Pitchfork Music Festival: Day One in Review

All photos by Julian Ramirez

Unlike most days at Pitchfork Music Festival, this Friday called for jeans instead of shorts. Clouds cast their shadows over Union Park for much of the evening, eventually clearing for by the time Danny Brown revved up this first day of a long weekend. The festival started in the early afternoon, but the park didn’t fill up until a long line hit Ashland, when most people got out of work. In more than one way, it was a mild day. But headliner LCD Soundsystem had the entire field shaking.

Here are our takes on Friday’s acts. Madame Gandhi The first act of the day is just as important as the headliners. Honestly, whoever kicks off a fest has the high responsibility of getting some energy into the early crowd and setting the tone for the day. Although the crowds were nowhere near as tightly packed as they would eventually be, Madame Gandhi (Kiran Gandhi) served as a prime example of a stellar performance to kick off a fest. Gandhi, her ensemble of dancers, and an excellent DJ didn't hold anything back, working together in perfect cohesion throughout the set. It was a marvel to see Gandhi run from end to end of the stage, switching between doling out badass feminist lyrics, to sitting at the drums and tearing into them. "The Future is Female" was an obvious standout and a bright prophecy that Madame Gandhi exalts with unparalleled confidence. - Julian Ramirez D∆WN Dawn Richard's set fits squarely in the "should have been scheduled later in the day" category. Richard's onstage performance, featuring excellently choreographed dancers with a backdrop of multicolored tube lights set up in asymmetrical triangles, demanded a moodier and darker atmosphere. The lights were washed out by the early hours, but a very decently sized and focused crowd (which Richard remarked about excitedly) helped keep the mood right. Richard's beautiful voice was more than capable of doing the heavy lifting, belting out R&B vibes mixed with occasional rock flourishes that give D∆WN an infectious and unique sound. - Julian Ramirez Vince Staples I'll admit that I'm a little biased on Vince Staples. I truly think he's prime to be a top-tier rapper, especially with his latest album Big Fish Theory easily being one of the best hip-hop albums of the year so far. Most of Staples' performance had a decent flow and the energy levels were certainly high as he darted around the stage, but there was something missing from this mid-afternoon set. I can't really put my finger on it. It's mostly likely the simple stage backdrop and a surprisingly understated charisma that led to a muted set. That's not to say there weren't some highlights. Staples' track "Ascension" off the latest Gorillaz album has such an inherent explosive quality, which he amped up to insane levels. - Julian Ramirez Frankie Cosmos Afternoon and evening sets at Pitchfork can provide the best of both worlds scenario of the festival experience: you can see an up-and-coming band but you can also see them close up. Teenagers donning plenty of pastel colors swarmed the blue stage by mid-day Friday to see their slightly older idol—dare I say distant mentor?—but she ultimately lacked the energy, charisma, or structure to play a compelling set. Sure, excitement and enthusiasm aren’t the right words to describe a bedroom-pop songwriter who flourishes from songs about coy crushes. But, looking stiff from nervousness, frontwoman Greta Kline looked like she wasn’t just yet ready to stray away from the bedroom. - Colin Smith Danny Brown The familiar roar of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" blasted through the festival grounds before DJ distortion led Danny Brown to the stage. Immediately, the crowd burst into cheers and surprised exclamations: "He cut his hair! Whoa, wait? Did he fix his teeth?!" Danny Brown's looks certainly have changed, but his way with a crowd has not. His songs are pure party starters, putting the emphasis on his rapid fire flow and complex beats. Once things get going with Brown they don't stop, as he played up his every movement with cartoonish vigor and joy. Brown is such an expressive performer, smiling his way through instrumental sections and smirking through his extremely sexually graphic lyrics. It's hard not to join along with his antics, which made for one of the more fun sets of day one of P4k. - Julian Ramirez Dirty Projectors After a breakup with band member Amber Coffman, songwriter David Longstreth effectively turned a band into a solo project. While longtime fans may wish for the old songs, Longstreth executed impressive live replicas of their self-titled release earlier this year. Longstreth performed center stage in a black tuxedo and a white shirt as his band wore black pants and blue button-up shirts. His backing band chiseled out each layer of the Dirty Projectors’ signature, collage-like sound: soaring horns, a vocoder, layers of keys, electronic drums, and live audio editing all made Longstreth’s vision clear on stage. - Colin Smith LCD Soundsystem Seeing LCD Soundsystem today felt like seeing our generation’s Talking Heads or New Order. Striking the sweet spot between arty and, well, danceable fun, the band seamlessly dove from one song into the next—almost like one big underground party. The band shifted moods throughout the night between the funky “Tribulations” and the amped up “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” on one hand, and the wistful “Someone Great” or the motorik “All My Friends” on the other. LCD Soundsystem pulled across their entire catalog, including early hits and the recent “Call the Police” and “American Dream” singles. Highlights included seeing the crowd anticipating the buildup to “Dance Yrself Clean” and seeing Gavin Russom maneuver and improvise over an analog synthesizer and an array of electronics. If this set is an any indicator of their new music to come, one can’t help but feel ecstatic about their reunion. - Colin Smith
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Julian Ramirez