At the start of his headlining set at Panorama, Frank Ocean walks out by himself to the end of the platform, which extends about 50 feet into the crowd. He's wearing a pair of Vic Firth headphones and a white t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet?" He pops a cassette into the audio rig he's got on stage, and he starts singing "Solo" off last year's Blond. Immediately, the crowd sings along to every word. There's no band, no dancers, no beat to dance to anyway, no extravagant costumes, hardly a light show to speak of, and yet, Frank was getting the biggest crowd reaction I'd seen all day by a longshot.
The visuals Frank did have were simplistic but gorgeous projections of him performing (shot on stage by Spike Jonze). When Frank did bring out his band (which included Alex G), they performed seated and kept their arrangements minimal. Something like 80% of the songs didn't have drums, and most of the ones that did had little more than some synthetic bass drum kicks. Nearly every second of his set centered on Frank pouring his heart out and the crowd eating up every word. What other modern artist this vulnerable, this insistent on ignoring every expectation of a pop artist, can successfully headline a festival?
Frank's performance was entirely on his own terms. He may work with some of the biggest names in the industry, but he continues to prove that he will not sacrifice his entirely unique vision. When he performed on the Grammys in 2013, his stripped-back performance confused a lot of people, including Grammys executive producer Ken Ehrlich, who called it "faulty." Frank then opted out of returning to the Grammys and didn't submit Blond or Endless for consideration for an award. His set at Panorama -- one of a very low number of live performances since his Grammys year (including zero shows in 2015 and 2016) -- was no less "confusing," so to speak, than his Grammys performance. But this time, tens of thousands of people "got it." A show that bare-bones from a lesser artist might've sent a chunk of the crowd home early, but Frank Ocean's crowd stood watching in awe and belting every word louder than he was. "Thinkin' Bout You" was his only "hit" (and only song played from breakthrough album Channel Orange), and it was a highlight but it didn't steal the show. Frank had the crowd in a trance from the minute he stepped out on stage 'til the minute he disappeared (no encore). It was one of the best shows I've seen in a long time.
Frank played back to back on the main stage with co-headliner Solange, a pairing that could not have been more perfect. Both Frank and Solange made some of the very best albums of last year, and live performances for both are relatively rare (Solange's last NYC show was a hard-to-get-into high-concept Guggenheim performance). Both have a take on psychedelic soul that pays some tribute to the greats of yesteryear but is totally modern. Solange is Beyonce's sister and Frank has been working with Bey since early on his career, having co-written "I Miss You" on 4 and sung on "Superpower" on her self-titled LP. When Lemonade was robbed of a Grammy earlier this year, Solange tweeted out a link to Frank's anti-Grammy letter in response.
In almost the exact opposite way, Solange also challenged the idea of what a festival headliner could be. Compared to Frank's seemingly casual live show, Solange's clearly had so much meticulous planning that went into it. She played drenched in red/orange light the entire time, and she and her whole band were wearing outfits to match. She's a powerhouse singer, but seemed like she had no interest in stealing the show. The whole performance felt very communal, like Solange wanted herself and the band members to appear as equals, not a singer with a backing band. Her core band included a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer, two horn players and two backup singers, and their ace musicianship was matched by their dancing. It was clearly choreographed, but not in the way your usual pop concert is. They were all swinging in motion together like an old soul band, and doing so without ever really seeming retro -- there was really a timeless feel to the whole thing.
Upping the communal feel by a lot, Solange brought out maybe 20 or 30 more horn players for "F.U.B.U.," and had the whole crowded stage dancing in unison. For an uplifting, strength-in-numbers song like "F.U.B.U.," it couldn't have been more appropriate. That song and about half of the others in her setlist were from last year's A Seat at the Table (including "Cranes in the Sky," "Mad," "Rise," "Don't Touch My Hair," and more), and she also played a good chunk of 2012's True. Unlike Frank's encore-less disappearance from the stage, Solange did a major encore. She did "Don't Touch My Hair" (with Sampha's guest vocals playing over the PA), and the mass of horn players returned to the stage about halfway through that song. They gave it a grand ending, complete with vocal acrobatics and climactic instrumentation from the band. They stretched it out to the point where it would feel like they were milking it if it wasn't so damn captivating. I think the crowd truly didn't want her to leave.
Pictures of Frank Ocean and Solange are in the gallery above, and videos and setlists are below. Pictures of the rest of Panorama day one are HERE.
The fest continues today (7/29) with headliners Tame Impala and Alt-J and Sunday (7/30) with headliners Nine Inch Nails and A Tribe Called Quest. Check out set times if you're going and stream the fest live if you're not.
As mentioned, the Parlor stage (which is inside of a dome) was evacuated and closed yesterday after the floor collapsed. It'll be re-opened today and yesterday's Breakbot set was rescheduled for today.
Frank Ocean at Panorama - Setlist
Pretty Sweet (played over the PA)
Comme des Garçons
Runnin Around (Buddy Ross cover)
Close to You / Never Can Say Goodbye (The Jackson 5 cover)
Thinkin' Bout You
Pink + White
Solange at Panorama - Setlist (via)
Cranes in the Sky
Don't You Wait
Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work
Locked in Closets
The Proud Family Theme Song
Don't Touch My Hair