Jeremih's Green Stage set on Sunday had a similar communal vibe to that of fellow Chicagoan RP Boo the day before, albeit with less frantic virtuosity and more sex. The crowd enthusiastically shouted again and again for "old shit" rather than "new shit," and Jeremih obliged, encouraging call-and-response and repeatedly thanking old fans, a number of whom were dancing on stage along with him. Chance the Rapper showed up too, bouncing around enthusiastically for a song or two. A couple of professional dancers in skintight black outfits gave the impression that they weren't feeling the humidity at all. But the real showstopper was Jeremih's mom, whom he brought out for a dance at the end. She seemed both embarrassed and radiantly happy as she twirled around in her Doc Martens in what has to be one of Pitchfork's all-time most adorable performances.
FKA Twigs's closing set couldn't have been more different than Jeremih's loose lovefest. She barely spoke to the audience unless it was through a heavily processed vocal quip ("Thank you so much for being with me here tonight," "Actions speak louder than words, so here we are," et cetera) and the show was a gloriously choreographed capital-P Performance. A troupe of dancers performed Twigs's idiosyncratic Bollywood-marionettes-performing-martial-arts choreography, with Twigs herself joining in. Every toss of her white dreads elicited a shriek only dwarfed by the ecstatic screams produced after she'd turn around to give a bit of a butt shake. Her music is a wonder live—she turns up the volume on the scattered electronic beats, so the delicate "Two Weeks" becomes an aural assault. An enthusiast next to me turned to her friend to declare, "Beyoncé who, right?" I'm pretty sure Beyoncé would do a kick-ass Pitchfork set, if it ever came to that, but Twigs sure comes off as the next megathing.
I was ready to bail on the Pitchfork Music Festival before the acts I wanted to see on Sunday hit the stage. The constant delays that plagued the Blue Stage all weekend seemed to worsen by midafternoon, and the heat was getting to my brain and body, which felt creaky all day. Despite the delays, the one-two punch of the Hotelier and Jeremih were reinvigorating. The Hotelier's late set meant I wound up missing what I'd heard was an abominable start to Jeremih's performance, and by the time I caught him he'd greased the wheels and was cruising through his hits. Chance showed up, as I expected, but I was really won over when Jeremih closed out by bringing his mom out to dance with him—it was his gift to himself on his birthday, and a charming way to cap things off. (I was also excited to see G Herbo jump onstage—the crowd, however, didn't have a very enthusiastic response to one of the best rappers in the city right now.)
I would've been fine after the Hotelier's life-affirming set. A gentle breeze hit me right as they took "Goodness Pt. 2" into overdrive. I ran into the mosh pit to holler my way through "Soft Animal," one of my favorite songs from my favorite album of the year
so far, and adrenaline pulsed through me as I belted out the lyrics while jumping around. The pit was both fierce and friendly, with folks cheering on an attendee after he recovered a lost flip-flop. I got knocked down and scuffed my knee, but I got lifted onto my feet in no time—it was just what I needed.
I was admittedly the least excited about day three of Pitchfork, which was heavier on electronic, programmed music than guitar-and-drums music. However, the flip side is that the day featured the most acts that I was curious to see. And local duo Homme
was right up there.
Ah, the reprieve offered by the Blue Stage! It was a perfect place to be on the steamiest day of the weekend. Shaded and generally easygoing in its ebb and flow, the stage was the ideal environment for Homme, whose soft and inventive vocal harmonies—spread out nicely by Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham—created a nice pocket for settling into the day. That's not to say the duo strides along during a laid-back set—the guitarists work through stunted rhythms played by drummer Matt Carroll, the band collectively hitting a power-chord pace for a minute only to will it to crumble right at their feet, then build it back together again. They seemed delighted to be here, a feeling that emanated throughout their show, and I know a festival set is great when it prompts me to look up where and when the band will be playing around the city in the coming months.
After that I watched the spectacle put on by Kamasi Washington on the Red Stage. Frenetic and full of jazz solos to the sun, the prog-leaning saxophonist kept the funk thrum consistent, providing a perfect follow-up to the Sun Ra Arkestra set earlier in the day.
