Pitchfork Music Festival Day One

A man crowd-surfs during Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks on Friday, the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago.

A man crowd-surfs during Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks on Friday, the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago.

Grant Tillery

Though the first day of Pitchfork tends to be lackluster, this year’s lineup bucked the trend.  Hundred Waters opened the festival and despite a small crowd, they churned out an excellent performance that channeled Bjork.  Plus, lead singer Nicole Miglis plays a mean flute, which sets the band apart from the multitudes of other down-tempo ambient groups.

Neneh Cherry & RocketNumberNine performed dubstep, good dubstep (take that Skrillex).  Despite Cherry’s failed dance moves, it was impossible to resist swaying to her neo-soul backbeats.  That urge dissipated at the Haxan Cloak’s performance — loud sonic drones lacked the pizzazz necessary to engage fans at a large music festival.  Listening to them in an otherwise quiet room with the lights out is a much better way to experience their music. 

While Sharon Van Etten’s music isn’t much more up-tempo than the Haxan Cloak’s and is a tad blasé, her folky jangle pleased the crowd.  Her set improved once she hit “Save Yourself,” and crested on a wave of country-influenced numbers (which are her strong suit).  SZA’s set was more subdued than Van Etten’s, and the sheer volume of high schoolers smoking gave anyone within a 1000 foot radius a contact high.  The younger crowd was obnoxious and made it difficult to enjoy the set — witnessing a stagehand flirt with two of said crowd was also disquieting.

This led me to Sun Kil Moon, the biggest surprise of Friday’s set.  It’s easy to pigeonhole the band as another indie-folk outfit, but lead singer Mark Kozelek has a sonic sensibility similar to Van Morrison and the Americana roots of “Nebraska” era Springsteen.  Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks riled up the blissed out crowd after Sun Kil Moon.  Their energy was at 110 percent the entire show without any signs of slowing.  Their set flowed, and tight segues made their cheesy codas cool.  Their performance marked the sole appearance of crowd surfers and an obligatory balloon was also volleyed in the air. 

Giorgio Moroder’s DJ set was a dance party featuring his greatest hits.  Disco fans basked in the rays of slickness, as Moroder spun track after track of Donna Summer, Blondie and Daft Punk.  The day finished off with Beck.  Few things match the magnitude of standing in the front row of a Beck concert while an enthused audience shouts the chorus of favorites like “Loser” and “E-Pro.”  And he played “Debra” during the encore, which is a nice little cherry on top.  Beck’s underrated guitar playing stood front-and-center during his set, as did his surprising showmanship.  The same guy who brought us melancholic dirges like “Sea Change” and “Lost Cause” (performed back to back) thrashed and destroyed his instruments with his other guitarists.  A yellow police line served as a prop, roping off the stage between Beck’s set and encore and shielding the audience from the guitar carnage.

Day one of Pitchfork started slow and ended on a high note.  A few surprises bolstered a spectacular indie superstar lineup.  If today’s performances are indicators, days two and three could be game changers.