Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 Day One: It's Hot! And The Temperatures Are High Too

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 18, 2015 6:30PM

What other large music festival, when faced with brutal sun and high temperatures, would counter that with free sunblock for the masses? Instead of using the opportunity to make a mint off festival-goers they just give it away? Well, that’s the vibe at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. The park started filling up quickly really early in the day on Friday, with more people watching bands in the earliest time slots, leading to worry that things might get overcrowded and out of hand. That never happened, though, and overall I can honestly say that this was one of the more pleasant vibes on opening day I’ve experienced at Pitchfork. Bring on the heat, the weekend will be worth it! —Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

2:51 p.m. “It’s really hot out here,” says Natalie Prass. Yet the singer-songwriter conveys effortless cool as she shimmies through her set on the Red Stage in a vintage-inspired blue dress and shades. The high temperatures have quelled the early crowd and they’re able to focus on Prass’ lyricism, singing along as they block out the sun. While the Nashville artist is most associated with the Disney princess-like delicacy of songs like “It Is You,” the whimsy in her set is varied with wailing and guitar work. Prass even added some R&B groove to the afternoon, covering Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place.” Prass delivered on her signature style and we were pleased to see a sampling of her range. Dragonflies floated over the sun-soaked audience as she performed “Bird of Prey” in a moment that couldn’t have been more perfectly Prass. —Jessica Mlinaric

3:35 p.m. Ryley Walker is kicking out some intense Nick Drake meets free jazz freakout jams. Usually my complaint about early Friday acts is that they’re too sleepy, but that is 100% not the case here. Walker’s recent album Primrose Green hints at this approach but in the studio his compositions seem to be more grounded and introspective, whereas live they are wild beasts searching for a stable perch only to find musical notes tumbling beneath their feet, keeping everything on edge and off balance. I find myself feeling both enraptured and increasingly uneasy as I stand and face the torrent tumbling forth from the stage. It’s both thrilling and deeply unsettling. As I stumble away and into the baseball field across the way, Natalie Press’ music is so soothing it feels like a refreshingly bland wave of cool water over my psyche. —Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

5 p.m. ILoveMakonnen interrupts his set to have all of Pitchfork say hello to his mom. He thanks her for all of her support and reminds the crowd to do the same and call their mothers. If only there were reception in the park. —Jessica Mlinaric

5:07 p.m. ILoveMakonnen is … divisive. Some find his art school Biz Markie antics amusing while others do not. On stage, he prances around singing the praises of his life of vice in a warbly and idiosyncratic voice that some find grating and others find captivating. Let’s be clear, Makonnen Sheran is not a great rapper and probably never will be. Where he excels at is crafting hazy party songs for the working class to enjoy while having affordable drinks with friends at a favorite bar on a Tuesday night. Makonnen is the rap game jukebox hero and that’s fine. Also, I like to imagine that the DJ awkwardly playing the “I Don’t Like” Kanye remix as Makonnen abruptly left the stage mid-song was a shout-out to the aborted Chief Keef hologram show that was supposed to happen last night. Nah. That was pandering. Tour DJs: There is so much good rap going on in this city right now. Please stop playing random two-and-a-half year old trap singles to appeal to suburban dudebros and the basics that love them. —Justin Freeman

5:15 p.m. Steve Gunn’s set starts with a sleepy buildup and a nice vibe. This is the first band I’ve heard today that really feels present. As in, in the moment and carrying a physicality to the music that just feels so natural and effortless. Gunn's band feels like they’re psychically glued together and his lightly twangy and pastoral set feels perfect as I stand under the trees and enjoy the shade and a slight cool breeze. If I close my eyes I’m no longer in the middle of a humid cityscape, but am instead transported to a wide wheat field, with flashes of the sun glinting off the stalks surrounding me. And then Gunn rips into an incredibe rendition of “Milly's Garden” and I’m suddenly back in my body and basking in the present again. —Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

5:55 p.m. Rock’s merry prankster, Mac DeMarco, morphs Steely Dan’s “Reelin In the Years” into a monster guitar anthem as menacing storm clouds darken the sky. The waterworks never arrive, but DeMarco does go surfing through the crowd to close out the playful set. —Jessica Mlinaric

5:56 p.m. Okay, someone's gotta say it, Mac DeMarco sounds like Ty Segall crossed with Phish. Once you read that you won’t be able to unhear the resemblance. Sorry. —Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

