After a shorter-than-usual intermission thanks to last September’s edition of the festival, Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival returned to Union Park with a remarkable lineup that showed off the tastemaking prowess of its namesake music publication. Not even a dreary first day of rain could stop the enthusiastic crowd from showing up — the earlier sets of the day oftentimes felt like the most-packed of the festival, which speaks to the depth of the lineup that festivalgoers witnessed over the weekend. Whether it was the triumphant headlining sets from acts like The National and Mitski or the softer moments of the weekend from Ethel Cain and Erika de Casier, it felt like there was something for everybody over the weekend at one of Chicago’s most beloved institutions of art. Keep reading to find our top sets of the weekend, and scroll to the bottom to find a full gallery of the weekend’s festivities:
We tabbed Ethel Cain’s performance in our Ones to Watch feature as the “why is this happening at 1:45p” set , and I’m pleased to report that we were right: the Alabama artist was way too early for Friday if the crowd that gathered early at the Red Stage was any indication. After a morning downpour, it felt like the sun finally broke through the clouds as Cain brought Preacher’s Daughter to life with a drummer and guitarist behind her. Cain’s world-building ability carries a lot of Preacher’s Daughter, and that world was brought to life as her piercing vocals echoed over the festival field. It was a slower-paced set for the early day, but fans took it in rapturously; whether it was the radio-ready anthem of “American Teenager” or the sob-inducing penultimate track of the set, “Sun Bleached Flies”, this set was one of a star-in-the-making.
Indigo de Souza
After hours of sunlight, the rain returned in a soaking way for Indigo de Souza’s set on the Green Stage. Out of nowhere, we were all drenched as de Souza took the stage to a massive video backdrop displaying her logo. Rain didn’t put a damper on the proceedings, though; the eclectic songwriter’s performance felt like a coronation for one of indie music’s fastest-rising stars thanks to last year’s Any Shape You Take. De Souza’s voice is a marvel, capable of wailing and singing you to sleep in the same breath, and the band that she’s assembled behind her reflects the tight camaraderie of her music that we discussed last year in our Year in Review feature. De Souza brought a thrilling blend of garage rock, indie pop, and even hints of heavier shoegaze as the rain poured down on the crowd, with her beaming smile reflecting over Pitchfork as she subtly realized the magic she was creating on stage.
Parquet Courts are the closest thing that indie music has to a jam band (Goose-defenders, step aside), and I’d argue that’s one of the more thrilling developments of the past few years. This year’s A Sympathy for Life pushed the formative Texas band’s sound into a new, expansive direction while still maintaining the acerbic wit of lead songwriter A. Savage, and in a live setting, those songs explode into extensive jamming that displays a band at peak performance. The band doesn’t share a whole lot while they’re on stage, rather, they let their music do the talking as they worked through their decade-spanning discography. In a way, too, Parquet Courts’ live ability reminds me of early indie-rock road titans Deerhunter or Menomena, where every show gets a little bigger and better until they’re playing massive rooms around the country.
There was a lot riding on The National’s triumphant headlining performance. Not only was this their first American festival headline date post-COVID, but it also commemorated the opening night of their North American tour following a European jaunt that eased them into touring post-COVID. Lauded as one of the more consistent indie rock bands of the 21st century, Pitchfork served as an opportunity for the Brooklyn band to reassert their dominance in the indie rock genre and give a preview of what’s to come next. Equipped with a brilliant LED light display, the band’s 90-minute set was a greatest-hits collection of the past fifteen years as they focused primarily on tracks from Boxer and Trouble Will Find Me. The band largely eschewed the atmospheric and softer tracks of their discography (“I Need My Girl” aside), instead opting for a straight-up rock show that harnessed the firepower of the brothers Dessner and Devendorf. Scott Devendorf provided the lifeblood of the set, reinforcing his status as one of the most essential drummers in music, and Matt Berninger was in stunning form, culminating in the now notorious performance of “Mr. November” that saw him fly through the entire crowd in a stumbling frenzy. Additionally, the band previewed a handful of new tracks that seem to find them leaning into 80s heartland territory — “Ice Machines”, a new addition, reminded me of The War on Drugs with pulsing drum machines and soft synth lines. I’ve seen The National headline several festivals before, and it’s always felt like a fairly questionable choice; this band, while having a nearly-spotless catalog, thrives in softer spaces of the night that might not necessary create the greatest festival-closing set. Friday night at Union Park, they played like an arena-rock band, and it’s another impressive development for a band that still has more to give listeners.
“Y’all ready to be fuckin’ freaks?”, echoed Cupcakke, and I’m going to be honest — I wasn’t totally prepared for what was going to happen next. This set was the winner for the best surprise of the weekend. The incredibly, laughably explicit Chicago rapper had Union Park in a chokehold with one of the largest Red Stage crowds of the day at 1:45p, and it was a complete party from start to finish. If you’ve been on TikTok at all over the past two years, you’ve heard the moans and “slap my ass” that will make your head turn — but this set was an immense reminder that, shock value aside, Cupcakke can rap like the best of them. Songs like “Deepthroat” and “CPR” had the crowd losing their minds, and it was an incredible beginning to festival-goers on Saturday; it was the jolt of caffeine and energy that was needed to recover from the rain-day on Friday.
