For the second straight year, New York City has been treated to not one but two major festivals on Randall’s Island. Where Governors Ball has become a major touchstone in the musical community, Panorama has still been angling to find its footing. But in year two—with some major headliners, upcoming future stars, and everything in between—the light was on, and the weather cooperated, and it was clear that there’s room on NYC’s uptown island for a couple weekends per year of musical glory. Below, check out some highlights and recaps of the best stuff we saw over the weekend:
Future Islands didn’t play “Seasons” on Friday, but they proved why they didn’t have to. One of the most dedicated working bands in the business today, Future Islands literally flew across the globe to play Panorama. Sam Herring made a few jokes about jet lag and hangovers, but you couldn’t hear it in the music or see it on the stage. Playing a 5:15 PM set on Friday, Future Islands caught the first of the after-work crowd. While that meant that the band didn’t necessarily draw the turnout they deserved, that didn’t stop them from delivering a high-energy performance that warmed newcomers up for the night ahead. As far as midday festival performances go, this was perfect programming.
The band opened with their new single “Ran,” one of the finest pop songs of the year so far, then played an evenly mixed set of new and old material. But let’s be real – you don’t just judge a Future Islands performance by the music, which is so consistently solid that it’s not a real indicator. No, you judge it by Herring’s dancing. We weren’t treated to the infamous Letterman shuffle, but Herring held it down, at one point busting out some strange variety of that Russian kick and squat dance (which Google tells me is called the prisyadka), at other times beating his chest so hard that the microphone picked it up. The audience didn’t exactly follow along, but they were definitely moving, because Future Islands serves up grooves that are impossible to resist. – Colin Groundwater
For my money’s worth, Spoon just might be the most consistent band in music. Every couple of years, Britt Daniel and company re-emerge, with solid record after solid record—and are the perfect festival band, because they have such a strong and recognizable staple of hits. Even in a set like the one on Friday night, where one of the band’s biggest and most renowned tunes— “The Way We Get By”—didn’t make it into the set, some reliable and amazing favorites, like “Don’t Make Me A Target,” “The Underdog,” and “Do You,” were joined by the amazing titular track of their new album, “Hot Thoughts.”
Tyler, The Creator
The members of Odd Future have gone far in the past decade—Earl Sweatshirt is carving out his own private corner of hip-hop, Syd is making waves, and Frank Ocean, of course, is Frank Ocean. But if it ever feels like Odd Future has faded into the past, look no further than Tyler, the Creator, who kept the collective’s spirit alive on his stellar Friday set at Panorama’s Pavilion.
Since his first mixtape, Tyler has made music for outsider teenagers. His most recent performance shows how he’s managed to evolve his style without leaving the kids behind. He’s not making shock rap any more (though his fan servicing performance of “Yonkers” was on point), but he’s still encouraging young people to love themselves no matter what anyone tells them.
The message is connecting, maybe more than ever before. Tyler packed the Pavilion for his set, with people flooding in as all the dudes watching Spoon fled for the hills. Though his new album Flower Boy had only been out a week, the audience knew nearly all the words. There was a faint hope that Tyler might bring out Frank Ocean for their single “911/Mr. Lonely,” and while it didn’t happen, Tyler still proved that the song belongs in every set he performs hereafter. Frankly, everything on Flower Boy is great for the stage—Tyler played both singles and premiered “Boredom,” “See You Again,” “November,” and “Glitter.” If he ends up touring behind this album, you’ll want to get tickets while you have the chance. – Colin Groundwater
To put it simply, Solange’s set on Friday night was beautiful. From the moment eyes even glanced upon her immaculate stage set-up—all red everything—the aesthetic was gorgeous, and once Ms. Knowles took the stage herself, the vocals and performance followed suit.
Touching on all eras of her fascinating career, Solange was adored by all in the crowd through the entirety of her late-Friday set. She crooned through her showstopping “Cranes In The Sky,” threw it back with the Dev Hynes-produced “Losing You,” and even, for a few mid-set bars, threw everyone back to childhood, belting out her immediately recognizable The Proud Family, theme. “Shout out to Penny Proud!” she said aloud, prompting cheers from the massive crowd just as the sun began to set.
The highlight of the weekend, for me, was always going to be Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean is the emotional apex for many (myself included), and hearing his music live is always going to be something of a spectacle. Friday night’s headlining set at Panorama was his first show in NYC since 2012, and the mere glimpse of him in his natural habitat was alone worth the wait.
When he emerged for the start of his 90-minute set, big studio-style headphones grasping the outside of his head, he was surrounded by the massive screens that bombarded the Panorama main stage all weekend, but something about Frank’s video display looked slightly different; why was this? Well, it’s because Spike Jonze, the legendary music video director (and director of a number of my favorite films, including Her) was on stage filming in real time.
Frank’s set was heavy on Endless and Blonde material, with new singles “Biking” and “Chanel” also figuring into the selection. While I would’ve loved to hear Channel ORANGE tracks like “Forest Gump,” “Pyramids,” or “Lost,” the music itself shared such a moment with all of the crowd.
Have you ever before seen a musical festival set where the crowd seemed, collectively, to be just having a moment? That’s what Frank’s entire performance felt like; from “Solo,” to “Self Control,” to “Ivy,” these were songs that everyone in the crowd had a profound connection to—you wouldn’t be committing your time in his presence otherwise. Both parts of “Nights” had to be the highest of the set’s many peaks, while closing with Blonde’s opener, “Nikes,” was a profound choice that gave the set the feel of an ongoing circle—and with Frank, ongoing is always the goal.
Mitski makes the kind of raw, personal rock music that just simply comes off better in the live music medium. Not that it doesn’t always sound fantastic—last year’s Puberty 2 was one of the best albums of the year—but there’s something special about hearing Mitski briefly wave her band off, and jump into the lo-fi wonders of “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” and scream along to “Kill meeee in Jerusalem!” with a few thousand of her fans watching in adoration.
Is Vince Staples the most exciting rapper in the game right now? He made a strong case for that statement to be true during his Panorama mainstage set on Saturday afternoon, with an energy-filled, nonstop set of high octane bangers.
One of the highlights of the set had to be the performance of his Gorillaz track, “Ascension,” which had the crowd going wild, and attracted outer-crowd fans in attendance to run toward the stage. Running through a number of cuts from his new album The Big Fish Theory and the rest of his catalogue, Vince Staples had no unhappy customers on Saturday, and you’d have to imagine that he gained himself a couple new fans for good measure.
On Saturday night, Tame Impala did what a headliner is supposed to do—run through a thorough catalogue of beloved hits, throw the die-hards a bone with a deep cut or two, and do it all in front of spectacular visuals.
It was Kevin Parker’s second consecutive day at Panorama—I spotted him next to me in VIP the previous day during Solange’s set—and he had such a strong presence, captivating all of Randall’s Island. “The Less I Know The Better” was an obvious stand-out, but so were “Elephant,” “Let It Happen,” and so many others up the band’s phenomenal psych-rock sleeve.
Angel Olsen powered through her set on Sunday afternoon, and with her laid-back, breezy vibes, felt like an instant and perfect fit for the festival life. Can she perform at every festival ever? Who’s to say?
A certain Stevie Nicks vibe went through the crowd as Olsen ran through a number of different songs from her new album, My Woman, along with her two prior records, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, and Half Way Home.
The only set I saw at The Parlor stage (a mock-indoor, dome-style stage that Panorama set up), by Cloud Nothings, was fantastic. The darkened stage and lighting rigs made the whole set feel like a mid-day headliner, and frontman Dylan Baldi’s vocals and guitar were thoroughly on point all set long. “I’m Not A Part Of Me” and “Stay Useless” were the set highlights, and throughout the duration of the set, a massive pit opened up in the center of the crowd. Keep your eyes out for these rockers from Ohio, because they will continue to do big things in the future.
A Tribe Called Quest
There were a number of gasps among the Panorama main stage crowd on Sunday evening when Q-Tip announced with the massive, wholly-engaged crowd that this would be the final NYC show ever for A Tribe Called Quest. “We’ve got to pay respect to Phife,” he said, referring to the fallen bandmate of himself, Ali Shaheed, and Jabari.
But as you’d certainly imagine they would, Tribe went out with a bang. With Q-Tip playing the leading man, and Jarobi and Ali in strong supporting roles, they rolled through highlights of their new album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, along with classics like “Electric Relaxation.”
The moment to remember, though, came when Tribe, for their last song ever played in NYC, closed their set with “We The People…” Perhaps the most politically relevant song of the last year, that song just simply resonates. People get it, people understand it, and people love it. It’s the defining protest song of our age—and that, of course, is a great note for Tribe to end on.
Nine Inch Nails
When Trent Reznor emerged , surrounded by flashing strobe lights and a sea of smoke, he looked like the platonic ideal of a rock star. He’s 52 years old, but when you come through a sea of flickering lights and grab a mic stand and scream into it, clad in a leather jacket and sunglasses at 9:20 at night… you are not only a rock star, but on this night, you are the rock star.
Running through new songs—”Less Than” is a goddamn banger—and old—for all of it’s super intense lyrics, ”Closer” will never not be a dynamic party starter—Nine Inch Nails was the perfect act to close out the second year of Panorama. With an enormous, clearly-high-budget stage production, and a catalogue of hits dating back three decades, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and the rest of Nine Inch Nails were worth every penny of the admission price.
Photos by Aysia Marotta