Back to the Blue Stage! I need to understand the allure of Hotelier, a Leor Galil-approved emo act. But the stage ran so far behind that I only caught one half of a song before I had to head out to see Jeremih. The plus to that, though? I caught a large chunk of the Empress Of set prior to Hotelier, which provided a clinic on how to amp a stage with infectious enthusiasm and a barrage of melding synths and off-kilter beats.
Jeremih's set was out of whack through the first half as the crowd could not settle into the flow (his lateness did not help). Then Chance arrived, the crowd surged forward, and he performed a portion of "Angels." That helped a lot and Jeremih worked through the rest of his performance (and hits) with gusto.
Sun Ra Arkestra
I had a 20-hour Saturday, so my Sunday at Pitchfork was by necessity slow. I arrived just in time for the inimitable Sun Ra Arkestra on the Blue Stage, resplendent in costumes whose aesthetic split the difference between "Carnaval float" and "pinball machine." Playful, rambunctious, profound, and cosmic, they collided graceful vintage bop, science-fiction sound effects, and exalted singing, chanting, and hollering. Bandleader Marshall Allen occasionally played an EWI that sounded like a cross between a theremin and an 80s video game, and a gray-haired saxophonist (dressed in a shimmering purple cloak and a reflective silver hat whose sharp corners made it look faceted) did handsprings and cartwheels at the lip of the stage. It's hard to explain exactly why this band makes me so happy, but I do know it does my heart good to see these venerable musicians carrying on the vision of the departed genius who inspired them—a vision of joy, welcome, and hope. I only wish that this large group—led by a 92-year-old—hadn't had to travel all the way from Saturn just for a 40-minute set in the early afternoon on the side stage.
I loved Kamasi Washington's storming double-drummer rhythm section and dense, athletic grooves, but his turbocharged fusion of jazz, funk, rock, and soul felt less dramatic and alchemical than the fusion the Arkestra had achieved—perhaps because it doesn't combine styles of music that had originally evolved on either side of the development of festival-grade electronic amplification. Washington was high-energy from top to bottom. He did title one tune in a seven-based meter "The Magnificent Seven," though, which made me wonder why jazz dudes seem so keen to tell us what they're doing.
Next I needed to do something low-key, so I went to the Book Fort—the readers on Sunday evening were J.R. Nelson
, Sasha Geffen
, Meagan Fredette
, and Britt Julious
, all Reader
contributors. We weren't insulated at all from Jeremih's thumping set, but fortunately it was still possible to get everyone's message.
I soaked up Miguel's performance from a seated position, which I'm aware isn't ideal. But at that point I was flat out of energy for anything else. He can sing like a motherfucker, and I dug his drummer's in-the-pocket feel, but I think I was too far gone to be moved. You win this round, Pitchfork.
Despite my extreme exhaustion, I arrived to day three early to see Sun Ra Arkestra, per the recommendation of Philip Montoro. And boy am I glad I did. The group even won my made-up award of "Best Dressed." They created amazing music while being draped in bright colors and sequins, which they proudly waved around on stage. I was unsure of how the day would go, but Sun Ra Arkestra immediately proved themselves to be the best of the day, if not the weekend.
The best, that is, until Jeremih. Much like earlier in the day, I had no expectations. My familiarity with Jeremih began and ended with "Birthday Sex." The annual sex was had, but things really picked up when Chance the Rapper came onstage. It was a reminder of how great he was and how powerful his performance was last year. I mean, why does Pitchfork really book anyone else if Chance is available?
The greatest blessing of Sunday: it didn't start pouring until I got home.
Kamasi Washington (left) and bandmembers
The current era's abundance of dynamic, magnetic R&B superstars often makes it seem like a genre of modern-day kings and queens—Sunday's best Pitchfork moments were strong enough to make sure the serfs didn't go home hungry.
From the time I arrived at the park, just in time to catch Kamasi Washington's breathtaking large-ensemble set of soulful, harmonically challenging, and expertly played jazz (think Impulse Records classics like Pharaoh Sanders's Live at the East
and Alice Coltrane's Ptah, the El Daoud
backed with slaps of rolling fusion rhythm), I had my hands in the air and I most surely didn't care. Although I bought it months ago, I've been too intimidated to closely listen to Washington's 2015 triple-LP album The Epic
—its length alone makes it a daunting project. But Sunday's set was so loose, soulful, and easily accessible that I'm looking forward to diving in. I know, I know—Kamasi Washington isn't strictly an R&B artist. But I heard more than a bit of chunky Parliament-Funkadelic crank in his rhythm section.
