Inclement Weather Couldn’t Stop The Music At Pitchfork Music Festival On Saturday Legacy Artists like The Isley Brothers and New Comers Like Ric Wilson Braved The Storms
CHICAGO, IL– Saturday’s scattered thunderstorms proved to be a challenge, but Ric Wilson, Cate Le Bon, Jay Som, Freddie Gibbs, and the Isley Brothers made sprinting into the nearest overcrowded deli to wait out the weather feel like a minuscule sacrifice. The first act was Chicago’s own rising star, Ric Wilson. He was probably the best overall performer of the day and definitely the best dressed. Suited in a vibrant color block button down and plaid pants with a single blue dinosaur earring to top the fit off, he lived up to the moniker “Disco Ric.”
Early into the show, Ric set the atmosphere with Mavis Staples caliber songs about self-love and acceptance before upping the tempo. The infectious hook on “Hang Loose” had everyone dancing, and he kept the momentum alive with the grooviest songs in his catalog. Some crowd control kept the environment comfortable for those of all heights and sizes. “Light hop, no mosh pit boys,” Ric reminded a few overzealous fans.
Guest appearances included the Lane Tech High School marching band seniors, who backed him for an unreleased song and also had their own moment to shine with an Outkast cover. Later, he brought fellow Chicago rapper Kweku Collins onstage to perform their track “Sinner.”
He concluded his set by declaring that he was going to break the world record for the longest soul train and jumping into the crowd himself to join. What could have easily come across as a corny gimmick was a genuine flow of effortlessly radiant energy and genuine enthusiasm. No one shied away from their turn, and even the stiffest of the crowd warmed up and joined in on the fun.
Next up was the strikingly chill Cate Le Bon, who entered the stage without a word. Clad in opaque shades covering her eyes and a slight smile, she appeared totally unperturbed. Her band led in with the slow instrumental buildup on “Miami,” the first song off her 2019 album Reward. Though it runs five minutes long, it only contains thirty-nine words. With its pensive, minimalistic lyrical style paired with an eccentric keyboard and trailing saxophones, the track serves as a good prologue to what’s to come on the new project.
Finally addressing her audience fifteen minutes in, she vented a common complaint of the day. “Holy Shit Chicago – it is so freaking hot, and this dress does not breathe.” She did look stunning in the sleeved sapphire gown, but I had been wondering how she was holding up under the sun and stage lights. The Welsh songstress speaks the same way she sings. Her heavily accented voice is soft and understated, but she is not shy to express what’s on her mind.
About halfway through the set, she moved into more animated songs like “Home To You,” which translated well into a live performance. Though it was upbeat compared to most of her set, it still fit in with the rest of the alien-sounding album that delves deep into her personal experience with loneliness. With every graceful movement she made, I found myself more entranced and drawn into her peculiar world.
Next, I saw another dynamic singer backed by her band. Dream pop crooner Jay Som’s voice was so sweet that I wouldn’t have been surprised if birds flocked the stage and landed at her feet. And an ethereal voice isn’t her only gift. She’s also a multi-instrumentalist who produces, mixes, and engineers all of her own records from the comfort of her room.
Dream/bedroom pop is a fairly new genre in the indie world that seems to have surpassed alternative rock in popularity over the past couple of years. Often, it lays guitars aside in exchange for heavy synths and retro keyboards. But Jay Som fits somewhere outside the boundaries of genre. Her swirling melodies and airy tone on tracks like “Nighttime Drive” make it easy to get lost in her music, and gritty guitar in songs like “Baybee” add a little more of a punch to her sound.
A mini monsoon washed out Kurt Vile and Amber Mark’s sets as the festival temporarily evacuated, but I had the chance to catch Amber at Pitchfork’s radio pop up where she ranked music in a game of “Lit or Shit.” According to Amber, Juicewrld sounds whiny in “Lucid Dreams” and doesn’t do the Sting sample justice. Many memes have circulated speculating that Post Malone and Juciewrld are actually the same people, but Amber said Post’s habit of smoking cigs onstage enhances his soulful, smokey sound.
Finally, Amber caught us up to speed on her own music. Fresh off a headlining European tour, she’ll be focusing on recharging and writing for now. I’m looking forward to more of her danceable R&B tracks.
Freddie Gibbs came in after the storm to amp the crowd back up with a high energy performance. Throughout the course of his set, he hopped over the boundaries of the photo pit and even lost his shirt while performing his latest release Bandana. The album was produced entirely on an iPad by longtime collaborator Madlib.
The duo has been dropping music together since 2014, previously under the name MadGibbs. This was only their second full-length studio album together, but I’d be willing to bet there are many more to come. Madlib has played such an integral role in Freddie’s sound that it’s tough to imagine him rhyming over anyone else’s beat.
Today’s generation of Soundcloud rappers can assume any persona online. Instagram a picture with some fake money and guns, and suddenly you’re street. Just make sure not to mention that the “street” you’re from is in a gated community. “Gangsta Gibbs” has truly lived what he details in his music, and his authenticity is refreshing. Tracks like “Crime Pays” and “Thuggin” are what have made him today’s face of gangster rap.
Jeremih may have shown up half an hour late, but once he arrived, he was on. He started off with “Planes” complete with a sexy flight attendant to introduce the set. Then he asked if the crowd wanted to hear the “old shit or new shit,” and the reaction was surprisingly divided. He played all the classics like “Birthday Sex,” “Down on Me,” and “All the Time,” and the audience went wild.
The fact that the entire audience (myself included) knew all the words to songs we were way too young to listen to when they were first released proves that Jeremih really is an R&B staple at this point. He mixed in some new material along the way, but the set was ultimately pretty short and sweet considering its late start time.
Another sibling group closed the day out – am I sensing a theme here, Pitchfork? The Isley Brothers formed in 1954 and have spanned decades and genres with one of the longest-running and most influential careers in popular music. Bandmates have come and gone over the past sixty-five years, but they’ve always kept it in the family. Now, the band simply consists of lead singer and founding member, 80-year-old Ronald, and his younger brother and guitarist Ernie, age 67.
The duo hooked younger listeners by mixing modern samples in with some of their iconic hits. Kendrick Lamar’s “I” pays homage to “That Lady,” the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” borrows from “Between the Sheets,” and Thundercat’s “Them Changes” reworks “Footsteps in the Dark.” It seems like a new hip hop or R&B track samples the Isley Brothers every other day, but the family has impacted all types of music.
Ron recounted showing “Twist and Shout” to the Beatles, who immortalized the track in rock and roll history with their cover. But it was the Isley Brothers carefree performance of the song that first made it a hit before the Beatles released their version. Watching a sea of thousands of people young and old do the twist was pretty amazing.
Even more mind-blowing was Ernie’s ability to play complicated guitar riffs with his tongue better than most could with their hands. He did have a bit of a head start to learning since Jimi Hendrix lived with the family for two years and taught him to play at age 11, but even half a century later, it doesn’t seem like his competitors have really caught up. I never would’ve guessed Ron’s age either, and something about watching them play made getting older look like a lot of fun.