Pitchfork 2021 - Day 1Sep 11, 2021
Radio K’s Pitchfork Festival experience began with an air of disbelief: following over a year of staying inside, it was hard to comprehend that we were actually in Chicago attending one of the nation’s most renowned music festivals. Reality quickly set in with the powerful bass of Armand Hammer’s opening set washing over us as we entered the festival grounds. Following a blistering performance by up and coming pop-punk rockers Dogleg, all disbelief had been blasted away - this was for real.
The crowd, which grew slowly as the day progressed, was filled with folks who were clearly savoring a chance to enjoy live festivals again. Like an indie fashion week, Union Park was crowded with people who were dressed to the nines in music festival attire. The lines for any food or beverage were astronomical, and you don’t even want to know how many people were waiting for a chance to get their hands on some merch.
Following these strong opening acts, Chicago native indie-rockers DEHD simultaneously mellowed out the chaos and kept the energy up for the emerging crowds. Playful beats and sunny melodies made dancing to the music easy - along with sharp lyrics that the receptive crowd eagerly sang along with.
Established acts like Hop Along and The Fiery Furnaces kept the crowd intrigued and active, playing danceable tunes that could be considered veritable indie-rock classics - the crowd joyously sang along with Fiery Furnaces vocalist Eleanor Friedburger to “Single Again”
Halfway through the day’s performances, UK-based band Black Midi took the stage to the delight of the crowd. As members of the band sound-checked and brought out a green couch and other living room decor to a soundtrack of old-timey cartoon music, it became clear that Black Midi’s set would be one to remember. Black Midi already possessed a reputation for causing chaos at Pitchfork - their rain-drenched set in 2019 brought the full fury of their debut album Schlagenheim out on full display. Starting their set with a track from this album (“953”) instantly brought that mayhem back as if it had never left. Saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi played with particularly deep expression as his sharp, commanding notes featured all over the group’s latest record Cavalcade demanded the attention of the crowd.
As the band transitioned to more of their newer, stranger tracks, the mosh continued to evolve and morph with the avalanche of music. Perhaps the most intense moment of the night came with their performance of “John L,” where the moshing reached its peak and the crowd put their appreciation for the music on full, violent display.
With evening setting in, a larger crowd began to assemble as Union Park prepared for one of the most righteously anticipated acts of the night: the return of Animal Collective to the Pitchfork stage. A roar of fanatical applause blazed throughout the field as the band took the stage, and an even greater display of excitement welcomed Avey Tare as he played the first few notes of “In The Flowers.” The massive crowd was eager to show their dedication, with some of the most impassioned crowd participation of any of the evening’s performances. By the end of the set, many crowd members yelped and shouted along with Tare to “The Purple Bottle,” their final song of the evening. It was a beautiful and joyous crescendo to conclude a very special Pitchfork set.
As the evening progressed, more and more people filled the festival grounds, rallying for the last big acts of the night. A large crowd peacefully gathered around the red stage for Big Thief as Adrienne’s alluring voice eased it’s way through the crowd. Regardless of where one stood, there was a good chance that at least one person in the vicinity would be gently swaying and singing every word to whichever song was being shared with the audience at the time.
Bookending the other headliner acts of Big Thief and Phoebe Bridgers, the Blue Stage featured an electrifying performance from Yaeji, with the pounding bass serving as a compelling contrast to the mellower energies of the other headliners. A group of steadfast fans and ravers kept the party going as the night moved towards it’s final performance from Phoebe Bridgers.
The night ended in skeleton suits and kisses from Phoebe Bridgers and her touring band.
As “I Got A Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas blasted from the speakers to both the surprise and joy of the crowd, Phoebe and her touring band emerged from backstage and were met with thunderous applause. As she began singing, her melodic voice and melancholy lyrics created a beautiful atmosphere that was both tender and wild. Her notorious fan base packed around the green stage, and a twinkling star graphic sparkled in the background of her set, dispersed with beautiful imagery reminiscent of fantastical pop-up books. From wooing the crowd with her well-known songs to covering Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling,” Phoebe kept the audience on their feet while also ensuring they got what they came for.
As we left the festival with legs of jelly and throbbing feet, we couldn’t help but marvel at how full the day had been. The performers were electric and eclectic, and the audience was simply ecstatic to be able to enjoy live festivals again -and we can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.