Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Philip Montoro: I failed to follow my own advice on Pitchfork's opening day: I missed Neneh Cherry. Actually I missed everybody—I was tied up at work till well after the media check-in closed at 7 PM. When this happened last year I made a joke about Professor X hanging out at the Xavier Institute while the X-Men go to music festivals, but I don't think I can get away with anything like that twice. I'd just make myself look even more like a sad bastard trying to laugh off his painful office hours.
I went to dinner at Jerry's in Andersonville, and on the plus side, they had Boom Over Pow on tap—that's the Three Floyds ESB that I raved about at Dark Lord Day.
Also on the plus side, being at Reader HQ till nearly nine o'clock meant I could read the team's Twitter feeds—my janky old phone wouldn't have let me do that at the park. Associate editor Kevin Warwick started a #whatlucasaid hashtag to collect bons mots from our music-listings wrangler, Luca Cimarusti, including "That cowbell sucks," "This cigarette makes me look cool," and "There's definitely incest in my bloodline." (I have so many questions!) Kevin was also party to my favorite exchange of the evening, with music writer Peter Margasak. I'm not going to spoil it.
At the end of the night, everybody at the festival sent me their impressions from day one. Even if you were there, you can live vicariously through their stories:
Luca Cimarusti: If I had to choose my top five favorite bands, three of them would be Black Flag, Black Sabbath, and the Stooges. So the last thing in the world I expected was to leave Pitchfork as a Sharon Van Etten fan. Her set was amazing, beautiful, and mournful. Her yearning songs, packed with soulful melody and complex vocal harmonies, made it physically difficult for me to walk away. I had to cut out early tonight, but she's been the highlight of the fest so far.
Kevin Warwick: The first couple of slots on the first day of any music festival are a hard sell—especially when most people are (conceivably) still at work. It's even tougher when one of those slots is occupied by Factory Floor, a postindustrial, antidisco outfit that seems better fit for a subterranean venue than Pitchfork's cozy Blue Stage in the sunshine and breeze of July. The three-piece mostly kept the beat nonstop, though, not allowing a wide-eyed crowd still prepping for the slog of the weekend to adjust. There were a surprising number of crowd surfers—because, whatever, it's live music and it's outside—though the music seemed more appropriate for outcasts getting down in the dark with a strobe light or three. The set, like Factory Floor's 2013 self-titled debut, wasn't so much about the rhythms in the foreground as it was about the noises hanging in the background: the glitches, the skating upper-register pitches, the straight-up dissonance. It was a pretty pleasant way to settle into the weekend, and the band will be worth checking out when they roll through town next—with any luck at an appropriately dim and sweaty venue with a grimy dance floor.
Peter Margasak: Traffic jams kept me from catching all but the last song by Hundred Waters, who seemed translucent in the bright sun, but they provided a glistening soundtrack as I wended my way through the soon-to-be-clogged field. But I made it in time to catch the act I was most excited about, and Neneh Cherry didn't let me down. She devoted almost her entire set to her terrific new album, Blank Project, with lean but effective support from London's RocketNumberNine, who also play on the record. The music sums up her entire history while sounding utterly contemporary, and her charisma and dance moves brought it to vivid life. She seemed relaxed, confident, and genuinely happy to be performing her first U.S. show since 1992. She's a natural—cool without even trying. She turned 50 in March and she looked, sounded, and moved with the spirit of half that age. She closed the set with her 1989 smash "Buffalo Stance," transforming the hit into a down-tempo gem that fit perfectly with the new material.
The Haxan Cloak sounded appropriately heavy, cold, and dark, but that seemed a little pathetic in the late-afternoon sun; Sharon Van Etten's strummy, dramatic folk-rock fared better. I stopped paying attention to Mark Kozelek in his Red House Painters days—I was once a pretty big fan—and his dull, plodding set with Sun Kil Moon convinced me I'd made the right decision. Giorgio Moroder was fun, remixing hits he produced for Donna Summer, Blondie, Irene Cara, and Berlin in one unstoppable mix. His finger dancing and arm waving was charming—the guy was clearly having a blast—but it was more of a karaoke set sans vocals than a cutting-edge performance. I tried to watch Beck, but I was so far to the right of the stage that all I could see was the monitor. I was done.
