The feeling of triumph of getting off the train and through security to finally wander into Union Park for the Pitchfork Music Festival never gets old. This is the third time I have gotten to attend Pitchfork and elation is the only way to describe how I feel when I see the red stage and the ring of Portapotties along the edge of the baseball diamond. It is hot, it is humid but it is home. This year was no different. In a rush of excitement me and Patch immediately rushed to look at the festival shirts before heading to the Blue stage where the first act of the weekend, Ryley Walker, was getting his set under way. I had heard his album before on NPR First Listen, so I knew what to expect; a nice drone like set of guitar work. Walker was seated on stage, normally something I despise, but for this performance it was fitting. He gently rocked back and forth as he noodled through his songs as his backing band held up his guitar work. It was all fast enough to nod my head to, but too fast to where moshing or dancing would feel appropriate and in the end it was a calming way to start the day.
There had been much debate between me and Patch about what time to arrive at on Friday. I liked Ryley Walker, but Natalie Prass and Jessica Pratt, the two acts who followed Walker directly, did not impress me. So to kill time we went and wandered through the record fair waiting for iLOVEMAKONNEN to start his set on the Green Stage. The tent where the records was hot and jam packed with festival goers trying to spend all of their money within the first hour of the weekend. I resisted but Patch did not and found 3 records from some nice guys who loved Colin Stetson almost as much as him. With time to spare we meandered over to the Green Stage and waited. iLOVEMAKONNEN came out after about 5 minutes of DJ hype that included some well placed Kendrick Lamar tracks and instantly started doing his unique mixture of singing/rapping that he has become so well known for. Very quickly it became obvious that hardly anyone in the crowd knew much more about him than the fact he wrote “Tuesday.” The songs played were goofy and Makonnen himself seemed a little lost on stage as he performed. This had to have been the largest crowd he had ever performed for and it showed. Thankfully the Forkers were kind and even though people didn’t dance or react to his stage banter as they could have, they didn’t boo or leave early. I personally recognized about five more songs than I thought I would, which means I knew “I Don’t Sell Molly” and a few catchy choruses of others. He facetimed his mom to show her how big the crowd was and let her know he was finished trappin’. I was surprised, but I couldn’t help moving along to the beat and feeling glad I wasn’t paying specifically to see him, but pleased I still got to, because this kind of rap was perfect for a summer day. A couple songs into his set he even played the intro beat to “Tuesday” and let the crowd sing the whole chorus before saying we would have to wait until later. That later did not come for me though because I wanted to make sure I caught a bit of Steve Gunn’s set at the Blue Stage before I had to rush over to the Red Stage and Mac DeMarco at 5:30.
Steve Gunn and the little I saw of his set was amazing. He work with the guitar seems so simplistic yet to witness it live showed me he truly is making music worthy of his praise. He was methodic yet aggressive with the two songs I saw and his guitar playing created a whirlwind of sound that engulfed the crowd. Tearing myself away for DeMarco was one of the hardest things I did this weekend and in retrospect probably my first big mistake. Not only did I miss most of his set for DeMarco, I also missed Makonnen playing “Tuesday,” which at the moment I don’t regret, but one day I might.
I had put Mac DeMarco high on my list of people I wanted to see over the weekend, but apparently so did a lot of other people because I could hardly worm my way past the sound stage there was so many people packed around the stage listening to his goofy antics. I ended up skipping the first couple songs of his set due to how engrossed I was with Steve Gunn and I probably could have skipped a few more. His music is happy and carefree, but the best part about music like that is being with others who feel the same. As far back as I was, I found myself surrounded more by people who were interested in their cigarettes and friends than the music. I fought valiantly against them though and nodded my head to the silky smooth songs and the hilarity that Mac and his band mates got into. From their jokes to their antagonistic interactions with each other, I had my fair share of laughs. They even covered Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” which was actually pretty awesome. In the end though, not being close enough to help crowd surf him around ended up being more what I thought of than any of his set.
Once his set was done, I found Patch who had just come over from Steve Gunn to go and watch Panda Bear at the Green Stage. All there was on stage was Noah and a midi controller hooked up to a myriad of things. He came out to little fanfare and jumped right into his set, not really seeming to care that there was a whole crowd of people in front of him. The music was atmospheric and poppy, just like his records but for some reason, the hot day did not seem like the right setting for them. I nodded my head along and sang a bit to the songs I did recognize but over all it was a bit of an underwhelming experience. The music was all very good and the tunes were all there, it just wasn’t what I was needing at that point of the day. What I needed was to expel some of my energy I had saved up unconsciously preparing myself to mosh; something I had done within the first hour the last couple times I was in Union Park.
Luckily, Iceage was on next at the Blue Stage so we rushed over just in time for their first song, the first track off their latest record. One of my favorite songs by them, I found my self as hyped as I had been all day as I tried to sing along to the inaudible lyrics. It was good to finally beat my chest and ram into other people as their set moved between their latest record and a few softer tunes from their earlier records. In the end, it was a calmer show than the last time I saw them three years ago at Pitchfork but the band had more swagger and poise than three years ago and it showed. They dictated the pace of the show better, gave the crowd ample time to rest and still played a rousing set.
As soon as they were done, it was time for another band of a similar aptitude; Ought. A post rock band from Montreal all, I had fallen in love with More Than Any Other Day, their record from 2014. Thankfully that was about the only music they had and they played every single song I knew off the album. At first people resisted the idea of moshing but as the energy rose with each fast paced song, the more the small crowd began to congeal and become one, jumping together and belting out all the words as loud as they could. I felt the most at home all day in that crowd at Ought, close to the performers, amongst fellow lovers of the band, and excited to know that there were still two more days ahead of us.
When Ought was done, I went straight to buy a shirt, so pumped on their show that I had to express myself to them in whatever way was available. We then went back to the record show to collect Patch’s purchases debating about staying for Wilco. It was only 9:00 p.m. but the lure of avoiding the crowds and the fact Wilco looked bored on stage won out and we left as “I’m Trying To Break Your Heart” echoed out to the train stop. I found out later they had played their new album from start to finish and became overly relieved I had not chosen Wilco over Ought.
Sore yet excited to start another day at Pitchfork, we foolishly got on a bus instead of a train to down town to catch our train to Union Park and ended up getting there almost an hour late. A little frustrated from that, we stumbled into the park and rushed to the Blue Stage to hear Bully, another band I had first come across on NPR First Listen. Some excellent punk music ensued and starting out the day with moshing just as I had ended my night before got me ready to go a lot quicker than the day before. The set was tight, the music was good and I felt more assured than ever that Bully’s debut would make it onto my end of the year list.
Once we were done, we wandered to the Green Stage for Future Brown. A producing quartet, I was intrigued to see what they had in store for us. It all began fine, some trap infused beats echoed over the slowly filling park and I danced a long, curious what would come next. The main guy was the only one doing anything on stage and the two women from Future Brown just stood next to him, amused yet unhelping. This almost instantly started to bother me, because there is nothing I hate more than performers that come on stage and do nothing. Then, a whole group of rappers jumped on stage and began to rap over the trap beats. No one around me seemed to know who any of the rappers were and they resisted telling us as well. The show went from annoying to amusing but never reached enjoyable. After a bit of the random rappers jumping around, someone from Pitchfork came on stage and got in an argument with Future Brown. It appeared the rappers were at the heart of the matter and they left stage for a time, but held onto their mikes and kept rapping even while back stage. At this point, the man from Future Brown gave up his center spot to continue his argument and eventually the rappers came back but now all the members of Future Brown seemed pissed. All the while, I was frankly more interested in the drama than the music and I was a little disappointed by that. Finally for the last song, two other rappers came out who I later learned were Sicko Mob. They were hardly better though and once their track ended Future Brown kind of just walked off stage. It was one of the more weird and polarizing sets I had ever seen.
