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Philip Montoro: I learned something interesting at Pitchfork on Sunday. The poor sod dressed as Twinkie the Kid could barely see in that costume. I saw a woman leading him (it?) by the elbow across the lawn, and she had to warn him when they crossed the paved path: "Look out, there's a little step down here!" This presented a truly difficult temptation: I mean, it's not like I wanted to get kicked out of Pitchfork, but if it had to happen, I'd have wanted it to be because I blindsided Twinkie the Kid with a flying tackle.
Go on, try to tell me you didn't think the same thing the instant you saw him.
Anyway! I also watched some music, while thousands of people marched in downtown Chicago to protest Israeli military action in Gaza.
Meredith Graves is the only thing worth mentioning about Perfect Pussy's blistering set, assuming you'd agree that anything at all about Pitchfork is worth mentioning today—seeing her push her entire cardiopulmonary system into the red, I understood why they play for only 20 minutes or so. The drum mix was truly indifferent, and I could barely tell what the guitarist was doing through the cracked glaze of distortion. I've heard the band's records, and I know that's not what those songs are supposed to sound like.
Deafheaven fared better, though I couldn't help but notice that I was the only dude in sight with metal hair—and I was smack in the middle of the crowd, 30 feet in front of the soundboard. Then a friend punctured the gravity of the band's monumental first song: "I bet that singer was great on the debate team."
This was my second Deafheaven show, and I'm trying hard to like these guys—the drummer plays with a great swaggering feel, which is especially welcome considering that most black-metal bands have all the swing of an electric typewriter. But I think I prefer this sort of thing with more riffs and more evil. Honestly, they sounded a lot like Slowdive, except with blastbeats and shrieking. I'm still trying to figure out why I enjoyed Slowdive more, given how much I dig blastbeats and shrieking.
I'll leave it to my colleagues to describe Kendrick Lamar's headlining set, but I do want to say one thing: It must be amazing to be 27 years old and looking out from a festival stage at thousands upon thousands of people moving in unison to your music, like a vast field of sea grass in the grip of an unseen current. I hope that sight is as at least as inspiring to Lamar as it was to me—if he keeps climbing from here, who knows where he'll end up.
Luca Cimarusti: On Friday, I went to the Bottom Lounge for the afterparty with Perfect Pussy and Deafheaven. The sound guy was apparently baffled by Perfect Pussy's spazzy, noisy hardcore, because all you could hear was bass drum, feedback, and synth. The result was so weird and alienating that most of the audience didn't know how to react—you could see the band thrash around onstage, but nothing coherent was coming through the speakers. As badly as I wanted to hear the songs, I enjoyed the bizarre punk-rock vibe. Luckily the sound was better for today's set. Perfect Pussy were intense and played with nonstop energy—though I found myself rolling my eyes a little when lead singer Meredith Graves started crying at the end of one of the tunes.
Deafheaven, however, were my favorite act of the day—their epic, dramatic blend of black metal and postrock moved the early crowd. Lead singer George Clarke, clad in solid black with a long-sleeve shirt buttoned up to his neck, commanded the audience with over-the-top gesticulations to punctuate the song's gigantic shifts. And after the set, the old boy was hanging around the backstage area in a crisp Gucci crew-neck sweatshirt, because of course he was.
And now, for another take on the same two bands . . .
Kevin Warwick: I'm writing this as Slowdive's shoegaze melts into the early Sunday evening, which means I'm in the right state of mind to talk about punk and metal. For the third day in a row, I'm going for the early acts. Perfect Pussy exhilarated and confused the crowd—they play like a hardcore band but their sound mix is more like a noise band. It's abrasive and tumultuous, with the instruments coalescing into something more like a train wreck than a riff. Front woman Meredith Graves annihilates everything with her onstage electricity, and I'm almost certain she shed actual tears during the barrage, in between chucking her vocals over the pummeling clatter punk. The band seems mesmerized by their own rapid rise but ready to absolutely own it.
