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Grace attended Pitchfork Fest in Chicago last week, and put together a review of all 3 epic days of great music and festival eccentricities along with a sweet playlist of the best songs she heard at the fest. Check out her review below while you listen to the highlights.
ICYMI: Grace also wrote about the artists she was most excited to see before the fest in her Pre-Pitchfork Fest Roundup, which you can read here.
DAY 1: Belinda Says That Heaven Is A Junkyard: Day 1 Highlights
The first day of a music festival can make or break it. Being one of the Day 1 acts has its advantages and its pressures– on one hand, you get to set the tone for the days to come, on the other hand, you HAVE to set the tone for the days to come. Fans and artists alike arrive teeming with not-yet-spent energy– if you’re performing on the first day, you’ve gotta match that energy and channel it into a set that gets the crowds excited for what’s to come, but is also memorable enough to stick in their minds as the weekend goes on.
From the get-go, Friday’s lineup was stacked. I arrived early enough to see stars like Nourished By Time and Grace Ives bring bedroom pop to the big stage. Nourished By Time’s Marcus Brown beautifully took the mantle of P4K 2023 opener, mesmerizing the early crowd with his hypnotic samples and telling the audience tales of his time as an essential worker at Whole Foods during lockdown– a far cry from his current status as an essential addition to Pitchfork’s lineup. Grace Ives had sustained a minor injury after falling off the stage at her Sleeping Village aftershow the night before, but you’d never know it from the way she bounced around the Red Stage, shouting out her parents, doing Gatorade-based stage banter, and even sneaking in a lyrically updated cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop” (think Fall Out Boy’s take on “We Didn’t Start The Fire” if it were actually good).
Effervescent sets from the likes of Youth Lagoon and Nation of Language shimmered in the midday sun, letting attendees bask in the glory of the former’s spacious shredding and the latters glowy pop-rock. Meanwhile, hometown heroes like Sen Morimoto and Ric Wilson proved a hundred times over that Chicago’s rap scene is alive and thriving. The sunset on Union Park proved to be the perfect backdrop for Mike “Perfume Genius” Hadreas’ physical and vocal acrobatics involving elbow-length red leather gloves, piles of yellow tulle, and a metal chair that I kept half-expecting him to chuck at the adoring crowd, who probably would’ve thanked him. The show-stopping live renditions of “Wreath” and “On The Floor” and “Queen” were every bit as stunning as I’d hoped they’d be and then some. If the evening wasn’t magical enough, Alvvays brough Blue Rev to the Red Stage, dreamy as ever as Molly Rankin gave a shoutout to “all the online guys of the world” and hit the hell out of the high notes in “Belinda Says” like it was nothing.
I headed over to the Blue Stage to watch Leikeli47 spit bombastic bars from behind her ever-present identity-concealing face mask, her even more intoxicating than any girl blunt. As she said her final goodbyes, we could hear The Smile taking the stage in the distance– Leikeli chose to congratulate them simply by screaming “RADIOHEAD!!!” at the top of her lungs. That was my cue to head over to catch Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s jammy prog project play us out.
DAY 2: Someone Get The Festival Out Of The Rain: The Great Pitchfork Storm Of 2023
I got to Pitchfork early on the second day to scope out some prime Red Stage real estate to see one of Palm’s last-ever live sets, but almost as soon as I claimed my spot, the festival’s security team ordered the crowd to back up forty feet from the barricade for reasons that were then unknown. As they barked directions, the rest of us were left trying to guesstimate how far forty feet was. Soon after, a message reading “WEATHER DELAY” appeared on all the screens and we were told to stay away from any metal or electrical equipment– barricades, walkways, sound booths –due to lightning in the area. Festival attendees sat in the grass refreshing Pitchfork Music Festival’s official Twitter account for updates and crossing their fingers that their faves would still get to play. Palm’s set time came and went and they were rescheduled for the next day.
Once we got the all-clear from the security team, it was time to make a beeline for the Blue Stage, where Katherine Paul of Black Belt Eagle Scout took center-stage with roaring riffs and piercing prose. The opening chords of “My Blood Runs Through This Land” sent a shockwave through the crowd that reverberated through Paul’s stark intonation on album closer “Don’t Give Up.” I would’ve stayed for the rest of Black Belt Eagle Scout’s set had it not overlapped slightly with MJ Lenderman’s, so I ducked out a bit early to join the Crazy Ass White Boy brigade. We cracked open cold ones and raised them up as Lenderman and his band jammed through cuts from Boat Songs and Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, as well as his ANTI debut single “Rudolph.” I’ve never seen more dudes rocking all in one place.
