Last summer marked the first introduction of Panorama Music Festival on Randall’s Island here in New York City — a festival that was basically the smart, older sister version of Governor’s Ball. But fast-forward to 2017 and Panorama has hit another level. The crowds that gathered some of the headliners of last year were now swarming the festival’s main stage by late afternoon. The crowd is younger than last year. The lineup is a bit more diverse. But it’s summertime in the city and the three-day festival that’s also like an interactive playground of art and technology (check out The LAB), and also has a main stage with high-definition screens 30 feet high to create a visual thrust along with captivating audio, was back. And Day One was just getting started.
Of course like any music festival, it sometimes feels impossible to choose which performances to watch (especially with so many stellar acts happening at the same time), but that’s just how it goes for music-lovers with a festival wristband. If you have to run back and forth between stages, dodging the never-ending lines for beer, merch and tacos, or to get into The Point (basically an outdoor club with techno music happening all day), then that’s just what you have to do. It’s all for the music, right?
It was afternoon at the Panorama Stage when Aussie sensation Vance Joy was getting started. He began his set with a new song called “Lay It On Me” and continued with “From Afar” — a song that’s about loving someone from a distance and knowing that you can’t have them, as he explained. His boyish, floppy curls were endearing. He had a humble smile in his eyes (even though he should be more than used to playing for big crowds like this, especially after opening to Taylor Swift), but that’s what makes him such a likeable artist. At that point a pink beach ball was being tossed around the crowd as the sun began to burn through the grey overhead and Vance played a few songs acoustically, including one of his heart-aching hits, “Georgia.” He introduced two new songs called “Call If You Need Me” and “Take Your Time,” two sneak-peeks into what he’s been working on since his erupting debut album Dream Your Life Away from 2014. The crowd watched, quietly enamored. Vance Joy then ended his set with the song everyone was hoping for — his catchy claim-to-fame single “Riptide.”
Over at the Pavillion, Danish singer-songwriter MØ took the stage, and as expected she sung her guts out. She wanted to have fun, she said, which was apparent in the way she sexified the stage in her belly shirt, feeling her body and sweating, kicking the air in her sheer tights, and feeding off the crowd’s energy — especially once she started singing the dance-worthy hit “Kamikaze” that was produced by Diplo. There’s a gritty backside to MØ’s electronic front, so it isn’t all just sugary dance-pop when it comes to her music. There’s a punch to her songs. And when she screamed “New York!” and jumped into the crowd as she was surrounded by a halo of cell phone light, it was apparent that her set was the exact dose of sultry badass that the crowd so needed in the middle of the day.
Back at the main stage, Future Islands came next. The band had just gotten back from Australia and had partied hard the night before, so Sam Herring had no idea what day it was. “What the fuck is going on, ya’ll? Let’s fuck around,” he said, before the band began their set with the song “Ran” off their latest album The Far Field. The visuals with their set were a cool black and white, which included many close-ups of the singer’s face, the longing in his eyes as he sang each song, the emotionally-infused punches he gave himself to the face, the way he cradled his heart as though it ached, and the way he cuddled around the mic with his quinntessential deep grunts when singing. The crowd watched carefully, but only because nobody has the moves that Sam Herring is famous for — his charismatic stage presence, those seductive hip-swivels, those fluid leg stretches that looks like an emotional indie-rock aerobics class. With the song “Balance,” this is when the band hit their stride. They played another song from their new album called “North Star” and prefaced it by saying that everyone should do whatever it takes for love, and then said, “Let’s dance.” By the time the band played “Seasons (Waiting on You)” nobody cared if their moves would ever emulate what they watched on stage. When it comes to Future Islands, you just gotta dance.
Spoon introduced some new songs from their latest album called Hot Thoughts — a single with the same title, as well as a song called “Can I Sit Next to You” — but it was clear that the crowd favorites were some of their older tracks. What got everyone the most excited were songs like “Do You,” “Don’t Make Me a Target” and “Underdog” — the songs that people knew the lyrics to and could sing along with. It was the exact set you’d come to expect from Spoon, with their cool energy and their clean alt-rock sound. While nothing out-of-ordinary may have happened, everyone seemed happily receptive. For a band that’s been together since the ’90s obviously there’s a chunky discography that comes along with that, but it was the perfect blend of old and new. Spoon had it then and they still have it now. Their set ended with “Rent I Pay” (right after Britt Daniel gave drummer Jim Eno a strong go-ahead to play a lot, lot louder).
