Another perfect day, another reason for Pitchfork to truly consider moving the festival to September (I will not let this go). Pitchfork Music Festival ended it’s three day run at Union Park with a stacked lineup that culminated with a nonstop jam sessions across all the stages, truly difficult stage conflicts, and some of the best sets of the weekend.
The two openers of the big stages couldn’t have been more different but equally as satisfying. First up was the wonderful Tomberlin, taking the spot that was originally Cassandra Jenkins’. Looking as ethereal as she sounds in a white dress patterned with white stars, Sarah Beth Tomberlin gave the early birds the most serene set of the weekend. Literally every passing verse had someone in the crowd nodding in either mutual understanding or knowing approval of just how fantastic her songs are. “Any Other Way”, the opener to her first album At Weddings, is a personal highlight of every performance of Tomberlin’s I’ve seen and it was incredible in from the the Pitchfork crowd.
– Julian Ramirez
While Tomberlin was a gentle push to start the day, Special Interest was an flaming car jumping a canyon to keep it going. Every second of their set demanded attention and it certainly got it as vocalist Alli Logout completely tore that stage apart. There was no stopping the energy just pouring out of the entire band, especially as Logout ran around the stage possessed with the very spirit of punk coursing through every movement. If this set didn’t wake you up, make you realize you haven’t been listening to enough of this amazing band (and trust me, you haven’t), and want to just let every frustration within you melt away as you rocked out to their raucousness, then you made need to get that checked.
– Julian Ramirez
You might know Caroline Polachek from that song in that commercial for that popular tech company. Or, from her music created under CEP or Ramona Lisa. Or, in the song credits of Beyoncé and Travis Scott. But in 2021, Caroline wants you to know her not by all that, but by who she authentically is and always has been—a prolific artist to the very core.
Caroline’s dynamic set began with “The Gate” off her 2019 album Pang. The ethereal intro led into the album’s title track, a ballad that sounds so other-worldly as we witnessed Caroline find communion with the stage and audience. With an exceptional stage presence, she exuded confidence and a mastery of her music, knowing how she should intuitively move across the stage to translate the song even further. She shared two new songs in a row, “Bunny is a Rider” and “Sunsets,” before heading into crowd-favorite territory with “Door” and her cover of The Corrs’ 2000 classic, “Breathless.”
“I feel so held by each of you,” Caroline grinned before jumping into “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” the entire crowd hanging on to every word. She intuited our longing for live music after so much time away, and we felt held, too.
– Sarah Brooks
I swear, I need to stop being surprised that these artists I’ve been listening to for years are going to rock my world live. Yves Tumor has been a staple of my playlists and will assuredly continue to be, especially after this mindblowing set. Yves Tumor emerged from backstage in all black and spikes, the only splash of color coming from the Slipknot logo emblazoned across their chest. They towered over the blue stage, a huge smile across their face as they slinked around and just sank into their experimental rock sound. The start of the set focused primarily on last year’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind, but went all over the place after that with the crowd moshing and just plain eating up everything Yves Tumor had to offer. Their set was unfortunately cut short, followed by an understandable call for boos from Yves Tumor, but noetheless left the crowd with a memorable set.
Thundercat, also known as Stephen Bruner, is a force to be reckoned with. He’s collaborated with just about everyone under the sun, all while creating genre-bending songs with mesmerizing bass interludes. So it was no surprise that Thundercat absolutely stunned in the Sunday afternoon sun, amassing a crowd as big as I’ve seen for a Pitchfork headliner by 5:30pm.
He began his set with the jazzy “Interstellar Love” and then waxed poetic about Louis Cole before diving into “I Love Louis Cole.” While this may have been heaven for some people, I am not one for lengthy bass solos. But Thundercat kept the interlude interesting and engaged fans all the while. He continued with songs off It Is What It Is and fan favorite “Them Changes” from 2017’s Drunk, which kept Union Park grooving until the sun began its descent.
– Sarah Brooks
As someone with very little electronic music knowledge, I had stoked a love of Flying Lotus during the pandemic, as Steven Ellison bridges the gap between electronica, hip-hop, and jazz with a flavor that is curated so artfully. There’s always something new to uncover in each listen, so I was excited to see how it would translate live.
As soon as the first flares of light danced across Union Park, I knew the experience would not disappoint. With a captivating set that featured an equally stunning visual display, Flying Lotus moved effortlessly from song to song. The enigmatic Ellison opened with the first Flying Lotus song I ever loved, “Zodiac Shit,” off 2010 album Cosmogramma, a nod to long-time devotees. He then brought out writing partner Thundercat for their collaboration “Black Gold.” Though only six songs long technically, the set spanned nearly an hour as fans grooved to “Never Catch Me,” Ellison’s collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, and, also off Cosmogramma, “Do The Astral Plane.” I witnessed Union Park in another orbit, enjoying themselves and the dimensions they were in, unafraid, undeterred. A beautiful gift in 2021.
– Sarah Brooks
Erykah Badu. Badulla Oblongata. Sara Bellum. Analogue Girl in a Digital World. Dubbed “The Queen of Neo-Soul,” Erykah Badu, born Erica Wright, has been no stranger to reinvention since her first release, Baduizm, in 1997. She quickly distinguished herself with silky, powerful vocals with an incredible range, extraordinary lyricism, and sexy grooves. And she’s continued to evolve—she’s now a doula and midwife, too.
Chicago hasn’t seen Badu since 2019, so we patiently awaited her arrival onstage. And even though the set began 25 minutes late, we didn’t miss a beat. A futuristic video of bees welcomed her onstage, after which she introduced herself and implored us to simply do what is best for us, not what others expect of us. A welcome message.
The crowd settled in for the most relaxed vibe I’d seen all day, as Badu steered through her impressive catalogue of hits, incense wafting through the park. From “On & On” to “Didn’t Cha Know,” she captivated us with pure simplicity and authentic connection, making it feel like it was a tiny venue and not an expansive field. My favorite song of the set was “Hello” off her 2015 phone-themed mixtape But You Cain’t Use My Phone. Her vocals absolutely shined as she sang, “It’s important to me / That you know you are free / Oh I never want to make you change for me.” Throughout the hour-long set, it was wonderful to remember I still loved something that I loved in the early 2000s. As Erykah has evolved, so have I. Though we change, sometimes our sensibilities stay the same, and that’s a beautiful thing to behold.
– Sarah Brooks
All photos by Julian Ramirez