As fellow LxL’er Todd wrote Monday, regardless of what you think of Pitchfork, the hipster music mecca, their annual festival at Union Park in Chicago is bar none the best thing they do. This year’s fest was largely dominated by shoegaze and hip hop acts, but the real theme that emerged is the female dominance of the fest, just as women are also dominating the larger landscape of what’s going right in music today. Five of our top six acts are female or female-led bands, and that’s from a blog run by three dudes. So here are our top ten acts from last week’s Pitchfork Music Festival.
10. Majical Cloudz
Saturday at the festival, Pusha T made it onto the stage 35 minutes late and then complained about the festival organizers hurrying him off the stage when his set time was up. In complete contrast, Majical Cloudz faced a terrible situation with the keyboard that runs 90% of their musical accompaniment breaking down on stage, but the band didn’t miss a minute of their set. Lead singer Devon Welsh entertained the crowd while they worked on the keyboard, and then did most of the set completely a cappella, encoring their set by smashing the broken keyboard onstage.
9. Twin Peaks
Young punks are often the best punks. Even with a broken ankle hindering front man Cadien Lake James, that didn’t stop the band from breaking their guitars and breaking through as one of my favorite acts of the weekend.
8. Dum Dum Girls
Combating the sound issues of the always miserable Blue Stage, the Dum Dum Girls still put together a pretty set thanks to their choreographed aesthetic and their beautiful harmonies.
7. Kendrick Lamar
On the strength of a single studio album, Kendrick has managed in a little over two years to make it from small tents to headlining festivals. His act has truly become one of rap’s best, with a killer live band, some incredible video footage of his hometown Compton that adds context and style to his set, and non-stop energy and flow from one of the hardest working rappers in the world.
6. Sharon Van Etten
With a Sharon Van Etten beer in hand, the New York singer/songwriter’s show was amplified not just by the beer but also by Sharon Van Etten’s emotions-on-the-sleeve approach to her music and performance. I even saw a tear or two come out of Todd’s eyes during “Your Love Is Killing Me”.
5. Perfect Pussy
The Syracuse hardcore punk band (which insists on its name being after a feline and not female anatomy probably so they can get their name printed) absolutely tore up the Blue Stage, especially the surprisingly polite and cutesy lead singer Meredith Graves who was anything but that when the drums kicked in and their convulsing bassist Greg Ambler who somehow doesn’t have to replace his bass after every set.
Merrill Garbus aka tUnE-yArDs and her cronies were playing an hour after Pusha T, but still landed themselves onstage 45 minutes before Pusha T, like the over-achieving student making everyone else look bad. Beyond her punctuality, Merrill and her band performed tUnE-yArDs’ creative, globally-conscious pop music with energy and heart, no doubt one of the most memorable sets of the weekend.
Pulling double-duty as DJ and pop star, the 26-year old Canadian electronic musician Claire Elise Boucher aka Grimes put on the biggest and best dance party of the festival, showcasing her ability to distort and advance the modern pop sound.
I’m not sure I could have asked for a better setlist than what Beck delivered the first night of Pitchfork. Coming out of the gate firing with heavy rockers like “Devil’s Haircut” and “Soul of a Man” and then finishing up with songs like “Sexx Laws” and “Debra”the infinitely amusing Midnight Vultures, Beck showed why he belongs in very rare company when it comes to still making enduring and interesting rock music for over two decades.
1. St. Vincent
This picture pretty much speaks for itself. Annie Clark aka St. Vincent has turned herself into a bonafied guitar sorcerer, like Maleficent if she had the ability to wield a guitar like Hendrix. Every time I see her, she is tinkering and improving her live show, always taking things to unexpected and exciting places.
Wes – Neutral Milk Hotel
Count me as someone who has always been lukewarm on Neutral Milk Hotel’s music. The beloved indie band put on about as good of a show as I could have expected from them, full of injected energy, tangible band chemistry, and an artillery of instruments.
Todd – Giorgio Moroder
How can you not love Geppetto putting on a disco DJ set?
Austin – Jack White
Austin may have missed the fest, but he caught the show of a lifetime instead.