Panorama Day 2 in review & more pics
photos by P Squared Photography
After a successful Friday, NYC's inaugural Panorama Festival continued on Saturday with more good vibes and good bands. The fest wraps up today (7/24). Panorama has a much smaller setup than the other NYC music festival on Randall's Island, Governors Ball. There are only three stages -- the main Panorama stage, the Pavilion tent, and the Parlor dome -- and they're all really close to each other. Even with sets ending the minute others started, it was easy to move around between the stages without missing much.
The one downside of the setup was that the Parlor dome had a pretty limited capacity, and there were often long line to get in. Once inside though, you got treated to air conditioning, crazy light shows, a disco ball, and more. Other air conditioned areas on site included The Lab (an "interactive experience [that] features installations that combine technology, artistry, and design, created exclusively by New York-based artists for display only at PANORAMA"), which also usually had a very long line to get in, and Despacio, which was created in part by James Murphy and features a gigantic, very unique sound system.
Air-conditioned and tent-covered areas were an especially nice option with this weekend's sunny 90-plus degree weather, but also Randall's Island had a nice breeze on Saturday that kept the heat from ever getting too unbearable. I started my day on Saturday with back-to-back sets from two recently-formed bands by two '90s punk/indie greats. There was Mary Timony's Ex Hex and Kathleen Hanna's The Julie Ruin. (Both are also bands named after solo albums by their respective lead singers.) Ex Hex were great as ever, celebrating and subverting classic rock cliches, like when each member of the power trio took a chance to deliver their own lengthy solos towards the end of the set. (Seeing Betsy Wright whip out a tapping bass solo is especially a thrill.)
I'd seen Ex Hex a few times before that, but I'd never seen The Julie Ruin before Saturday and their set left a serious impact. Kathleen Hanna is as powerful, angry and sarcastic as she was on those early Bikini Kill recordings, and still a total force on stage. She even discussed that very thing, before playing a song that she said is about ageism, talking about still being punk at her age (47) and how much she loved seeing 18 year olds and 40 year olds in the crowd. In case it still wasn't clear that she's down with younger generations, The Julie Ruin did a spirited cover of Courtney Barnett's "Pedestrian At Best" (as they've done at other stops on their current tour). The Julie Ruin also attacked sexism, racism, homophobia and more, both in their lyrics and their stage banter, and did it all to the kind of music you could smile and dance to. Even in Saturday's heat, plenty of people did just that.
After the one-two punch of Ex Hex/Julie Ruin, I caught a mesmerizing/depressing set from Daughter, then a set from one of 2016's biggest breakouts, Anderson .Paak. The singer/rapper/drummer PACKED the Pavilion tent to what was probably the biggest (and definitely the most excited) crowd I've seen him play to all year. He only sounded better with such a big audience, and it feels clearer than ever that the sizes of his crowds are only going to increase. If there's a "you just have to see them live" artist of 2016, it's Anderson .Paak.
My personal favorite set of the day happened on the Panorama stage right after Anderson's set in the Pavilion tent, Blood Orange. Dev Hynes & co. are fresh off releasing their fantastic new album Freetown Sound, and they kept their set focused mostly on those songs. Dev's got a large, highly talented band that includes soulful backup singers, an especially groovy bassist, and more. The show, like his new album, is highly communal and collaborative, and clearly concerned with the performance aspect as well as the overall sound. Dev himself brings dance moves, flashy guitar solos, and his own gorgeous pipes. While the Freetown Sound stuff felt like the main focus, he did break out his biggest song "You're Not Good Enough" (which he said he forgot to put on the setlist), which definitely got the crowd moving more than ever.
After Blood Orange on the Panorama stage was The National, who have a new album in the works (not necessarily for any time soon) and played two new songs. They also gave us a nice handful of the usual crowd favorites ("Afraid of Everyone," "Squalor Victoria," "Fake Empire," "Mr. November," etc) and sounded great doing so. If you're looking for a dependably great rock show, it's hard to ever go wrong with The National. Right after them in the Pavilion Tent was another crowd-pleaser for fans of the last 15 years of artful depressing indie rock, Sufjan Stevens. Unlike The National, Sufjan kept his "depressing" side to a minimum for this festival set though. He and his huge band of horn players, dancers, backup singers and more were decked out in the kind of neon that he had during the Age of Adz tour, and he played mostly off that album (including the 25-minute "Impossible Soul"). Even the two he did off last year's bare-bones Carrie & Lowell were mostly revamped to fit in with his dancier sounds. I was hoping to see those songs in the same stripped-down mode that they are on record, but it makes sense that he'd rather keep things upbeat at a festival and he still sounded excellent. Between the choreography, the stage show, and the multi-layered arrangements, his set really reminded me how meticulous and ambitious Sufjan is. Not that I should have needed a reminder.
The day wrapped up with a headlining set from Kendrick Lamar, who's still supporting the best album of 2015, To Pimp A Butterfly, and this year's companion release, untitled unmastered. He opened with a song off of the latter, and then went into a set that was mostly split between TPAB and the equally great good kid, m.A.A.d city. He had a band on stage for at least part of the set (though they weren't always super visible), which really gave life to these songs. (I'd only ever seen him with a DJ previously.) It was clear that he had some improvisation in there that isn't on the records, and especially for the kind of music that's on To Pimp A Butterfly, that really goes a long way in a live setting. He shouted out his Black Hippy partner Schoolboy Q, who played Panorama a day earlier, and played his verse on Q's "Collard Greens" plus covered/rapped along to "THat Part" off Q's great new Blank Face LP. He also reached back to "A.D.H.D." for the old fans, but the TPAB material hit hardest. He packed that album's three most banger songs in towards the end, "King Kunta," 'i," and "Alright," the latter of which had the crowd chanting over and over again, before, during, and after the song. The last time I saw Kendrick Lamar on Randall's Island was at Governors Ball 2013, and Saturday's Panorama set proved that he really has earned himself headliner status since then.
More photos in the gallery, as seen HERE, below: