Saturday at The Pitchfork Festival had near perfect weather, but started off with a little shopping at the Chirp Record Fair and arts & crafts booths that fill the marketplace.
After grabbing a delicious and savory Bacon Ranch Macaroni and Cheese Puff from the appropriately named Puffs of Doom, it was time to head over to the Blue Stage for Julia Holter. A bit of sound checking blurred into the beginning of her set, so much that people were surprised to discover the performance had actually begun and they leaped from their shady resting spots to catch a better view. This somewhat slow start was made even worse still by the very noticeable and distracting sound bleed from Pissed Jeans over on the Red Stage and the myriad of normal festival noises drowning out her elegant quietness. During the first few songs it seemed as if her music might just be too delicate for this particular environment. As the set progressed however she gained ground, drawing in the curious with her opulent orchestral sounds. Though the set meandered a bit and wasn’t too interactive with the crowd, the gorgeous combination of the violin, upright bass, and saxophone with other worldly voice managed to enchant all who stayed through to the end.
The already in progress Phosphorescent on the Green Stage with the bright sunshine gleaming off the lenses of his sunglasses, singer songwriter Matthew Houck, lead his full stage of musicians (6 in total), through a strong and sunny early afternoon set. Theirs was a cohesive full rock sound buoyed by a soulful urgency. “Song for Zula” was a little on the synthier side from the rest of what had been played, but proved to be an emotional confession to the crowd, and a highlight of the show. Alt-country jam “Nothing was Stolen” brought the tempo back up. A catchy clap along anthem complete with dueling keyboard and organ solos that got the entire crowd into the act. Sweltering in the sun Matthew quipped, “Thanks for bringing the heat for us” in a confident drawl and then proceeded to cool things back down with the moody and meaningful “A New Anhedonia,” then finishing off with the crowd pleaser, “Los Angeles.”
There seemed to be a bit of a traffic jam heading over to the Blue Stage for Parquet Courts. The influx of people in attendance throughout the day was felt much more in every area of the festival. Their frenetic energy always seemed on the edge, but was always pulled back by a steady or as they described it a “leathery” rhythm section keeping their train right on track. The packed crowd followed every twist and turn with pumping fists and banging heads. Songs like “Disney P.T.” and “Stoned and Starving” brought about much excited head bobbing and even a few cloudy puffs of dirt from within the audience. The fierce feedback and jamming vibe of the transitions blended one song quickly into the next and before you knew it Andrew Savage was spitting out the spitfire lyrics of “Light Up Gold II” as multiple crowd surfers emerged during an intensely satisfying climax.
Also jamming in the trees of the Blue Stage today were Merchandise. The lead singer’s leopard print swagger and loud wailing guitars spoke to a sense of Rock n’ Roll, even giving a shout out to any and all bands that make “actual rock n’ roll.” The Tampa based band proficiently rocked through their set, although became a little annoyed with the lack of interaction from the crowd at times. “Let’s see if you people can fucking dance!” shouted lead singer Carson Cox, succeeding in getting a hearty handful to comply.
One of the day’s biggest attractions was the much lauded UK foursome, Savages on the Green Stage. This being only their third show in Chicago, the others having been far more intimate and dark, one wondered how they would handle the midday set. A noticeably large crowd packed in to hear what the hype was all about. Dressed in all black despite the blazing sun and the heaviest of the afternoon heat, each band member brought their own brilliance to their performance, yet seamlessly combining to create one fearsome sound. On “I Am Here” they had the guitars turned up to 11 as vocalist Jehnny Beth squinted into the sun letting out piercing screams that melted into the screaming guitars, bringing the mostly male mosh pit to the brink of madness. Pointing and gesturing throughout, Jehnny Beth introduced a new song called “Fuckers” that served to whip the crowd even further into a frenzied state. While some of the extended crowd couldn’t take the heat and went in search of shade, Savages did not let up on those left behind. They launched into the wonderfully reckless one, two, three punch of “No Face,” “She Will” and “Hit Me.” Playing slightly sped up versions of the songs, they received rapturous applause and pumping fists throughout. Closing the epically intense set with the equally intense “Husbands,” it was clear they had made their presence known as it was all anyone could talk about after was that set.
