Pitchfork Music Festival 2023: Day One in Review

It was a beautiful day to start off this year's edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival, a welcome contrast to last year's downpour! The sun was out shining brightly down on the Pitchfork masses, giving everyone a vivid look at all the amazing bands performing during the opening day.

While the under-card threw tons of surprises at the fans, like Axel Bowman's fun set and Nation of Language pretty much stealing the show, there was a palpable anticipation for the evening's headliner The Smile. Day one of the festival set a nice bar for the next few days to meet!

You can check out our reviews for day two here and day three here!

Sen Morimoto
The first local act of the festival was none other than Sen Morimoto, brandishing his sax alongside a full band including Pitchfork Music Festival alum Kaina. As promised, Morimoto effortlessly mixed hip-hop grooves with jazzy instrumentals with R&B smoothness and a hefty amount of experimentation. Tracks like his recent single "Diagnosis" and "Cannonball" off his second album really show off just how far out his styles can go. It was a set full of highlights, especially when Morimoto, seemingly genuinely, introduced a song as one that he had just written. As the opening notes flooded the early crowd, I realized we'd all been tricked as Morimoto dove into a jazzy cover of Cher's "Believe". While it wasn't exactly what we were promised, it was satisfying nonetheless.
- Julian Ramirez

Axel Bowman
Honestly, I had some idea of what to expect from the Axel Bowman set. Just a simple DJ set for the Blue stage crowd to dance along to in the afternoon. But those exceptions were promptly ripped away and replaced with a complete surprise. Bowman did in fact throw a DJ set worthy of dancing your worries away, but was also accompanied by live instrumentation. The saxophonist/flutist performed beautifully as Bowman laid a just as exquisite bed of electronic jams under him. Truly the best surprise of the day.
- Julian Ramirez

Youth Lagoon
The evening had a great kickoff with Youth Lagoon conducting an entrancing set for Pitchfork attendees. Despite their long hiatus from releasing new music, the anticipation from his fans must have been immense as this was a rare set to catch. Youth Lagoon were able to pull off an amazing set and frontman Trevor Powers displayed a dexterous aura of musicianship that had me in awe of their psychedelic live sound. The soft vocals paired with the mellow instrumentals echoed beautifully throughout Union Park and left the entire crowd mesmerized while basking under the afternoon Chicago sun. I am relieved that Powers resurrected the Youth Lagoon project from the trenches; their music has a history in the indie scene and is loved by so many.
- Andrew Lagunas

Nation of Language
Union Park took a trip through the '80s with Nation of Language on the Red stage. Immediately after the trio made their way on stage they captured everyone's attention with their vibrant synth-pop sound; organically convincing everyone to dance. Sweat drenched lead singer Ian Devaney put his whole heart into this performance with his excellent vocals paired with gorgeous reverb. Their electrifying song “I’ve thought about Chicago” was an immaculate song choice by the band (for obvious reasons) and is sure to be added to every Chicagoan's playlists after witnessing it live. Nation of Language was hands down my absolute favorite set from Friday’s roster and I am definitely a brand new fan of theirs!
- Andrew Lagunas

Perfume Genius
I've been lucky to see Perfume Genius perform quite a bit and every time it's a treat. Michael Alden Hadreas put every bit of himself into his music, creating this behemoth of emotion that exerts itself as he slinks across the stage dripping with performance art vibes in his red elbow length gloves. His quiet and unassuming speaking voice between songs is a stark contrast to his power singing voice, which easily captured the ear of any passing by audience member thinking they were going to roam around the Pitchfork campus. With a few albums under his belt, there were plenty of fantastic songs in his set including "Without You" and "Slip Away". But it's always that final song that leaves the most people in awe of his performance. "Queen" is as fresh as the day it was released and continues to be one of his best.
- Julian Ramirez

Alvvays
After an intimate interview at the Door Dash backstage pass lounge; It was no secret that Alvvays were on everyone’s must see list for Pitchfork this weekend. The hype and anticipation for the band was immense as it felt like the entire fest was crowded at the Red stage to witness the spectacle. Alvvays put on a lively and flawless performance with frontwoman Molly Rankin’s incredibly unique vocals and guitar shredding. The band opened with their powerhouse whirlwind of a song “Pharmacist,” which is also the opening track on Blue Rev. After a handful of slower sets throughout the day, Alvvays felt like a breath of fresh air with their optimistic and lighthearted tunes.
- Andrew Lagunas

The Smile
It's kinda hard to believe that The Smile's debut came out last year. It sincerely feels like a classic now. A product of the pandemic, Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, and Tom Skinner came together for an incredible album that easily ranks as the best side project of Radiohead members and stands incredibly well on its own. Joined by Robert Stillman for this final set of day one, The Smile more than proved they are as powerful as their other projects.

Their set was filled with songs off A Light for Attracting Attention, nearly playing the album in its entirety, but was also chock full of new tracks from their upcoming album. In an era where people just want the hits, it was great to see The Smile stick to their own songs for the most part and deliver them with such skill. Whether it's masterful songs like "The Smoke" or Greenwood playing his guitar with a bow, The Smile are just too damn talented to be anything but perfect. Their time at Pitchfork's Green Stage was capped off with the lone cover of the set: Thom Yorke's incredible "Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses". A fantastic end to a great day of music.
- Julian Ramirez

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