CHVRCHES Plays New Tracks, Wilco Debuts Entire 'Star Wars' Album at Pitchfork Festival

Photo: Mark Horton, WireImage

CHVRCHES' Lauren Mayberry performs in Ottawa on July 15, 2015.

For a few hours on Thursday (July 16), the day before the kickoff of the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival, it seemed as if CHVRCHES' set would be the most "buzzworthy" performance of Friday's lineup. After all, the Scottish trio had officially announced sophomore album, Every Open Eye, that morning, and the night before had debuted three tracks at Ottawa Bluesfest. CHVRCHES were coming to Pitchfork Fest armed with a new album of songs that had never before been played in the United States. Then, Wilco released a surprise album for free on Thursday afternoon.

Indeed, the big draw of Friday at Pitchfork Music Festival quickly became the proper headliner: Wilco, playing a hometown show 30 hours after 11 of their songs popped up on the Web, in the form of a free bundle titled Star Wars. Dads flocked to the Green Stage on a muggy Friday evening, and Wilco opened their set by playing all 11 of those songs in order.

"These are all new song on our new album, Star Wars," frontman Jeff Tweedy quipped midway through the 35-minute single-album set opening. "It's got a cat on the cover."

As much of a pain as it can be to wade through unfamiliar material -- much less 11 straight songs of it -- Wilco managed to capture the wide-roaming spirit of the tossed-off new project, with each arrangement sounding weathered despite never before being presented. "More…" allowed Tweedy to bleed his whines into the crashing guitar refrain, while the transition between the jittery "Pickled Ginger" and sedate "Where Do I Begin" was too jarring not to be entertaining. The whole affair sounded grizzled, in the best way possible.

After performing Star Wars, Wilco performed another 55 minutes of crowd-pleasers, seemingly as a thank-you to the audience for letting the band indulge in so much new music. "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" remains a jaw-dropping instrumental display, "Impossible Germany" included a devil-horns-worthy guitar solo, and at one point, Tweedy harangued the kids in the crowd for throwing glow sticks during the set. You can't have dad-rock without a dad, I suppose.

If Star Wars is Wilco in top form, then CHVRCHES' new songs represent a very good band reaching great heights. As much as their audience relished the synth-pop explosion of "Gun" and "The Mother We Share," the three songs that CHVRCHES played from Every Open Eye (due out Sept. 25) were absolute beasts.

"Clearest Blue" contained a frenetic dance drop, "Make Them Gold" reaches new levels of dreaminess for the group, and first single "Leave a Trace" was best of all, a clean, muscular pop song that turned pissed-off emotion into something altogether empowering. Most encouragingly, singer Lauren Mayberry appeared far more in command onstage than when CHVRCHES was touring 2013's The Bones of What You Believe, cracking soccer jokes and scolding Mac DeMarco, who had littered the stage with cigarette butts an hour prior to the set. Such a dynamic set was tough to follow, and even though they had a whole new album to tout instead of a handful of fresh tracks, Wilco couldn't quite match the high bar set by CHVRCHES.

Speaking of stolen thunder, the rain that was predicted to ruin Friday never came, leading to an afternoon that was humid but not unpleasant. iLoveMakonnen FaceTime'd with his mom during a gracious performance, Mac DeMarco and Tobias Jesso Jr. offered soulful midday indie rock, shirts inspired by The Royal Tenenbaums and The Golden Girls were worn post-ironically, and HAIM was spotted soaking in the hipster haven. Pitchfork Fest continues on Saturday with performances from Sleater-Kinney, Future Islands, Vic Mensa and many more.