Writing and Photography by: Bobby Talamine
Welcome back Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago - we missed you.
Right off the bat, I have to make it clear to you that I only got two hours of sleep- found myself nodding off at 2:30 am at my laptop attempting to write a recap. Not a good sign for me for two more days to come, and the excitement of covering so many quality acts that is typically booked for Pitchfork year in and year out. So this review will be all over the place, kinda like Black Midi's set from Friday, where they were hurling out static and conceptual noise one minute, then blast furnace era King Crimson riffs the next, into Math Rock, and so on.
Hard to keep up with these guys, which makes you want to see them perform live again. To start their set, out came a full couch, then a rolling three piece suit cart with various clothing attached, and also a fake plastic plant in front of the drum kit.
What can you assess from that- we've got surprises in store for the next 50 minutes.
Bumped into Geordie Greep, their guitarist and vocalist about an hour after his set, still in his three piece suit and shades, and still soaked from head to toe.
Yeah, that's right- temps on the Pitchfork grounds on mid afternoon on Friday, with blazing unobstructed sun all day, equals temps hovering around 87 degrees or so.
I bring up Black Midi right off the bat because it was in my opinion, one of the highlights from day one for me. All you had to do was look at the manic and pogoing crowd to give you an indication- the dust cloud over in front of the main stage was getting intense.
Another highlights from day one before headliner Phoebe Bridgers took the stage:
I felt bad for Avey Tare and the boys- what with still the late afternoon sun beating down on them, and not performing at night like I usually see them, where their visuals become front and center, equal to their transfixing sounds. Nevertheless, audio wise, they produce an other-wordly and sophisticated mix, even with Geologist bringing out a Hurdy Gurdy a couple songs into their set to add more wayward coolness.
And to start day one for me: local band Dehd, a three piece, fronted by bassist and lead singer Emily Kempf, ever looking the part of punk fashionista, with the vocal chops and stage presence to prove it. Their set was forty five minutes in length, but it could've been so much more, what with steady drumming from Eric McGrady and manic guitar from Jason Bella.
Philadelphia based Hop Along, performing at 3:20 in the afternoon had a cool folk leaning and wailing sound, fronted by bandleader Frances Quinlan. Their set had a light as air vibe throughout, and yet there's an intensity underpinning everything with them and about them, which was cool.
How about from the Blue Stage from the southern end of the festival grounds, with none other that Ela Minus. Working from a platform with a couple samplers and synths- her sound and overall presence was captivating and dark and chill throughout her set.
Somehow she's been lumped in description with Industrial Music- and in my opinion, her sound and mystique is anything but.
Ela Minus is more drenched in Darkwave and Dark Synthpop, with some Trance added for good measure, allowing Ela to leave her podium of synths and sway, while transfixed to the beats. Definitely Ela Minus was again one of the highlights for me from day one.
So glad to see Mathew and Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces back in the fold- it seems like forever since we saw them last- like ten years ago I believe, and their sound- still on fire, with Eleanor front and center, backed by two drummers and an additional keyboardist, which only amped up their attack that much more.
The Fiery Furnaces- again, one of the highlights and most anticipated performances from day one.
Following them, we had Kelly Lee Owens from the Blue Stage, a Welsh producer and Musician, cloaked at first in a long black raincoat with a hoodie, which she brandished quickly to show a tight-fitting body suit with mosaic designs, exemplifying her overall vibe and sound. Ethereal beats and mixes permeated throughout her set, adding to a transfixing mood, with most of her music allowing her to sway to song after song and her danceable grooves.
Brooklyn based Big Thief, fronted by the ever chill Adrienne Lenker, held court with her bandmates for an hour of captivating and quality lo-fi vibes, with the occasional and sophisticated guitar flourishes from Buck Meek.
How about the coolness and mellow rap style slash trance from Korean- American Yaeji- so stylish and chill, closing out the Blue Stage for the evening with somber and dreamy coolness.
And finally, the headliner Phoebe Bridgers from the Green Stage, with Phoebe and her bandmates walking out onstage wearing Halloween one- piece skeleton bones pajamas, which seems to be her performing outfit as of late from previous shows. Phoebe, all smiles throughout, with an enraptured crowd reciting every lyric to every song alongside her.
The last time I felt that vibe and kismet between crowd and transfixed audience was witnessing Billie Eilish back in the day, in the late afternoon at Lollapalooza, and also the rabid fan base of Lana Del Ray as well.
Now that's saying something, commanding an audience like that, with little fanfare, just terrific songwriting that sends a distinct message, with a keen sense of comfort and solace permeating throughout her set. The open book visuals behind Phoebe from the gigantic LED screen were extraordinary and finely detailed, adding a sophistication to compel emotions with serious songs all the while showcasing some serious craftsmanship and panache.
Her latest release "Punisher" was highlighted throughout her set, worthy of attention and performing live since the pandemic thwarted that chance back in 2020.
Have to say I left the festival grounds last night taking a deep breath and realizing all is good in the indie and alternative music worlds.
Thank you Pitchfork- can't wait for days two and three.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago