At an outdoor music festival you’re at the mercy of nature and how you choose to deal with the weather thrown your way shapes your experience. A forecast of sunny skies for first day of the Pitchfork Music Festival turned dark following an unexpected early afternoon storm. Many festival-goers got a later start than intended, and even though the storm passed, off-and-on rain continued leaving the air wet and humid, and the festival grounds muddy. Altogether, fans took the conditions in stride, dancing in their ponchos, legs streaked with mud. Artists faced the double-edged challenge of maintaining their own enthusiasm while keeping a wet audience engaged. Some acts seemed to genuinely enjoy the less than ideal weather, while others were better left indoors.
After having seen Chicago native Willis Earl Beal open for SBTRKT at the House of Blues some months ago to a confused audience, he found a setting to shine in amidst the smaller, tree-covered Blue stage. Shady and cool, immediately following the clearing of the afternoon’s storm, Beale’s raw voice and penchant for storytelling felt in perfect harmony with his environment. His voice was raspy by the end of his set, yet still he carried on with a powerful gospel howl that mesmerized the crowd. “Say no more if you ever cried before”, he encouraged the audience, poetically.
Watching A$AP Rocky is a distracting, but ultimately fascinating experience. Aloof to the point of oddness, A$AP (and entourage) seemed blind to their huge stage and amped crowd, performing all our favorite tracks for their own entertainment. He didn’t want us, and it only made us want him more. He teased the crowd, and made little eye contact. In response went wild; a fight broke out, we all danced harder. The bad news of more rain lit up A$AP, whose energy doubled for set highlight “Hands On The Wheel” (minus Schoolboy Q). Manipulation and detachment have never been so engaging.
Despite it being barely 6pm, festival crowds already seemed lethargic. Thankfully, Vancouver’s Japandoids came along and saved us. A brief moment of sunshine poked through the trees as the band took the stage. They roared to life blending punk and garage rock noise with sweat. Water bottles became fountains as the crowd excitedly flung streams towards the sky. Providing the day’s most energetic set, Japandroids proved punk is party music.
The Pitchfork Festival lineup included a rare chance to catch the lauded beatmaker Clams Casino and a curious crowd gathered hoping to dance. Standing stiffly behind a laptop, he seemed shy and lost on what was already the smallest of the festival stages. The sound was quieter than expected, causing his lush instrumental compositions to play out pale. A talented producer, but not much of a performer, Clams Casino would be better received in a more intimate setting.
Canadian act Purity Ring brought the day to an appropriate close, winding down the gray, unpredictable weather with eccentric, ghostly synth pop set to a stage of pulsing lanterns. Calm beauty in the company of dark undertones lulled the crowd to quiet bliss. Vocalist Megan James was spellbinding, with a tone suggestive of Björk.
Solid performances in shaky weather marked the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival. Forecast says it’s going to be wet again today, but this time we’re ready. Bring it.