Day one of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival is officially in the books, and try as it might, the rain that plagued concertgoers in the afternoon was far from the biggest event of the day. When the rain started coming down in buckets about an hour before the gates were set to open at 3 p.m., it looked like the opening day of the festival was going to be a waterlogged affair. As the first wave of storms passed, hipsters young and old made their way onto the Union Park grounds ready for some great music and more.
I started my day at the blue stage, hidden away amongst some trees, separated from the main stages. I had come across the name Willis Earl Beal many times this past year. When his album, Acousmatic Sorcery came out back in March, music critics fawned endlessly over it’s stripped down return to blues sentimentality. Beal’s live set-up is as simple as his album: it is merely he, a reel-to-reel, and a bottle of whiskey. In sharp comparison to many of the electronic acts at the festival, Beal prided himself in a sort of do-it-yourself feel to his performance. Relying only on his voice and his strong, theatrical performance, Beal was mesmerizing. Everything was powerful about the performance, from his incredible voice to his on-stage theatrics. On his style, Beal noted, “To all those elitists out there who say I’m overindulgent and sappy… I am overindulgent and sappy, I try really hard at that.”
Soon after Beal’s set ended, the dark clouds began rolling back around. I decided to take that opportunity to check out all the non-music offering Pitchfork has to offer. I made my way to the bookfort (a brand new feature where independent book sellers and authors sold their works) and flatstock (a recurring feature of the festival where local artists sell their posters for purchase). Rain was now beginning to fall fairly steadily upon the grounds, but the inclement weather did not seem to bother the music fans much, as rap fans bounced along with A$AP Rocky and electronic fans swayed to the mellow tones of Tim Hecker.
Soon enough, it was time for one of my most anticipated acts of the festival, Vancouver’s Japandroids. After a lengthy sound check, it was finally time for the rock duo to play. And play they did. In classic rock clich’ÛÎ© terms, they cranked it up to 11. Rocketing through some of their biggest, loudest numbers with little pause, you could never have guessed that the audience was hot and drenched. As the band launched into their new hit “Fire’s Highway”, the crowd rushed into exuberant mosh, eating up every drum hit, power chord, and howl. Like a rock and roll fairytale, the clouds passed and the sun came out as the noise crescendo-ed into a fever-state. This band is something special and their newfound fame is well deserved to say the least.
As the Japandroids finished up their set on the blue stage, The Dirty Projectors started theirs on the red stage across the field. Drawing a huge crowd, David
Longstreth and company sounded pitch perfect throughout their lengthy set. But what is truly should be of note to fans of the band, is how much they actually seem like a band. For much of their history, the Dirty Projectors have essentially been comprised of Longstreth and a revolving cast of extras. But now, the sextet is really gelling and both looking and sounding like a unit, rather than separate pieces. While Longstreth is as good, or better, than ever, the women of the band have really stepped up into the spotlight. Specifically, Amber Coffman blew the audience away with her incredible vocal prowess and her ability to harmonize with sniper-like precision. The whimsical nature of Dirty Projectors music lent itself perfectly to the setting sun and the feel-good vibe of the crowd.
The headliner slot for the night was a toss-up between indie rock queen Feist and rising electronic stars Purity Ring. Feist approached her set with pure unadulterated joy and tried to include the audience in every song. But unfortunately, as is often the case with musicians featured in Apple advertisements, fans expect the song they know and not much else. In Feist’s case, her adorable song “1234” found her lots of new young fans, but not necessarily ones who went out and bought her most recent album Metals. She sounded great, and her songs, both new and old, were brimming with enthusiasm, but the performance was somewhat marred by the somewhat disinterested crowd.
Across the way at the blue stage, Purity Ring brought their mix of R&B beats and shoegaze vocals to a hungry crowd. Although their debut album has not even been released, word has spread quickly since their signing with 4AD records about their sexy sound. The stage was intricately arranged, with blue glowing orbs descending from the roof and all other lights turned off. Loud and haunting, Purity Ring introduced the world to their sound and the world ate it up. It will be exciting to follow this band from this point on.
Overall, despite the rain, or maybe in spite of the rain, day one of the 2012 Pitchfork Music festival was a rousing success and hopefully a good omen for what the rest of the festival will bring.