Friday kicked things off with excellent headlining sets from Frank Ocean and Solange Knowles. The later took to the stage as dusk settled upon the city. Her bold and blazoned colors a perfect setting on a mid-summer's night. Drawing inspiration from the Talking Heads' legendary Stop Making Sense, Ms. Knowles led her band through a stylized production that played well to her hits and pleasing aesthetics. Warm tones of dark reds and oranges emitted radiant glows aiding her powerful show. Backed by a wonderful band, Solange led her crew through brilliant choreography that engaged the crowd and lit a spark throughout the grounds. She even dusted off the theme song from The Proud Family as she thanked her fans who had followed her career from the beginning. To little surprise it was "Losing You" that hit the emotional peak of the set and when the beat dropped, the elation of the crowd skyrocketed. She came back to close her set with song of the times "Don't Touch My Hair" and to pull off one more stunning routine. After dropping one of the best records of 2016, Solange is letting her live show serve as her newest platform to deliver her message.
Closing out day one was Frank Ocean with his first New York show in half a decade. In what was perhaps the most anticipated set of the weekend, Frank unleashed powerful, raw, and stirring emotions and confirmed that he could match his hype. In the middle of the crowd, he built a DIY set-up that felt intimate and inviting. It was clear that despite its raw appearance, there was a method to Frank's ways. He popped in a cassette and donned giant headphones over his aqua-marine hair. He invited us all into the inner workings of his world and broke down his process for the world to see. He paced the stage followed around by a Spike Jonez directed camera and gave the masses a glimpse into his magic. Playing almost exclusively new material, he had everyone awaiting his every move with baited breathe. A sparse "Solo" put the show into gear and experiencing such a large group of people echo "there's a bull and a matador dueling in the sky" was surreal. Ocean's music feels most at home in the confines of your bedroom or at the very least your own headphones, but live took everything to a new level. When he did his lone Channel Orange track of the night, "Thinkin' Bout You," it was a cathartic moment to remember. Not once was the song-a-long ever overpowering as everyone let Frank go to work. When his band came onstage, it was another peak into his elusive creativity. Sitting amongst musicians he acted as one of the group and displayed a true sense of artistry. It was clear that Frank still doesn't feel at home on a stage, but he bared his soul and allowed his fans to welcome him with open arms.
Saturday saw a lighter turn out during the day, but the mild weather made for the most ideal festival setting. An overcast sky with temperatures in the mid 70s was the perfect atmosphere and allowed for a great day of shows. Mitski's mid-afternoon set saw the stoic performer run through her songs with pure poise and distinction. She was serious business and delivered on her powerful and anthemic tracks. Highlights "Happy" and "Your Best American Girl" from last year's Puberty 2 were real highlights and saw the biggest response from the audience. Following her on the same stage, Austin's S U R V I V E took the festival down a dark hole of their sci-fi fitting electronics. Lined-up like Kraftwerk, the band burrowed into their set of classic 80s analog sounds that set forth an electric groove and a deep trance ready to take the crowd to the upside down. Over on the main stage, Vince Staples was hyping up the crowd with bangers from his latest record and proving that he's a rising star as he commanded the massive stage with great showmanship and power.
As the sun began to set, twee-pop luminaries Belle and Sebastian packed the tent for a brilliant and fun set to carry the festival into the evening. With nine strong on stage, the band delivered their bright and cheery pop music full of sweet melodies and whimsical lyrics that made for an exceptional performance. "Piazza, New York Catcher" and "Like Dylan in the Movies" were wonderfully fun and "The Boy with the Arab Strap" saw a whole dance ensemble join the stage in one of the most pure and charming moments of the day. The band was in great form and clearly were enjoying their brief time on stage. Stuart Murdoch handled his front-man skills with sincere perfection and regularly engaged with the crowd and even managed to sneak in "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" as an extra song in the set because the band was having so much fun that they didn't want the show to end.
