A$AP Rocky, Japandroids, Willis Earl Beal highlight early acts at Pitchfork

Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal (Mike Rich/Red Eye / July 13, 2012)

Rain delayed the start of the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday, and then it came down hard again around dinner hour. But the music played on. While A$AP Rocky delivered the party rap on one of the main stages, keeping the crowd energized through the downpour, Tim Hecker provided a gloomy electronic sidetrack on a smaller stage at the southwestern edge of Union Park.

It could’ve been a coincidence, but the sun reappeared soon after Vancouver duo Japandroids arrived on stage. “Is there a spare kick pedal?” they asked one song into a typically hard-hitting set. Besides breaking their instruments and talking a mile-a-minute between songs, they played like a 33-rpm record at 45-rpm speed. Everything sounded nearly twice as fast as the recorded version.

Earlier, Willis Earl Beal played beneath the gathering clouds, just a man and his reel-to-reel tape machine. With a herculean voice, Beal poured out songs of longing and loneliness. “I am over-indulgent and sappy,” he said. “I take pride in it.” You won’t hear a better singer and vocal dramatist all weekend.

There weren’t many fans there to witness the first four hours of music. My colleague Bob Gendron says he’s never seen a smaller crowd on a Pitchfork Friday, and I’d have to concur. The lousy weather definitely held the numbers down. We’ll see If attendance improves as the skies clear, dusk approaches and Feist prepares to headline.