I had missed my dad’s ‘this-is-too-noisy’ face.
My father, a 67-year-old attorney based in New Jersey, makes the same expression anytime we’re watching a concert and the performer ventures from the melodic to the jarring, or the guitar tone is too screeching, or there’s simply too much clatter going on. Instinctively, his eyebrows raise, his pupils bug, and he widens his lips to show his clenched teeth. Picture the “grimacing” emoji come to life, only with a graying mustache in the middle.
It took my dad roughly 12 minutes to first make this face at the 2022 Pitchfork Music Festival. He generally enjoyed Indigo De Souza’s grungy, guitar-heavy Friday afternoon set, but a few songs in, when the Asheville singer-songwriter delved into a guttural shriek (a really great one, it’s worth noting) — raised eyebrows, bugged pupils, clenched teeth.
“There it is,” I said to my dad. “Your face!”
I hadn’t seen it in a long time. My father and I had attended seven Pitchfork Fests together between 2012 and 2019, heading to Chicago’s Union Park from the northeast nearly every July and covering the indie-music Mecca side-by-side. Yet the pandemic wiped out Pitchfork 2020, and we couldn’t make it to Pitchfork 2021 since it had been bumped to September last year. Touching down in Chicago this year, it felt like a lot longer than three years had passed. The last time we had set foot in Union Park, “Old Town Road” was the biggest song in the country, Joe Biden was still debating Kamala Harris in presidential primaries, and even the fest’s most in-the-know hipsters hadn’t heard of Covid.
So returning to Pitchfork Fest this year with my dad, who was dutifully taking notes in his little pad during every set we caught over the weekend (July 15-17), felt like a warm blanket, even during a rain-heavy and mud-caked year like this one. Sure, the festival’s atmosphere is half the fun: the technicolor outfits and hairstyles, the gonzo t-shirt slogans (top prize this year goes to the twenty-something rocking the “I Love My Penis” tee), the too-crowded record fair, the left-field brand activations (a Philadelphia Cream Cheese pop-up? Why not!). But more than perhaps any other Pitchfork Fest, we were laser-focused on the music — discussing the high points of each set, often after swaying, head-nodding and clumsily dancing. My dad absorbed a wide spectrum of previously unfamiliar acts and left mostly impressed… even when the noise messed with his late-sixties flow.
With that in mind, turning the highlights of Pitchfork Fest 2022 into an interactive, dad-endorsed playlist made sense as a means of capturing the moments of a weekend brimming with memorable music. Here are the 15 songs that highlighted my dad’s 2022 Pitchfork Fest and his commentary for each, followed by a handy playlist for listening at the end.
1. Toro Y Moi, “Freelance”
Let’s kick off this playlist with a late-festival groove: as the sun set over Union Park on Sunday, Chaz Bundick and his Toro y Moi cohorts seized the opportunity to throw down within a lineup that was relatively light on dance acts. My dad, by no means a chillwave connoisseur, was up and shimmying — how can you not during songs like the riotous set-capper “Freelance”? “This was a party set,” he said. “They’re a really excellent band with a strong leader and material. Plus, plenty of oooh oooh’s to sing along to!”
2. Magdalena Bay, “Secrets (Your Fire)”
Magdalena Bay make rock-solid alt-pop with energy to spare, and my dad got into the groove along with the rest of their impressively large audience to the rubbery “Secrets (Your Fire).” “Their songs had driving beats that were very danceable, and their vocalist [Mica Tenenbaum] was high-energy,” he said. His one note? Too many props, from an oversized clock to a silly string can, which my dad thought were “not necessary.” I couldn’t disagree more — more fun props at pop shows!
3. Erika de Casier, “Busy”
Prior to Erika de Casier’s Sunday afternoon set, I described her sound to my dad as something resembling Janet Jackson’s ’90s output. “That was accurate,” he said after seeing the Denmark native spin her sensual R&B stories over programmed synths and live percussion. De Casier’s 2021 album Sensational rightfully established her as a critical darling stateside, and her live show more than did justice to the project; my dad believes that she “needs a few more upbeat dance numbers” in her set, but until then, “Busy” got the boisterous crowd up and moving.
4. The Roots, “The Seed (2.0)”
Pitchfork Fest was light on legacy acts this year, but the Roots closed out the festival like old pros, playing their hits (yes, “Seed (2.0)” is still unstoppable), mixing in some hearty covers (including Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” crossed with Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”!), and never flagging during 90 minutes of action. Because I grew up right outside of Philly, my dad and I have seen the Roots live multiple times before, but this was one of their top-tier sets — an “ambitious mix of old-time funk, rap, jazz and whatever else was thrown into the mix of the nonstop set,” according to him.
5. CupcakKe, “Deepthroat”
Standing next to your 67-year-old father at a performance by CupcakKe, arguably the most sexually explicit lyricist in hip-hop, could reasonably result in paralyzing embarrassment, or at least a healthy scoop of awkwardness. But then again, CupcakKe moves too quickly for those feelings to root — by the time one X-rated punchline lands, she’s already teed up the next three. The Chicago rapper is a technical whiz and wordplay genius; she had the early Saturday hometown crowd hollering along with every phallic simile, and my dad cheered her on with gusto.
“She’s filthy, ferocious, creative and clever, and so over-the-top that it’s hilarious, and deliberately so,” he said. The female empowerment and body positivity messages coded in songs like “Duck Duck Goose” and “Squidward Nose” weren’t lost on him, either: “CupcakKe is artfully slamming male misogyny with her lyrics,” my dad said, before quoting a line from “Deepthroat”: “I want to eat your d–k/ But I can’t f–k up my nails, so I’ma pick it up with chopsticks.” Thanks for that, dad.
