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Transmission
« Conversations at Pitchfork Festival: Trail of Dead Conversations at Pitchfork Festival: Waxahatchee »

Pitchfork Music Festival Mon Jul 22 2013

Pitchfork Music Festival 2013: Sunday

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Killer Mike Crowd by Joshua Mellin

The last day of a music festival is always bittersweet, the tired sunburned aching feet of the weekend passes shuffling around, making their last festival purchases and mustering up the energy to dance along to the last few songs. Mixed in Sunday was a large crowd of impeccably dressed older fans setting up camp for headliner R. Kelly, a strong showing of hip hop heads ready to catch the day most catered to their taste, and a lot of electronic fans camped out at the Blue Stage, creating one of the most diverse and excitedly allegiant crowds of fans in attendance at Pitchfork Festival yet this weekend. Whatever acts you were there to see, Sunday made sure you'd participate at some point, whether it be shimmying at MIA, moshing at Lil B, or steppin in the name of love. -Lisa White

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Killer Mike by Joshua Mellin

Day three in Union Park boasted a more hip-hop and electronic-oriented lineup than any of the festival's other days, kicking things off with local MC Tree at the main Green Stage.
Tree's glitchy soul-trap and lively stage presence (bolstered by an entourage of matching hype-men) certainly made an impression on the early R. Kelly fans already camping out at the front of the stage, and he provided a fitting segue into Killer Mike's set of impassioned hip-hop. The MC made a few sermon's mid set aimed toward the youth of Chicago, imploring them "to give a damn about each other" and for everyone across the city to "get to know your neighbor." It made for a serious moment of reflection, and Killer Mike (his name taking on an unfortunate irony here) was noticeably emotional speaking to the crowd. His set was super-charged, though, with standout tracks like "Reagan," and when he was transported via golf cart to join collaborator El-P on the Red Stage immediately following his set for their Run the Jewels collab, he easily made the strongest impression early. -Mike Bellis

A lot has changed since El-P took the stage a few years ago during Pitchfork Festival 2010. With a slew of new music, most noticeably his collaboration with Killer Mike on their project Run the Jewels, El-P showed a more self assured set, clearly having more fun this time around. No surprise since him and Killer Mike have an undeniable energy when they work together, whether it be on beer or hip hop (the two worked with Goose Island to release a special edition beer for the festival). The first bit of El-P's set showcased his own heady thumping bass beats, but everything was amplified once he brought Killer Mike onstage. The sum of two equally passionate and socially conscious MCs collide in the best of ways to create a live show that encourages a helping of thought and change alongside your mosh pit experience. If you haven't checked our the Run the Jewels self titled release, do so now. It's still free online, so you really have no excuse. Here it is. Their live set Sunday was testament to why doing what you love and caring deeply about it creates some of the most passionate art around. -Lisa White

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Foxygen by Joshua Mellin

Foxygen, on the other hand, came in between and across the field on the Red Stage, and man, what is there to say? You can't quite call it a trainwreck because the savant-in-pajamas, Ariel-Pink-in-1967 thing is all part of Sam France's schtick, but when he started to climb the rafters of the stage and took a few audience plunges too many (causing technical problems with bandmate Rado's guitar), the whole thing started to get a little cringe-worthy. Sure, the songs were fine if a little thin on the outdoor stage, and it still seems like France is learning how to sing into a microphone, but I swear there were more moments of dead, awkward silence coming from the stage than anything else throughout their set. They might have played six or seven short pop songs in 45 minutes. Plagued by discontinuity and a deluge of "thank-yous," France's gestures toward showmanship turned into a panicked gap-filler in less than 15 minutes, and he seemed more comfortable waving at the crowd than anything else. Which isn't saying much, as no one on that stage seemed remotely comfortable at all. -Mike Bellis

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Waxahatchee by Joshua Mellin

Elsewhere on the Blue Stage, Waxahatchee was nailing the early-90s soothsaying of Mazzy Star and PJ Harvey and making it decidedly her own. Her songs are pure pop and arrive fully-formed, with each lilt in her voice giving personality and menace to her lovelorn lyrics while her guitar drove the whole thing along and kept things from getting too sleepy. Chairlift's similarly dreamy performance a few hours later was more textured by synths and ethereal aesthetics, and I found myself missing Waxahatchee's more upfront jangle. -Mike Bellis

Yo La Tengo seems to be at the highest, most visible point in their career, strangely enough, in 2013. Ira Kaplan quipped that they were happy to be sharing a stage with R. Kelly once again (noting that they had been on a tour of Europe together in 1996) and launched into a mellow, feedback-drenched set that mesmerized a legion of kids who probably were more fascinated by the noise the old folks were making onstage than anything else. But, oh, what a glorious noise they made: Georgia Hubley guested on lead vocals for a downtempo version of mid-90s classic "Tom Courtenay", while the band played a trio of songs from their excellent I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, including "Little Honda," "Stockholm Syndrome," and "Autumn Sweater." An epic version of "Blue Line Swinger" closed out their set, as Kaplan continued his reign as feedback charmer extraordinaire. -Mike Bellis

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Windy City Love at Flatstock by Joshua Mellin

As the sold out crowd continued to stream into the field and cell phone usage became impossible, I decided to camp out near the Red Stage to find a good dance party spot for M.I.A. and R. Kelly, getting to catch some Lil B and Toro Y Moi in the process. First up was the Internet sensation, the one and only self proclaimed Based God, Lil B. He is probably one of the more interesting rappers and personalities around right now, bringing with him a pack of fans that are allegiant to the point of cult like creepy at times. He preaches love and positivity, even going so far as to lecture on some of his ideas last year at NYU. He also creates some of the most insane lyrics and general sound bites around. His Sunday set dished out much expected weirdness, including samples from an ice cream truck and a short cover of the chorus of Drowning Pool's "Bodies" while aggro youth (many probably not familiar with the song since they were still under the age of ten at that point in life) moshed along. Personally I'm not a fan of Lil B. His campy bumper "Ellen Degeneres" was amusing, but sonically it's not the style of hip hop I prefer. And any crowd that includes signs proclaiming that the performer can "fuck my bitch" makes me feel a bit weird as a girl. But thats the weird dichotomy that runs throughout a lot of hip hop, a world where peace and love is dished out with subtle and not so subtle misogyny at the same time. Whether you take it with a grain of salt or take offense, the set was at least an interesting study into the fandom of the Based God, and for that we thank him. -Lisa White

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M.I.A. by Joshua Mellin

When I look back on the weekend, the most fun I had at a set will be without a doubt M.I.A. Despite some serious sound issues, M.I.A. turned the field into one big dance party during a set that showcased the best of her work. A far cry from the stripped down messy sets at other Chicago festivals, her show Sunday was clearly well thought out, edited, and executed. In front of a carnival of lights and flanked by a dance crew furiously working up a sweat, M.I.A. barely slowed down while running through a setlist comprised mostly of upbeat popular tracks. She was smart to include a hyperactive stage set up and back up dance squad, since M.I.A. alone isn't the most deft performer to watch. A smart setlist was the backbone of her set, barely slowing down from bass and horn shaker "XR2" before rolling flawlessly into "Bucky Done Gone" "Bird Flu" "Bamboo Banga" and "Sunshowers," all these high energy hits right in a row. The frenzied set didn't take a break until the brief drone cool down of "Story to Be Told," only pausing before ending her set with her most well known singles. "Born Free," her foray into old school punk sound, was raw as ever, while her first commercial success "Galang" has never lost its shimmering pop edge. The crowd sung along to her most popular hit "Paper Planes" although most Chicagoans took pause to realize the uncomfortable feeling watching a crowd of people pretend to shoot guns in the air alongside the proper sound sample less than a few miles away from some of the most dangerous areas of our city. Art should make you take pause and think, so at least for the many mentioning this factor M.I.A.'s work was doing it's job. Not to end on a somber note, because you can still be socially aware while still having a good time, the set was wrapped up with the more recent single "Bad Girls." Despite horrible sound issues, the backing track completely cutting in and out until M.I.A. barked for them to shut it off as she finished it acapella, the set ended with a singalong cool down after one of the more high energy dance parties of the weekend. -Lisa White

