As the Day for Night festival reached its twilight this Sunday, one thing was clear: this is the festival to bring your good drugs to.
Warmer weather and blockbuster acts brought out even larger crowds on day two of the festival (which ultimately had an attendance of 21,000, according to festival organizers). Early birds focused their attention on art: the line for “The Infinity Room” by Refik Anadol snaked nearly back to the blue stage, with attendees waiting upwards of an hour to enter the artist’s underwhelming box of mirrors. While the effect was mesmerizing enough, onlookers would have done better to spend that hour catching a few songs by local garage rockers Hearts of Animals or mystic synthpoppers Children of Pop, whose performances did not merit such sparse attendance.
The rest of the day’s music was a digital meltdown of electronic noise. His stage awash in infernal red light, Nicolas Jaar descended into a netherworld of moaning, droning, haunting sound. Industrial hip hop artists Death Grips played an overpowering, cathartic set, with lead singer MC Ride screaming through the throbbing beats of Zach Hill’s taunting drums. The volume on the red stage slowly crept upward, foreshadowing a night full of earthshaking sound.
Houston rap legend Bun B brought a dose of levity, “dabbing” with the audience to create “the trillest Christmas card ever.” He also hyped experimental DJ and rapper Flying Lotus, who brought an encyclopedic mix of deafening sounds to his set. The performance was one of ceaseless transition: FlyLo moved between sultry, ethereal electronic rhythms and raw, throaty rock guitar, all of it punching right in the chest. The disquieting rings of “Zodiac Shit” opened the door for Captain Murphy, FlyLo’s rap alter ego, who waxed with poetry and precision on “Between Friends.” (One wonders if the timely Star Wars references inspired this dip into his back catalog.)
But all of this was a mere preface to the Houston coronation of King Kendrick. Opening with To Pimp a Butterfly’s “For Free?” Kendrick Lamar slapped the audience across the face with a blisteringly fast scat, ratcheting up with the rallying cry of “This dick ain’t free.” Despite the charged energy of the lyrics and the pointed content of the album, Lamar moved into “Wesley” and “Institutionalized” apolitically, goading cheers from the audience with a genuine smile.
Lamar’s performance also stayed true to the old school, which Houston fans appreciated. Audience members rapped word for word on good kid, m.A.A.d city hits like “Swimming Pools” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” swaying, waving, and dancing to the languid beats. Lamar even handed over the mic to several audience members during “m.A.A.d city,” including an unexpected showstopper named Corporate Doe, the self-proclaimed “whitest motherfucker to ever rap next to Kendrick Lamar” who (it was universally agreed) killed it.
“Every time I come out here, the mood is right,” said Lamar after a rousing performance of “King Kunta.” To keep that mood right, Lamar relied on his repertoire of triumph, blasting the refrain of “I love myself” from the song “i” to a ecstatically jumping crowd. By then end, audience members begged for more, chanting the power anthem “We gon’ be alright” to bring the humble hip-hop monarch back to the stage. Lamar gave the audience what they wanted, with an extended version of “Alright,” a bonus performance of “A.D.H.D.,” and a promise: “I will be back.”
Lamar’s performance, as hoped, christened Day for Night a success. Can’t get a much better Christmas present than that.