Beck was the headliner for day one of the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and while he delivered a fine set. He was overshadowed by two artists who rarely perform live and who are a combined 124 years old: left-of-center experimental pop singer Neneh Cherry and '70s disco king Giorgio Moroder.
"My name is Giovanni Giorgio, but you can call me Giorgio," the legendary producer said upon taking the stage, repeating the line from the recent Daft Punk collaboration "Giorgio by Moroder" that put him back on the map.
A 74-year-old Italian man with a laptop was an unlikely candidate to get the party started, but after a couple of less-than-entertaining sets preceded him, Moroder had the crowd's full attention and got them moving in a hurry.
Moroder queued up most of the hits he wrote or produced throughout his career, opening with "Love to Love You," one of several Donna Summer songs in the set. A club version of "Take My Breath Away" with a "Top Gun" video montage brought down the house, and that was followed quickly by Summer's "Hot Stuff" and Irene Cara's "Flashdance... What a Feeling."
Eighties pop music may be uncool in some circles, but it's hard to imagine there will be a more crowd pleasing five-minute segment from any DJ in the city of Chicago this year than those three songs presented in succession.
"This is by far the best gig of my life," he said before closing with his Daft Punk song, Blondie's "Call Me," and "Hot Stuff" again. Moroder looked a little awkward waving his hands in the air, but fans responded by chanting his name and generally dishing out the kind of respectful adoration that can only be given to a grandfather figure.
Beck had a tough act to follow and did an admirable job. Fears that he might pack too many slow songs from his recent album Morning Phase into the set were dismissed when he opened with several up-tempo numbers, including a fierce "Devil's Haircut" and "Think I'm in Love."
After playing the gorgeous "Lost Cause," perhaps the best ballad in his arsenal, Beck busted out his signature song, "Loser." He later added vibrant renditions of "Girl" and "E-Pro" before offering an outstanding encore featuring the melodic "Sexx Laws," the soulful falsetto of "Debra" and the hard rocking "Where It's At."
The highlight of the early afternoon was the set from the 50-year-old Cherry, best known for her 1988 #3 hit "Buffalo Stance." In her first live concert in America since 1992, Cherry was all smiles while performing with electronic duo RocketNumberNine, with whom she recorded her latest album, Blank Project.
"Spit Three Times" was a standout, its atmospheric groove enhanced with a steady bass buzz and both real drums and programmed beats. Cherry's musical blend found the sweet spot between EDM and R&B without being as repetitive or formulaic as those genres can sometimes be.
Cherry gave her fans a treat by closing with a completely reinvented version of "Buffalo Stance" built around a piano riff. Twenty six years later, she's still serious when she insists that no money man can win her love.
Elsewhere, Sharon Van Etten and Sun Kil Moon are both critically-acclaimed singer-songwriters, but their low-energy styles didn't work, especially in the case of Sun Kil Moon, who sat in a chair for most of his set and exacerbated the problem by playing almost 15 minutes past his scheduled end time. Van Etten was pleasant enough, but there was nothing particularly engaging about her NPR-style folk-rock. Let's hold off on those Cat Power comparisons for now, please.
Van Etten and Sun Kil Moon could've looked to rising R&B star SZA for a lesson on how to stay low-key while still capturing listeners' attention. The sole female voice in Kendrick Lamar's crew delivered no-frills soul - "chilled out, relaxation" music, she called it - with an assured voice and a solid backing band that came off like a lite version of the Roots.
The Haxan Cloak, meanwhile, required way more patience than any reasonable observer could possibly give. Their sparse sound offered no noticeable signs of progress or movement until 20 minutes into the show, when a bit of clattering percussion finally livened things up. Their plodding style made Mogwai sound like Avicii by comparison.