Deafheaven played on the Green Stage directly after, and they're worthy of a big stage. Front man George Clarke is just that: a front man through and through. His shrieks pierced the early afternoon heat as the band roared through a revelatory set of exalted chords and thundering blastbeats. As music editor Philip Montoro put it, Deafheaven are "the Divvy bikes of metal: Getting more people involved!" Their music is accessible and almost pretty, torched by high-octane, effortless drumming and guitar solos reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky. The band is a spectacle live—not only due to Clarke's commanding presence and sometimes almost graphic flourishes and dance moves, but also because they combine their harshness with lush orchestrations that help you appreciate the bravado rather than plug your ears.
Brianna Wellen: For me, day three had a lot immediately going against it. Festival fatigue had kicked in, the threat of sunburn was realer than ever, and my sunglasses broke right in half. Luckily for me, a day of fun music distracted me from all that. Between Speedy Ortiz, Perfect Pussy, and Dum Dum Girls, the Blue Stage ruled today, and it was cool to see lady-led bands totally owning the crowd. I didn't much get into the hip-hop acts, but watching some teens who jumped the fence for Earl Sweatshirt getting chased by security guards was pretty entertaining, I guess? Seeing one such teen fall from the fence and collapse the top of a portable toilet, however, added another layer to my fear of music-festival bathrooms.
Drew Hunt: The final day of Pitchfork kicked off with quite a one-two punch on the Blue Stage: Speedy Ortiz and Perfect Pussy, an ideal double bill to illustrate the current (amazing) state of female-led hard rock. Both had great sets, but I give the nod to Perfect Pussy. Everything you've heard about the band's live show is true, and then some. I was exhausted just watching.
A slate of rappers performed in the afternoon and evening, the most charismatic and technically sound of whom was near no-show Earl Sweatshirt, the urban legend turned ace MC who's yet to fully come into his own as an artist—an almost scary proposition, considering he's already among the best ten or so rappers working today. His set was was alternately energetic ("Whoa," "Drop") and somber ("Chum," "Sunday"), yet completely cohesive. The rest of the day failed to reach those heights. Grimes was fine, but I couldn't help but wish Annie Clark would come back for a second go-round. Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar's set, which started about 20 minutes late, was identical to the one he performed just a few months ago on the Yeezus tour, right down to the "Which side of the crowd is loudest?" shtick and "Chicago is my second home" spiel. I ducked out before he finished and got some Mexican food, and I hope everyone else did something equally fulfilling to end their Pitchfork weekend.
Tal Rosenberg: At Pitchfork, the tendency is for national or international acts to play for a mostly midwestern audience, so it was a joy to see DJ Spinn, a local artist, play for so many people who might not have otherwise known of him and blow everyone else out of the water. His set sounded like British pirate radio from the mid-90s, with beats reminiscent of jungle and 'ardkore. He chopped samples as finely as Paul Sorvino slicing garlic with a razor blade. People danced. A lot. I'm not sure anyone else even came close. It was a proud moment for Chicago, showcasing a music scene that deserves the national prominence it seems on the cusp of achieving.
J.R. Nelson: Remember that "artist fully inhabiting her moment" skin-prickly feeling I mentioned with I wrote about St. Vincent's set for Saturday's recap? I got it again with the first band I saw Sunday, as Perfect Pussy unleashed a pretty fucking perfect noise-punk barrage from their debut LP, Say Yes to Love. This is a band that has been known to literally put their blood into their work, and singer Meredith Graves introduced a song by mentioning that she would probably shed some tears. Indeed she did, but the blasts of anger and joy the band wove so furiously around her made them seem right as rain. It was electric stuff.
Majical Cloudz had some electrical problems—the trouble was with Matthew Otto's keyboard setup, naturally—but front man Devon Welsh crooned a few cuts a cappella, let some audience members tell jokes, and seemed to have a fine time regardless. Luckily the crowd didn’t seem to mind either. Since Earl Sweatshirt has canceled almost all the other dates on his summer tour, his midafternoon felt like a special treat. It definitely was for the eight or nine Yung Lean doppelgangers rapping along to every word on the lawn in front of me, who seemed stoked to the point of combustion. As the sun fell, Grimes rose up on the Red Stage and pulled some choice Dothraki EBM out of the ether, and I mean that literally. I'm a freak for Game of Thrones, and 90 percent convinced that she was speaking the khaleesi's language in at least one new song. Only George R.R. Martin (and Grimes, I guess) knows for sure, but even a music novice like him (or me) would tell her to breathe more. In most ways, Claire Boucher's performances get stronger and more assured every time I see her, but when she steps out from her synth setup to bust a dance move, she loses her wind and the melodies suffer. As far as these things so, that's a small complaint. I'd follow her into an epic, otherworldly battle against musical convention any old day. By the end of the night, the lawn near the festival entrance really did look like a battle had just been fought—bottles and bodies everywhere, people sitting or lying, dazed or stunned, and more than a little smoke in the air. As Kendrick Lamar's set began, I realized how tired I was—oh so very tired—and I made my way to the exit. Sorry, Kendrick. You are a good kid, and I enjoyed what I saw, but every soldier has to know when to retreat.
Jake Malooley: As the sun began to set on Pitchfork's final day, Slowdive unleashed their guitars on the
western eastern end of the park. As if on cue, a nearby group sat in a circle nodding their heads and passing a bowl. The echoing chords of "Blue Skied an' Clear" floated and hung over the crowd like so many plumes of pot smoke. "You say life," Neil Halstead sang, "and it sounds so good." And it did. The Brits enjoyed a well-timed slot; their hypnotic wall of sound was the early-evening breather that the masses seemed to need before the final acts.
It was certainly worth saving energy for Kendrick Lamar, who proved himself a worthy closing headliner. "Chicago is my second home," he said in a rare breather during a relentlessly energetic set helped along by a perfectly on-point live band. "A lot of my family here from the south side." Their presence added weight to the Compton MC's antiviolence sermons; his message was buoyed by a stream of stylized footage on the big screens, which played like an art film on the modern urban condition.
Leor Galil: I began to feel it not even three songs into Earl Sweatshirt's set—after two and a half days of ping-ponging around Union Park like nothing could stop me, I was finally rewarded when my body decided to give me a piercing headache. The overpowering bass that escorted Earl onstage made things worse, and eventually I had to flee. But I'm glad I caught the first moments of Earl's set. He was a charmer from the get-go, inviting the crowd to sing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," and somehow it worked. I wish I would've stuck around, but my head said no.
I made it through the end of the day, but I left with some unfulfilled desires. I wish the Grimes that appeared yesterday had been the one that played Pitchfork two years ago—en route to pop stardom, she's lost much of the weirdo magic that made her such a magnetic performer in the first place. I wish Majical Cloudz' keyboard hadn't crapped out shortly after their set started, though I'm glad they powered through, with Devon Welsh belting out a cappella renditions of their songs till they booted up a laptop for the end of the set (the crowd didn't seem to mind, and folks cheered extra loud when the band got things working). I wish I'd been able to hear Meredith Graves' voice just a tad better during Perfect Pussy's 20-minute blitz. I wish I'd seen a little more of Slowdive; I wish Deafheaven's colossal wall of sound had come through clearer; I wish I'd been paying more attention to Isaiah Rashad (that one's on me).
But a few great performances made up for that—like Mutual Benefit. Their celestial folk hit me just right at the start of the day, and when they segued into "Advanced Falconry" the hair on my arms stood on end. Kendrick Lamar showed up late enough to give Pusha T a run for his money, but he delivered a reliably powerful performance. The Compton MC growled, yelled, and half-sung his way through one burner after another from 2012's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, and he did it with the energy of a rising star excited to be onstage and the poise of a pro. With assists from his backing band and a crowd eager to shout every bar and wave their cell phones in the air, he toyed with his songs to make them hit harder and go longer, stoking a nice groove that could've lasted for hours.
Lamar closed out the festival with style, but DJ Spinn had the best set of the day—and for me, the whole weekend. The footwork master threw down an electrifying set with the help of his Teklife collective, Mano's Treated Crew, and dance outfit the Era, who lit up the crowd with their tightly choreographed moves. The whole set was like a gigantic family party, with folks onstage embracing one another, leaping in the air, and whipping the crowd into a giddy frenzy. It doubled as a wonderful a tribute to Teklife cofounder DJ Rashad, Spinn's childhood friend, who passed away a few months before the festival—watching everyone onstage shout Rashad's name as a mass of fans threw their hands in the air put a smile on my face and brought tears to my eyes.