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Pitchfork Music Festival Sat Jul 20 2013
Only Bjork and her Tesla coil could whip up a storm so savage that it shut down Pitchfork Festival early Friday night. The Icelandic nymph closed out the night after a breezy but hot kickoff to the weekend activities. Water lines were long throughout the day and many people were napping in the field during Joanna Newsom's set to muster up some much needed energy to last until the finish line of the Friday. The weather made us miss some of Bjork, but it will at least bring much appreciated cooler temperatures for the rest of the festival weekend. -Lisa White
Though the first day of Pitchfork was eventually defined by the expected-but-somehow-out-of-nowhere downpour of rain that called an early halt to Bjork's headlining set, the rest of the day was marked by a strong set of (mostly) laid back afternoon jams, with audiences slow-roasting under the intense summer sun. While we can only hope that last night's storm killed this past week's heat wave, we know we can expect to see more un-ironic Nirvana T-shirts, stylish undercuts and Lennon-gazing bottle sunglasses as the current love for '90s signifiers roars back in full force.
Like in previous years, the festival divided its acts across three stages and, also just like every other year, crowds sought refuge more often than not in the shaded, 15-degrees-cooler Blue Stage, the smallest of the three and placed in the corner of Union Park tucked behind the long row of beverage tents, Port-O-Potties, and local food vendors. -Mike Bellis
Frankie Rose kicked off the festival at the shaded Blue Stage with a joyful, lilting set of turn of the '90s goth-pop jams, effortlessly combining four-on-the-floor electro beats and Liz Phair-leaning bubblegum pop melodies not too far removed from her former Dum Dum Girls days. Rose herself was decked out in torn stockings, stringy hair and a vintage Cure shirt, announcing sincerely to the crowd that she was more than happy "to be your opening band" for the weekend. The crowd seemed more than happy to have her there, too. Across the park, Daughn Gibson's signature croon could be heard wafting over thick Euro-beats from the Green stage ("perfect for hot afternoons" -Andrew Huff.) -Mike Bellis
After a short break, LA hardcore collective and Odd Future affiliate Trash Talk did their best to wake up the Blue Stage crowd with their blend of screeching hardcore and metal, asking everyone to "pump their fists" at some point in the middle of the set. This inevitable led to some of the most apathetic audience participation I've ever seen a hardcore band receive, though, to be fair, there were "hella old people" in the audience as frontman Lee Spielman was keen to point out. -Mike Bellis
After sitting down to chat with Graham from Wire, we were able to catch some of Mac DeMarco's fuzzed out guitar rock wash over the field. DeMarco's set included some oddly arranged covers of a few Beatles tunes (nothing like hearing someone guttural scream along to a Lennon/McCartney tune) and a nice swampy version of Eric Clapton's "Cocaine." DeMarco set is a prime example of how Pitchfork Festival picks artist that sometimes are under the radar of many, and end up being an enjoyable surprise to happen upon during the weekend. -Lisa White
Elsewhere, and as many may have expected, Mac DeMarco easily stole the show with the weekend's first Green Stage set, acquainting his audiences with his brand of oh-so-sexy laid-back jams from his excellent 2 and even a few terrible/awesome off-the-cuff covers, his band grooving with unhinged tropical guitars and smoked-out charm. DeMarco and his band's effortless charisma painted tracks like "Ode to Viceroy," his paean to cheap Canadian cigarettes, in a casual, conversational tone that attracted a bigger and bigger crowd of onlookers trickling their way into the festival as the afternoon ticked on. His most impressive feat was somehow managing to emerge from a mid-set covers medley of Bad Company, Limp Bizkit and Metallica completely unscathed, winning over the grinning crowds with an ironic wink and some just-sincere-enough showmanship. He even brought out his girlfriend for a slow dance for the set-ending "Still Together." By playing the how-uncool-can-we-get-here game, DeMarco ended up outclassing everyone, of course, and made one of the better first impressions on a Pitchfork crowd as you're likely to see. -Mike Bellis
