Pitchfork Music Festival had some of the best performances of this festival season. A best performance isn't just about being technically flawless, but also about giving the audience more of a feeling that the recordings couldn't capture. This year's lineup included Tame Impala, Mount Kimbie, Courtney Barnett, Noname, and Ms. Lauryn Hill, just to name a few. We hopped around the Green, Red, and Blue stages at Pitchfork Fest to see the best performances at Union Park.
Clad in a black jersey and a blue beret, Dev Hynes came out to the Green Stage with his full band to deliver my favorite performance of the festival. He was all smiles and jovial with his band and audience. At one point, he sat down next to his bass player and played his guitar solo which was a joyous sight to behold. He was able to give the feeling of individually being seen by the artist, which can often be left out in festival experiences. This was the first time I saw Blood Orange live so I didn’t know what to expect, but Hynes was generous and just wanted to share his music with us.
He opened with a cover of Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing”, which I later learned that he helped write. I feel like people weren't expecting it but I was VERY much into it. He played all of the hits and wanted us to sing along. Just so you know, “Augustine” is better live and so is “Best To You.” What makes Hynes a great performer wasn't the fact that he hit all the notes, but it genuinely felt special and new to hear him live. His songs, especially "Augustine", were suddenly dancier and little additions like a longer saxophone solo (shoutout to Jason, his saxophonist!) felt so nourishing for the audience. He also played his new song, “Charcoal Baby”, from his upcoming album Negro Swan. While they’re available now, it was incredibly special for us to hear them live. He sang “You’re Not Good Enough" and ended his set with "E.V.P."
The visual background for Blood Orange's performance included early 2000s era music videos, skating, and car drifting videos. The footage of black culture reminded me of Arthur Jafa’s Love is the message, the message is death which is most likely intentional, because Hynes has said his newest album is an exploration of black existence. He has discussed black life and black pain in his work before, for example his song from Freetown Sound, “Hands Up.”
Kelela came back for her second Pitchfork performance since she blessed the Blue Stage in 2014. Dressed in an all-white ensemble with a silky gown and large puffy sleeves, Kelela sauntered onto the stage slightly hidden in fog, making it appear like she came out on a cloud. Kelela's stage presence was impeccable and surreal, to say the least, but what leaves such an impression is the control and power Kelela exuded. Kelela and her singers and DJ were all dressed in white, making the lights change the color to have angelic hues of soft orange and purple and blue. Kelela can make the crowd swoon, and she knows it.
At the beginning of the set, Kelela came out with her two singers posing like Egyptian hieroglyphics to present Kelela like the goddess she is. The audience was all in awe of her and I found a description I'd written down in my Notes app as her being like "a river torrent, so smooth and then it hits you all at once." She introduced “Frontline” as a song about a “sorry ass” she used to know. Her music, especially from her 2017 album Take Me Apart, has a futuristic, almost space-like element that remained in her live performance. Kelela had a shorter set due to a later start, and included "LMK", "Take Me Apart", "Frontline" and "Rewind" which everyone danced so hard to.
It wouldn’t be a Pitchfork 2018 review without talking about Saturday's headline act, Fleet Foxes. The band that was so very of its time (aka 2011) brought back a nostalgic energy for the festival audience on Saturday night. They felt very familiar and the audience experience was that of a reunion with everyone in relatively mellow spirits.
The band even wished someone happy birthday before playing “White Winter Hymnal.” They played “Ragged Wood”, “Your Protector”, “Fools Errand”, "Mykonos", and “Blue Ridge Mountains”, which we all somehow remembered every single word of. The crowd was just one big chorus. The background visuals for Fleet Foxes were beautiful and fitting scenes of nature in chaos and rest, with thunderstorms and waterfalls. It was like an indie spa and we were all better for it.
I cannot believe I thought I could skip out on Japanese Breakfast’s set because I’d seen them already. What a fool! Michelle Zauner is a national treasure and everyone should respect her as such! Zauner came out in a racing jersey and a glittery black skirt, to the adoring Blue Stage where the weather had cleared. It was one of the biggest crowds I'd ever seen at the Blue Stage with young and old hipsters alike.
The set included songs from their most recent album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet with “Diving Woman”, "Boyish", and also from their 2016 release, Psychopomp, including “Everyone Wants To Love You." They had a fun and playful energy live, with a heavier grit to their pop sound. The best part of their set was when they covered The Cranberries’ song, “Dreams", which was so good live! Everyone sang along (and quietly wept) to Zauner's smiling face as she sang "So understanding and so kind/You're everything to me" to the beaming and validated crowd.
