Nine necessary sets at this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival

by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published July 16th 2014

The Pitchfork Music Festival returns to Chicago’s Union Park this weekend for its ninth edition, offering up another diverse lineup that spans from pastoral indie rock to unsettling electronic noise. The festival’s 2014 installment will retain its tried and true three-stage setup to accommodate a total of 42 artists over the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday schedules. Though it’s no Coachella or Bonnaroo, that’s still a lot to choose from. If you’re headed to Chicago this weekend, or following along at home, here are three sets per day that come highly recommended. 

Friday July 18th

The Haxan Cloak – Blue Stage – 5:15

Friday’s later starting time (3pm gates rather than Saturday and Sunday’s noon) and slightly reduced schedule (thanks for nothing forever, Death Grips) makes for easier picks on the fest’s opening night. First up is an essential Blue Stage set from U.K. experimental electronic producer Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak. The elusive and mysterious Krlic is a master of unsettling atmospherics and monstrous synthesized sound, as exemplified by his genuinely spooky 2013 LP Excavation. Pitchfork Fest also marks one of a very limited number of U.S. performances he will undertake in 2014.

TheHaxanCloak

Sun Kil Moon – Green Stage – 6:25

Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon project plays the main stage on Friday evening, and for all those moved by the stunning 2014 LP Benji, this one’s important. Kozelek’s sonically spare meditations on nostalgia and death are perhaps not the most obvious choice for an outdoor summer festival setting, but with the right crowd, I have a feeling that it’ll be something special. If nothing else, stop by for a bit of Kozelek’s notoriously caustic stage banter between songs.

SunKilMoon_byGabrielShephard

Beck – Green Stage – 8:30

Closing out Friday night is the inimitable Beck, and if the career-spanning setlists from his recent shows are anything to go by, this one’s an obvious pick. Yes, you will get to hear “Loser” and sing most of the words with thousands of other people who know most of the words, but there’s also the gorgeously melancholic Sea Change and Morning Phase cuts, the upbeat Guero and Odelay tunes and perhaps even some prime Midnite Vultures material. Beck’s also a born showman who can put on a highly entertaining set even if you only know the hits. I’d be hard pressed to think of a better Friday night headliner.

Saturday July 19th

Cloud Nothings – Red Stage – 3:20

Cleveland, Ohio’s Cloud Nothings make their return to Pitchfork on Saturday, after delivering what was reportedly a knockout performance in the pouring rain back in 2012. Singer/guitarist Dylan Baldi’s post-hardcore crew has reorganized itself from a quartet into a leaner and meaner trio in the meantime, and released its second consecutive masterpiece in this year’s outstanding Here and Nowhere Else. They are simply at the top of their game, and put on a truly fierce live show in a club setting that should translate perfectly to the outdoor furnace that is a Chicago afternoon in July.

CloudNothings_byPoonehGhana

Danny Brown – Green Stage – 6:15

Detroit hero Danny Brown takes the Green Stage on Saturday for what will surely be one of the weekend’s wildest sets. Fans of XXX and last year’s Old will be well aware of Brown’s penchant for balancing out his LPs with a combination of party-starters and more sober, serious tracks, but it’s safe to guess that a festival set will be a bit heavier on the former. Danny does said party-starting better than just about anyone else in hip-hop right now though, so that’s far from a complaint. Ready yourself for 50 minutes of insanity.

DannyBrown_JoshWehle

Neutral Milk Hotel – Green Stage – 8:30

Saturday night’s headliner is another obvious pick, but a necessary one. Neutral Milk Hotel is one of the giant, mythic bands of the indie rock canon, and their unexpected 2013 reunion is the closest that music geeks are likely to get to a gift from our gods. Jeff Mangum and company have had no trouble recapturing the weird magic that made NMH’s freak-fuzz-folk so appealing in the first place during these shows, and though Pitchfork is far from your only chance to see them this year, it should be one of the more receptive crowds outside of a headlining show. Plus, an NMH festival set is the perfect venue for the carefree, off-key singalongs which should be an integral part of your Saturday night.

NeutralMilkHotel_byWillWestbrook

Sunday July 20th

Deafheaven – Green Stage – 2:30

The real advice for Sunday is to show up as early as possible and see as much as possible, because it’s definitely this year’s most stacked day. If it must be narrowed down to three essential sets, however, we’ll start with Deafheaven. One of this year’s few legitimately heavy acts, the California-based post-metal/black metal/shoegaze quintet is also one of the best live bands out there in any genre. Cuts from one of last year’s finest records, Sunbather, should soar in weather actually meant for sunbathing, and rumor has it that the band’s first new song since then could see its debut this weekend.

Deahfeaven_byReidHaithcock

Earl Sweatshirt – Red Stage – 3:20

Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt recently cancelled almost the entirety of his remaining 2014 dates, but was kind enough to spare Pitchfork Fest. Lucky us, since the weekend had already suffered a major casualty in that unfortunate Death Grips incident. Things may not get quite as rowdy during Earl’s set as they did the last time OF appeared at Pitchfork, but this may ultimately prove to be the better performance. Earl boasts the best LP to emerge from the collective’s camp thus far with last year’s Doris, and he’s a magnetic performer even without the entire crew in tow.

EarlSweatshirt_byBrickStowell

Slowdive – Green Stage – 6:15

Reunited shoegaze legends Slowdive play one of their first U.S. dates since 1994 on Sunday night, and it’s gonna be beautiful. The group stands next to My Bloody Valentine and Ride in the pantheon of British shoegazing pioneers, and the buzz about their overseas reunion shows thus far has been hugely positive. Kendrick will surely do a satisfactory job of shutting things down with Sunday’s closing set, but hearing “Alison” live will still be the peak of the evening for my money.

Slowdive_byColinBell

Tickets for the festival are all but entirely sold out, but select sets will be streaming online throughout the weekend. You can also follow yours truly on Twitter for intermittently amusing commentary and jokes about weeping during Sun Kil Moon. Be sure to check back with Tastemakers for a full festival report next week.

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