Crowds take in new bands and indie rock icons at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013 at Union Park, Sunday, July 21.
Pitchfork saved the best for last. Sunday’s lineup in Union Park offered something for everyone—not just the girl sporting the homemade R. Kelly earrings. Still, it was Chicago’s own Pied Piper of R&B whose peerless performance put the unity in Union Park. Rumors of guest appearances by Justin Timberlake and Jay Z proved false, but Kells needed no assistance leading the audience of thousands in a sing-along of “I Believe I Can Fly” as dove-shaped balloons were sent floating into the night sky. (Read our review and see photos here.)
J.T. and Jiggaman were no-shows, but Lady Gaga rolled up backstage with a small entourage in a nondescript van. She jumped on the back of a golf cart and headed over to watch as M.I.A. prowled the stage with a mic in her hand. (Check out photos and a full recap.) The afternoon kicked off with Tree, Englewood rapper and producer Tremaine Johnson. In a things-you-learn-at-Pitchfork moment, I discovered a server at my neighborhood brunch spot—an unassuming, affable white kid named Matt—was drumming for the emcee. “TGIHHD!” texted TOC Arts and Culture editor Laura Pearson, who was also covering the fest: “Thank God It’s Hip-hop Day!”
Atlanta rapper Killer Mike not only put on his own show on the Green Stage, but later joined veteran New York emcee El-P on the Red Stage for a few cuts from their Run the Jewels side project. The two were letting fly with banter between songs. “I wrote this while I was crying, sitting at home drinking some peppermint tea,” said El-P, feigning teary eyes. “It’s called ‘The Full Retard’!” There’s a little cognitive dissonance hearing a guy named Killer Mike do a public-service announcement at the end of the set: “Take care of each other! Take care of each other! If you do one thing, make a friend.... Stop the violence. Buy beer and make love.”
Around 4:20pm, clouds of pot smoke were joined by light rain clouds as Yo La Tengo shifted into gear. The generation gap at the festival was immediately visible as Gen Xers stayed put and the Millennials fled to the smaller Blue Stage to see Sky Ferreira, who was soundchecking by singing Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” Onstage, the singer has an appealing naïveté and a vocal quality that recalls Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons, which complements the band’s lite synth-pop. Overcome by the ovation from the unexpectedly large crowd, Ferreira couldn’t hold back tears. As Yo La Tengo ended its set, fans of Lil B perched in front of the Red Stage began a chant of “Based God.” Much of the audible adulation for the California emcee is winking and insincere. He’s mildly fascinating as an oddball Twitter denizen (a New Yorker piece was titled “The dumb brilliance of Lil B”), as something to laugh at on YouTube—but live his music is pure put-on. All the shirtless clowning came off not unlike an unintentionally bad karaoke performance. Songs about Ellen DeGeneres and lines like “Get my dick sucked in the sky, I’m a martian” did little to make up for the lonely void on that big festival stage. “Look at me,” he shouted, “It’s Lil B, it’s the Based God.” No thanks.
Back on Blue, Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek’s ethereal voice soared over the southwest corner of the park. She wore what looked like high-fashion surgical scrubs with tassels tied to her forearms and led the band through an understated set. It was just what I needed in the middle of the evening, but didn’t move the crowd. “This is just boring, I’m sorry,” a woman next to me remarked to her friend. On the main lawn, a pair of guys in aloha shirts napped atop beach blankets while Toro y Moi delivered the most polished set of the fest. Chaz Bundick, hair in a top bun, tickled keys and showed his musicianship has moved far beyond petting an MPC in his bedroom. Bundick’s backing group sounded like it was composed of slick studio players—not what you’d expect for one of the architects of chillwave. “It’s time to settle into the warm sounds of electronic music,” a recorded baritone voice announced, setting the stage for the disco duo Glass Candy. Not as transcendent as Friday’s Chromatics show, synth whiz Johnny Jewel’s other band is more of a party. Singer Ida No looked like a Greek princess, donning a toga-like dress and gold pants. Jewel’s arpeggiated synths chugged along with body-shaking low-end, No belted like a banshee, and by the end of the set, boxes of glow sticks were tossed into the crowd.
Following R. Kelly’s balloon climax, some festgoers stuck around believing the singer would do an encore. Ten minutes passed, and his fans kept the faith. Was Kells pulling a Prince, who last September returned to the United Center stage after a 45-minute absence? “Trapped in the Closet” played out of the P.A.—but alas, R. Kelly had left the park. And now we would have to. A Green Line train rumbled along Lake Street. Pitchfork 2013 was over.