Panorama dances itself clean with LCD Soundsystem homecoming on day three
Words & Photography: Steven Ward
Kicking off day two of Panorama Festival, locals and New Jersey natives, The Front Bottoms had quite the fan base present for their afternoon slot on the Panorama stage. By the end of their set, they no doubt had made more than a few dozen fan conversions in the process. Caught somewhere between the silly, stream-of-conscious storytelling of Weezer, mingled with the depthless emotionality of Death Cab for Cutie, lead singer Brian Sella unfolded his imagist tales to the shattered sound of his fans singing along. Natural born performers, The Front Bottoms my have been playing the biggest stage in their career so far, but it didn’t show. Sella had a few back-and-forths with the crowd, knew when to stop singing to give the crowd a much-needed sing-along, and dazzled with his reserved charm. Reminiscent of early 2000’s DIY post-punk acts, Sella’s blunt, dead-pan delivery kept off-kilter songs like “HELP” and “Twin Size Mattresses” afloat.
Kurt Vile and his Violators brought their lo-fi folk to the main stage in what would be the last mellowed performance of the night. Poised behind his long curls, his fingers digging into the strings of his guitar, and giving fans a few sizzling solos, Vile for the most part let his dreamy country meditations take the crowd far from their urban sprawl. Whether it was the heat or the similarly heated anticipation for the night’s upcoming acts, the crowd simply swayed along to Vile’s grooved out acoustics. Playing through the burnt blues of “Pretty Pimping” to the banjo strumming “I’m An Outlaw,” the Violators stuck to what they knew, giving a solid, but definitely not the most memorable performance of the day. Blame it on unenthusiastic Run the Jewels fans or Sia fanatics, the crowd was just not feeling it, but Vile trudged on valiantly and finished their set with as much Philly charm as he could muster.
Dynamic duo and rap supergroup Run the Jewels took to the main stage to one of the largest crowds to gather over the weekend for an afternoon set. The hype was real and much deserved, as Killer Mike and El-P rewarded fans with a electric spitfire of densely packed rhymes, held together by the murderous beats of Dj Shadow. Sticking to their laundry list of fire hits, the two rappers bounced rhymes off one another like two foul-mouthed energizer bunnies, pushing the crowd into crazed fit–mosh pits formed, people jumped on top of one another–if you liked your personal space or even well-being, you didn’t belong in a Run the Jewels crowd.
Lightheartedly calling out a few people camped out in the front for Sia and LCD, El-P apologized ahead of “Close Your Eyes,” warning them that if they were hoping to see a “chill” rap show they came to the wrong set: “Maybe plan ahead next time.” As that beast of a beat dropped and the refrain hit, the crowd let loose its flagrant energy on one another, throwing up the Run the Jewels hand sign as they threw themselves around. Introducing and dedicating “Lie, Cheat, Steal” to the crooked politicians, before going into a “Fuck Trump” chant, El-P ripped into the track’s lightning quick and biting lyricisms.
Beyond the duo’s gargantuan stage presence, their stage chemistry and good humor onstage (the two never take each other too seriously) always builds a pretty thick relationship between them and the crowd. Mike, ever the comedian, saw an LCD Soundsystem t-shirt wearing guy in the front row and called him a skinny white version of himself–and throughout their set he checked in on “white Mike” to see how he was doing. Ending their set with an encore performance of “Pew Pew Pew,” El-P stepped to Mike, “Let’s do this the way we did it when we met on the playground when we were ten,” and the duo proceeded to set what was left of the crowd on fire.
Sia has spent the past decade in and out of the spotlight, simultaneously penning hits for the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Beyonce, and Rihanna— while also managing her budding solo career. Her intense introversion and fear of the limelight, characterized and embodied by her now famous wig getup, is a theatric that pales in comparison with her titanically emotional dance dramatizations.
Standing on an elevated platform in the back and at times off to the side of the stage, Sia’s physical presence took the backseat to her insanely talented choreographed dancers, who gave her husky and otherworldly lulls form. Opening with the eruption that was “Alive,” 13-year-old Maddie Ziegler gave life to every one Sia’s tortured howls and triumphant affirmations, leaping, contorting her body and face, her movements jagged and making it impossible to look away. From the thumping dance inflections of “Cheap Thrills” to the brutishly combative “Elastic Heart” (which saw Ziegler and another dancer, wearing cartoonishly large bear and rabbit heads respectively, beating the shit out of one another), Sia’s set became a full dramatized performance art. It was so enrapturing that many forgot to even sing along to her biggest hits. All the while the spectacle onstage was unfolding, on the stage’s two jumbotrons pre-recorded footage of the same choreographed dances were playing for the massive crowd (featuring appearance by actor Paul Dano and comedian Kristen Wiig). Giving a nod to her written contributions to pop music with a cover (if singing the song you wrote can even be called a cover) of “Diamonds” and “Titanium,” Sia ended her set with one more frenzied dance routine to the tune of “Chandelier,” which saw Ziegler leaping from a table onto two stacked mattresses as she flailed across the stage.
“That’s how it starts…” That was how it all ended, for all the baroque bombast and brazen poetics of its two previous headliners, Panorama 2016 ended not with an inflammatory bang, but a defiantly bittersweet shout into the night as LCD Soundsystem completed their New York homecoming. It’s been five-years since The Long Goodbye, five-years since LCD ended their career at Madison Square Garden–and the interim since has been a lifetime. That all ended late last year, when James Murphy confirmed the band’s return. Since then they’ve played a slew of festivals and even a few New York dates, but Panorama was the band’s biggest gig in their hometown since MSG, and the momentum towards their set had been building all weekend.
When Murphy and company finally walked onstage, dishing out the giddy percussiveness of “Us V Them,” the crowd had reached a fever pitch. We wanted the hits, and they gave us the hits. From the boisterously skittish guitar lines and jangling cowbell of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” to the somber atmospherics and twinkling xylophone of “Someone Great,” there was little room to breathe or recover emotionally between songs, as LCD seamlessly flowed from one to the next. Eventually the nostalgia exploded into a full blown hysteria, which began immediately after the 80’s powered dance party that took place in the aftermath of “I Can Change/You Wanted A Hit” which spurned the crowd of hundreds to dance wildly to their grandiose synthesizers, body-possessing beats, and Murphy’s heart-wrenching croons. Between the colossally heady rumblings of “Get Innocuous” and “Tribulations,” the crowd aptly lost its shit, perhaps the reality of LCD Soundsystem performing in front of them finally hitting, and the jumping, screaming, bodies thrown carelessly around and engulfed by the blamelessly overzealous crowd.
As promised by Murphy, talking was kept to a minimum due to their strict time constraints, but his characteristic glee and adorably awkward introductions of bandmates reminded everyone why he was so beloved by them. One fan in the crowd remarked he resembled an aging teddy bear, and the comparison was apt. Like a well oiled machine, the deus ex machina of electronic music and at the same time the dually outdated/avant-garde future of the genre, LCD is forever stuck in this time-loop crossroads of the early 2000’s. Their live show is all the flamboyant perfection it’s always been. LCD’s return at a time when EDM dominates the mainstreams of music and entertainment have given new life to “Losing My Edge,” and it’s poignancy and self-depreciation feels less ironic today, than it did ten or even five years ago. But LCD has never been about arrogant assertions of relevance or pretentious listings of musical credentials–Murphy was there, was everywhere, playing Daft Punk to the rock kids and breaking ground on dance-punk before EDM was even a whispered acronym.
A more than necessary performance of “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” sent a few fans in the crowd into tears, as the weight of years of pining over the band’s official disbanding (which happened only a few miles away in downtown Manhattan) washed over them. With one final hurrah, LCD resurrected the insanity of its fans’ rabid devotions, and with drop of all drops, they sent a fireball of body quivering ardor into the crowd with “Dance Yrself Clean.” Once again the bodies flew as we danced and shivered alongside one another, moving in earnest to the song’s abrasive bursts of synths and chaotic percussion, not knowing when we’d ever have the chance again. And just as it was sinking in that this was happening, the piano trill of Nancy Wong’s opening medley to “All My Friends” began. Like a force into the night, we cried, moaned, wailed, jittered, and stomped towards that final refrain (“If I could see all my friends tonight…”). We knew we were tired, but as hundreds of voices echoed that same tender sentiment into the night sky with us, the weariness evaporated, replaced by a gut burning verve and the soft hum of Murphy’s outro.