Pitchfork Music Festival Wrap Up

yo la tengo pitchfork 2013

Videos by American Songwriter

The 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival was marked by hot and windy days and rainy nights.

Each headliner’s fate was in the hands of the weather gods. On Friday, Bjork was cut four songs short, before an epic rainstorm hit the city. (Pearl Jam, playing Wrigley Field a few miles away, took a two-plus hour rain delay, then played until 2 a.m., while Phish’s show at Northerly Island ended early.)

On Saturday at Pitchfork, Belle & Sebastian’s simple pop songs depicting life in Glasgow were of a much different sort than Bjork’s arty compositions or R. Kelly’s sex-infused R&B.

Songwriter Stuart Murdoch led the band through “I’m a Cuckoo,” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and danced blithely around the stage.

“I love this place, look at you,” he told the crowd before “The Stars of Track and Field,” one of the group’s most popular songs from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. “[On tour] I know I can [play] a song from Sinister and I will just disappear back into that time,” Murdoch said in a documentary.

The band pulled from 1998’s The Boy with an Arab Strap for “Dirty Dream Number Two,” on which Murdoch invited an audience member named Laura to the stage to sing.

“I went on your city bike,” Murdoch told the crowd, referring to Chicago’s new Divvy bike-sharing program. “I felt Chicago was a calming experience.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Minnesota trio Low brought subtle arrangements, deep harmonies and expertly crafted songs to the shaded Blue stage.

“Greetings from Lake Superior,” said guitarist Alan Sparhawk.

On “Plastic Cup,” from band’s tenth album, The Invisible Way (produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy), Sparhawk told the story of a plastic cup. “They’ll probably dig it up a thousand years from now,” he sang. “They’ll probably wonder what the hell we used it for.”

On the soulful hymn “Holy Ghost,” which Mavis Staples recorded for her second Tweedy-produced album, One True Vine, Low’s Mimi Parker touched on the band’s spiritual side.

“Tonight you will be mine,” sang Sparhawk over a repetitive beat on “Monkey,” one of two Low songs covered by Robert Plant on his 2010 album, Band of Joy.

“It’s a good night, you’re among friends, I can feel that,” Sparhawk told the crowd.

On Saturday afternoon, the English band Savages, who were featured in an excellent cover story on Pitchfork’s website, showed why they have come very far, very quickly. Their taut post-punk set was one of the weekend’s most impressive.

Sunday at the festival was mostly cloudy, a respite from the sun and wind of the previous day.

Yo La Tengo’s afternoon set went from folky minimalism to full-tilt noise-rock.

Guitarist Ira Kaplan, with a pair of beat-up Fender blackface amps, started the band off with “Stupid Things” from its new album Fade. “I always know that when we wake up, you’re mine,” he sang over a looping bass sample.

The group’s bassist James McNew sang “Stockholm Syndrome,” while Kaplan took “Autumn Sweater,” both off 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.

“We’d like to thank Al Roker for the clouds,” joked Kaplan, as Chicago’s 1st Ward Alderman, Joe Moreno, chuckled from the side of the stage.

Kaplan picked up a vintage Gibson acoustic for “The Point of It,” also from Fade. “We’re glad to be opening for R. Kelly again,” Kaplan said later, in one of the day’s many R. Kelly jokes. “We toured Europe together in ’96.”

Multi-instrumentalist Georgia Hubley sang “Tom Courtenay,” in a slow rendition reminiscent of Nico.

“I’ll Be Around,” from Fade, was one of the quietest songs of the weekend. In the silence, you could hear a light breeze in the trees. When a train rushed by, it was startlingly loud. “When I stare into space, I’m looking for you,” sang Kaplan. In part of the park, it started to rain, while the sun crept through in other spots.

Elsewhere on Sunday, the L.A. pop star-in-the-making Sky Ferreira seemed to be more interested in Lil B’s set across the park, while Toro Y Moi, four guys from South Carolina, played a funky modern version of disco on the main stage.

The implacable M.I.A. gave an inspired performance, despite technical difficulties, while Glass Candy’s upbeat techno-disco was a surprise highlight.

The festival’s final attraction, R. Kelly, was at home as Chicago’s “King of R&B.”

“Can I get a towel to wipe my face?” he sang, seeming, in some ways, to be asking forgiveness for his sins.

After a long weekend, perhaps he was asking for the rest of us, too.

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