Recapping the Pitchfork Music Festival's storm-shortened opening day

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Joanna Newsom
I didn't make it to Union Park on Friday—deadline work and a stubborn back spasm (day three!) kept me at Reader HQ while much of the rest of the staff hit Pitchfork. You know, how Professor X hangs out at the Xavier Institute while the X-Men go to music festivals. I think Leor Galil is definitely Nightcrawler—you should see the hours that guy keeps!

OK, yes, I'm aware that Nightcrawler's mutant power isn't staying up very late—I'm also aware that when I start making disclaimers about a stupid analogy, it's time to drop it.

The forecast storms cut short Bjork's set at about 9:30 (and played hell with the Pearl Jam and Phish concerts across town), but not before the flickering lightning added a touch of extra ambience to her otherworldly stage show. She promptly decamped to Lincoln Hall to be the "very special guest DJ" at the Savages afterparty—a gig for which she's rumored to have asked for only a bottle of champagne in payment.

After the jump, Reader staff and contributors sum up their Fridays. Any paragraph in italics is me butting in:

Peter Margasak: Angel Olsen made it clear that she could handle an outdoor stage by turning up and intensifying with a scrappy trio, while Joanna Newsom controlled the crowd with just her harp, mind-boggling songs, and focus. Bjork was great as expected, but Wire surprised me with a lean, driving set. I should know better. Beat the downpour with seconds to spare.

Peter went on camera before the festival to talk about what he was looking forward to on Friday, and after the music ended he shot another video, this time to compare his expectations with the reality. Here he is again:

Bill Meyer: Fellow caffeine appreciators take note—this is the first Pitchfork festival to provide easy access to good iced coffee. Thank you, Dark Matter! Otherwise, the day’s highlights were brought to you by the letter W. Woods' combination of Byrdsy 12-string melodies, Nuggets-worthy riffs, pleasantly psychedelic jamming, and loopy helium singing matched the heat-struck euphoria of a hot summer afternoon. Then Wire doused that vibe with a cold shower of icy pop and escalating aggression driven by Robert Grey, whose immaculate timekeeping clinched his position as one of the greatest drummers in rock.

I don't drink coffee, but this is also the first Pitchfork festival in several years to offer Goose Island beers rather than Heineken, which I won't drink in the sun even for free. Looking forward to the Run the Jewels collaboration, which I hear is a dry-hopped Belgian-style wheat ale.

Joanna Newsom

Tal Rosenberg: Bjork played at 9 PM, but I could barely distinguish her set from Joanna Newsom's, which preceded it. Both of them played gentle, floaty songs in cumbersome humidity; the only difference was that Joanna Newsom went full harp. Maybe it was the temperature, but it was a weirdly muddled and soft opening night for this edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival. It was only a few years ago that a Friday night featured Public Enemy, after all. Someone told me that Bjork's stage lost power, but no one else seemed to notice. And that was kind of it. Despite the presence of someone as otherworldly as Bjork, it was the first time that Pitchfork felt kind of like a nonevent.

Wire
  • Lydia Gorham
  • Wire

Luca Cimarusti: If there was anything today that was any sort of disappointment, I'd have to say it was Mikal Cronin. His songs sounded rushed and without groove—they just felt kind of flat. Can I blame this on the drummer? I'm going to. I blame the drummer. There was a lot of good, though. Trash Talk killed. Mac DeMarco sounded infinitely better live than on record. And Wire was outstanding, holding my attention better than any festival act I've seen in a long time. Their heady, terse postpunk sounded fresh and exciting, even though their set was light on "hits." I really wanted to hear "Mannequin," man! Hearing Bjork's voice live and in person was quite magical. Now it's off to see Connections bring their GBV worship to the Bottom Lounge aftershow. Excellent first day!

Mikal Cronin

Kevin Warwick: It's impossible to top a band who can deal with the heat. Yeah, while I was sitting on a bench (like you know who) during Joanna Newsom, a more-than-blitzed girl decided to take her tube top off and go bare chested, but Sacramento's Trash Talk went with bare aggression and sarcasm. Front man Lee Spielman worked the crowd like it was a fifth-grade class, at one point telling them to all take a seat on the lawn, berating those who didn't. At another point he forced himself through the sweaty mess, screaming full volume in faces, driving the band's hardcore punk straight through the 90-plus thick sauna heat like a bulldozer whether they wanted it or not. Simply put, Trash Talk ripped completely and totally. When Spielman asked early on, "Can I get all the music louder in these monitors?," I knew their midday set was going to be the wildest of the bunch. I actually felt a tinge of pity for all those having to follow 'em. My God, please catch Trash Talk tomorrow night at Bottom Lounge with White Lung.

Trash Talk

Leor Galil: Once Trash Talk ended their set, Kevin Warwick turned to me and said, "Best set of the day." I wasn't convinced—they were only the third band I'd seen—but the Sacramento hardcore group raged hard, and front man Lee Spielman won me over with his banter ("Give it up for the old people . . . they all had us and shit") and shout-outs to local rappers. Trash Talk's set remained one of the strongest of the day, but I'm not sure it was the best—their raucous songs didn't send shivers down my spine like Angel Olsen's voice or leave me awestruck like Bjork's, well, entire appearance. But they tore through their short time onstage with a focused mania that was hard to resist, and no other act I caught topped that.

Trash Talk
  • Ashley Limon
  • Trash Talk

As it turns out, Leor wasn't the only person entertained by Spielman's between-song quipping:

Tosten Burks: The only thing funnier than Bjork requesting that no one take photos or video during her set (LOL) was Trash Talk front man Lee Spielman commenting between songs on how nice it was to have "old dudes" at their show for once: "Give it up for the old people . . . they all had us and shit." A close third was Leor Galil's disappointment that the VIP section served free beer but not free water bottles. On to day two! (After I rewatch my Bjork Instagram video).

Trash Talk

Gwynedd Stuart: You can treat it as a character flaw if you want, I guess, but I've never cared that much about Bjork. Now I care about Bjork. Maybe a lot? I was extraordinarily far away, but her set was magnetic and amazing. Everyone should be accompanied by a choir. This blog post should be accompanied by a choir.

I put a choir in there for you, Gwynedd. Probably not the one you wanted, but I stand behind my choice.

Woods
  • Lydia Gorham
  • Woods

Drew Hunt: It was very guitar-centric day, which is a bit weird for a Pitchfork fest. Don't get me wrong, there were great sets all around—Trash Talk, Mikal Cronin, and especially Wire all impressed—but it was strange to walk around Union Park without hearing the occasional 808 drum machine or trap-beat air horn. The forthcoming hip-hop and EDM sets will provide a welcome change of pace. My favorite performance of the day goes to Woods, who played a rollicking, feedback-laden set that never let up. I might have been the only Reader staffer not watching Angel Olsen, who was allegedly perfectly pleasant.

Angel Olsen

Mara Shalhoup: The best outpouring on a day when everyone knew it would rain, eventually: Angel Olsen. It was all sunshine when she performed, but the mood of her set threatened something else. Made me think of this thing she said when I had the pleasure of listening to her sunny-but-not interview for our People Issue: "As far as being a confident stage presence, the theatric approach has remained with me. Now when I play I find myself going into some sort of character and it makes me deal with it better—deal with the strange uncomfortablness of being a performer. It’s better to become a character and in that character you can disappear." Her strange uncomfortableness on Pitchfork's Blue Stage really worked.

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