Despite a brief but perilous afternoon storm, Saturday was arguably the best day of Pitchfork. Best performances of the day included Sleater-Kinney, Kurt Vile, and early afternoon standout Bully. We kicked off the afternoon around 2pm with a killer set by the latter Nashville-bred breakout act. Bully gave a high-energy, technically sound performance; lead singer and frontwoman Alicia Bognanno drove the music and banter with some serious Riot Grrrl-influenced wailing and lyrical content. We spotted her sidestage the next day, eagerly soaking up Kathleen Hanna’s legendary presence during The Julie Ruin’s set–another standout of the weekend–and providing further evidence of the band’s punk-feminist inspiration.
The rest of Saturday’s lineup was stacked with good music, and we had a hard time deciding where to compromise. We first journeyed to the Green Stage for Future Brown, where we spotted WNUR alumnus and former Streetbeat Music Director Nick Harwood–one of the group’s managers–scurrying about comically backstage. He blew a kiss from the back corner as three of Future Brown’s four members (Nguzu Nguzu’s NA was absent) approached the CDJs. The performance was disappointingly mediocre. There’s not a whole lot to see when three people man two CDJs (I can only imagine what it looks like with 4 of them) and it seemed that J-Cush was heavily dominating the mixing. Asma Maroof and Fatima Al-Qadiri bounced around half-heartedly and exchanged whispers for most of the set. To make matters worse, an unidentified group of rappers came on stage to perform one collaboration but ended up staying for five or more songs. The squad clearly lacked experience and stage presence; they acted as poor hype-men (adding little originality and leaving large gaps of silence) and took superfluous selfies until Harwood made the move to vacate them from the stage. Suffice to say that chunk of time seriously impacted the overall vibe of the performance. One of the show’s saving graces came from Sicko Mobb’s arrival and performance of their Future Brown collaboration, “Big Homie,” and the Chicago bop classic “Fiesta.” Sicko’s arrival marked the only time that the three members of FB appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves, despite the fact that Sicko Mobb are unforgivably obvious lip-syncers. The poor sound quality of higher frequencies and the group’s decision to omit Maluca-featured banger “Vernáculo” ensured that the performance was decidedly average.
After Future Brown, our group parted ways. A few headed to the Red Stage for Ex Hex while the rest imbibed in VIP (thanks, Pitchfork!) and awaited Vince Staples’ slot. Our revelry came to an abrupt halt when the sky caved from tense humidity, unleashing sheets of rain onto festival-goers. Attendees ducked under umbrellas while promotions tent staff tossed a variety of branded ponchos to people running desperately for cover. I spotted Shamir, who had been bopping around the festival quite conspicuously all day, sprint into VIP with his hands over his head and his pink button-down clinging to his adolescent body. What at first appeared to be a brief bout of flash floods quickly became a dangerous thunderstorm; a friend walked away from the beverage tent with two beers in hand and reported that the festival was closing (she wanted to get her money’s worth of alcohol before then). Union Park became chaos as people stormed the exits while others huddled under trees and umbrellas–two of the worst places to stand during a thunderstorm. We managed to collect our friends and escape just before the sky cleared and Pitchfork announced that the festival would re-open in a mere twenty minutes. In the interim, I was interviewed by Fox News, Chu did the Nae Nae in the background to the chagrin of the interviewer, and we unsuccessfully attempted to dry our socks in a bathroom hand dryer and have a drink in Kaiser Tiger across the street.
Though the first half of his set was cut short by weather, Kurt Vile put on one of the best performances of the weekend. Three long and well-chosen jams–”Walkin’ On A Pretty Day”– lulled the audience into post-rain trance and brought our spirits up despite muddy, squishy socks. We hung around on the Blue Stage for the next three sets, catching the very end of Ariel Pink and most of (a forgettable) A$AP Ferg and Shamir. I had high hopes for Shamir, and they weren’t necessarily betrayed; the young artist put on a good show with great stage presence, and it was clear that he had a lot of fun. But his age was evident in his vocal control, which could use a bit of maturing and development for a fuller sound (not his fault; staff also struggled with soundcheck and delayed his set by about 45 minutes, which might have something to do with it). As we grooved to Shamir’s dancey beats, we got word that Sophie had been delayed in New York by the storm and would be replaced by Towkio. Sophie had been one of our most anticipated sets of the day, but we tried not to be discouraged by the news even though the chosen replacement act essentially rendered Pitchfork a Savemoney circle jerk. We headed to the Green Stage for a close spot at Sleater-Kinney instead. As much as I appreciate Chicago’s own Kanye protege Vic Mensa, the lady rocker trio has my heart.
They did not disappoint. Years of experience on stage and as a group are evident in these seasoned musicians. As it was at their February Chicago show, Sleater-Kinney’s sound was clear and their timing tight. Corin Tucker’s voice still hit those beautifully agonizing wails and Carrie Brownstein’s held up lyrically, too, though it sounded a bit worn and gravelly when she spoke. The band mostly played songs from their acclaimed January release “No Cities To Love” (sadly omitting our album favorite “Gimme Love”), including the title track, which Brownstein coincidentally wrote in a hotel room in Chicago. Of course, the group sprinkled some older hits in between–stealing our hearts, for example, with 1997’s despairing “One More Hour” off of Sleater-Kinney’s third studio album, “Dig Me Out” (whose title track they also played). The duet is an homage and farewell to Brownstein and Tucker’s brief but evidently passionate former romance. It continues to be one of the most moving breakup songs on the market (in my opinion), and it’s undoubtedly a unique experience to watch the two share their mutual personal experience through performance. That they got through their breakup without letting it ruin either their musical chemistry or friendship–as demonstrated by the fact that they wrote a song about it, which they continue to play 18 years later–gives the track an even weightier presence.
The show wasn’t all angst, though. The cisfemale trio seemed to be having a grand old time on stage; spirits were high and smiles plentiful as they attacked their instruments in brightly colored dresses. Drummer Janet Weiss carried the performance with incredible precision. Brownstein, notorious for spastically jerking around stage with her guitar and wieldy limbs, threw one leg kick too high during “Ironclad” (ironically, as Corin sang the words “you will fall the hardest”) and went down hard with the momentum. Yet she didn’t miss a beat (or a chord) and rebounded upright with graceful finesse–she even threw in another post-slip kick for good measure. The whole wipeout happened so fast that it was easy to miss. The band’s energy propelled the performance forcefully onward. Suffice to say that S-K was the perfect end to a rollercoaster of a day, and by many accounts the best set of the weekend.