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Killer Mike opened with the devastating "Big Beast," which must be about somebody else, because he is one charming motherfucker. Talk about a contagious smile! And when he explained how hip-hop is a church where everyone can come together, I was feeling him, as the kids say. I'm an unconflicted atheist, but certain things are sacred to me, and music is one of them—largely because the act of making it (or listening to it, or dancing to it, or whatever you like to do to it) connects people via a preverbal language that's older and bigger than all of us. I didn't expect to have one of my private, half-articulated "spiritual" beliefs reflected back at me while I was standing in Union Park sweating like a truck-stop sausage under a heat lamp, but that's just how good Mike is. One minute I couldn't think about anything but how desperately I wanted a drink of water, and the next I was getting all choked up.
El-P dialed down the earnestness (he rhymes "retard" with "keytar," after all) and cranked up the manic energy and goofy camaraderie—the latter when Killer Mike joined him for their colossally fun Run the Jewels material. My esteemed colleague J.R. Nelson photographed me in the act of enjoying their set (as well as my second Run the Jewels beer of the day), adding that I looked like the villain in a David Lynch movie. All I can think of when I see that picture is, Wow, I have the worst sunglasses! Eh, they were free. They used to be my mom's, but she didn't like them.
Mike told the crowd that if they drank all the Run the Jewels at Pitchfork, Goose Island might brew more and even bottle it—and El-P added, helpfully, "Do it for the children." I hope the children appreciate how much of that beer I put away! Also, I biked home with several pounds of crawdads in my bag. Does anybody want some? Otherwise I think I'm going to try to sell them as Warhammer miniatures.
I think I'm done publicly embarrassing myself, at least for now, which means it's time for you to hit the jump and see what the rest of the Reader folks thought of Pitchfork's final day:
Leor Galil: I was all smiles Sunday, as were many of the musicians who won me over—Tree, Killer Mike, El-P, and R. Kelly. You could tell how much all those folks loved performing by how often they'd bust into a grin. Tree kept doing it during his set to kick the day off, and it looked like he wanted to spend another few hours up there (I wouldn't have minded). When R. Kelly flashed a smile after shoving a balloon out of the way with his mike, it felt like the whole crowd was right there with him. Killer Mike and El-P had some goofy fun busting out their Run the Jewels material, and their chemistry was wonderful to behold, but the moment of the day happened during Killer Mike's solo performance. Hearing the dude get choked up talking about his Chicago-reared mentor and opening up in such a sincere way really knocked me out.
Leor went in front of the camera before the festival to talk about what he was expecting out of Sunday's lineup. After R. Kelly's set to close down the final night, he made another video discussing how the day had measured up. And here it is:
Kevin Warwick: After an open-to-close, sweltering day on Saturday, during which I got a killer V-neck sunburn thanks to my pasty complexion—and an incredible, combustible Trash Talk aftershow at Bottom Lounge where I saw more kids stage dive and fall on their heads than I have in a decade—I got to the fest beat and ready for shade. Seeing Killer Mike join El-P backstage and coordinate their walkout to "Bad to the Bone" for the Run the Jewels set was a fun intro. The day itself was extra crowded with folks in a heightened state of Kells anticipation (he was mind-blowing, needless to say, but I'll leave that to everyone else to riff on). Lil B overpowered the entire festival during his zany set with netherworldly bass, to the point where I stepped over see Chairlift and felt sorry they were going to have to fight that rumble. M.I.A. had some technical difficulties, but she barreled forth, with more dynamic, gyrating backing dancers than you could shake a stick at. And when we were hanging out before the Kells set, watching the clouds spread and contract, taunting us with the possibility of another storm, the waiting became surreal entertainment in and of itself. The PA ominously announcing that he would be appearing in R-minus ten minutes—then four minutes, then 60 seconds—was the perfect touch.
Shannon Shreibak: Austin-based R&B newcomer Autre Ne Veut (Arthur Ashin) takes his name from a French phrase that means "I want no other," and he conveyed that same unwavering devotion during his early-afternoon set at the Blue Stage. Ashin's delivery wasn't so much singing as it was visceral yelping—the kind of noise you imagine yourself making in the comfort of your own head during moments of strife and frustration, but that your lungs probably can't actually handle even if you're not too afraid to let it out. Ashin was up to the task, though, and he came armed with a barrage of chillwave melodies; his emotionally battered yarns manifested those intangibles onstage with panache. He also brought a team of register-scratching vocalists, a synth player with a sense of flair straight out of Chotchkie's (Office Space . . . anyone?), and brawny apron-clad men holding two empty window frames, which lent a queasy sense of drama to the otherwise barren stage. What began as a befuddling prop became a powerful device: Ashin would stare blankly into a vacant window, then become its subject as he gazed at us through the vastness. Autre Ne Veut seems ready for the big time—soon he'll be opening doors rather than peering through windows.
Bill Meyer: It felt like a bit of a lost opportunity for Yo La Tengo to have Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo onstage for their entire set . . . as a guitar tech. What, no “Time Fades Away”? Otherwise, their recent songs about making accommodations in the face of age and loss gained new resonance as drizzle fell through the sunshine, temperate breezes died away, and the humidity tripled over the course of their set.
J.R. Nelson: After a Saturday saturated with rock acts, Sunday's focus turned to rap, dance, and R&B. One of the day's best sets, however, was over before most people got in the gates. For a few lucky folks, Chicago rapper Tree preached a 1 PM "soul trap" sermon from his acclaimed Sunday School mixtapes—the sabbath is a day for studying scripture, after all—and I can only hope he'll be commanding mike pulpits for years to come. It's always gratifying to see a hard-working local act get a chance to have a real moment at Pitchfork and totally make the most of it, and Tree definitely did. Killer Mike laid down some strict verbal regulations (Ronald Reagan, your dead ass is not missed) on one main stage with a stellar set of furious, political boom-bap, then immediately hit the other to join homie El-P as part of their lacerating, thievery-themed duo project, Run the Jewels.
Lil B, however, might have been my favorite act Sunday. His endless lyrical positivity, shuddering sub-bass, and thoroughly insane fans—holding aloft such items as light sabers, Dennis Rodman dolls, orchids, and at least one sign offering the rapper "sexual oblivion"—made his set the eye and ear candy of the day. Apart from a few blasts of unplanned feedback, M.I.A. was a model of ruthless efficiency, blasting through an avalanche of hits and barely pausing for breath. As for the big Sunday-night closer, let's be honest here: R. Kelly is a universe unto himself, and thus is seemingly subject to only his own laws. Certain critics might have a bone to pick with Pitchfork for booking the singer, but the crowd itself was on its proverbial back from the moment he made his entrance with a robed choir right up till dove balloons filled the sky during his encore of "I Believe I Can Fly." How could they not be? Kells's ballads and worked-up stepper jams offer a cavalcade of come-ons, bad vibes, and shameless emotional manipulation—dude really wants us to love him, and for one night at least we all seemed to love him back.
Tal Rosenberg: The final day of the Pitchfork festival arrived and with it seemingly all the beats. Between Killer Mike's set at 2:30 PM and R. Kelly's somewhat low-key performance, the fest was a nonstop procession of noise, bass, and momentum. Even Yo La Tengo, playing a set that could otherwise best be described as "like every other Yo La Tengo show ever," seemed noisier than usual, with a muscly "Little Honda" and a tougher rendition of "Ohm" than the one on their most recent album. Lil B played noise rock better than just about anyone else this weekend this side of Wolf Eyes, and from stage right M.I.A. basically sounded like Ministry. Then R. Kelly came out with a bunch of balloons in the shape of white doves and sang that someone was worried he would "take something off" (which I guess was a concern?). The day was loud, ridiculous, and inexorable, which is probably how every music festival should be. Best Pitchfork festival day in all the years I've attended.
Drew Hunt: As I'm sure many will note, the last day of Pitchfork saw a change of pace as myriad dance and hip-hop acts replaced the predominantly hard-rock acts of the previous day. Local MC Tree started the day with a brisk, lively set of tunes from his stellar mixtapes. Similar acts included Killer Mike and El-P, the former of whom performed a solo set before linking up with the latter to perform tracks from their collaborative album, Run the Jewels. Both are able performers, but Mike's solo set was easily the stronger of the two. The other hip-hop-oriented acts played to their strengths: M.I.A. lit up the stage with an elaborate set that distracted from the fact that she's not the most skilled live performer, R. Kelly was outright theatrical, and Lil B did . . . something. I'm not sure what it was, but it was something. My favorite set of the day was Toro y Moi, who performed highly danceable synth-wave tastefully accented by the nondouchey aspects of Steely Dan. All in all, this year's fest was another successful showing for Pitchfork. The music was eclectic, the price was right, and the overall experience remains unlike any other major American festival.
Luca Cimarusti: "I'm having so much fun!" That's what my buddy Ben Scott (of Brain Idea and Outside World) said, his arms outstretched and rain pouring down on him, about three songs into R. Kelly's set last night. I'm sure every person in attendance was thinking the exact same thing as Kelly turned Union Park into a massive, joyous party. He ran through a 90-minute medley of his biggest and best verses, his insano-genius on full display as he punctuated his set with ad-libbed a cappella narrations of what was happening onstage ("Somebody bring me a towel, I'm sweatin' like a muthafucka!"). His amazingly positive attitude and brilliant lack of self-consciousness was without a doubt the finest way this weekend could have been closed out, as well as acting as a gigantic exclamation point in the middle of this summer. M.I.A. was incredible too, oozing charisma, energy, and beauty, but even her outer-space world-music hip-hop couldn't top a set of hits from Chicago's golden boy.
Tosten Burks: All right, here's the deal. A lot of good things happened today. El-P dedicated "The Full Retard" to the kids, saying that he wrote it while crying and "drinking peppermint tea, no caffeine." Ten thousand people chanted "Ellen DeGeneres, Chicago you're so generous" with Lil B. Evian Christ fought off tech issues with a set stark and dank enough to stab through Chaz Bundick's shiny funk. Everyone drank a lot of Run the Jewels beer. But the amount that this day was about R. Kelly can't be overstated. His two hours of hits were world-stopping, the performance of a 46-year-old pop virtuoso surveying his career with pride. But it was between songs when the presence of greatness was most obvious. When Kells freestyled melodies about needing to wipe his face or the Pitchfork people telling him to keep the sexuality in check, they were so catchy and memorable that when he joked, "Shit, I can write a song about anything," surely even Jim DeRogatis nodded in agreement. Only this man could get 20,000 people to sing, "Can I get a God damn towel, 'cause I'm sweaty like a motherfucker."
Mara Shalhoup: Everyone else is probably gonna talk about R. Kelly's set. Whatever. Watching him fly like a plastic dove over the steeple that lords over Union Park is the only thing worth talking about. Well, that and M.I.A. She's somewhere over the rainbow (steeple) too. They're probably over there right now together, filming the world's best video.