Play-by-plays are a dime a dozen in post-festival Pitchfork coverage and they never really capture the visceral experience of a three-day event. So instead we’re giving out awards to what we loved (and hated) at this year’s PMF, with an eye to the idiosyncratic aspects that made the weekend come alive. We can’t help but pay attention to some of the heavy hitters — they’re at the top for a reason, and many brought their A-game — but this festival is as much about the underdogs, the up-and-comers, and the new discoveries. After the jump you’ll find our round up of hidden gems, charismatic acts, standout sets, curious episodes that might have gone overlooked, and more.
Most unnerving stage banter: Tortoise dedicating their set to the dearly-departed Thax Douglas — thankfully, the beloved local poet’s death turned out to be an internet hoax.
Most rocking show by mild-mannered performers: Our perennial favorites, Yo La Tengo. Fueled with fan requests, they eventually got rolling with a real dose of their louder, faster material. We were waiting for “Sugarcube”, and we got it.
Best set by reunited hometown heroes: The Jesus Lizard. For their first local date since reuniting earlier this year — after a decade-long hiatus — the Chicago noise/post-rock icons absolutely killed with fan-selected choice cuts from their stellar Goat and Liar LPs.
Worst last-minute cut to a setlist: Built to Spill cutting “Car.” Sacrilege.
Best set by one of the underdogs: The Antlers, who showed off the more muscular side of their tuneful, ever-earnest indie rock. We’ll hear more about these guys soon, we’re guessing — look for the re-release of their recent LP, thanks to their new label French Kiss Records.
Best set that the audience just didn’t seem into (but should have been): The Bowerbirds. They have a rock solid new record and they’re confident performers, but an accordion and lone guitar didn’t seem to hold people’s attention on Saturday afternoon.
Best rain dance/sudden burst of crowd euphoria: Yeasayer, who brought a kick ass, percussive set home as the gray sky opened up on Saturday.
Best “you were hoping I would have another meltdown, but actually I put on a great show” face: Wavves. Maybe he’s not a petulant child after all.
Most quasi-anarchic moment: Black Lips encouraging the crowd to rush the stage en masse.
Most subtly surreal experience: Ghostbusters screening on the wall of the Bottom Lounge after-party while Cymbals Eat Guitars played downstairs.
Most random appearance of a massive prop: The Mae Shi, who threw out a big parachute into the audience for one song — remember those from elementary school? Kind of awesome.
Most unexpected outpouring of Chicago love: Frightened Rabbit, who talked up how they’ve played more times here in the past year than in their own city of Glasgow.
Best moment that hit the classic rock sweet spot: Blitzen Trapper, as they kicked off their sun-drenched Sunday set with a sequence of their most outsized anthems.
Best raucous set by five skinny dudes with no shirts on: The Killer Whales on Sunday afternoon.
Most times we overheard different fans saying “that was fucking awesome”: Also the Killer Whales set on Sunday.
Set that kept the crowd riveted, though we wouldn’t have guessed it in advance: Women.
Catchiest cover (and perhaps the most inspired): The Thermal’s spot-on treatment of Green Day’s “Basket Case”.
Most conspicuous sonic flashback to 2003: The Walkmen. Their latest album was pretty good, but not much has changed. In the end, they were definitely out-shined by some of the upstarts here.
Greatest sweeping synth miracle fueled by ’80s shoegaze gorgeousness: M83. Added bonus: dazzling blue sequins, kissed by the slowly setting sun.
Set we wished had been scheduled at a different time: The Very Best drew a small but ready crowd, though they couldn’t compete with the Flaming Lips juggernaut.
Most unlikely feel good sing-along song that we didn’t expect to hear: The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly”. The best kind of blast from the past.
Biggest spectacle that drew us like moths to a flame: The Flaming Lips. Maelstroms of confetti, smoke machines, bursts of bright white light, flashing rainbow videos, dancing men in lizard costumes, Wayne Coyne crowd surfing in a giant bubble, and profuse professions of love for us all. Check.
Reporting by Flavorpill CHI Contributing Editor Karsten Lund and Managing Editor Suzanne Niemoth.