Ex Hex was scheduled to come on next but as we walked to the Red Stage, rain began to fall. At first it was light and nothing to worry about but slowly but surely the downpour started. Maintenance rushed to cover up the stage and the wait for Ex Hex tripled as they waited out the worst of the rain. Or so we thought. When Ex Hex finally did appear, the crowd roared, but so did the sky and the rain refused to let up. They played a couple of songs, and I heard my favorite song but due to the lack of moshing and increase in rain, we decided to go check out Vince Staples. The rain began to pick up though and my shirt began to become transparent, as it got soaked with more and more water. As we were about to step foot onto the grass surrounding the Blue Stage, a voice got on the loud speakers to say Pitchfork would be closed for the day. It was so inconceivable I did a double take and looked at Patch. At that exact moment, lightning struck the apartment building behind the blue stage and everyone screamed.
That’s when people really started to move and the gates closing off the street from the road by the Blue Stage went down as people poured out onto the road and toward safety. Having come all the way from Albuquerque though and not familiar with the area, we resolved to wait it out and tried to find shelter under a tree. Within minutes we were drenched and worrying if this was the kind of rain that would go all day. People were still leaving the park and we moved under a different tree. As soon as it started though, it stopped and steam rose from the puddles of mud as the humidity took over. Beyond thankful we hadn’t abandoned hope, we rushed to the Blue Stage to await what would happen. Once we got to the Blue Stage we ran into Cati and Sarah, who we had been trying without success to meet up with for the past day and a half. It was a miraculous meeting and we traded stories as the park began to fill back up. Finally the Pitchfork Music Festival app alerted us that it would be reopening at 4:20. It became clear though that Vince Staples would not be going on so me and Patch left for the Green Stage to hear some of Kurt Vile and to get ready for Parquet Courts who would be on the Red Stage at 6:15.
Kurt Vile and the Violators took what I thought was an extremely unnecessarily long time to set up and by the time they started there was maybe half an hour left. Their gentle rock also was not right for the freak hurricane we had all just witnessed and the need to move about got stronger and stronger as their long winding songs kept on. In another venue they would have been amazing, but in a mud filled filed, they were foreigners.
Luckily though, Parquet Courts got people moving and the muddiest, most fun mosh pit I have ever been in ensued. Of course right where people had been tearing up grass all week got the wettest, so as soon as people started to push one an other around, mud spread and pretty soon both my legs were caked in mud and my shirt was half covered as well. Stamping around in mud just never gets old and combining it with post punk was a brilliant combination. I wish Parquet Courts had played a few more old tunes, but in the end, their set was what the day needed. Initially, choosing them over A$AP Ferg seemed like a no brainer because I knew them better than him, but by the time we wormed our way to the Blue Stage and tried to join the gigantic crowd, it appeared we probably should have been at Ferg along. The entirety of the crowd that was closer than the sound stage was jumping, pushing and generally turning up as A$AP Ferg strutted around stage. Someone even climbed into the tree overlooking the stage to the joy of the crowd. Being so far back wasn’t the best, but I did have a new found appreciation for the other member of the A$AP Mob. I even found my self singing and dancing along to “Shabba,” the only song I knew by him before.
Around this time I started to realize that there was an almost weird obsession with Vic Mensa and people were already crowding around to see his set by the time Ferg exited the stage, 15 minutes late I might add. Then, the worst part of the day happened as someone came onto the loud speaker again to announce Sophie would not be attending the festival due to the weather. The only act I was truly looking forward to that day, I was upset. Not nearly as upset as Patch though who had been looking forward to Sophie over anyone of the entire weekend. With Sophie done for, our day seemed basically over but we resolved to stay for Shamir. And thank God we did. His set was groovy, fun and above all unexpected. I had listened to his album a few times before, but I was not ready for the way it would come across live. It was a lot more danceable than I first imagined and as soon as he let his dreads down, it became the best dance party of the weekend up to that point. I didn’t even mind as he saved all of his slow songs to the end, simply because I still knew most of the words. I had clearly done more homework on the album than I had thought.
