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.

 

POND at Johnny Brenda’s 10.16.2014

by Kirsten Becker

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Spearheading the neo-psychedelic rock movement, Australia’s Tame Impala has brought a fresh and exciting new sound to indie rock within the past five or so years. Their lesser-known, wild-partying young brother, Pond, has been doing just the same while staying just below the radar. With five albums already under their belt, the Perth-born and bred band is something of a cult favorite. Featuring both former and present members of Tame Impala, including at one point mastermind Kevin Parker, it’s no wonder Pond has garnered an incredibly loyal fanbase.

The October 16th performance at Johnny Brenda’s was their first time back in Philly in two years, having played at the same venue back in March 2012. Lead singer Nick Allbrook had fond thoughts about the city, pausing many times between songs to say he loves Philly because the city knows “how to let loose.” And let loose the crowd did that night. Leading the charge,Pond, visibly intoxicated the moment they arrived, brought a feverish energy that was reciprocated through the venue. Each song was played with a flawlessly rough vibe, with jarring solos and descents into musical madness interspersed in each epic track. Allbrook at one point went on about how he is terrified of America and his lack of knowledge of the Pumpkin Spice craze. The band also continued their love for Philly saying that most of their knowledge of the city comes from repeated watchings of Always Sunny.

The set included a composite of songs throughout their career, featuring newer songs from Hobo Rocket like “Xanman” to those of my personal favorite, Beard, Wives, Denim like “Fantastic Explosion of Time” and “You Broke My Cool.” They even reached into the archives and played some of their first songs recorded from Psychadelic Mango, including “Don’t Look at the Sun or You’ll Go Blind.”

The rousing finale of “Frond” was filled with rocking anthems and wild crowd surfing and energy. Pond’s performance was one of the most energy-filled shows I have seen in quite some time and one of incredible creative and nutty genius. Pond is slated to release a new album, Man, It Feels Like Space in January 2015.

Concert Review: King Tuff @ First Unitarian Church (October 9, 2014)

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Words and photos by Nick Stropko

I think the most apt way to describe seeing King Tuff live is to describe the banner in front of which he performed. The words “KING TUFF” are spelled out in flames, surrounded by sunglass-clad skulls with varying numbers of teeth missing. The sunglasses have the words “KING” and “TUFF” emblazoned across the lenses.

King Tuff is not big on subtlety.

On Wednesday, Vermont-based garage rock weirdos King Tuff played to a packed house at the Church–part of the string of final shows this fall before R5 cedes the storied space to an after school group. Mr. Tuff (actually named Kyle Thomas) may be one of the world’s best ambassadors of dad rock, slinging shamelessly massive riffs with a bright blue Gibson SG through a beat up Marshall full stack, backed by what appeared to be two aging roadies for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band exuded a certain skeezy charisma, affecting the part of rock star idols (replete with sweet moves) despite the dingy basement setting. They wasted little time in working the crowd up, which devolved into a mass of moshing entropy after two or three songs that only grew throughout the night. If you suspended you sense of disbelief and squinted just a little bit, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine King Tuff in the mid-seventies selling out stadiums. For now, though, he seems perfectly content being the freak working up weirdos in basements–and I seriously dig it.

Concert Review: Perfect Pussy + more at First Unitarian Church

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Perfect Pussy @ First Unitarian Church, August 28

by Carolyn Haynes

On Thursday August 28, The Love of Everything, Potty Mouth, Perfect Pussy, and Joanna Gruesome played a show full of raw, dominating sound. The four bands from Western Massachusetts, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cardiff, and England played their third night of tour at the First Unitarian Church. The opener, Joan of Arc’s Bobby Burg began his set as The Love of Everything with a mix of catchy, lo-fi punk, dream pop. A solo act, Burg presented an interesting and inviting segue between the slow crawl of show goers filtering in and the high energy acts that were to follow. With a technical malfunction quickly overcome in the beginning of their set and a few minor timing issues, Potty Mouth played their way through fan classics (from Bad Bad, to Sun Damage, to Hell Bent) and a few new, well received songs.

With a new split coming out this fall on Slumberland/Captured Tracks/Fortuna Pop, Perfect Pussy and Joanna Gruesome made a great closing duo. Both bands had the audience screaming and thrashing along. In good taste, Alanna McArdle made an announcement before their set to have fun but don’t get out of hand. From the cheers that followed, the crowd happily obliged. As a swarm of sweaty, overheated show-goers heaved themselves up the stairs of the basement, the overall atmosphere was one of a Thursday night well spent.

Concert Review: Disclosure at Union Transfer (6/6/2014)

When A Fire Starts To Burn — Disclosure
When A Fire Starts To Burn — Disclosure

By Jonathan Plotkin

Wow okay so this is mad late but whatever. I saw Disclosure like a month ago and due to a combination of being super busy at work and super lazy when I’m not at work, it’s taken me this long to get this review out. I know you’ve been on the edge of your seats wondering how I enjoyed the Disclosure show at the Union Transfer last month and now you’re finally going to find out.

Full disclosure (pun fully intended because punz rool): I’m not “the biggest fan” of Disclosure. I’ve heard their album Settle, thought it was really cool, and then kind of forgot about it. I haven’t heard their early stuff, but I thought that album was dope and figured their show would be pretty fun. I honestly didn’t even plan on see them- I was supposed to see Kishi Bashi but then a fellow DJ at the station handed me a pair of free tickets to the thrice sold out show, so I couldn’t really say no. Not knowing what to expect, I finally rolled up some time after 9 PM, just in time for that awkward transition after the opener to the main act. I met up with my friend Chris (@CrispyChrisX) who proceeded to tell me all about house music until Disclosure got on. A good primer for the coming act, considering I missed Broadzilla since I got there late.

When Disclosure finally got to the stage, I didn’t really know what they had so many instruments set up. They had a drum kit, keyboards, bass guitar… I thought these guys were just DJs? Turns out one of the reasons their work sounds so rich and full is because they play real instruments! Of course, everyone reading this probably thinks I’m a total noob but WHATEVER man I think learning new things is great and I just wanted to share that excitement with you guys.

Anyway.

The crowd was super pumped, and since the show was super sold out, the Union Transfer was more packed than I’d ever seen it. Disclosure used that to their advantage though and got the jams pumping right away, forcing the close-packed crowd to dance with “F For You”, leading into “When A Fire Starts To Burn.” After that, they played some stuff that I didn’t recognize, but Chris told me was some of their old stuff updated with new twists (I later looked it up- I remember at least one of their old songs they played was “Flow” which sounds good on YouTube, but was incredible live). This whole time, the brothers are singing, playing live drums, and doodling around on the bass. If there’s anything I love in house music, it’s a good bassline and watching it being pulled live from an instrument is just too cool.

The duo moved back to more famous stuff from their album, which due to their excessive touring schedule was incredibly tight and well rehearsed. They kept it fresh though, adding all sorts of new elements to songs that undoubtedly were getting a little old for them. At one point, Chris turned to me and complained that he didn’t think they sounded “big enough” and that one of the drops should have gotten more of a reaction. Luckily, their next song was crowd favorite (or at least MY favorite) “Grab Her” and they had it turned up to 11 the whole time.

I especially liked how professional their light set up was. For two brothers who are barely old enough to drink at some of the shows that play in the USA, they had laser effects and projections rivaling well established bands like Chromeo and and Emancipator. The Disclosure mask made quite a few appearances, floating around the brothers’ heads and (somewhat creepily) singing along the last few tracks. From a projection display that reminded me of the video for Simian Mobile Disco song “Cerulean” to lighting the whole stage red during “When A Fire Starts To Burn”, the show was just as visually stimulating as could be (speaking of which, when they played “Stimulation” the crowd went wild with how pumped up the sound was).

Finishing the track “Help Me Lose My Mind” with plenty of audience help on the vocals, the brothers walked off stage. The crowd started chanting “Latch! Latch” and when Disclosure finally walked back on stage I thought the roof was going to fly off. Closing with a soul splitting rendition of “Latch” in which everyone sang (even me, despite only learning the lyrics after the first verse). It was a beautiful show and the vibes during it the whole time were just fantastic. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend taking the time to see Disclosure live if you get the chance. No matter if you’re feeling happy or sad, tryna dance or tryna chill, Disclosure put on one hell of a show.

Concert Review/Interview: tUnE-yArDs with Sylvan Esso @ Union Transfer (June 15, 2014)

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By Esmail Hamidi

On Sunday, June 15th, I was given the incredible opportunity to see tUnE-yArDs and Sylvan Esso at Union Transfer. While it was not the only musical endeavor I had involved myself in that weekend -the previous night had been defined by an excursion to the Great Indoors in West Philly to see PILE and others, and the afternoon I helped out Nick Myers with putting Tweens on our airwaves – it was tUnE-yArDs! Nobody can beat the bizarre reputation of Merrill Garbus and her merry band. Since 2009, Garbus has been making music and touring relentlessly. The consensus among my friends was that it kind of had to be seen to be believed.

Before the show, I was also invited to interview Sylvan Esso, who were opening on this tour. The first listen won me over. Despite being almost entirely electronic, Sylvan Esso’s music sounds human to me. From a more technical standpoint, the production value is high. Amelia’s soprano is layered and complemented by the high level of deep bass in all of their songs. I struggle to pick out a structure in their songs, but that’s not a bad thing. They ebb and flow organically. The lyrics are conversational, and definitely have a stream-of-consciousness feel to them.

When I first met them, it was clear that Nick and Amelia make an extraordinary creative team. They welcomed me into their dressing room with smiles. There were moments during the interview where I definitely thought they were messing with me, the strapping young music journalist, but I was so okay with that. It was a pleasure to get to know their creative sides.

I’ll shut up now. Here’s the best chunks of the interview:

Continue reading “Concert Review/Interview: tUnE-yArDs with Sylvan Esso @ Union Transfer (June 15, 2014)”