Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Review

by Abby Wagner and Matt Coakley

Pitchfork Music Festival can only be described as a musical wonderland — where psychedelia, dad rock and R&B join forces for a weekend of joy. Featuring headliners Courtney Barnett, Tame Impala, The War on Drugs, Fleet Foxes, Chaka Khan and Ms. Lauryn Hill — festival-goers knew they were in for a treat! The festival was held in Chicago’s Union Park July 20–22. With rain and thunderstorms in the weekend’s forecast, no one was really sure how things would play out.

The festival had three stages — two main stages (Red Stage and Green Stage) and one smaller stage (Blue Stage). The park was crawling with families, hipsters, and all around music lovers the entire weekend. When festival-goers weren’t entranced by a performer, they were typically found crowded around the park’s sole water fountain or checking out some of the great food and merchandise. The main street was lined with local food vendors and funky screen printers selling various prints. The churro ice cream sundae was particularly to die for. There was also a huge tent where records could be purchased and a few others with clothes and jewelry. Rumors of Bai Brands founder, Ben Weiss, making an appearance never seemed to come to fruition, although there were representatives in their decadent sponsor tent offering a photo booth while giving out free Bai beverages and swag.

Friday had a pretty stacked afternoon: Saba, Sid, Lucy Dacus, Tierra Whack and Julien Baker all gave great performances. Indie rock group, Big Thief, kicked off the evening at the Blue Stage. Songwriters and soulmates, Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek (aided by touring bassist Max Oleartchik and drummer James Krivcheniaput) put on a stunning performance. Charming and vulnerable as always, they modestly walked onstage and launched into the most rockin’ mom-appreciation song in the whole world, “Masterpiece.” Fans knew they weren’t pulling any stops when they immediately went into the dark banger “Shark Smile” off their 2017 album “Capacity.” Almost as if we were living out some dramatic music video fantasy, it began to rain during the first chorus. It rained a bit periodically through their set, but never too much for the entranced audience to do anything about it. They played another song about Lenker’s mom off “Masterpiece,” a faster arrangement of the brooding “Mary” off “Capacity” and FIVE new, unreleased songs. “Shoulders” and “Not” stood out as potential highlights to look for on their next release.

Like cattle, festival-goers moseyed around the park, still in a trance over Big Thief’s performance, and made their way over to the main stages where Courtney Barnett was performing. The incredible crowd that amassed in front of her proves that straight up rock will never die! Barnett’s new album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” is getting a lot of love from critics and fans alike. She played a healthy variety of old and new songs, playing all the hits (and closing, of course, with “Pedestrian at Best”). With a slight shift in direction moving from one stage to the next, Tame Impala wrapped up the night with an other-worldly performance, as always. Multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter Kevin Parker is simply on another level. Everything his band played sounded totally on point (save for a couple songs at the start of the show plagued by technical difficulties) and he even threw in a couple deep cuts (“Sundown Syndrome,” “Alter Ego”) for the #realfans. Their captivating light show and psychedelic LED screens mesmerized and entertained concert-goers near and around the stage, regardless of whether or not they could see the band. All around, it was a great way to conclude the first day of the festival.

Saturday started off on the right tone, with Chicago native Paul Cherry delivering a groovy set at the early hour of 1:00 p.m. There were some really cool acts throughout the afternoon, but the highlight was Nilüfer Yanya, who played the Red Stage at 3:20 p.m. She bills herself as “soulful indie” and that’s truly the best way to describe it. Heavy on the soul! She and her band gave an engaging and energetic live performance that was hard to forget. They even played Pixies’ classic “Hey,” which was awesome. She may be under the radar right now but that won’t last for long. As Twitter user @PTrewn puts it: “Nilüfer Yanya is a full length album away from being everyone’s favorite artist.”

As great as Yanya’s performance was, Moses Sumney was the set to beat that afternoon. He and his accompanists performed lush arrangements of songs from his debut studio album “Aromanticism” — all without the use of a prerecorded track! They used loopers and other effects pedals to give the performance a certain etherealness and otherworldliness. The violist even used a pitch shifter to make his violin sound like a bass instrument at times. Sumney stood magnificently at the front of the stage, brandishing his gold nose ring and gold rimmed sunglasses, and donning flowy black clothes and black boots. His appearance matched his music wonderfully; as Morrissey once put it, “I wear black on the outside, ‘cause black is how I feel on the inside.” Sumney stood in front of a black and gold podium which looked straight out of a sci-fi movie. Highlights from his set included “Quarrel,” “Lonely World,” “Make Out In My Car,” and he even did a beautiful Björk cover from her 1993 “Debut.”

