21 Jul, 2014

Pitchfork Fest’s 10 Best Performances [via Billboard]

The following was originally posted at Billboard.com.

Celebrating its 9th year in Chicago’s Union Park, the Pitchfork Music Festival once again proved to be a charming alternative to the bloated, behemoth events that litter the summer calendar. Featuring as assortment of 43 left-of-center acts across its three stages, Pitchfork offered a diverse array of sounds — ranging from indie rock and hip-hop to alternative R&B and cerebral electronica — to its discriminating audience.  
 
There was a little something for each of the event’s 35,000 attendees over the three-day event, but when all was said and done, these were the 10 acts that caught the biggest buzz.

10. Giorgio Moroder (Friday, Red Stage, 7:20PM): Armed with nothing but a MacBook and a huge grin, Giorgio Moroder brought less equipment to the Pitchfork Stage than any other act. But when you wield a musical legacy longer and more celebrated than all of the other festivals performers put together, how much more do you need? When the 74-year-old Italian father of disco hit the Red stage Friday night, festival goers got to their feet and committed to dancing to whatever he decided to play. Drawing from his deep catalog hits, Moroder’s medley ranged from the classic (Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” Blondie’s “Call Me”) to the campy (Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” Irene Cara’s “Flashdance”). But not even the most jaded hipsters could keep their asses from moving and their mouths from smiling while Giorgio owned the stage.
 
9. FKA Twigs (Saturday, Blue Stage, 7:45PM): The debut album from FKA Twigs doesn’t drop until August, but the UK songstress has already amassed a hype that made her one of Saturday’s biggest draws. Living up to expectations, the artist born Tahlia Barnett moved the crowd with her alien R&B jams and sexy, synchronized dance moves.  Next year, she’ll need a bigger stage.

8. Beck (Friday, Green Stage, 8:30PM):He may be in the midst of an introspective album cycle with the mostly acoustic “Morning Phase,” but you don’t play the festival circuit for 20 years without knowing how to keep a crowd happy. From the opening of “Devil’s Haircut” to a cover of “I Feel Love” — just moments after Giorgio Moroder played it — to deep cuts like ‘Midnite Vultures,’’ “Get Real Paid” and ‘The Information’s’ “Soldier Jane” to a killer encore of “Sexx Laws,” “Debra” and “Where It’s At,” this was Beck for the books.

7. Hundred Waters (Friday, Red Stage, 3:20PM):With hip-hop duo Death Grips calling it quits in early July, the responsibility of kicking off Pitchfork 2014 rested squarely on the shoulders of Florida dream-pop trio Hundred Waters. The band was up to the challenge and eased festivalgoers into the weekend with gorgeous ethereal tunes, some of which were punctuated with flute solos. 3:20 PM was far too early for the visual effects that usually accompany the band’s gigs, but lasers or not, Hundred Waters dazzled the daytime crowd and set the standard for the rest of the weekend.

6. Neutral Milk Hotel (Saturday, Green Stage, 8:30PM): The least flashy headliner at Pitchfork Fest this year was the one that its audience had waited the longest to see: Neutral Milk Hotel, an indie rock collective worshipped for its 1998 opus “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” is finally performing again after taking a full decade and a half off. Rust could have set in during that downtime, but the eclectic group’s performance was tighter than most of the young punks thrashing around on this year’s lineup. “Ghost” and “Holland, 1945″ were glorious jumblings of instruments and frontman Jeff Mangum was in clear command during the rapturous “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two.” Neutral Milk Hotel doesn’t allow video screens or photography at their performances, but no matter — hundreds of onlookers at Pitchfork Fest were huddled around the stage, screaming along to the words that they had memorized in the late ‘90s and marking a truly special moment in the weekend.

5. Wild Beasts (Saturday, Green Stage, 2:30 PM): Wild Beasts, a hard-working indie-pop quartet from Kendal, England, have been making music for a decade and are a well-oiled machine onstage. Their gorgeously strewn combinations of guitar and synthesizer was juxtaposed on Saturday afternoon by the back-and-forth dynamic of duel vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, who arrive on opposite registers and sound equally slicing on harmonic choruses. The group’s underrated new album, “Present Tense,” had its fair share of representation at Pitchfork Fest, but it was the set-closing “All The King’s Men” that served as the expected highlight of the performance and as one for the entire weekend.

4. Kendrick Lamar (Sunday, Green Stage, 8:45PM): Two years ago, Kendrick Lamar performed on the Blue Stage (better known as the side stage) on Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival, playing mixtape cuts to a few hundred onlookers before artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and King Krule took the stage later that day. This year, no one took the stage after King Kendrick — the hip-hop auteur, who released his tremendous debut album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” three months after 2012 Pitchfork Fest, became the long-running festival’s first rap headliner and delivered a performance befitting a fire-breathing rock star. “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d City” got vociferous responses from the overflowing crowd, but the more reflective moments were just as strong, as Lamar pleaded on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” “Promise that you will sing about me.” You can bet that people will be singing the praises of Lamar’s Pitchfork headlining set for a long time.

3. Slowdive (Sunday, Red Stage, 6:15PM): The shoegaze pioneers time-warped the Red Stage to Chicago’s Metro in 1994, the site of the well-preserved Brits’ last U.S. gig just over 20 years ago. From Neil Halstead’s ear-splitting reverb to Rachel Goswell’s swoony harmonies (and shiny, leafy cocktail dress), the quintet treated blissed-out fans to hits from their three landmark abums and made Union Park feel like the fields of England for one tinnitus-inducing hour.

2. Grimes (Sunday, Red Stage, 7:25 PM): Claire Boucher made the transition from the fringe to the mainstream in front of festivalgoers’ eyes, previewing sinewy, beat-heavy material from her upcoming sophomore album and adding high-stakes choreography to fan faves like “Genesis” and “Symphonia IX.” Rihanna may have passed on Grimes’ brand-new single “Go,” but it’s clear that Boucher will soon be at a newly in-demand level of her own.
 
1. St. Vincent (Saturday, Green Stage, 7:25 PM): Sure, Beck and Kendrick Lamar bookended the festival as headliners, but Annie Clark was arguably the weekend’s biggest rock star, holding the massive crowd in the palm of her hand for the entirety of her hour-long, guitar-shredding set. Her robotic dance moves and icy stares may read on first glance as overly calculated, but she had heart and grit to spare in a 12-song set that should make her an even bigger draw as she continues to make the festival rounds later this year (Hopscotch, Austin City Limits and Pitchfork Paris are among her next stops.) Don’t miss disco/rock rave-ups “Digital Witness” and “Cruel.”

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