I wished I’d stayed to see the end of MJ’s set, and knowing what I know now, I would have, but at the time I just wanted to get back to the Blue Stage to watch Vagabon. Unfortunately, that pesky weather delay alert returned before Laetitia Tamko could take the stage, followed by a megaphoned voice announcing that the festival would be shutting down indefinitely. A metaphorical (and soon to be literal) thunderclap caused the Pitchfork crowd to disperse, running for the exits, donning Alvvays-branded rain ponchos, and wondering what would become of their highly anticipated Saturday plans.
After a couple hours of taking shelter in a nearby brewery where I could hear echoes from RumbleFest down the street, the bat signal came– Pitchfork Day 2 was back, baby! Though it was not without its casualties– apologies to Vagabon, Snail Mail, Panda Bear, and Sonic Boom. I was only able to catch the final song of Julia Jacklin’s 20-minute set (luckily, it was “Pressure To Party”). After that, I killed two birds with one stone– grabbed a decent spot for Weyes Blood’s headlining set at the Red Stage AND fulfilled my teenage Tumblr dreams of watching King Krule perform “Out Getting Ribs.”
I know there’s been a lot of talk about Big Thief this weekend, and don’t get me wrong, they were a lovely live band, as always– but the real star of Saturday (and perhaps the whole weekend) was Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, angelic and aglow in all-white, lit up like she’d been sent from the heavens to rock the absolute life out of us. When the rain started up again I half-believed she’d willed it into existence so we could know the pure bliss of dancing in the storm to lovestruck Laurel Canyon ballad “Everyday.” Weyes Blood’s set was ethereal from start to finish and anyone who got to take part in it should consider themself blessed that it’s not just her, it’s everybody.
DAY 3: Going Out With a Whisper and a Bang: Goodnight From Bon Iver, Goodbye To Palm
The Blue Stage was the place to be on Sunday, starting off strong with a rescheduled set from skittering Philly math rockers Palm. It was worth baking in the sun on what was no doubt the hottest day of the festival if it meant getting to see their frenetic compositions come to life for what was– for most of us at least –the last time. Palm closed with fan favorite “Dog Milk,” a track whose live arrangement is somehow even more sparkling and intricate than its recorded iteration.
Florist followed, their delicate slowcore captivating the early afternoon crowd. I was lucky enough to catch self-titled standouts like “Red Bird Pt. 2 (Morning)” and “Sci-Fi Silence” before making my way to the Red Stage for a zany, danceable set from British freak-pop duo Jockstrap. Vocalist Georgia Ellery, dressed in all gold, sporadically picked up the mic, the acoustic guitar, and the violin with ease and dexterity, similarly to how her voice could go from an operatic lilt to an autotuned screech within moments and keep the crowd on their feet– and on their toes –the whole time.
Soon enough I was back at the Blue Stage, kicking dust up in the Soul Glo pit as Pierce Jordan howled dense, motormouthed bars from 2022’s Diaspora Problems. To an outsider, I imagine the crowd must’ve resembled a Looney Tunes fight scene– a whirling cloud of flying limbs and over-the-top fight sound effects. The cartoonish antics didn’t end with Soul Glo’s supercharged set– I stuck around the Blue Stage for Illuminati Hotties, delighted and invigorated by Sarah Tudzin’s wacky vocal manipulations on tracks like “Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth” and “MMMOOOAAAAYAYA,” as well as the tenderpunk trailblazer’s earlier hits like “(You’re Better) Than Ever” and “ppl plzr.”
I returned to the Green Stage to join Koffee’s late-afternoon dance party. Her dreamy reggae beats, effervescent hooks, and undeniable stage presence lit up the crowd as golden hour cast its almost-as-radiant glow over Union Park. Afterwards I found myself back at the Blue Stage once again, listening to Mdou Moctar shred as the sun began to set, his band a perfectly in-sync circuit electrifying the audience with their hammering psychedelia.
At this point the sky had darkened and I could feel the full weight of the busy day start to settle in, so I found a cool patch of grass to watch Bon Iver light up the night and close out this year’s Pitchfork Fest. The fact that a massive crowd adhered by a festival stage didn’t detract from the intimacy of his live performance truly speaks to the precision and warmth of Justin Vernon and his band. The transition from “Hey Ma” to “PDLIF” felt like Vernon track his own creative evolution and elevated old favorites like “Blood Bank” and “Skinny Love” beyond just the pull of legacy artist nostalgia. I left halfway through “Holocene” in hopes of avoiding the post-festival crowds on the late night trains, Bon Iver’s spacey, shimmering arrangements rippling behind me, echoing “for miles, miles, miles.”
Grace Robins-Somerville | @grace_roso
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