Pitchfork Day 1: The Smile, Ric Wilson, Perfume Genius, Jlin, Sen Morimoto, get the party started in Union Park

While crowds were a slow build early in the afternoon, the swarm of Radiohead T-shirts indicated throngs would likely soon be assembling for The Smile, Friday night’s headliner.

SHARE Pitchfork Day 1: The Smile, Ric Wilson, Perfume Genius, Jlin, Sen Morimoto, get the party started in Union Park
Perfume Genius performs an evening set on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Perfume Genius performs an evening set on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A busy weekend of music kicked off in Chicago on Friday.

While the Beyhive is getting busy for Beyonce to take over Soldier Field Saturday and Sunday, Pitchfork Music Festival got underway at Union Park in the West Loop, with lots of sunshine and pleasant chills, a welcome change from last year’s rainsoaked fest.

While crowds were a slow build early in the afternoon, the swarm of Radiohead T-shirts indicated throngs would likely soon be assembling for The Smile, Friday night’s headliner featuring the beloved Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood (joined by Tom Skinner to round out the trio).

Festival goers cheer for Sen Morimoto on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Festivalgoers cheer for Sen Morimoto on the first day of the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Now in year 17, Pitchfork organizers know their brand well and have stuck with a winning formula for the fest’s 2023 edition, offering a highly curated potpourri of diverse artists, a mix of the well-established and the and up-and-comers.

There’s also a constant (and refreshing) heavy emphasis on local Chicago talent, the fest paying its own homegrown roots forward.

Here are some highlights from Day 1:

The Smile

Thom Yorke of The Smile performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in the Near West Side.

Thom Yorke of The Smile performs during the bands headlining set on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in the Near West Side.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Though The Smile only have a handful of songs in their current repertoire and made their debut just two years ago, their 75-minute headlining set Friday still felt almost inadequate — a mere tease of what was setting up to be a hypnotic marathon as the trio held the Pitchfork crowd in the palm of their hands (even though the park was surprisingly only half full).

Before The Smile even played a note, the ensemble received a standing ovation as road-weary festivalgoers got up from their blankets spread out across the park to salute Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner, aka two-fifths of Radiohead, and the jazz percussionist known for his work in Sons of Kemet, respectively.

No, Radiohead has not disbanded; no need to cry to “Creep.” The venerable rock band is just expanding its wings like they have done — as a unit — for decades. So while guitarist Ed O’Brien was busy on his debut solo album “Earth,” Yorke and Greenwood came to play, teaming up with Skinner (whom Greenwood first met doing score work for the Paul Thomas Anderson film “The Master”).

The Smile was effectively COVID-born, giving the masterful musicians time to fully nourish a sonic palette that builds on the art rock dictionary they have logged while further dabbling into jazz, post-punk and a more expansive percussive spread with Skinner’s influence. The result is a breathtaking soundtrack on record, but goes beyond any preconceived expectation live.

When The Smile dove headfirst in the anxious chaos of “Bending Hectic,” their newest single, there should have been a turbulence warning to take a seat for the crescendo, as the dizzying light show and screaming instruments made fission-level impact.

Even on “Waving A White Flag,” in which sonic savant Greenwood played his guitar with a violin bow, he did it so furiously that he broke the strings. The addition of fourth touring member, Robert Stillman on horns, only added to the lush orchestration.

Though their universally loved album “A Light For Attracting Attention” was just released in 2022, the band confirmed they are working on its followup and offered several new bonafide hits during the Pitchfork set, which appears to be their final tour date for a while. — Selena Fragassi

Ric Wilson

Ric Wilson performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in the Near West Side,

Ric Wilson performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in the Near West Side,

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Removing the distance between artist and audience is a hallmark of Ric Wilson’s work. It’s a characteristic he illustrated gloriously at the Pitchfork Music Festival Friday night.

Wilson is a Chicagoan whose artistry resonates deeply with Chicagoans. There is an “I’m like you” quality to his stage persona, but few people in Cook County can rap, sing and dance as well as this young South Side hero.

When he ripped off his blazer and jumped down from the stage to dance with the crowd during “Hang Loose,” Chicago pride was running high in Union Park.

Backed by five instrumentalists and dynamic vocalist Kiéla Adira, Wilson showcased material from his recent EP “Clusterfunk,” a collaboration with Chromeo and A-Trak.

Throughout the show, Adira served as an ideal foil for Wilson, whether he was sweetly crooning R&B, rapping in rapid-fire bursts or demonstrating dance moves that made his yellow sneakers seem like a blur.

His guests included vocalist Mariah Colon, who joined for one song, and his aunt Marilyn Bryant, who reprised an inspirational poem that Wilson included on the “Clusterfunk” EP.

