For someone tragically unversed in jazz, I have no shame in admitting BBNG was - in true millennial fashion - a major entry point for my engagement with the form after their viral cover success. Their set was a testament to their staying power: they focus their energy on the craftsmanship to impress true jazz diehards while being modern and engaging for their younger audience to witness something great. It’s a simple formula that can contain a bushel of twentysomethings in a hushed awe, the energy ebbing and flowing before a moshpit ensues like no other ensemble could muster quite like them. And the Denzel Curry appearance for “Ultimate?” One of the* only* times a rap song that damn hard has ever translated on the same plane with a band without feeling awkward or incomplete.
Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals
This makes the fourth time I’ve caught a .Paak set in a festival setting, leaving me rather spoiled upon arrival on the whole experience. Yet there I was, floored nonetheless, anticipating every move in the playbook: when .Paak transitions to the drums on “Carry Me,” when “Suede” shows up mid-set commanding the meanest two-step, and when “Lite Weight” reassures us why there’s no reason to be afraid. So engrossed in the energy, I forgot this was a semi-homecoming - like Kehlani and Kamaiyah alike this weekend - and experiencing the Free Nationals on a massive stage lost nothing in translation whatsoever. They’re time-tested world travelers with a jubilant electricity currently unparalleled in their field; the FYF crowd received them like the superstars they are.
After a compilation of clips from her infamous videos and elongated fanfare, Missy Elliott took the stage by storm for her first L.A. show in a decade. She said she pushed through illness to make it - with the humbling grace she’s known for - but she’s also fed up. She made everyone drop their phones before a song, claiming how “that’s one of the problems!” This hour didn’t show her age at all, and her dancers are still in unbelievable shape to follow her choreography and ignite the crowd at any given time. I did wonder why she left the words on all her mixes, and I was taken aback by how the documentary-style framing of the set detracted from the energy at times. But you don’t always get to witness Missy’s acknowledgment of the powerful women watching her in the wings: Bey + Solange, Janet Jackson, Bjork and more. (In fact, she claimed that she “made it” when she found Bey stage-side, a true testament to the Queen.) And getting to watch Tyler, The Creator stan for his idol from the VIP like everyone else? Instant classic.
Only managing to catch the last 15 of her set, I was told all I needed to know: that Destiny Frasqueri is a powerhouse here to stay. After marveling at the diverse crowd huddled by the Club stage - black and brown kids, queer kids, women everywhere - I was met with “Bart Simpson” and “Green Line,” two cuts from 1992 where Nokia waxed her NYC nerd poetic with narrative flair and a sharpened sense of finding home in your block and your fantasies. Upon acknowledging the latter, her underground breakthrough being a dream come true as a woman who doesn’t promote negativity or an oversexualized image of herself, the crowd met her with several ovations. I was truly the sucker for missing records like “Tomboy” and “GOAT,” but her lowkey records held the crowd all the same. Don’t be like me: plan accordingly and get initiated.
There's nothing quite like a Noname show, and this Saturday evening proved no different. Her conversational inflections invited us in the way a homie invites you in for a drink, but y’all both know y'all shouldn't be sippin' no way. She's also one of the best bar-for-bar spitters in the new generation, juggling her syllables across a backing band that can make the most painful Chicago memories sound like a Chicago summer evening. It took mere moments to put the L.A. crowd under her spell, enchanting everyone to love women and dispose of the broke fuckboys in their lives. It's a treat every time, watching her work the room with the natural confidence that'll earnestly thank you for your time while roasting you for not paying attention like you should. But why wouldn't you?
Archy Marshall’s clearly not one for fanfare despite his wunderkind image: his band took stage with almost no introduction and he played the entire set in a pair of orange-white glasses that almost looked like clout goggles, but they weren’t. He’s a fan of sunsets, though, taking time to observe the sundown over the Lawn stage as he graced the crowd with fan favorites and plenty of heavy new material that’ll soundtrack many a moody day on the horizon. His gruff accent cut through the evening sounding just like the recording: you won’t catch everything if you’re not attune, but it’s soothing when it wants to be and enraged when you need to be. I found myself surrendering to it.