Tal Rosenberg: From Friday, we'll remember what? Neneh Cherry? Sun Kil Moon? An Ibiza-scented set from Giorgio Moroder? Beck? The big draws might conceivably have AARP cards. But they also had more energy than most of the acts at previous Pitchfork festivals.
It's a weird turn, but it makes sense: knowing how to be a strong live act comes from experience. The best performances were by people who'd honed their skills with decades on the road. That's why Giorgio Moroder's set was so odd: he seemed to be reaching for a modern EDM feel, but he had none of the execution of an practiced DJ. His performance existed in an odd limbo, not quite the present and not quite the past, deeply aware of history but clueless about what's going on now.
Neneh Cherry's set was the opposite. It was assured, precise, and sexy. At 50, Cherry has more sensuality in her music and dancing than virtually every major pop star today. But her performance also recalled the smoky trip-hop of Portishead and late-90s Massive Attack. She found just the right balance—a past that's been overlooked with a vibe that felt very much like the present.
Gwynedd Stuart: I'm listening to Beck play "Loser" as I write this. And yes, Neneh Cherry played a down-tempo version of "Buffalo Stance." And yes, there are 30 girls here wearing the exact same sunflower dress I wore to my eighth-grade graduation (I completed the ensemble with an ecru bodysuit and low-top Chucks). Nostalgia is fun. But day one was a good mix of old and new. And really old. Giorgio Moroder was received by the crowd with so much genuine affection, and he earned it with all the enthusiasm he still has for tracks that were released when I was but a glimmer. I mean, he thinks "Hot Stuff" is so nice, he played it twice. Gonna go wait for Beck to play "Sexx Laws" now. I'm pretty sure Jack Black was fresh off Mr. Show when he was in that video. I like nostalgia too.
Jake Malooley: The thing I'm always reminded of on the Friday of Pitchfork is the minieconomy that springs up around the festival—the seasonal entrepreneurs selling "ice-cold water" (it's always "ice cold"), the scalpers hocking tickets and looking for merchandise, screaming "Who's got 'em?" outside Union Park. The bike corral isn't in its usual spot in the lot south of the park, which is full of SUVs from some city department. This year, bikers should head to the north, just south of Lake Street, to lock up. From a distance, I could hear Neneh Cherry getting weird. She more than anyone is proof that M.I.A. didn't spring from nothing. Cherry closed just under the wire, sneaking in an endearing update of "Buffalo Stance," but her high energy wasn't reciprocated by the early evening crowd. The laid-back vibes of Sharon Van Etten seemed to be more the speed of the general Pitchfork populace.
Giorgio Moroder's "performance" was more of a euro-baiting DJ set than anything, with the graying disco pioneer mostly offering up a unsatisfying melange of pumped-up contemporary remixes of his 70s and 80s hits. He cherry-picked from his many soundtrack successes, including a speedy "Take My Breath Away" (accompanied by Top Gun footage) and "Call Me" from American Gigolo (with the requisite clip of Richard Gere in a Mercedes). Moroder especially favored his work with Donna Summer: "Hot Stuff," "On the Radio," and "Bad Girls." The accompanying projections combined the aesthetics of a Trapper Keeper cover, a Magic Eye poster, and a 90s screen saver. Pointing his fingers weakly in the air, the still-mustachioed producer looked more like a deposed European despot on a globe-trotting house-music tour than the slick 70s studio master of the public imagination. The boyish Beck, on the other hand, seems ageless. His new stuff was predictably sleepy, but he woke up the Friday-night crowd with "Loser" (duh) and a couple jams off Guero and some sleaze from Midnite Vultures, an album he should one day play in its entirety. And sorry, Giorgio, Beck's "Hot Stuff" interlude was better than anything that came from your stage.
