Beck the pinnacle of Friday at Pitchfork

Pitchfork 2014 was birthed yesterday as waves of hipsters, chic nerds and trendy parents emerged from the Chicago underbelly to welcome the celebrated annual indie music festival. I arrived in time to casually peruse Pitchfork’s amenities — e.g. the food offerings, the album tent, the inimitably curated avenue of poster art, etc. — before settling in for an evening full of tunes.

The Best of Friday

Friday's high point came in the night's final lineup tandem on the north side of the park. With the festival’s attention turned toward the superlative charm of Giorgio Moroder, we were able to secure a fantastic spot in front of the stage that would soon host Beck (and we were still able to enjoy Moroder from afar). The disco pioneer made famous again by his inclusion on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories didn’t do a whole lot more than queue his hits from the ‘80s and juxtapose his undeniably pleasant finger wags and head bobs with scenes of the films in which those songs were made famous — e.g “Take My Breath Away” and Top Gun. Still, it was incredibly heartwarming and everybody loved it — the 74-year-old brought the house down and you can’t ask for much more than that. Moreover, it was a great mood primer for the forthcoming stylings of Beck Hansen.

Garbed in a vibrant Hawaiian shirt, suit coat and fedora, Beck roared onto the stage with an energetic rendition of “Devil’s Haircut.” The seven-piece band continued a furious onslaught of hits before segueing into Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” — co-written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, by the way — and then transitioning into a short acoustic set.

Hansen played “Blue Moon” from his brilliant new album Morning Phase and followed by plucking a solemnly delivered “Lost Cause.” It was a welcome respite from the straight-up exuberance being pumped forth from the stage, and it didn’t last long — the band followed the Sea Change classic with “Loser” — arguably the artist's more well-known song. Beck has probably performed “Loser” thousands of times, but he played it last night as though he was on its first tour, as though everybody was just discovering it for the first time.

The Los Angeles native and his band brought prodigious levels of energy to their performance, capping the pre-encore set with a face-melting rendition of “E-Pro.” The encore featured a 10-minute version of “Where It’s At” and proved to be a perfect culmination to day one. Beck wove his impressive catalog into an expertly curated set of ups and downs while tying everything together with a continuous string of poignant vitality.

Other Friday highlights:

  • The reborn UK diva, Neneh Cherry owned her stage. The singer infused synth-heavy jams with vocals as percussive as any of her backing instruments — she rapped, quasi-beatboxed, yelled and laughed, and she did so all very musically. The synthesis evoked a dance/trip-hop confluence a la Morcheeba. Cherry’s vivaciousness made for an entertaining show — her first in the U.S. since 1992 (!) — and she finished it off with her 1989 hit, “Buffalo Stance.”
  • Sharon Van Etten alleviated the day of any late-afternoon doldrums. Her gorgeous voice washed over the park as she showcased songs from her new, excellent album, Are We There. “Your Love Is Killing Me” highlighted the set, and the elegant vocalist proved once again her name belongs in any discussion of best female musician of our time.

More to come tomorrow — be there or regret it for the rest of your natural-born life.