Plus: AlunaGeorge got the dance floor going, Sufjan Stevens channeled a disco ball, and more
“We came all the way from the West Coast to spread motherf—ing love,” Kendrick Lamar told an exhausted Panorama crowd early in his headlining set Saturday night. On the second day of the festival’s inaugural iteration, temperatures verged on triple digits, but that wasn’t the sole source of the audience’s fatigue. In a summer plagued by political strife and unabated violence, optimism has often felt scarce. Less than 24 hours after Arcade Fire’s Win Butler declared that “Donald Trump will never, ever be the f–ing president,” Lamar brought his own powerful message of activism and positivity to the same stage.
That the 29-year-old Compton MC delivered a moving performance was unsurprising. After rocking the hip-hop world with his 2012 opus good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar made good on his bursting potential with last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly, his Grammy-winning, funk-inflected examination of race in America. The album produced “Alright,” which subsequently became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, and it only grows in relevance with each passing day.
What was surprising was how deftly Lamar fused the roles of hip-hop headliner and wise wordsmith. Lamar lacks the braggadocio that’s woven into the DNA of peers like Drake or Kanye West, but he compensates with a cool precision that’s sometimes missing at big hip-hop shows. On Saturday, he largely forewent the safety-net vocal tracks many others employ, easily navigating the high-wire flows of “For Free?” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” without a margin of error. And despite the Hall of Fame lineup of producers and musicians who constructed Butterfly‘s beats, Lamar brought a live backing band to maximize his music’s organic side.
He had blustery moments — rapping “Pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower / so I can f— the world for 72 hours” as archival footage of Michael Jordan approaching the basket for a lay-up plays in the background certainly qualifies — but Lamar overwhelmingly used his music as a tool to analyze the uncomfortable climate currently gripping America. “Music is one thing that brings everybody to-motherf—ing-gether … and as long as you got me, you’ve always got a motherf—ing voice,” Lamar assured the crowd, alluding to one of the defining lines of Donald Trump’s speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention. “And even if you don’t agree, you will never kill our motherf—ing,” Lamar concluded as his band interrupted him with the opening notes of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.”
Lamar paired his socially aware songs with black-and-white video footage to great effect. On “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” for example, the towering screens played spliced clips of a mid-90s Bill O’Reilly tirade and Snoop Dogg’s 1996 murder trial. For “m.A.A.D. city,” the visuals flipped to a startling amalgam of Bruce Conner-style nuclear bomb footage, Yosemite Sam drawing his pistols, and a Jerry Springer Show brawl.
While he used stark footage of the Reagans and George W. Bush to emphasize his darker lyrical messages, Lamar ultimately stayed focused on his stated duty: spreading love. Toward the end of his set, the visuals flipped to Barack Obama and Ellen DeGeneres dancing together for the joyous empowerment anthem “i.” And as the sound curfew drew near, Lamar summed up his mission statement once again for the audience. “Right here, right now, we’re going to celebrate life,” he said. “We’re going to celebrate our life. We’re going to celebrate the life of the victims that passed these last three weeks — all around the world.” Soon, Lamar was leading thousands in a chant of “We gon’ be alright” — and in that moment, the words rang true. —Eric Renner Brown
Anderson .Paak continued his breakout year with a rousing late afternoon set at the Pavilion tent. Flanked by his top-notch backing band the Free Nationals, the 30-year-old journeyman treated those in attendance to his vibrant blend of hip-hop, R&B, funk, and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. Tracks off this year’s excellent Malibu provided the highlights of the set, including an extended rap detailing the story told on “Carry Me,” which is about the time a young .Paak persuaded his mom to get him new Jordans, but then asked her to carry him when they left the store to avoid scuffing his new shoes. –ERB
Joined by a live drummer, the British electronic duo brought their euphoric fusion of synth-pop and U.K. garage to the steamy Parlor dome early Saturday evening. That meant trotting out tried-and-true bangers like “You Know You Like It” and “White Noise” while busting out new gems “Mean What I Mean” and “I’m In Control” from their upcoming second album. While the group’s beats quickly ignited the dance floor, the set’s true takeaway was Aluna Francis’ commanding stage presence and effortless vocals. –ERB
Sufjan Stevens knows his music can be a bit of a downer, so he tried his best to keep spirits up during a sunrise set at Saturday’s fest. The musician, wearing his trademark wings, kicked everything off with an especially stirring rendition of 2004’s “Seven Swans” before throwing back to the Age of Adz era — defined by neon outfits and stilted, interpretative dance — with crowd-pleasing performances of songs like “Too Much” and “Vesuvius.” Even tracks from 2015’s Carrie and Lowell, a folk album all about grief, took on a new, festival-appropriate life with the help of added instrumentals and Stevens’ dedication to, as he kept saying, keeping the set moving. It all peaked when he closed with “Impossible Soul,” a marathon of a song (it clocks in at 25 minutes and 36 seconds) that featured air dancers, a Beyoncé reference — “Come on, ladies, now let’s get in formation!” Stevens suggested before he and his back-up dancers launched into a choreographed dance — and multiple wild costume changes. Stevens made it seem like he was worried his set would be too sad for his party-ready audience, but that concern turned out to be unnecessary: As it turns out, it’s impossible to feel anything but delight when he’s standing before you decked out in glittering tinsel, party balloons, and an actual disco ball. —Ariana Bacle
For more on Panorama, read our highlights from the festival’s first day here.