Monday, July 25, 2016

Panorama | 2016


For years, it felt as if there was a festival drought in the North Eastern part of the country. Now, after a few years of success with Governor's Ball, the people who bring you Coachella have thrown their hat into the mix with Panorama.

Perhaps it's the fickle summer weather of New York that has kept promoters at bay for so long, this year saw Governor's Ball cancel their final day due to rain and the weekend of Panorama was the hottest weekend of 2016. Still, people came out and the weekend commenced. Maybe it was the heat, but Friday saw a relatively small crowd on hand to kick off the weekend, which probably made things even more enjoyable for those in attendance. An early afternoon set from Madlib was a great way to get things started as the legendary hip-hop producer and DJ spun funked out old school vibes that got the crowd pumped. The sealed, air-conditioned tent had stellar sound and an opportunity to see Madlib on the 1s and 2s is a sure moment to relish. His tight breaks, hard scratches, and eclectic samples all came together for a delicious set. On the main stage, Silversun Pickups brought their alt-rock vibes out into the blazing heat full of fuzzed out guitar solos that baked in the sweltering sun. Even with the intense temperatures, people still sang along and air guitared away to their classic "Lazy Eye" that really felt at home in a festival setting.

Broken Social Scene assembled in their traditional massive form on their first U.S. tour in five years. Still in great showing, the band played as many songs as they could jam into their fifty-minute set. With their quadruple guitar arsenal, the band ripped into their classic form of post-rock and quintessential mid-aughts indie rock. "7/4 (Shoreline)" sounded fresh, "Fire Eye'd Boy" was dedicated to our upcoming collection and their ever evolving cast of characters brought with them high energy that never settled. Special guest Amy Millan of Stars dropped in to help out with "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" which somehow gave chills even in the ninety-degree madness. The culmination saw a ton of great material from You Forgot It In People and they crushed the nostalgia factor hard, reminding the crowd of their powerful builds and expansive climaxes. FKA twigs took over the Pavillon tent next and delivered a supreme set full of vulnerable and expressive dances, steady musicians, and one of the most inventive overall performances I can recall ever seeing. Skrim sheets layered with twisted hands served as a semi-backdrop as twigs led her dancers through carefully choreographed routines while seducing the crowd with her serene, whispered vocals. Sprinkling in some new material, she commanded the tent with a swivel of her hips and hearing "Two Weeks" played out and received like a massive pop song was a real treat to witness. Her performance at Glasslands now seems like a mere rehearsal compared to this and only hints at what could be her full potential.

Arcade Fire closed out the first day with a tremendous showing. Not much has changed in their stage set-up and attire since the Reflektor tour, but the band's attitude and spirit was raw and fully engaged. Their set was presented in chunks from their great catalogue and each track was met with massive sing-a-longs and cheer. "There is no way Donal Trump will be fucking president. We can't let a KKK sympathizer run things. Black lives matter. We need to take to the street. We need to be there for each other!" Those were the first non-lyrics uttered by the band as they went into "Keep the Cars Running", the ninth song of the show. Win Butler let his emotions run high through not only his voice, but his face as well. Each song was performed with everything he had in him. "Reflektor" and "Afterlife" seemed to take a particular toll on the lead singer, but his band played on with vigor and force. When the set rolled into hits from Funeral, the crowd was ready to let loose. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" was a romping success and their standard "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" into "Rebellion (Lies)" sounds just as moving now as it did in 2007. From Judson Memorial Church, to Radio City, to Barclays, and now Panorama, few things can compare with the magnitude of an Arcade Fire show. "Hear Comes the Night Time" exploded with confetti to ecstatic reaction and of course "Wake Up" sounded more powerful than ever as it rang out across a festival field. Typically, that would end the evening, but after briefing us all on their connection of NYC and Bowie, the band marched through the crowd and towards the middle of the festival. Accompanied by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, they played their way through "Rebel, Rebel", "Suffragette City", and "Heroes". Becoming one with the masses, it was a festival moment one could only dream of. One of the most important and biggest rock bands in the world marching their way through a sea of people is not something any are soon to forget.


