TVD Live: Pitchfork Music Festival 2014, Friday, 7/18

PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHERThis year’s Pitchfork Music Festival was full of great music, superb people-watching, and an all-around relaxed vibe. The shows I attended were pretty varied and on Friday, I caught the tail end of Factory Floor, then chilled out to Sharon Van Etten, and ended the night banging my head (sort of) to Beck. Saturday and Sunday were way busier and more crowded (those two days sold out) and there was a lot of litter on the ground by Sunday evening but for the most part, I thought it was a pretty good run.

All weekend, scheduled set times were strictly abided by. This was probably because of Chicago’s strict outdoor event curfew laws and shows that started late weren’t even an issue. Pusha T came on thirty minutes late and I heard fans say for a while afterwards that his was the best show they saw all weekend. Lines for beer and food varied depending on the time of day so if my friends and I saw a short line for any sustenance whatsoever, we seized those opportunities. Do I even need to mention cell phone service? Well, I have experienced much worse, but having a legitimate meeting spot was definitely helpful the whole weekend.

Union Park is also just really easy to navigate. There were three stages—Red and Green in the main park, and the Blue stage, which is on the opposite side towards Ashland Avenue and is nestled among the trees. Usually the more intimate and atmospheric-sounding acts play at the Blue stage, and the Red and Green stages alternate sets and maintain the headliners. This is very navigable setup which made it easy to catch as much music as I wanted throughout the day while also being able to see and eat and drink when I wanted.

I mean, you obviously don’t get the best sound quality waiting in line for a vegan gyro and a beer, but you know where I’m going, right?

Not everything is perfect at these large-scale events. There were occasional technical difficulties at more than a few shows—Majical Cloudz‘s set got completely blown out and the lead singer sang a capella the entire second half, and I recall some jarring feedback at the start of more than few sets. But, hey! It’s outdoors and there’s weather and stuff to consider, right? There were also two unfortunate cancellations this year—DJ Rashad passed in April of this year. His slot was filled by DJ Spinn whose set incited a massively fun and hyped tribute to DJ Rashad. Though not actually deceased, Death Grips disbanded earlier this month and canceled any and all remaining tour dates. Earl Sweatshirt, however, did make it to his set on Sunday and had a show at the Metro on Saturday despite canceling all of his other tour dates due to exhaustion.

There were also some other funny happenings around the festival like a Missed Connections board sponsored by Goose Island and free haircuts sponsored by Ray Ban that only cost you your signature on a waiver. A promoter came up to my crew and I asking if we wanted to have a staring contest with an MMA fighter for which the only prize was “glory,” but we passed. No regrets missing out on that activity…

For those who like a total festival experience there was also a fantastic display of band posters at Flatstock, a sizable collection of vinyl for purchase at the CHIRP Record Fair, and the adorable Coterie Craft Fair which featured 40 jury-selected artists who design everything from jewelry to clothing, to paper goods and more.

You can get to Union Park a variety of ways and they have a decently sized free bike parking area. I took the Green Line to the Ashland station on the CTA which was crowded and slow, and yet this is how I always make it to Union Park thinking I’ll get there on time for some early show and I never do. This year I obviously didn’t learn my lesson.

Ok so, I didn’t make it to most of Factory Floor’s set at the Blue stage. But when I finally got there, the vibe was really fun and loud and for those that caught the whole set, it must have been a great start to the weekend. Factory Floor describe themselves as “post-industrial,” they’re from London, and they use a mix of live drumming and synthesizers to create their robotic but dancey electronic sound. If you’re into artists from the DFA label, check them out if you haven’t already.

At any festival, I, as do many others I’m sure, always make an effort to establish a meeting spot so that it’s just easier to link up with your buddies during the weekend and because usually cell phone service is shoddy. This year, I made a point to pick a spot that would allow me to actually see music while waiting for my friends. So yeah, that’s pretty much how I saw Sharon Van Etten—from the far back but close enough to hear and see everything. Also, I’m fairly short so sometimes the most enjoyable sets for me are when I’m chilling in the back and watching the video feed on a screen but experience the music live.

You could tell Sharon was really happy to be playing for the Pitchfork audience and they were really excited to see her. The whole time that lead up to the set, I kept hearing “Aww yeah Sharon! She’s gonna be great man we gotta make sure we see her!”

So yeah, people were pumped and so was Sharon. There was a lot of love for her—Goose Island and Pitchfork even teamed up to brew a “Sharon Van Etten” beer! I felt this energy all the way in the back of the crowd at my spot and instead of just listening to her sing while staring at the back of some tall dude’s backwards cap and dirty t-shirt, I could actually see her expressions and her band on the big screen situated on the right side of the stage. She played my personal favorites “Serpents” and “Afraid of Nothing” and her voice sounded crisp and smooth and everyone sang along. Solid set, Sharon, very solid.

In case you were wondering who the cutest act of the day was, it was Giorgio Moroder at the Red stage. The 74-year-old is such a disco club kid at heart. The old-school producer and DJ was basically just pushing buttons on his sticker-free laptop but you could tell by the permanent smile on his face he was just the happiest. The finger-pointing dance moves were also totally adorable and I must admit it was kind of an honor to see this legend in person.

Beck was pretty good and honestly, you’re not going to schedule Beck any other time than a headliner’s slot so whatever. My first introduction to Beck was via Guero, which draws strong comparisons to his much beloved album, Odelay. I fell in love with Beck’s nonsensical lyrics and quirky melodies that at least for me, drew these vivid pictures of colorfully dressed mariachi bands parading up and down some random street and mirages of ghosts and weird girls in strange outfits. As it turns out, I was totally wrong about everything I ever thought I understood about this guy. I even let the whole, Scientology thing go. I really wanted to make an effort to see Beck because of my longtime love for him and his music and I imagine there were a lot of fans there with similar thinking.

Beck worked the stage like the professional he is—kicking his legs and banging his head cooly while keeping pretty good balance of that hat he was wearing (like I said, professional). Props for keeping the outfit typical Beck too—the hat and the blazer and the Hawaiian shirt—would you expect anything less? Nope.

There were some visual effects going on stage as well—geometric neon shapes pulsing to the beat and videos of colorful neon liquid splashing across the giant screens. It looked like when the Blue Man Group do the bit where they bang on trash cans filled with paint and it splashes up on their blue faces. Was it cool looking? I don’t know. It was certainly colorful but the videos didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. But as we’ve learned, it’s Beck so apparently none of it has to make sense.

I was excited when the set started so energetically when Beck started out playing “Devil’s Haircut” and followed that up with “Black Tambourine.” But then when he went into some of his newer, more mellow songs, I tuned out a bit. Maybe I got my hopes up when he played my two favorites right away and then went into a bunch of songs I hadn’t really heard.

I was expecting to fall back in love again with his music like I did when I first discovered Guero. I ended up taking my own advice and left after he played “Loser” to beat the mass exodus towards the exit and El train I would inevitably be taking. No regrets there because on my way out it was clear the crowd was just loving every minute of it anyway so, I knew I saw what I needed to see.

FACTORY FLOOR

SHARON VAN ETTEN

SUN KIL MOON

NENEH CHERRY

GIORGIO MORODER

BECK

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