Brianna Wellen: Sure, I could talk about how sleepy the fest's opening lineup was (Sharon Van Etten and Sun Kil Moon in particular). Or yeah, I could complain about how not enough people were dancing to the undeniably dancy tunes of Neneh Cherry and Avey Tare. But walking away from day one of Pitchfork, I'm most struck by how much I apparently love Beck. He was barely a blip on my radar when I glanced at the weekend's lineup. The standby hits made me way more nostalgic than anticipated ("Girl" was on my first driving mixtape when I got my license). His dance moves, especially in unison with his band, were insanely charming, and when he sang "Debra" during the encore I could barely contain my girlish squeals. Maybe the weather was just lovely enough, maybe I had just the right number of beers, maybe the odds just magically swung in Beck's favor—but whatever the cause, he was my highlight of the day.
J.R. Nelson: According to the two bros blowing sticks next to me mid-Friday afternoon, the weather was "freaking perfect" and their weed was "hella choice"—it was hard to disagree, since I failed to notice their wafts coming my way until Factory Floor’s stern, pleasing techno tutorial had all but wrapped up. As the Haxan Cloak’s blown-out, doomy electro started vibrating the Blue Stage sound system, turning the leafy lawn into a black hole from a gnarly sci-fi movie, I kept imagining a society of dying machines furiously pummeling each other in a death pit. Since I haven’t smoked anything stronger than a Pall Mall in several years, those thoughts were probably more inspired by secondhand chemicals than by Mr. Cloak’s musical genius. He was pretty good, though. Do you know who wasn’t good yesterday? Giorgio Moroder. Before you throw overripe fruit or dirty dishes at me for being an asshole, know that I’m not a disco hater, or a Top 40 basher, or antipop at all; in fact I like hearing a DJ play "I Feel Love" and Berlin’s fuck-scene jam from Top Gun as much as the next sod. But Moroder’s limp transitions and hammy conducting were far better suited for a drunken crowd at Sluggers after a Cubs game. Sure, he’s a genius, and the crowd was giving him love. But he's not much of a performer, and I still think it was a mistake to book him for this festival. As for headliner Beck, the "humor" that runs through his songs like an insidious, crippling disease turns my stomach. I headed for the bike rack five songs in, and didn’t look back.
Drew Hunt: Neneh Cherry sidestepped a few technical difficulties and delivered a strong performance, her first in the U.S. in 20-some years. She mostly stuck to tracks off her (really great) new LP, but she threw in a reworked version "Buffalo Stance" for good measure. Her set and Factory Floor's were by far the bounciest of the early evening. Between Hundred Waters, the Haxan Cloak, Sharon Van Etten, SZA, and Sun Kil Moon, the fest got off to a decidedly mellow start, and the crowd seemed restless—at one point during Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek's voice was completely drowned out by errant chatter. Avey Tare kicked things up a notch, and the Blue Stage was brimming with Animal Collective faithfuls dancing (and moshing) to the raucous beat. Good vibes all around. The best performance of the day undoubtedly belonged to Beck, who proved himself a truly eclectic artist. He did heavy ("Black Tambourine"), melancholic ("Blue Moon"), hyperactive ("E-Pro"), trippy ("Gamma Ray"), and classic ("Loser"), segueing with the ease of a seasoned veteran. The audience grew antsy with his newer, quieter material, but a songbook as deep as his naturally comes with crowd pleasers—"Devil's Haircut," "Where It's At," and "Girl" had people moving.
Leor Galil: After a rainy, unusually chilly June, the weather for day one of Pitchfork was absolutely lovely, and thus it's my pick for the MVP of Friday. Giorgio Moroder came in a close second, though; he tossed up finger guns and waved his hands like a bar mitzvah DJ, and I mean that in the best way possible. He was earnest enough to be endearing—as was Neneh Cherry, who put on one of the liveliest sets of the day. Though I wanted nothing more than to get sucked into Sun Kil Moon's set, the crowd around me had other ideas—Mark Kozelek's devastating tale about his deceased cousin Carissa didn't seem to reach the dude near me, who yelled, "Get it, get it, get it!" At least I got to end the night by dancing to Beck's "Girl." And whatever anyone tells you, I only ate one Twinkie.