Pitchfork Music Festival 2013 Day Three: Let's Dance!
By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 22, 2013 7:00PM
We entered the grounds early and despite the call for Sunday to be the coolest day we were still baking in the heat for the first couple hours. But it was worth it since this turned out to be the day that everyone just seemed to want to dance and the music was (mostly) full of good vibes. On the field Foxygen and Killer Mike delivered a one-two punch that made sure the day started off incredibly strong ... and kept all of us sweating in the field but feeling it was all worth it. - Tankboy
After seeing a lackluster Foxygen set at Lincoln Hall this spring—just prior to their SXSW meltdown—I was excited to see what this young California psych rock band could do. Luckily, this was the set we hoped for and knew they could deliver. Frontman Sam France was all over the stage, climbing the rafters, over his drummer and on and off the front of the stage. It was controlled chaos, wild and fun. They opened with “On Blue Mountain”—a catchy tune, and one of my favorites (though every time they get to the chorus, I can’t not hear “Suspicious Minds” instead.) Alternating between a deep '70s vocal style and a lighter California-flecked singing voice, France and crew moved through a high-powered half hour set. There was some lighthearted banter from France and his keys player, including a shout out to the Chicago Bulls that moved into talk about the '90s movie Space Jam. That’s when France responded, “You’re talking about Space Jam, let’s talk about songs,” as they launched into another one. That’s what we’re talking about. After seeing their music suffer at that Lincoln Hall show, it was nice to see this group delivering the goods as they should be heard. —Michelle Meywes
We admit we didn't attend any services on Sunday morning so it's a good thing Killer Mike took us to church. In between politically charged tracks like "Untitled" and "Reagan" the ATL-based rapper and former community organizer preached about everything from loving your neighbor to religion (he doesn't claim any official affiliation) to police brutality. Even if at times it was a little too much, his booming voice and charisma kept our attention. His solo rendition of "Kryptonite" (bet you didn't realize he was on that track) was fun and, Mike admitted, a rare occurrence. Fun fact: That's actually the second summer in a row the song has been performed in Union Park. Big Boi also dropped it during his set at North Coast Music Festival last Labor Day weekend. —Katie Karpowicz
Brooklyn rapper El-P's set immediately followed Killer Mike’s on the adjacent Red Stage. The two artists recently released a collaborative self-titled album for free download under the name "Run The Jewels" so it would have been a wasted opportunity had they not performed several of those tracks live at Pitchfork. Come on, "Run The Jewels" even had a beer named after them being served at the fest. Luckily our hopes weren't dashed. In fact, they were far exceeded.
After opening his set with with "Drones over Bklyn" and "The Full Retard" off Cancer 4 Cure—both of which we love—the remainder of El-P's solo set was sacrificed for the Jewels. Killer Mike joined him on stage and the two proceeded to run through tracks off the new album including the first six tracks off the album and "A Christmas Fucking Miracle." The two also jammed to older, non-Run The Jewels-related collaborations like "Butane" and "Tougher Colder Killer." With a backing band of live keyboards, guitar and even bongos, the songs sounded great and the crowd ate it up. It was easily this writer's favorite set of the day. —Katie Karpowicz
Yo La Tengo
The midday spots are a bit of a pickle for the established acts usually inhabiting them. It's the point where the hot sun starts to broil festgoers who have been pummeled by everything the up-and-comers in early spots can give. Yo La Tengo was not helped by following El-P's frenetic set. They did not try to match the energy, instead delivering a mellow, stripped down set which left us thinking that for most non-diehard fans (and your reporter is most definitely a die-hard fan) the band left a lot on the table that could have been cured with a bit more lively set list. A moment at the end of their set when Ira Kaplan finally got going and looked poised to smash his guitar was indicative. The crowd roared in anticipation of carnage that didn't happen. And it seemed the mellow, stripped-down set came just shy of giving the crowd what it wanted, too. Fans were likely thrilled with the set which featured pleasant dialed-back versions of favorite songs before ending on trademark Electro-Pura-era distortion. For the rest of the crowd, it was pleasant background music for grabbing a snack before the rock came together in the last two songs to give the crowd something to react to with enthusiasm, if not excitement. Too bad; the kids were primed to be won over by the indie legends, while older fans likely hoped for a bit more pop from their idols. They all got something pretty and entertaining, but shy of the energy found elsewhere in Union park. —Josh Mogerman
Sky Ferriera couldn't stop crying throughout her set. Her history shows she has many famous friends and has no problem with being in the spotlight, but the response of the crowd at the Blue Stage seemed to actually catch her off guard. Waves of cheers would meet her verse breaks and you could just feel the affection ripple through the crowd to wash over her on the stage. Apparently her songs of heartbreak and loss are touching a universal chord and her music is the perfect delivery system. While she did have a few full-on ballads most of her songs are the type you'll sing along happily too and it's probably not until the third or fourth time you get what a dark place of loss they're coming from. In other words, it's some great pop music. Don't be surprised in a couple of years if her mid-afternoon set is spoken of in the same fashion as Lady GaGa's side stage set at Lollapalooza before she blew up. —Tankboy
On Childish Gambino's debut album Camp he claims that "Pitchfork only likes rappers who crazy or hood, man." Assuming this assertion is true, they hit the jackpot with Lil' B (The BasedGod). Going into his performance, all we knew about the rapper from Berkley, California, was that he writes songs about wonton soup and Ellen Degeneres, he collaborated with Soulja Boy in the past and he's quite the character on social media. After watching his set we can confidently say that's probably all anyone needs to know.
