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The Best Performances We Saw At Pitchfork Festival This Weekend

Our Writers Review The Best From Chicago

On July 24, 2018

We sent our associate editor, Amileah Sutliff, and our staff writer, Michael Penn II, to Pitchfork Festival this weekend. Here's the best of what they saw.


If you’re from mars and you haven’t read a festival round-up, here’s how these things work: You go to a festival, watch all the sets, are moved by some and lukewarm on others, and then you come back and, with the enthusiasm of a grade-schooler writing home from the best summer camp in the world, tell everyone the things that knocked your socks off. Not to say it ever gets old, per se, but it can feel redundant at times after you’ve covered a zillion fests — especially when Noname’s at the top of your list every time. I thought about leaving her off of my highlights reel just to mix it up a bit, but it felt like a crime. After seeing her over five times in the past couple years, Sunday’s performance — on the biggest stage I’ve ever seen her, with new music on the horizon, and in her hometown — felt like a charismatic milestone indicating impending greatness. — Amileah Sutliff

Saba Amileah Sutliff


As a longtime (since-the-first-mixtape) fan and acquaintance of Saba, this set felt like The Moment it was destined to be: a man infatuated with the greys of life, playing midday in a cloudy Union Park, only for the grey to give way to the sun at the end, around the same time we called “Long Live John Walt!” into the heavens. Backed by a trinity of PIVOT members that make him be — daedae, Daoud, DAM DAM — Saba cut through a majority of his stellar Care for Me album with a few Bucket List Project throwbacks as well, his seasoned wit and relentless commandeering of the mic captivating the hometown crowd. Gentle with the scars and jubilant with the redemption, Sab snatched the Pitchfork Stage for the Westside and brought us to his grandmama house; the homies came through, too. It’d be far too inappropriate not to cherish Joseph Chilliams’ appearance for “Westside Bound 3” as well as the painful irony of how the Sab punchline about “the kids claiming Chiraq knowin’ you was born in the burbs” landed in a crowd fulla youngins who say they’re from Chicago(land) or Chicago (area) or Chicago, followed by a suburban clarification. — Michael Penn II

Japanese Breakfast Amileah Sutliff

Japanese Breakfast

Michelle Zauner is an absolute pleasure on stage. Even with less “upbeat” material than a lot of the other performances on Sunday, her energy was irreplicable. The night after headlining an obscenely well-attended after show at Thalia Hall, it was clear that Japanese Breakfast, too, was far to big for the blue stage, the smallest at the fest. And her performance? Too big for the entire fest, probably the world. Playing a Soft Sounds-heavy set with one of the tightest bands I witnessed all weekend, she was nothing but captivating. — AS

Moses Sumney Amileah Sutliff

Moses Sumney

I recently tweeted a word of caution against letting this Moses Sumney album get you into trouble this summer — peep our interview here — and there I was, troubled by the thought of “oh, it doesn’t matter” as I was dazzled by how none of Sumney’s performance seemed… difficult. At all. Sumney’s the type of performer to stand firm at his podium and wrap his falsetto around every heart in the audience, only to nudge our shoulders when we’re not engaged enough. (The quip about his recent “Make Out in My Car” remix suite including Sufjan Stevens being “a wet dream to you people!” was fucking brilliant. He flipped “you people” to mean white people at Pitchfork on a Saturday? Fuck.) As if the nudging wasn’t enough, he descended unto the dividing line to sing directly into a few select souls deemed worthy of the energy. I was on that railing, but alas, I did not get chosen. I don’t know how many ways I can describe how fantastic a Moses Sumney experience is, just don’t tweak if he comes through where you are. — MPII

Ravyn Lenae Amileah Sutliff

Ravyn Lenae, Smino & Noname

It’s imperative to group this trilogy of sets together to illustrate the gravity of why they’re together. On a Sunday, undoubtedly the most packed and Black day of Pitchfork this year, we were treated to a three-peat in the new Chicago Renaissance that’s captivated music since the top of the '10s. Ravyn Lenae graced the early-afternoon audience with a set of bright and brown, curling and weaving her falsetto around the bubbly funk of her recent Crush EP, pairing her masterful execution with a delightfully inviting presence that demanded honesty from the crowd like a close friend would in the crib. Smino, backed with a full band and a fuller joint he tossed to the crowd, is an unparalleled showman in a class of sing-rappers who cower behind their sub bass. No, he can hit all them notes AND them flows, the St. Louis transplant who paved a new wave over the dry rap-soul defaults of the day. And no matter how many times I see Noname, the shit never gets old! But this set ranks in my top-three viewings for how the audience was so undoubtedly here for her, not to mention we essentially got Telefone with all the special features included, her counterparts blazing the stage and watching gleefully as they all spoke their peace. — MPII

Kelela Amileah Sutliff


It was pretty clear, before her set even started, that putting Kelela on Pitchfork’s smallest stage was a big mistake. After more high-profile features than you could count and last year's successful Take Me Apart, fans packed in like sardines to catch a glimpse of her Saturday set. Although her performance got cut short by a late start time, she made use of every moment following her entrance where she came right out of the gates with “LMK,” complete with backup dancers. Every aspect of her performance was well curated — from the dancers to her fashion to the lighting — leaving us with the general feeling of “now this is the type of shit I came for.” My only complaint is that I needed more time. — AS

Ms. Lauryn Hill

She only made us wait 20 minutes. And those 20 minutes were a DJ set, so we ain’t even wait forreal. When Ms. Lauryn Hill touched stage on the 20th anniversary of her classic album’s release into the world, she gripped that microphone and never let her foot off our necks. I’ve never seen an MC command such a massive audience from a mic stand before, her voice rumbling from flow to melody to flow at breakneck speed that never seemed to catch itself. When she moved, we fixated on her. When she turned to the band, a few swift hand motions were all it took to bend the remixed material to her whims. Before ending on “Doo Wop (That Thing),” she spoke of the resistance to her solo ambitions, and feeling responsible to the artists before her to soldier through whatever she encountered to deliver something deeply affecting to the world. When my Sunday night four-hours-slept mind drifted off elsewhere, I returned to the joy of the Black women in the bleachers and wondered how I’d feel if I wasn’t age four in 1998. Then I consider the 20-somethings receiving their lives as well.

And that’s Ms. Lauryn’s point. — MPII


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