Festival lineups are typically stacked on Sundays, and day three of Pitchfork Music Festival 2016 followed suit. Fortunately, that billing featured expressive jazz by the likes of Kamasi Washington and Thundercat and sexy R&B acts like Jerimih, Miguel, and FKA Twigs. A cosmic opening set by the Sun Ra Arkestra set the tone for the day with far out, feel good vibes. At day’s end, FKA Twigs transported us to a planet ruled by sensual dance and ear-splitting vocals. Each July, Pitchfork becomes our own little world for a weekend, and rosters like this year’s make us never want to leave.
The Sun Ra Arkestra
The Sun Ra Arkestra kicked off Sunday of Pitchfork, a unique band playing freeform jazz in elaborate costumes. Sun Ra died years ago, but the ever-changing Arkestra continues his legacy. A pioneer of Afrofuturism, he has managed to achieve a level of immortality. In addition to his prolific recordings, Sun Ra is known for a band that continues to spread his ideas and influence.
Inspired by ancient Egyptian culture, most of the band wore elaborate sequined outfits with fancy sparkling headdresses glittering in the sun. The horns, saxophones, dancers, singers, and guitars floated in and out of grooves. Erratic keyboarding, screeching saxophones, and an electric flute brought energy to the third-day crowd. The band was surprisingly coherent and unified while simultaneously navigating a constant stream of free improvisation and rotating solos. Though the members will continue to change it looks like the Arkestra will continue on for decades, expanding and contracting as members join, leave, and pass away. If you have the chance, go see them and experience sounds from another galaxy. – Casey Forquer
Jazz may have never sounded so spectacular in Union Park. In its eleventh year of celebrating the power of live music, Pitchfork Music Festival booked Los Angeles outfit Kamasi Washington and the West Coast Get Down for some much-needed spiritual healing to a sun-soaked crowd on Sunday afternoon. Kamasi and his ensemble have been spearheading a forceful direction for the genre through their three-hour recorded album The Epic courtesy of Brainfeeder and have been relentlessly touring since its release in October 2015. The opening blasts of saxophone and dual drums of “Re Run” instantly subsided a crowd eagerly awaiting what some called the most anticipated set of the weekend.
The entire first ten minutes were a blissful backlash against the spirit of the times and shined a light on the influence of jazz as a force to be reckoned with. Following the triumphant opening piece, Kamasi introduced his father, Rickey Washington, on clarinet to stage for their Epic rendition of “Cherokee” arranged from Ray Noble’s 1938 jazz standard while Patrice Quinn introduced the crowd to her wondrous range on vocals. Kamasi unleashed rhythm with “The Magnificent 7,” leading his crew on alto saxophone through several layers of instrumentation with Brandon Coleman vigorously pounding on his assortment of Moog, Nord, and a Hohner Clavinet D6 keyboards and upright bassist Miles Mosley ensuring every note was reverberated through the crowd’s chest cavities.
“This one’s called The Rhythm Changes,” Kamasi noted before diving into their powerhouse set closer with Patrice Quinn leading the way on vocals with inspiration and hope. After a long trek recording The Epic, assembling saxophone and strings for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and touring the jazz circuit around the globe, Kamasi Washington finds himself riding a tidal wave of creativity. On Sunday, he spread incalculable positive energy to Chicago that will be remembered as a profound statement for peace and love through the beauty of sound. – Brett Hayes
What to do with all those feelings after watching a hallmark set like Kamasi’s? Dance them out! Holy Ghost! doesn’t seem like an obvious follow-up, but the high energy of these acts in succession was a one-two punch that lit up the afternoon.
The Brooklyn duo was joined by a live band with drumming that kept up with their laser-fire synths on songs like “Okay” and “Do it Again.” With the crowd flash dancing to the likes of “Compass Point,” from Holy Ghost!’s recent Crime Cutz EP, we were just waiting for a disco ball to descend on Union Park. – Jessica Mlinaric
The very poppy and synth-heavy music of Empress Of seems made to get people dancing. Unfortunately, the alias of Lorely Rodriguez had a late start. NAO was still playing when her set was supposed to begin, and she didn’t take the stage until 45 minutes after her posted start time. After a brief set up, she was soon crooning her frank, poetic lyrics and introducing the audience to her stories. Most Empress Of songs feel intimate and autobiographical. Though she played a great set, her sound is much better experienced in one of Chicago’s small clubs or bars where the intimate environment makes the music feel more urgent and personal. – Casey Forquer
Bass guitar god Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, blessed the Blue Stage at Pitchfork Music Festival on Sunday afternoon with regular Dennis Hamm on keys and Justin Brown on drums. While the smaller, south stage had been afflicted with schedule conflicts throughout the day and the performance ended up nearly an hour past its original set time, the trio jammed off into the sunset with tried and true originals from 2013’s Apocalypse and 2015’s mini-album The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam. Bruner remained lighthearted as usual on stage while expressing heartache, loss and truth through the rippling notes of his Ibanez 6-string bass, notably on one of 2013’s greatest recorded songs “Heartbreaks + Setbacks”.
The ode to his cat on “Tron Song” was an early win with the crowd, followed by “Them Changes” with the classic drum sample of Isley’s Brother’s 1977 “Footsteps in the Dark” from the incessant talent of Mr. Brown. Brainfeeder label fans would have instantly recognized the routine segue of “MmmHmm” lyrics (supplied by Thundercat on the 2010 space jazz epic of Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma) interspersed between tracks in the middle of his performance. “Lotus and the Jondy” and “Lone Wolf and Cub” also featured throughout the set.
Thundercat bridged the gap between close relative and labelmate Kamasi Washington’s awe-inspiring mid-afternoon jaunt and the stunning, electrifying performance from Green Stage closer FKA Twigs. We all had high hopes for new material from Thundercat that afternoon and in due time we hope to have him return to the festival on a larger stage in order to connect the overwhelming crowds he deserves. – Brett Hayes
When I told an FKA Twigs fan I had slept on the artist after her Blue Stage set in 2014 she replied, “It’s ok, now you will be awakened.” I was surprised to see someone ascend to the festival’s closing spot so quickly, but FKA Twigs (aka Tahliah Barnett) delivered a spectacle worthy of the billing.
Things got freaky as Barnett, who has a dance background, and her dancers painted the stage with their sensual yet eerie moves. Tribal beats accompanied her soulful vocals, which at times reached octaves capable of shattering the car windows on nearby Randolph Street. FKA Twigs’ sexy R&B and modern dance emphasis, though esoteric and lacking variety, felt like the closest thing to Janet Jackson that Pitchfork will likely see.
– Jessica Mlinaric
Chance the Rapper has been all about surprise appearances this summer, but we missed his guest spot during Jerimih’s set in favor of strolling the grounds. Flatstock’s show poster collection was colorful as ever, and we managed to get out of the CHIRP Record Fair with only a few new LPs to squeeze into our bicycle basket. We supported some of our favorite Chicago artisans at the Coterie Craft Fair and finally registered for a subscription to the Pitchfork Review.
It’s always bittersweet to leave planet Pitchfork on Sunday night, but we walked out of Union Park brimming with good music and good energy. So many artists shined at one of our favorite iterations of the festival in memory. Until next year, peace Pitchfork!