Pitchfork Music Festival review: The National, Tierra Whack, Dawn Richard, Spiritualized

The National

The venerable indie rockers had their 2006 performance at Pitchfork Music Festival on the brain as they closed out Night One of this year’s edition. Dedicating a performance of their early days track “Mr. November” to the throwback occasion, it was a moment mired in nostalgia for many in the crowd as 2006 was also the very first year this homegrown Chicago event was fully sanctioned and operated by the music media group.

“It’s good to be back,” singer Matt Berninger exclaimed, adding how much the band had missed playing the park, commenting on the “cool vibe” that has become the festival’s aesthetic year after year.

Though they relied on the orchestral greatness of some of their most beloved tracks like “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Don’t Swallow The Cap” “Fake Empire” and “Slow Show,” The National didn’t stay stuck in the past too long as they also brought forth their latest material with a rollout of their new song “Ice Machines,” a downtempo slow burn that comfortably fits in their wheelhouse.

The group’s calm output was perhaps a little too somber at times for this headlining set — and a purposely glitchy light show and video feed didn’t help revive things. But focusing on the moments of beauty like the perfect placement of a live horn section and the band’s endearing musical chemistry (most members are brothers after all) made this set another one for the memory bank.

Tierra Whack

Tierra Whack performs on day one of the Pitchfork.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The unrelenting onslaught of showers Friday evening essentially rained on the parade that Tierra Whack was eager to bring to her anticipated set, which offered a smattering of her trifecta of EPs released in December, “Rap?,” “Pop?,” and “R&B?,” and of course her gatecrashing debut “Whack World,” that Pitchfork itself bestowed with a “best new music” honor in 2018.

“I really wanna move around but I don’t want to lose my life,” the Philly rapper joked as she tip-toed around the growing puddles on the Red Stage, her usual high energy halted by the soggy mess. Even her hype DJ had her cables crossed by the weather, cutting short a spin of Outkast that eventually led to a crowd singalong before being fixed.

Fans appeared downtrodden at first too, taking a while to get warmed up, leading Whack to ask if anyone in the crowd had a birthday in her best effort to try to connect. Though it didn’t take long to get people moving as the natural born performer ripped into gold like “Pet Cemetery,” the epitome of the short-and-sweet quick hits she’s known for — as well as her style icon status that was on full display, her colorful persona the rainbow the fest truly needed.

Dawn Richard

Dawn Richard performs on day one of the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As a former personality on the reality series “Making The Band” and a member of R&B group Danity Kane, Dawn Richard is no stranger to the spectacle that often comes with the territory of a great pop show — and she delivered the goods without hesitation in her primetime spot at Pitchfork.

Dressed in a sparkling, crisp white ensemble that looked like a designer take on a spacesuit, and accessorized with an inexplicably long mane of hair that quickly became its own prop, Richard looked like a Vegas showgirl from the future. And her performance felt otherworldly too, the singer a strong purveyor of future-soul who, with the assistance of matching dancers in lit-up face masks and a voluminous live band, ripped through originals and some surprisingly reimagined covers like The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.

In all, the feel of Richard’s set took on the aura of her latest album, “Second Line” (named one of the best of 2021 by multiple critics), created in homage to the traditional processionals in her hometown of New Orleans. A banner moment was a performance of new track “Voodoo (Outermission)” that showed off Richard’s impeccable vocal range, imbuing so much emotion with every note that you believed the singer when she said, “Music saved me, it’s why I’m still here.”


Spiritualized performs at Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park on Friday evening.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

There are so many members now touring with Spiritualized that you’d have to almost believe it’s become something of a musical cult, if not even evident in the way their brand of psychedelic space rock can so easily transfix listeners with no control of giving their being to the sound.

The large ensemble — led by total showman Jason Pierce, with support from the mesmerizing guitarist/harmonica player Doggen Foster, a trio of backup vocalists and a sweeping band of nuanced professionals — is a master class in instrumental precision who somehow created a wall of sound in the middle of a muddy park field. The whole affair was a total team effort, aided by long outros and experimental interplay that gave an air of being a fly on the wall in one very special jam session.

While hypnotic orbs floated behind them, further aiding in the en masse trance, the English troupe didn’t miss a beat moving swiftly from the long-weaving track “Hey Jane” into the sweet splendor of oldie and goodie ‘Shine A Light,” which still may be one of the prettiest songs ever written.

Thirty years after their debut, Spiritualized continues to appeal to its rabid fanbase and find new converts and their performance at Pitchfork is a testimony to that continued longevity.

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