Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago
Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago

Truth be told, I’ve never been much of one to “jump to the beat of the party line” and for this, the world should be grateful.  So when Belle & Sebastian’s slot at the 2019 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival was billed as “Performing If You’re Feeling Sinister” it was beyond compelling.  Real life got in the way of attending all of the three day Chicago based festival, but the Saturday lineup was one not to be missed.

Poor Chicago always seems to be suffering from some sort of weather catastrophe.  Over the winter it was the Polar Vortex and this weekend in July brought the dreaded “Heat Dome”.  Having lived in Texas and Florida for extended stints this seemed only something for the uninitiated to fret about.  Arriving in Chicago late Friday night it was clear this was no trivial matter.  The heat index was still pushing triple digits after 10pm with Saturday’s forecast no more friendly.  On Saturday with some level of trepidation and shallow breathing the Green Line train took us quickly to the gates of Union Park (certainly the easiest festival commute I’ve ever had). 

First up on our dance card was Tokyo’s Chai.  Twin sisters Mana and Kana along with their high school buddies Yuna and Yuki know how to throw a party.  In matching pink mg 8061 2jumpsuits for soundcheck they returned wearing orange tops instead.  The band tours on a platform of feminine positivity, though not sure the puddled mass of humanity at their feet was that concerned about Mana’s body-positive message at the moment in advance of playing ’N.E.O.’  Simple survival was of more concern.  It looked like the troupe were cutting their set short exiting the stage, but they returned shortly in blue frilled bodysuits to perform a dance number to their signature ‘CHAI’ loop.  Ending their set on the upbeat ‘Sayonara Complex’ you could almost smell the hint of cherry blossoms cutting through the stifling heat.     

Not having seen Cate Le Bon perform before, in spite of her cool demeanour she handled the heat well in a full-length purple mg 8381 copydress (that didn’t breathe as she put it) and slicked-back hair.  She pulled heavily from her latest album and let the songs unfold slowly and dramatically.  With two saxophone players, the opening ‘Miami’ played out like a long lost Bowie vamp.  With Le Bon picking up a guitar, ‘Daylight Matters’ sounded both nuanced and fantastic.  The live setting helped to show off her latest work and a pair from 2016’s Crab Day.  ‘Love Is Not Love’ took on a sinuous stride, while ‘Wonderful’ was both prickly and punchy.  Sonically LeBon and her band sounded perfect and not sure I had seen a set more in synch and together since seeing Angel Olsen a few years back.    

With full intentions of seeing Jay Som’s set given they have new music coming out, the pull of seeing Parquet Courts perform in triple-digit mg 8784heat was too much to pass up.  As was the case the prior three times, our photographer ended up sprayed in beer from the mosh pit on the opening notes of ‘Master Of My Craft’.  The band always delivers and are bound to tweak a few songs along the way.  Austin Brown’s (whose hair is showing a bit more salt than pepper these days) ‘Dust’ is always a highlight and gets more involved each time out - here with a krautrock backbeat.  An almost ten-minute muddy churn of ‘She’s Rolling’ was another highlight.  The band seemed non-plussed by the heat and surprisingly some distinctly cool breezes hit during their set.  With a little punk heavier setlist than of late, the band announced they were having to pull up short due to impending weather finishing with ‘Wide Awake’ (which was oddly interrupted by an evacuation announcement in a distinctly British accent).  I thought it was some kind of a stunt, but out we were all herded. 

It was with mixed feelings that a brief thunderstorm swept through the area.  It obliterated the “heat dome” and the need for “cooling buses” (city buses on the grounds with the A/C cranked - a festival first for me), but deeply disappointed that it also swept away Kurt Vile’s much-anticipated set.  Apparently, this happened to him at Pitchfork once before, but sure that KV took it in with a shrug. 

Once back on the grounds with a bit muddier, but much more tolerable day, Stereolab played a slightly shortened set to a wildly enthusiastic mg 9200 2crowd.  I’m a bit late to the Stereolab game and not sure I have a full appreciation, but Lætitia Sadier was particularly engaging and infectious.  She seemed truly grateful that the “heavens said you can play half a set” and being back after ten years suited them well.  Co-founder Tim Gane kept a cooler profile and let his machines do the talking.  With a shortened set, most of the songs were fan faves and hit hard - the fast-moving groove of ‘French Disko’ was followed by the crackling vibe of ‘Metronomic Underground’.  The carnival-inspired loopiness of ‘Lo Boob Oscillator’ seemed custom made for a cooler, sunny evening.  A perfectly pleasant way to ease back onto the festival grounds. 

Given it was my primary purpose in being there, I was relieved to find that Belle & Sebastian maintained their full slot and was able to play all of If You’re Feeling Sinister as advertised.  It was clear from the stage set-up that a horde of musicians were about to come on stage, but it dsc4018 copylooked like the full accompaniment was 13 musicians (!) including a full complement of strings and a horn player.  Though crowd chatter was a bit of an issue through the opening strains, the full band came to bear and the perfectly finessed songs carried more weight than I would have imagined.  Stuart Murdoch turned in a bit saltier version of ‘Stars Of Track And Field’ and the other songs that utilized the string/horn section to full effect, like ‘Fox In The Snow”, were particularly powerful.  ‘Me And The Major’, with Stevie Jackson’s harmonica, was an early highlight and one that Murdoch quipped was usually a set closer giving the band half a mind to walk off only a few songs in.  The title song with its nostalgic look back on the gentler days of ’S&M and bible study’ and a jumped-up ‘Judy And The Dream Of Horses’ were also highlights.  It was clear that Murdoch truly enjoyed playing the album straight through and it was done impeccably.  I hadn’t realized so many of the original band were still around 20 years on through the ‘Party Line’ (which they did squeeze in) and everything in-between.  Cheers to Belle & Sebastian, Pitchfork, an attentive audience, and the weather gods for seeing that this was pulled off with such aplomb.

As if unexpected reunions and play throughs of twenty-year old albums were not enough, the Saturday line-up included the Isley Brothers 60th birthday party (or something mg 9590to that effect).  The Isley’s set was a good old fashioned R&B rave-up including an instrumental intro before bringing out the elder Isley - none other than Mr. Biggs himself, replete with white suit, hat, and gilded cane.  Pushing 80, Ronald Isley’s gravelly growl was still in fine form.  With an assist of two bonafide sequined back-up singers and three costume-changing dancers, there was plenty keep the crowd engaged between Isley’s runs.  Younger brother Ernie on guitar was plenty entertaining himself including a Hendrix inspired solo played with his teeth on ‘Who’s That Lady.’  The band continued to crank through the hits of yesteryear including a sultry ‘Between The Sheets’ and crowd sing-along on ‘This Ol’ Heart of Mine’.  Great to see an older act like this getting a little love from the mainly indie inspired crowd and giving some solid entertainment in return.  As varied a single day line-up of acts and weather as I’ve seen and one I won’t soon forget.

All photos:  Christa Joyner Moody                    

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles
Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab
Nirvana - In Utero
  • 07/31/2019
  • By Tim Sentz
Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab
Cate Le Bon - Reward
  • 05/08/2019
  • By Tim Sentz
Pitchfork Music Festival - Day 2, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab
Von Spar - Under Pressure
  • 05/06/2019
  • By Ljubinko Zivkovic