PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | When I walk up to the gates on the first day of a music festival, I always feel like I’ve got stage fright—my hands get clammy and a knot forms in the pit of my stomach. Maybe I’m nervous security will find my secret flask or that some crazy forces of the universe will prevent me from seeing Patti Smith on Sunday. It is Riot Fest after all, and it is unlike any other festival you’ve been to all summer.
Expect the weather to be cool with a strong chance of rain, everyone will be wearing black, and pretty much all of the acts will have actual instruments to play. The layout was expanded to almost double the size of previous years allowing for much more music to be seen but also a lot of unexpected walking and weaving through the park. Also, this year, ten headliners and rock veterans like Cheap Trick, Naked Raygun, and Descendants, played their “essential” albums in 2014 to celebrate the fest’s 10th anniversary. It is only the third year for Chicago’s Humboldt Park to host, but the festival travels to Denver and Toronto too.
Our attempt at making it to the Stiff Little Fingers’ set was totally botched due to the massive amounts of walking in the mud, so we only caught the last few riffs of the set. NOFX was on afterwards and they came out making jokes about the other bands that were playing the fest and that they were going to play Pinkerton in its entirety, but out of order. (They actually played their essential album, Punk in Drublic.)
Arcade Fire swung through Chicago for two nights on August 26th and 27th before finishing up their lengthy worldwide Reflektor tour in their hometown of Montreal a few nights later. Both nights the crowd was in excellent spirits and many arrived wearing costumes and formal wear, as requested by the band. From sparkling ball gowns to skeleton body suits, from masquerade masks to frog costumes, from Kenny f**king Powers to Scuba Steve, the United Center was a visual feast.
Devo opened the evening with a solid set highlighting some of their post-punk/synthpop hits as well as their trademark de-evolution performance antics. Dan Deacon, whose stage was set up in the middle of the arena, followed by entertaining the crowd with his unique experimental electronic music. As is his custom, he curated an interactive dance party by calling upon members of the crowd to initiate audience participation. The results were entertaining, to say the least.
Arcade Fire hit the stage immediately following Dan Deacon’s dance party and completely electrified, thus dispelling any uncertainties about whether or not they could hold their own as an arena band. They absolutely can—but if I’m being honest I’d forever prefer to see them in more intimate settings, simply because there’s so much to see.
Now a 12-person act, Arcade Fire members are constantly switching from one instrument to the next, showcasing their talented skill and musicianship. They do this seamlessly and professionally—they’re a well-oiled machine at this point—but somehow their shows still feel organic and spontaneous. They’re also masters of maintaining a high energy level on stage, and it’s infectious.
Throughout the weekend, I felt like I put the highest expectations on Sunday of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Sunday’s line up certainly had its fair share of heavy hitters and there was pressure to impress.
Would Grimes be able to come back from her less than stellar 2012 set at the Blue stage? Would Kendrick Lamar close out this year’s festival on a high note? Would anyone even bother to see any other rock bands after Annie Clark’s epic guitar shredding and Neutral Milk Hotel’s giant all-park sing along? Who knows? Who cares?! It was still a really amazing day.
Schoolboy Q I saw because well, I was curious if Kendrick would come out. He didn’t, but the show was still awesome. Schoolboy came strutting out in a signature bucket hat. His DJ did a good job of hyping up the crowd before he came on, so that was cool too.
Saturday of the Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 was another day of great acts. I tried a lot of new things, including a separate entrance with a way shorter line (hint: there’s a general admission entrance right next to the VIP entrance) and a salted caramel hot chocolate creme puff. Booyah.
My day started with Pusha T, who despite coming on stage pretty late, was a strong start for me. The set was short but so fun and pretty energetic. Then it was off to see Tune-Yards…
Tune-Yards tends to get a lot of flack from critics for being too quirky and frankly, all over the place. When it comes to Tune-Yards’ sound, I find it difficult to really pinpoint a genre—every song sounds different, yet they are all a mix of African drum beats, jazz, a lot of looping noises and vocals, a ukulele, and colorful, sometimes grotesque lyrics. The music videos are also just as colorful. Saturday’s set was full of brightly patterned costumes and neon face paint. (It’s fun to wear face paint!) They way the whole show came together had my friends saying to each other, “this is the best set we’ve seen so far!”
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival was full of great music, superb people-watching, and an all-around relaxed vibe. The shows I attended were pretty varied and on Friday, I caught the tail end of Factory Floor, then chilled out to Sharon Van Etten, and ended the night banging my head (sort of) to Beck. Saturday and Sunday were way busier and more crowded (those two days sold out) and there was a lot of litter on the ground by Sunday evening but for the most part, I thought it was a pretty good run.
All weekend, scheduled set times were strictly abided by. This was probably because of Chicago’s strict outdoor event curfew laws and shows that started late weren’t even an issue. Pusha T came on thirty minutes late and I heard fans say for a while afterwards that his was the best show they saw all weekend. Lines for beer and food varied depending on the time of day so if my friends and I saw a short line for any sustenance whatsoever, we seized those opportunities. Do I even need to mention cell phone service? Well, I have experienced much worse, but having a legitimate meeting spot was definitely helpful the whole weekend.
Union Park is also just really easy to navigate. There were three stages—Red and Green in the main park, and the Blue stage, which is on the opposite side towards Ashland Avenue and is nestled among the trees. Usually the more intimate and atmospheric-sounding acts play at the Blue stage, and the Red and Green stages alternate sets and maintain the headliners. This is very navigable setup which made it easy to catch as much music as I wanted throughout the day while also being able to see and eat and drink when I wanted.
I mean, you obviously don’t get the best sound quality waiting in line for a vegan gyro and a beer, but you know where I’m going, right?
The Pitchfork Music Festival is probably my favorite festival of the summer. This particular festival is maintained by only three stages in the West Loop’s Union Park which only seems tiny but really, it’s just as bumping and crowded (in a good way) as any other music festival. Pitchfork always draws a healthy balance of pitchfork.com darlings, big names, and smaller acts that do not disappoint.
It’s truly one of the most well-run events of the season. They’ve got port-a-potties galore! Food trucks with surprisingly good food! Well-dressed people! Not as many teenagers! Reasonable ticket prices! And of course, most importantly, the lineup is always killer.
There are so many great bands to see this year. In fact, I whole-heartedly recommend that you just go see as many acts as possible. Lucky for festival-goers, the schedule is managed in such a way that all the set times are staggered so that it is actually possible to catch every single show at some point. Yes, sacrifices must be made if you’re attempting an ambitious schedule so, for those times when you’re undecided on what to do, here are some of the acts we would recommend to our readers who plan to attend this weekend.
PHOTOS: SARAH DERER | Blank Range is a five-piece rock n’ roll band out of Nashville. And while you can probably get a sense of their “sound” from that statement alone, each member brings a diverse set of influences to the table, putting their own memorable stamp on a tried and true formula.
For a band that’s only self-released a cassette and a 7”, Blank Range has attracted a lot of attention. The group won BMI’s Road to Bonnaroo competition in February, making them the first band announced for the festival’s 2014 installment. They were guests on Daytrotter back in November, and, as of April, are the latest addition to The Billions Corporation’s roster of artists. All this recognition has helped them accumulate a notable following in and around their home state of Tennessee, with a burgeoning national fan base set to see Blank Range on their first official tour.
Band members Jonathan Childers (guitar/vocals), Grant Gustafson (guitar/vocals), Jon Rainville (keyboard/vocals), Matt Novotny (drums/vocals) and Aaron Wahlman (bass/vocals) all hail from the Midwest, and despite their home base in Nashville, agree that “regional” or “Southern” rock isn’t an appropriate classification. They’ve shared the stage with Southern rockers Futurebirds and Southern-inspired rockers Blitzen Trapper, but the group has a sound all its own—driven, in equal measure, by each member’s unique musical aesthetic.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | “My name is Chet Faker and I’m going to play you a few songs. I’d be surprised if you didn’t know that already,” he said stepping on stage, taking his place alone but but surrounded by machines—keyboards, synths, and trackpads—sporting an impressive red beard and a big-ass smile. This is the guy? Oh yes, this is the guy whose downtempo version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” practically blew up the Internet in 2011.
It’s hard not to hit the repeat button on this sweet homage to an R&B classic. Faker’s 2012 EP “Thinking in Textures” came out shortly after the infamous cover was released and his latest and full length debut, Built on Glass came out this year. To support the record, Faker brought his woozy, atmospheric, electro-R&B to Lincoln Hall on Tuesday night and got a sold out crowd to dance all the way through what literally became a really hot set.
Right before the encore, Faker revealed that he had asked the venue to turn off the fans. Though it was apparent that there was quite a bit of off-the-cuff mixing, remixing, and ranting happening—the setlist, the light show, and the temperature were all intentional. I admit I was a little peeved for about a second that he admitted to turning the fans off, but I honestly don’t think the show would have been as sexy if it weren’t for all that body heat.
Santah, will be throwing an official record release this Friday at Schuba’s for their new 7” single, “Awwh Man.” If you haven’t heard of Santah yet, you’ll want to hop on this train really quick! They are Stanton and Vivian McConnell (bro & sis!), Steve Plock, Tommy Trafton, and Michael Winegardner.
Their music is full of sunny melodies with a rock n’ roll backbone paired with metaphorical lyrics about life, nature, and love. The release of the new 7” single, “Awwh, Man,” from these Chicago indie rockers seems to go perfectly with the start of the summer season. It’s about that time when a hint of humidity hits the air and winter coats can finally take their place in storage. To see them play at Schuba’s this Friday will be a solid start to the summer indeed.
Santah has had a short but busy past three years in Chicago. Since 2011, they’ve put out two very solid LPs, and played all around Chicago while making a genuinely good impression on the music scene in this city. They are the kind of band that when you hear their songs, you will crave to see them live—the music is so layered and sonically full and it would be a disservice to yourself to avoid tracking down their vinyl and snagging tickets to their shows. With Santah, you are going to want the full effect.
The songwriting is also just outstanding and cool. The more I listened to Santah, the more I was curious about the stories behind these emotional yet upbeat rock albums. I wanted to know if White Noise Bed and You’re Still A Lover had a connection. Was there another chapter to be written? Did it all just mean nothing? I found out that there’s a bit of both plus more in Santah’s songs.
Between taking photos and tidying up their practice space, the band gave me their perspective on their intention to record via analog, what artists and albums they’ve been listening to, and what’s next.
PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | Juana Molina is a former comedic television actress who made a foray into music in the late ’90s, leaving her acting career behind. Her humor and immense talent as a musical artist carries through in her live sets and the show at Old Town School of Folk Music Thursday, April 10 was no different.
Though she’s flown somewhat under the radar in the States, she definitely has quite the fan base in Chicago, as well as around the world. With this being her first US tour in 5 years and with the critical acclaim of her latest album, Wed 21, Molina has been missed. She is known for her unconventional approach to song creation and her lyrics are abstract rather than topical. For fans of Feist who seek a similar yet even more experimental sound, Molina needs to be added to your playlists. The two artists also toured together in 2008, so there you go.
Molina sings in her native Rioplatens Spanish which made me a little nervous to see the show because I don’t always understand her lyrics. But after getting a taste of Wed 21 in the days leading up to the show, I had to see what this talented lady was all about.