We’re officially one day into this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, and above all else, it just feels great to be back in Union Park doing this all again. Of course if it was your first time, hopefully you enjoyed the day. It might not have been packed with super high energy and/or wildly engaging sets, but there were plenty of rich and rewarding performances if you were paying attention and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. Seriously, of the nine artists I saw on Friday, none were terrible or (arguably an equally bad sin) boring. I quite enjoyed myself, even if there were very few moments that made my jaw drop and my spine tingle. Read the basic play-by-play after the jump.

While I had hoped to arrive at Union Park in time to catch the first half of Sen Morimoto’s set, a few minor delays instead sent me straight to the Blue stage for a bit of Mavi. My first impression was that Mavi is a good dude. He’s a rapper who doesn’t make what might otherwise be considered “bangers” that get crowds jumping around. Most of his stuff is mid-tempo, and while that doesn’t necessarily get people moving, there were a few fun moments where he got everyone to two-step, throw their hands in the air, and do some call-and-response exercises. It was effective, and better than faithfully running through each track.

Grace Ives
“I had a show last night, and accidentally fell off the stage,” Grace Ives confessed after her first song on Friday. “So I’m probably going to take it easy today.” Thankfully her set wasn’t any worse off because of it, though at one point she joked(?) about heading straight for the medical tent once she wrapped things up. If she really was injured or even struggling, you couldn’t really tell. She kept her energy buoyant and sang her ass off with only a self-triggered laptop as her backup. Generally speaking the performance worked, though I’d love it if she had a full backing band next time.

Axel Boman
There are plenty of people who love to watch a DJ set. I am not one of them. When you see an artist perform, they’re singing or playing an instrument. A DJ stands behind a table with equipment on it that you can’t really see from the crowd. Visually it’s boring, even if the music isn’t. While I didn’t stick around his set for very long, at the very least I appreciated that Axel Boman brought someone on stage with him who actively played instruments. Was that guy improvising saxophone and flute melodies atop whatever beats Boman was conjuring up? At times it certainly sounded like it. Kudos to that human, plus all the people who actually danced from the crowd during his set.

Youth Lagoon
Youth Lagoon (Trevor Powers) makes great music, but generally speaking it’s a bit sleepy. Some might call it headphones music, designed to be enjoyed by yourself in a quiet room. Understandably then, an outdoor music festival is not the ideal setting for a Youth Lagoon performance. His set stuck mostly to the new album Heaven Is A Junkyard, only dipping into his first two records a couple of times. Would have loved to hear more of a mix between classic and current Youth Lagoon. That said, everything the trio did play was quite gorgeous. I grabbed some ice cream, found a spot in the shade, and let the melodies wash over me. For a few moments in there, it felt like everything was right with the world.

Nation of Language
Nation of Language are an excellent live band. One that’s probably even better on stage than they are on record. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the way singer Ian Devaney moves – half dancing, half like he’s just physically unable to stand still longer than 10 seconds. Whatever the motivation, there’s something truly electric that floats through the air when one of their songs hits a surge, as they do on tracks like “The Wall & I” and “Across That Fine Line”. They played a few excellent new ones at Pitchfork, previewing their upcoming record out this fall. Above all else, Nation of Language feels like a band headed in the right direction. Now if only the crowds would start paying better attention and dancing along with them.

Perfume Genius
Can you believe it’s been ten years since Perfume Genius last performed at Pitchfork? Seems like it was just yesterday, especially since I remember that set so vividly. Mike Hadreas has come so far since then, both musically on record and as a performer. He used to be a little awkward or at least introverted on stage, but judging by the confident way he strutted around and played with the microphone this time around, it’s almost like we’re dealing with an entirely different person. The sound has changed too, eschewing somber ballads for vibrant pop songs. Hadreas was magnetic on Friday afternoon, and that just made his songs hit that much harder. “Without You,” “Describe,” “On the Floor,” “Slip Away,” and “Queen” were all personal highlights.

Ric Wilson
If you’re looking for a contender for set of the day at Pitchfork on Friday, look no further than Ric Wilson. Disco Ric, as many call him, came to play. The last time he performed at Pitchfork, they gave him one of the first sets of the day on a main stage. Not many people were there to witness it, though I heard raves from those who did. This time he’s on the smaller Blue stage, but at an early evening hour. Chances are the crowd was bigger this time. He started his set by getting the crowd to chant along with him: “No racism! No sexism! No homophobia! No transphobia!” And my has Wilson become a master of his craft. He danced and sang his way through a bunch of his best-known songs, then ended the set by creating a “soul train” in the crowd where people lined up on each side and others danced down the middle. A glorious (and very Chicago way) of ending things but also showing other artists how it’s done.

Are Alvvays perfectionists, or are they just Canadian? Whatever drives them to be such a by-the-books band, it works for all practical intents and purposes. They’re not showy! They faithfully recreate their songs, everything is so polished and economical in execution. I’d complain it’s not interesting enough, but somehow found myself eagerly looking for waves in their otherwise placid demeanors. Nothing. They plowed through 17 songs in 45 minutes, most of which came from last year’s monumental and brilliant Blue Rev. Can’t fault them for that, despite my love of their first two albums going largely underrepresented. So yeah, great job, as Alvvays.

The Smile
What can I say about The Smile’s headlining set at Pitchfork on Friday night? It was stunningly great. Then again, so is everything Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood collectively touch. I was one of the lucky ones who got to see this trio at The Riv last December, and it’s tough to compare because that first show included a guy behind me talking loudly to his friend through much of the performance. This time nobody was talking, but the crowd also felt just a bit out of its depth – the point where Yorke had to encourage people to cheer because the response felt so muted. It’s also entirely possible so many were mesmerized by the instrumental prowess and dazzling light show on display that they forgot to make some noise at the appropriate moments. From a perspective on how The Smile’s live show has changed since December, the short answer is not much. A couple of new, unreleased songs have been swapped out, and due to the shorter nature of festival sets a couple of songs from A Light for Attracting Attention weren’t played. Oh well. It was still a top notch performance that set the bar rather high for the other two Pitchfork Music Festival headliners this weekend. If The Smile end up coming through your neck of the woods, I’d argue you’d be a fool to miss it.