Is it easier to deal with frustration in paradise? Arcosanti may be a little Eden in the Arizona mountains, but emergency schedule changes and delays, as well as a little bit of afternoon rain, plagued Saturday evening at FORM. Kelsey Lu began her set more than 30 minutes after it was supposed to begin, while Channel Tres had to move up and cut short his electric performance to accommodate FORM's need to keep things running.
Nevertheless, day two impressed, thanks not only to the fantastic performers at the fest, but also to interesting amenities and programming like a book club meeting hosted by Florence Welch, an art class taught by Lonnie Holley, and a surprise drag show right after Kelsey Lu's delayed performance. Read all the details below, and check back tomorrow for our recap of FORM's final day, along with the winners and losers of the festival.
FORM isn’t a festival that rests on its laurels. Every new iteration tweaks the format in some way. This year added some welcome new wrinkles, like top-up wristbands (turning FORM into a cashless/cardless economy for the weekend), hot water for the camp showers, and the activation of the Vaults as a regular performance space. But one of the most interesting changes was the traditional day two set from Skrillex being moved to Sunday night. (A late-night Skrillex set down in the canyon or in the Mind Gardens after the last of the Saturday acts wrapped up was practically a hallowed FORM tradition.)
Not in 2019, tho. The Skrillex spot went to Canadian DJ Kaytranada, whose warped and fluid beats put day two of FORM to bed. Sharing the stage with collaborator Anderson .Paak was a wise move: .Paak brought the house down and danced on top of its remains during his show-stopping performance. In the words of Pavement, .Paak has style for miles and miles. Anyone following in his fleet footsteps is going to have a devil of a time topping him. So as the saying goes — if you can’t beat ‘em, collab ‘em.
Positioned behind a LED wall, Kaytranada rained bone-rattling, booty-shaking beats on Arcosanti. And with a jam-packed, combustible audience just itching for a chance to lose their minds to jams like “GLOWED UP,” Kaytranada and .Paak didn’t have to do much to win them over. Seeing Kaytranada and .Paak at work, we could see the wisdom of Skrillex being moved to Sunday night. After this one-two punch of celestial funk, only the most diehard of party monsters would have any gas in their tank left for a Skrillex set. Ashley Naftule
Art Workshop With Lonnie Holley
One of the more unusual nonmusical programs at FORM this year was an art workshop taught by Lonnie Holley, the Alabaman artist famous for assembling sculptures out of whatever he can find. For a small group at the Apse, he explained, in his own unique way, his artistic process while constructing one of these pieces from cast-off material gathered around Arcosanti: bricks; chicken wire; rusty, metal milk crates, fluorescent construction string, etc. Some of his musings were philosophical (all the material he uses, he said, comes from the earth in one way or another), others nonsensical (something about how we all have an ass in our brain, and that we need to ride it), and in between was some solid, if koan-like, advice about making art ("It's not about magic, it's about making art"). At the end, all the “students” watching lined up around the stage to add their own touch to the artwork from the materials provided. Douglas Markowitz
When Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar takes the stage at the Apse for a solo acoustic set, he looks deeply bored and aloof. Maybe it's the whole philosophy professor look he’s got going on: wild hair, gray-specked beard, shirt unbuttoned pretty deep. But when he starts playing, as silly as it sounds to say this, he becomes utterly captivating.
That’s the thing about Destroyer: They are the epitome of the overly-literary indie band. Bejar’s lyrics are full of baroque drama and Hollywood glamour, as dense and detailed as a Pynchon novel, and you really have to listen well to make sense of them. Divorcing these songs of their studio instrumentals and having the guy play them using only an acoustic guitar and his high-pitched, faux-European vocal affectation, like a version of the pretentious asshole playing guitar at a college party that’s actually good, is a good move, because it allows us to focus only on those lyrics. And performing in the idyllic space of Arcosanti allows us to block out even more distractions and really think about what these songs provoke in us, or to simply enjoy their poetic, surface-level beauty.
Of course, Bejar himself had more practical concerns. “I don’t normally play guitar," he said at one point, "so I fucked up by putting this wristband on my right hand." DM
You couldn’t have asked for a better setting for Mary Lattimore’s unearthly harp music. The weather over Arcosanti on Saturday was turning breezy and gray. Beyond the horizon of the canyon, we could see sheets of rain coming down, but it was still dry in the Amphitheatre when Mary Lattimore took the stage.
