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Highlights And Must-Sees: Our Picks For The 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 14, 2011 6:40PM

Fans at the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival photo by Jim Kopeny

The 2011 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival kicks off tomorrow in Union Park and continues through Sunday. One of the little joys of a bill like Pitchfork's is that we look forward to discovering new groups or finally having "ah-HA" moments with groups we thought we weren't all that into. One of the big joys, though, is the anticipation that builds up to see the acts on the bill that you're already excited about, be they fresh young talents or old friends coming through for an indie rock victory lap. After you've read our picks we recommend downloading the fancy new Pitchfork Music Festival app to help you map out your own weekend and then snag the free music sampler the site produced with the help of eMusic to help you get acquainted with any bands you're not already familiar with.

OK, let's go and dig into the bands that have us the most excited this weekend!

Friday, July 15, 2011 (Gates open at 3 p.m.)

Best chance for big trouble in little Chicago:
Gatekeeper on the Blue Stage at 3:20

John Carpenter’s synth film scores plus Wax Trax bomb-beats equals this former Chicago duo, currently based in New York. Last year’s Giza EP was criminally slept on. If the electronic twosome is as ferocious live as it can be on record, this performance won’t be. - Jon Graef

Best reason to gaze fondly at your footwear:
EMA on the Red Stage at 3:30

Erika M. Anderson, now known better by her moniker EMA, began her career in the folky droned-out duo “The Gowns,” which, although never making a big splash across the blogoshpere, made an impression on us with their brand of overtly emotional slow core. With the release of her first solo effort “Past Life Martyred Saints,” Anderson not only sports a new ‘do, but a fresh outlook and take on her already strong singer-songwriter aesthetic. Though this really isn’t music to shake your groove ‘thang to, we think it will leave a lasting impact on those who are watching. - Michele Lenni

Most deserving of multiple exclamation points:
tUnE-yArDs on the Blue Stage at 4:30

!!! No, seriously, just !!!. (IMHO, the white Janelle Monae, in songwriting theory if not musical practice). A dash of hip-hop, a dollop of electronic, a pinch of cabaret, pop, and indie, make for an inviting, delirious stew. Expect a ukelele to be rocked thoroughly. - Jon Graef

Best reason to save up your dancing energy:
Battles on the Green Stage at 4:35

Battles’ 2007 full-length debut Mirrored was one of the most flat-out exciting records of the decade, rife with experimental hip-hop beats, prog rock overtones, house sensibilities and techy-metal freak outs. It sounds like a lot to fit into one album, but Battles managed to smash it into that 11-song box and explode it all over the stage in the most dynamic and memorable performance at that year’s Pitchfork festival. Though this year’s followup Gloss Drop shows the effects of frequent lineup changes in its less-focused energy, we’re expecting powerful, sweaty, spectacular things from the live set this weekend. - Lizz Kannenberg

Best reason to start a “Teenage Riot”:
Thurston Moore on the Red Stage at 5:30

Most of us know Thurston Moore as the axe man for one of the best and most influential bands to ever barrow a thing or two from Lou Reed: Sonic Youth. We’ve become accustomed to the piercing guitar and droned out vocals that Moore has made his trademark throughout his career, but his newest effort “Demolished Thoughts,” which was produced by Beck, is decidedly more down tempo. Look for Moore to be toting a acoustic guitar and whisper instead of shout his lyrics. - Michele Lenni

Best excuse to join a Teenage F.B.I.:
Guided By Voices on the Green Stage at 6:25

Perfect rock and/or roll anthems in (usually) under two minutes and an unending supply of beer has fueled Guided By Voices stage shows throughout the years. Expect their return to Chicago to be a joyous affair and if you're new to the band, please don't show your shock by wondering just how the hell someone Robert Pollards age could be seven sheets to the wind before the sun's even gone down. It's never affected his stage show. - Tankboy

Best Reason to Keep that J In Your Shirt Pocket:
Curren$y on the Blue Stage at 5:30

The New Orleans-based Shante Anthony Franklin (known to festival-goers as Curren$y) could very well create the festival's first large-scale hypnotic effect. The weed-loving, laconically-paced rapper has druggy beats that create a sort of hotbox effect for your ears, all while winding toegther alternately smooth and oddly paced rhymes. His lyrics are smart, idiosyncratic and sometimes missing all together, with the subtle changeups making his music just unexpected enough to keep you from curling up and napping on the ground. - Kimberly Bellware

Best reason to hit up a combination Pizza Hut / Taco Bell:
Das Racist on the Blue Stage at 6:30 p.m.

