byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER
Last year’s iteration of Pitchfork is most likely remembered for the impending storm that cut short Bjork’s headlining set on Friday night and the drizzle-filled, hit-soaked R. Kelly closing set that ended the festival with less of a bang than a note of cautious confusion. More than anything, though, it solidified a roadmap for a festival that has become insanely comfortable navigating multiple genres across three stages. Pitchfork 2014 offers a healthy does of nostalgia acts (Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, Slowdive), indie rock “it right now” royalty (St. Vincent, Grimes, Sharon Van Ettan), hip-hop dynamos (Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Pusha T) and the best up-and-comers in the business (Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, Perfect Pussy).
Aside from the killer lineup, which towers head and shoulders above the other Chicago festivals this summer, the best thing about Pitchfork is that the two main stages (Green and Red) are in the same open field, which eliminates a lot of running back and forth to catch your favorite acts. Instead, you simply turn your head when one act finishes and the next begins.
Nevertheless, choices will have to be made, especially since stage three (Blue Stage), which houses the top buzz bands, is a decent trek from the main stages. Here’s how to win Pitchfork 2014 with the perfect festival itinerary:
3:30 Hundred Waters @ Red Stage
Now that Death Grips has canceled their scheduled appearance at the same time, attendees can ease into the festival’s truncated opening day with the Gainesville, Florida band’s ethereal dream pop. It should be a treat to watch the band bring their experimental, intricate rhythms and instrumentation into fruition in a live setting. “Murmurs” – one of PMA’s 50 best song of 2014, will set the tone for Friday’s more laidback lineup.
4:35 Neneh Cherry with Rocketnumbernine @ Green Stage
Fresh off the release of her first album in 18 years, it would be foolish to skip Cherry’s performance, which should lean heavily on the skittish, modern electro-pop of her current work. Unfortunately, Robyn is in Germany this weekend so we won’t be getting a surprise duet on the outstanding “Out of the Black”.
5:30 Sharon Van Ettan
Van Ettan’s music, particularly her astonishing new album, is wholly intimate and an emotional gut-punch. It will be interesting to see how her slow-burning, desolate rock vibe will hold a large stage crowd’s attention as the festival begins to fill-out with the post-work crowd. That said, your only other option at this point is the spectacularly dark instrumental sounds of The Haxan Cloak (5:15 @ the Blue Stage), which won’t exactly whip folks into a frenzy.
6:15 SZA @ Blue Stage
Here’s where you might get your first Kendrick Lamar sighting of the weekend. Sure, he doesn’t headline until Sunday night’s closer, but his website lists Friday at Pitchfork as one of his tour stops, so don’t be surprised if he pops in to perform his guest verse on “Babylon”, one of the best tracks on SZA’s smart, energetic new album, Z. This set competes with Sun Kil Moon (Green Stage @ 6:25), but festivals are about experiencing the unexpected and we’ve got a feeling SZA won’t disappoint – and might put a little groove into the sleepy day.
7:15 Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks @ Blue Stage
Finally, some indie rock hits the stage at this indie rock festival. As the side project of Animal Collective’s Dave Portner, you’ll get an experienced performer unleashing some rather summery sounding, if not uneven material from the band’s debut album. “Little Fang” alone will be worth hanging around. Plus, you can still pop into the end of Giorgio Moroder’s electronic set (7:20 @ Red Stage) and get your dance on for the first time.
8:30 Beck @ Green Stage
Unless you’re planning to go home early just to miss the exodus fracas, stick around for a hit-filled set by a veteran performer that, admit it, pleases everyone on some level. He’s a showman – the only one you’ll get on this day, and he’ll be sure to unleash a bevy of hits. Plus, there’s nobody else playing so it’s this or grocery shopping at the Whole Foods tent.
Twin Peaks 1:00 @ Green Stage
Last year, Parquet Courts lit up Saturday afternoon with an infusion of power, and although the two bands aren’t stylistically similar, Twin Peaks rock hard enough to get your blood pumping bright and early – especially considering that the more straightforward tracks off their new album, Wild Onion, sound like they were written for the festival circuit.
Circulatory System 1:55 @ Blue Stage
Jeff Magnum, leader of Saturday night’s headlining Neutral Milk Hotel, could make a guest appearance seeing as he was an integral part of the band once upon a time. Most of the Circulatory System’s swirling, complex songs run less than 3 minutes, which is tailor made for an audience will be a mix of diehards and newbies. Leave early, though, to make it to your next appointment on time.
Wild Beasts 2:30 @ Green Stage
Thus begins our afternoon of pivoting between the two main stages. Wild Beasts are like a danceable Antony & The Johnsons, and when they launch into the excellent “Wanderlust” expect the entire field to lose their inhibitions and dance like a bunch of uninhibited Thom Yorkes.
