Panorama 2017: Highlights & Observations,

Aug 04, 2017 Web Exclusive
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New York City’s Panorama is still a relatively young festival, having just completed its second year, which makes the smoothness with which it ran all that much more impressive. It’s the same crew that runs Coachella, so they're not exactly rookies, but any festival taking place on Randalls Island – a small strip of land east of Manhattan, mostly covered by parks and rec areas – seems destined to run into some problem or another. The worst thing Panorama faced this year was having the dance floor collapse in their club tent early on the first day of the festival, but even then only a few sets were canceled and the venue was repaired and running again by the following afternoon. Most attendees likely never knew any better.

Lines were short. Food options were plentiful. The all-important watering stations were ubiquitous, and the weather cooperated splendidly. Plus, the portable bathrooms were about as clean as you can realistically hope for at one of these things. What really struck me about the show, however, was how clean and eco-friendly the grounds were. Panorama had a by-no-means-small army of volunteers hovering at the perimeter of any crowd with garbage bags, ready to pounce the second a piece of litter fell to the grass. On top of that, the fest had a recycling program that incentivized attendees to pick up waste: festival-goers could gather glass, metal, and plastic containers and trade them in for a variety of prizes ranging from t-shirts to classy water bottles, to VIP wristband upgrades. It was really cool – like collecting Kool Aid points when you were a kid, but instead of Kool Aid points, it was garbage. This led to probably the most squeaky-clean festival experience I’ve ever had.

You can read our personal Panorama highlights below, and there will be a full photo gallery coming soon. 

alt-J drew in Saturday's most eager crowd

It seems like at any outdoor festival, there’s one band whose fan presence seems to far outweigh their placement on the schedule. They may not have been the headliners, but judging by the number of alt-J t-shirts in the crowd on Saturday – not to mention the massive turnout for their early evening set – you could have easily mistaken them for the night’s top billing. They didn’t let their fans down, playing nine tracks from their stellar 2012 debut (nearly the album’s entirety) to an audience able to sing along with every word. (The rest of their set was more evenly split between their two following records.) If their draw continues to grow at this wild rate, we wouldn’t be surprised to see alt-J headlining a Randalls Island festival by the time a fourth album eventually drops.

Belle and Sebastian dove into their back catalog

It has to be hard for a band that’s been at it for 20+ years to shave down their live show to fit into a truncated summer festival spot. The beloved Scottish troupe had a mere 55 minutes to work with on Saturday afternoon, which was hardly enough to fully represent a discography nine albums deep – not to mention an upcoming release of some sort, rumored to be just over the horizon. Stuart Murdoch and company seemed to play things safe and put on a lively, crowd-pleasing set heavy on older tracks, including three songs from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister (“Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” “Seeing Other People,” and “Like Dylan in the Movies”) and five more from the band’s first decade. Hopefully, though, if and when Belle and Sebastian play another Randalls Island gig, the festival organizers spring to buy Stuart Murdoch a ferry ticket; judging by the amount of times he mentioned it to the audience, the Scottish indie icon sounded really disappointed that he didn’t have the opportunity to cross Harlem River by boat.

Future Islands are still the best live band on the road

Any good live band will leave their audience feeling satisfied at the end of their set. It’s the great ones, though, who leave their audiences dying to know when they’ll be playing their city again. Future Islands is one of the great ones. The whole band contributes, but it's singer and frontman Samuel T. Herring – whose wide-eyed stare and chest pounding feel like someone spliced Henry Rollins’ intensity with Meat Loaf’s theatrics – who steals the show with his hyper-athletic performance. Herring swept from one side of the stage to the other, back and forth, howling and crooning through a set of Far Field and Singles cuts in a variety of deep squats, kick-dances, and other surely hip-obliterating dance moves. (I’ve seen NFL players tear ACLs bending their legs in far less impressive ways. How does he do this night after night?) With as much love and energy as Herring puts into his performances, it won’t be surprising if he's forced to do live shows with robotic knees in ten years. But, that’s all the more reason to see them as much now as you can – his sacrifice is for his audience’s enjoyment.  

Girl Talk (plus 20 or so) proves DJs can look just as crazy as rock frontmen

As much as I enjoy Gregg Gillis’ albums – which mash cheesy rock and pop tunes with filthy rap lyrics – I was skeptical going in to his live show. I’ve never been a huge fan of DJ sets, and would much rather see artists doing something live – how exciting can a show be when it’s pre-recorded music? Well, Girl Talk proved me wrong. Emerging on stage in a full sweat suit, Gillis was soon joined on stage by an ensemble 20+ strong, who were flanked on both sides by an oversized pair of inflatable sneakers. Gillis himself turned clicking around on his laptop into a full-body aerobics workout, bouncing maniacally until sweat poured down his face and it became necessary for him to strip down to his shorts. The audience followed suit – dancing, that is, not stripping. It was one hell of a fun set, and I’ll forever eat my words about a DJ not being able to put on a spectacle worth watching.

Glass Animals put on an energetic, aerobic show of their own

Dave Bayley is a nut. Although putting anyone’s stage antics up against Sam Herring’s freak athletic performance is just unfair, Bayley came in a clear second place. Throughout Glass Animals’ Sunday set – almost entirely culled from their latest album, How to be a Human Being – the singer was all over the stage, hamming it up especially hard for the cameras gathered up front. For their early hit, “Gooey,” Bayley left the stage behind him to perform in the tightly-packed crowd. (And although the band probably had nothing to do with it, the pair of lifesize blowup dolls that crowd-surfed over the audience the entire time they played added a lot of entertainment value to Glass Animals' set.)

A Tribe Called Quest bids their hometown farewell

A Tribe Called Quest have announced that their current tour will be their last, making their Sunday evening show at Panorama their final gig in their hometown of NYC. Unsurprisingly, it was an emotional show for everyone, with Q-Tip thanking the group’s fans for supporting them since 1988. Tribe paid tribute to the late Phife Dawg – who passed away last year – throughout the show, projecting images of their lost brother on the overhead screens and sharing Phife’s raw vocal track from the Low End Theory classic “Butter.” You’d never have thought that one day people would get choked up listening to those particular verses, but there weren’t many dry eyes in my section of the audience. 



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September 22nd 2017

Thanks, great article!