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Madeline Kenney
Perfect Shapes

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017

Jul 18, 2017

Entering its thirteenth year in Union Park, Chicago, Pitchfork Music Festival's lineup read like a greatest hits compilation of the hottest names in hip-hop, rock, and electronic music. The jam-packed mix of established legacy acts (LCD Soundsystem, A Tribe Called Quest) and riveting up-and-comers (Jamila Woods, Joey Purp) made for a very busy weekend. The first act of the day that we caught was the D.C-based punk band, Priests. They were faced with the challenge of bringing the same intimate energy that they bring to smaller venues to the wide open park, but they put on an entertaining show.


A sizable crowd was awaiting Vince Staples’ 4pm set. As he began running through tracks off of his most recent releases (Prima Donna, Big Fish Theory), the energy from the audience was noticeably low. Vince, an artist known for his mosh-friendly live shows, was visibly agitated, but proceeded to give a fantastic performance covering several projects such as Hell Can Wait and Summertime 06. The Thurston Moore Group’s performance was next, and alongside Moore were very notable musicians, including My Bloody Valentine bassist, Debbie Googe.His set, for me, was very nostalgic to Rather Ripped era Sonic Youth, which was especially enjoyable. After waiting in line at a cash-to-tickets booth and then at a tickets-to-beer booth, Danny Brown’s time to shine approached.  Brown, fresh off the release of his wonderfully weird album Atrocity Exhibition, walked out to Iron Man by Black Sabbath and rapturous applause. In typical fashion, the rapper blazed through a chronological tour of his biggest hits dating back to 2011’s XXX. The crowd was far more present this time around, especially during the part where he played all those really big party songs he made with Diplo (Break It, Dip, Handstand).


The real show-stopper of Friday, however, had to be Arca. With a thrilling mix of venezuelan dance music, original production, and bizarre visuals, Arca’s DJ set surprised many that were expecting darker, more ambient sounds the producer is known for. Watching Alejandro dance in spandex to a 70’s dance cut while footage of a goat giving birth flashed in the background was an experience unlike any other, to say the least. LCD Soundsystem closed out the night with a fantastic performance of their biggest hits to an audience that’s memorized every word over the last decade. By sticking to their old material (outside of two new singles Call the Police and American Dream), James Murphy and friends are still keeping the lid on new tracks from their upcoming album, American Dream.

Hip-hop took center stage on Saturday. Funk legend George Clinton danced (and dabbed) on stage with Parliament-Funkadelic as they played through decades of soul classics. The 76-year old carried a youthful energy that betrayed his age, and seeing him in person was definitely a surreal experience. Angel Olsen was next up, and tore it up with her absolutely incredible vocal chops alongside her charming but kinda-awkward stage banter.


Next, Madlib began spinning a DJ set on the blue stage. With a glass of champagne in hand, Madlib delivered a tightly-mixed run through of new and old hits. In a change of pace, we caught PJ Harvey’s set, which was delightfully chilling. Her art-pop has a very interesting sort of drama to it, which complement her incredible instrumentation and impressive vocal range as well.


When it came time for hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest to close the night, the anticipation in the air hung like a cloud. People were unsure what to expect from Tribe’s first concert performance since the death of founding member Phife Dawg, but ATCQ did not disappoint. Q-Tip, Ali and Jarobi gave a triumphant performance that spanned their decades of influential work. Phife was given an emotional tribute, as the DJ ran through several of his most memorable lines and verses. Tribe closed out the night with an encore performance of “We the People...”, a rallying cry for love and equality.

Day three was jam-packed with star-studded performances. Radio K favorites Ne-Hi opened the afternoon, followed by Isaiah Rashad, an artist who’s been enjoying a meteoric rise thanks to a co-sign from labelmate Kendrick Lamar. Mitski performed at the Blue Stage to a very sizable crowd, and although the energy in that crowd was hot, Mitski delivered a raw and incredible set with a sort of calm and very collected, breezy, poise.


Chicago native Joey Purp surprised the audience by bringing out Vic Mensa to perform a few songs. 22-year old Purp had undeniable charisma, inciting moshing and crowd surfing at a festival that was noticeably light on high-octane performances. One of the most anticipated acts of the festival, The Avalanches, stunned everyone with a last-minute cancellation due to a family illness. R&B singer Jamila Woods was rotated to the main stage, and used the opportunity to give a star-making performance that highlighted her incredible voice and stage presence. When it came time for Nicolas Jaar to perform to a massive evening crowd, he decided to tease the audience with several minutes of droning, ambient sounds. The energy was palpable when Jaar finally began playing his dance-friendly material, giving drugged-up teenagers the perfect rider into Solange’s closing act.


While we’re talking about Solange, it’s best to just dedicate an entire paragraph to it. Her stage setup, a gorgeous mix of red lighting and geometric shapes, was complimented by an incredibly talented array of dancers and live musicians. But that doesn’t mean Solange didn’t dance herself. Her ability to easily nail crisp melodies while being maintaining perfect timing with her dancers was a sight to behold. With a heartfelt thank you to her fans in between songs and a commanding presence on stage, it was impossible not to be completely charmed by the youngest Knowles sister. After her performance, the crowd left in notably high spirits, singing songs from A Seat At The Table as the weekend finally drew to a close.

Pitchfork 2017 had a really incredible lineup that will hopefully set the standard for other festivals of its kind in the coming years. With a diverse and inclusive range of artists, every music fan was able to feel at home and accommodated, while also being exposed to new, exciting acts as well. After all, where else are you gonna hear James Murphy and Vince Staples both be depressed about the election in the same weekend?

David Ziemer
Sylvia Jennings