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Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 Day One: A Mostly Mellow Affair

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 19, 2014 5:00PM

The opening day of the 2014 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival was a mostly quiet one. The weather was the loveliest it’s ever been and the crowd was in a mellow mood. While earlier acts had their moments, the music was still mostly in a muted mood throughout the earlier parts of the day. On one hand, this was terrific, since it allowed many attendees to ease into the weekend. We have lots of friends that come in from out of town, and while Fridays are usually marked by a rush to Union Field after work to see a particular act, the early afternoon this year was spent chatting and reconnecting instead of rushing. And that was lovely. So the earlier portion of the day say music providing a pleasant background rather than a focal point for much of the crowd. But there certainly were a few moments where attention was rapturously turned to the stage. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

“It begins,” Neneh Cherry solemnly purred as she took the stage Friday afternoon with RocketNumberNine. Starting the set with “Across the Water,” Cherry’s clear voice rang out across Union Park only accompanied by a stark drumbeat. Cherry played most of Blank Project, her excellent 2014 album, heating things up with the title track as she shook her curls and swayed in a denim jumpsuit along with the tribal percussion and light synths that beckoned your hips to shake. It’s hard to believe that this was Cherry’s first performance since 1992. She commanded the stage like the seasoned musician that she is, her powerful vocals matched by her playful exuberance. “I don’t’ know about you, but this feels really good,” she said. “It’s a thrill.” Cherry’s recent work stands on its own, but she delivered the audience another thrill in closing with a modified version of her erstwhile smash “Buffalo Stance.” — Jessica Mlinaric

SZA’s late afternoon set got lost in the fog that flooded her stage, or maybe it was the smoke coming from the crowd. Sipping whiskey, the St. Louis native repped her Midwest roots and the Top Dawg Entertainment family. Taking requests from the crowd, she crooned “Ur, “Hiiijack,” and closer “Sweet November” off of her recent release Z, while mixing in earlier EP tracks like “Ice.Moon.” SZA was captivating to watch up close, grooving to the bass in an oversized Leaders cut off, all curly hair and big smiles of charming naiveté. “She’s such a positive presence,” said a nearby fan. SZA’s luster was lost on the back of the crowd, where her unsure vocals weren’t strong enough to extend. I was hoping for a set of sizzling R&B but settled for SZA’s quiet simmer. — Jessica Mlinaric

Pitchfork isn’t usually the summer festival in Union Park where you expect to see a major dance party go down, especially one lead by an adorable elderly man leading the audience in synchronized hand moves. But if any festival offers up one of the founding fathers of electronic dance music and disco, the current and former club kids will shimmy their way to the dance floor (or field in this case) and boogie on down. Giorgio Moroder started out singing pop music in the ‘60s in Europe, but he first garnered International fame when he brought to the spotlight a backup singer known as Donna Summers singing “Love to Love You Baby,” a breathy but more danceable homage to Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime.” The iconic track that revolutionized disco (and helped conceive a good handful of kids in the 70s) opened Moroder’s DJ set at Pitchfork Festival Friday night.

Moroder’s set went on to be a nice mix of “best of,” spotlighting his long career as a producer and songwriter, along with some remixes of current pop cuts, proving that even at the age of 74 he still has a keen ear for finding that catchy hook. Case in point, he isolated the best part of summer earworm “Fancy,” showcasing the sugary, addictive Charli XCX parts before merging into a more pop friendly version of Junior Caldera’s EDM bass rattling banger “Lights Out (Go Crazy).” Once you have a solid knack for finding the sweet spots in pop music, you apparently don’t lose that skill over time.

As much fun as it was hearing Moroder rework artists that owe a good amount of gratitude to the foundation he created, the classics were what got the crowd really bouncing along. “Flashdance… What a Feeling” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” were met with cheers, while a good dose of Donna Summer delights (“Hot Stuff,” “On the Radio” “Bad Girls”) had a diverse crowd ranging from toddlers to couples who could clearly gain membership to AARP dancing steadily along. His latest work, the Adult Swim single “Giorgio’s Theme” meshed perfectly into “I Feel Love” and for a moment you could almost feel the disco ball shining down on the crowd. The only minor hiccups were a few technical glitches and Moroder not sure of his timing at the end, but it isn’t totally unexpected for a man who only started his live DJ career a few years past celebrating his 70th birthday. If you had the gumption to dive in and actually dance along, it was a spirited set that took a joyful crowd through a modern pop and electronic dance history lesson. Music that likely wouldn’t exist as it is today if not for Giorgio Moroder. — Lisa White

Beck, the once young weirdo rocker of the '90s, is aging gracefully, mellowing out in some instances but never losing his edge as evident by his headlining set Friday night. Sure, he isn’t diving into the crowd as much these days but you’ll still find him gyrating around the stage during danceable classics, which were the choice cuts of what was a setlist heavy on fan favorites. Opening with the crunchy guitar tones of “Devils Haircut” off his classic album Odelay immediately won over the audience. It’s such a great heavy wall of guitars with a retro sound, you can’t help but be on board immediately.

The pace kept at a fast clip moving right into the jangly “Black Tambourine,” but the slightly too quick pace was a bit noticeable with a sped up performance of “Gamma Ray.” After chatting about the lovely mild weather (“The Pitchfork Gods must be smiling down on us”) Beck caught his footing with the always sweet and endearing “Think I’m In Love,” which included a mildly twangy breakdown mid-song of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” a nice little partial cover he has been performing recently live and an obvious perfect pairing playing it right after Giorgio Moroder’s set.

Moving on, we got our first track off his latest album, Morning Phase with the downtempo “Blue Moon.” Personally I’m not partial to the more somber world of Beck. My favorite Beck album is Midnite Vultures so obviously when the phrase “we’re gonna play some stuff off the new album” was uttered, I politely waited for party Beck to return. It’s not that the new material isn’t good or pleasant, but in a festival setting I really just want to dance to the solid gold hits. Patience paid off, as Beck delivered “Loser” back-to-back with “Get Real Paid,” still bringing forth that funky odd side that makes Beck so delightful. After another round of cool down music, including the always hauntingly beautiful “Chemtrails” Beck capped off his set on a high note with “Sexx Laws,” the always smooth “Debra” and taking it back with “Where It’s At.” Beck delivered a set full of enough hits to more than make up for any downtime, proving that the lovable “loser” might have gotten a bit older and introspective but still knows how to have a damn good time. — Lisa White

So while the day may have started off slowly, it certainly built into a sonic boom by the end of the evening. We heard minor grumblings about insanely long lines to purchase beer tickets as we exited the park but what we didn’t hear was more telling: there were no sound issues or bleed between stages, an event that usually plagues the first day of the fest.

In our opinion, this was a true triumph for fest organizers. So we went out into the night exhausted by Beck’s set but in high spirits after a lovely day of pleasant music, wonderful weather and mellow crowds. It looks as if the weather will hold through today, but the music promises to be a little more invigorating—and we are more than ready to jump into that scene. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy