d long plotted out Saturday’s late-afternoon/early-evening sets from Savages, Blood Orange, and Jlin as appointment viewing.
After seeing them five times since 2012, Savages have taken a slot among my favorite live bands on the planet. The muscular, imperial architecture of their intricately crafted postpunk always soars high, although sunlight robs them of a bit of the intimacy and fearsome dominance they bring to a small room. Attendees of the band’s transcendent April show at Metro, where singer Jehnny Beth spent a fair amount of time walking on hands and shoulders into the middle of the crowd to consummate a series of lovingly stern lectures and messianic poses, would probably agree. Although Beth refused my well-intentioned advice to perform in a peanut costume this time around, I wasn’t mad about it. Her black suit, brassiere, and Christian Louboutins were 100 percent “business sexual”—and the iron-hot, always in sync band behind her made sure that business was definitely good.
In yesterday’s recap, Philip Montoro mentioned that he appreciates when relatable performers like Carly Rae Jepson retain their individuality outside the “armor-plated diva routine” of our current superstar system. Although he’s not a diva, per se, Dev Hynes—who is among our most gifted songwriters, sensual producers, and pretty fucking underrated dancers—remains an approachable, understated superstar as the leader of Blood Orange. The band’s set retained a typically Hynes-ian collaborative feel; saxophone player Jason Acre and Blood Orange’s back-up singers seemed to share almost equal voice with their leader.
The dark, booming beats and horror-film soundtrack sensibilities of Jlin’s Planet Mu LP Dark Energy made it my favorite full-length of 2015—so I had high hopes for the Gary, Indiana, footwork producer’s early evening set on the Blue Stage. Unfortunately, it was cut drastically short due to technical difficulties. I don’t know much about hyping a crowd, but I’m sure the Anderson .Paak partisans who talked their way through her truncated set would’ve enjoyed it if they’d bothered listening while it lasted. Jlin is a serious talent in a serious subgenre, and I couldn’t help but think of the 2014 festival’s memorial DJ Rashad set from DJ Spinn—and how footwork, inarguably this city’s most important genre-contribution to serious body movement since the early days of house music—is certainly in capable, forward-looking hands.
Kevin Warwick: Look, a punk band! Better than that even, Girl Band presented something day one didn’t have at all: a sense of torture. Playing a sun-beaten early set, the Irishmen hammered out noise-driven postpunk songs that often worked without any rhythm at all, the guitar stabbing and retreating as red-faced, disheveled singer Dara Kiely squirmed on stage like he was doubling over from a stomach virus. Last night was cozy, what with Broken Social Scene and Beach House sauntering through their brands of warm, precious indie rock. No slight on any of that, really—but it was a total fucking delight to get jolted right from the get-go on Saturday.
Along with Girl Band, the Aussies in Royal Headache complemented the early portion of the bill thanks to the presence of Shogun, the temperamental, often-irked front man, who stalks the stage and blurts out lines in between songs like, “I need more drums, I need more shit on everything.” The rest of the band is ornamental, barely even moving as Shogun—donning a beaten, oversized polo and gnarled jeans—rolls through surprisingly hook-loaded, chugging pop songs that defy the band’s projected aura in front of a crowd. Which always makes them worth watching.
I’m mesmerized by Ayse Hassan, the bass player of Savages. Not only a shredder, she has a stage presence that’s perfect for a bass player: she keeps her instrument slung low as she bobs to and fro relentlessly, perfectly in rhythm. She never wavers, even providing the groove between songs, miming her play and waiting patiently for front power Jehnny Beth to signal for everything to recommence. Savages are a sight to behold, their set more a series of short one-act performances that coalesces into a sort of opera by the end. Yesterday I wrote that Twin Peaks are probably the best rock band in the city—almost certainly the best to see live—today it’s hard to imagine a better live rock band on the planet than Savages. I’m never not in awe of them.