Blood Orange played a great set full of groovy, dreamy original music. Their LED screens showed their music videos as well as strange clips from YouTube, including but not limited to, Lil Wayne shredding on guitar and people drag racing. If anyone came to Pitchfork to smooch with their lover, this was probably when they were doing it. Blood Orange is some real deal baby making music with nothing but good vibes. Everyone in the park was feeling the grooves on jams such as “Best To You” and “It Is What It Is.”

After a day full of R&B and indie, everyone was ready for some good-old-fashioned dad rock. Oh, yes! Hailing from Philadelphia (Go Birds!), indie rock legends, The War On Drugs, played a headlining set at the Red Stage. If you’ve never been to a War On Drugs show, let’s just say there are loud guitar sounds and lots of indiscernible singing, punctuated by lead singer Adam Granduciel’s impassioned “Woo!’s” and “Yeah!’s,” followed by long guitar solos. It’s awesome. How often do you see typically ordinary dads go all out with arms and legs flying? Not that often, right? This band really ignites something in these men that is not often sparked. It speaks to them. We need more bands with this magic formula to get dads moving and grooving again!

Fleet Foxes closed the second night with a wonderful performance, featuring their sweet, winter-time classic, “White Winter Hymnal.”

Sunday also featured a variety of great acts throughout the day. Earlier performances from acts such as Kelly Lee Owens and Ravyn Lenae got everyone amped up for another night of killer acts. Lenae, a Chicago native, put on quite a show, performing soulful tracks off her recent Steve Lacy-produced EP “Crush.” She spread positive vibes left and right as she lit up the stage with her words and her shiny metallic outfit.

At 4:00 p.m., the Blue Stage was the place to be. Philadelphia bedroom pop kween Michelle Zauner, better known by her stage name Japanese Breakfast (or her Twitter handle, @Jbrekkie, to the #realfans) gave a truly swell and upbeat performance. Playing songs off her 2016 debut “Psychopomp” as well as last year’s “Soft Songs from Another Planet,” Jbrekkie entertained the masses with her erratic dance moves and beautiful washed-out vocals. She and her band also pulled out a really fun and spot-on rendition of the Cranberries’ 1992 hit song “Dreams.” with her drummer singing backup vocals.

Chicago rapper, Noname, had one of the most energetic sets of the evening. Despite a couple lyrical flubs chalked up to “smoking before the set,” she was totally on point and delivered bar after bar with eloquence and fervor. That being said, she got increasingly frustrated with the crowd as the show went on because of their participation (or lack thereof). She voiced this frustration mid-way through her set, addressing the audience as “you lazy white privileged people.” Her backing band was entertaining, supporting Noname with smooth, jazzy arrangements. However, the band was perhaps a tad overzealous; there were times when the busy bass lines would poke out over Noname’s vocals. Several other musicians from the weekend’s lineup joined her onstage for various features, such as Smino and Ravyn Lenae. Overall, she glowed and rapped with the smoothest of flows.

D.R.A.M. probably would have been a fine choice for almost any other music festival lineup — such as Chicago’s other popular festival, Lollapalooza. D.R.A.M.’s music and performance featured many misogynistic undertones which have sadly become normalized in popular music. Many concert-goers were unamused when he announced his “exciting” new song, “Best Hugs,” whose chorus sings “Your girlfriend gives the best hugs” (a euphemism that didn’t go over anyone’s head). There was also another song about a girl being all alone in a sundress (as if that begs for him to approach her). His questionable lyrics were accentuated by his choice of LED visuals, flashing breasts and pole dancers in bright neon. Also, just as a side note, he said “goddamn” way way too much. Alex Cameron and (Sandy) Alex G both gave solid indie rock performances at the Blue Stage, entertaining the exodus of hipsters as they made their way from D.R.A.M.’s stage to literally anywhere else.

Veteran R&B and disco singer, Chaka Khan, got people moving their feet as the sun began to inch its way out of the sky. Chaka Khan busted out all the classics and crowd favorites, including her 1974 smash hit with Rufus, “Tell Me Something Good” (written by the one and only Stevie Wonder!) and her 1978 hit “I’m Every Woman.” Even though her vocal performance was slightly weaker in her old age, she came through with enough energy and catchy hooks to get everyone singing and dancing along. Her band picked up any slack in her performance; her backup vocalists were on point with their dance moves and harmonies, and the lead guitarist shredded away with each extended jam. He eventually played behind his head and even used his face and head to play the final chords.

Ms. Lauryn Hill, the headliner everyone was waiting for, only made us wait about 20 minutes this time, as she took the stage around 8:50 p.m. after her DJ got the crowd warmed up. Her set celebrated the 20th anniversary of her 1998 album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” The ex-Fugees singer really brought the heat, delivering each of her classic songs with passion and grace, even as she faced monitoring difficulties throughout her set. She conducted her band and backup singers on the spot and made each song special and powerful. Most of the songs were played in a new arrangement, featuring remixed verses and choruses as well as extended jams at the end. This may have gotten in the way of singing along for some fans, but there was never a dull moment so everyone was captivated the entire time. The people truly needed Lauryn Hill to reemerge now more than ever. Her words of justice and empowerment from 20 years ago still ring true today with her songs like “Forgive Them Father” — during which she showed clips of police brutality and racial injustice throughout the years. Her set was a perfect bookend to a perfect weekend at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival.

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WKDU Presents: Vundabar @ Philamoca

Words and photos by WKDU guest writer Madison Kierod

Vundabar brought Philly out of hibernation on Tuesday, March 6th with their sold-out show at PhilaMOCA. Devoted fans had been awaiting their return to the City of Brotherly Love since their show at the First Unitarian Church with The Frights and Hockey dad this past November. This time, the Boston punk/surf/math rockers headlined the show with support from Chicago-natives Ratboys, and D.C. indie rock duo, The Obsessives. The intimate venue was decorated with paintings and prints from local artists, allowing the performance to become tailored and personal for Philly fans.

The band jumped right in with their upbeat new single, “Acetone” off of their 2017 record Smell Smoke, and, after some dramatic pauses and heckling from the audience, continued the show with fan-favorite “Chop” from their second studio album Gawk. This single particularly showcases the band’s ability merge catchy vocal melodies with crunchy guitar tones, and incorporate tempo changes from Grayson Kirtland’s groovy bass lines to Drew McDonald’s quick, almost frantic drum solos. The progression was inherently entertaining to watch and the urge to dance was hard to resist.

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Consistent with the name of their first studio album, their show was certainly filled with Antics. Their fun, high-energy tunes kept the audience jumping, and lead singer Brandon Hagan’s commentary between sets kept them laughing with cheeky rants promoting their band, asking for food, and asking silly, rhetorical questions such as “what do you sound like when you sweat?”. His witty sense of humor even kept the audience entertained while dealing with some noise interference mid-show, as the band had to overcome what Brandon described as “the crickly-crackly.”

Part of Vundabar’s charm is in their unpredictability, their improvisational dance moves, facial expressions, and vocal runs while jamming and soloing mid-song. No track shows this better than “$$$”, where the band took a 2-minute detour to exchange solos just to build up to a clean and abrupt end to the song.

The songs off of their newest album Smell Smoke such as “Diver” have a slower vibe, and were aptly placed in the middle of their set This left room for extra-long, extra-loud, extra-crunchy renditions of one of their more mosh-able tunes “Alien Blues” and “Voodoo” for last.

Overall, Vundabar’s set was tight and precise, yet natural and energetic–a difficult balance that their fan base acknowledges and appreciates. The band’s animated stage presence emanated into the audience, and kept the whole crowd moving (and laughing) for their entire hour-long set. The fun-loving band was exactly what the audience needed to get out of our houses on that cold and soggy Tuesday. Without a doubt, Vundabar fans will be anxiously awaiting their return to the east coast.

 

OSHUN in West Philly

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Photo via Oshuniverse.com

On Saturday the thirteenth of January , Niambi and Thandiwe Sala and producer/DJ, Proda, walked in succession down the back stairs of a West Philly basement, to the front of an eager crowd. like foreign envoys Back in 2015 in an interview with Complex, the two explained that Oshun is the Yoruban deity after whom the project is named. “A West African, traditional deity, she’s a goddess, and she governs over sweet waters.” She’s a mother of love, fertility, wealth and diplomacy”.

Their presence expressed this vividly. From the time they walked towards the stage, until they took photos and thanked their fans after the conclusion, the air was full of love. Afrofuturism stands as the core value and inspiration for the group’s art. In fact, “love for [their] people and for serving and enlightening their people” is what brought the two together, when they first formed Oshun back in the freshman dorms at NYU. On Saturday these philosophies spread through the venue like a spell. In an audience comprised of primarily black/brown persons, the occasion was best described by Oshun themselves; a celebration.

