Well, Chicago music aficionados, the seventh annual Pitchfork Music Festival has, as of Friday, officially kicked off at Union Park.
We began our coverage of the music-filled festival Thursday with a preview of five of our most perplexing set showdowns and now we're in the midst of it.
While awaiting our daily recaps, you may also follow @robojojo on Twitter for regular updates, as much as the festival ground's shoddy cell phone reception allows.
If you're taking shots on the ground at Union Park, send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to our Pitchfork slideshow. Be sure to include your name and personal website so we can link back.
Arriving a bit after 3:15 p.m. Friday, I managed to catch a flavor of half-local goth-techno duo Gatekeeper's set on the Blue (formerly the Balance) stage. Now, the thing about this stage (which is jammed into a much smaller corner of the festival grounds) is that sound is almost always an issue (last year, Sleigh Bells' festival-ending set was marred considerably by technical problems). The fact that festival organizers, this year, have scheduled some of the most high quality sound-dependent, quieter acts in this space is beyond me. As for Gatekeeper, the despair of their dark, horror film score-inspired jams were well delivered and likely won over a few new fans, though their music is certainly not designed for daylight.
Shortly after Gatekeeper kicked off their spooky set, EMA, led by Erika M. Anderson (the South Dakota-bred singer formerly of Gowns), took to the Red stage. It's unfortunate that Anderson drew the short straw in being scheduled in one of the most distracting slots of the entire festival. Festival-goers were slowly filtering in throughout EMA's set, the songs of which routinely morph from delicate murmurs delivered from behind Anderson's ever-in-her-eyes bangs to full-on, unhinged rock benders. While the set lacked the intimacy of their headlining gig at the Empty Bottle the night before, EMA largely delivered and, in our eyes, offered one of Pitchfork day one's defining highlights.
Next, it was off to the Blue stage to catch tUnE-yArDs. As a huge proponent of Merrll Garbus' latest release, as well as her live show, my anticipation was high. Judging by the large crowd's loud applause throughout Garbus' sound check, as she whooped, hollered and tested the many, many components she would later string together to create her African-influenced jams, many others' expectations were equally high. Unfortunately, Garbus' set felt lacking in exuberance and fell short compared to her most recent Lincoln Hall gig, particularly from a distance. A few songs in, once Battles began their set on the Green stage, noise bleed captured much of the remaining wind under the set's sails. Garbus provides one of the best live shows out there today, but she deserves a space far better than what the Blue stage provided.
Following many toward the Green stage for Battles' set, I staked out prime real estate near the stage where Thurston Moore would be performing shortly thereafter. Battles' set soared with much of the excitement missing from the previous set. Their loud, raucous, largely instrumental (save a cameo, via large video screens, from goth icon Gary Numan) rock even had a few dancing. The band was met with a huge ovation before many turned their attention toward Moore.
While sound imperfections hindered a number of day one's quieter acts, Moore's set suffered no such issues. The Sonic Youth singer-guitarist and his band's sound was perfectly balanced between the harpist, violinists and, of course, the lead man's guitar, but the songs wilted under the hot rays of sunlight. Following on the heels of Battles' raw, sweaty energy and Garbus' largely one-woman musical gymnastics act, Moore did not measure up. That said, Moore provided the day's best between-song banter: "I have a bottle of honey if anybody wants to get sticky," Moore proclaimed. "Want to hear songs about rape, incest and carnage?" An audience member shouted back: "Odd Future's on Sunday!" Moore: "We'll try the best we can."
Three or four songs in, many were filtering away from the stage to catch some of Curren$y's act, which felt like somewhat standard-issue rap, though it was still far superior to the much-hyped set that followed it at the Blue stage by Das Racist. Their kitschy, Kidz Bop-esque songs wore quickly on this writer's patience, but judging by the crowding at their stage, many, many others were gobbling up what the three-man crew were serving.
Meanwhile, on the Green stage, Guided By Voices delivered an astoundingly energetic and frenetic set, which even featured Neko Case on the song "Echos Myron." Those men kicked up a storm and delivered the sort of throwback gems that many came to the fest to see.
At this point, I needed a bit of a break before the trio of evening-ending headliners and I made my way to the press tent where EMA was being interviewed and wi-fi was plentiful. While I'd attempted to tweet throughout the festival day, AT&T's nearby towers must have been insanely overwhelmed -- only about one-quarter of the tweets went through, and making phone calls was a spotty endeavor.
During this time, I also touched base with the Between Friends/Rape Victim Advocates tent, where they were handing out their much-blogged-about "Cool It" fans and talking with festival-goers about domestic violence. A Between Friends rep confided to me that the experience was going well and seemed pleased with the response they'd gotten. Only one Odd Future fan apparently returned a fan he'd been handed after a friend updated him on the situation.
Back on the Blue stage, Brit dub phenomenon James Blake began his set shortly after 7:30. The set began quietly as Blake settled slowly in and there were some beautiful moments early on, including "Unluck." This is another artist, see: tUnE-yArDs, who really, really need a room with good sound, but especially as we heard more energetic sounds from his stage's direction from the distance later in the set, it would seem as though Blake dealt with the stage's sounds confines somewhat more effectively. Well done.
Deserving of some major props is Neko Case, who showed the kids how it was done during her lengthy set pulling mainly from her latest release, 2009's masterful Middle Cyclone. Songs like "This Tornado Loves You," "People Got a Lotta Nerve" and others were a perfect soundtrack as nighttime fell over Union Park and provided a nurturing sort of pallet cleanser after the wide variety of musical stylings that preceded them earlier in the day. Case is definitely one of those bucket list performers and she seemed perfectly comfortable in a lineup surrounded mostly by buzzosphere darlings.
Closing off day one of the festival was Animal Collective, returning to the festival for the first time since 2008. In the three years that have passed since then, the guys seem to have developed a strange relationship with pop stardom. When they play a familiar song like "Did You See The Words," played early in their Friday set, they do so with an air of condescension -- fouling it up just enough so you can't dance or sing along. All told, the first four or five songs amounted to a crazily window-dressed clammy, loose handshake, and I decided the time had come to pack it in and rest up for day two.
Day one trendspotting: Lots of BabyBjorns accompanied with child-sized, fancy headphones; a few Native American headdresses; some body paint (thanks to tUnE-yArDs' marketing crew, apparently); at least one inflatable Superman; wide proliferation of male sideboob (read: skinny guys in baggy tank tops).
Three highs: Neko, Battles, EMA. Three lows: Animal Collective, all the secondhand smoke from Animal Collective's fans, Moore.