Pitchfork Music Festival 2019
Pitchfork Music Festival 2019
WORDS BY : JOHN MARTIN TILLEY
It’s not a party until there’s an emergency evacuation.
Pitchfork Music Festival, the three-day bacchanalia dedicated to the new and the now in the world of music, was plagued by the wrathful forces of Mother Nature this past weekend — extreme heat followed by torrential downpour was not enough to discourage the party people who turned out in droves to Chicago’s Union Park to take in the live acts and the tangible, crackling energy the festival has come to be known for.
If anything, the extreme weather contributed to the determined vitality of new music and its magnetic pull on the curious, and bold. Check out some of the coolest moments (besides the epic evacuation) that booked this killer gig.
The incomparably stylish, fairy-like sisters of Haim have been, it would seem, laying low until now. Their strategy is simple and smart: polish over abundance. Their first album, Days are Gone, which hit the zeitgeist like a smooth, cool ton of bricks, was followed up four years later by Something to Tell You. Selections from both albums were performed with panache, the girls leaning into the rock-and-roll side of their sound and channeling the great female rockers of yore (Stevie Nicks and Wilson Philips come to mind).
They slowed it down with an acoustic set in the middle of their performance—a first for the group — and did not one, but two Paula Cole covers. The crunchy, roots — pop ’90s songstress is an appropriate tie in for the group, and the live performance has all the music heads in a gleeful uproar — “I Don’t Wanna Wait” was the theme from Dawson’s Creek, after all. The cool girl threesome has played plenty of festivals, but this was their first time headlining one, which was a pleasant, unexpected surprise for many, and has everyone abuzz about their next album.
Pop thump queen and perennial low-key electric diva for those in-the-know, Robyn has been on the rise or simply killing it for some time now, depending on who you ask. Pitchfork is all about what’s cool, different, and fresh, and Robyn’s hip beats hit all the marks with their smooth, fiery energy, making her the perfect closing number to bring the house down at the end of the festival weekend.
On a stage covered in evocative white drapery to match her glittering white costume, and a live band to add muscle to her intoxicating sound and energetic physical performance, the singer turned over the mic to the crowd during “Dancing On My Own” and “Missing You” with life-giving verve. Needless to say, everyone knew the words. Her smart, loose dance moves were free and fun, perfectly embodying the magical exhilaration of her wiggle-inducing rhythms, mostly pulled from her comeback album, Honey. Even during her more contemplative songs, she held the audience in the palm of her hand—and what a thrilling place to be.
STANDING ON THE CORNER
Art jazz weirdos of the world rejoice; the art jazz weirdo collective, Standing on the Corner, got their due at Pitchfork this year, being called the “surprise” of the festival. Appropriate, since the collective started out as an experimental sound collective; their first album, Red Burns is a single, durational track — very similar to their performance at the festival. The group included at least 15 members for the show, including a string section, forming an ensemble sound in keeping with the buttery symphonic vibe they’ve come to be known for.
A sax circle during the performance formed the high point, each member blowing with such gusto that their collective wail dared to compete with Rico Nasty one stage over. Such a strange and brilliant approach to jazz is yanking it into the contemporary ear with arty street cred, the youthful members who form the group as well as their fan base proving there is thirst for chic instrumental acts to hit the scene.
For his first festival appearance, Ric Wilson brought the fire. Given the heat and humidity of the day, this actually felt quite literal, but like any born performer, Wilson, with a beaming smile that never left his face, was able to ignite the crowd with his infectious antics and toe-tapping beats. With the Lane Tech marching band forming the classy brass section of this set (really), Wilson turned the furnace of a day into a jubilant brouhaha.
His music is a confection of hip hop over soul and jazz influences, a rhythm that feels brilliantly contagious, and the real zenith of the ’70s-era revival that has been trying so hard to happen of late. As a performer, Wilson’s physicality contains a liberating spirit that comes through in the music — hilarious hand puppets made an appearance, as well as a Soul Train-style dance competition at one point. If it’s gotta be hot, you may as well make the best of it, and Ric Wilson wasn’t about to have his party ruined by a little heat and rain, giving you backyard barbecue feels with big deal talent rolled in.
Sometimes these hip kids with healthy doses of synth and bass only sound good on the track but can’t own a stage to save their lives — not the case with the chic, avant-pop maven Charli XCX, who strode out between two atilt light cubes in a funky fresh outfit and that signature blunt haircut and owned the audience for the duration of her set.
The songs were mostly from Pop 2 and her upcoming album, Charli, with a few classic crowd-pleasers, (e.g. “I Love It”) sprinkled in for good measure. Everyone sang along with her final performance of “1999” as if it were a classic already (Charli’s fans are die-hard). She closed with a little surprise, inviting her favorite Chicago-based hip hop performer CupcakKe onto the stage to spit the rhymes from “Lipgloss.” The children were gagged.