Cloud Nothings 3:20 @ Red Stage
This could be the launching pad into the indie stratosphere for Cloud Nothings – a prime spot on the main stage in the heat of the afternoon (well, maybe not thanks to Chicago’s summer polar vortex). Given that they are the last true-blood rock band of the day, this has the potential to be one of those sets we look back on in a few years as a major turning point.
Pusha T 4:15 @ Green Stage
Last fall, Pusha T and Danny Brown released albums on the same day and now, today, we get the same two rappers, two of today’s best, on the same stage back-to-back. This set is going to smoke. Pusha T has energy to spare and should whip the crowd into its first frenzy. Also, there is potential for another Kendrick Lamar drop-in on Pusha’s “Nosetalgia”.
tUnE-yArDs 5:15 @ Red Stage
FUN! Seriously – Merrill Garbus’ noisy, herky-jerky indie pop is catchy and innovative, and her hip-hop influences, is a logical intermission between the epic rap battle.
Danny Brown 6:15 @ Green Stage
Whether you find Brown grating or invigorating (put PMA in the latter category), his commanding stage presence and melodic, robust songs would tear the roof off of the festival if there were one. And you have to admit that parties don’t get much more fun than the string of acts we’ll be witnessing on Saturday.
St. Vincent 7:25 @ Red Stage
OR FKA twigs 7:45 @ Blue Stage
Conflicts of interest have been pretty much non-existent up to this point, but this might cause a crisis of faith. Expect the eclectic genius of Annie Clark to go big in the opening of her set and, if you can tear yourself away from the rock spectacle before you, around 8:00 head over to catch the close of red hot FKA twigs. This will be your last chance to see her on a small festival stage, plus it’s likely “Two Weeks” will be the closer.
Neutral Milk Hotel 8:30 @ Green Stage
Today’s legend spot is a doozy and, while it might feel a bit like the air has been let out of the sonic balloon given what precedes it, there couldn’t be a more beautiful way to spend a chilly July night in Chicago. Find a snuggle partner and enjoy.
Speedy Ortiz 1:00 @ Blue Stage
Last summer Speedy Ortiz played a random, vacant coach house in Chicago. Opening Sunday’s festivities is a major boost to the rising Speedy Ortiz star. Seemingly the band gets better with every performance, and if this week’s Adult Swim single is any indication, this grungy thing has legs … again.
Perfect Pussy 1:55 @ Blue Stage
Stay where you are … unless you don’t want to get pummeled by some kids who are about to go apeshit for Perfect Pussy’s aggressive punk. In which case proceed to the back of the throng and revel in singer/shouter Meredith Graves’ powerhouse, commanding performance.
Earl Sweatshirt 3:20 @ Red Stage
OR Dum Dum Girls 3:45 @ Blue Stage
On one hand, Earl Sweatshirt – he who hath canceled the rest of his tour but still plans to play Pitchfork – is about to take a break and this will be the last time to catch his show for the undetermined future. But if you’re banking on a Frank Ocean or Tyler, The Creator sighting give up now – they are in Canada for the weekend.
On the other hand, Dum Dum Girls released arguably their best album in 2014 and, if you stay at the Blue Stage, you can complete the rare trifecta of seeing three kick ass female-led bands in succession – it’s like seeing a unicorn at a music festival.
Schoolboy Q 4:15@ Green Stage
PMA’s review of Q’s major label debut hit the nail on the head – Schoolboy Q doesn’t set the bar very high for innovation in the genre, but “his precision and showmanship with which it hit deserves commendation.” Plus, with a couple of Kendrick Lamar collabs, it’s another potential sighting.
Real Estate 5:15 @ Red Stage
Much like Cloud Nothings, Real Estate is teetering on the brink of becoming not just big for an indie band, but simply … big. The only real bummer here is that their set is too early for “Talking Backwards” to be played as the sun sets over Union Park.
Slowdive 6:15 @ Green Stage
No albums since 1995 and a propensity to bring the drama to their live shows, Slowdive might be the closest Pitchfork goers get to a Kanye-style rant/meltdown in 2014. The group’s growing legend certainly exceeds their output, but with a lovely batch of navel-gazing Brit pop tunes and the fact this could be your only chance to ever see them, it’s a must go.
Grimes 7:15 @ Red Stage
OMG that song she originally wrote for Rhianna is so fucking good! Oh, and so is virtually everything else she has ever created. But honestly, how can you not be excited to hear “Go” – one of the best songs of the summer – as the light dims on the festival of the summer?
Kendrick Lamar 8:30 @ Green Stage
A victory lap before his new album is (likely) released later this year, this feels like Lamar’s festival to own. Putting him in the same legend slot that R. Kelly inhabited last year might seem premature, but once you see the master put his stamp on Pitchfork 2014, it will be game, set, match - Lamar