There was something in the air at the Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend. The number of people in the crowd repeatedly having medical issues might have set a record, with artists including Japanese Breakfast on Saturday and Noname on Sunday having to pause their sets several times to help call for onsite medics.
The rest of the audience (abnormally half-capped most of the three days) also seemed to have a real lull in energy that, at times, brought down the collective pulse of Union Park.
Here’s a look at some of the sets from the final day of the festival:
Leave it to the Roots to know how to really entertain a crowd. It’s no fluke the large group has been the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late-night shows for the past decade-plus. But seeing them live on their own terms in a dedicated set is a great reminder that they are more than a 30-second warmup or interlude act, or a guest’s backup musicians.
Rather, the Roots are one of the most cohesive and enjoyable live acts that jumps, jives and wails in an endless stream of music that fuses New Orleans jazz processionals, hip-hop breakdowns, rock solos and funky reggaeton.
The most recognizable members are of course Questlove (who also made headlines for his award-winning “Soul of Summer” documentary) and emcee Black Thought, who planted the early seeds for the project while attending the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Yet guitarist-singer Captain Kirk Douglas and the entire live horn section were equal magnets for attention. In this expansive, festival-closing set, the dozen members thankfully had their spot to shine, and each came off as a musical savant and ambassador for his instrument.
In fact, it was hard to imagine an instrument not present in the set, with even the flute and keytar making cameos. The result was a voluminous, layered sound that defined both covers and originals, including a late-in-the-set mashup of the Roots’ track “The Seed” with Curtis Mayfield staple “Move On” and a bonanza medley of “Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer, a bit of “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound Of Music” and even Kate Bush’s resurgent “Running Up that Hill.”
Though the Roots personnel was enough star wattage all on its own, there was a quick guest appearance from Hannibal Burress on the track “1-3 Pocket,” from Burress’ newly minted musical alter ego Eshu Tune that is poised to become yet another viral moment for Pitchfork Music Fest.
Whether it was the result of the weather and two days of on-and-off rain, or a number of more subdued artists that dominated the lineup this year, lukewarm reactions were noticeable throughout the weekend, with many performers trying in vain to stir up the audience.
No more so than Earl Sweatshirt and his cohort DJ Black Noi$e, who had problems trying to hype the crowd throughout the set. “There’s too many people for it to be this quiet,” Black Noi$e said from behind the deck while awaiting his partner’s arrival before pressing, “How are we feeling … what is the deal?”
When Earl Sweatshirt did finally make it to the stage, nonchalantly arriving 10 minutes late and wearing flip flops, he also came off as apathetic, at frequent times commenting that he didn’t want to do particular songs and saying he didn’t know the material. “I don’t have a lot of crowd participation for you to do,” the rapper said, telling people to close the growing pit up in the middle of the field while adding, “I’m not about to turn you up like that.”
It was disappointing for those who know better of the Chicago-born hip-hop artist, who has been part of the esteemed Odd Future collective and always has a real way with words. Though you could hardly blame him without the necessary give-and-take from the crowd like that which was seen at his last Pitchfork Music festival appearance in 2019. Though Earl has always been a chill performer, tracks like “Shattered Dreams” and “Mo(u)rning” came off more emotionless than usual.
Chicago poet and rapper Noname fared similarly with the crowd that gathered for her performance at the Red Stage — though, to be fair, many couldn’t hear her until her microphone was turned up midway through the set. Regardless, the performance was on point, typical for the Bronzeville-reared artist who got her start in slam poetry competition, where she met future collaborators Chance The Rapper and Saba.
Though neither of those artists appeared in the set as some might have hoped, there was a guest spot from the great vocalist Akenya, who showered Noname with a bouquet of flowers, commending her for what she contributes to the “whole collective,” adding, “I’m proud of you.” Also beaming sidestage was Noname’s mother, who the rapper cajoled to come to the front for a belated birthday greeting and hug.
With a live band, Noname’s unparalleled prose had added rhythm, though a few a capella moments were truly breathtaking (with even DJ Black Noi$e calling her delivery “beautiful” and “sensational” during his set with Earl Sweatshirt). The set included a range of material including Noname’s work with Smino, as well as her track “Self” that questions, “Y’all really thought a b- - - - couldn’t rap huh?” and later, “Diddy Bop” that talks of “Summertime, city life, Chi-town, my town.” When she wasn’t repping Chicago or women artists, Noname also had a few repeating thoughts on the ills of capitalism, asking the audience to scream with her, “F- - - billionaries,” and then offered up a newly penned song about going to the moon, though she pleaded with the crowd to stay on Earth to help save the planet.
Toro Y Moi
Toro Y Moi brought a much-needed dance party late in the day to Union Park. “I hope you all like 160 bpms,” founder Chaz Bear joked with the crowd, referencing the fast tempo music that he and his talented live band unfurled in the hourlong set that had feet and bodies continually moving and grooving along.
Though Bear’s project has been largely synonymous with the chillwave movement that took hold of the indie scene about a decade ago (an Internet-ready music trend that was characterized by reverb-heavy electro pop), he’s only evolved over time. And on the latest album, 2022’s “Mahal,” Bear and co. have become fully rooted in psychedelic-fueled funk music that still plays on vintage styles with a modern lens.
Several of the album’s tracks became true highlights in the set, including the happy-go-lucky “Déjà Vu” and the pop pull of “Postman.” Bear ended the set thanking Pitchfork for all the support over the past 10 years, clearly still remembering where he came from while moving forward by keeping things fresh.