CONCERT REVIEW: Pitchfork Day 1 (Armand Hammer, Dehd, Hop Along, Black Midi, Animal Collective)

This year I had the pleasure of attending day one (of three) of Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. It was my first time seeing a large-scale live music event with thousands of people in attendance since the pandemic. Pitchfork thankfully required proof of vaccination and many showgoers wore masks, so despite the readjustment anxiety of navigating crowds again, it felt more comfortable knowing that COVID protocol was respected. I saw Armand Hammer, Dehd, Hop Along, Black Midi, and Animal Collective throughout the day. Here’s a little bit about each.

Armand Hammer is the New York hip hop duo of rappers Billy Woods and Elucid – the latter also produces. Their fifth studio album “Haram” came out earlier this year in March and is a collaborative effort with The Alchemist; much of the material they performed was off this record. They were the first performer of the day, going on right at 1PM, and served an exciting headbanging set full of experimental production that alternates between the gritty and the ethereal. If you like your hip hop more abstract, definitely check out Armand Hammer. They were a solid start to the day.

Dehd is a Chicago trio consisting of vocalist/bass guitarist Emily Kempf, vocalist/guitarist Jason Balla, and vocalist/drummer Eric McGrady. Their sound falls in the intersection of surf rock, post-punk, garage rock, and dream pop. The band’s third album “Flower of Devotion” came out in July 2020. They played right around the time when the festival really started filling up and the crowd grew rapidly. Their set was energetic, animated, and a warm welcome for the indie-loving masses. Dehd’s sunny demeanor and reverb-heavy textures fit perfect for the exceptional comfort of the September Friday.

Hop Along is fronted by vocalist/guitarist Frances Quinlan; also in the band is guitarist Joe Reinhart, bassist Tyler Long, and drummer Mark Quinlan (Frances’ brother). From Philadelphia, the band plays indie rock while carrying power pop and folk rock sensibilities, alternating between acoustic and electric guitar. Their setlist consisted of an even amount of tunes from the band’s past three albums – 2012’s “Get Disowned”, 2015’s “Painted Shut”, and 2018’s “Bark Your Head Off, Dog” – while closing with arguably their most well-known song “Tibetan Pop Stars” from “Get Disowned” (which is about coping with a breakup). For those that yearn for the moodier side of indie which bottles up feelings only to eventually shout them all out at once, Hop Along is the band for you.

Black Midi is an English experimental rock band at the forefront of pushing rock music in an exciting avant-garde direction. They have Geordie Greep on guitar and vocals, Cameron Pricton on bass, vocals, synths and samples, Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin on guitar and vocals (on hiatus; not present), drummer Morgan Simpson, and are currently touring with saxophonist/trumpeter Kaidi Akinnibi and keyboardist Seth Evans. The band’s noisy rock style contains elements of prog, math, and post-punk. Their set had many songs from their recent album “Cavalcade” but also featured a few songs from their first record “Schlagenheim”; they even peppered in new songs that aren’t released on anything yet. Their music is a bit hard to rhythmically dance to so all you need to do is headbang erratically. I saw one guy having the absolute time of his life crowd-surfing; I hope he’s having a good weekend.

And then, finally, Animal Collective is an experimental pop/neo-psychedelia group consisting of vocalist/guitarist Avey Tare, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Deakin, drummer/vocalist Panda Bear, and sampler/electronics specialist Geologist. Formed out of childhood friendships in Baltimore in the 90’s, Animal Collective have a massive reputation in the indie sphere for their other-worldly studio experimentation, vocal harmonies, eccentric thematics, and whimsical approach to pop music. The band stylistically shifts with each album; their last studio effort “Painting With” came out in 2016 and had a stripped-down psych-pop energy while two years later they would release the oceanic visual album “Tangerine Reef.” The band is now heavy into new material, joined by Deakin once again (he takes periodic absences from the group); they’ve taken their sound in a more downtempo and traditional psych-rock direction now. That being said, a number of old favorites that they’ve reworked into rotation included “In the Flowers”, “Unsolved Mysteries”, “No More Runnin”, and “The Purple Bottle.” Colorful cut-out animations accompanied each song. I’m a die-hard Animal Collective fan so seeing them again was a profound treat. I think they’re one of the greatest and most creative musical acts in modern times and I hope that their art enchants all who hear it.

I also caught glimpses of performances from post-hardcore rockers Dogleg, indie-art rockers The Fiery Furnaces, indie-folk rockers Big Thief, and house producer Yaeji. Check them all out too.

Overall, Pitchfork was a delightful experience and a relieving return to live music after the troubling past year and a half we’ve all had. It was also great to be in Chicago again. I firmly believe Pitchfork should be held in September instead of July from now on; September’s a lot more comfortable to enjoy entire days of live music than right in the middle of summer. But that’s just me.

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