The two wore matching camo jumpsuits, bronze crowns, and bronze tops which swirled over their bodies in winding patterns. Once the “takeoff sound” (a glittery, space-sound like something that would come from The Powerpuff Girls) was played, the beginning of a collective voyage into the “Oshuniverse” began. They began with a few track off of their upcoming series Bittersweet, before moving to songs from AFAHYE and ASASE YAA. With “Parts”, the two wielded a kind of sweet but powerful energy throughout the crowd. From the delicate emotional depths of Sango, to more energetic and beat driven tracks like “Blessings on Blessings”, they proved that every track in the discography is drenched in meaning. Their defiance and strength was expressed through sweetness and love; a testament to the paradoxical spectrum of a narrative which is too often flattened in our society.

With standout tracks like “Not my President”, both showcased their gifts for vocal improve, sounding better, and hitting runs more impressive than those than their recordings. The track included metal-inspired guitar riffs to replace the more jazz-like trumpet solo featured at the end of the original recording. As many genres as Oshun fits together in their music, producer Proda managed spread this idea throughout the set to add more energy to the performance.

Now that Niambi and Thandiwe are graduated from school, they have been able to create their album series Bittersweet, and embark on a two-month tour throughout Canada and the United States. A sort of Neosoul/Hip-Hop infusion, their music draws heavily on reggae, and multiplicitous forms of traditional African/root music. Mixing these sounds with progressive production and otherworldly sound effects/design, the Oshun’s art ends up somewhat like an enormously expensive musical history lesson/divination session. The two frequently express the spiritual nature of their goals and purpose in interviews and press. At their West Philly performance on Saturday they brought a message of peace and healing to a well deserving crowd.

Punk Turns 40: The Buzzcocks at TLA

Maren Larsen

If the Buzzcocks were a person, that person would be right on schedule to hit its midlife crisis. It might buy a shiny car or quit its job and burn all its ties. Or maybe it would go on an international tour for its 40th birthday, just to prove it can still rock and rage.

Their most recent album, The Way, which premiered in May of 2014, contains “People Are Strange Machines”: a tune I would rate in their top ten. The opening track, “Keep On Believing,” has the kind of restless, unstoppable energy that only a bunch of perpetually angry, aging British punks could muster.

The Buzzcocks will be playing at Theater of the Living Arts Friday September 30, presented by yours truly and your fellow punks from WKDU. It’s a good venue for loud noise, and despite several rotations of band members and various breakups and reunions over the years, the Buzzcocks haven’t lost their good vibrations. I hope to see you there.

7 Reasons to Get Up and Go the New Alternative Music Festival

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The New Alternative Music Festival (NAMF) is September 16-18 in Asbury Park, NJ. Running by Don Giovanni Records, NAMF is a one-time event meant to be an alternative to the obstacles and backwards thinking presented the music industry. The result is a diverse lineup spread across three days, with no overlapping set times.  It’s one of the most significant musical events of the past several of years. Continue reading “7 Reasons to Get Up and Go the New Alternative Music Festival”

Extreme Heaviness: Gojira Slays the E-Factory This Thursday

Hailing from Bayonne, France, Gojira have been busy laying waste to Japanese cities and casual listeners the world over for the past 16 years and will do the same to the E-Factory Sept 22nd.

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— By Jon Galuchie

Hailing from Bayonne, France, Gojira have been busy laying waste to Japanese cities and casual listeners of the world over for the past 16 years (check out crowd-favorite “The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe”).   Their trademark blend of metal is captivating, fierce, and ultimately comes out head and shoulders above the other bands in the pit with a sound all their own.  When it comes to the live show, the energy is felt through the crowd and each song has undeniable heft.  I had the pleasure of catching them when they toured in support of the mighty Mastodon and (if I’m being honest) they stole the show.  The audience and the band were on the same page and there was all the headbanging and moshpits that a metalhead could ask for.

 

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They recently released their new album Magma on back in June on Roadrunner Records.  Check out the newest single “Silvera” and get back to me.  It showcases the band honing in on their unique songwriting and masterful song structure and development–all in less than four minutes.

 Gojira will be stopping by to slay the Electric Factory with support from Tesseract on September 22.  Highly recommended show.