Alone onstage, Lattimore played her instrument at a tipped angle, like the harp was a drunk friend she was trying to hold upright. The awning suspended over the stage, a green sheet covered in an array of lines that made it look like a giant insect’s wing, fluttered and whipped in the air while Lattimore’s hands nimbly darted across the strings. She played the harp with a brutal intensity, as though her fingers were trying to violently pry the notes out of the strings.
The music Lattimore plucked out of her leaning harp was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The strings chimed and vibrated in the air, creating sounds that could have been recorded echoing off the walls of a fairy’s cave. And while much of the music she played had a crystalline beauty to it, there were pleasing moments of harshness, like the percussive knocks on “Otis Walks Into The Woods” that shoot through the quiet moments in the song like a loose rock tumbling down a ravine. And while her music has a certain otherworldly vibe to it, Lattimore’s stage presence was refreshingly down to earth, especially when she cracked a joke about cannibals while explaining why she called one of her songs “The Warm Shoulder.” AN
Anderson .Paak might be too good at his job. That may be why his set on Saturday evening, pushed back to an 11:20 start time, left me so cold — and no, it wasn’t due to the 50-degree temperatures. Supported by his incredibly adept band The Free Nationals — their trumpet player opened the set with a terrific solo as the rest came onstage to join in — .Paak switched between singing, rapping, dancing, and bashing away on an enormous drum kit with a gratuitous amount of cymbals. His music incorporated hip-hop, funk, jazz, and R&B into a high-energy genre slurry, speeding through number after number at a breakneck pace with only one goal: entertain. After listening to the entire set, I’m convinced that the guy is going to be a massive star, the next Bruno Mars, perhaps. And yet, none of it really made me feel anything. It was flawless technically, but it was all flash and no substance. By skipping around and covering every conceivable angle, .Paak fails to give himself any distinction. His talent is obvious, but that’s all there is to him. By the middle of the set, despite the clash of the drums, the crush of the bass, and the roar of the crowd loving every second, I was literally nodding off. DM
The lead-in to Pussy Riot’s triumphant late afternoon set was almost better than the show itself. The swooning strains of Sigur Ros played over the speakers while a cloud of tiny white specks floated through the crowd. The wind carried the feathery substance — really seeds blown off the trees ringing Arcosanti — throughout the amphitheater, creating a makeshift snowstorm. Watching those tiny white bits floating in the air while Sigur Ros played in the background, it felt like we were in the inside of some gigantic snow globe.
It was such a breathtaking sight that when Pussy Riot came out and started playing, the transition from “Winter Wonderland” to protest punk was pretty jarring. But the collective brought plenty of flair and panache to their performance. The group wore neon hazmat jackets, red coats, and orange scarves; Ringleader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had black marks on her forehead that made it look like she had a second set of eyes peering out over her real ones.
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This wasn’t Tolokonnikova’s first time in front of an audience at FORM. Earlier in the day, she shared the stage with Florence Welch for Florence’s "Between Two Books" book club panel. Talking about her work as a writer and activist, Tolokonnikova said, “I’m addicted to the feeling of being bold — I’m an activist junkie.” Boldness is a good word to describe Pussy Riot’s stage presence: confrontational yet jubilant, hard-edged and earnest about the terrible state of the world but also eager to have a good time with the people they’re sharing space with. They sing agitprop songs like “Police State” as though they were straight-up party anthems. And considering the number of people dancing in the crowd throughout their set, Pussy Riot could give The Rapture a run for their money if they ever decided to go from protest-punks to full-on dance-punks. AN
Switched at the last minute with Anderson .Paak’s set time, Channel Tres’ fantastic set was an exercise in doing the most with the least. Flanked by two dancers and wielding nothing more than a mic with a delay setting, the Compton native took the FORM crowd through a raucous set full of house beats, effortlessly cool raps, and just a hint of new jack swing flair. Tres is a captivating man thanks to his deep, expressive vocals, but what really sets him apart is the incredible dance routines from him and his backup crew — we’re talking backflips, poses that would fit in a vicious drag ball, and other incredible feats. Alongside new songs like “Sexy Black Timberlake” and a bass-heavy new song called “Black Moses” that would make Lil B proud, he dedicated his tropical tune “Brilliant Nigga On My Way” to the fallen Nipsey Hussle and his incarcerated brother. He also gave out health tips: “Water is good for your ass, man!” DM