Before I heard any band play at Pitchfork Music Festival 2014, I took one lap around Chicago’s Union Park and already knew that I was in for a weekend of bizarre sights, sounds and tastes.
Lining the boundaries of the festival grounds were countless food options — stands giving out free Twinkies, next to stands giving out free goat milk ice cream bars, next to stands selling Philly Cheesesteaks for nine dollars. There were grown men and women walking around holding pink tickets (Pitchfork’s currency for alcoholic beverages), looking like children at the prize counter of a Chuck-E-Cheese. There was a typewriter next to a board called Missed Connections, where romantic festival-goers had begun to advertise their anonymous affection for one another, typing up and posting sweet messages such as “dear friend, i am gypsy that likes to get wild in the back of the church van. now listen close, I have euros. i will trade them for a good roll in the hay. xoxo, sonia the lioness.”
And, of course, there was the music and everything that came with it: 3 stages, 43 acts, one jam-packed Union Park and countless moments of crowd-induced claustrophobia.
Saturday began with a performance from Twin Peaks, a young Chicago band whose lead singer was wheelchair-bound with a cast on his leg and whose music sounded like a distant cousin of Elvis Costello circa My Aim Is True. Halfway through the set, the band’s bassist acknowledged a fan-made sign that said “Thank You, BasedGod” — marking the first of many appearances by the physically absent, yet somehow ever-present Lil B.
Later, Pusha T showed up 35 minutes late to his set, of course prompting the crowd to chant “We want BasedGod” repeatedly while they waited. Unfazed, Pusha came on stage and ran through a 15 minute-long slew of featured verses from Kanye West songs and tracks from My Name Is My Name, boasting “Greatest rapper alive, I know who’s living!” and signing off by shouting “BasedGod my dick!”
I saw St. Vincent do her best impression of an android rock star before leaving early to check out FKA Twigs, a rising enigmatic R&B star, who slithered around the stage and told the crowd, “I didn’t go to university, so I’m in the university of life.”
The most notable performances of the day, however, were Detroit rapper Danny Brown, who showed up on time and really got the crowd moving (re: moshing) with energetic tracks from his most recent album, “Old,” and Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff Magnum’s still-crisp and powerful voice led the band as they closed off the night by playing almost all of “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” and since they had requested that there be no recording of any kind during the set, the jumbo-trons next to the stage were black and all I could see was a mostly bearded band that looked eerily like the cast of Duck Dynasty, but nonetheless, I was quite content.
On Sunday, I realized that I could use my press pass to get into the pit for the first three songs of each act, so I used this to my advantage and got close-up to Deafheaven, a shoe-gazey metal band that shifted between subtle instrumental lulls and screaming, thundering breakdowns from their seemingly demonic lead singer.
The highlight of the day, and probably the festival, for me was Earl Sweatshirt, who had previously stated that he was canceling all of his summer festivals due to mental health reasons, but nonetheless showed up and provided Pitchfork with some much needed comic relief. In addition to being perhaps the best performing rapper at the festival, he was also the most entertaining. Earl came out to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” attempted to get a reaction out of a dude with a “dress shirt and aviators” that he insisted on calling “Brent,” and questioned the crowd about whether or not Chicago had a weird historic meat district.
The festival closed out with Kendrick Lamar, who I have now seen four times and continue to be incredibly disappointed by. His live band was fantastic, but he still struggled to command the crowd, forcing us to repeat the words of his choruses until every last person became disinterested. I had tried to get into the pit again for the first three songs and somehow got escorted to the area behind the stage, where I ran into Young Chop, a famous Chicago producer, and then proceeded to cap my weekend at Pitchfork off with a celebratory free Twinkie.