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R. Kelly by Joshua Mellin

Later on at the Red Stage, Lil B played to his cult of IRL and online followers, giving them a heavy dose of bass, while M.I.A. came on shortly after with an elaborate stage design and backup dancers to pad her glitchy world-house beats and pop bravado. But the real reason everyone had stayed was to catch the Pied Piper of R&B himself, his Kellyness, no matter the ambivalent feelings about separating the artist from the artist's alleged deviant sexual habits. But I doubt many were too concerned with all of that when "Fiesta" played, or when "Step in the Name of Love" blared through the monitors. And while R. Kelly played a set of largely punctuated verse-and-chorus versions of his better-known tracks, what remained was a hit parade of his career ("Trapped in the Closet" notwithstanding) that easily met to the crowd's expectations. -Mike Bellis

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R. Kelly by Joshua Mellin

I forfeited checking out TNGHT in the hopes I'll see them next time they are in Chicago to witness what would surely be one of the most over the top sets of the weekend, Sunday's headliner R. Kelly. First, let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, R. Kelly is a very complicated man, a person who mentally went through a lot at a young age that influenced some horrible choices he has made in his personal life that affected many people. He is a person I hope has sought out a lot of mental health, and I don't condone or approve of his behavior. Same as I don't condone or approve of the personal choice and behavior of numerous music visionaries like for example James Brown or Ray Charles or Jimmy Page. That said, I can personally separate the musical output and artistic creativity from the person making it. Not everyone can do this, so I understand the outrage many had with R. Kelly playing the festival this year. I've had to learn to compartmentalize certain emotions and judgements when it comes to being able to enjoy art from a person I vehemently disagree with, and it is a complicated range of emotions to deal with as a writer, fan, and depending on the issue at hand, as a woman. So I am not denying or ignoring any of that. If you want to wax on about these social stigmas and issues around all of this, feel free to check out the numerous think pieces floating around, but now that we've established these facts lets move on to what really mattered to most of the audience Sunday night.

If you have witnessed R. Kelly live, there is no denying the fact he is an impeccable showmen that deserves all the praise and attention for his music over his very long career. The man is 46, hustling since '89, and still is able to turn out an ambitious set, including full versions and snippets of 38 songs Sunday night. As a personalized countdown told the crowd it was "t-minus R sixty seconds" until the show would begin, a full church choir filed onstage. The choir backed Kelly's entrance as he greeted the field of fans, and then he immediately wasted no time as he launched into his popular hit "Ignition (Remix)" and the crowd completely lost it. People were screaming, singing, and dancing along, and from where I stood there was no trace of irony in sight. People were legitimately having a wonderful time as Kelly dished out some more party anthems like "Hotel" and "Fiesta." He did a quick cover of Kanye's "Flashing Lights" a lovely shout out to another hometown hero as he set continued, full of a few covers and numerous snippets of his catalog. It's no surprise given the size of his catalog that some songs performed were just the first verse and chorus, similar to Eminem's performance a few years ago at Lollapalooza. It's a bit annoying at times if you were expecting a full version of a favorite song, but Kelly kept the energy and pace up so that you barely had time to be disappointed before another hit began. Full of his usual confidence verging on bravado, Kelly did his usual sing-talk monologues between songs, discussing everything from his workout routine to needing a towel to wipe his face. The set included a large portion of his sexually charged slow jams and party tunes, but towards the end showcased some of his classic soul stepping music. During "Happy People" older couples showcased impressive moves, bringing some real soul to the baseball diamond dance floor of Union Park. Younger fans enjoyed "Im a Flirt" before Kelly ended the night with his most recognizable hit, "I Believe I Can Fly." The full choir returned as he dedicated the song to his hometown, the crowd singing along to every word and note of the well known pop ballad. As if it couldn't get any more surreal, at the most dramatic apex of the song white dove balloons were released over the audience, Kelly's voice crystal clear and full of emotion as stage lights flared and the last notes vibrated off the city walls. It was a wonderful high note to end the weekend on, a nice parting gift to remember the festival by until next year. -Lisa White

 
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