Pitchfork Music Festival 2012 Highlights: Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Sleigh Bells, Feist, Chief Keef
Beach House

Photo: Christopher Kitahara for MTV Hive

With a weather pattern that consisted mostly of rain, sun, rain, sun, humidity and heat, the eighth annual Pitchfork Music Festival  felt like a marathon this year to catch just a handful each day day of the 47 acts playing in Chicago’s Union Park. And there was plenty to talk about aside from the weather. Here are a few of the highlights from last weekend.

Most striking stage design: Purity Ring

Dozens of orbs, suspended across the stage, bursted out from Purity Ring’s equipment and glowed soft pinks and blues as the duo debuted glossy new material from their forthcoming Shrines, after a long operatic intro with twitchy strings and haunted house vocal manipulation. While singer Megan James was at the forefront of the stage, sending out sweet melodies over their fizzing bass, Corin Roddick puppeteered a light show from his MIDI controller.

Most forgivable slip up: Feist forgetting a verse during “Intuition”

Feist played against Purity Ring, whose beats were expansive enough to throw off the singer’s concentration. Taking the stage alone with her electric guitar for “Intuition,” Feist paused mid-way into the song and apologized for forgetting the lyrics but quickly involved the crowd, asking them to sing along to the “Did, I” verse. Hitting all of her notes, Feist otherwise delivered a spot-on set and never surrendered to the bleeding bass from across the park.

Hardest-charging kick off: Cloud Nothings

For a moment, it seemed like the force of Cloud Nothings’ guitars was was enough to ward off the rolling rain clouds, but the drizzle swelled into a downpour and they shredded even faster. Even amidst the torrent, Dylan Baldi and his band never faltered or slowed down, despite requests to stop entirely due to safety concerns. Their mosh pit thrived on too, bouncing hardest when Baldi grinded on the line “Do you want to kill him?” in “Cut You.”

Would have liked to see: Baldi invite the mosh pit to take cover on stage.

Strangest intro: Atlas Sound

Emerging on stage with a white-painted face (which was perhaps a thick coating of sunscreen) and a harmonica slung around his neck, Atlas Sound’s ever-eccentric Bradford Cox strummed through a lengthy cover of Roscoe Holcomb’s “Moonshiner,” before dipping into his own material from Parallax and Quarantine. His guitar spun sunny vibes into the crowd and, at one point, the clouds even parted and the sun beamed down. But this time the rain won and Cox said his goodbye: “Sorry guys, the rain killed my shit.”

Would have liked to know: What other old-timey songs Bradford would have covered had the weather and time permitted.

Most effective use of fog: Sleigh Bells

Stomping around the stage in cutoff shorts, snagged fishnets, a studded leather jacket and a pound of spiked bangles that could double as weapons, Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss amped up the theatrics and commanded the field for their head-banging set. Dropping to her knees to sing “Crown on the Ground” while guitarist Derek Miller and touring guitarist Jason Boyer reached a mind-rattling velocity, fog radiated from the stage. It felt more like an omen than effect, since they sounded on the cusp of blowing out a PA at any minute.

Should have brought: Earplugs, and an extra bottle of water.

Best moment to throw up your middle finger: Danny Brown

There’s really nothing PG about the Detroit rapper whose most well-known (and self-bestowed) nickname is “pussy monster,” so it wasn’t a surprising sight to walk over to the blue stage and see the entire crowd’s middle fingers pulsing to the beat of his tracks. A greater offense to the prude was Brown’s spoken rendition of his standout “I Will,” with no backing beat and an invitation to linger on lines like “I go dumb and ignorant when I’m on that clitoris/ Lick your ass delirious,” which the crowd echoed.

Greatest nod to Tumblr: Grimes

Enlisting URL celebrities Molly Soda and Claire Van Eijk as backup dancers and SoundCloud standout Blood Diamonds for dub assist, Grimes‘ nu-clubby set was an aesthetic whirl. Her fly girls pranced around the stage in swampy moss-covered sports bras with black bottoms, fishnets, and headsets on top of their technicolor ponytails. But Grimes’ presence was the most muted, delivering her siren vocals at a lulled volume and letting her cohorts lead.

Easy to miss: Grimes’ Toro backpack accessorizing her area of the stage.

Best set to crowd surf to: Ty Segall

Not only did Ty Segall, lay himself onto the crowd’s arms while his band riffed off the instrumentals of “I Am With You,” he gave his fans for directions on how to do it right. “Take that kid to the back, then bring him up front,” he said about another surfer after returning to the stage. Segall might have interacted more with the audience than any other act of the weekend, sustaining a dialogue throughout his set and asking them to shout Thee Oh Sees’ frontman John Dwyer’s last name at his count, though Dwyer — whose set ended after Ty Segall’s began — shouted back “I’m right here” from the side of the stage. Segall’s was an act so good, no one wanted to miss it.

Would have liked to see: Dwyer join Segall on stage (how have those dudes not yet collaborated?).

Biggest tease: Lady Gaga at Kendrick Lamar

A girl passed out from the heat at Kendrick Lamar’s set, and everyone felt as worn while patiently waiting for Lady Gaga to jump onto mic. Instead, she stayed off to the side of the stage; her jewels and blonde mane bouncing as she danced with her arms in the air.

Could have done without: the heavy-handed air horn, which began and capped every song.

Biggest surprise: Chief Keef

Another Interscope artist made an unannounced appearance at the festival: aggro teen rapper Chief Keef, who jogged onto the stage during Araabmuzik’s sputtering drum ‘n’ bass set. Performing “I Don’t Like” and “Us,” Keef and Araabmuzik threw the biggest on-stage party of the weekend — their crew and lady dancers even surpassing the number of bodies A$AP brought on for his performance, two days earlier.

Hard to tell: Which got more play, the words “bang, bang” or Araabmuzik’s snare.

Best time to catch a breeze: Beach House

“This is breeze o’clock,” Beach House’s Victoria Legrand said near the beginning of their set and she wasn’t kidding; fog drifted off their stage and into the crowd as the sun sank throughout their opener “Wild.” Bubbles, being blown from attendees, sailed atop the crowd’s heads and Legrand’s voice carried as smoothly across the field. Their music may sound sleepy but felt huge as they delivered their keystone ballads “Norway,” “Myth,” and “Gila.”

Time to feel: Goosebumps, from the breeze or Legrand’s vocals or both.

Check out photos from all these artists and more from Christopher Kitahara.

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