Wilson punctuates his recordings and concerts with powerful messages of protest and social activism, and at one point he led the diverse crowd through a spirited chant against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

Fans who attended Pitchfork in 2019 will remember that Wilson collaborated with members of the Lane Tech marching band for that show.

This time around, he ramped up his stage design with strobe lights, a cardboard figure, and three huge, silver orbs that resembled giant pinballs. If crowd members looked (and listened) closely, they could see their own reflections. — Bobby Reed

Leikeli47

Leikeli47 performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Leikeli47 performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Leikeli47 was an unstoppable hip-hop juggernaut, as the Pitchfork crowd on Friday evening figuratively and literally embraced the acclaimed, magnetic artist.

Her set was the embodiment of unbridled energy. By the time she unleashed a short version of “Chitty Bang,” there was so much jumping in the crowd that it felt like the soil in Union Park was undulating.

The artist’s personality is central to her appeal. Leikeli47 told the crowd she was a “transparent person,” and in one sense she is: Fans definitely know what she’s feeling at any given moment. But in another sense, she is shrouded in mystery.

The artist always wears a mask, and she has not revealed her real name publicly. At Pitchfork, she opted for a pink bandana to cover her face.

Backed by a DJ, Leikeli47 unleashed a lyrical flow that had the crowd laughing, nodding in knowing appreciation and thrusting their hands skyward.

Fans love her, even though they don’t know much about her background. She’s not on social media. She grew up in Virginia, moved to Brooklyn, and recently relocated to Los Angeles. She did tell the website Mic that her stage name was inspired by two of her grandmothers, and the year 1947, as a tribute to the year Jackie Robinson made his debut in major league baseball.

And yet, despite the mystery, Leikeli47 conveys a relatable persona. For one song at Pitchfork, she brought six audience members out of the crowd up to dance on stage. For the next tune, “Post That,” she outdid herself by bringing up 12 dancers. She gave them all a quick group hug as they left the stage.

Like Ric Wilson had done on the same stage earlier in the evening, Leikeli47 wanted to let fans know that the distance between them and stars like her might not be as monumental as some might believe. —Bobby Reed

Perfume Genius

Perfume Genius performs on the first day of Pitchfork.

Perfume Genius performs on the first day of Pitchfork.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The last time Perfume Genius performed at Pitchfork Festival was in 2015, and the music act (the alter ego of Michael Alden Hadreas) was keen to make a big impression with the return visit.

Hadreas did so beautifully with an armful of props he turned into an evocative display of performance art — as much as can be done in the uncontrollable confines of an outdoor festival.

“I found this online; they said it was supposed to be the color ‘antique gold,’” he lamented about the reams and reams of delicate tulle he had decorating the floor of the stage like a bed of clouds.

Hadreas also decked himself out in elbow-length, red vinyl gloves that looked like something out of “American Horror Story” or Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy” music video. The combination of accessories and décor would, by the end of the set, embody a battle of heaven and hell as Hadreas writhed on the stage floor and fervently tousled with the soft tulle in his tight, bloody grip while tangled in the mic cord. It could’ve been the perfect music video setup for the last few songs — the brooding soundscapes of “My Body” and “Queen,” both from Perfume Genius’ 2014 opus “Too Bright.”

The material remains some of his most evocative to date, and still eternally fresh, though he pulled in more contemporary offerings like “Without You” and “Describe” from 2020’s brilliant “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.”

The set was plagued with some sound issues in the beginning with muted output, sound bleed from Ric Wilson’s nearby stage and Hadreas struggling with his in-ear monitors, which he eventually yanked out in frustration.

But once the singer gave up on controlling the aesthetics and gave into his beautiful wild abandon, the show really hit a bullseye moment as his voice and the vast array of instrumentation (producing a style palette of art rock, baroque and indie pop) came together in a solid marriage that was a great reminder of why Perfume Genius has been so respected since he came on the scene in 2010. — Selena Fragassi

Jlin

Jlin performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival.

Jlin performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Gary, Indiana, may be best-known for producing the likes of The Jackson 5 and Freddie Gibbs, but producer/composer Jlin is hot on their heels, angling for due recognition with her inventive brand of dark-tinged Chicago footwork and modern dance music that recently had her nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (for her 2022 work “Perspective,” in which she worked with the lauded Third Coast Percussion to blend classical and electronic music).

Though quite unassuming — she came solo to the Blue Stage dressed in a Marvin The Martian T-shirt, armed with a table of tech — what she delivered was nothing short of enigmatic, her layered work hailed by Pitchfork’s media arm as “one of the most forward-thinking contemporary composers in any genre.”

