Pitchfork Music Festival 2013 Day One: Hot And Groovy
By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 20, 2013 4:00PM
Despite all forecasts calling for sweltering heat and brutal thunderstorms, Friday's Pitchfork Music Festival opening turned out to be a pleasant affair on all fronts. And this vibe carried over to the acts as the through current of the day seemed to veer towards the "chill." Yes, there were boisterous and loud performances from groups like Mikal Cronin and Wire, the overwhelming feel to the day was one of relaxed grooving. And yes it was hot for a while, but no more so than an average Chicago summer day, and we saw Pitchfork volunteers handing out pallet after pallet of free water to make sure few people were overtaken by the heat. By the time the sun set and Björk took the stage, the twilight vibe turned downright somnambulant leading to pleasantly downtempo end to the day. Let's dig into a few thoughts on some of the individual performances, shall we? - Tankboy
As mid-day turned to late afternoon at Union Park, folksy rockers Woods took to the Red Stage. We mentioned in our preview that we love when bands' names match their sound. We also love it when their live sets match the weather. The Brooklyn four piece kicked off the set with a breezy set of songs to match the sunny scene but by the time they launched into their third tune — the title track off their 2012 album Bend Beyond — the wind began coming in heavier gusts around us and Woods' sound took on a bolder and groovier demeanor. Surrounding trees shook with the wind while the band belted out a set that never stopped building momentum.
Despite the fact that singer/guitarist Jeremy Earl's voice oddly sounded about a half octave higher than it does on record, the band sounded true to its studio sound with the addition of some appreciated improvised variations. They really hit their stride with a tight renditions of "Is It Honest?" and "Be All Be Easy." Songs gracefully blended into each other a la some short but captivating jam sessions. Playful guitar effects and seamless riffing made for a hard driven end to the set which made it tough to turn and leave several minutes early to catch our next act. - Katie Karpowicz
If you don't have (at least) shoulder length brown hair, chances are Mikal Cronin's not going to let you in his band. The singer took the stage Friday evening alongside a crew of amusingly similar looking rockers, opened with a croon and quickly elevated to a sonic boom. Kicking off his 45 minute set with the opener from his self-titled solo debut ("Is It Alright") and continued with a one-two punch speed with little more than a quick pause between songs.
Cronin's set was much heavier than his latest album MCII prepared us for but considering his years as a contributor to Ty Segall it was semi-expected. He definitely wasn't afraid to let his hair down either. We're all for a loose, free welding set -- especially when it comes to the garage rock sound that Cronin tends to lean toward -- but some of his wails got a bit pitchy. All in all though, we thoroughly enjoyed the set which included "Get Along," "See It My Way" and "Shout It Out." - Katie Karpowicz
Going into Wire's set we were expecting big things, especially since the band is famously turbulent and you never know if the show you're about to see is the last show they'll ever play. Colin Newman did his best to radiate menace but it tended to dissipate in the settling heat. And the band stayed true to form, that is, it refused to look back and set on its laurels, so the material was not the stuff of a nostalgia act. The crowd paid respectful attention but the kids in the field never truly got swept up in Wire's charms. - Tankboy
Joanna Newsom's set was the one we were most nervous for throughout the day. Not so much for Newsom's performance — the woman sings like a West Coast angel and that harp she plays only elevates the heavenly aura of her songs — as we were for the crowd. A soft spoken harpist at any outdoor festival is tough. Could the crowd cut its chatter enough to properly hear her set?
The answer, sadly, was "not quite." While the first few rows back from the stage were seemingly attentive and respectful, once you got back to the sound booth it was hard to go more than 30 seconds without our listening experience being interrupted. Ironically enough, a good deal of the conversations we overheard drowning out Newsom's music were about how softly she was playing. Soothing tracks with spidery harp melodies like "In California" still shone through despite the interference.
When Newsom switched to the piano for a couple of songs we realized it was almost as though she was intentionally playing softly, commanding the crowd's attention — a strategy that might prove fruitful in an intimate club. However it ultimately failed on an audience whose attention was waning so late in the day and whose level of excitement was growing the quicker Bjork's set time approached. - Katie Karpowcz
Björk and the end of the evening
Björk took the stage backed by a drummer, a programmer and a swaying female choir of a sexy cloister of never-nuns who bopped about joyously and danced around the stage to even the most minimal beats. Björk herself was decked out in what one friend called, her "puffy Hellraiser pinhead headdress" and she stalked the stage with slight menace, providing a cool counterpoint to the playfulness of her backing crew. As her set progressed we realized we were witnessing something that, for Björk, actually felt toned down and slightly workmanlike so as our Twitter feed exploded with news that the Pearl Jam show across town had shut down due to the threat of an incoming storm we decided that half a Björk set was enough for us and exited the park. Looks like we made the right call since we're told her performance was in fact cut short by the rain and "the evacuation cut her off right at the height of her set." - Tankboy
We made our way across town—after snagging a free tattoo at the Sailor Jerry CobraFest—to catch a more intimate show at Lincoln Hall featuring Sky Ferriera, Savages—and a DJ named Björk. Ferreira turned in a brief set that was heavy on her folkier rock side while sadly ignoring her more electronic pop leanings. And the less said about Björk's DJ skills—or more precisely her ability to party with what appeared to be her backing singers while occasionally pushing the play button—the better. And while we've heard much raving about Savages we simply could not get into their set, reading them as a tight combo that still came across as more of a Joy Division tribute act than anything else. Admittedly this could have been colored by a protracted and painful set by one-man-band—and Savages label-mate—Johnny Hostile that sapped all the energy out of the room that Björk's DJ set hadn't killed already. Because of this we're looking forward to giving Savages another chance to win us over tomorrow.
O.K., ready for day two?- Tankboy