Non-rape-y hip-hop for weedheads and pop culture-enamored smartasses alike. Expect to bob your head, and laugh (and cough) deeply to low-key but additive beats. Best of all? You don’t have to read through think pieces (thoughtful as they are!) just to see what the fuss is about. - Jon Graef

Neko Case photo by Jim Kopeny
Best reason to let yourself scream, crush or emote like a hormonal teenager:
Neko Case on the Red Stage at 7:20

Neko Case is Kind of a Big Deal by now, and her status as an indie-rock crush icon makes complete sense. The flame-haired singer/songwriter cracks some of the saltiest, funniest jokes on stage, writes poetic, poignant songs about man being eaten by shark, and has one of the most recognizable, throaty alto voices of any singer working today. She's an electric live performer, making her songs crackle whether singing unaccompanied or leading her entire band of guitars, organs, banjos and upright basses. Her smart coolness that radiates from stage should be enough to make at least the first thirty rows of the audience lose their shit completely and--quite likely-scream professions of love from the grass. Just be cool during her set and don't throw shit in the air or be too out of control with the yelling (or heckling). You've been warned: if provoked, Neko Case will choke a bitch. - Kimberly Bellware

Best reason to bring a blanket and take a chill pill:
James Blake on the Blue Stage at 7:30

We were first introduced to the sounds of London-born-artist Blake when he released three EPs [Bells Sketch/CMYK/Klavierwerke] last year. Immediately dubbed “Dub-Step” by most critics and fans, it was a surprise when the paradigm shifted with the release of his 2011 self titled full length record, which sprinkled more of a quiet,  70s singer-songwriter element. Of course we love his cover of the Feist song “Limit To Your Love,” but as a whole, we and most critic will agree that the record and Blake as an artist are spectacular. - Michele Lenni

Best time to toke up and break out the hula hoops:
Animal Collective on the Green Stage at 8:30

It took seeing Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival for us to understand what exactly the fuss was about; they are the Phish of Gen Y, and that's totally OK. In concert the band ws all burbles, beats and rave-y lights, and the songs took their time to unwind and burrow into the writing masses occupying the field in front of the stage. Reports from recent shows are that the band is focusing more on rhythms than melodies and there's a good chance new material will far outweigh the group's "classics" when they play Friday night. - Tankboy

Saturday, July 16, 2011 (Gates open at noon)

Best reason to hug a stranger:
Woods on the Red Stage at 1:45

Woods just plain put a silly grin on our faces. Their warm, fuzzed out, low-fi sound brings us back to camping trips, sitting around a fire and listening to our friends play songs on their guitar while we sing along. Being that the record most of their music in their home in Brooklyn, N.Y.  we can understand why their music gives us that unexplained joyful, warm and fuzzy feeling. We expect an audience filled with the same sort of spirit willing hug their neighbor instead of step on them. - Michele Lenni

No Age photo by Todd Cole
Best Matador band that was never on Matador:
No Age on the Red Stage at 3:20 p.m.

No Age is all 7" and early '90s indie when it comes to their sound, but don't call them a nostalgia act. You could spend tier entire set trying to trace their lineage to relevant entries of the last edition of the Trouser Press Guide but we think you should take off your thinking cap and give in to their melodic din. - Tankboy

Best gang gang to dance to:
Gang Gang Dance on the Green Stage at 4:15 p.m.

Genre-hopping eclecticists with energy to burn and a delightfully warped sense of melody. Their latest release, Eye Contact, takes a bit to wade through, but hopefully they’ll make up for inaccessibility through stage presence and panache. - Jon Graef

Best reason to go outside your comfort zone:
Destroyer on the Red Stage at 5:15 p.m.

Destroyer's Dan Bejar, the erstwhile New Pornographer and sometimes-bandmate of Neko Case, is a hard artist to describe. As part of the Canadian supergroup, he doesn't jut out as recognizably as Case or frontman AC Newman, but as the mostly one-man Destroyer, he's a weird sonic magician experimenting with moods the way other artists dabble with MIDI and mandolins. "Texture" and "concept" are two words that enter the scene when trying to describe Destroyer's sound. Bejar is probably this year's Box of Chocolates, and even if you have no idea what you're going to get, there's a good chance you'll come away liking what you got. - Kimberly Bellware

Best reason to thank a Swede, well, for more than those bookshelves in your bedroom:
The Radio Dept. on the Blue Stage at 5:15 p.m.