The effect was seen in Jlin (born Jerrilynn Patton) garnering the biggest crowd reaction of the day as festivalgoers dutifully reacted to the heavy, intense electronics.

Her music expressed it all — a range of emotions coming through the percussion-driven compositions that were perhaps in part influenced by her time working in industrial steel mills to help pay the bills while she worked on her craft. (Though she’s also said the material has been influenced by a mix of Miles Davis, Philip Glass and Anita Baker.)

It was a treat to see her in a quasi-hometown show, especially as Jlin’s profile grows, frequently in demand for remixes by the likes of Bjork and Martin Gore, and even collaborations with choreographers Wayne McGregor and Kyle Abraham. Though, ever-humble, and like any good conductor would do, as she wrapped up her set, Jlin came center stage, clasped her hands together and bowed, eliciting a howl of applause. Her next release comes September 29 with a new edition of “Perspective,” made of fully electronic takes of last year’s highly prized works. — Selena Fragassi

Sen Morimoto

Sen Morimoto performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Sen Morimoto performs on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Sen Morimoto was born in Kyoto, Japan, eventually made his way to Massachusetts and now lives in Chicago, marking a decade in the city, as he told the supportive crowd toward the end of his afternoon set.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play on this stage,” he said, sharing that he’d been coming to Pitchfork’s annual affair for the last 12 years, though formerly he could be found selling vinyl at the on-site Chirp Record Fair. Today, Morimoto is co-owner of Irving Park’s Sooper Records, the imprint that’s also gearing up to co-release his new album, “Diagnosis,” on Nov. 3.

Morimoto unleashed the title track for the penultimate song in his set, showcasing a deeper, if not angrier, more voluminous artist. He’s long been known for beautifully merging jazz and hip-hop with an arsenal of instrumentation (including his prowess on the saxophone, which he played at the fest with pure passion) and for inviting some of Chicago’s best to join him. That included local R&B singer and frequent collaborator KAINA, who joined in for backup vocals Friday, adding to a six-member-deep backing band.

The new tracks make it clear Morimoto is ramping up the material from artsy to undeniably attention-grabbing. “Diagnosis” is one strong example, with its brutal horn breakdown.

There was also some levity in Morimoto’s set, like a jazzy take on Cher’s “Believe,” joking he had just written the song earlier in the day. And the track “Wolf,” whose lyrics talk about crying so loud that the dog starts barking. “I’ve never had a dog,” Morimoto divulged. It’s the exact mix of sardonic sass and eclectic ear you’d expect from a record store junkie.

Morimoto plays an after-show at Schuba’s Saturday night, when his nuanced sound will no doubt come even more alive. — Selena Fragassi

Grace Ives

Grace Ives performs on the first day of the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Grace Ives performs on the first day of the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I really need a band,” Grace Ives said toward the end of her Friday afternoon set on the Red Stage. “Who wants to join? Tryouts are tonight at the hotel.”

The DIY Brooklyn artist said what most were thinking as Ives spent a lot of time tinkering with her Korg and laptop, the only real “personnel” joining her on stage for the 50-minute performance.

Though Ives had enough confidence and booming pipes to fill the stage, some of the dead air time and shaping her set list on the fly left a bit to be desired, and even her improv comedic side wasn’t able to save her improv showmanship. (This is someone who began her career with an EP of remade nursery rhymes.)

“All my songs are so short, this is a real challenge,” she told the crowd.

To be fair, the one-on-one relationship is how Ives built a following that has grasped onto her bedroom-made electronic pop as a sort of needed realism in the crowded field of flashy Top 40 stars. The one-woman show may have gotten her to this point, but it will be interesting to see just how much further Ives can go if she, in fact, brings on backing support.

Ives opened with “Isn’t It Lovely,” from her acclaimed 2022 album “Janky Star,” her own vocal acrobatics filling in the gaps of instrumentation and rounding out the percussive beats on looped tracks. “Loose” was another prime example of her writing talent, giving off hints of Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn, though she’s also often compared to Charli XCX. That’s partly the handiwork of her “Janky Star” record producer Justin Raisen, who’s also helmed work from Charli as well as Sky Ferreira and Yves Tumor.

Though Ives warned the crowd she fell off the stage at her Pitchfork preshow at Sleeping Village Thursday night and had to take it easy, she didn’t take her own advice, careening across the stage, throwing fists in the air and even at points spilling her Gatorade over her mixing materials.

Her greatest moment may have come from ad hoc version of “Blitzkreig Bop.”

“I don’t know the words,” she said, so naturally she made them up, with one phrase begging, “taking me to see Barbie.” — Selena Fragassi

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