As soon as he was done though, it was announced someone named Towkio would be replacing Sophie. I learned he was a Vic Mensa associate and my hopes plummeted. I had nothing against Vic, I just didn’t think he deserved such an honored spot having released only one mixtape that was mediocre at best. When Towkio came out and the crowd began to get rough, both me and Patch realized we had no interest in battling the crowd for either Towkio or Vic Mensa and we promptly left. Luckily Sleater-Kinney was the other headliner and I had seen them only 4 months ago so we were able to exit Pitchfork at about 8:30 to avoid the crowds again.
As disappointed as we were with how Saturday went and ended, Sunday was the beacon of hope we needed. Most of the acts I had anticipated coming into the weekend were stacked on Sunday so I had faith it was going to be a good day. We arrived the earliest we had all weekend to see Bitchin Bajas, a drone band with some free jazz influences. The lead guy played both the flute and saxophone to go along with the droning keyboards. It was a good drone performance according to Patch but I was a little too awake for it to do more than make me have to go to the bathroom. I was just happy to be at the park this early.
Viet Cong were the next band we saw and my hopes were really not too high. The controversy about the name of the band was obnoxious I thought and I had been fairly unimpressed with their album. The first couple of songs they played did nothing to help my opinion of them, but right as I turned to Patch to complain, they started to get a little noisy and a little more rocking and simply a little more interesting. They began to extend their songs with longer solos and build ups and by the end I was jumping up and down wishing I was closer to the mosh pit that had been created. They brought a lot of energy for a 1:45 set and I left with a much higher opinion of them.
Once they were done our choices were between Waxahatchee and the Julie Ruin. Patch knew neither and I had seen Waxahatchee before so we chose to go with what I liked. Frankly, I had a feeling they would not be the best band to play a festival outside with drunk people everywhere and I was not wrong. The performance itself was fine and the songs were tight, but the atmosphere for their kind of music is best saved for a small club or bar where emotions can run thick, not in the great out doors.
No matter, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib were next on the Red Stage and we left Waxahatchee early actually to make sure we had a decent spot. At first we were too back to get any really action in, and there was quite a bit of moshing and such that I did not think would happen. The set itself was good, Freddie Gibbs proved his ability to rhyme and Madlib brought nothing more than a drum machine and still live mixed the whole show. It was a nice rowdy hip hop show and especially since I am normally not a fan of rap shows, this showed me what good can come from them. “Thuggin,” the only song I really knew was the song I finally pushed my way into the mosh pit because I hadn’t been able to ride the train that had gotten Patch closer and it was the highlight of the set for me. On a more serious note, Freddie Gibbs spoke some true ignorance that really bothered me for the rest of the day. He gave the 95% white crowd permission to say the n word. Of course, being a crowd full of kids oozing white privilege they loved it and started screaming that word louder than all the rest. It was disgusting to hear all of them think that just because Freddie Gibbs said they could utter a word of hatred it was all OK. I even heard a girl behind me just say the word, hard r and everything out of context, just to get used to saying it. People that try and say we live in a post racial society need not look further than the white kids at Pitchfork frothing at the mouth to utter the n word. Racism is there and alive and well, and Freddie Gibbs regretfully just created more ignorance in this world.
