Smile Politely

Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 in review

Friday, July 17th

The 10th annual Pitchfork Music Festival was a scorcher. All three days of the fest reached 90 degrees or higher and were huimid, and there was no cooling off unless it rained — which it did. When I got the the fest after sitting through quite a bit of traffic (and sadly missing Ryley Walker and Jessica Pratt), I watched a few songs by ILoveMakonnen while rehydrating then snapped a few pics of Mac Demarco and tried to enjoy his set without getting heat stroke.

Mac Demarco by Maddie Rehayem

Mac’s gimmicky days are waning. A strong and dedicated, if not too dedicated, fan base can only get him so far without having some good music to back it up. Luckily, the songs he played off his latest Salad Days were a hit with the fanboys and the regular Pitchfork crowd. It was especially cool to hear “Chamber of Reflection” amidst the usual Steely Dan covers and goofiness.

I caught a few songs by Panda Bear, Animal Collective member and Pygmalion Festival vet as of last year. I have to say, I liked his Pyg set better because it was air conditioned, and the video DJing was rad. This one was just hot. I left for the shaded Blue stage halfway through to escape the heat and wait for Iceage to start. Speaking of Iceage — the Danish band’s come a long way since the first time they played the fest in 2012. Quick punk songs have evolved into drawn out rolling washes of rock, with frontman Elias Rønnenfelt moaning in and out. I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to Nick Cave, and I can see where they’re coming from. The songs are really emotional and tragic, you can feel it even if you can’t hear the words.

Iceage by Maddie Rehayem

I stuck around in the shade for Ought, a post-punk band from Montreal that sounds like most of my favorite post punk bands. The Fall, The Cure, The Talking Heads…there’s a number of influences that can be heard loud and clear in this band’s music, but none are too prominent. I liked the frontman’s repetitive singing style. They’ve got the look down too.

After Ought finished, I caught the second half of Wilco’s set. The first half was spent playing the brand new album they had just dropped the day before, in its entirety, so I didn’t feel like I missed anything. Wilco is a much better live band than recorded, for me anyway. There’s a lot of excitement on stage, and the songs that are good, are really good. I dipped out a little early.

Ought by Maddie Rehayem

Saturday, July 18th

Protomartyr was the first band I saw. It was around 2 p.m. and the midday sun was beating down heavily on the band and fans. Frontman Joe Casey was, as usual, wearing a full suit with a jacket and all, and he kept it on throughout the band’s entire set. They were just as good as I expected them to be — the mix of old and new songs was satisfying, but again, I wish it wasn’t so damn hot out!

Protomartyr by Maddie Rehayem

Back at the blue stage, Mr. Twin Sister was about to go on. If there was any band I would’ve welcomed a downpour of rain to, it’s this one. Their music is chill and relaxing, loungy and R&B influenced. Sax, drums and synth, plus a singer with hair to match her outfit to match the stage. “We’re being cleansed,” she said, as they played through the rain. They finished just in time for the sky to open up and start full-on thunder storming. The park was “evacuated” (not that many people actually left) only to open up 15 minutes later at 4:20 (har-di-har, Pitchfork).

Mr. Twin Sister by Maddie Rehayem

The first band I saw after the break was Parquet Courts, who played — I’m callin’ it now — my favorite show all weekend. Man, do they know how to build something out of what seems like nothing. Their songs are intricate, modular structures that are built out of toothpicks. It’s best to watch them played live — you can watch each element of the song played out in front of you. I wanted them to play forever.

Sophie never made it to the fest due to weather/flight complications, which was a huge bummer for PC Music fans (though A.G. Cook put on an amazing show the next day — more on that in a bit). After hearing this news, my buddies and I ditched Shamir at the blue stage to get some beer and food.

The headlining act on Saturday night was Sleater-Kinney, a band that was very dear to high school me, but I didn’t expect to get as emotional as I did while they were playing. Their new songs seemed more planned and well rehearsed but the old songs were really nostalgic for me, and for a lot of the crowd watching, it seemed. Their last pre-encore song was a huge sing-along to “Modern Girl” that just about brought tears to my eyes. 


Sleater-Kinney by Maddie Rehayem

Sunday, July 19th

Sunday was a long day, because I wasn’t going to miss Bitchin’ Bajas’ opening set. I found a still grassy/non-muddy spot to sit down and space out while they worked their synth-magic. Pitchfork always throws in a couple lesser-known local bands to open the stages, and this Chicago band was a good call.

After that, I watched Viet-Cong and I wasn’t all too impressed. I thought seeing them live would help me understand the hype, but I guess I still don’t get it. It was good, but not great. I could see this band doing cooler stuff in the future so I’m not giving up just yet, but what they’ve got now just doesn’t do it for me.

Viet-Cong by Maddie Rehayem

I skipped Waxahatchee — after attending their aftershow on Friday night, I decided I’m not really into hearing them live. It’s kind of boring. Instead, I watched some of The Julie Ruin, a band featuring Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox of Bikini Kill fame. It was cooler than I thought it would be — more of a focus on the music here than the passion that Bikini Kill was all about. Hanna said it herself — she’s just happy to be alive.

The Julie Ruin by Maddie Rehayem

Things got interesting when Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib took the stage — Gibbs prides himself as a more “real” rapper than some of the favorite “fuckboi” rappers of the day (aka, Chance The Rapper). He’s a rapper all right, and a damn good one, even though he repeatedly mentioned how drunk he was. He led a “Fuck police” chant in-between just about every song. Madlib’s production was minimalist and bass-heavy, which complimented the raw rap verses by Gibbs.

