Pitchfork Music Fest 2021, Saturday reviews: St. Vincent, Jamila Woods and more

Day Two of Pitchfork Music Festival came with unrelenting sunshine and high temperatures, as some festival-goers laid out blankets in the shade and others opted to stand in the sun while watching the day’s first performances at Union Park.

Scorching sets from Bartees Strange and local act Horsegirl made the afternoon feel even hotter, with both groups performing their own high-energy interpretations of indie rock.

Near the intersection of Ashland and W. Washington, two public transportation vessels sat repurposed — a CTA bus parked as a cooling station in anticipation of the day’s heat, and an L train car, converted into a Goose Island Beer Co. stand, where an exclusive festival collaboration beer with Saturday act Faye Webster was being poured.

Just as it had Friday, Pitchforkpushed a mobile notification about an hour before gates opened reminding fans of COVID-19 protocols, including recommendation for masks — which were present on attendees, but far from ubiquitous.

The festival also announced via its app that hip-hop heavyweight Jay Electronica had been dropped from the bill, without explanation. Scheduled to perform in his time slot was producer RP Boo, adding another local Chicago act to this year’s lineup.

But when fans weren’t packed in to see acts like Maxo Kream (who went shirtless in response to the sweltering heat), chilling in the shade or exploring the park, they were waiting in lines. Lines for the water refill station and stands selling alcohol, food and merch could be seen stretching fairly far back. During the dinner rush Friday night, wait times were long for a taste of local vendors like Ćevapčići Chicago and Beat Kitchen.

Highly anticipated on Saturday were late-night sets by Jamila Woods and St. Vincent.

Here’s a look at some of Saturday’s sets:

St. Vincent, 8:30 p.m. Green Stage

Although St. Vincent performed with the Willis Tower blinking in the distance behind her, the singer and guitarist brought her own skyline anyway — a shadowy backdrop that stretched the width of the Green Stage for her Saturday night headlining slot at Pitchfork Music Festival.

The experimental indie rock artist provided a memorable performance on stage, featuring a revolving setpiece, costumes, choreography and more. It was all part of the fully-realized, high concept productions the 38-year-old — named Annie Clark — has become known for throughout her nearly 17-year career.

Clark’s commitment to an aesthetic is a notable characteristic of her St. Vincent project, for which she has created a taxonomy of album eras defined by fashion and sound — like her domme-style dress during 2017’s “MASSEDUCATION,” or the futuristic, spaceship-chic look of her 2015 self-titled album.

Her current aesthetic and sound for her latest album, “Daddy’s Home,” both draw heavily from the 1970s, as the music veers into funk and R&B and the fashion embraces feathery coats and hair. On Saturday, she sported a blazer emblazoned with the word “Daddy” on the back as she brought the album’s singles “Pay Your Way In Pain” and “The Melting of the Sun” into the live setting.

The new throwback direction also informed her opening song, a funk-inspired reinterpretation of “Digital Witness,” from her self-titled record.

Joining her on stage, in addition to her band, were three background singers — one of the best features of Clark’s performance. With nearly flawless harmonies and tight choreography, the three singers added significantly to each song on which they were present.

Some of the best moments of the night came when Clark dug into her back catalog to perform fan favorites like “Actor Out Of Work” — from 2009’s “Actor” — and “Cheerleader” — from 2011’s “Strange Mercy.” Those prompted passionate sing-alongs from the thousands of fans in attendance, and exhibited the artist’s undeniably inventive talent as a guitarist.

Also in the mix was a skit which served as Clark’s slight kiss-off to Pitchfork, which gave her latest record a less-than-glowing review. Pretending to talk to her sister on an old telephone, she asked the crowd to cheer. “You would only give them a 6.8?” she said with a slight smile, before asking the crowd to cheer again. “I know, I know, Best New Crowd,” she said, hanging up.

Jamila Woods, Blue Stage, 7:45 p.m.

Jamila Woods performs at Pitchfork music festival on Saturday night.

Jamila Woods performs at Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park on Saturday night.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Chicago singer-songwriter and poet Jamila Woods made her triumphant return to Pitchfork on the Blue Stage Saturday, where the crowd was ecstatic to see her.

Showcasing her sharp lyrics and masterfully arranged contemporary jazz, R&B and indie-leaning sound, Woods jammed through a set composed of pieces from her latest, 2019’s “LEGACY LEGACY!” and her 2016 debut “HEAVN.”

Woods was joined by a four-piece band and two background singers, making for fully realized adaptations of her songs that brought a new, organic energy to her already vital recordings. The one-two punch of her emotionally evocative instrumentation coupled with her poignant lyrics taking on themes like discrimination, gentrification and sexism was moving. In between a few songs, those themes were emphasized by audio of icons such as the poet Lucille Clifton.

The centerpiece of Woods’ set was her voice — an unwavering apparatus that she deftly wielded throughout her set to convey the emotional range embedded within her songs. On “GIOVANNI,” Woods’ vocals came through clear and riveting as she uttered lines like “I am not your rib, I am not your Eve.” On “Lonely,” she was sober, singing with urgency, “I don’t wanna wait for my life to be over to let myself feel the way I feel.”

