Pitchfork Music Festival Day 1 Recap

by Mark Brenden

Pitchfork Music Festival is like Woodstock in that a bunch of inebriated (and primarily Caucasian) people gather to listen to music. And that’s where the comparisons end. As hard as “Free Hugs” sign holders and arm-flailin’ hippie dancers try to turn the summer’s premier indie showcase into a flower festival, the effort is futile against the hoards of people who came to simply to stand there and look cool.

But that’s what draws the masses to Chicago’s Union Park July after July. The festival, now in its sixth year, is probably the best place available for a guy/gal to stand and look cool. It’s three days of peace, vanity and music — and it’s the best our little generation has to offer.

Day one ranged from the relatively new fads (EMA, Das Racist and tUnE-yArDs) to the indie antiques (Thurston Moore, Neko Case and Guided By Voices).

Moore and Case provided the chill to Das Racist and fellow rapper Curren$y’s fire. Moore was decidedly reserved, choosing to play pretty, harp-aided folk instead of the screechy noise rock that made him famous. There was a youthful confidence to the deceptively aged veteran — our man is almost 53 years old. He’s always had that “I know something you don’t know” quality to his singing, but the swagger took new significance as he stood as elder hipster before his pupils. 

And as the first day neared its end, country songstress and New Pornographers cohort Neko Case graced the festival’s Red Stage for an hour-long performance that drew heavily from her 2006 release “Fox Confesser Brings the Flood.” Flanked by a crew of world-class musicians, Case’s voice soared above the pockets of chatter that came to dominate the latter-half of Friday evening.

But before Case was even half-way through her set, an already-dense crowd thickened outside the Blue Stage as the electronic Soul Man James Blake prepared to make his Pitchfork debut. Unsurprisingly, Blake was mild-mannered and soft-spoken, delivering a performance replete with soulful crooning, hit singles (“Wilhelms Screams” and “Limit to your Love”) and cathartic bursts of electronic fuzz.

As Blake exited the stage, it became obvious who the majority of Friday night’s crowd was there to see — Animal Collective. The ever-loved loop junkies have always been a Pitchfork favorite, and they managed to provide Friday night’s audience with a healthy dose of electronic weirdness that prompted dance circles, pot smoke and public displays of, uh, we’ll call it affection.


The first day of this year’s festival was a lot like last year’s — crowded, dirty and full of a wide-range of musical acts. While every summer festival loves to tout itself for diversity, few really compare with Pitchfork’s annual bonanza. It’s a 20,000-person cross section of the young and old, all united beneath the indie umbrella for a three-day marathon of independent rock ‘n’ roll. And so far this year appears to be no exception.

– written by Mark Brenden and Raghav Mehta, photos by Jules Ameel