There was no doubt of the power of slick jams and delightful, theatrical ham during the late-afternoon one-two punch of performances from hometown hero Jeremih and baby-faced Los Angeles jack-of-all-trades Miguel, whose eye-popping dance moves and all-white outfit sealed his spot as perhaps the weekend's most magnetic performer. But Jeremih had a secret weapon that no other Pitchfork artist could match: the surprise appearance of perennial show stealer Chance the Rapper during his set sent a high-watt jolt of electricity through the crowd that was the highlight of the entire festival. Not that avant-soul prima donna FKA Twigs didn't try out some engaging tactics of her own: her Sunday night closing slot began with almost five minutes of dramatically choreographed dance and near silence—after a boisterous, noisy weekend, it was just the pause for breath this particular listener needed.
Before heading for the exits, I decided to stick my head into the Blue Stage grotto and check out Oneohtrix Point Never. Naturally, his claustrophobic wash of techno, noise, and nu metal sounded like every artist booked at the festival playing at once, and since I was long past the point of exhaustion, I didn't stay long. But before I left, I spent a few minutes standing right near the front entrance, watching similarly listless festival attendees depart, and listening to the sounds of Twigs and OPN trade off and mutate in the air around me as clean-up crews got to work. I spent many of my youthful summers attending a YMCA camp in Wisconsin, and most of my college years as a counselor in the same place. This year it struck me that the best festivals—despite glitches and sound issues, overflowing portable toilets and the occasional drunken asshat screaming in your ear—sometimes have the same momentary and beautifully communal feel as a summer camp, if you're open to that sort of thing. Then again, I spent many hours over the weekend seriously craving a few minutes alone with a bar of soap. Maybe it's just that drowsy summer Sundays always leave me feeling nostalgic? I'm sure I'll have it all sorted out by festival time next year.
It's wise to hang back for a few moments after a Pitchfork set to jot down a couple of notes before wandering to the next show. If not for those minutes of reflection, which was necessary for digesting the majesty of Kamasi Washington's performance, I wouldn't have run into him backstage on his way to a meet and greet.
"It feels great," Washington said. I'd asked him how it felt to watch scores of people applaud and cheer to his jazz—if you read Peter Margasak's Pitchfork preview
, you'd know that the fest hasn't hosted a jazz artist since 2007.
"People's minds are opening up, which is a good thing," Washington continued. "Jazz is a very thought-provoking music. It forces you to look in and deal with yourself."
Watching the saxophonist lead his band in and out of his funk-infused, sometimes NOLA-style jazz proved that musicianship isn't dead. In a beautiful moment onstage, Washington brought out his reedist father, Rickey Washington, who "taught me everything I know," the younger Washington told the audience.
Then, as he proclaimed to have one of the coolest bands in the industry (which I totally agree with, now that I've witnessed their genius up close), Washington opened the stage for his back line to shine on his 2015 song, "The Magnificent Seven." The bassist stole my heart, using his fingers and bow in supercomplex ways.
Later in the night, Jeremih took the Green Stage for his first appearance at Pitchfork. But it wasn't until I spotted Chance the Rapper backstage from my VIP seat that I turned into a teenage girl waiting to see B2K (yes, B2K) for the first time. Chance definitely stole the show right out of Jeremih's palms, which was, frankly, to be expected.
Then, there was Miguel, my boo. I came just to hear him sing whatever he could from Kaleidoscope Dream
—my favorite of his three albums. And he did not disappoint (unlike BJ The Chicago Kid on Saturday, but I digress). Other than his performance of my personal favorite of his songs, "Do You," the best part of the night was when he lowered the volume on the music to address the crowd about the recent violence in America.
"I'm tired of human lives being turned into hashtags and prayer hands," Miguel sang. Then he spoke the following, "We have to do something now—it's about action." Right on.