Take it from Kevin Parker, the creative genius behind Saturday Panorama headliner Tame Impala: Frank Ocean is a hard act to follow.
But the psychedelic Australian rock outfit successfully capped off a second day of awesome music at Randalls Island. The festival lineup tilted toward rock acts Saturday, though there were welcome breaks with rapper Vince Staples on the main stage and mesmerizing experimental dance music guru Nicolas Jaar on the reconstructed, redesigned Parlor stage.
Here’s a rundown of everything we saw Saturday.
These up-and-coming New Jersey rockers started things off right as they opened the main Panorama stage with a feel-good set. Frontman Evan Stephens Hall kept the mood light as he walked onstage with a stuffed sloth that he sat in front of the drum kit before the band played a bunch of songs off their hit 2016 album “Cardinal.” The band is used to playing much smaller stages, but their full sound was a match for the space. Listening to Pinegrove’s music can inspire a lot of different emotions, but the folksy six-piece certainly conjured good vibes for the crowd, who showed their appreciation by dancing and singing along.
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New York’s own Mitski belted it out and shredded it up at the Pavilion stage. The extremely practiced singer/songwriter kept a very serious face as she launched into her popular “Puberty 2” songs. She nailed the titanic crescendo in “Your Best American Girl,” and kept the volume high for “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars.” It was clear everyone was smitten with Mitski, whose demeanor stood in stark contrast to some of her more upbeat music. But the singer and guitarist really delivered a dark, beautiful set that felt too short.
Australia rocks. While the main Down Under attraction would headline the main stage later Saturday night, Sydney psychedelic trio Jagwar Ma played a mid-afternoon set heavy on droning, trance-inducing bass. The set would’ve been more appropriate at night, but the band still provided a nice glimpse of the vibes that acts like Vince Staples, Alt-J and Tame Impala would later provide.
S U R V I V E
At first glance, a S U R V I V E show is a low-key affair: four dudes with massive synth rigs and a fairly minimalist stage set-up. But S U R V I V E’s music is anything but low-key. Rather, it’s lush and intensely dark, influenced by the electronic horror movie soundtracks of the ’80s. They’re most famously known as “The Guys Who Make the Music for ‘Stranger Things,'” if that helps paint a picture. If many electronic festival performances seem like little more than button-pushing, S U R V I V E reversed that notion, offering something closer to a classical performance. Each member worked in tandem, and that synergy was something to behold while trying to distract yourself from the relentless bass working its way through your chest and throat.
A huge crowd formed to watch the young rapper from Long Beach, California, perform songs off his dancey new album “Big Fish Theory.” Vince Staples added nuances to his set that made it special for New York City: “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium” played when he emerged, and he wore a long-sleeve black shirt with “New York City” written on the front. Staples kept everyone captivated, instructing them to hold their hands up at times that helped illustrate the social commentary he spewed through the mic. Staples has solidified himself as one of the best rappers to catch live. His rhymes were succinct and sounded just like his album. His orange visualizer kept things simple but interesting. He treated the crowd to “Ascension,” the popular Gorillaz song on which he’s featured. And, of course, he didn’t forget where he comes from with set closer “Norf Norf,” the best of his “Summertime ’06” offerings.
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Belle and Sebastian
After the stone-faced, bass-heavy drama of Vince Staples, Belle and Sebastian offered a welcome shift to a more whimsical tone. Offering a welcome dose of nostalgia during a weekend dominated by newer, less accomplished acts, the Scottish indie-poppers led what felt like an extended sing-along that included classics like “Piazza, New York Catcher” and set-closer “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying.” For the latter, the band was joined by audience members who they’d invited on-stage for a group dance party. By the time the performance was wrapping up, it seemed to only be getting started, a feeling that was echoed by frontman Stuart Murdoch. He promised they’d have to come back to New York soon.
Alt-J — if you’re into that sort of the thing — played the Pavilion Saturday night to a packed crowd. Alt-J fans gamely tried to keep up with frontman Joe Newman’s lyrics, belting out hits like “3WW” and “Tessellate” and making up the words when they clearly didn’t know them. It was a feel-good, crowd-pleasing set accentuated by a creative stage setup and the band’s technical prowess.
Panorama thankfully rebuilt the Parlor stage overnight to accommodate a roster of electronic artists on Saturday. Best among them had to be Nicolas Jaar, who made good use of the smoke machines in his face melting, mind boggling set. Jaar performed behind beams of light that eventually moved for dramatic effect, especially on his banger closer “Space is Only Noise that You Can See.” Jaar occasionally arose, at one point breaking out his saxophone, and walked around singing with a ghostly swagger. The whole set was loud, deep and haunting.
There aren’t many acts more well-suited for the massive outdoor crowds and wide open spaces of a music festival than Tame Impala. The Australian psych-rockers, led by sonic wizard Kevin Parker, were the main event Saturday night, and they didn’t disappoint. Although Tame Impala didn’t have the same level of intrigue as Friday night’s headliner, Frank Ocean, they made up for it with a technicolor spectacle and top-notch light show. Even Parker, who was spotted grooving Friday to Solange and Ocean, admitted it was tough to compete with a Frank Ocean show. “That’s the type of s–t that makes me think, ‘At least we have lasers,'” Parker quipped mid-set. “S–t was inspiring.”
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Like Ocean, Parker often eschews the spotlight, preferring to let the music speak for itself. But while Ocean’s show provided a vulnerable, up-close-and-personal view of the R&B singer in action, Tame Impala’s lighting setup and visual projections on the main stage’s gargantuan screens intentionally obscured the men on stage. The conceit forced the audience to zone out on the pretty colors and swirling shapes, which were expertly paired with jams like “Eventually” and “Elephant.” Save for a quick restart on “The Less I Know the Better,” Parker and Co. delivered a flawless, catalog-spanning set to what Parker announced was the biggest crowd they’d ever played for in the U.S.
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