sunday night Coachella-Headlining Performance What was definitely the most anticipated set of the festival was by enigmatic R&B star Frank Ocean. The singer, who hasn’t performed live in nearly six years, was set to headline the festival in 2020 before the pandemic hit, and then again last year before it was postponed to 2023.
Rumors were already swirling about the possibility of new music (Ocean hasn’t released an album since 2016’s “Blonde”), the possibility of a reunion with his Odd Future bandmates, and one last time as Ocean. The prospect of a performance as moving and revelatory as Southern California played, on an almost universally acclaimed headlining set has now gone awry FYF Festival during their brief tour in the summer of 2017.
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None of this happened. In fact, Ocean’s set—during which he and his musicians were purposely obscured by a cadre of people walking in a circle around him—was only seen on video projected on custom screens typically used at Coachella’s concert halls. The main stage was more spacious than it should have been—messy, loose, and a near-disaster that will likely go down in Coachella history as one of the most divisive, with flashes of talent that only made for a disappointing end result. : of despair and apparent audience WTF-ness. (Unlike almost every other set at the festival, Ocean’s and Björk’s, which preceded him on the main stage, were not livestreamed — a fact that didn’t become apparent until Sunday evening, leading to outrage and anguish online; YouTube Reps for Coachella and the two artists did not immediately respond. Diversityrequest for comment.)
The problems were apparent from the jump: the set began a full 57 minutes after its advertised start time, eating into a tight curfew for the venue, and the first five minutes involved people walking silently in a circle, surprising few. happened whether the ocean was to be visible at all. When he finally led his band through “Novacaine,” he looked great, his voice lifting up over the song’s reworked groove, but he could barely be seen on the giant video screen. (and it was impossible to see behind the wall of people walking individually). This scavenger hunt for the headliner would continue throughout the set, even after the wall of people had gone: Ocean and his band were far back on stage, much obscured by the screens – there was just a small opening to the actual stage – and no Too poor lighting from the lack of stagelights for even the most well-placed audience members to get even just a cursory glance of any of the musicians, let alone Ocean.
Pauses – Tall, pregnant, “What are we doing next?” Pauses were frequent between songs, and it seemed as though the setlist was mostly a series of onstage audibles. That’s fine if that’s the intent behind it, but instead he lauded himself before his band, his technique, and those occasional flashes of greatness: an acoustic “Pink and White” that spun with graceful finesse in a 3/4 shuffle. ; A percussive blast through “Wise Man” that makes it seem like Ocean had discovered — and then digested — years of hardcore punk bootlegs during the pandemic. And when Ocean finally acknowledged the audience on the mic, he did it before telling the audience that he used to go to Coachella with his brother Ryan (though he didn’t mention his brother’s tragic death in 2020). dispelled rumors of an imminent release. , “I know he would be very excited to be here with us.”
And for every possible course correction, came crashing down home. A DJ started playing in the middle of the set without any introduction or context, leading many to think the show was over; After only 15 minutes of dancey end-of-night beats, Ocean introduces DJ Crystal Mace, teasing Ocean’s radio show… or something?
If the pared-back stage set was a response to the choreographed nature of Coachella largesse by acts like Beyoncé and Blackpink, why have Ocean and his band completely obscured it from the audience instead of putting on a bare stage, which highlights the rawness of their music? Is there acceptance? Why get down on your nose to let a real kid “sing” about your inner child? Why lip-sync tracks of only two songs in their original arrangements if you have a full band? Why start so late that you’re cut off from curfew in a way that makes it seem like you live in a world in which time doesn’t exist? Perhaps some people understood these lines, but to the audience of a festival not necessarily made up of mortals, it felt like pure chaos.
In 2016, Ocean livestreamed (and eventually released) an album consisting of outrageous jams and instrumentals called “Endless”, which featured a video of himself apparently building a staircase out of blocks. The next day, he dropped his masterpiece “Blonde”. Was Sunday night’s performance another elaborate head fake, and he’ll be playing a real set during Weekend Two of Coachella? Only time will tell.
Ocean is beloved partly because of his unpredictable nature, and surely his most devoted fans will claim pure artistry as an excuse. That’s okay: Ocean should have the freedom to explore his creativity however he wants. That said, when it’s in front of 100,000 people who have been screaming to see you for years, a plan is more than useful: it’s essential. Hopefully, by next weekend, Ocean really will be the one.
Additional reporting by Jem Aswad.
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