For fans of the hazy 1990s British rock that came to be known as shoegaze, Slowdive was one of Pitchfork’s true must-see acts this year. Back together after a nineteen-year hiatus, the group sculpted pretty melodies out of its guitar notes during its set early Sunday evening, with Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell switching off on lead vocals, both sounding like they were lost in dreams. But then, as the chords churned around and around, the songs began to roar with an often fierce intensity—contrasting with the musicians’ calm, relaxed demeanor onstage. It’s hard to say whether any of them actually gazed at their shoes as they made that beautiful, blurry and buzzing noise, but it was beguiling. (Robert Loerzel)
I was so engrossed with watching a group of presumably intoxicated festival goers staring at some sticks or ants or something, I didn’t make it to Majical Cloudz in time to be very close to the stage for the electronic duo’s set. No matter, because after the first song, a technical difficulty delayed the band’s performance. Singer Devon Welsh tried to stall with attempts at knock-knock jokes from fans, and beat-boxing, but then quickly moved to plan B, singing fan requests a capella, which was actually quite compelling, even after the lead singer forgot some of the words to a song and turned the mic over to a wobbly voiced but enthusiastic fan.
After fifteen minutes and two unaccompanied songs, a pared-down version of the set (sans the full suite of effects and patterns) was all Majical Cloudz could muster. It mostly worked; the songs are melancholy and sparse, and Welsh allowed himself to carry the set with his expressive vocals. Though fans attempts to be helpful by clapping along didn’t always go smoothly, he good-naturedly brought them back on track, and thanked the crowd for sticking around. Considering this is my worst nightmare as a musician, I must say Welsh handled a potential disaster with good humor and grace. (Keidra Chaney)
Real Estate’s breezy music, full of shimmering surfaces with chiming guitars and soft, breathy vocals, isn’t the sort of stuff that gets audience fists pumping in the air, but the New Jersey band’s pleasant set late Sunday afternoon offered a welcome interlude of relaxation. The light, airy songs drifted out across the park, and every once in a while, Real Estate picked up the tempo, sounding a bit like a venerable band from the same state, The Feelies. But mostly, the group put us in a mellow mood. (Robert Loerzel)
When the festival gods decided to bestow Schoolboy Q with a slot that immediately followed Earl Sweatshirt’s, they might not have anticipated the effect that a back-to-back bass-thumping can have on an audience. The people were fatigued, but Schoolboy Q soldiered on, successfully reorienting the festival grounds towards a club-vibe with track after track of radio-friendly hip-hop. He’s a crowd-pleaser, Schoolboy Q is, and few sets outside of Kendrick Lamar’s will inspire such widespread dancing and Instagramming. If you were worried about having a photo to remember the weekend by, fear not, there’s a good chance you’re in somebody’s from the Schoolboy Q set alone. Even Earl Sweatshirt couldn’t resist—he spent much of the set dancing and laughing on the side of the stage, the feel too fun and infectious to miss. Schoolboy Q’s DJ deserves special recognition for expertly handling hype-man duties without stealing the singular focus that his frontman deserves. (Kenneth Preski)
Dum Dum Girls’ delayed start due to technical difficulties thinned out the crowds at first in favor of Earl Sweatshirt, but when they finally took the stage, the band’s dreamy, melancholy garage-pop seduced a sizable crowd back to the Blue Stage.
Dee Dee Penny and the gang’s inspired multi-part harmonies sounded as sweet as they do recorded, and they nail their gothy-girl-group aesthetic down to a couple instances of synchronized swaying, but I was personally hoping for a little more emotion in the performance. They sounded fantastic but almost too perfect. The music is dripping with passion and pathos and I was hoping for a bit more of it conveyed on stage. (Keidra Chaney)
For some fans, the favorite moment of Earl Sweatshirt’s set comes down to what they enjoyed chanting more: “I’mma fuck the freckles off your face, bitch,” or “Hot soup in my motherfucking bowl.” No matter which side of the divide you fall on, there wasn’t a person in the park who didn’t appreciate Earl insisting on a massive singalong to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” before he would even bother to launch into a song of his own. This was the crowd participation performance of the weekend, with Earl even taking the time to badger one unfortunate far-removed fan to chant along to his set, or be doomed to public mockery for life. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess which route the fan chose, along with everyone else, who simply couldn’t resist Earl’s irreverent sense of humor, the calling card for one of hip-hop’s most significant newcomers. (Kenneth Preski)
And now for the only full-on metal act of this entire festival, the eagerly awaited (by some) Deafheaven. A lot of folks at the fest were clearly not ready for vocalist George Clarke’s gut wrenching shrieks, but whatever. We will be back to indie rock mumbling and such soon enough.
A certain segment of metal critics/fans lost their collective shit for the band’s 2013 release, “Sunbather,” a wet dream for anyone who is equally enamored of both, say, Gorgoroth and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I have been largely unmoved by the band’s records, but I will say their shoegaze-y elements are much more stirring in a live setting. Also Clarke’s evil-German-film-studies grad-student vibe actually works live; he’s got a weird kind of sexy malevolence that fits their sound and is dynamic to watch. They debuted a new track,”From The Kettle Unto The Coil” with a nice chunky breakdown in the middle that appeals to my metal traditionalist sensibilities. You win this round, Deafheaven. Mostly because you guys are only metal I’ll see all weekend. (Keidra Chaney)
Perfect Pussy’s songs were barely discernible amid the nonstop noise and crashing as the band quickly blasted through its set on the Blue Stage, but that hardly seemed to matter. This punk band is all about bashing your head in, sonically speaking, and it accomplished that. Lead singer Meredith Graves, wearing a striped dress, rarely stopped moving as she screeched and twirled, occasionally lifting her skirt for peeks at her undergarments, while her bandmates attacked their instruments as if they wanted to break them. Not surprisingly, a few people in the audience were inspired to crowd-surf. (Robert Loerzel)
Some time ago Zachary Cole Smith must have fallen into a coma and woken up on the other side of the eighties with two decades worth of dreams to draw upon. There’s no other way to explain how DIIV sounds, except to mention The Cure’s early work, but even Robert Smith lacked the propulsive rhythm section that made a group of concertgoers mosh to dream-pop today. No doubt the highlight was a massive cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” which sounded nothing at all like the original, but was absolutely perfect as a result. Only Galaxie 500 had a finer method for paying tribute to their influences. Zachary Cole Smith’s between-song banter was dedicated to reminding everyone in the audience that they were watching DIIV, despite the gigantic banner waving behind them. It was as awkward as it was endearing, much like the vibe of the Pitchfork Music Festival in general. (Kenneth Preski)
Usually the easiest way to get me to exit a live music situation is by mentioning the word “folk.” Despite my bias, indie-folk outfit Mutual Benefit won me over with their shimmering synth and guitar textures, soaring violin, and gorgeous male and female vocal harmonies. In addition to an unusually lovely honey-dripped tenor, bandleader Jordan Lee has jokes—lots of them. He kept the growing Green Stage crowd chuckling in-between songs with his wry humor. (“We’ve always dreamed of opening for Slowdive and Kendrick Lamar.”) Not a bad way to kick off Pitchfork’s final day. (Keidra Chaney)