by Kayleigh Hughes
Day two of the fest set upon us rainy and stupid, but the only real damage was a one-hour delay that meant the nixing of a very small handful of 12:30 acts. It could have been worse.
Big shouts to Shamir for pushing his set a few minutes over. I adore Shamir Bailey like any good Internet kid ought to (Ratchet is such a solid, danceable album and have you seen the video for “On the Regular”?)–but I was running late and had resigned myself to the fact that I’d be missing him. We walked up during what could have been the last song, based on the time, but Bailey managed to fit in two more, along with some very endearing stage banter. (Happy 21st birthday, Shamir!) As Nick Hanover tweeted, the actual clouds broke just as the band started in on “Head in the Clouds,” which was too perfect. It was hard not be charmed by Shamir’s performance; he’s sweet and a little shy but there’s a quiet confidence to his stage presence and he was able to get a festival crowd jumping at 2:50 in the afternoon, which is so impressive it ought to be on his resume. Also: that voice.
The first must-see of the day was Fucked Up at the Black Stage, bringing a set that remains a top contender for my favorite of the fest. That band, celebratory hardcore as Morgan Davis described them, feels like home to me and many others, and Damian Abraham made his and his bandmates’ mission statement loud and clear by almost immediately charging into the crowd for hugs–and I mean real neck-sweat-mingling hugs, not those weak and hovery charlatan hugs. It’s remarkable to watch a performer throw his whole body into a performance, to roar and scream and thrash, and also see how he welcomes the brightest-eyed smiles that creep on his face as he looks over the crowd. Every band member had a fully excellent set; I could watch Sandy Miranda and Ben Cook share energy and play back to back all day. To bring it all home, along with gushing about dozens of his favorite musicians and people, Damian Abraham dedicated “Police” to those who have been the victims of police brutality and shouted an earnest “black lives matter!” Does Fucked Up have a church yet? Can I join?
And things just kept getting better. Up against only Doug Benson way over at the Yellow Stage, Joey Bada$$ straight killed it on the Blue Stage to an audience that barely deserved just how tight and on he was. It bums me out how often festival-goers show up at hip hop sets with the primary goal of looking cool while getting stoned and Joey Bada$$, tearing it up on stage, called them out multiple times, with joviality but still very seriously, for being low-energy. And who can blame him; charging through “Paper Trail$” early in the set and only getting stronger from there, he totally commanded the stage and it was jarring to see a bored crowd even from a distance, so I can’t imagine what it looked like from the stage. He paused his set to call all his “real fans,” who’d been at his Friday Nites show, to the front of the crowd because they deserved to be up there to enjoy it and he deserved to have them there giving him love. I have to restate this: it was such a good performance. If you get the chance to see Joey Bada$$, do it.
I took a bit of a break from heavy listener-engagement after that, bobbing pleasantly along to a good and sincere Archers of Loaf performance that made me a bigger fan but also made me really miss Copper Blue-era Bob Mould because sometimes I’m a middle-aged dad in flannel.
After making some single-serving friends while I charged my phone, it was all Grimes prep from there. The crowd at Blue Stage was already heavily swollen even before Neon Indian took the stage at 6:15–blame the post-frat late-twenties set camped out for Wu-Tang Clan–and I waded in, lucky to have the sort of emotional and physical constitution that allows me to feel minimal guilt while remaining maximally polite as I move ever forward toward the stage. Neon Indian’s recording have always left me a little cold or, more accurately, so distracted that I’ll look up and realize the whole album has played and I didn’t notice. By contrast, his Blue Stage set was a wonderful surprise: high energy, totally engaging, really danceable, and generally a very fun time. I’m such a sucker for the type of eighties aesthetic Alan Palomo plunders and reconstructs with Neon Indian (and I want to know where I can buy that “night school” neon sign) and the guy knows how to put on a show. “61 Cygni Ave” was an album high that was even better live, and in fact by closing his set with “Polish Girl” he really only managed to highlight how much this project has grown and improved. That old crowd-pleaser felt almost quaint and boring.
But anyway Grimes. Because Grimes. Claire Boucher is a genius. As I and my fifth-row friends surged toward and away from one another with our feet only sometimes on the ground, Grimes was in the midst of the literal world-building she demands of herself and her music in order to fulfill her vision. Everything was perfectly orchestrated and creepily beautiful: her dancers, in airmen-style jumpsuits, her smoke and netting and wind and frenetic light, and her beats, which she still controls and builds entirely on her own throughout the show, just as she did in her totally DIY, jamming-econo afternoon set during Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011. At that pre-Visions show, I marvelled at this girl, arms in six places at once, draped in fabrics, scrunching her neck up to hold the mic while her hands were busy making music that sounded like if Tiffany got really into The Craft and then took a lot of Molly.
Now four years later, she has both the resources to build out her world and the professional experience to comfortably dart end-to-end across the stage and back to the booth to layer in a new sound (still with that mic held between shoulder and neck) a dozen times per song. Grimes has been fully realized and it is beautiful. She also writes the hell out of a song and showcased some of her best new stuff–anyone who doesn’t like “Go” can get out–along with the classics that first made us pay attention. “Oblivion” is as great as it’s ever been, one of the most remarkable pieces of art to come out of the type of terrifying experience that it did–Boucher’s experience as a victim of sexual assault. Screaming “see you on a dark night” with her, as a sort of confrontation/reclamation anthem, felt empowering and scary and human. The asset manager bro next to me could never understand.
Grimes was perfect, so I didn’t need to do much more at the fest after that. I watched some of Jane’s Addiction and Wu-Tang Clan from afar, noting how much of Wu-Tang’s show was really about the personal experiences of those in the crowd who want to be at a Wu-Tang show rather than the music itself. And when they broke out “C.R.E.A.M.,” which of course they were going to do, it brought to mind the Joey Bada$$ show from earlier in the day and the way he morphed that concept and criticized it with his “cash ruined everything around me” lament in the aforementioned “Paper Trail$.” It was a good moment of hip hop history and context playing out.
Even ambivalence toward the headliners (and muddy grounds), though, didn’t keep this from being a very solid Saturday.
American Football at the Parish
Throughout American Football’s set at the Parish I engaged in what we’ll call, say, Critical Evaluation with Flair. I’ve never listened to American Football and had always had a hard time wrapping my mind around who they are and what their deal is. Even now, and even with the proper historical contextualization courtesy of Morgan and the Internet, I am still confused by them. They are emo but lacking drama, their feelings are intense but generic, their music is “complex” but boring and safe. They are dressed like guys that order moscow mules but adored by kids that had to wear prescription bottle cap glasses in high school when that was actually dangerous. They’re like an amalgamation of the entire of cast of Freaks and Geeks, including the extras. And they’re trying really hard, which does matter, but it doesn’t seem to amount to much more than technically impressive noodling and very average lyrics.
So, yeah, I might have to start writing under a pseudonym now because I suspect this might possibly maybe be an “unpopular opinion.”
Kayleigh Hughes is an editor, freelance writer, and overthinker. In addition to contributing to Ovrld, Kayleigh is the film editor at Loser City and contributor to Pitchfork. Talk to her about literally anything–she doesn’t have that many friends–on twitter or via email.