Panorama closes out its first edition with the monumental return of LCD Soundsystem and an awkward performance by Sia.
Panorama Music FestivalCity: New York
Venue: Randall's Island
Following two days of dodging sunlight and absorbing sounds from some of today’s top touring acts, we arrive at the third and final day of the inaugural Panorama Music Festival. Saturday appeared to have the largest attendance of the weekend while Sunday sported a modest crowd, just enough folks to share in the excitement but without the extensive lines to refill your CamelBak. Things have gone without a hitch thus far and all roads lead to Sunday’s headliner: the recently reunited LCD Soundsystem.
Holding down the main stage during the afternoon was New Jersey’s the Front Bottoms, fronted by the acoustic guitar-wielding crooner Brian Sella. Their blend of power pop and emotionally charged lyrics have the Front Bottoms acting as today’s flag bearers to the once-mighty emo movement from 10 years prior. Sella’s voice recalls the howling pipes heard in Hutch Harris from the Thermals but with a Scottish tinge à la Frightened Rabbit. He played with all smiles while singing songs about repeated disappointment.
Their number “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)”, off the recent album Back on Top, blatantly cherry picks from Built to Spill’s “In the Morning” as its chorus rings “When my mind is uncertain, my body decides”. This homage, though lacking subtlety, was a soothing reminder that the musical torch will forever exchange hands.
Next up was the long haired guitar virtuoso from Philadelphia, Kurt Vile. Since he left the War on Drugs in 2008 to focus on his solo career, Vile has been churning out a new record every other year, culminating in 2015’s b'lieve i'm goin down…. The album was marked by “Pretty Pimpin”, his most accessible single thus far. On record, his layered guitar work shines but unfortunately the main stage of Panorama, with all its mighty speaker systems, was not conducive to such sonic intricacy. Many moments throughout his set were muffled or lost in a daze.
Regardless of this deadened sound quality, Vile and his Violators combed through his last four records and delivered a tranquil mid-afternoon set. “Puppet to the Man”, off his career highlight Smoke Ring for My Halo, was as sharp as ever and the Philly hero gave a nod to his hometown roots before ripping into “KV Crimes”. He ended with “Stand Inside” sans band, accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and deft dexterity. He departed with two Modelo beers in tow while the crowd dispersed, feeling rejuvenated by Vile’s guitar-induced siesta.
Run the Jewels, a stark contrast to Kurt Vile’s serenity, commandeered the main stage with their now-iconic dual hand gesture imagery (of a fist and a literal hand gun) blown up in balloon props that hovered above the duo as they rallied the crowd into a frenzy. Killer Mike and El-P shared the stage with amusing chemistry as they played off each other’s banter. At one point, Killer Mike noticed an audience member standing stoically in the front row and comically called him out, asking if he was waiting for the next band -- his LCD Soundsystem shirt suggested he was indeed. The abrasive hip-hop super group ran through eight tracks off their landmark album Run the Jewels 2 ; the momentum generated off cuts like “Early” and “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” elicited a riot among the thrashing listeners.
As the sunlight began to dwindle, the main stage was cleared off for Sia, whose simple stage design featured a blank white screen. Working behind it were various stagehands who rushed to place multiple props and costumes as they prepared for her set. Simplicity is Sia’s motivation. Notorious for her stage fright, she appeared with her emblematic haircut masking her face. Sia stood stone still and off to the side for the entirety of her performance as three dancers interpreted her pop songs. On the screen and with each song appeared a prerecorded video starring actors Paul Dano, Kristen Wiig and Ben Mendelsohn, but not even this amount of star power could breathe vitality into Sia’s rather banal outing.
It’s without question her voice could shatter glass chandeliers but such talent wasn’t enough to produce an engaging performance. While the dancers provided an element of action, they were trumped by the prerecorded images of famous people behind them who were distracting and confusing. Not even the awe-inspiring power of her breakthrough song “Breathe Me” could redeem this lackluster display of live music. When Sia finally reached her set’s climax with “Chandelier”, we were more than ready for LCD Soundsystem after enduring such trial and tribulation.
The revival of LCD has been one of music’s greatest feats of the year and with this Panorama closeout set the band was making their New York homecoming. Pat Mahoney appeared first and hopped up on the drums to play the infectious opening beat to “Us v Them”. James Murphy and Nancy Whang soon followed and informed the crowd via the monosyllabic lyrics “The time has come”. From that moment on the dancing and joy was efficiently maintained for the following two hours.
There wasn’t any need for the musicians onstage to ask the crowd to clap along, for the fans were eagerly participating each beat. The set list drew equally from LCD’s three albums and they even followed up “Someone Great” with its extended “Out in Space” section from the 45:33 EP. To honor the recently passed Alex Vega, the singer of the proto-punk band Suicide whose influence can be unmistakably heard within LCD, the penultimate song of the set was a cover of his “Bye Bye Bayou”.
Panorama culminated with the powerful anthem “All My Friends”. The audience joined the band in belting out the lyrics as the massive disco ball hanging above the stage reflected countless light beams while it twirled to the very end.
Silas Valentino is a freelance music journalist who has written for The Village Voice, LA Weekly, PopMatters and various other publications. He lives and works in New York City. Follow him on Twitter here.