If you’ve read my writing, you know I can tend to be hyperbolic. With that being said, I can comfortably say this: THE ARMED’s set on Saturday afternoon on the small Blue Stage was not only the best set of the weekend, but quite possibly the greatest rock show I’ve ever seen. Last year’s ULTRAPOP was a thrilling introduction to a group that still remains in the shadows; after watching scant music videos and live footage of the group over the past year, the only member that I was remotely familiar with was lead singer Dan Greene (of which, it actually might not be him.) At 2:45 on the dot, the group walked out to the static that lurks on the entirety of ULTRAPOP and launched into “ALL FUTURES”. When I say launched, I mean it literally — I think the drummer of the band was the only member that didn’t make it into the crowd at some point. All of them were gloriously ripped and beautiful, and some were wearing Juggalo facepaint, and some looked like Jesus, and all of them created a chaotic, beautiful mess of a show that was completely outrageous and over-the-top. Over the course of 45 minutes, we were completely locked into THE ARMED’s world — which included the guitarist commanding the crowd to circle up and create a pit that became a swirling behemoth of bodies, and the Jesus-looking guy swan diving into the crowd from the stage (completely jumping over the photo pit), or myself hitting the ground after getting shoved by a Juggalo that I didn’t even notice running around from the stage-to-the-crowd-and-back-again — and it was the peak of the weekend at 2:45p on a Saturday. They’ve hardly toured ULTRAPOP at this point, and I see why — this was the most intense, body-breaking set I’ve ever seen a band play, and it looked like they hardly broke a sweat doing it. Do not miss this show under any circumstances if it comes to your town.
Similarly to Friday’s date with Parquet Courts, I had a massive realization walking out of Dry Cleaning’s set on Saturday: this is the best band to come out of the recent British post-punk wave. Admittedly, they can be a hard sell; lead singer Florence Shaw doesn’t really sing as much as she delivers poetic spoken word in a monotone, and it’d be easy for a set of this style to fall flat at a sunny festival. However, the intensity of their set was one I was not expecting; this band rocks way harder than you might imagine listening to their records, and Shaw’s vocal stylings remind me more of Laetaetia Sadier of Stereolab to create a pretty fantastic live environment. The new songs off of the forthcoming Stumpwork created a wonderful clatter that stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
It felt that Lucy Dacus had a star-making moment on Saturday at the Green Stage. After touring relentlessly in support of last year’s Home Video for the entirety of 2022, her sunset performance served as a victory of sorts. After seeing her boygenius bandmate Phoebe Bridgers headline the festival last year, and with Julien Baker set to begin the momentous ‘Wild Hearts Tour’ this week, Dacus put on a riotous set of her own to one of the largest crowds of the weekend as she worked her way through her massively popular discography. Sure, “Night Shift” was an epic way to close the set (and I maintain that it’s one of the greatest indie tracks of our generation), but songs like “Addictions” and “VBS” were mass-singalongs as well as Dacus tore through her set with an admirable precision and respect to the original recordings. With new tour dates announced for the fall, you really need to make sure you see this show by the end of the year.
This set was another reminder that Michelle Zauner has had the most impressive 365 days out of any musician I can consider. Whether it was last year’s Jubilee breaking her through to a whole new audience (and earning major Grammy noms in the process), the runaway success of her memoir Crying in H-Mart (now on the NYT Bestsellers’ list for an entire year), or the fact that she’s toured in progressively bigger rooms for an entire year with no COVID interruptions (until immediately after her performance at Pitchfork, regrettably)— she is on fire right now. Saturday’s set was a masterclass in performance, and it even included a surprise duet with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy that left the audience radiating. It’s Zauner’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
L’Rain’s Red Stage-opening set on Sunday was simply awe-inspiring. Whereas her 2021 album Fatigue borders on the experimental side of the musical spectrum, Sunday’s set (alongside her four-piece band) took listeners on a journey through the experimental, landing somewhere in hi-def RnB that was spell-binding. Taja Cheek’s guitar-playing abilities are borderline-savant-like, and her ability to lead the band behind her, twisting and turning on her whims as she conducted the show, was mesmerizing. This felt like a classical performance, in a way, and it was a stellar way to wake up after the long weekend for the final day of the festival.
For a minute, I wasn’t sure that Noname was going to focus on music again. She’s expressed disappointment and dissatisfaction with the industry before, and amidst her other ventures (including the wildly-successful Noname Book Club), it was possible that music could fall to the back burner in favor of more political actions. Her set on Sunday reminded listeners of why she’s lauded as one of the best current rappers in the country, and the enormous crowd at the Red Stage ate up every word. She was beaming and thrilled to be there, and I don’t think I heard more sing-alongs in the photo pit than I did during her set. She’s essential to our rap landscape, and Sunday’s set was an incredible way for her to return to center stage.
Toro y Moi
Armed with two keyboardists and a sampler, Toro y Moi threw the dance party everyone needed to close out the weekend. This year’s MAHAL found Chaz Bear’s project drifting further away from the chillwave he made his name upon and towards something funkier and danceable. Largely eschewing his older material, Chaz’s set had the entire festival ground moving and grooving — even to the back by the bar lines, we found dance circles spontaneously forming throughout the entire set. I’m not convinced the tempo dropped below 160 BPM for the entire set; there was no slowing down, only deeply grooving jams.
Check out our full gallery of photos below: