Kendrick Lamar unites East and West hip-hop with electric performance for Panorama day two
Words & Photography: Steven Ward
British synth pop duo Oh Wonder were the first set to draw in the crowds on Saturday afternoon at Panorama Festival, wooing fans with the sublime atmospherics of its two angel voiced crooners. Relatively immobile behind their keyboards, the duo, comprised of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, relied on the emotive intricacies of their shimmering ballads to push through to fans. As one of the more mellow acts to take place on the main stage, what shone through for Oh Wonder was the overwhelming intimacy that gushed from their euphonious soundscapes. Although they probably would’ve been better suited for one of Panorama’s smaller, enclosed stages, their overblown synth romanticisms cut deep with the crowd, which was clearly made up of longtime fans that echoed every word of their love songs back to them.
Foals’ hard-hitting, excessively dance worthy rock sprints were somewhat of a rallying point for those who’d spent the day camping out in front of the main stage. Entreating fans to a healthy and quick collection of hits, lead singer Yannis Philippakis was his possessed self to their delight, oozing a fiery reserve of energy with every torn up riff and roared chorus line–and the crowd was more than happy to feed off his delirium. Tossing in the crowd favorite “My Number” early into the set, Foals thinned out the crowd, and that was when the insanity truly began. Thundering through the rumbling surge of guitars that hold up “Mountain at My Gates,” which Philippakis dedicated to the crowd on a hill near the stage, Foals gave a heated, show-stopping finale that consisted of a non-stop play through of their wilder anthems. It all ended with a feverishly head banging performance of “Inhaler,” which was followed quickly by the incredulous hysteria and fuzzed out guitars of “What Went Down.”
There wasn’t much to happen over the weekend that was groovier than Blood Orange’s set, or even another artist that so easily pacified crowds on sheer stage presence. A twirling, body rolling tangle of fluid gesticulations, Blood Orange undoubtedly danced his way into the crowds favor, but he didn’t do it alone. Joined by two beautifully voiced backup singers and a full ensemble, Blood Orange dangled his off-kilter, spacy R&B rhythmics in front of the crowd until they succumbed. Yet the danger of alt-R&B lies in its heavy reliance on crowd feedback, and there were brief moments in which the crowd was tired of a drawn out instrumental or minimalist piece. But these were far and in between, and Blood Orange mostly dazzled with his envious movements and virulent guitar solos. Although musically another beast entirely, it wasn’t hard to see the veritable influences of Michael Jackson and even Prince on Blood Orange’s stage dynamics. From his band’s lush movements between sizzling rhythm and blues, to its erratic jumps into more frenetic tunes, he was the wild faced vessel through which the crowd received it all.
As fragrantly angsty and unapologetically broken hearted as ever, The National’s Matt Berninger strolled onstage to the rollicking permissiveness of “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” and all seemed right in the world. Forever the picturesque caricature of the brooding artist (and clearly a few beers deep already), Berninger carried a bottle of wine with him onstage, which he took swigs of occasionally between songs. Veterans and masters of their live show craft, The National dragged the crowd down into the depths of their broiling and tumultuous introspections. Always the dramatic, Berninger only needed one or two songs before he was diving into the crowd, head bowed, fans clamoring to reach him as he belted out the brutalizing lines of “I Need My Girl.” But beyond Berninger’s buzzed shenanigans (which included serenading the stagehand responsible for holding the wire of his mic during his romp in the crowd), Aaron and Bryce Dresner drove the weight of The National’s cutting guitar melodies straight into the chests of those in the crowd. It’s always quite the sight to see the two insanely talented guitarists standing a stage lengths across from each other, bouncing the ruthless vitality of their riffs off one another with Berninger in the middle of it all. Pounding through the charging percussiveness and apologetic howls of “Sea of Love,” it wasn’t long before mini mosh pits formed simply out of the pure emotional furor that was rushing from the stage. Then the tempo was slowed with a rare and emotionally crippling performance of “Pink Rabbits,” and as Berninger carried us through the bitter headlock of romantic depression, we suffocated gleefully along with him.
Kendrick Lamar, far from his Compton upbringing and on the opposite side of the country, brought his grungy, urban hip-hop to the Big Apple in a crazed close out set for Panorama’s day two. From the moment he walked on to the moment he walked off, Lamar had the entire crowd (which filled nearly half of the festival grounds) wrapped around his finger. They hung on his every word and rhyme, fighting in sweaty and bruised mosh pits and crowd surfing in desperate attempts to get even closer to the new king of West Coast rap. For a one man show, any other artist might’ve been swallowed up by the sheer massiveness of the stage around him and the crowd raving in front of him, but Lamar not only relished the limelight, he manipulated it, even perhaps at shone it. Drilling hit after hit from his three album discography into the sea of thrashing bodies, Lamar embodied all the swagger and tact that made his one man act seem larger than life. Dipping deep into his debut over four years ago, the 29-year-old rapper alternated between setting the crowd on fire with his club wrecking bangers (“Backseat Freestyle,” “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”), to his more genre-bending spins of R&B and hip-hop (“King Kunta”). He even threw it back to his first mixtape Section .80, and throughout his set he referenced and performed a number of jam sessions he and his crew did during the creation of To Pimp A Butterfly. This and the presence of a live ensemble was a offered a significantly new range of depth behind Lamar’s live shows that not only contrasted with his traditional dj sets, but also with other rappers that performed at Panorama itself. Near the end of the night, Lamar made his inevitable statement on the recent string of police related shootings, coming in the form of “Alright” and its powerfully assertive refrain that the crowd roared back to him.
Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta