Now that the Pitchfork Music Festival (July 16-18) is in its sixth year (if you count the Pitchfork-curated Intonation Fest in 2005), we can begin to see some patterns in the bookings. No longer just a showcase for the namesake website's tastemaking tendencies, the three-day extravaganza showcases a broad range of acts at various points in their careers. Whether you're coming to Union Park to find a new favorite band, to enjoy a current buzz act at its peak or to relive a bit of your musical past, Pitchfork's got you covered. Here are our top picks in each category:
The Next Big Things The Tallest Man on Earth Friday, 4 p.m. (Connector Stage)
Pitchfork's past offers some good omens for Kristian Matsson's early-fest set: The Swede's fellow countryman, Jens Lekman, killed with a joyful, horn-laden performance in 2006, while like-minded folk artist Bon Iver had most of the crowd in rapture with his spare songs in '08, despite a huge sound bleed from the adjacent stage. But this one-man band probably needs no help; forceful tunes like "The Gardener" (from 2008's Shallow Grave
) and "King of Spain" (from his latest release, The Wild Hunt
) are insistent enough to cut through the crowd with no more than a nasally voice and a strongly strummed guitar. From the intelligent songwriting to the nasally voice, Matsson deserves the insistent comparisons to Bob Dylan and that's a high compliment.
Sonny & the Sunsets Saturday, 1:55 p.m. (Balance Stage)
A late addition to the fest (replacing jj) this San Francisco quartet won't take long to find a place in your heart, thanks to its instantly memorable '60s beach-pop melodies (lead single "Too Young To Burn" being the most insistent). The often somewhat silly songs (other titles include "Death Cream" and "Lovin' on an Older Woman") should be perfect for a smile and a sway or two on an early Saturday afternoon. Just don't be surprised if you leave with a serious new obsession.
Freddie Gibbs Saturday, 7:40 p.m. (Balance Stage)
Live, from Gary, Ind. ... no, it's not the second coming of the Jackson 5, but if you listen to some people, this Midwest-raised rapper could be the next Tupac. Careers launched via mixtape are nothing new just ask Lil' Wayne and Lupe Fiasco so it's a safe bet that Gibbs can live up to the hype that's been building over the past few years. He's definitely got the flow to win over the crowd, even if his subject matter ("gangsta, gangsta") might not initially do it.
Surfer Blood Sunday, 4:45 p.m. (Balance Stage)
Surf rock seems to be all the rage these days, and why not? We could all use a beach vacation. Though it's a small sample size (one album), Surfer Blood appears to have some staying power with its Weezer-esque melodies and penchant for the anthemic chorus ("Swim," "Floating Waves"). The West Palm Beach band doesn't appear to take itself too seriously, which is perfect for this genre and this weather. Who cares if the party doesn't last beyond the summer?
Sleigh Bells Sunday, 7:40 p.m. (Balance Stage)
If you're looking for an all-out hipster dance party, the Balance Stage on Sunday night is the place to be. This Brooklyn duo, which just released its debut album, Treats
, in May, has been pumping up tight-jean-clad crowds around the country with noisy, hard-hitting tracks like "Tell 'Em" and "Crown On The Ground." The stuff is not for everyone even with singer Alexis Krauss' infectious voice but you won't be able to deny the energy of this performance, or the firm understanding these two have of what the kids want. Pavement who?
The Current Big Things Broken Social Scene Friday, 7:20 p.m. (Connector Stage)
This infamously amorphous Canadian collective (you can expect as many as 10 members on stage at any one time) has been going strong for over a decade now, drawing on the strength of a deep pool of talent to create some long-form rock workouts and more subdued melodies ("Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" probably remains its calling card). But despite transcendent performances (as at Lollapalooza 2006, when they outshone the Red Hot Chili Peppers), it wasn't until this year's Forgiveness Rock Record
that many critics began to give the group credit for performing like a cohesive unit. Whether you agree or not, this show is likely to be a party you won't want to miss.
LCD Soundsystem Saturday, 8:30 p.m. (Aluminum Stage)
If you had any doubt about James Murphy's ability to continually rock your ass, wait until about the three-minute mark of "Dance Yrself Clean," the lead track on his group's latest (and possibly last) album, This Is Happening
. The ridiculously catchy beat reminds you that you want no, you need to be in the middle of a pack of people moving in sync to Murphy's singular brand of wry dance-rock. While this performance might not be as timely as at Lollapalooza 2007, when the band led in to Daft Punk's memorable set with a rendition of its classic "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House"), we're betting the crowd will be more committed here, hanging on every sarcastic, ad-libbed lyric oh yeah, and dancing their asses off.
St. Vincent Sunday, 5:15 p.m. (Connector Stage)
There was something about the cover of St. Vincent's first album, Marry Me
, with its stark, startling image of Annie Clark standing there staring at, well, you, that made you think this was an artist not to be ignored. And you were right the tempo-shifting tunes on this debut (from the dark, theatrical "Your Lips Are Red" to the lilting "Now, Now") were enthralling, interesting and more mature than most acts with a few records under their belts. Last year's follow-up, Actor
, only built on that reputation, with a clever conceit to boot: Clark approached each song as if it were a film score. If detail-rich songs like "The Party" are any indication, Oscar-hungry screenwriters should have her on speed-dial.
Things Bigger Than Pitchfork Raekwon Saturday, 4:15 p.m. (Aluminum Stage)
When Raekwon last graced the Pitchfork stage in 2008, it was as a sidekick to his fellow Wu-Tang member Ghostface. At that point, the Chef had not done much to follow up on his monstrous 1995 solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
. But that all changed last year, when Pt. II was released to wide critical acclaim. He's followed it up with the recent mixtape, Cocainism Vol. 2
.While we're not anticipating the onstage dance party that erupted during the last appearance and were betting fest organizers are hoping against it we do expect to find a rapper hungry to prove that he's still got it, and one willing to bust out old classics like "Ice Cream" and "Heaven and Hell."
Big Boi Sunday, 7:25 p.m. (Connector Stage)
It's hard to believe it was seven years ago when Big Boi and his OutKast partner-in-crime, Andre 3000, took over the pop-music world with the release of Speakerboxx/The Love Below
. The two were so far ahead of their time that the standout singles from those albums would probably still reach the top of the charts today. While we haven't seen music of this level released from either member since, Big Boi has a new solo (Sir Lucious Left Foot
) and a new Outkast release is also rumored. You can expect a wide range of material here, likely stretching all the way back to the days of "ATLiens."
Pavement Sunday, 8:30 p.m. (Aluminum Stage)
Would indie rock exist without Pavement? Sure. Would it be the same as it is today? That's definitely up for debate. The California quintet led by Stephen Malkmus was a lo-fi lover's dream, serving up disaffected, sometimes meaningless lyrics and unconventional song structures to a slacker generation eager to receive. Despite breaking up more than a decade ago, the band continues to gain fans for its singular sound (Malkmus has had a successful solo career in his own right, and performed at Pitchfork in 2007). Pitchfork has brought many legendary acts to its stages in recent years, but this has to qualify as the greatest get of them all, given its audience. Is it any wonder that tickets sold out in record time?