As it goes with non-camping, city festivals, there was a shift in the crowd between the first and second days of Panorama. Saturday was a bigger day than Friday, without people contending with the work day, and with all those who just snagged a single-day ticket to catch Kendrick Lamar. And thanks to that nice heat dome hanging over the country, it was just as insanely hot and sunny and exhausting. The good news is that Saturday’s lineup was grounded by several must-see artists whose music leaned on invigorating grooves and visceral hooks. Sure, LCD’s big hometown headlining gig tonight is a big thing in NYC, but Saturday was one of the stronger lineups all around and built up to Kendrick. In many ways, it felt like it was going to be Panorama’s biggest day, and it mostly delivered on that.
I get the sense that there’s a perception of Foals in their home country of England that they are a somewhat mawkish and/or doofy rock band. But if you have any predilection towards both atmospheric brit-rock and anthemic alt-rock, they mix the two in a way that makes them a convincing mainstage band for those late-ish afternoon festival sets. And people were so into this set, especially when they busted out “Inhaler” towards the end, that song that’s part slinky/sleazy dance-rock, part Rage Against The Machine chorus. The overall vibe of the set was heightened by the screen setup of the mainstage yesterday: a series of giant screens linked together to form one continuous but segmented wall behind and around the stage. Each artist on the mainstage made use of it, and Foals filled them with abstracted, hyperreal-colored imagery of like, waves and fire and such. It fit, capturing the way that Foals’ performed a mesmerizing set in the stifling heat that was as much something you could zone out in as it was a much-needed jolt of energy as Panorama’s second day leaned into evening.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
Anderson .Paak’s ascension is one of the big revelations of 2016. Sure, there’s been plenty of buzz about his new album Malibu, but it remained to be seen how his name — now-ubiquitous on festival posters, but mostly in the middle of the pack — would draw people. Well, it turns out: It’s a very, very big draw. The Pavilion stage’s tent was packed, and sweaty, and humid, and felt like an intense late-night jam sessions despite the sun still beating down right outside. .Paak spends time behind the drumkit, which is automatically setting yourself up for of a challenge when it comes to being a dynamic performer, let alone the fact that he also had to sing or rap while drumming. None of that mattered. The man is a machine, and the crowd ate up everything he and his band gave them. .Paak’s relentless festival circuit this year looks like a slow-burn victory lap. He might not be headlining yet, but the fervor surrounding him makes it feel as if it’s only a matter of time until he is. Seeing him this year feels like watching a superstar be born in real time.
It was a bit perplexing that, out of any artists to have conflicting on Saturday, Blood Orange and .Paak were partially up against each other. While it was a little heartbreaking to leave .Paak’s effervescent set early to catch the beginning of Blood Orange, there wasn’t really any other decision to make. Dev Hynes just released his stunning third album under the Blood Orange moniker, Freetown Sound, and it was impossible to turn down the chance to see this stuff in action. Hynes delivered a powerful, engrossing set: shimmying around stage, flipping through an endless series of songs seemingly constructed solely from indelible hook after indelible hook. The set featured plenty of new material mixed in with old favorites, and a transition tease of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” all performed under imagery of New York’s skyline and various streets. For a more crowded and still-ungodly-hot day of Panorama, the back-to-back experience of .Paak and Blood Orange was perfect, each artist wielding the sort of grooves that refuse to let you feel tired or worn out anymore. Specifically with Hynes, it was the experience of being able to see a young pop mastermind at work, offering a set that can be rare for festivals: one of cohesion, with an arc to it, the sort that makes you feel as if you’re in that artist’s world entirely for forty or sixty minutes.
Filling the big indie headliner role on Saturday were Arcade Fire’s buddies in the National, the group I love but am still surprised, on some level, to see topping festival bills all the time. It’s some feat of patience and something in the air, I suppose, that the National’s smoldering, meditative brand of indie rock has been elevated to this level of mainstage power. Of course, the group has long since adapted to that kind of stage — they lean on anthems like “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Terrible Love” and “Fake Empire” and “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” and at this point expertly deploy the extra tension and drama endemic to live versions of songs like “Squalor Victoria.” The group is currently at work on their seventh album and have been road-testing some new songs, as they often do in the lead-up to a new record. A few songs in, they played “The Day I Die,” a track that has Matt Berninger gently singing over the brighter, harsher guitarwork the band had suggested they were exploring. They also played “Find A Way,” which Berninger sardonically introduced as being “even more melodramatic than the other [new song],” before joking “Can it go any further?” Both tracks are very strong, and alongside the other stuff they’ve been teasing, it all seems promising for their next album. Otherwise it was a mixture of Trouble Will Find Me material and older anthems, the sunset off to the right of the festival a perfect backdrop for a band like the National playing the second-to-last mainstage set of the night.
The opportunity to see King Kendrick Lamar is reason alone to go to a festival, and it overshadows much of anything else. I’ve said this before, but: He is one of the artists, one of the performers, of his generation, with one of those presences where he simply walks out and has everyone in the palm of his hand from the first note. The setlist was quite different from the festival sets he was doing last year when he wasn’t playing much new material, though the brilliant album To Pimp A Butterfly was new and defining 2015. He’s still held onto the requisite heavy-hitters from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City — which, when you see how a field full of people reacts to “M.A.A.D. City” or “Backseat Freestyle” or “Swimming Pools,” how could you not? But he’s now doing plenty of songs from both TPAB and its companion piece untitled unmastered, and all those songs are getting those reactions now, too.
The most powerful moment, however, came at the end of the main set, when you could tell Kendrick was about to play “Alright,” and when he conducted the crowd in a massive chant of the song’s chorus. This song, in many ways, became the calling card for To Pimp A Butterfly last year, a rallying cry on an album that dove right into all the dark and complicated corners of race relations in America. And while there was a strange moment in looking around and seeing it turned into, essentially, a party song for a festival crowd on a Saturday night, there was something beyond that going on, too. This year has not gotten any better than 2015. It may be getting worse. To see Kendrick perform now, with thousands screaming along, is to be reminded that he isn’t just one of our most gifted and exciting young artists today, but also one of our most important and inspiring. He’s one of the ones we need.