Though a storm cut the Friday short just a few hours into the festival opening and Lil Wayne pulled out due to travel issues on Saturday, the high-profile artists that did have the opportunity to perform rewarded fans with consistently strong sets in what were two strong days of Panorama 2018.
Boasting two stages and an outdoor club, Panorama’s structure would cause a diehard fan to have to do a bit of sprinting, but the physical grounds are easily navigable with good stage sightlines from just about anywhere.
As an alternative to New York’s other marquee music festival, Governor’s Ball, Panorama feels decidedly more mature, with a lineup that doesn’t seem overly swayed by the trends of the day.
Without further ado, let’s break down eight highlight acts from Panorama.
As I was heading to the festival grounds on Friday the remainder of the acts were cancelled due to severe weather, so these names only reflect Saturday and Sunday of the festival.
Michelle Zauner and her band beefed up tracks like 'Machinist' and 'Road Head' while still showcasing Zauner’s wry lyricism and showcasing some of the tracks’ more intricate guitar and synth melodies. She delivered a standout performance on 'Heft', and drew attention to her own left-field but strong pop sensibility by remarking, “It’s not everyday you get to open for a fucking Jackson.”
Performing a slew of tracks off 'MASSEDUCTION' with an intoxicating confidence and an unsettling stage lineup (including two of her backup band members in masks and wigs), St. Vincent’s set was a strong contender for the best of Panorama.
The pop sheen of many of the album’s catchiest tracks like 'Pills' or the title song were scraped away revealing whirring and pumping mechanics of digitized drums and angular guitar. By varying her delivery, Annie Clark was able to capture the full dystopian picture of her latest record while still showcasing a darkly humorous sensibility.
And, fittingly, her closing performance of 'New York' was packed with such rich, heartfelt nostalgia for the city of yesteryear it felt like a condensed reading of Lizzie Goodman’s NY indie rock opus Meet Me In The Bathroom.
A triumphant homecoming of sorts made even more poignant by SZA’s recent struggles with the health of her voice, the TDE songstress was absolutely radiant during her turn on the main stage. “The last time I was in New York I was not well, and I want to say thank you for coming out and fucking with me,” she said to an elated and supportive crowd. Her falsetto was a touch shaky, but she displayed all of the skills that made her one of 2017’s breakout stars rapping and singing during the extended outro of 'Love Galore'.
She also one of the most dynamic visual accompaniments of the weekend, with a nostalgic Drew Barrymore montage underscoring her track named after the actress, and a montage of Disney clips during 'Broken Clocks' that were presented on a stack of screens meant to mirror the cover of 'Ctrl'.
Jackson staged a stunning, multi-part set that highlighted her deep catalogue, dancing ability, and ability to command a stage with her words and actions. “That’s a lot hits, huh?” Jackson asked following an opening phrase that included 'The Knowledge', 'What Have You Done For Me Lately', 'Nasty', and more. Jackson’s voice occasionally was overwhelmed by the choreography or booming instrumentals, but she’s always been more of a total package entertainer and hasn’t lost a step since her heyday.
Jackson also paid homage to her storied role in hip-hop, playing collaborations with Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and J. Cole while teasing Kendrick Lamar’s 'Poetic Justice' while performing 'Any Time, Any Place', the song which it samples. The set took a solemn turn in the latter third, when she leaned into the themes of The Velvet Rope and performed 'What About' while her dancers mimed troubling scenes of domestic abuse.
While there was plenty of rhythmic escapism, this is Jackson’s State of the World Tour, and she isn’t avoiding hard truths.
The British duo’s intimate tracks blossom live thanks to precise, pounding drums and knack for letting their tracks crack open and ooze into throbbing, synth-heavy jams that feel fit for soundtracking a night spent messing around on the DeepDream generator. The band executes their churning midtempo tunes, with such effortless precision that if Kai Campos didn’t have his sleeves rolled to his elbows it made me have felt almost mechanical.
Still, the band’s commitment to a fuller, richer sound on 'Love What Survives' translates to the stage, and the fuller low end on 'Marilyn' and 'Blue Train Lines' sells each track’s emotional urgency.
The mid-western footwork phenom put on a joyous, uptempo, and perfectly EQ’d set at the festival’s open-air club, The Point, but the setting did feel a little minor for an artist who frequently offers a jaw-dropping dance crew or elaborate visuals. Given how far The Point was from the main stages it felt both like a welcome reprieve but also entirely removed from what was happening on the grounds. It’s hard to picture what a set from a hometown star like Yaeji would have been like.
The iconic UK trio’s set felt largely divided into two segments: one in which guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim, the group’s dual vocalists, were the stars and one where producer/percussionist Jamie xx took the spotlight.
That’s not to say that either section was un-engaging, as Croft and Sim captured the narrative of 'Say Something Loving' unfolding on stage masterfully, while xx built a cathartic dance groove out of his track 'Loud Places'. Had the pacing not been so logical it might have been more obvious, but the setlist built smartly from dark and downtempo to thumping and restorative.
On the last stretch of their tour for 'I See You', it will be fascinating to see how they connect their melodic and rhythmic sides in the studio once again.
Since last year, The Killers have been touring without guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer, and if it weren’t apparent before The Killers have morphed into the Brandon Flowers show (with an assist from longtime drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. As Flowers made clear, this nine-piece ensemble onstage wasn’t merely The Killers but The Killers “By way of fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada,” and the singer certainly seems ready for the band to become Vegas residency darlings. He’s perfected a kind of pseudo-conspiratorial charisma where you quickly become so sucked into his performance it feels like an A-list actor playing Flowers in a biopic.
The setlist put a valiant effort forth in terms of jamming in their staples while still going a bit deeper into the catalogue. The band’s sweeping tracks like 'A Dustland Fairytale' and 'The Way It Was' are so broad and rousing that they feel almost like Americana showtunes, though certain tracks like 'Smile Like You Mean It' carried more of the traditional Killers sensibility.
And as veterans of the festival circuit the band knew how to work the crowd, with plenty of repetitious call-and-response hooks and well-timed vocal dropouts. They even brought an aspiring drummer from the crowd on stage to take over Vannucci’s kit while he played guitar and Flowers handled the bass on 'For Reasons Unknown'. The young fan was solid if a little erratic on the tempo, and a few slight missteps didn’t phase the elated crowd.
Recent cuts like 'Run For Cover' and 'The Man' fit relatively smoothly into a 'Hot Fuss' and 'Sam’s Town'-heavy set, and Flowers sold each track with equal conviction. It’s been unclear for a few years whether the band can regain its widescreen heartland charm in the studio, but even this pared down iteration can find it on stage.
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Words: Grant Rindner
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