As me and Patch discussed the incident, quite loudly I might add, on our way to catch the beginning of How To Dress Well, we stumbled upon Perfume Genius finishing up his set. I had not even had him on my radar because I really did not know much of his music, but his theatrical and intense piano playing was impressive and the last song he did I actually did recognize so I was strangely surprised with how much I enjoyed the songs. It proved to me I would definitely go and see him live if he ever comes to Albuquerque. Then we had to wait what felt like a century for How To Dress Well to set up their elaborate equipment. We were battling against time because How To Dress Well was scheduled to perform at 4:45 and Jamie xx at 5:15 so our time to see both was small. Of course How To Dress Well took an extra 15 minutes to set up and didn’t even start until 5 so Patch and me made the decision to watch at least one song. It was so amazing and so powerful we ended up staying for one more and barely made it to Jamie’s set on time. It was worth it though because it motivated us to commit to seeing How To Dress Well later that night at their after show which was just a couple blocks from the apartment we were staying at.
Even though we were late to Jamie xx and didn’t get prime seats, it was easily my favorite set of the entire day. Djing is not something I even remotely consider myself an expert in, but the way he mixed his set and built it was so impressive I couldn’t stop dancing from the moment he started. He played a lot off of his latest album, but also threw in his mix of “I’ll Take Care of You” by Gil Scott Heron and when that hit, I knew it was going to be my favorite set of the day and “Good Times” hadn’t even been played yet. On our way to try and move closer we did deal with some unhappy people who didn’t like us trying to slink past them and got caught pretty far back until “Good Times” dropped and there was a rush from the crowd we were able to hop in. Anyways, any time I get to sing along to the song of the year live is a good time, and I have started treating “Good Times” as my song of the year. I leapt the highest I had all weekend and screamed the loudest I had all weekend when Jamie xx started to live mix the song with the original version of the LP. After he played the song though the set could never reach the same height but when he closed the set with the album closer I almost got as hyped.
There was so many people at Jamie xx I started to worry I might have to skip Caribou in order to make sure I had a good spot for Run the Jewels. So I got as close as I could preparing to wait for an hour but when Caribou started it was just too groovy to stand still too. I bolted from my spot to get a tad bit closer to Caribou and to give my self some dancing room and I watched for about 15 minutes before going back to claim my spot for Run the Jewels. I still was able to watch the video screen of the performance and heard everything perfectly so it was the best of both worlds.
Getting that spot proved to be a wise decision because when Run the Jewels hit the stage pandemonium ensued and I felt like I was back at Lil B. Every single person was trying to get closer and every single person was trying to mosh at the same time. It was hectic and sweaty and suffocating but it was also beautiful. The energy just coursed through the crowd and Killer Mike and El-P were visibly pumped they had such an electric crowd in front of them. I saw multiple older people, foolish enough to reserve such a close spot, retreat like crazy once the moshing started and all I could think was, how did you not see this coming? During the set I realized I did not know as many lyrics as I probably should and there were many fans that could sing along a lot better than me. It was still fun to be in the thick of things though and the songs I did know I made sure to sing as loud as I could. Zach de la Roacha, Boots and Gangsta Boo all made appearances and each time a new guest came out, the crowd got more and more excited. I regretfully had to leave before their last song in order to make sure I had a reasonable spot for Chance the Rapper, but I was more than pleased with RTJ.
My expectations for Chance the Rapper were very curious. I had heard his performance in Albuquerque was mediocre, but the fact his live band was going to be with him gave me some hope. When he busted onto stage 5 minutes early I knew it was going to be a performance to remember though and it truly was. He went through a long setlist of songs off of Acid Rap, 10 Days and Surf and his energy level was through the root. Each song was better, each song was emotional and each song was Chance preaching his love to Chicago. From the minute he started the set with “Pusha Man” I was jumping up and down, realizing that Pitchfork was over. Chance was the perfect person to close it all out and even though I was not a native Chicagoan I still felt connected to the performance. Being as far back as I was, I appreciated Chance for telling the crowd to not get mad if people were jumping around too much because I certainty was. Overall his cover of the Arthur Theme song was the best of the night but all the tracks off Acid Rap and Surf were magnificent as well. As hectic and crazy as the weekend was, Chance reminded me there is no where better than Union Park for Pitchfork Music Festival.