Panorama Music Festival
22 Jul 2016: Randall's Island New York
Coachella came to New York City via the Panorama Music Festival, bringing along both the desert weather and memorable music moments. Situated on Randall’s Island across from upper Manhattan (on the very same fairgrounds as June’s Governor’s Ball Music Festival), the inaugural Panorama achieved success with its concise lineup, smaller crowds and truly astounding headliner performances.
Whereas lightning warnings resulted in a cancelled Sunday lineup that marred Governor’s Ball just seven weeks prior, Panorama had to battle extreme heat across its three days. But Golden Voice, the festival’s producer, was prepared with multiple drizzling water oases and three A/C-charged dance domes plotted throughout the venue. After all, these are the same folks who established a successful festival in the Californian desert and are well trained in beating the heat.
Friday’s first great set came from the esteemed hip-hop producer Madlib who has spent the past two decades crafting masterful beats for top MCs such as Talib Kweli, Kanye West, Freddie Gibbs and MF DOOM. His set blended beats from throughout his career, including various cuts he made with MF DOOM such as the often sampled “One Beer” and “Accordions”, off the duo’s 2004 hip-hop opus Madvillainy. Backed by a screen that fluttered images of DOOM, Trayvon Martin and the late J Dilla, Madlib’s set in the AC-controlled dance hall The Parlor was a refreshing getaway during the opening afternoon.
These fields serve as a driving range when they aren’t being used for music festivals, and pearly white golf balls laid embedded on the grounds leading up towards the Pavilion stage, where Preservation Hall Jazz Band played a mid-afternoon set. The New Orleans brass ensemble has been extending the boundaries of Bourbon Street with its various lineups for more than 50 years. Donning black and white suits that defied the sultry afternoon, the horn players embraced the beads of sweat that trickled down their inflated cheeks while the group played with zero intent on slowing things down, blowing through standards like “Shallow Water, Oh Mama.”
There are a couple of guaranteed sightings when observing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: the drumhead and tuba will be adorned with the band’s name, written in a vintage typography. And then there’s upright bass player Ben Jaffe’s hair, which rivals The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob with its magnificent, palm tree flow.
Over on the main stage the LA rock band Silversun Pickups played a set that evenly covered the last 10 years and their four LP discography, yet the most engaging moments came when they focused on their 2006 debut album, Carnavas, with tracks “Well Thought Out Twinkles” and fan favorite “Lazy Eye”. When introducing the cut “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)”, off last year’s Better Nature, singer Brian Aubert jokingly put the pressure on bassist Nikki Monninger by mentioning how she grows anxious while playing the song and reassured her by saying: “Don’t fuck up!” And as far as we could tell, Monninger pulled it off swimmingly.
The reveling guitar tones continued with Broken Social Scene, an unexpected addition to the Panorama lineup due to the Canadian indie rockers inactivity since releasing Forgiveness Rock Record back in 2010. With eyes looking to the past, BSS dusted off five favorites from their breakthrough album You Forget It In People, beginning with “KC Accidental” and later reworking “Cause = Time” into an even more chaotic romp. Assisting on female vocals (now that their former member Leslie Feist has blasted away with her own career) was Amy Millan of the Canadian band Stars. Her sweet touch elevated “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” and “7/4 (Shoreline)”.
The number of Broken Social Scene band members swelled and decreased with each song and often instruments traded hands (during “Texico Bitches” two different bassists went at it with driving rhythm). Before playing “Fire Eye’d Boy”, bandleader Kevin Drew mentioned the upcoming U.S. election and said the tune dealt with politicians. Let us hope the chorus lyric: “Fire eyed boy gets his ass whipped” is a prophecy of what is to come in November…
As the sun began to fall behind Harlem, a recorded instrumental remix of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” fell over the main stage, signaling the incoming southern rock assault from the Alabama Shakes. All eyes fixed on frontwoman Brittany Howard as she took center stage with her teal Gibson SG guitar and then began plucking the intro to “Future People” from last year’s excellent Sound & Color. Armed with three backup singers, Alabama Shakes mastered a full sound that left room for their tight-nit guitar licks. With only two albums to date, they covered the best parts of both with “Hang Loose” and “Don’t Wanna Fight”, while sprinkling in “Always Alright” from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack and the deep cut “Joe”.
Nearing the end of their 14-song set the Shakes roared with “Gimme All Your Love”, a tune that hops between calm and calamity with every other beat. Howard was well received by the crowd as she pleaded the title chorus while organ notes and crashing cymbals collided behind her. It was a dazzling display that solidified Howard and the Shakes as a premier live act both in the scope of Panorama and in contemporary rock ‘n’ roll.
Friday’s main course was indie ensemble Arcade Fire, a known provider of spectacle on the stage and securing that reputation with their heavy 19-song, career-spanning closeout performance. Led by singer Win Butler suited all in white, the band appeared onstage with each member sporting attire made of a different solid color. Initiating their two-hour show with “Ready to Start”, Arcade Fire followed it up with other favorites from 2010’s The Suburbs, including the title track and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. They traced their four albums, playing roughly four songs a piece in a flow that seemed groomed for a greatest hits compilation.
Multiple times during their set the members of Arcade Fire would switch instruments or lead singer duties, morphing the main stage into a beehive of indie rock spectacular with Régine Chassagne producing some playful dance moves as she belted “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and “Haiti”.
Nearing the end of the evening, during the Reflector standout “Here Comes the Nighttime”, Arcade Fire were joined on stage by dancers wearing larger-than-life papier mache heads of each band member. Win Butler danced alongside his counter and even sang to it in a twisted Twilight Zone-esque scenario. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Arcade Fire for their cathartic closer “Wake Up”, and then both bands trotted off stage into the crowd for a NoLa-inspired second line parade that lasted for another 20 minutes.
They played a medley of a David Bowie songs including “Rebel Rebel”, “Suffragette City” and “Heroes” using sparse percussion, a megaphone and the voices of the Panorama crowd that circled around them, harmonizing the line between band and audience.