Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Day One

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 14, 2012 6:00PM

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Japandroids perform at Pitchfork. Photo credit: Jim Kopeny
The Pitchfork Music Festival kicked off with a deluge of both sound and water. Day one was marked by alternating periods of rain and humidity but by sunfall the festival grounds were blanketed in a perfect summer evening. The usual logistical issues that always seem to plague the first day were there--sound bleed, too quiet sound, the inescapable positioning nightmares of trying to even see the Blue stage--but by now we’re used to all of that. Though we have to admit we did a double-take at the Robinson’s Ribs food stand and wondered for half a second if all the Taste of Chicago vendors had just moved to greener pastures. For us, though, Friday was our chance to settle in, listen to some music and figure out how to navigate the rest of the festival grounds today and tomorrow. So what about the music? Here are some of our highlights. - Tankboy

Outer Minds

Chicago should be tremendously proud of its hometown garage rockers, Outer Minds.

The band was all set to open the festival Friday afternoon, but a sudden downpour (well-documented via Twitter) caused the festivities to grind to a halt, stalling the production by 30 minutes. But when the rain stopped, Outer Minds threw down a set that established an impressively high bar for the acts to follow; every which way a Pitchfork fest can get a set wrong, Outer Minds got right. The quintet was high energy, crisp, loud, exuberant and full of crowd-pleasing flair.

Many of the riffs, even the more poppy tracks like "Ordinary," sounded a delightful shade darker than usual. The group looked intently focused, but clearly having fun: during "Gimmie A Reason," Gina Lira took a break from rocking her tambourine to throw party poppers, bubbles and mini maracas into the crowd--each toss was also accompanied by a wad of confetti. Drummer Brian Costello, meanwhile, treated the crowd to a fill of "beer drums" (think Blue Man Group's bit where they pour paint and cereal onto their drums and smash away) on the very next song. A new track, with "Wipeout" style drum breaks and the tight vocal harmonies the group nails so firmly, was an easy highlight of the set (singer/guitarist Zach Medearis later told is it was "We Are The Sun").

We heard some festival-goers incorrectly assume, that a band's early-in-the-day placement correlates to their quality. Not true, and even less so for Outer Minds. Now that they've had their Pitchfork debut, other big festivals would be silly not to snatch them up. - Kim Bellware

Willis Earl Beal

Perhaps one of the buzziest acts of day one (of not the whole fest), Willis Earl Beal took to the Blue Stage and picked right up after Outer Minds left off: marking a Pitchfork Festival debut by knocking his set out of the park.

After a short a cappella warmup, Beal chatted with the crowd in between tracks about riding his bike from 85th to Ashland past Union Park, called himself "overindulgent and sappy" and spilled his drink. These were the kinds of things that made it seem as if Beal is just a normal guy. Singing beneath a cape and the uncanny ability to sing and gesticulate while holding a drink aside, what's not normal about Beal was his ability to entrance a crowd. The crowd was enthralled by his spooky soul vibe, whether he was growling in a Cookie Monster voice (where Beal's love of Tom Waits is never more apparent) or crooning with a heart-wrenching pain in his voice. And though Beal's voice is powerful, it's not always controlled; he lacks the smoothness of more trained singers, but his absence of polish adds to his magnetism. Not only did he sound real, he sounded like someone the crowd wanted to root for.

Dressed in shades, fingerless leather gloves, and a tight jeans and black-t combo (all topped with flawless Geordi La Forge-esque hair) Beal cut a sexy outsider figure with some simmering ferocity just below the surface. He swiveled on stage, waved a mic stand like a sorcerer's staff and handily put a spell on the large crowd. - Kim Bellware

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Dirty Projectors perform at Pitchfork. Photo credit: Jim Kopeny
Dirty Projectors

Dirty Projector’s stage show isn’t exactly gripping but the sound they emit more than makes up for that. Those insane vocal harmonies they craft on their albums is replicated perfectly during their show causing the listener to tumble deep within their dizzying confines. We expected a certain dexterity from this band but walked away impressed at the impeccable skill that each song was delivered with. - Tankboy

Japandroids

We predicted this duo would be loud and they didn’t disappoint. In fact their volume carried clear across multiple baseball fields but no one was complaining. While the show started late (set-times on the Blue Stage were delayed all day due to the earlier downpour) the band did their best to cram as much rock and/or roll into their 45-minute set as they possibly could. While visually there’s only so much a two-piece can do onstage, Japandroids did their best to occupy every square inch with their sound, spun guitars around, and we sweartagawd that drum kit would have skipped right off into the crowd had it not been anchored so securely. This was easily the highpoint of our day - Tankboy

Big K.R.I.T.

Though boasting is part and parcel of the whole rap game, Big K.R.I.T. took plenty of opportunities during his Friday set to give all manner of props, shout-outs and thanks--including a few to the audience for braving a second and third bout of rain. The Mississippi-based rapper even donned a Chicago Bulls hat for his Pitchfork Fest debut. Big K.R.I.T. worked the soggy crowd well, getting some good participation for the call and response parts of his songs, as well as the necessary screams and hand signs ("throw up fours, y'all.").

Big K.R.I.T. loves to mention being Southern, how country he is, which reveals itself in his laconic, smooth style. "Rotation" flowed will a mellow, steady beat that had more than a few fans leaning back and bouncing (and alternately busting some embarrassing dance moves). There weren't any of the R&B-inflected tracks we were hoping for, but K.R.I.T.'s DJ was on-point, jumping in several times with backup vocals. If you're a DJ who's ever been asked "Is this [makes record scratch motion] what you do?" blame DJs like K.R.I.T.'s for perpetuating that ideas--he busted out more than a few long, scratch-heavy intros later on.

Though Big K.R.I.T. says things like "you know I'm country as shit, right?" and talks about slowing things down, he--and his whole crew--work hard. Unlike Big Boi's debacle of a set last year, K.R.I.T. is totally present, laying down great rhymes and flowing smoothly from one song to the next. Rather than setting a backing track and vamping on stage with a few stray "ughs" and "uh huhs" like some folks (read: Big Boi, Diddy, etc.) K.R.I.T. makes his music happen instead of letting it happen in spite of him.

One small bummer: while there was definitely a crowd, the sparse areas in-between the clusters of fans was a touch disheartening. We hear the Japandroids set was packed body-to-body, so imagine if the two acts were switched and K.R.I.T.'s crowd was more cozily tucked into the confines of the Blue Stage. - Kim Bellware

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The Purity Ring performs at Pitchfork. Photo credit: Jim Kopeny
The Purity Ring

The Purity Ring is all about atmosphere, and while the assembled crowd was full of love for the band we didn’t think they delivered on our expectations. Onstage the band occupies a territory solidly anchored in the goth aesthetic, and while that can be compelling (see: Zola Jesus), this duo simply wasn’t up to the challenge. What is bewitching on record translated to wispy dissipation in a live setting leading this to be one of the sets we were most looking forward to but most let down by. - Tankboy

The evening closed with a decent but not overwhelming crowd gathered for Feist. We took advantage of her sleepy close to head over to the Sailor Jerry Party at Cobra and discovered it was the perfect close to the evening. In fact if you’re not catching any other aftershows, we recommend hitting that party up tonight and tomorrow as a chance to grab a few drinks and wait for the crowd surge to diminish before trying to make your way home. And if you do go there, head straight to the back patio (that we didn’t even know existed) since there’s plenty of room … and plenty of drinks. And tonight we’re personally gonna give hometown heroes White Mystery another chance to win us over, so we’re looking forward to that.

So, are you ready for day two? - Tankboy