Pitchfork Music Festival Paris 2017 opened with a slew of dynamic musicians on day one of three with an energy sure to last for the entire weekend.
After braving public transportation in the heart of Paris during rush hour and arriving at Grande Halle de la Villette as the grounds began to fill to the brim, French electronic musician Rone (aka Erwan Castex) dove straight into the intergalactic sounds that have captivated the scene in the last few years.
With colored tapestries of an urban landscape stretching high above and behind Rone while pulsating lights draws the crowd ever-closer, it felt as if we were transported past the thin line dividing solid ground and outer space. Noga Erez, Israeli singer-songwriter, joins him for the new song “Wave” with equally atmospheric vocals.
Spirits stretch as high as the old slaughterhouse’s ceilings as the crowds disperse and make a beeline for the other stage across the expansive venue, where Ride next take the stage. In their quintessential shoegaze style (having made their first peak in the 90s before breaking up and then reforming earlier this year), Ride reminds one of an old slow-motion video of waves crashing under a California sun, grainy and with the classic flashes of static but beautiful all the same. It’s an intriguing experience to distinguish between older favorites–“Dreams Burn Down” with a slow and wavering guitar, crescendoing in moments of uptempo, crashing drums–and the newer creations from this year’s album– “Lannoy Point” with elements of kraut and swirling synth backed by breathy guitar.
The band closes out on “Drive Blind,” with its repetitive, bell-clear guitar, ending on a wall of sound as their instruments fall into an oblivion and finally feedback, reflective the music so definitive of the era form whence they began.
Kevin Morby, folk-rock multi-instrumentalist, takes the stage next with a packed stage and starts with the title track to his newest album, City Music, a spacious ode to the love of a bustling city. With a peaceful start slowly building into a spiraling cascade of lyrics and crashing instruments, it’s the perfect song to get listeners to open up to his dynamic sound. “Crybaby” goes fast and hard, and the driving force of “Aboard My Train” gradually progresses into a strong climax before tumbling back down to earth with the return to Morby’s older work.
The lilting wanderings of “Destroyer” reminds of the quintessential travels across the wide expanse of the United States, and the vengeful-yet-prophetic “I Have Been To the Mountain” (written as a direct response to the death of Eric Garner by shooting) featuring plucking and thoughtful guitar.
The long-awaited The National–both for their newest album, Sleep Well Best, and the final set of this first night–take the stage with “an old one,” the piano-heavy dark pop waltz that is Alligator’s “Karen” after a “PLEASE STAND BY” message is projected onto the screen at the back of the stage, building tension. They delve into the newer material of “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” with stray, eccentric instruments that slowly meld into the effortless chorus that The National are so well-known for. Matt Berninger, in all his wild stage presence, launches down the steps at the front of the stage to scream lyrics into a very lucky photographers’ face as the crowd screams back. Guitarist Aaron Dessner thanks the crowd in perfect French (he lives in Paris), a welcome change to the broken words other artists’ heartedly attempted, before they move into crowd-favorite “Don’t Swallow the Cap.”
The beauty and serenity, mixed with bursts of chaotic upheaval, sends every audience member into a trance of shouting lyrics back at the stage, every inch of floor covered with enthralled festival-goers. With brooding track “Turtleneck,” Berninger climbs into the crowd to scream into ecstatic faces, with a color-block video projected behind them melding with the sound reminiscent of post-punk in an interesting manner. Beautiful twin trumpets during “Slow Show” are played so smoothly they emanate the soft crooning of violins, but the grinding feedback and the crowd echoing the chorus bring back the more brooding atmosphere. The set closes with title track “Sleep Well Beast” with support from Rone, and the special treat of “Terrible Love” before the room goes dark and the crowd files out, at least until the next evening.