For the third consecutive year, I'd put the Pitchfork Music Festival near (if not at) the top of my list of best run music festivals in Chicago. Traffic on the west side (on streets like Ogden Ave., Ashland Ave. or Lake St.) flowed well (even as we approached the festival around 4pm in the middle of rush hour on a Friday) and several public transportation options were clearly a reason why.
Despite very large crowds, concession lines were brief and with great local choices like Wishbone restaurant, concession choices were delicious too. While it would be nice to have more beer options than Heineken or Heineken Light, this is merely nitpicking.
Perhaps most important to the success of a festival is the overall mood of the crowd. Once again, there was a great vibe amongst Pitchforkers/hipsters and while only one day in, it can never be overstated how difficult that is to achieve in warm temperatures and how cruical it can be after three days of walking, sweating and rocking to one's overall enjoyment.
For me, Pitchfork is a way not only to check out some bands that I really like (Neko Case, and Guided By Voices) but also a way to find new music and discover artists that I'd be otherwise completely unfamiliar with (tUnE-yArDs for instance).
As has been the case in years past, my biggest complaint with Pitchfork is the sound bleed over. The blue stage, at nearly every possible opportunity, could be heard far too well by those trying to enjoy a set at the red or green stages and it does not appear this is going to change anytime soon. Friday's lineup could've also used a bit more adventurous booking amongst headliners (several of whom have played at the festival in years past).
Onto the music...
tUnE-yArDs - Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of their brief, early set as I walked down Ogden Ave. heading toward the festival entrance at Randolph St.... but what I heard was a great way to start the afternoon. Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner were joined by a two-piece brass section for "Bizness" (off April's W H O K I L L) but from what I could tell performed their unique brand of electro-pop primarily as a duo layering their ukelele and bass over electronic beats. Wish I heard them AND saw them, wish I heard more and as a result wish I had more to say about them.
Thurston Moore - This was Moore's third time performing at the festival (in 2007 he performed with Sonic Youth and again alongside Yoko Ono) and The Sonic Youth frontman could've used some of the added volume provided by any of the above as he was hit hardest of any performer on Friday by the blue stage sound bleed. The sound of Moore's set on the red stage was far too low and at my location (near the festival's green stage) he was nearly drowned out entirely at times by Curren$y on the blue stage. Moore's laidback set featured lush instrumentation via harp and violin but the soft sounds of songs like "Benediction" made it easy to understand how a set across Union Park by a rapper could overpower it. Thurston Moore sounded really good... but as is often the case at Pitchfork (and as remains my biggest fear for Fleet Foxes' set on Saturday) it just wasn't meant for an outdoor festival.
Guided By Voices - Robert Pollard performed at the Intonation Festival in 2005 (generally referred to as the first Pitchfork Festival) and returns six years later with his full band. Pollard broke up Guided By Voices in 2004 and returns in 2011 with what has been regarded by Pitchfork as the "classic" mid-90s lineup: Tobin Sprout (guitar), Charles "Mitch" Mitchell (guitar), Greg Demos (bass), and Kevin Fennel (drums). While Pollard has slown down a bit onstage, there's no denying how great the band's brand of indie rock and power pop sounds live. After professing his love for tequilla, Pollard and company (along with special guest Neko Case on vocals and tambourine) thankfully picked up the pace after Thurston Moore launching into "Echos Myron" from 1994's Bee Thousand. It took the band a bit to get rolling but they got better and better as the set went along with "Gold Star For Robot Boy" (also from Bee Thousand) my favorite of the set. Long underrated, it was nice (even if only for one night) to see Guided By Voices get their due in front of such a large crowd.
Neko Case - After Thurston Moore, I was a little worried about how Neko's set would sound with James Blake performing across the park at the same time but the first time fest performer (she didn't join the New Pornographers in 2007) rose to the occasion with my favorite set of day one. Her band of six flat out rocked (pedal steal will do that) and as always her vocal harmonies with fellow Chicagoan Kelly Hogan were sweet and stunning. Case performed hits like 2006's "Hold On, Hold On" but it was on 2009's "People Got a Lotta Nerve" (from the album Middle Cyclone which may just feature some of the coolest cover art... ever) where she was at her best. Case played lead guitar and the song's poppier feel (especially for Case) was perfect amongst the cool breeze as the sun started to descend upon the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Animal Collective - Animal Collective returns to Pitchfork as the Friday night headliner for an encore of their set in 2008 which featured them much earlier in the day. Maybe it's because I saw The Flaming Lips twice last week (to me, the best current band doing any sort of psychedelia) but I just wasn't terribly impressed by Animal Collective. The stage looked cool, the light show was great (surprising for the Pitchfork Festival) and the video screen (which featured psyhedelic video and images in place of the band itself) was trippy, colorful and interesting... but the band just didn't do it for me. The jungle beats of "Brother Sport" got the crowd moving and was a highlight of their set.