6. Camp Cope, “Running With the Hurricane”
“The lead vocalist added so much to the performance,” my dad noted of the Australian trio’s Georgia McDonald, who spent the Friday afternoon set twirling, cracking jokes and singing the hell out of the band’s enthralling indie rock tracks. “She had great stage presence and dance moves, had fun, had high energy, and a nice rapport with the crowd.” “The Opener” was the set’s emotional high point, but my dad liked “Running With the Hurricane,” the galvanizing title track to their great new album, even more.
7. Mitski, “Nobody”
My dad and I split on Mitski, whose dramatic dance moves, which included high kicks and shadowboxing, won me over from the middle of a sprawling crowd, but left my father feeling like he was on the outside looking in. “Some pretty and soulful songs,” he noted, “but I found Mitski’s performance distracted from her material.” His favorite was “Nobody,” but I’ll have to lend him my copy of Laurel Hell — songs like “Love Me More” and “The Only Heartbreaker” sounded even more impeccable live than I could have hoped.
8. Parquet Courts, “Plant Life”
The NYC indie stalwarts have become such a Pitchfork mainstay that 2022 was the third time my dad has caught them at the festival — not that he’s complaining. “They’re true and raw rock, with great guitar and keyboard solos,” he said, adding that the extended keyboard riff in “Plant Life” reminded him of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Fair enough, but I’d take the closing one-two punch of “Stoned and Starving” and “Light Up Gold II” instead.
9. Indigo De Souza, “Take Off Ur Pants”
De Souza’s sparse, often brutally honest songwriting cut through the scattered showers on Friday afternoon, drawing a dedicated crowd covered in ponchos and often eliciting sing-alongs. “I liked her lyrics — they reminded me of Lily Allen,” my dad noted, making a bold cross-genre leap. “Take Off Ur Pants,” the springy anthem placed in the penultimate spot in the set list, was the most energetic moment, and got his stamp of approval.
10. The National, “Day I Die”
Fun fact: my dad and I first caught the National in concert 15 years ago, when they were opening for Arcade Fire on their Neon Bible tour and about to release Boxer in a few weeks. Matt Berninger and co. have settled into their sound since those days, and the polish and professionalism of their Friday night set — including on this Sleep Well Beast gem in the middle of the set list — served as a reminder of their stature as headliners. Naturally, my dad still loves the most dad-rock ’00s band of all: “This group has such a catalog of good songs, and everybody sings along to all of them,” he said, “and Matt Berninger has one of the most distinct voices in music.”
11. The Linda Lindas, “Oh!”
“Unbelievably polished for their ages,” my dad gushed of the Linda Lindas, the viral punk group-turned-Epitaph signees from Los Angeles whose oldest member is 17 and whose drummer is a mere 11 years old. The whole crowd seemed to mirror that takeaway as the quartet ripped through a jaunty set of originals and covers by the Go-Go’s and Bikini Kill: the Linda Lindas still have room to diversify their sound and work on their stage presence, but their technical skills are so impressive at a young age that it’d be foolish to bet against them. Plus, “Oh!” and “Racist, Sexist Boy” are slam-dunk singles that had my dad playing air guitar in the audience.
12. Yeule, “Bites On My Neck”
Glitch Princess, the second album from Singaporean avant-garde pop artist Yeule, is one of my favorite albums of 2022, a daring collection of songs on the isolation, connectivity and identities formed by modern technology. Sadly, their ideas didn’t translate to the Pitchfork crowd during a Saturday afternoon set marred by sound problems and uneven pacing amidst interpretative dance moves and bubbles of bass. “I just couldn’t connect with this performance at all,” my dad shrugged, while noting that the very end of the set — the breathtaking “Don’t Be So Hard on Your Own Beauty,” followed by the last-second dance workout “Bites On My Neck” — salvaged it a bit.
13. Noname, “Song 32”
Noname’s songs sounded blissfully full on Sunday afternoon, with the Chicago rapper and poet surrounded by harmonizing band members and playing to a gigantic crowd. For my dad, however, he “was disappointed that I couldn’t hear most of her lyrics, because the ones I did hear were quite good.” Indeed, Noname’s flow moved with force and purpose, but from the middle of the crowd, her sentences would sometimes get swallowed up by the beats and guitar lines. “Song 32” came in loud and clear, though, as did her cry of “F–k the billionaires!,” which made my father — who rocked a Bernie Sanders tee this weekend — pretty thrilled.
14. Spiritualized, “Always Together With You”
J Spaceman’s lush, orchestral psych-gospel was always going to be catnip to my father, who described Spiritualized as “smooth as silk” after getting swept away in the emotion of the sunset performance on Friday. “Loved this group’s backing vocalists — beautiful harmonies mixed with a dreamy sort of rock,” he said, highlighting the lead single from this year’s gorgeous comeback record Everything Was Beautiful.
15. Japanese Breakfast, “Paprika”
And for the grand finale, we have Japanese Breakfast, which we both agreed performed the best show of the weekend. Michelle Zauner did it all on Saturday night, leading pop snap-alongs and shimmering ballads alike, deferring to her expert band at times and commanding the spotlight at others. “She’s not easy to categorize, but she’s a powerhouse,” my dad said of Zauner, who placed the cherry on top of the Dadfork sundae when she welcomed Jeff Tweedy onstage for a “Kokomo, IN” sing-along, then the ultimate belated father’s day present: a rendition of Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.,” to raucous applause. To Japanese Breakfast, from my dad and all the others in attendance: thanks for that one.