It was at about this point that I realized I was getting seriously sunburned, so I decked out into the CHIRP record tent to seek refuge and flip through one vendor's impressive selection of used and unsurprisingly expensive Flying Nun originals ($60 for a Sneaky Feelings record? Yikes.) Newly hydrated and shaded, I made it back to the Blue Stage to catch Mikal Cronin's set of surfed-up pop ballads, acting the more meditative foil to his friend and often co-conspirator Ty Segall and with his more bubblegum leanings helping him come across like a modern-day of Buddy Holly plus hair. Set up stage right in a tie-dye shirt, Cronin mostly plucked tracks from his Merge debut and second album, MCII, which sounded a bit too washed out coming through the stage's monitors to really be effective. The crowd seemed satisfied enough, no doubt happy to get their obligatory fix of San Francisco garage pop for the weekend. -Mike Bellis
For those lacking an extensive music history lesson background, Wire is one of those acts you might have not heard of before, but is likely responsible for influencing one of your favorite bands of all time. The UK post-punk outfit have been around since the mid '70s, pushing the boundaries of minimalistic art punk rock and helping influence the likes of bands from Black Flag to Blur. Their set on the Green stage Friday was a perfect example of the subtle balance between restraint and intensity utilized throughout their catalog. The band (dressed in all black despite the heat and direct sunlight) churned out a tight set of songs that usually started stark and low, rising at the end into a cacophony of abrasive noise. A very finely tuned mathematical rock set and great music history lesson wrapped into one. -Lisa White
After taking a nap during Joanna Newsom's sleepy and not well amplified set, we moved up close for Bjork's headlining set of the night. Despite her pleas of no cameras or video, the crowd clicked away as she emerged onstage, a silver disco ball of a jumpsuit and a headpiece that looked like a dandelion made of Christmas tinsel. Backed by a choir of attractive looking muses, her set started out with an ethereal instrumental blanket that fell across the hushed field. The set bounced around her catalog, starting out with some more delicate songs before amping up the sound during a danceable "Crystalline." She was flanked by video screens projecting different abstract shapes and colors, along with a hanging Tesla coil that was mimicking the electrical charges that were starting to pulsate from the approaching storm in the sky. After back to back beautiful arrangements of "Jóga" and "Pagan Poetry," Bjork launched into the abrasive and raw "Army of Me," one of my personal favorites off my all time favorite Bjork album, Post. Just as it felt like Bjork hit her stride, she sadly announced that due to the severe storms heading our way, her set was coming to an abrupt end. As everyone scattered from the park, our buddy Conor posted the set list he snagged from the stage, showing that we just missed "Hyperballad" (which is my personal favorite Bjork song) and what would have been a massive dance party of an ending during "Declare Independence." Many were heartbroken, but as a few friends pointed out any Bjork is better than no Bjork, and there is no arguing that fact. -Lisa White
The next couple of hours leading up to Bjork's headlining set was a mix of the mostly forgettable (Wire were disappointingly staid and played a set of almost completely new material) and the soothing (Joanna Newsom, whose gorgeous voice and soft harp plucking, though lovely, likely made her the only act all weekend having to compete against the noise of passing CTA traincars), leaving plenty of time for the crowds to load up on beer and get situated in front of the Green Stage for the headlining act. Bjork came out to a roaring crowd at about 8:30, decked out in a silver kimono and a silver headdress/afro that bordered on the intimidating. Behind her was a small cult of blonde backup singers, also dressed like avant-garde kabuki dolls, and a scattered band playing grimy and glitchy electro beats, underpinning her evocative, pleading vocals with a sense of menace (and serious low end) that made her songs instantly engaging. Combining trippy spiderweb visuals with lo-fi computer-generated space and environmental imagery, Bjork sang with a fervor and drama that only the threatening heat lighting in the background sky could match, leaving the crowd mesmerized with her challenging sense of wonder and urgency. So much urgency, in fact, that she must have really hit Mother Nature's mainline this time, as the set was called early due to an approaching electrical storm that, yes, less than twenty minutes later had heavy rain, flash floods and has-to-be-nearby lightning strikes scattering the newly drenched and fleeing crowds all up and down Lake and Ashland. A wise move by organizers, no doubt, even if it did end Bjork's set right before she was supposedly about to play "Hyperballad."
Here's hoping for friendlier skies and a heavy dose of sunblock for Saturday. -Mike Bellis
Keep checking back all weekend for more coverage from Pitchfork Festival from Gapers Block.