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Put A 'Fork In It: Pitchfork Music Fest, Day 1

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 17, 2010 4:30PM

Rockin' Robyn was one of the highlights of Day 1 of this year's Pitchfork Music Fest; Photo by Jim Kopeny/Chicagoist

Day One of Pitchfork Music Fest 2010 was sunny and hot, many already sweating by the time they entered the grounds. It was a new early start to the first day, with the gates opening at 3 p.m., but that didn't seem to have much effect on numbers as a large crowd still came through the gates for the earliest acts that opened the fest. Of course, the story was, and will be all weekend, the heat. With highs expected to surge into the low-to-mid 90s today with a healthy dose of humidity, yesterday's drier albeit still warm conditions looked to be the best day of weather for the fest. Which is why an announcement was made during the afternoon that for the duration of the weekend, the price of bottles of water were cut from $2 to $1, a savvy move of good PR as well as general safety for the masses. Despite a few glitches (during Broken Social Scene) and the continued issue of sound bleed on the B Stage, the sound continues to improve, which bodes well for loose, electronic acts like Neon Indian, Washed Out and Sleigh Bells

Sharon Van Etten got the fest off to a mellow start, just her and her guitar striding on stage under the hot sun. Strumming her way through songs like, "Sometimes I Don't Think About You," it's simple, sparse stuff well-suited to the mid-afternoon lineup, her voice the predominant sound floating across the festival grounds. Even if there are more people at the adjacent stage than at hers, and even as others hang back in the shade, the diminutive singer lets her voice announce her presence. It's not the most raucous start to the day (we imagine Free Energy will do that this afternoon) but it was still a stellar opener. - M.G.

Along with festival opener, Sharon Von Etten, The Tallest Man on Earth scored the mixed blessing of being slated to perform early in day, missing more than double what the crowds would become later in the evening, but reaping the benefits of a fresh audience not yet melted by the sun and heat. Kristian Matsson held a rapt audience through mostly new material like “Love Is All,” “You’re Going Back,” and one of his best, “King of Spain.” Even his songs that normally have a moody tenor seemed nimble and bright. Matsson’s gravely voice carried over the whole grounds, teasing some anticipation out of festival-goers still waiting in line outside. In between profusely thanking the crowd, The Tallest Man on Earth turned in one of our favorite sets of the whole day. - K.B.

Unfortunately, the smooth segue that had worked so well between Van Etten and Tallest Man wasn't replicated with the next act and the crowd had trouble getting into it.

El-P stormed onto the stage, the thumping bass and rhythmic, disjointed beats a far cry from the folkier acts that had eased the crowd into the afternoon. Indeed, it took three full songs before the more enthusiastic members of the audience answered the MC's call-and-response. That's not a knock on El-P's performance, really; it seemed sharp even as it slowed down a bit, but the late afternoon sun sapped so much energy from the crowd and following the two quieter acts, his dark, doom-and-gloom lyrics from songs like "Smithereens" and "EMG" seemed out of place for his slot on the bill. - M.G.

Liars' jarring set delighted some but not others; Photo by Jim Kopeny/Chicagoist

The segue from El-P to Liars wasn't as disjointed and as the heat bore down on the crowd, the art-rockers cranked up the energy with a kinetic, amped up performance that at times almost delved into dub. While some towards the front of the stage were enraptured, from the back the performance was far from compelling, giving me the chance to wander and get out of the sun for a bit. - M.G.

Former Swedish teen-pop singer Robyn was undoubtedly the most buzzed about set during Day 1, churning out a solid block of shimmery, pure pop dance numbers. The relentlessly energetic singer split her moves somewhere between disco and ‘80s aerobics, dancing as much as she sang through numbers like “Cry When You Get Older” and “Dancing On My Own.” The retro-flavored sheer pop exuberance was a welcome change of pace from some of the screeching overdrive so common of the late-afternoon performers. While Robyn kept feet moving, as the heat crept past 90 some of the crowd’s attention waned mid-set; it was easiest to get distracted during the songs where the bulk of Robyn’s were samples and loops. Still, her dance-party performance that wrapped up with “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do” was a hands-down winner and one of the hard-to-beat highlights of the day. - K.B.

While others absorbed all the music the A and C stages had to offer, we also checked out Stage B, usually not active on Friday and this year used as a comedy stage. Most of the crowd was seated, laughing politely, but some seeming to use the stage as an excuse to sit in the shade and take a breather, waiting for the headliners.

Chicago-raised standup comedian, Hannibal Buress may have left the Windy City to write for SNL, but returned to open the comedy set for the festival’s first-ever comedy stage. Buress’ routine of topical humor seemed sharpened perfectly for the Pitchfork audience, riffing on everything from handlebar moustaches to getting the boot from the DOR. The decidedly non-family-friendly routine got some especially big laughs when Buress poked fun a gangster culture, Lil’ Wayne and his reasons for incorporating alternate realities into his routine. Echo from the Liars’ set on the main stage cut in to Buress’ jokes a few times, Buress’ mockingly taking it as an insult. He pledged to start a feud with the dance-punk trio, conceding that it would also be “the most obscure beef ever.” - K.B.

Not as solid, though, was Michael Showalter (The State, Stella). Hoping for something a bit left-of-center, like those aforementioned credits, what we got instead was an uncomfortable, disjointed mess of a set. It wasn't completely Showalter's fault. The bleed through from the other stages, which has always been an issue, was almost overwhelming compared to the single speaking voice. Strains of the final songs of Robyn's set disrupted Showalter's train of thought, an unfortunate distraction for a set that had already gone off the rails after a strange, half-hearted attempt to DJ with an on-stage laptop and a few meandering stories.

Eugene Mirman likewise battled the volume of Broken Social Scene but played it off, comparing it to "a rock-and-roll spaceship landing." Mirman's set was more of what we expected. Whether it was a story about a 12-year-old boy with Aspergers who Mirman accepted as his God or his own suggestions for Internet banner ads, Mirman kept his wits about him and delivered a solid set of comedy. Overall, though, the organizers will probably want to rethink the comedy stage set-up. It's not a bad idea, exactly; it certainly provides a nice alternative and a chance to catch your breath out of the heat. But with even louder, full bands having issues with sound bleed from the bigger stages across the way, they may want to rethink the timing (it might have gone over better had the comedians performed opposite the quieter openers) or the location of the comedy stage (though where it could go that wouldn't experience sound bleed is beyond us). - M.G.

Broken Social Scene fought through technical difficulties with the sound system to deliver a cacophonous set that was solid if not thrilling. There were still moments of genuine emotional magic but since the band got off on the wrong foot they never seemed to recover and forge full steam ahead. Modest Mouse capped off the evening and occupied the closest thing to an "oldies" slot of the day. Isaac Brock is one of those fellows that wrote deeply engaging epics up until he realized that he could also throw off twisty pop songs that would sell. We're happy he's no longer so angst ridden but the show came off feeling slightly superficial for a band that has sounded so honest and grounded in the past. - Tankboy

And with that we closed the books on Day One of the 2010 Pitchfork Music Fest. Day Two gets underway shortly with Free Energy and goes for a long stretch of hot, messy fun until LCD Soundsystem brings the show to a close so what are you waiting for? Get hydrating and get festing.