Pemberton’s last day was like the queen on the festival’s chessboard. Along with bands that are beloved by the underground, like Foxygen and St. Vincent, the day also featured some of the most popular musicians on the surface of the planet, like crooner Frank Ocean and back-from-the-dead headliners Outkast. Smaller acts took the chance to let their personalities do the talking, both with onstage shenanigans and with incredibly moving pieces of visual and conceptual art. Larger ones, while not so inclined to take risks, demonstrated rebellion in their own ways, going over set time limits and playing a few lesser-known tunes instead of just repeating the old standards. It was Pemberton’s most intriguing day, and we’ve outlined it for you all here.
Even though his set began in the wee hours of the morning well after the day’s headliners had gone home, the long lineup for Flying Lotus was anxious to see the electronica icon’s set. The stage was eerily lit by a semi-translucent screen, bathing FlyLo in blue light as smoke and the dull shine of glowsticks drifted through the air. Flying Lotus has excels in creating tangible landscapes with his music, and he brings the same fervor to his stage design; you almost felt like he was in another dimension. The marriage of the visual and the audial, something which Flying Lotus often employs, made the entire experience almost otherworldly. The quality of his audio was pristinely preserved, with his trademark bass-heavy tracks as clear and heavy as on the record. He was told by festival reps that he didn’t have time for an encore, but FlyLo finished by throwing caution to the wind with a remix of Rick Ross’s “Hold Me Back”. Sorry, Pemberton. There are no limits on Flying Lotus.
Californian indie rockers Foxygen were more dedicated to having a good time than playing their music. They and their faithful audience looked like they had just returned from an all-day excursion to the local thrift shop. Frontman Sam France was the life of the party, posing for photographs, screaming, and trying to throw anything he could lift off the stage. Synth player Jonathan Rado was more nuanced with his humour, sticking to terrible yet hilarious impressions of Kendrick Lamar. Foxygen’s music, laden with 60s nostalgia, was pleasant after the barrage of electronica and hip hop that had dominated the past few days, but ultimately their shenanigans stole the show.
With a name like Fucked Up – and a history of violent crowds and drug use at shows to match it – you’ll forgive us for deciding to watch the hardcore band’s performance from a relatively safe distance. Lead singer Damian Abraham – also known as Pink Eyes – barely spent any time on stage. Instead he spent the show screaming at the audience from the edge of the barrier. Partially friendly banter, mixed with some opinionated marijuana promotion, and, surprisingly, a little bit of real music. Similar to Foxygen, the antics of the frontman stole the show away from the music. Luckily, it was entertaining enough so that most of the audience didn’t seem to mind. Rock on.
Annie Clark, AKA St. Vincent, is known for her eclectic and sometimes downright strange performances, but not even Empire of the Sun and the last season of Adventure Time could have prepared us for the sheer weirdness of her set. Clark began by embracing the theme of the “Digital Witness” that she explored on her recent eponymous record, moving with robotic smoothness around her stage, which was decked out in royal colours of pale grey and purple, with a giant inflatable shark– yes, a you read that correctly– affixed on her left. Clark herself was dressed like a Roman goddess, her hair suspended in a scarily static bun on her head like a grotesque crown. Clark’s guitar prowess is unrivaled at this festival, putting even the veteran rockers to shame. She plays with such technical perfection that, once again, we have to ask if she’s actually an android.
As she neared the end of her set, finishing up with singles off of her eponymous record, Clark stepped off the stage onto a security guard’s shoulders, spat out a glassful of wine, and then returned to the stage in the fetal position. Did that symbolize rejection of substances to modify human emotion? A rebellion against the robotic nature of the rest of her set? Was it maybe just incredibly bad wine? We’re still questioning the nature of reality itself after that set.
Modest Mouse is undoubtedly one of the most influential acts in their genre of all time, having penned some of the most influential and experimental records of the 2000s. Sadly, to most of Pemberton they were just the “Float On” band. Frontman Isaac Brock knew this, curtailing his ire behind friendly banter and jokes about whether or not Jagermeister is a country. The band (and boy, there are a lot of them when playing live) played through some of their lesser known with gusto whenever they got the chance, although it was painfully obvious only half the crowd knew them. Inevitably, they were forced the end with the arching arpeggios of “Float On”, which worked the otherwise lukewarm crowd into a frenzy. Modest Mouse is an incredibly talented band, but when cut off from their true fanbase, they can’t seem to escape the song that launched them into the mainstream.
Speaking from experience, nothing gets a crowd moving like the promise of André 3000 in a jumpsuit. As the first strains of old school rap began to flow from the Pemberton stage, the grounds of the festival looked like a buffalo migration in the Serengeti as thousands of fans streamed towards the sounds of the Atlanta-based rappers. You can’t blame them either—with hits like “Hey Ya” and “Ms. Jackson” worming their way into the subconscious of the generation, it was hard not to be sucked into the atmosphere at the show. Onstage, the duo blasted through a career-spanning setlist, reaching back for some older material in celebration of their 20th anniversary. The resulting show was encompassing, with projections shining every which way—even the trees beside the stage were lit to show demonic faces peering from the forest.
Some visuals fell flat, however. With such advanced technology, it’s a shame that OutKast put it to use projecting half naked women on every screen. While the drunk male portion of the audience hollered away, the ladies in the crowd grew distinctly quieter as a borderline-pornographic display took place in front of them. With the rap group inviting women onstage “as long as [they] don’t have any panties on” and persuading intoxicated girls to flash their breasts on camera, OutKast performed what became an uncomfortable, sexist set for many in the audience.
If we can look past the objectification of women, André 3000 and Big Boi had all the ingredients for an incredible show: wild audience members, old-school tunes, incredible visual displays, and enough energy in their performance to power an atom bomb. It’s not to say that the sexism ruined the show, far from it. But it would have been far, far better without.
The issue with being at the tail-end of a festival like Pemberton is what while you might have the last laugh, your audience has spent three days running, screaming, moshing, drinking, and generally not getting any sleep. Ocean’s soft, tender lyrics and ambient beats were needed at the end of three days of musical chaos, and those audience members who could still stand at least put in the effort to sway to the music slowly. The biggest hit was Ocean’s epic rhapsody “Pyramids”, the story of a woman of the night putting in late hours at a strip club. As bizarre as it might sound, it fit the mood perfectly.