The raucously loud Metz was next on the Blue Stage‘s agenda. I was surprised to see so many little children in attendance. Even with their parental guardians it seemed non-conducive to their safety. As they played a new song for the crowd, those up front moshed away, crowd surfing their way over the rail, only to be ejected and headed right back into the insanity. Blaring and fast paced, even the crew on the sound board couldn’t help but join in on the head banging as well. The lead singer proposed it was time for some “real heavy shit” and the crowd eagerly followed along, hands vigorously clapping over head, and ready for more.
Continuing the heavy theme, New York’s Swans took to the Red Stage. They began with a moody atmospheric intro that slowly devolved into a bombastic wall of unrelenting noise. This served to simultaneously attract curious onlookers as well as scare off some not as sonically adventurous listeners right out of the sparse shade they’d claimed for the better part of the day. If the devil was in a band, I’m pretty sure he’d sound a lot like front man Michael Gira. Their abrasiveness was nearly ear piercing, causing many to reach for protective gear. Yet a good sized crowd was drawn to stay and take in their eerie and epic sound.
For anyone old enough to have lived through the nineties, Last Splash by The Breeders, was undoubtedly in your CD or tape collection. A classic batch of alt-rock songs buoyed by the hit single “Cannonball.” As Kim Deal & co. came onstage they launched straight into the album, speaking to an excited and growing audience, “We Put out an album 20 years ago. Thanks for celebrating it with us!” This somehow seemed to make us all feel our age a bit, while the sloppiness with which they played it seemed to show theirs. As soon as they played their most popular hit “Cannonball” it seemed everyone watching cleared out, this took a lot of the energy away from the rest of the performance. The remainder of the set, save a few clearer moments, was sadly a bit of a let down for someone who grew up with that album on repeat and wanted a bit more from this performance.
The subheadlining set of the night, Solange, caused a flood of people to stream toward the Red Stage as “Holy Grail” by Jay Z played over the PA. Solange’s backing band started things off with a boom of the drums and a short jam. Strutting her stuff all the way to center stage starting off with the banging beat and sweet soulful lyrics of “Don’t Let Me Down,” followed by an explosion of beach balls and a party vibe on the awesomely titled “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work.” With her flawless voice slow like honey, she worked her mic for the next slow jam, asking the crowd to “Turn this mother fucker into a high school grindfest, I wanna see you grind!” All in attendance obliged. She busted out a few of her own choreographed moves during “Locked in Closets,” all the while flashing an infectious smile to the dancing crowds. For her newest single “Losing You,” she asked everyone to, just for one song, “Put away your cameras and your phones. Forget about your bad days and stresses and just fucking lose it!” It was simultaneously the most fun and relieving emotional release through a moment of music that I have had in a while.
As fans quickly filed over to the Green Stage for everyone’s favorite Scots, Belle & Sebastian, some noted the grey clouds that had gathered from nowhere. Because of the previous night’s abrupt end due to weather, this was of some cause for concern, but as Belle & Sebastian took the stage those concerns were quickly forgotten. The convivial crowd began to bob along to set opener “I’m a Cuckoo,” which sounded sunnier than the previous hours had been. Remarking on the beautiful night, they launched into a song inspired by a somewhat rare beautiful night in Scotland, “Another Sunny Day.” The eloquent “Stars of Track and Field” started off slowly, yet you could clearly hear sing-alongs over the talkers of the crowd, culminating in brilliant lights and horns. On the next song as they asked for a volunteer with “Intimate knowledge of out third LP,” a few light rain drops began to fall, as many hands arose to be chosen. A lovely if somewhat timid girl by the name of Laura did the duty by singing along off of oversized cue cards to “Dirty Dream #2.” Midway through the set, the inevitable happened and the rains began to softly fall, dampening the crowd’s spirits ever so briefly. As ponchos and make shift raincoats came out, fans continued to bob along happily. During “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” a jovial circle of dancers developed behind the soundboard, lapping up the rain as they went. And throughout the crowd you couldn’t help but see everyone doing the same. Even on stage, as they selected a lucky group to come up and dance during “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” the set was nothing but one big wet dance party, and no one seemed to mind that at all. A joyous end to another great day of music.