Broken Social Scene


FKA twigs


Arcade Fire


Saturday got things started in true girls to the front fashion. The power-trio Ex Hex whipped the day into shape with wailing guitar solos and probably the best overall musicianship displayed all day. Extended jams got an extra kick in the pants (Betsy Wright really did bust out some killer high kicks), and allowed the band to really show off their chops. The band powered through a gnarly set of classic rock mixed with 90s punk snarl and got the early crowd into a killer mood for the rest of the day. Kathleen Hannah continued the party over in the Pavilion tent, leading her disco-punk band the Julie Ruin through a politically-charged raucous. Hannah's legendary status as a not only a front-woman, but overall human figure, felt like a true honor to witness, although she did warn the crowd "put me on a pedestal, and I'll only disappoint you" (the band would later cover Courtney Barnett's "Pedestrian at Best"), but that did not stop the crowd for openly basking in her glory. The band casually breezed through a solid and fired-up show that felt equally like a dance party as it did call to arms.

Anderson .Paak's late afternoon set was bouncing the second he walked on stage and his eclectic and eccentric performance got the biggest hype of the day. Funk, soul, hip-hop, and disco all find their way into .Paak's music and his showmanship on stage was every bit as big as his sound. Jumping on the drums, he unveiled a whole other talent, slamming into it like he's rolling out some epic Rush solo or banging away in a basement hardcore show. Even behind the kit, his energy never ceased and his hold over the crowd never slipped. He was joyful and alive, never once stopping the flow or breaking his connection with the crowd. Back on the main stage, Blood Orange pulsed through slinky glassy synth sounds of the 80s set through a modern lens. Dev Hynes was in high spirits as he flashed fancy guitar work all over the stage, taking charge over a tantalizing sun. Even in such searing temperatures, the crowd was responsive and on their feet grooving along to shimmery rhythms and busted out some slick moves to "You're Not Good Enough".

As the sun set over the East River, the National graced the stage with a perfectly timed set. Pouring through their traditional material of basic meat and potatoes indie rock, the band's mellow tone could not have been more on par with the pink puffy clouds and golden sun ahead of them. Fans quietly sang along to every track, resonating with the strife put forth by hunched over Matt Berninger as the Dressner brothers wound out billowing swabs of textured guitar. In addition to the barrage of hits, the band threw out two new tracks, one more mellow-dramatic than the other (their words, not mine), hopefully teasing a follow-up to 2013's Trouble Will Find Me. "Sea of Love" picked things up and "Squalor Victoria" finally saw Berninger rip into the mic with a howl all his own. Sufjan Stevens closed out the Pavilion with a rather twisted and unexpected set of acid-trip proportions. Backed by an army of musicians and singers, the crew carried out much of the glitch-pop fantasies of 2010's genre-bending Age of Adz with glowing decor. Definitely the most theatrical performance of the day, Stevens gently remixed some of his own work to fit in with the electro theme, but "Seven Swans" really seemed to take on a new life, one with Sufjan breaking out the angel wings and smashing his banjo to bits. "All of Me Wants All of You" and "Should Have Known Better" were still intimate and beautiful in their own rights, but dedicating twenty-five minutes to the epic "Impossible Soul" (complete with a disco-ball caccoon that gave way to a balloon suit), was not something that I was expecting, or really wanting at a festival. Still, when the set concluded with the incendiary "Chicago" all seemed justified. A transcendent song that still feels every bit as adventurous and grandiose now as it did over ten years ago.

As was told to us several times during the blockbuster performance, it had been quite a while since Kendrick Lamar descended upon New York City and he was not about to let anyone think he'd forgotten about them during his reign as the champion of rap. Coming out of the gates with "Untitled 07 | 2014-12016" ("Levitate"), it was a full on assault from the start. Backed with grainy, black and white footage that took over the stage and ran the gamut from Prince, to the Reagans, to Bush tripping on a curb, to MJ dunking, Obama and Ellen dancing, Bill O'Reilly's "fuck it we'll do it live" gif, and Tupac getting into a car, Lamar's headlining set was a show-stopping powerhouse moment. On his biggest stage yet in NYC, King Kendrick wasted no time delivering his ragged bark for all to hear as his band grooved along with wicked style. His stage was empty and he let himself be the sole entertainment for the evening. He spewed venomous bars over funked-out beats and made sure his mark was known. Commanding the monstrous crowd before him, Kendrick was on full blast mode pouncing on each and every word at high velocities. Naturally, "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" exploded with force, but it was hearing him dedicate a song to "all the fucked up shit going around all over the world in the past three weeks" that really took things to another level. As the chant of "We gonna be alright" grew stronger and stronger, the scene became simultaneously overpowering and gorgeous. Universal cheer in such a sublime moment caused even the security guards to stop, look around, and take pictures of the occasion. There's little argument against Kendrick as the best rapper on the planet and after a show of this scale combined with the magnitude of his repertoire, it'd be hard for almost anyone to put up a fight.


The National 


Sufjan Stevens


Kendrick Lamar

Sunday's late afternoon set from Kurt Vile and the Violators was a splendid session of perfectly mellow guitar jams that seemed to stretch on for days. Vile's uber chill vibes were a great match for the relentless heat wave that had stricken the entire festival and helped for a baked set, in more ways than one. It was a totally fried sound that seemed to echo the sentiment and feelings of a blissed-out and scorched audience. The garage-pop scuzz transformed these twangy folk songs into heady, psych pleasures that live up to their gold-toned name. Run the Jewels' set has remained relatively unchanged since the duo dropped their second record back in 2014, but their energy and hype remains at an all time high. With an army of fans ready to let loose, the bond of Killer Mike and El-P feels as strong as ever and their rabid fans ate up every word the two could spit out. Their brutalist brand of hip-hop feels righteous and sounds extremely powerful as a festival crowd roars back with every word. A ravenous pit started up as they blasted into "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" much to the delight of Mike who claimed "I'd be back there on the hill under the shade if I were y'all" as the ruthless temperature seemed far from dropping. Sia took the second billing to close out the main stage on Sunday, but her performance did not seem to live up to draw. Positioned atop a podium, the singer never took her hand off her mic as she grasped it firmly in front of her. Motionless she stayed for the next hour as dancers mimicked prerecorded videos of Kristen Wiig, Ben Mendelson, Paul Dano, and more appeared on screens. It was a lackluster set that felt like it left so much opportunity of the table.

All weekend seemed to build up to LCD Soundsystem's grand appearance and largest hometown show possibly ever. Hit after hit, James Murphy and company revved their engine strong for a monumental return back to New York City. I'll be the first to admit that I was bitter at an LCD reunion so soon after their endless goodbye, but the band proved their passion for their tunes and played an absolutely pulverizing set that mashed disco and noise together, proving all too well that dance-punk is alive and kicking. "Daft Punk's Playing at My House" was a total rage-fest and the most jam-packed, sweatiest, and maybe even hottest moment of the weekend. People let it all out as the band carried on playing their hearts out and leaving nothing on the stage. Taking full use of Panorama's innovative stage set-up, gargantuan LED screens surrounding the stage, at times it felt like being inside Daft Punk's pyramid as a myriad of colors banged around a mammoth mirror-ball. "45:33 (part one)" followed a touching "Someone Great" that built-up some swirling krautrock and heavy synths, playing into some of the most experimental parts of the night. As "New York, I Love You" trickled out on piano, an unforgettable and bittersweet sing-a-long rolled out, while a dapper James Murphy led the audience in a heartfelt and moving tribute to this stunning metropolis. Carefully, the group transitioned into the slow march of "Dance Yrself Clean", taking on a steady build that dropped into one of the most brilliant moments I've ever experienced at a concert. As the beat hit, the crowd jumped in unison and crashed like a thunderous blast of euphoria. Still, while that song alone could have been the best part of the festival, bringing the weekend to a finish with one of the greatest songs of all-time, "All My Friends", was nothing short of genius. As thousands sang along and the band hit harder than they had all night, it was a beautiful scene and elegant reminder of all that LCD Soundsystem once meant and will mean again to their fans. Am I still a little resentful of their early return? Perhaps. But, if this is what they're capable of now, their best showing yet, then I'm glad I no longer need to miss one of the best live bands on the planet. It was without a doubt the best set of the weekend, and nearly without question that it was the show of the year as well.


Kurt Vile and the Violators


Run the Jewels



LCD Soundsystem



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