Conceived by two schoolmates during the tail-end of the mid ‘90s dream pop movement, The Radio Dept. revels in their synth-laden, daydream-inducing sound, creating songs that will make you want to lie your head gently on a blanket and cloud bust until you drift away into a pleasant dream. This is yet another band that isn’t really going to rock your socks off, but being that they never really make it to the U.S. from their native Sweden, we are really excited to see how they represent in a festival setting. - Michele Lenni

Best reason to slow dance in the middle of a field:
Twin Shadow on the Blue Stage at 7:25 p.m.

Yes, it’s true, we completely gushed over George Lewis Jr., a.k.a. Twin Shadow’s, debut in 2010. With the combination of his velvety, vulnerable vocals and lyrics cast against carefully coordinated synth and guitar, we instantly felt like we were transported into a high school dance in a John Hughes film. - Michele Lenni

DJ Shadow
Best time to tell your friend that DJs that "That guy onstage? THAT'S a DJ!":
DJ Shadow on the Blue Stage at 6:45 p.m.

DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... took people's understanding of just what was capable with sampling and crate digging and re-invented the mental stylus hip-hop would groove to. Epic dream suites made from bits and pieces of a jillion slices of vinyl source trickled out of speakers and blew heads right the fuck up. Live the man commandeers enough turntables to threaten the stability of half Chicago's power grid allowing DJ Shadow to recreate his otherworldly composition from scratch (pun intended) and on the fly. - Tankboy

Best reason to turn on, tune in and drop out:
Zola Jesus on the Blue Stage at 7:40 p.m.

Russian American songstress Nika Roza Danilova, better known as Zola Jesus, has turned a childhood of relative isolation in rural Wisconsin into a lush yet curiously stark palette of industrial-tinged electronic soundscapes and throaty, emphatic vocal melodies. With two complicated, beautiful and challenging EPs in 2010 and a tour with stylistic soul mate Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife and Fever Ray, Danilova seems poised to continue wowing critics and/or write the next great anthemic TV commercial song. Perhaps Justin Vernon was onto something with the whole Wisconsin thing. - Lizz Kannenberg

Best reason to STFU and listen:
Fleet Foxes on the Green Stage at 8:30 p.m.

Yes, we can be a nostalgic bunch, and we especially love to be taken back to those evenings when our parents would play Buffalo Springfield on vinyl and we’d dance around in our footy pajamas. Fleet Foxes take us directly back to that place and time where music began to mold and shape our tastes and filled our minds and hearts with sheer joy. Buyer beware, this is a band that you will probably want to tap your fellow fest-goer on the shoulder and tell them to be quiet. They rock, don’t get us wrong, but their folky and more subdued sound may be tough to present in a festival setting. - Michele Lenni

Sunday, July 17, 2011 (Gates open at noon)

Best reason to relive the '90s
Yuck on the Red Stage at 1:45 p.m.

Yuck reminds us of everything that was great about 90's rock. With fuzzed out walls of guitar, impeccable melodies and a refreshing indifference to pretension, these kids from London are playing some honest to goodness rock and roll. On their self-titled debut record, Yuck has managed to craft a throwback sound that thrives on guitar-drums-bass dynamics and overflows with vibrant power pop hooks. It's as if they took every positive contribution from the late 80's up through 90's rock music, added some well-placed pop imagination, and ended up with a record that is easy to enjoy and much better than you might expect.  With abundant and fitting comparisons to The Pixies, The Replacements and the Smashing Pumpkins, we're hoping to see Yuck bring back some of that spirit and rock the Union Park crowd. - Mike Pietrus

Kurt Vile photo by Shawn Brackbill
Best band to watch if you haven't showered the entire weekend and just don't care because the music is so good:
Kurt Vile and the Violators on the Green Stage at 2:30 p.m.

If you're into dirty dudes who play awesome music, this band should definitely be on your "must see" list. Known for his dreamy-yet-gritty music that's not entirely folksy but also not your average rock'n'roll fare, Kurt Vile returns to Pitchfork this year as a crowd favorite. Compared to the likes of Tom Petty and the Boss himself, Kurt Vile and the Violators sound like a happy marriage between music that you would listen to while traveling across the Grand Canyon in a caravan and music that you would listen to while slowly sipping porch beers on a hot day. This band's set will definitely be an early afternoon treat for those who brave the midday heat. - Soyoung Kwak

Best reason to ignore the hype and hope one of the lesser buzzed about talents is along for the ride:
OFWGKTA on the Red Stage at 3:20 p.m.