A Tribe Called Quest
The three elder statesmen made their age look damn good, unafraid of making light of their oldhead status. (Q-Tip hit a beatbox before “Bonita Applebum,” asking the crowd if he's showing his age.) But with a bombastic, relentless run of classic works like this, there's not a group their junior in sight competing with their range or their chemistry. Complete with the fourth mic and a spotlight for a fallen Phife - electing to let his verses play every song, adlibbing the spirit - the set was an intoxicating balance between no-frills showmanship and sobering farewell. For every level they hit, and every passionate response from the audience, ATCQ gave the masterful goodbye of a lifetime that should make a young fan envious. Envious that their contemporaries just can't do it like the OGs.
Despite watching the rig installation and watching Mr. Ocean walk on after “Pretty Sweet,” I still thought he would’ve cancelled. I mentioned this aloud to a few smirks, gently acknowledging the truth while rebuking it from my mouth for me. A thick fog greeted the crowd from what seemed like nowhere, and a disco ball glowed only once or twice against the midnight sky. With Spike Jonze on the camera and a chorus of men on guitars, Ocean found a way to break the fourth wall by inviting us into his sphere of luxury heartbreak. It’s the kind that gets Brad Pitt to sit onstage during “Close to You,” looking longingly into the distance with a phone to his ear. It’s also the kind that fuels anecdotes about living in hotels for the last few years and verses about giving a rent check as an autograph to the landlord. Understated, yet never underwhelming, Ocean made that hour feel like a massive recital more than a festival spectacular. But while my section silently marveled the man in bedazzled Chucks, I couldn’t help but overindulge. I shouted “Chanel” like a goddamn madman and hit “Futura Free” bar-for-bar like I was from that 7th, though.
As a relatively unseasoned festival dispatch, I've long known of Mac DeMarco’s banter and antics (true understatement) with his crowds. While I came in search of a more grounded performance off the release of This Old Dog, I got a good performance of the hits, along with a bevy of the aforementioned landing somewhere between slapstick and suspect. The boys covered Vanessa Carlton by repeating the main refrain for half the song. There was a gong, utilized excessively. After several overheard requests, he removed his shirt and slapped his own stomach with the mic while balancing his cig. He ended the spectacle by surfing the crowd from the front row barricade, catching an umbrella along the way and landing on the barrier of the 21+ section before being surfed all the way back to the stage. Case in point, the unpredictability alone makes him worth a try; chances are, he’ll be headed your way sometime soon.
I only knew the name from today’s college playlistism, which forced me to repel myself as far away as I could. When you spent four years pacing the dystopian drunkenness of Madison downtown on a weekend night, the typecasting speaks for itself. 20 minutes in, I silenced myself: this shit was ill and the mid-grade weed smoke surrounding me was a mere detail in how enjoyable Mura Masa was. He rocked a small MIDI drum setup, flanked by rapper Bonzai who damn near stole the show with her charismatic presence even when she filled in the verses of other MCs who couldn’t make it. But you know who did? Desiigner. He showed up to play “All Around the World,” forcing me to stop my Solange trek and run towards a tree to catch a smidgen of his energy. Mura Masa was hands down my FYF surprise; I even felt a bit left out of the party I actually would’ve stuck around for without changing the playlist.
Draped in red and orange overtones, this set ran like a public initiation into a Black girl’s secrets: everyone was invited to the cookout, but staying was negotiable. A parade of Black bodies in perfect symmetry, swaying and dancing and screaming to the heavens when they felt like it. Solange and company made a hell of a statement with no apologies anywhere in sight. The way she left the stage during “F.U.B.U.” to speak directly to the Black girls she could find on the railing - ignoring everyone else - was a true highlight, considering how some white folks in my section were singing it anyway. It made me turn to a Black woman I didn't know, and we snickered together about they didn't know no better. Simply, this hour gave us permission: a feat rarely accomplished yet supremely achieved.
Run the Jewels
In a three-album run, El-P and Killer Mike cemented their legendary status in a late-career reinvention unforeseen by even them. As I watched from a distance, the grindhouse quality of their live show opts for full-throttle, high-octane hardcore rap with a buddy-flick chemistry that radiates energy into any crowd. Coming on the heels of an unforgettable Solange set, the overdrive never felt too excessive, El and Mike feeding their diehards in a massive pit while taking their time to slow it down and deliver the message as they always have. The Gangsta Boo appearance was a pleasant surprise, the heiress of southern rap blessing the tired masses, but Joi Giliam appeared for the final song “Down,” dedicated to Chester Bennington who passed that week. There was no encore, no final shebang, but a last breath of empathy for the trauma that threatens to erase us before the duo, a true class act, disappeared into the night.