Pitchfork, a website dedicated to reviewing music of the indie persuasion, declares itself “the most trusted voice in music” and Pitchfork Music Festival is living proof of that claim. This festival takes place each year in Chicago’s Union Park. Though last weekend was the festival’s 12th year running, it was still surprisingly small and intimate. From saxophonist Colin Stetson to DIY indie-rockers Frankie Cosmos, the eclectic lineup was carefully curated and included a little something for everyone’s taste. All 41 acts were spread throughout the weekend on three different stages: Red Stage, Green Stage and Blue Stage. There were also plenty of attractions, like Flatstock, CHIRP Record Fair, Book Fort and many others, to lure the concert-goers away from the stages.
The first set I stumbled upon was Madame Gandhi, who kicked off the festival on Friday. Don’t let her early slot fool you, though. Madame Gandhi, real name Kiran Gandhi, is a veteran performer and you might recognize her as the former drummer of singer M.I.A’s backing band. Gandhi’s electric performance celebrated female empowerment as she danced across the stage. She even made time in her set to read feminist poetry and play the drums.
Next up was Vince Staples. As a longtime fan, his set was one of my most anticipated for the weekend, but unfortunately it was one of the poorer performances I witnessed. As high-energy as Staples was, he seemed bored and not into his performance. This either didn’t bother the crowd or they didn’t realize, as they rapped along to every song, including the tracks from his newly dropped album, Big Fish Theory.
The headliner for the night was electro-disco-rock band LCD Soundsystem. They did not waste any time easing into their bigger songs and kicked off their set with “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “I Can Change.” The band seamlessly transitioned into song after song, making sure they hit all parts of their discography. The whole concert was a monstrous dance party. My favorite part was seeing the different generations of music fans sing back the lyrics to the band — this proved that LCD’s legacy is here to stay.
On Saturday, I skipped the openers and headed straight to the Blue Stage. First up was Cherry Glazerr, a noise-pop indie band. Frontwoman Clementine Creevy began the set by crawling onto stage, growling. I was immediately smitten with her because she was unorthodox, weird and free-spirited. After the first song, Creevy told the crowd to “shut the fuck up” and proceeded to laugh at her own remark. As the show progressed, the crowd witnesses Creevy’s amazing vocal range from her wondrous melodies to her sharp shrieks.
Singer-songwriter Mitski played right after Cherry Glazerr at the Blue Stage. She drew in an incredible crowd and once she started playing, it was clear why. Something about her stage presence was very alluring and many couldn’t keep their eyes off her. Her voice also added to the allure, as it seemed to call out out to you personally. I will never understand how Mitski doesn’t cry when she sings her own songs. The blend of her sweet vocals and intimate lyrics brought fans to tears, myself included.
The headliner Saturday night was A Tribe Called Quest. I’m still in shock that I can brag to all my friends that I saw them live. The legendary hip-hop group had a tremendous amount of energy, which the crowd fed off of. What amazed me most was how the camera focused on the empty mic every time they played the verses rapped by former member Phife Dawg, who died last year. As Ian said in his review, “the set was as good as gold.”
The final day of the festival started with Kilo Kish at the Green Stage. Her performance was highly theatrical. She emerged on stage covered in a red power suit and holding a New Yorker magazine. With each prop she brought on stage, she told a story with it. As her music blared, she casually destroyed these props in a meticulous fashion that never distracted from the performance.
Later in the day, I miraculously caught Jamila Woods’ set. Due to the cancellation of the Avalanches, Woods took on the Green Stage, which worked perfectly in favor of those who were going to skip her set to wait for Solange. She took advantage of this stage change and stole the hearts of her audience that night. She performed all her songs from her album HEAVN and shared some of her poems.
Nicolas Jaar played the Red Stage as fans piled by the Green Stage, where Solange would play. I was a part of the many that stood patiently for Solange. What I didn’t expect to see while waiting for Solange’s set was Taraji P. Henson, Chance the Rapper’s brother Taylor Bennett, and many other celebrities congregating on the side of the stage in support for the contemporary R&B singer. Immersed in red lights, Solange’s set was wonderfully choreographed. Every move was precise and in sync with the beat and each other. To my amazement, she brought out a whole marching band consisting of more than twenty people. Her artistry and elegance was a perfect way to close the weekend.
Each year Pitchfork Music Festival outdoes itself. What made this year exceptional compared to the last few years were the headliners. Back in 2011, LCD Soundsystem announced their last show ever and fans never thought they’d see the day where the band returned to the stage. Fans of many generations concentrated in Union Park on Friday to see a reunion too good to be true. Then, A Tribe Called Quest reunited on stage for the first time since Phife Dawg’s death to finish their last album. Fans saw the group bring to life the new album along with old hits. If Pitchfork was able to book these legendary acts this year, who knows what they will have in store for the future.