Across three days at Paris’ huge old Grande Halle De La Villette for this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, the intensity barely ever ceases. With two stages set at the end of the cavernous, long and thin room, music never goes quiet for more than a few moments from open ‘til close.
Timings aside, there’s a rich, varied line-up that brushes the weirder corners of pop, rock and electronica. When Moses Sumney opens the third line-up, the mood is set. His debut ‘Aromanticism’ is a delicate but emotionally crushing effort, and he translates it perfectly this afternoon, with album highlight ‘Plastic’ also a standout here, looping his gorgeous, fragile vocals into a storm.
The first day’s line-up - curated by headliners The National - rolls on with gorgeously delivered sets from This Is The Kit and Kevin Morby (via a rollocking one from returning shoegazers Ride), before the headliners themselves bring ‘Sleep Well Beast’ to the French capital.
Hopping back to Chicago the previous night from mid-way through a European tour to play at the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit, and back to Paris the next morning, the band are predictably weary. As such, the more fiery moments of the set feel a little reserved; there’s no clambering through the front rows of the crowd for Matt Berninger, no ‘Mr November’, none of the band’s now-traditional chaos. What the understated set does bring, though, is a greater deftness and beauty to the band’s quieter, more reserved cuts. ‘Sleep Well Beast’ choices ‘Guilty Party’ and ‘Walk It Back’ are beautiful, while the album’s title track is a winding, flexible beast that barely holds itself together, perfectly capturing the fragility of the band in the process.
Friday at the Grande Halle opts for fist-pumping euphoria instead. Sylvan Esso proceed to put in what might be the performance of the festival. Bar screwing up the very opening line of the set in ‘Hey Mami’ - “sometimes you just gotta eat shit” vocalist Amelia Meath giggles - it’s a seamless swim through highlights from the band’s two LPs, and they bring the first true hands-in-the-air moment of the weekend. And the second, third, fourth and onwards. The intoxicating ‘Radio’ closes the set, and there’s an infectious energy running through the whole building for the first time.
Rejjie Snow does his best to capitalise on the mounting energy, while Cigarettes After Sex’s slow but impactful set is a welcome soother. Kamasi Washington doesn’t have to win over any crowd by now though; from the first sharp pump of his saxophone, the screams and wide-eyed grins from the crowd barely cease. A musical side-step for the day it might be, but it’s an entertaining one, with zero doubt left as to the man’s ability to work a crowd.
It’s slightly strange to see Jungle headlining such a cavernous room when only in the early stages of their return. Their arsenal of pumping, groove-filled hits hasn’t been forgotten though, and they’re brought to life via a stunning stage show for a wildly-received if slightly one-dimensional set. It still remains impossible to refrain from shaking a hip or two to ‘Busy Earnin’’, mind.
Day three begins with Sigrid, at her first show in the French capital. The, ahem, vibe builds perfectly through ‘Plot Twist’ and newie ‘Strangers’ before the Norwegian soon-to-be-superstar and her band are cut off a song from the end, seemingly with no reason, and five minutes left to play. With an atmosphere building to what would be an inevitably euphoric ending of ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’, it’s a cruel and untimely plug pull, but Sigrid does more than enough in the rest of the set to confirm her promise.
The rest of day three is as eclectic as a line-up could get, with Tom Misch’s jazz-flecked compositions leading perfectly into his collaborator Loyle Carner’s fiery, fantastic set. The final date of his extensive tour for debut ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, the South Londoner is overawed by the reception he gets today, but it’s a deserved one. Distancing himself from the Brexit vote and preaching unity, the set is an emotional yet heartwarming run-through of ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and beyond. The now well-known story of the Eric Cantona Manchester United shirt he clutches in his fist is rolled out once again, but feels particularly poignant given the location. Closer ‘No CD’ sends the crowd into raptures, and as a tour closer goes, Loyle couldn’t have expected or given more.
Saturday evening then zig-zags between ballsy, provocative hip-hop (Princess Nokia) and noodly jazz (BADBADNOTGOOD) before Run The Jewels, well, do what Run The Jewels do best. A non-stop whirlwind of belly laughs, poignant speeches and some of the best hip-hop of 2017, Killer Mike and El-P are on fire, and head towards the end of a year that’s made them one of the most in-demand live acts in the world. As noise in the Grande Halle rumbles on until dawn courtesy of The Black Madonna, Talaboman and more, 2017’s Pitchfork Paris continues to bring eclecticism in the extreme, satisfying every itch in the process.
Photos: Alban Gendrot, Vincent Arbelet, Pooneh Ghana