Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival played host to 41 acts this year. While the headliners — LCD Soundsystem, A Tribe Called Quest and Solange — delivered, there were 38 other acts to sort through, many of whom will stay in the national and international summer festival circuit.
Whether you’re looking for what sets are worth watching on Pitchfork’s YouTube channel or want to know who to catch later on in the summer, here’s a list of the smaller acts that mattered most.
Jeff Rosenstock (1:45 PM): Rosenstock, formerly of the DIY ska-punk outfit “Bomb the Music Industry,” had the unenviable position of playing an early afternoon slot Saturday. And while you might have a case if you accused this punk of selling-out — at one point he let his audience know he had been given $7,500 to play the show — you can’t accuse him of not giving it his all. The band ripped through material across Rosenstock’s impressive catalog, as well as a number of cuts off of his latest record, 2016’s “Worry.” Rosenstock will play The Void Aug. 5.
Arab Strap (3:20 PM): These sad Scottish post-punks gave Belle and Sebastian the inspiration for one of its album titles (if you can’t guess, I’ll give you a hint: it’s the only one with “Arab strap” in its title). And while the band on record deals mostly in meticulously programmed drum machines and lyricist Aidan Moffat’s mournful tales of sex, drugs and booze, on stage the band is a completely different animal. With live drums, guitars and a even a violin, Arab Strap achieved an impressive show and almost made its songs of infidelity, guilt and tragedy sound triumphant.
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic (4:15 PM): George Clinton’s ever-shifting funk collective didn’t necessarily play songs during its set, instead choosing to jam out while only occasionally playing snippets of familiar tunes. That didn’t seem to faze the audience who seemed enthralled by the sheer spectacle of dancers, MCs and at least one pre-set blunt. Though Clinton, 75, sang through a malfunctioning microphone, his band delivered a mighty set that never outstayed its welcome even after running beyond its allotted time with an “Atomic Dog” encore.
Madlib (6:30 PM): Madlib is a producer whose enthusiasm for crate-digging is evident in the genre-agnostic beats he creates. Having collaborated with MF Doom, Freddie Gibbs and Kanye West, he also has an ear for what rappers work over his eclectic beats. So what happens when, in the absence of an MC, Madlib has to carry a whole set by himself? Nothing much, it turns out. Madlib’s production works best through a pair of nice headphones in a quiet place where you can admire every sonic detail. Blasted through a loud if not particularly refined sound system out into a noisy audience, some of Madlib’s majesty was lost. You had to strain your ears to try and fill in the blanks.
Madame Gandhi (1:00 PM): It’s all a bit on the nose, from Madame Gandhi’s name to her radical politics to her reading of the “The Feminist Utopia Project” at one point during her set, the first on Friday’s bill. That said, her words — which generally seem to confront the patriarchy — feel absolutely vital in 2017. And it doesn’t hurt that her brand of electro-pop pulses with compelling African and Indian rhythms and drum textures. “The future is woman” Gandhi says, and if her all-female band is right, I won’t complain — the music is good and the message is righteous. Just not exactly subtle.
Dawn Richards (2:30 PM): Previously the singer for Danity Kane, Dawn Richards blasted off to the cosmic edges of R&B with her recent trilogy of albums, the last of which — 2016’s “Redemption — leaned heavily on EDM with a little bit of calypso thrown in for good measure. Backed by a live band and accompanied by two dancers, Richards’s set was a thrilling translation of her recorded work.
Vince Staples (4:00 PM): The club rap of Long Beach, Calif. rapper Vince Staples’s latest record, “Big Fish Theory,” was impressive on record. Live, it’s absolutely thrilling. You know you have a good thing going when your audience already knows the words to your latest songs, and with new cuts “Party People” and “745” receiving as warm a reception as “Senorita” and “Blue Suede”, off of 2015’s “Summertime ‘06” and 2014’s “Hell Can Wait” EP, respectively, it looks like Staples is set to dominate the summer festival circuit.
Danny Brown (6:00 PM): When Brown dropped “Atrocity Exhibition” last fall, it sounded like the Detroit rapper had hit a wall. His deranged flows, bleak lyrics and grotesque energy had reached some of their greatest heights, but by that same token the hangovers had never been more crushing. For a rapper whose career had always straddled the line between manic highs and crushing come downs, it felt like an end point. But live, Brown tended toward the middle of the road, delivering a functional if unsatisfying set that, while leaning heavily on his party-ready tracks, failed to match the visceral thrill of Staples who’d dominated the stage just 90 minutes earlier. Performing “Pneumonia,” “Ain’t It Funny,” and “Really Doe” with grills that filled in the signature gaps in his grin, Brown was a consummate professional at the top of his game. He just wasn’t very exciting.
This story will be updated throughout Sunday.
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