Back at Panorama Stage was MGMT’s performance. It wasn’t even 10 minutes into their set that they performed one of their most famous songs, “Time to Pretend.” To get the energy up you gotta play big (at least that’s what seemed to be their theory by playing such a massive hit so early). At first it seemed like their performance would be better suited at a smaller stage like The Pavillion, just in the sense that their sound could rush the crowd and make it explode under that tent instead of stretching a bit thin to such a vast area of the main stage. Their performance felt like the colorful soundtrack to everyone’s Instagram story — summery and fun, full of short-shorts and cool dudes, more so than it felt like a funky dance-party rager. But the wavy vibes jumped up a little when the band played two new songs “When You Die” and “Me & Michael,” followed by their hit song “Kids.” MGMT’s set ended with the big-time jammer “Electric Feel,” which left everyone on a sugary high.
When it came time for Tyler, the Creator’s performance, the audience was ready. He performed on a stage decked out in yellow flowers, not wearing a shirt, and sang a couple of new songs called “See You Again” and “911/Mr.Lonely” (which he wanted to put his shirt back on for before starting). Both songs are from his latest album Flower Boy. The crowd sang along: “I can’t even lie, I’ve been lonely as fuck.” People took pictures. Tyler kicked a water bottle into the audience. He continued with the song “IFHY” — performing hard with intensity, showcasing the strength of his super-raw lyrics that always seem to hit you right there. “I fucking hate you, but I love you,” he sings. But, because it’s Tyler, the Creator, who’s also known for his unapologetic attitude, he ended his set with one of his more brash songs called “Yonkers” from the album Goblin.
And when it came to Solange, nobody cared that she took the stage late. From start to finish, she commanded the performance. The crowd was in awe of her — from her modern, somewhat avant-garde dance moves, to her and her band all dressed in red, to her excited shaking of her glam curls, to every song choice that the crowd danced to, sang with, felt. She sang many songs from her album A Seat at the Table — songs that caused the greatest rumble and made everyone step in just a bit closer. This included songs like “Rise,” “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t You Wait.” It was clear that everyone was feeling their inner groove, wanting to be just as strong and sassy as Solange on stage (and in life), and as each song seamlessly went into the next (which truly made it feel like a solidly curated performance), Panorama jumped to another level. Solange wanted New York City to dance. And yes, they did dance (when they weren’t staring at her gently stoic expressions and humbling artistry). The singer closed her set with the encore “Don’t Touch My Hair.”
Frank Ocean was the closing act of Day One at Panorama. He took his time. He’s in no rush. That sense of smooth ease seems like a classic trait of Frank Ocean, though. He wore a tee-shirt with anti-discrimination phrases. He wore big headphones (so he could hear the sound of an imaginary friend, as he explained). The visuals looked like a DIY home video of the singer doing his thing when he thinks nobody is watching. Perhaps it wasn’t the “headlining” act you might imagine from such a huge festival, but Frank Ocean proves that perhaps it’s not the necessary formula anymore, at least in the “classic showstopper” sense. He may have brought a chill energy, but it was meaningful. It was emotional. It was him.
He played many songs from his long-awaited sophomore album Blonde like “Solo,” “Good Guy” and “Self Control.” He played his latest single called “Lens.” He asked the crowd if they’ve ever been in love before and if they’ve ever been through a breakup before. He was singing from personal experience, which is why his songs were so emotionally saturated and relatable to the audience. And yes, he was performing, but his performance was so personal it’s almost as if the crowd wasn’t there at all. His soulful awareness is what makes Frank Ocean a force and it’s clearly why he was the chosen artist to end Day One of Panorama Music Festival.
And the festival is just getting started…
Photo Credit: Adam Bleyweiss