Despite the “Excessive Heat Warning” for temperatures reaching for 100 Fahrenheit, the crowd showed up for Day one of Pitchfork Festival in Chicago. The first day saw an eclectic mix of rap, rock and R&B from both veteran and up-and-coming artists.
First up in coverage was Sky Ferreira making a reappearance to the stage. After a long hiatus (and some lingering technical difficulties), the pop/rock singer took the stage with an indifferent “Hello,” earning a roaring applause from the diehard fans in the crowd. Ferreira opened with her Night Time, My Time track “24 Hours.” Despite a failing earpiece and quite the hiatus from performing, Ferreira didn’t miss a beat through “24 Hours” and “Boys.” It wasn’t until she performed “I Blame Myself” though when the crowd was fully able to appreciate her powerful vocals, which were on full display as she held down the soaring and infectiously catchy chorus. Ferreira rounded out her set with a snippet of a new track, “Ascending” and a mention of a new album coming “sometime.”
Earl Sweatshirt drew one of the larger crowds despite being one of the earlier acts. The crowd shrieked and screamed as the young MC casually strolled out to Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness” (a fitting track given the weather). Earl proceeded to shout out collaborators and fellow Pitchfork-performers MIKE and Standing on the Corner as “Riot!”, the closer to 2018’s Some Rap Songs, played in the background. Throughout, the former Odd Future rapper effortlessly flowed between tracks across his three LP’s, providing short vignettes of his discography before the beat and vibe, switched gears. Earl Sweatshirt’s music is particularly abstract and free-roaming for rap, so on paper one may not necessarily peg him as a stellar festival artist. However, even with meandering tracks like “Grief” and “Azucar,” Earl’s stripped back performance proved to be one of the standouts in Day 1, with the vast majority of the crowd rapping every word right back to Earl: a true testament to his lyrical prowess.
Pusha T formed Pitchfork’s first and only back-to-back performance following right after Earl Sweatshirt. If there was an award for most energetic performance, it’d be hard to choose anyone over King Push. Following a monumental 2018, with his critically acclaimed Daytona as well as his decisive victory of Drake in a rap beef, the G.O.O.D. Music CEO was welcomed with open arms in Chicago as he opened with “If You Know You Know.” Pusha T’s smile was infectious as he joyously rapped drug tales and braggadocious boasts. Pusha T mixed the new with the old as he played a select few tracks from his earlier Clipse days.
At the Blue Stage, Soccer Mommy (and the shade from the trees) provided a more mellow vibe following an enthusiastic Pusha T. The Nashville singer only has one album under her belt, but she and her accompanying band had plenty of bedroom-pop/rock tracks to fill the set time. More upbeat songs like “Your Dog” and “Last Girl” produced upticks in the set’s energy, but more often than not Soccer Mommy’s voice got lost in the waves of guitar strumming (part of that was probably for effect, but part was due to a cold she was suffering). Overall the mellow vibe from tracks including “Blossom (Wasting All My Time),” “Scorpio Rising,p” and “Lucy,” a new unreleased track, ended up serving as a backdrop for festival-goers to relax and cool off in the shade.
Pitchfork looked to Chicago’s history for its next artist. Mavis Staples, the veteran gospel singer and Chicago native, returned to her hometown to open up with the joyful “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).” Despite being born in 1939 (do the math on that), Staples was one of the most fun, joyous acts in Day one. Even in the sweltering heat, the R&B matriarch could be seen dancing and swinging around stage, showcasing a deep chemistry with her backup band.
Low set up back at the shady Blue Stage as the day’s penultimate performance. The indie rock trio opened with “Always Up,” a marching and slow-building track full of distortion and pulsing drums. Proceeding tracks like “Quorum” and “Dancing and Blood” kept the walls of distortion coming, but the effect eventually wore off for the crowd as many started making their way to catch Friday’s headliner.
Haim, in their first headlining performance and sole performance of 2019, was clearly the day’s most anticipated act, drawing a crowd that nearly reached each end of the park. As the stage screen broadcast their walk to the stage, the crowd erupted into a frenzy. The trio came out one at a time to a set of tom drums, each building on top of the other to create quite the rhythmic display before ultimately jumping into the undeniably fun “Falling.” For the first leg of the performance, Danielle Haim’s singing and guitar playing were the driving forces. While Haim often gets labeled as a pop group, Danielle showcased full-on rock star status. Reminiscent of Slash or Randy Rhodes, Danielle could be seen feeling herself as she leaned into numerous guitar solos. The trio kept the energy up through their performance of “My Song 5,” a climax in the set. The track featured a pounding beat that set the backdrop for Danielle’s soaring vocals and an ass-kicking guitar riff. Haim switched up the vibe and “brought the stools out for one of those acoustic things” to perform some of their older, more lowkey tracks, capping off that portion with a cover of Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait.” The sisters’ chemistry was unmistkable throughout the performance, both through their banter between tracks, and in just the sheer coordination between each songs’ numerous moving parts. Haim’s music paired perfectly with an open-air festival, but it’s not hard to imagine the duo filling arenas before their career is over.
Photo Credit Sharon Alagna