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Philip Montoro: In Saturday morning's recap, I declared that "The festival's first day belongs to the women," based on the Reader team's enthusiasm for Neneh Cherry and Sharon Van Etten. For me the second day was about women too: Tune-Yards and St. Vincent.
Tune-Yards performed their acrobatics without a net, building percussion and vocal loops on the fly rather than relying on canned tracks. Their exuberant, sophisticated playground pop bounced and swooped and bubbled. It not only lit up the music-nerd centers of my brain—I love the African-derived rhythms, and Merrill Garbus's vocals put me in mind of traditional Bulgarian singing when she pops up into her head voice—but it also tickled the unjaded little kid who still lives in there too. I wished I'd been able to get closer to the stage, up where people were dancing. I also wished I could be in a band with Garbus, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay a musician.
St. Vincent reminded me of the word "ziggurat," which is always fun, and proved that futuristic cyborg disco can coexist with 1980s Adrian Belew-style robot guitar gnashing. Also, that impeccable fashion sense can coexist with rolling around on the floor during a solo.
I got to meet the friendliest man in the world, Thor Harris from Swans, for a third time—as though he weren't conspicuous enough with that beard, which you could lose your car keys in, he was wearing a witch's hat. I complimented his improbable headgear, and when he doffed it to show it off, a small yellow flower fell out. He caught it and gave it to me, so I tucked it behind my ear and wore it there for the rest of the day. It seemed like the thing to do.
Mindful of my role as Beer and Metal columnist, I made sure to try both of Goose Island's Pitchfork collaborations—a Kölsch called SVE brewed with input from Sharon Van Etten and a pilsner called Recommended brewed with Pitchfork staff. Both are fine warm-weather session beers, but not terribly distinctive. If you've got a hankering for something odd and memorable, try the Devon Ave. Pale Ale, made with cardamom, chai tea, ajwain seeds, and amchur (dried, powdered green mango). It'll be tapped at 4 PM tomorrow.
J.R. Nelson: In all the ways I found Friday’s lineup largely unconvincing—apart from the Haxan Cloak, Factory Floor, and Neneh Cherry, whose trip-hop-inflected but antinostalgia set (all recent material, other than "Buffalo Stance") I senselessly forgot to shout out in yesterday's recap—Saturday's was the exact opposite. Twin Peaks opened the day with blast after blast of hooky, jangling garage rock and were as irresistible and immediate as any time I've seen 'em wreck a sweaty Chicago basement. Pusha T's truncated set (he was about half an hour late) was coldly dominant and efficient boom-bap. I really wish he and his team had given themselves time to put more numbers on the board. Kelela's Blue Stage set won me over almost instantly, as I suspected it would. I think her 2013 album, Cut 4 Me, is only just being recognized as an R&B milestone, and her fierce, funny performance did nothing to dispel that impression. I think we’re going to be observing her understated genius for a long time to come. As much as it pained me to leave Kelela behind, Danny Brown was one of my must-see acts of the fest. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. The frenzied response to the Detroit rapper's Green Stage set was as intense as any I can remember at Pitchfork—only equaled by the Lil B crowd last year. From where I was standing near the festival gates, his fans looked like an ocean of pogoing creatures out of some demented nature film. Dude brought it, and the people bought it.
All the amazing talent on display Saturday, however, paled in comparison to St. Vincent. From the VIP section, I got a good look (albeit a sideways one) at Annie Clark and her band as they marched to the stage. Not to be overly dramatic, but at that moment the hair on the back of my neck stood up, as though the air around me was charged with electric current, and that feeling didn't leave me until her set crashed to a close. I think every truly brilliant musician—and Clark certainly is one—has a moment where she's at the peak of her powers. She's just released her consummate album; the concept and execution of her live show is seamless and sublime; her moment seems to belong to all of us in the audience watching, even though in a way it's hers and hers alone. She can seemingly do no wrong, but still lead an audience to something profound. I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to get at here—something about the nature of performance and my appreciation of it got a bit scrambled by her set—but I'll be thinking of what St. Vincent did at Pitchfork for a long time to come.
Kevin Warwick: I'm not going to write about St. Vincent. I'm not going to write about St. Vincent—as tough as it is. Instead it's time to show gratitude to the early-day acts. Twin Peaks kicked off the day with a loose, wild set, albeit one for which front man Cadien Lake James was confined to a wheelchair thanks to a broken ankle. No matter. The band still ripped through a set chock full of new jams from their upcoming full-length, Wild Onion, and they did it with a spunk and charisma best illustrated in their young rock 'n' roll swagger and shimmy—plus they pointed out the Jumbotron and yelled, "Look, we're on TV!" The crowd was dense in support of their hometowners—and who wouldn't love seeing the band's parents and relatives getting down.
Wild Beasts might have had the sharpest set of the day. It was definitely one of the best. The foursome from Kendal, England, are so seamless in their execution, so in tune with one another—right down to the perfect hand-off of a part from guitar to guitar or the back-and-forth between strings and synth—that you barely notice the costume changes during their stage show. It's airtight. They were all cool and at ease as their vocals bled out into the sunny afternoon. They swayed, they did slo-mo fists to the sky, they looked slick as hell. It's difficult to captivate a packed-in, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd with pretty, theatrical indie rock full of falsetto vocals, but these dudes are masters of their craft—and absolute showmen.
Gwynedd Stuart: St. Vincent's set was like a fireworks show: the whole thing is great, but the grand finale is the best part. And she did fireworks one better by playing one more song. I didn't realize I was a fan until I saw her live. Made me long for Kate Bush in the best possible way.
As for the rest of the day, my colleague Brianna Wellen tweeted that Cloud Nothings' set reminded her of being at Warped Tour, and I totally agree.
Neutral Milk Hotel is currently playing and it's a fucking mass exodus. No video or photography = no video screen. So if you're not up close, fuck you, apparently. I can hear but I can't see, and I'm still enjoying it.
Luca Cimarusti: Pusha T took the stage more than half an hour after he was supposed to. As annoying as that was, it did add a sense of drama and tension to the festival that was kind of fun. And when Pusha did show up, it was worth the wait. He was fired up, mean, and intense, destroying verses from his solo records and his tracks with Kanye.
Danny Brown was next on the Green Stage, and his drugged-out outer-space rap was explosive; he dominated the stage and captivated the crowd for his entire set.
After those two insane hip-hop acts, I was kind of like, "Rock music, psshh." But then I saw St. Vincent and had my mind completely blown. Robotic, alien, and magical, she gave me goose bumps for her entire set. She kind of reminds me of a female version of Prince: weirdo pop genius and unreal guitar shredder wrapped up in one beautiful package.
Tal Rosenberg: I spent a chunk of the early afternoon at the merch tents, which I'd avoided at previous Pitchfork festivals. In the past, these tents were overcrowded and overstuffed with weak wares and lame baubles. But this part of the fest has been massively improved, with lots of cool craftspeople and an impressive selection of books and records. And there was plenty of room to walk around, with wider walkways to mitigate the fears of claustrophobics.
I was still hanging near the book tent when Danny Brown came onstage and obliterated everyone, putting on a ground-shaking set of nuclear crunk music with concrete-tough attitude and cartoonish flow. His set will be hard to top. Later on FKA Twigs and St. Vincent played on two separate stages simultaneously; I went back and forth between them to see complex, galvanizing takes on R&B and indie rock, respectively. Both acts exhibited remarkable control, taking intricate songs and delivering them in digestible forms. At the end of the night, Neutral Milk Hotel came on, to the excitement of virtually no one I knew. A few people remarked on how much NMH had meant to them at one point in time, which just goes to show that times change, thank God.
Brianna Wellen: Twin Peaks kicked things off with a set that was 1,000 percent more upbeat than anything during Friday's opening hours. It was cool to see these youngsters rock (broken leg and all) to what I'm guessing is the biggest crowd they've ever seen. Crowd surfers and the occasional toss of a broken guitar kept security on their toes, but that's all just so rock 'n' roll, y'know? A lot of my fellow Reader people have surely talked about what a celestial goddess St. Vincent was (and she totally was), but Tune-Yards leader Merrill Garbus was my favorite lady of the day. I danced my heart out when she played my personal favorite from the new record, "Real Thing," and rode that excitement through the rest of the night. I've seen Jeff Mangum a few times before, and his opening notes did give me all the feels I've ever felt, but there were too many bros and too much open air to re-experience the deep emotions I first felt when I listened to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. For my Saturday, Tune-Yards trumped all.
Drew Hunt: If you didn't make it to the fest early enough to catch young squires/punk kids Twin Peaks, you pretty much fucked up. The local rockers were frenetic and snotty—one member even performed from a wheelchair and never missed a beat. Big things are in store for Twin Peaks—the next time they play this festival, I doubt they'll be relegated to a 1 PM slot. Similarly energetic were Cloud Nothings. What started as a bedroom project for lead singer Dylan Baldi has morphed into a power trio specializing in aggressive indie rock peppered with elements of garage and pop-punk. They sounded much larger than the sum of their parts this afternoon. A few hours later on the same stage, St. Vincent melted faces with her brand of art-rock and heavy-metal theatrics. It was an audacious set, sorta hammy here and there, but powerful overall. Neutral Milk Hotel were admittedly ramshackle, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Sloppiness is sorta built into the band's aesthetic, and besides, perfection is overrated. Oh, and Pusha T only played half a set, but everyone else has probably already talked about that.
Leor Galil: The biggest surprise of the day is that I stuck around during Neutral Milk Hotel for more than a few songs—they sounded like hot garbage for a few minutes there, but they soldiered through it and my nostalgia got the best of me for about ten minutes. (True story: NMH could light up parties during my college days.) The highlight of my day came more than six hours earlier: the back-to-back performances by Twin Peaks and Ka.
One of the youngsters in Twin Peaks had to perform in a wheelchair—his right ankle was in a cast—but that didn't stop the garage group from ripping through their set with combustible energy. I hear one of the guys broke a guitar and tossed it into the crowd—a moment I missed en route to Ka. The Brooklyn MC delivered his heavy, brooding tunes with a refined poise. Though the songs didn't quite fit the lovely open-air environment, Ka proved to be a personable and gracious performer, which made it that much easier to get sucked into his songs.
Most of the rest of the day was a delightful blur of snippets of sets—Tune-Yards, Kelela, Cloud Nothings, FKA Twigs. I made sure to take in all of Danny Brown, who threw down a reliably exuberant show (though I wish he'd brought out B Side cover star ZMoney to perform their recent collab). The best part of Pusha T's set was that it was mercifully short—he yelled out his bars like he didn't realize there was a mike in front of him.