Go to enough live shows, and you’ve seen them all. Kidding! Because while certain kinds of album releases are the subject of hype and invention again, live music (and not the merch aspect) is also at its peak.
Sun-drenched early festival sets are still the short straw, but with plenty of competition at every time slot, there is still reason to innovate the live performance. A few acts at FYF’s second day helpfully exemplified such innovations:
Blood Orange opens up his stage
Blood Orange’s set was going to be good no matter what; Devonté Hynes is not in the business of making funky body music without backing those songs up with his own dance moves. But his latest album, Freetown Sound, is packed with guest vocalists, and on FYF’s stage he studiously brought a lot of them out, along with Sky Ferreira.
Opening with a recording of Ashlee Haze’s “For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem)”, Hynes brought out Sky Ferreira for a snippet of “Everything is Embarrassing” (which he produced back in the day) and “You’re Not Good Enough”; Carly Rae Jepsen for “Better Than Me”; Zuri Marley for “Love Ya”; Nelly freakin’ Furtado for “Hadron Collider.”
Out of all of the guest spots, it was Empress Of’s turn on “Best For You” that had me and Hynes both enchanted; afterward, he murmured, “That was pure fire!” For me, the joy was twofold; watching an artist I loved performing the songs he had at his disposal in full, and watching him appreciate the thing he’d built with other people. Not all guests are equal though, but Lorely Rodriguez alone would’ve been enough to capture an onlooker’s attention, let alone his murderer’s row of (lady!) talent.
ANOHNI mixes social messaging with powerful performance
Like Grace Jones, whose show was similarly artful, ANOHNI’s visuals were all geared toward an art expression but with a very different message, one that was violent and political but also moving in a way that most artists don’t even dare approach. Set against bleak and oftentimes jarring portraits and jump cuts, ANOHNI set her performance against a backdrop of despair, mirroring the lyrics and tone of Hopelessness, her album. (Can you sense a theme here?)
But instead of dropping audience members like flies, people were pulled into this dramatic display, and although it might be hard to dance to a song like “4 Degrees” (about climate change driving all living things to extinction), people forgave their perhaps spurious festival joy to take time really hearing what she had to say.
Which, to be clear, is not a ding toward anyone else there. Rather, this variety and this measured distance from just the hard rush of getting lit was a welcome respite; a way to contextualize yourself and perhaps the festival itself in a new light.
LCD Soundsystem meets the crowd
As I was leaving FYF in the afterglow of LCD Soundsystem’s headlining set, I overheard a curious conversation between two festival goers: “That was way better than his set at Coachella!” “Yeah, he actually seemed like he wanted to be there!” It was the kind of thing that only be said in our current festival environment, where festivals are no longer the once-a-year aspirational event limited to only a few locales. But it also spoke to festival fatigue for the artist, and what keeps individual sets special.
Of course, it’s the same dilemma posed by touring in general: How do you make every night that you tour the best night of somebody’s life? For LCD, it was perhaps the roar and roll of the FYF crowd that convinced James Murphy to pull out all the stops and engage with the crowd, both admonishing those who’d missed Grace Jones’s set and those who were making the experience fun for him. Sure, it was his choice to bring LCD Soundsystem out of retirement, but part of that is the expectation that people would not just show up, but participate in their dance party with feelings vibe. We obliged, and so did he.
It’s been interesting to watch FYF grow and evolve as a festival over the past few years; this year’s slate of artists was perhaps the best that’s ever graced Expo Park, and we can’t wait to see and hear who comes through next year. Until then!