Noah Berlatsky: Day two at Pitchfork was hotter than day one, though there was an occasional welcome cooling breeze. The early afternoon in fact was perfect napping weather. Several folks on the lawn seemed to think so, in any case, while they zoned out staring at the sky as Circuit Des Yeux’s Americana/electronica doomy drone opened the fest from the main stage
If the early bands were supposed to keep things mellow, though, RP Boo didn’t get the memo. No shade to the international acts, but local footwork grandfather Boo was the performer I was most eager to see this year, and I was not disappointed. Wearing a White Sox cap and grinning like a schoolkid, he launched into his set a couple minutes after the 1:45 PM start time, and the crazed repetitive repetitive repetitive repetitive repetitive broken samples and beats slammed and staggered at high volume without ceasing and no between-song patter for 45 solid minutes.
Inevitably, Boo brought dancers. Four or so young guys took turns twisting their legs about like broken robots caught in a hurricane. The crowd was raucous and enthusiastic. One guy near me thrashed so hard, his glasses came off. But the vibe was a lot different from the equally boisterous folks at the Mick Jenkins set the previous night. That was a fandom lifting up its idol, while the love for RP Boo felt more communal. Some amateur dancers in the audience showed what they could do as the crowd backed up to give them space—and up on stage more and more dancers showed up to perform.
By the end of the show, there were 20 to 30 people on stage, cheering each other on. To close, Boo himself came out from behind his turntables and did some dancing. When he’d finished, the performers came forward to acknowledge the cheers and take cell-phone snaps of the crowd, who responded by taking cell-phone snaps back. Boo was still grinning at the end. Who wouldn’t be?
Brianna Wellen: Man, Brian Wilson is a huge bummer. I was so excited to have a beach-rock jam, but instead I got a Beach Boys cover band with an animatronic version of a very sad-looking Brian Wilson. The greatest part of the whole set was John Cusack jumping on stage to sing “Sloop John B.” (Lloyd Dobler forever!) I became increasingly more excited for Sufjan Stevens as Wilson scowled on, remembering fondly a Sufjan record that a high-school crush burned for me. But this Sufjan was not the Sufjan of old. Pitchfork’s Sufjan was not sad and sleepy but covered in disco balls and balloons. It was completely unexpected, and welcome after the Wilson disaster.
Tiffany Walden: The first time I saw BJ the Chicago Kid live was at his album release party at Reggie’s Chicago. He jammed out on a solo drum with a full band and drumline to back him up and keep the audience hyped. So when I noticed the solo drum perched at the front of the stage, I thought BJ was about to bring the same energy.
Unfortunately, he didn’t. His show started off mellow, and would’ve stayed at that level, if not for him playing a Chicago gem: “Hay” by Crucial Conflict. Then he turned to another radio favorite, Chance the Rapper’s “No Problems,” to further pump up the crowd, at which point, I could feel the bleachers beneath me rocking from everyone dancing and singing along.
He returned later in the night during Anderson .Paak’s set to sing their collaboration, “The Waters” from .Paak’s latest album. But .Paak could’ve stood on his own. He not only commandeered the crowd, which gladly waved its hands up and down at his call, but he also brought the whole VIP section to its feet. His particular mix of funk, hip-hop, and soul—and the fact that he occasionally jumps on the drums while holding down vocals simultaneously—impressed many.
Luca Cimarusti: I’m really happy I got to Pitchfork as early as I did on Saturday, because Girl Band was a real treat. The Irishmen took one-note tracks and turned them into monsters, removing from modern-day noise-rock the jockish muscle that seems to constantly be a part of it all (a friend once described Metz as the “sonic equivalent of a Powerbar”). Minimal, powerful, anxiety-ridden, and tense as all hell, Girl Band was a weird, heavy way to kick the day off—by far the darkest, hardest band of the festival.
The rest of the day? I dunno. I watched one of the world’s most enduring songwriters perform in full one of the greatest records ever recorded, saw some of the city’s best dancers rip it up on stage with RP Boo, and took this insane selfie with Carly Rae Jepsen:
She complimented me on my Grateful Dead tee.