6 p.m. So someone thought it would be a great idea to give people carpet squares to throw around the park all weekend? I’ve seen a few carpet frisbees and the ground is littered with them. If/when it rains, I can only imagine the intense slippery and muddy mess. —Lisa White

6:25 p.m. Sitting behind his keyboard with his moppy head of hair, Tobias Jesso Jr. is joined by a more classical setup of horns and strings than we’re used to seeing at Pitchfork. His set on the Blue Stage got started a little late after soundcheck ran over, but our favorite track, the soulful “How Could You Babe” made the cut. Jesso’s heartfelt piano pop filled the air on the steamy Friday afternoon. “It’s fuckin hot” he exclaimed midway through his first time playing Chicago. His relaxed banter between songs (“turn that shit up”) was a nice contrast to more proper-sounding music, making a big field feel more like a cozy living room filled with friends. —Michelle Meywes Kopeny

6:30 p.m. Haim sisters spotted at the Blue Stage for Tobias Jesso Jr.’s set. #haimtracker —Michelle Meywes Kopeny

6:35 p.m. Found the reminiscent memories section in the Pitchfork 10 Year Anniversary book. The one from Dan Deacon recalls his 2007 set that was shut down because people were teetering on top of a fence that was bulging into traffic on Ogden Avenue. This is back when the “blue” side stage was over where Flatstock now resides. “Looking back it was completely dangerous and totally insane and that’s probably why it was so much fun.” —Michelle Meywes Kopeny

6:40 p.m. Oh great, I made it just in time after work to catch Panda Bear and his damn yelping. I’ve always enjoyed Animal Collective but Panda Bear solo’s sets at Pitchfork over the years have left me running the other way. This year it’s … actually tolerable if not somewhat pleasant. My boyfriend suggests that maybe the Daft Punk collaboration gave Panda Bear focus? Sure, if it made him stop barking on stage, we’ll go with that. —Lisa White

6:44 p.m. Skeletons flash on the big screen, but the spooky clouds have given way to blue skies for Panda Bear. Noah Lennox loops vocals and twists knobs from behind his rig, cascading with a rainbow of wires. It can’t be easy to hold a crowd’s attention as a stationary, solitary performer, yet from where I’m standing up front Panda Bear’s psych grooves are keeping the audience afloat. The sound isn’t optimized for Panda Bear’s subtle layering, but the harmonies of “Boys Latin” are just the thing for summer afternoon vibing. —Jessica Mlinaric

7 p.m. I’m not moving much but I feel like I am melting. For all you people whining about Chicago not having a real summer, well, here it is. Are you happy now? Somewhere a goth kid in black with dyed hair is crying and sweating hair color. Okay, the goth kid is me. —Lisa White

7:15 p.m. Waiting for CHVRCHES to start and a young girl in front of me crumples. She’s the second person I’ve seen First Aid carry away. Stay hydrated, folks. —Lisa White

7:16 p.m. Me? After a genuine fear we’d never see summer I’ll happily take the heat. Though Lisa’s right, STAY HYDRATED. And take advantage of that free sunblock too! —Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

7:20 p.m. CHVRCHES are a prime example of how Pitchfork Festival excels at perfectly curating and scheduling certain acts during the weekend. The Glasglow trio’s effervescent synth pop was just the shot in the arm festival fans needed to power through the murky heat. Starting out with a bit of a slow burn, the bass dropped in and sparkling synth sounds took over as the masses slowly started to sway along. The group seems more self-assured and comfortable onstage compared to their first U.S. tour, and singer Lauren Mayberry has learned to command a stage, her clear vocals ringing out between bits of charming stage banter.

The band offered up a handful of tracks off their forthcoming album, Every Open Eye, out this September. Single “Leave a Trace,” which the band released just a few days ago, is a heady track that is begging to have pretty young things singing along earnestly “I know I need to feel released” on the dance floor. It’s frustration flipped into empowerment and churned out through a pop soundscape at its finest. Dreamy fan favorites “The Mother We Share” and pulsating “Gun” found even the most tired bodies shimmying along while cracking a smile. Watching the sun start to set, fans re-energized by a heavy burst of electronic beats reminded me of another glorious Pitchfork Festival synth set by M83 years ago. (“Under the Tide” has always sounded like it could be plucked from the Chvrches discography as a M83 b-side.) Even with the thick heat, Pitchfork Festival knows when to trot out the bands that can grab a crowd’s attention and perk things up. —Lisa White

