Solange plays to crowds of indie kids and music lovers at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013, Saturday, July 20.
You can have your Savages and your Swans. I'd rather spend a warm summer evening at a music festival grooving to Solange. If Saturday's Pitchfork performers were described as drinks (indulge me; I'm a tad hungover), then many acts would be whiskey: straight, no chaser. And the vivacious Ms. Knowles? SunnyD.
The 27-year-old singer walked onstage yesterday with a smile and a swagger and wearing a Mary Katrantzou top and pants featuring a bold Pegasus graphic. Her six-piece band was equally stylish in bright colors and loud patterns, shattering my assumption that Saturday's performers had to adhere to an all-black dress code. Opening with "Don't Let Me Down," a track from her latest EP, the Dev Hynes–produced True, she made it clear to the audience that this was a party. Out came the beach balls. Out came Solange's amazing dance style that, like her latest album, seem to mix the '80s, '90s and now. Well, kinda. Twerking = now. Grinding = pretty timeless. The fierceness of her moves didn't quite match the subtlety of the grooves (sorry, this hangover is making me unintentionally rhyme), but it set a sexy tone for the sunset performance. "I want to see you all grind out there, Chicago," Solange said. As I scanned the obliging audience, I could almost see the Missed Connections ads being written:
Solange at Pitchfork - m4w - (Chicago) We got our grind on during "Losing You," and then I lost you. Come back! I'd really like to buy you a drink.
As much fun as the audience was having—just slightly less fun than Solange was having—her vocals were too soft during the first few songs. That wasn't helped by the fact that her voice has a thinness that makes it harder to hear in the lower register, especially when she's performing live. It occasionally washes into the background of her '80s-pop-meets-chill-wave R&B jams, like the musical equivalent of watercolor paints. But that's the lower register. During yesterday's set, her more Mariah Carey moments—those super high whistle notes—gave me goosebumps. She really hit her stride, vocally speaking, with her now-famous (among indie rock kids anyway) cover of the Dirty Projectors' "Stillness is the Move." Mixed with Isaac Hayes's "Bumpy's Lament," the instrumentals trump the DPs' original, and Solange completely owns those high-register "Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-OOHs!" Chills, I tell you.
Really, I think I want Solange to start a band, or just rebrand her current lineup as a band, in order to alleviate some of the pressure to be this insane vocalist. After a solo career of ups and downs and endless sibling comparisons, she seems more focused than ever to assert her individuality and artistry (see her Dev Hynes collab'ing) and turn her live show into a funky, energy-fueled "old-school grind party." Ironically, being a part of a group might free her up more to be herself—or at least be scrutinized differently. She has great taste. I'd like to see her extend it into more collaborations and new songwriting directions. So, Solange, to quote Twista, "Let me be your manager." And if I were your manager, I'd tell you that yesterday's set was just about perfect.