The crowd was electric, singing, grooving and smiling as Woods did the same, often with her mic on the stand and hands free to flow with the music, pulling the crowd in with each word — resulting in a captivating performance.

One of the many highlights of her set was a ruminative, slow-burning cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It smoothly segued into her song “BASQUIAT,” to the cheers of fans who enthusiastically yelled “Don’t get burned!” with her on the verses.

Woods also debuted a new song she called “Headfirst,” which sounded like a beautiful meditation on falling for someone. “Come in the water’s warm, I won’t hurt you,” she sang reassuringly. It was her first time playing the song in front of people, she said.

Her set was one of the best of the weekend so far, with the artist and her band in sync and sounding just about perfect, and the palpable feeling of joy and gratitude reciprocated by Woods and her fans

That was apparent as she finished her last song — a stunning blend of both versions of her 2020 single “Sula” — and introduced her band to cap her allotted set time.

As chants of “one more song” came from the front of the crowd, others on the edges tapered off to catch St. Vincent’s headlining set as it kicked off on the Green Stage. But Woods and her band actually heeded the call, stepping back onto the stage for a stirring performance of her song “MUDDY.” It served as a treat for those who stuck around and a thank you to the city that made her.

Georgia Anne Muldrow, Blue Stage, 6:30 p.m.

Georgia Anne Muldrow performs at the Blue Stage at Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday night.

Georgia Anne Muldrow performs at the Blue Stage at Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday night.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Los Angeles producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow began her Saturday evening set with an affirmation for the growing crowd in front of the Blue Stage.

“I see the best in you. I wish the best for you. I want the best for you!” she yelled into a mic, as a sequin cape sparkled behind her in the dusk of the evening.

As the crowd cheered back, she moved into her set, standing solo on the stage while producing beats, pounding synth keys, singing, rapping and stringing together words that rang like poetry.

The effect was a live, experimental mixtape that spanned her prolific, more than 15-year catalog, interspersed with improvisations. It all made for one of the weekend’s most provocative and captivating performances.

Muldrow’s latest work is an instrumental album titled “VWETO III,” a record “intended for movement,” as she described in a statement upon its release in May. “It’s to be played when you birth yourself back outside after a long introspective period to get the things you need,” she wrote.

That message felt like the ethos of her Saturday evening set, during which Muldrow dropped virtually nonstop freeform beats that kept the crowd moving on their feet.

In addition to her prowess as a producer, her voice was also an incredibly compelling focal point of her set. It unfurled over synth-heavy beats into a mic soaked in an echo effect. It reverberated as she belted through moments of blues and R&B, as she grooved to the edges of the stage. It commanded as she spit bars, reasserting herself as a profoundly talented emcee.

She left the crowd with a final affirmation: “One word — love yourselves more than you do!” she exclaimed, before blowing kisses into the crowd.

Faye Webster, Blue Stage, 5:15 p.m.

Faye Webster performs at the Blue Saga at Pitchfork music festival at Union Park, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Faye Webster performs at the Blue Saga at Pitchfork music festival at Union Park on Saturday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Backed by a four-piece band featuring what might have been the only pedal steel heard this weekend, Faye Webster gently rocked the sizable crowd gathered at the Blue Stage to see her Saturday.

The Atlanta-based singer-songwriter and guitarist eased into her evening set with mid-tempo selections from this summer’s “I Know I’m Funny haha” — a breezy, alternative-indie folk album infused with elements of rock and country.

Songs like the album’s title track encapsulated Webster’s ability as a lyricist and singer to balance themes of affection coupled with vulnerability, while cheekily cooing lines like, “I think your sisters are so pretty, got drunk and they forgot they met me.” On Saturday she dedicated the song to “all the sh—y men out there.”

As Webster’s tight, laid-back set moved along steadily, rock artist Ty Segall was ripping into his set on the Red Stage at full volume, sometimes drowning out Webster’s slightly subdued vocals.

“Right Side of my Neck,” arguably Webster’s most upbeat track, was a crowd-pleaser, with fans swaying and singing along to every word. The same was true when she and her band covered a song from the Nintendo Switch game, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”

One of the biggest responses from the crowd came during her final song “Kingston,” one of her most well-known singles, off 2019’s “Atlanta Millionaires Club.” As she does in the recording, Webster uttered the lines, “The day that I met you I started dreaming,” acapella, followed by her band kicking in. Live, the drop hit even harder, as fans cheered — moved by the subtle dynamics that make Webster’s sound so catchy.

Check back soon for more from Saturday’s Pitchfork sets.

Festival-goers sit in the grass and listen as Waxahatchee performs on the Green Stage at Pitchfork music festival at Union Park, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Festival-goers sit in the grass and listen as Waxahatchee performs on the Green Stage at Pitchfork music festival at Union Park, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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