Words By Matt Byrne, Photos By Matt Colomb
I’ve lived in Chicago since 2010 and have gone to every Pitchfork fest since. That makes me uniquely qualified to be the sole judge for this, the first annual Forkies! Let’s all come together to celebrate the best and brightest from this weekend’s festival, which was all in all a very nice time, temporarily interrupted by a bunch of midday rain on the second day.
The GG Allin memorial award for punkest move
24 hours before their headlining set that closed out day one, Wilco dropped a shambolic, light-n-breezy new album called Star Wars on our collective heads that sounds way more like Loose Fur than Tweedy, which is cool and good. Before delivering a slew of hits (live staples “Impossible Germany” and “Via Chicago” among them), the band played through their brand new album, before most of the cigar-puffing (there were so many cigars), cargo-short wearing (a lot of extraneous pockets too) dads surrounding me in the crowd even had a chance to download it.
Best three song set
I was very excited to see Ex Hex this weekend. Their debut LP, Rips, is so good and I’ve heard they’re a great live act. Unfortunately it started raining super hard right as they started playing Saturday afternoon. They tore through a few songs (they sounded great!) but then some guy came out onstage and told the band their set was being cut short, and then some other guy’s disembodied voice came over the loud speaker and told everyone the park was being evacuated due to storms. It then rained VERY hard and people were screaming and it was medium chaos. We hid in the press tent and didn’t leave (stone cold chillers like myself don’t listen to authority the first time we’re told to do something) and then it stopped raining pretty soon after that and things got back to normal eventually.
Best two and a half song set
I was also very excited to see Kurt Vile this weekend. I’ve loved that guy’s music for years and his scheduled set time pretty perfectly coincided with the rain stopping and the festival reopening their gates to the sheeple who didn’t stick around inside the gates during the torrential downpour. Unfortunately festival organizers lost a lot of prep time during the crazy storm and spent about a half hour getting things re-situated onstage so Kurt could play some damn songs. It took a while and KV & Co have some pretty long songs, so they were only able to play two full jammers and a blistering but truncated version of fan favorite “Freak Train,” complete with ripping sax solo.
The “I’m miserable and can’t go anywhere without finding someone to hate” medal of freedom
A thickly accented, very tall, and very drunk Australian guy with a dumb goatee pushed his way into the crowd, landing directly in front of my girlfriend and I before Kurt Vile played. He complained a lot about the wait, yelling things like “I’m bored!” and “I want Kurt Vile!” in a cartoonish Australian accent at the stage while the crew rushed to set up, and swayed around and spilled beer on the ground a lot like what an eight year old thinks a drunk person is like. Thankfully he ran out of beer and wandered off for more before KV even started and the day was salvaged.
Best Dan Bejar impersonation
What with The New Pornographers being a supergroup and all, it’s understandably difficult to assemble their disparate parts together with any regularity. AC Newman is probably the closest it comes to being the main Pornographer, reliably holding it down at shows when their other two chief vocalists, Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar aren’t able to make it out. That’s why I was surprised and excited to hear “Testament to Youth in Verse,” a track written and sung by Bejar on 2003’s Electric Version, from across the park, where we were grabbing free samples of sparkling water or something. I thought dude made the trip out to Pitchfork and was here to sing for us, but turns out Newman was just doing a great impression of Bejar’s idiosyncratic vocal stylings and I got pranked. Still a real great set all around! We should all revisit their latest LP, Brill Bruisers, it’s very good!
Nicest surprise that teaches us all about the power of live music
We didn’t have many must sees on Saturday evening outside of the New Pornographers and Sleater-Kinney, so while we waited for SK, we found solace near the shady Blue stage and caught most of Shamir’s set, which was SUCH A PLEASANT SURPRISE! I had listened to a few tracks from Shamir’s debut album, Ratchet a few times but nothing really grabbed me. Turns out, all you gotta do if you’ve got any doubts about Shamir being the real deal is to see him live! Holy hell, he had a full band that was super locked in (dare I say funky?) and his androgynous, acrobatic vocals are truly something. Go buy the Shamir record and then go see him live! Or the other way around. Just get on board with Team Shamir!
Best easter egg dedication
Sleater-Kinney dedicated No Cities To Love standout “A New Wave” to a young woman named Tina Belcher without any explanation why. Savvy nerds know Tina as the best character on Bob’s Burgers, and the truly-clued in folks chuckled knowingly at the dedication, with full awareness that the video for “A New Wave” features Tina and her siblings rocking out to the tune in a fun fantasy world. EITHER WAY Sleater-Kinney were incredible and one of the best rock bands I’ve ever seen live. I’m glad they’re back and a band again. They’re SO GOOD.
Excellence in two hugely talented dudes mostly just goofing around up there
It seemed like Freddie Gibbs & Madlib took the stage without much of a game plan in mind. Gibbs is an incredible rapper with an effortlessly magnetic stage presence, and was also “drunk as fuck,” as he explained a few times throughout the afternoon. Intoxication aside, Gibbs anchored this laid-back, shambolic set, backed by pared-down instrumentals cued up and sometimes assembled live from Madlib’s drumpad. It was a consistently entertaining show, and when everything did come together, it made for some of the most electrifying moments of the weekend.
The Paul Thomas Anderson “Of course this was great, you knew it was gonna be great, but it was really, really great” award
Run The Jewels are the greatest and you know that. Run the Jewels 2 was one of the best albums that came out last year and their live shows are tightly wound and crazy energetic. By my eyes, they also attracted what was probably the biggest crowd of the festival, outside of maybe Chance the Rapper, who played immediately afterwards. The show was powerful and huge sounding, and for this Very Special Performance, RTJ brought out a handful of guests, including Zach de la Rocha and Gangsta Boo. They both ran out to perform their respective verses on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” and then disappeared backstage just as fast. Zach de la Rocha was there! Seriously! Like “Bulls on Parade” guy! So cool.
Most next-level stage show (especially for a festival, all things considered, you know?)
Chance The Rapper put pretty much every other performance to shame on Sunday night. Flanked by multiple video screens and choreographed dancers, Chance was a raw nerve, all manic energy and earnest declarations of love for his city and excitement for his bright future. There was also guest appearance from iconic gospel rapper Kirk Franklin for audience favorite “Sunday Candy.” It was a crazy, high-energy, multimedia blowout and a very posi way to end a fun weekend.