Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 – Day Two

by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published July 23rd 2015

photos by Ben Stas

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As Saturday afternoon rolled around in Chicago, Jimmy Whispers was wrapping up what sounded like an uncomfortable set with a bizarre “What A Wonderful World” cover while a lot of confused individuals waited for Protomartyr to take the Red Stage. The Detroit foursome struck up muscular post-punk grooves in the boiling sun, with frontman Joe Casey taking no notice of the heat in a black suit and snarling through his vocal performances like an ornery, scotch-soaked English professor.

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Sunshine would be quick to remove itself from the equation as the afternoon went on, giving way to grey skies that opened up just four songs into Ex Hex’s 3:20 set; a shame, since Mary Timony’s power-pop trio was briefly in fine form. A half-hour thunderstorm evacuation combined with a missing Vince Staples (stuck in Detroit due to a grounded flight) threw the afternoon into pandemonium, shortening Kurt Vile’s typically breezy Green Stage set and disrupting the Blue Stage’s schedule for the remainder of the day. A lengthy soundcheck from Ariel Pink’s sizable band at the latter gave way to a short but enjoyable set of the Californian’s bizarro psych-pop once gates re-opened.

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Props to festival organizers for keeping things running as smoothly as they did elsewhere for the remainder of the day. Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts (not pictured due to Ariel-related timing complications) managed to take the Red Stage on time for a fiery performance drawing largely from last year’s Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea. The band is only getting better and better at translating its jittery post-garage-punk from record to stage each time I see them, and they set the afternoon back on track nicely. A handful of excellent sounding new jams toward the back half of the set were an added bonus.

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Over at Green, Canadian vets The New Pornographers dug into their miles-deep catalog of indie-pop gems, but unfortunately without the assistance of founding members Dan Bejar and Neko Case. The ever-enigmatic Bejar, likely occupied with gearing up for a Destroyer tour later this year, is never a sure bet for a New Pornos show anyway, but the band undeniably suffers in Case’s absence. Strong turns from both Kathryn Calder and new touring member Simi Stone resulted in a solid sounding set, but the magic wasn’t quite there on Case’s signature songs, of which there are more than a few. Bandleader A.C. Newman taking on Bejar’s “Testament to Youth In Verse” felt additionally ill-advised.

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Future Islands made good on their perplexingly high sub-headliner billing, with vocalist Samuel T. Herring giving it his all in delivering the exaggerated dance moves and death-growls the masses clamored for. Even as a heavy skeptic of the band’s often cartoonishly theatrical synth-pop, it’s hard to deny that they’re a compelling live act.

p4kdaytwo-35Naturally, though, Saturday night belonged to reunited headliners Sleater-Kinney. After a solid but occasionally stiff performance at Boston’s House of Blues earlier this year, the pioneering Olympia trio appeared very much in the groove on the much larger Chicago stage. After opening with an undeniable one-two punch of “The Fox” and “Jumpers” from 2005’s career-defining The Woods, Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss tore into a killer, career-spanning 20-song set. Whatever cobwebs might have hung over the first few shows following their 10-year hiatus have been shaken off and then some. They sounded very much alive and vital on this night, delivering a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to an occasionally tumultuous day two.

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