Before they came on stage, Big Thief huddled together into a group and gave each other a bit of a pep-up cheer. Everyone was excited for them and the person I stood behind knew all of the words. The band that felt like family came out to a feeling of camaraderie and friendship in the crowd.
They played a new song, “The Toy”, while also playing old favorites of “Mary” and “Real Love.” I don’t think I was ready for them to rock out as hard as they did, but they delivered! Big Thief was blasting through the speakers and had a punchier sound than on the album, but don’t think that their songs had any less emotion. This web content director found herself in tears during “Mary." That intro, when Lenker sings into the mic with only a single chord in the background was too beautiful! This performance proved that Big Thief can give an intimate concert experience to the big festival crowd as much as at a smaller venue. I tend to relate more to their softer sound, but blasting Big Thief at the festival sounded cathartic.
Courtney Barnett was not only one of the best performances of the week, but I think it’s safe to say that she’s one of the best performers of our time! She performed at the Red Stage with a regular black backdrop in an all-black outfit, but it was still fascinating to watch her on stage. She rarely looks away from the crowd to play guitar and even with a massive crowd, Courtney Barnett makes every person feel the energy from her music.
Barnett has been on a long tour for Tell Me How You Really Feel, but it didn't take away from her performance. My favorites of Courtney Barnett's set were “Charity”, “Small Poppies,” and “Depreston.” In "Small Poppies" she screamed, "I dreamed I stabbed you with a coat hanger wire", and wailed on the guitar until people started chanting her name. Everyone sang along to "Depreston" and had one long, collective sigh. Also, no big deal, but she did look right at me during "City Looks Pretty" with a wink and smiled. I haven’t recovered since! She has massive stage presence and no one else rocked harder.
In one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Tame Impala set off their confetti cannon to the surprise and pleasure of many people. Tame Impala knows how to make the crowd move already with their music, but their concert experience only heightens their music through the background visuals. It starts off with a spiral, as many die-hard Tame Impala fans will already know, and have a confetti cannon that goes off right after the long buildup in “Let It Happen”. They played most of Currents and my favorite was “Yes I’m Changing.” I was far away from the stage, but it felt like Kevin Parker’s voice was transporting my soul to the front. That song is deeply spiritual already, but it’s even better in person. The fact that they're so good live even with so much instrumentation involved only goes to support their massive talent.
This was my most surprising set of the week. Berhana was positive and incredibly charismatic on stage. Kathryn had talked up Berhana quite a bit and she was right! He played “Wildin’”, “Janet,” and ended with “Grey Luh." There wasn’t anyone in the crowd without a smile. He even covered Whitney Houston’s “One Minute In Time”, highlighting the line, “I’m only one but not alone, the finest day is yet unknown.” The sets earlier in the day shouldn't be overlooked at Pitchfork, because you can have a concert experience of a lifetime from an artist you weren't even familiar with. I now have “Brooklyn Drugs” on repeat and I only wish I’d listened to him sooner so I could’ve sung along with him!
Saturday was blessed with good weather and good music, including Nilufer Yanya who performed at the Red Stage. Nilüfer Yanya came out to a full audience in a black mesh top with a blue skirt, not unlike the outfits worn by the audience. She exuded the same kind of mysterious confidence on stage as she does in her music videos. She didn't say much and only introduced herself and thanked the audience. Her stage persona was the most interesting because she was still trying to figure out how to present herself as many of her songs are already quite personal.
Still, the crowd was leaning in the entire time and she played “Baby Luv” and “Florist” which remained in its silently brimming energy at the festival as on the singles. It was so cool to hear quite solemn songs echo through Union Park.
D.R.A.M. literally brought the sunshine on Sunday after a whole day of cloudy skies. D.R.A.M. knew we loved him because he loved us back. He kept interacting with the audience and asking us if we wanted to spread love and if we loved our moms.
Before “Sweet VA Breeze”, he said that the song changed his life and career forever. I did not expect his set to have a lot of life advice involved, but to be honest I think we all needed it. He sang "Cute" and many people in the audience turned and sang to each other, "I think you're cute." My favorite part of his set was when he said that everyone was special before singing "D.R.A.M. Sings Special", his feature on Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book. The stage background turned into twinkling stars and for about two minutes, the audience was calmed. He didn’t leave without performing “Broccoli” to which the crowd started a polite mosh and dance circle to. After asking us to remember when we first heard it, maybe “at a party while you’re studying", he came down into the crowd and the audience swarmed towards him. We were only feet (!) away from him and though he was eventually pulled back on stage by security, it really felt like he connected with us.
Special Kathryn Appearance On Saba!
“Saba was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Everything he did was personal and really connected the audience to his music. He was also just a great performer. Very genuine.”