We feel most of the buzz about the OFWGKTA hip-hop collective is misdirected, especially after the group's ostensible leader, Tyler the Creator, dropped a pretty mediocre solo effort in Goblin. And the rest of the brouhaha? You could argue all day about the group's musical versus lyrical merits but we have a feeling neither will matter much to the frencied crowd in Union Park. No, the main thing WE'LL be looking for is a hoped for appearance by the collective's crooner, Frank Ocean. Ocean's album nostalgia/ULTRA is far and away our favorite to come out of the OFWGKTA cloud and if we were placing our bets on which member will have the longest career it's him. This writer may be a dude, but if Ocean breaks out "Strawberry Swing" or "Swim" we hope you catch us as we swoon. - Tankboy

Best reason to wrap your head around some abstract hip-hop:
Shabazz Palaces on the Blue Stage at 3:45 p.m.

Enigmatic MC Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, formerly of the jazz-rap group Digable Planets, has refused to speak to the media since he started putting out esoteric EP's under the Shabazz moniker in 2009.  He prefers to let the music do the talking, and if the 2011 LP Black Up is any indication, Butterfly has a lot of oddly complex and innovative things to say.  The beats are unlike anything you've heard on a hip-hop record before, and when combined with Butler's inscrutable lyrics, the listener is exposed to some obscure genius that has already been receiving album of the year buzz.   We’re curious and excited to see how Shabazz will attempt to recreate the intricate arrangements of his first three records in a festival setting.  While OFWGKTA (playing just before on the Red Stage) will undoubtedly have a larger crowd - complete with excitable stage antics and outsized controversy - you just mind find that Shabazz Palaces puts on a more compelling performance in the end. - Mike Pietrus

Most likely to confuse as well as entertain:
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti on the Green Stage at 4:15 p.m.

After years of DIY music-making, Ariel Pink got together with a production team and released his latest album last summer, losing some of that lo-fi, unfinished sound that is often linked to his music. Ariel Pink is one of those artists who might not make any sense to anyone, but it doesn't seem like he really cares about being "figured out." It will be interesting (to say the least) to see how his recorded music translates into a live performance. There's also some excitement in knowing that he's a bit unpredictable at festivals. Whatever mood Ariel Pink is in on Sunday, you can guarantee that his set is something you might want to catch. - Soyoung Kwak

Best proof that getting old doesn't turn you into a slack motherfucker:
Superchunk on the Red Stage at 5:15 p.m.

We've seen Superchunk twice in the past year, touring behind their "return to form" (read: explosively rocking') Majesty Shredding, and both times the quartet played with the ferocity of high school punks fighting to get out of the basement. The band might have grown to fame in the '90s, and we're sure there will be many a greying head bobbing along to the band's set, but the true glory here will be watching younger eyes widen as Superchunk converts a whole new generation of fans to the power of honest-to-god exuberance n the face of unadulterated rock and/or roll. - Tankboy

Best artist to watch if you're riding high on the chillwave:
Toro Y Moi on the Blue Stage at 6:45 p.m.

Originally bursting into the music scene when everyone was super deep into the chillwave movement a couple years back, Toro Y Moi was known for his easy, hazy bedroom-pop beats. Toro Y Moi recently released a more energetic and dance-y album (Underneath the Pine) that could bring him out of the comatose chillwave corner he was pushed into. Toro Y Moi's set on Sunday will definitely be a nice one to take in if you want to see something other than bands with guitars, or if you're just not quite done with chillwave yet. - Soyoung Kwak

Cut Copy photo by Jim Kopeny
Best do-over:
Cut Copy on the red Stage at 7:45 p.m.

Cut Copy's first Pitchfork appearance in 2008 was cut woefully short due to a flight delay, but that abbreviated set ended up becoming the talk of the festival. We're looking forward to the band's mainstay debut and predict that we'll see LCD Soundsystem levels of danceteria madness causing the field to turn into a giant cloud of disco dust. - Tankboy

Best reason to stick around until the end of the festival on Sunday:
TV on the Radio on the Green Stage at 8:30 p.m.

We'll be honest: If you miss indie-veterans TV on the Radio, you will be doing yourself a huge disfavor. It's really hard to believe that TV on the Radio formed a decade ago, mostly because they have been able to stay relevant in the ever-evolving music scene by remaining true to their creative sound. Although TV on the Radio's latest album, Nine Types Of Light, feature a handful of songs that are melancholy and a bit sad, we hope that they will showcase some songs off of their earlier albums to keep the crowd entranced. We can't think of a better way to close out the three-day long festival than listening to TV on the Radio perform into the Chicago summer sunset. - Soyoung Kwak

So there you have it, we're excited about the whole festival but those are the acts our writers are most stoked about. Who are YOU excited to see?