7:40 p.m. Haim sisters at CHVRCHES #haimtracker —Michelle Meywes Kopeny

7:42 p.m. Last time I saw Iceage, it was several years ago and someone had broken into their van and stole some of their gear shortly before their set at Pitchfork that year. In response, they dedicated the then soon-to-be-released song “You’re Nothing” to “the pieces of shit who stole our guitars in Chicago” before imploding into a colossal fit of fury. Except for periodically revisiting their album New Brigade, I haven't kept up with them too much in the years that followed. A more mature Iceage appeared Friday, brimming with a sense of sullen swagger. Their new direction sounds more restrained and atmospheric. Songs like “White Rune” have taken on a sense of opulent despair as lead singer Elias Bender R√łnnenfelt drops to the ground in dramatic fashion and sings the final words of “Plowing Into the Field of Love.” As several ominous clouds started to form in the sky for a storm that never came, the band abruptly announced that they’re getting cut off and promptly left the stage. Word online is that the reason for their shortened set was a prolonged soundcheck. Regardless, I found myself looking forward to listening to their new album when I got home. —Justin Freeman

7:53 p.m. Breaking for falafel (Goose Island) with a side of slow punk while Iceage’s Elias Bender R√łnnenfelt writhes on the stage floor. —Jessica Mlinaric

8 p.m. Just realized these carpet squares are ones my roommate had in college. Blast from the past. I need a new rug, wonder if I could smuggle out a box? —Lisa White

8:30 p.m. “This is the first time we’ve ever played any of these songs,” says Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy mid-set. What other band has the gall to release a new album out of the blue and then play it from start to finish at a headlining festival set a mere 24 hours later? The hometown group filled the Union Park field with noise as they launched into the opening track of their brand spanking new album Star Wars (It does indeed have a cat on the cover, as Tweedy pointed out, and as far as we can tell has nothing to do with the Lucas film franchise). These days, with inter-member drama behind them and their own recording studio, the band can truly do whatever they want. Wilco has always been ahead of the curve musically, but what essentially started out as an alt-country band with experimental tendencies has grown into a force unafraid to get weird. Take “Via Chicago.” if you haven’t seen this song performed live, find out where Wilco is playing next and buy a ticket.

After the band ran through the new album, they played almost an hour of familiar hits, and we waited patiently for “Via Chicago.” This track is an unassuming ballad to home on the album Summerteeth, but the live treatment swells into a wall of noise that sounds like fireworks twisting and tumbling off a cliff before closing in on itself. It’s confusing and delightful all in one moment. The addition of drummer Glenn Kotche (2001) and guitarist Nels Cline (2004)—both known for their free-jazz work—seems like a natural progression when looking back. (Watch these two carefully during performances, because most of that glorious noise you hear is coming from Cline’s guitar, which seems to be turned up louder than any other instrument on the stage.) The night closed with the upbeat and melodic “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and in true Wilco fashion, was accompanied by shredding guitar. —Michelle Meywes Kopeny

8:40 p.m. The photo pit at Wilco is one of the most mobbed I’ve seen. Maybe I can grab a shot if I just balance on one foot on this metal spike, use a speaker for support and point my camera in the air? —Jessica Mlinaric

8:40 p.m. Wilco’s light bright on steroids backdrop is lovely but man, I miss those sweet Nudie Suits. Bring back the Nudies, Tweedy! —Lisa White

8:50 p.m. Is it just me or does “Random Name Generator” kinda give off an Allman Brothers vibe? I’m not complaining. Also Wilco gets the “that’s pretty punk rock” hat tip for throwing caution to the wind and playing a new album released the day before their festival set straight through before playing any casual fan favorites. —Lisa White

8:55 p.m. I race back to the Blue Stage for the end of Ought’s set. It’s surprisingly sparse. You guys, they are so good. Toe-tapping tension and melodic meandering detonate in a fit of post-punk fury. Here’s wishing I had never left. —Jessica Mlinaric

9:30 p.m. I’m finally taking a breather lying on the lawn. As I watch planes pass overhead, the epic “Via Chicago” erupts into a drum barrage at the hands of Glenn Kotche. Well done, day one. —Jessica Mlinaric

Heading to the fest today? Here's our preview on acts you don't want to miss on Saturday.