The Pitchfork Music Festival started strong with Neko Case, others - Reverb

Live review: Pitchfork Music Festival Day 1, featuring Animal Collective, Neko Case, Battles, Thurston Moore and others

Chicago – The Pitchfork Music Festival’s first day was set against an idyllic, if hot, Chicago day in one of the city’s many parks — Union Park — on Friday. The day 1 line-up of Animal Collective, James Blake, Neko Case and more was a nice warm-up for the rest of the weekend, which includes DJ Shadow and Fleet Foxes tonight and TV on the Radio and HEALTH on Sunday.

Friday’s best set was a surprising body-slam from Battles, playing slightly awkwardly as a three-piece but pummeling the afternoon crowd with its twisted melodies and big beats. They even threw the oddball hit “Atlas” into the early-set, pleasing fans with a jiggy video display and the shirtless drummer’s too-high crash cymbal.

But Friday was also a hit-and-miss excursion with some disappointments. Das Racist nailed it with “Hugo Chavez,” but everything else we heard was a messy hodge-podge of hip-hop bravado and lackluster rhymes.

James Blake put forth a bold performance in his surprisingly late spot, with two bandmates crafting the trippy sonic wall that backs his otherwise meditative songs. But he failed to bring in the crowd, who went from reverently silent to chatty after Blake launched into a heavy, leady bassline. Even the singer’s revealing (and self-sampled) “I Never Meant to Share” wasn’t enough to connect to the crowd.

“Do you guys wanna hear any songs about rape, incest and carnage?” asked Thurston Moore, the Sonic Youth frontman playing an early-evening solo set. “We’ll do the best we can.”

Moore’s set was focused and studied, and his band included a violin and a behemoth harp as Moore seemed to read from sheet music. But perhaps it wasn’t the best fit for a festival, as much as the crowd – perhaps expecting something noisier – talked their way through it.

Indie newcomers Tune-Yards played a funky set of world-influenced jams, and rapper Currensy had fun with the crowd, laying his own rhymes over popular production (like “I Got 5 on It”). Indie heroes Guided By Voices played a triumphant set of now-standards, including “I Am a Scientiest.” And the night’s headliner, Animal Collective, owned its dance freak-out with numbers that copped a Tropicalia fusion aesthetic and others that sounded like nothing you’ve ever heard outside an AC concert.

One of the day’s most consistent sets came from a slightly loopy Neko Case, who had fun with the large festival gathering as the sun started to set and the park cooled off. Opening with “Favorite” and “Maybe Sparrow,” Case’s voice rang clearly through the park – occasionally overwhelming Blake, who played opposite her. By the time she wrapped her set with “This Tornado Loves You,” she had weaved together the day’s most consistent collection of songs.

Instead of a farm or polo field, Pitchfork takes place in an actual city park – with historic statues and baseball diamonds and big, shady trees. Union Park is hardly Chicago’s biggest or flashiest park. It’s not ever four square blocks. But it’s intimate, and aside from a herky-jerky entrance to the Blue Stage, it’s the perfect space for such an up-close-and-personal festival.

It doesn’t hurt that the First Baptist Congressional Church and its towering steeple cast a heavy shadow over the park’s west side and the 110-story Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, framed the moon perfectly to the east during Animal Collective’s nutso headlining set.

Follow our news and updates on Twitter, our whereabouts on Foursquare and our relationship status on Facebook. Or send us a telegram.

Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

Reverb polls editor Joe Murphy is a web developer in the Denver Post newsroom. He also heads up the Denver Bicycle Water Balloon Jousting League (DBWBJL). You can find him on twitter at @denverpostjoe.

  • Jesus

    All the stages needed to be about 6 feet taller. James Blake killed it too.