The day concluded with Tame Impala playing to their largest ever U.S. crowd (Kevin Parker's words, not mine) and taking another step forward in their role as one of the biggest bands in indie rock. In recent years, finding a rock band to headline a festival has been a rather interesting situation across festival line-ups. You can shoot for the stars and grab a Radiohead or Arcade Fire, bank on the reunited LCD Soundsystem, or try to reel in a band that once made a stunning record and have had some other relatively successful hits (I'm looking at you, Strokes and Phoenix). The expectations for Tame were high. Their last record was 2015's Currents, and while it still stands as a phenomenal record, the band has toured quite a bit and hasn't shared any new material since. Taking the stage at precisely 9:20, the screens behind them lit up in true psychedelic fashion and never dimmed for the remainder of the set. The band was on fire, pushing their tunes to the max and executing with pristine precision. Their sound was huge and carried across the open field with true passion and pleasure. The crowd ate up everything sent their way and each visual somehow seemed to top the one prior. Tame Impala are a psych-rock band and have owned that style from day 1. As they move to festival headliner status, they go for broke with their stage performance and really own what they do. Their set was heavy into Currents, but the Lonerism tracks have held up just as well. When the band rocked into "Elephant" a frenzy of lasers beamed across the crowd for an emotional peak that would never come down. It was an electric set and really showcased the band and their talent at recreating cosmic, vintage psych music. "Mind Mischief" echoed some of Cream's best drum rills and "Let It Happen" felt like deep, heady trance that embraced the night in a warm fashion. For the encore, they sparked-up "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" and "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" for one final kaleidoscopic journey.
Sunday was by far the most sparse attendance of the weekend, but the open room made for a rather pleasant experience and more of an intimate setting. Angel Olsen's mid-afternoon set was a heavenly showing and allowed for her full range to be pushed to her limits. Backed by a killer band in matching pale-blue suits, Olsen ripped through her gorgeous tunes brushed with a light southern twang. Her vocals were inspiring and pretty close to perfect giving each song new life and meaning. She complimented each moment between songs with small quips to show her lighter-side, but each track was serious business. Her guitars wailed as her voice rang out over the open field. Over in the air-conditioned Parlor tent, Cloud Nothings struggled to find their footing. The sound was muddled, the vocals were difficult to make out and it seemed as if the band was even having difficulties hearing themselves as the songs felt rushed and slightly out of sync.
The last time A Tribe Called Quest played a proper show in New York City, it was the opening slot for Kanye's Yeezus tour at Barclays Center back in 2013 and their set at Panorama is set to be their last Q-Tip announced during the group's tremendous performance Sunday evening. Paying homage to their brother Phife Dawg, Tribe wasted no time or energy cutting straight to the hits playing favorites from last year's surprise and still mesmerizing We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service as well as all of their classics. It was clearly an emotional show for Q-Tip, but the soldiers powered on and delivered a world-class showing for their late friend and partner. "Dis Generation" and "Space Program" gelled perfectly with their legendary cuts like "Check the Rhime" and "Bonita Applebum" and a solo mic was lit for Phife so his verses could still live on in perfection. To assist Tip, honorary members Consequence and Jarobi helped deliver their stunning and visionary set and everything culminated in a mind-blowing rendition of "We The People" which felt more necessary than ever before and delivered a message to all those within ear shot. As elder-statesmen of hip-hop, Tribe were without a doubt as sharp as ever and went out with one final bang.
To cap off the weekend, Nine Inch Nails delivered an all-mighty show that seemed to pull out all the stops. Blinding the audience with a heavy mix of fog and blinding lights, Trent Reznor took to the stage in his jet black leather jacket, jeans, and aviators looking as cool as ever as he blasted away into a heavy swirling mix of industrial electro-rock that only he can seem to conjure up from nothing. It was an all-out assault that would've blown away anyone in the rafters of an arena, let alone the ones only feet away from the stage. It was visceral, raw, and stimulating to the utmost degree and reaffirmed just how extreme a band can be while still being able to headline a major festival. Their sound was perfect and showcased their insane discipline; never was there a moment where anything felt off and Reznor's vocals were as clear as ever. As they did at FYF Fest a week prior, the band covered Bowie's "I Can't Give Anything Away" from his last record, but shaped it in a way to make it their own as part of their healing process. It was a real highlight of the night and a truly touching tribute. Of course, a Nine Inch Nails show wouldn't be anything without the standard bangers that one has come to expect. "March of the Pigs" and "Closer" were significant highs that really let the heavy electronic textures reign supreme, but it was the final climax of "The Hand That Feeds" into a mammoth "Head Like a Hole" that sent the night over the edge. It didn't seem possible, but for those final two anthems, the lights seemed to be brighter and more intense than they had all night and the band really kicked themselves into high-gear as they drove home the festival with sheer power. The band concluded the weekend with an especially devastating "Hurt" that really carried off into the night. It was a dark and profound moment that brought the weekend to a finish, but as the crowd slowly dispersed back into the city, there wasn't an unsatisfied soul to be seen.
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