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib by Maddie Rehayem

I didn’t really feel like listening to Jamie xx in the middle of a hot field, so I took a break from the music until A.G. Cook. The PC Music star did a wonderful combination of familiar PC songs, remixes (namely “Bitch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna) and took a turn into the realm of dubstep for a while. Everyone was vibing and went with it. I’ve personally never enjoyed an EDM set that much. He ended with “Hey QT,” which was predictable, but nonetheless satisfying.

A.G. Cook by Maddie Rehayem

Todd Terje & The Olsens had pretty much the entire Sunday night crowd on its feet and dancing, in spite of how sore everyone probably was by then. He played into a beautiful sunset. I didn’t have much energy left over after that for Chance The Rapper’s posi-rap set, although it was interesting how much of a counterpoint he was to Freddie Gibbs, though I know fans appreciate both approaches. Chance had so much going on with his show — a bunch of gospel singers, multiple screens, etc. Any doubts I had about him being big enough to headline were quashed. I’m not that into him, but it’s obvious he’s headed for amazing things. — Maddie Rehayem


Maddie covered some ground, and I had a chance to check out a bunch of acts as well, so here’s some filling-in-the-blanks-teamwork, if you will, from the weekend. — Patrick Singer

Friday, July 17th

Over on the Blue Stage, Ryley Walker’s howl started out as a good way to hang in the shade for a bit amidst the heat that was Chicago last weekend. Walker and his band started off hitting some Primrose Green tracks that took shape and evolved in a little bit different ways than they do throughout those recordings. A welcomed approach to that material. Stand up bass, couple of guitars (Walker, sitting), and more as they trotted through this short-ish opening day set.

As if there couldn’t be something that opposed the Ryley Walker set any more — the hilarious party and calamity that is ILoveMakonnen was happening in the dead heat of the Green Stage. Yeah, you most likely know Makonnen from his smash hit “Tuesday”, which Drake graces with his presence on the remixed version, and the song was teased throughout. Everyone was there to see that song, no question. All the while, some of the tracks almost felt completely made up as they were happening, even though they weren’t. “Flip phone, NOKIA!” was one of them, with a great classic ringtone as part of the hook. Others, well, probably shouldn’t be written here because of the nature of Makonnen’s “storytelling”. All and all, it was a party, and an amusing one at that. I appreciated the shit out of it.

With the announcement that CHVRCHES would be releasing a new record coming out just a few days before their Pitchfork set, anticipation was high, especially after seeing them blow the roof off of Downtown Champaign for Pygmalion Festival last year. The trio performed a bunch of songs off of their smash The Bones of What You Believe, of course, and sprinkled in some new ones, including the lead single “Leave a Trace”. The crowd was monstrous, and they fit nicely into the late afternoon slot they occupied.

Saturday, July 18th

The rain came pouring down on Union Park right in the middle of some of the early afternoon sets, including a cancelled flight from Vince Staples that left him unable to perform. Frankly, I would’ve been surprised if he would’ve been able to perform had he even made it there. Anyhow, with Kurt Vile’s set getting pushed about a half hour, things were abbreviated a bit, allowing only about a half hour for Vile to perform. Not to worry — Vile busted out the pair of 10 minute tracks from Wakin on a Pretty Daze, “Goldtone” and the title track, and completed the set with “Freak Train”. 30 minutes, three songs. It was so Kurt Vile-y.

Future Islands is absolutely massive now, and the crowd reflected it. Yes, they performed “Seasons” — and people were excited. They are such a great band to watch perform, and their older material really shines through with their critically-acclaimed tracks.

Sunday, July 19th

Caribou has become one of the best live bands out there, and it seems that they are doing so quietly. With the monster Our Love backdrop and the sun on the horizon, the jams played out from that record that puts the audience in a trance of just a constant dance. Tons of movement, but mostly in one position, and something you do at a Caribou show without even realizing it. Of course, “Can’t Do Without You” is incredible, and a highlight of last year — but this is a band at the very top of their game, no question.

The huge disco ball hovering above Jamie xx during his set was only appropriate, and the mixture of DJ-set style and original material suited him well. Riding high after the release of the long-anticipated In Colour earlier this year, of course, “I Know There’s Goona Be (Good Times)” was what people were waiting for, plus more from xx.

Run The Jewels by Patrick Singer

Welp, Champaign-Urbana better prepare itself for what is about to hit it come September, as El-P and Killer Mike absolutely kick things up a notch for a crowd that might’ve been becoming a bit sleepy on a Sunday afternoon at Pitchfork. This Run The Jewels set was 100% the most raucous crowd I’ve ever seen at a hip-hop show, it was almost like witnessing a metal show, in a lot of ways. Mosh pits, crowd surfing, guns and fists being thrown in the air, people generally losing their shit. How those two have survived the amount of touring they’ve been doing, and reproducing a show like that every single time out, is amazing to me. Oh, did I mention that they brought out Zack De La Rocha for “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”? Or Gangsta Boo for “Love Again”? Or Boots for “Early”? Holy shit, what a show.

Chance the Rapper might be the happiest artist I’ve ever seen. Dude is so upbeat about everything. It more than showed in his performance as the headliner on Sunday night — massive stage presence, plus an awesome backing band, stage performers, and all the bells and whistles of something you’d expect from a Chance the Rapper performance. Of course, Acid Rap was the crux of the set, highlighted by “Juice” and “Chain Smoker” — but with the recent revelation that is the new Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment record — “Sunday Candy” could not have lit the park up more to close out the set. Honestly, if there was ever a moment that would’ve been remotely goosebump-inducing, it was seeing everyone lose their shit when that came on. 

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Photos by Maddie Rehayem.

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