Pitchfork Music Festival in Review: Neutral Milk Hotel, St. Vincent, Pusha T and More

St. Vincent

Empress Of got off to a shaky start on the Blue Stage Saturday, but soon Lorely Rodriguez and her backing band were locked in, riding a succession of strange grooves accentuated by Rodriguez’s dynamic and equally strange vocal delivery.

On the Red Stage, the ever-potent Cloud Nothings offered what was one of the only straight-up rock and roll sets of the day, heavy on songs from this year’s Here and Nowhere Else.

Back at Blue, the relatively unknown Mas Ysa joked he was “a Pitchfork intern.” His energetic, beat-driven tunes wowed the crowd, though some of them felt compositionally slight.

At the Green Stage, a huge crowd gathered to watch former Clipse MC Pusha T, who was conspicuously absent when his 4:15 p.m. start time rolled around. It wasn’t until 30 minutes later that he finally appeared (apparently, the delay is to be blamed on Pusha’s DJ); his short set was packed with crowd-pleasers, including now-legendary Pusha verses from songs like “So Appalled.”

It’s been amazing to watch Merrill Garbus’ ascension from solo DIY hero to band-leading festival favorite, and her show on the Red Stage Saturday showcased Tune-Yards’ evolution in all its groove-laden glory. Though the songs are built on loops Garbus builds onstage, it all sounds flawless live, especially airtight jams like “Water Fountain,” which closed the set.

The Field is one of the most compelling live electronic acts today, and the group’s Blue Stage set, which culled from Axel Willner’s early work, like 2007’s airy From Here We Go Sublime, as well as last year’s darker, denser Cupid’s Head, got the crowd truly moving.

On the Red, critical darling St. Vincent gave a strong set heavy on songs from its recent self-titled effort. To close it out, Annie Clark rolled around onstage and banged her head into the kick drum like a woman possessed, and the crowd ate it up.

Finally it was time for the return to Chicago of Neutral Milk Hotel, still riding the reunion-tour wave—and not slowing down anytime soon, it seems. As has been the case at most of the group’s shows, the crowd yelled loudly along during songs from Aeroplane and stood swaying politely during the few On Avery Island selections.

The stoic, hirsute Mangum opened solo with “I Will Bury You In Time,” from 2011’s Ferris Wheel on Fire EP, and the band closed with the emotionally cataclysmic “Oh Comely.” We may not have anything new from Mangum, but maybe it’s better that way; his existing material still feels vital and, most significantly, it resists critical dissection. It just lives.