We aren't even sure that what we heard qualified as rap music or that Lil' B even knew where he was. He did tell us to check him out on "that Pitchfork website" at one point. Will do, B. —Katie Karpowicz
Toro y Moi
Two words are all we need to describe Toro y Moi's set: mood music. As we mentioned, 2013's Anything In Return was a huge step in the right direction for Chaz Bundick's project and yesterday's backing band made the songs sound pristine live. Bundick has a new look to match his new sound too, transformed from the trendy, nerdy type to a cool animal print-sunglass-wearing, long haired hitmaker. We aren't even sure what to classify Toro y Moi's new sound as—Funk? Soul? Toned down disco?—but we encourage you to give it a listen. —Katie Karpowicz
The crowd for M.I.A. had one thing on their mind: they wanted to dance. The field in front of her stage was packed. The V.I.P. stage to the side of her stage was packed. The V.I.P. stage on the other side of the field by the other main stage was packed. And M.I.A. delivered with a set that included everything from her latest single "Bring The Noize" to her first single "Galang" and of course the now universal crowd pleaser "Paper Planes." She was flanked by a rotating cast of dancers who seemed intent on just showing the crowd how much fun it is to just give in an let your body do whatever it feels like doing. The result was a flashy party vibe on stage that everyone within earshot was only too happy to join in and build upon. —Tankboy
Ten years ago R. Kelly would have been an inexplicable choice as a headliner at Pitchfork Music Festival—especially considering the fest wasn't around yet but you know what we're getting at. In recent years though, following a number of legal problems and "Trapped in the Closet" chapters, Kells has somewhat disappeared from the mainstream spotlight and developed a cult following dedicated enough to overlook his flaws.
Based on his performance at the BET Awards last month (yeah, we watched it), we fully braced ourselves for a live rendition of at least a selection from the "Trapped in the Closet" saga. Instead, he surprised us by opening, not closing, his set with "Ignition (Remix)." We honestly couldn't tell you how he sounded singing it because the crowd sang along so vehemently we could barely hear over them.
The rest of the set unraveled like an R. Kelly "Best Of" playlist. Highlights included "Hotel," "Gigolo," "I Wish," "Happy People," "Step In The Name Of Love," "When A Women Loves," "I'm A Flirt," and the closer "I Believe I Can Fly." The set challenged us to access memories dating all the way back to the '90s and Robert Kelly's voice was the schema that got us there. Decked out in all bling everything (including a thoroughly bedazzled mic), he actually sounded great up there. Union Park was packed to the gills with fans trying to get as close as possible to the 46-year-old R&B icon, but we most enjoyed stepping to the back of the park and getting some pent up dancing out of our system.
"I didn't even realized I had this many songs," Kells remarked at one point. To be honest, neither did we. ——Katie Karpowicz
For me, R. Kelly provided the biggest conundrum of the evening. I love the fact that we now live in a time where a festival like this can book a certifiable R&B super star without anyone thinking the music would be out of place. In fact one of the things I've loved about watching music writing change over the last decade is seeing the walls between genres obliterated as easy access to those sounds has become commonplace. As I stood there watching Kelly's set, watching many music writers who I deeply admire dancing to his songs, it bothered me. I didn't think it would going in. I believe you can separate the artist from their craft—if I didn't the behavior of many artists whose craft I admire would be lost to me. And I also do not believe that this headliner was picked by Pitchfork for any reason other than organizers truly like Kelly's music. So is it a generational thing? I couldn't look at him without wondering if anyone dancing to him would still be doing so if he was in a club with their sisters or their mothers. Would they still find his brand of "sexy" something they're comfortable with? I don't think so, and while there have been some thoughtful discussions leading up to his appearance I can't help but wonder why there wasn't more frank, and open discussion. Don't get me wrong; I stood there and was thrilled to hear "Ignition (Remix)" in person too, but I was caught off guard with how guilty I felt for doing so. —Tankboy
Despite the fun we were having at R. Kelly's set, we felt it would be doing a disservice to TNGHT (playing at the same time) if we didn't check them out at least for a few minutes. The production/DJ duo gained an extra publicity boost prior to Pitchfork Fest when Kanye West sampled a couple of their songs for his new album. Unfortunately, despite a fun light show full of strobes of blinks, the set —which most resembled techno with a heavy hip hop influence—didn't grab our attention. The duo let the beats ride a little too long, causing us to feel like they were just running down the clock. It didn't take us long to get out of there. —Katie Karpowicz
So as thousands filed out of Union Park, despite my conflicted feeling over the final headliner I walked among them feeling like overall the fest was a success. Personally I ended up enjoying so many more of the acts than I expected. In some ways the booking was a little more low-key earlier in the day than in the past, but I think that booking buzz bands in the past has sometimes led to overstuffed crowd witnessing underwhelming sets. That wasn't the case this year and in retrospect I think that's by virtue of a good balance of booking and timing. There was definitely more sponsorship this year but, honestly, by now crowds just tune that stuff out so it doesn't bother me. And I appreciated the fact that Goose Island was back in the house serving beer since I like to see the local love for vendors at any festival. And little details like giving the security folks near the front of the main stages cases of water early in the day and having them actively seek out festival goers to ensure they're hydrated shows that the organizers really do just want everyone to have a good time.
In the end Pitchfork Music Festival seems to have found a happy medium allowing it to draw international attention without sacrificing the fan experience. It's just the sort of thing you'd expect from a festival that got its start in Chicago —Tankboy