DJ KozeSetting the tone with a very chill '70s pop tune to start — Kenny Rankin's "Peaceful" — before moving into a trippy mix of psychedelic house, DJ Koze's set was perfectly suited to both the relaxed, hippy vibe of FORM and the languorous mood of a festival's Sunday night. Effortlessly moving from American soul classics and African rarities to deep house grooves and current club hits like Four Tet's "Only Human," and interspersing his own tracks in between, the German DJ's eclectic set was perfect for both those too tired to hit the floor one last time and those still ready to get down.
In fact, it was the way Koze closed his set that made it truly unforgettable. The one-two punch began with his already-iconic-despite-coming-out-last-year "Pick-Up," its marvelous, sampled lyrics — "I guess neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye" — capturing perfectly the bittersweet mood of the evening. We didn't want it to end. We didn't want to say goodbye. But we all have to return to normalcy eventually, which Koze expressed in his final track: a remix of Gerry Read's "It'll All Be Over." I don't think it's too on the nose, do you? Douglas Markowitz
Fred ArmisenNo one onstage at FORM’s Amp stage during this year’s fest got a more rapturous response from the crowd than the shaggy gray cat that wandered on toward the end of Fred Armisen’s set. Right as the comic finished playing “This Is My Street,” one of two Documentary Now! songs he capped his set off with (the other being “Catalina Breeze”), the cat stealthily scampered on and started roaming around the drum kit Armisen had onstage. The cat wasn’t a plant — it had tried to do the same thing at yesterday’s Pussy Riot set before it gave up halfway down the ramp and ambled away. But Armisen treated the cat’s arrival like it was a part of the show, segueing into playing Portlandia’s “Whisker Patrol” song while the cat wandered away and glared at the audience who was showering it with hoots and claps.
The feline frenzy at the end of his set was a nice cherry on top of an outstanding comedy set. If the quality of Armisen’s set, tourmate Mary Lynn Rajskub's killer Mother's Day jokes about her C-section and libertarian husband, and the audience’s enthusiastic response is any indicator, FORM should consider booking more comics next year — people were still buzzing about his set hours later. Armisen’s set was almost entirely centered around music jokes, with a diversion into doing accents on command later in the show. Whether he was riffing on the session drummer’s frustrated state of mind on “I’m Coming Out” or suggesting that doo-wop at one point was the heavy metal of the 1950s, Armisen’s jokes were hyper-specific and hilarious. It takes a rare talent to base an entire comic routine around a Slint song, but Armisen’s just the kind of nerd to pull it off. By the time he got to his “brief history of punk drumming” demo, it almost felt like he was showing off. Ashley Naftule
After decades as one of the most prominent black art forms on earth, jazz entered a sort of fallow period in the '80s just as hip-hop began to pick up steam. The former genre had alienated its audience with its '70s experiments and was becoming the stuff of corporate lobbies, while the latter was the fresh new kid on the block, using many components of jazz such as samples to build a new musical language that appealed to a new generation of musicians and listeners.
But jazz pianist Robert Glasper’s music makes it seem as though none of that ever happened, and that hip-hop is simply an extension of jazz, and that jazz is going nowhere. His band started their set with a DJ playing old-school hip-hop from Nas and Tribe Called Quest before transitioning into a sprawling version of Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” — an unlikely standard of his sets — that featured frenetic drumming, tempo changes, spacey delay effects, and a sample of a Martin Luther King speech manipulated live (“Stand up for truth! Stand up for justice!”). The rest of the set included a musical comedy routine set to a J Dilla beat, madvillain’s “meat grinder,” and more deeply impressive instrumentals.
These were not mere covers. These were new additions to a growing repertoire for jazz as a whole, one that represents more than aging standards, one that understands the only way for an art form to grow is to get with the times. The proof is all around: Since Glasper began recording in the mid-2000s, jazz has come back in full force thanks to the likes of Flying Lotus, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Glasper’s own collaborator Kendrick Lamar. It’s a sea change that’s even more impressive to see up close. DM
Lonnie Holley doesn’t just have a gravelly voice — he sounds like he has a lung full of literal gravel. The music that pours out of his guts sounds like it rolls and cuts its way out of him, like the very act of singing pains him. He tears at the notes he spills into the mic like they’re bones and he’s trying to suck the marrow out of every one of them.
An experimental musician and sculptor, Holley’s sound is timeless and hard to classify. It sounds like a swirl of jazz, blues, industrial noise, and pastoral folk. At times, the cosmic sweep of his music reminded us of Talk Talk circa Laughing Stock, but instead of Mark Hollis’s disembodied, airy voice, you’ve got Halley’s deeply emotive croons, groons, and whistles as the center holding everything together.
Holley brought songs like “I Threw My Head Back” to life onstage with a mix of trumpets, keys, and drums. By the time he got to his closing number, the harrowing “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America,” you could hear a pin drop in the amphitheater. An apocalyptic song full of empty spaces, it sounds like Holley decided to pay Led Zeppelin back for their years of blues-stealing by jacking the menacing lulls in “No Quarter” for his own use. Holley’s set ended with a standing ovation and shouts from the crowd to play one more song. Holley grinned and threw up two thumbs-up. “Thumbs up to the universe,” he said, and then he left. AN
After the ageless, guttural wailing of Lonnie Holley came a set at the amphitheater that harked back to a very specific moment in time. Snail Mail embodies the best attributes of '90s DIY indie rock: the rough sonics, the self-aware and brutally honest lyrics (taking a page from one of her inspirations, Liz Phair), and the not-quite-ready-for-primetime stage presence. Jordan and her band, backing her guitar and vox with drums, bass, and keys, had a casual, off-the-cuff energy onstage. It felt more like they were playing a living room than a music festival.
Kicking things off with a noisy jam that segued into the delicate opening chords of “Heat Wave,” Snail Mail played through a good chunk of Lush, Jordan’s buzz-worthy debut LP. Songs like “Full Control” and “Pristine” drew appreciative claps and howls from the audience. It’s hard to deny that there were moments were the band’s low-stakes approach to playing was a little too low-stakes. Certainly, were times throughout the set where my attention started to wander. The songs are great, but the sound is an unpolished gem, and Snail Mail just needs that extra bit of style and flair to make her and the band a more compelling live act. AN
Julie Byrne“Back on tour, driving through Southwestern towns,” Julie Byrne sang before a hushed and attentive afternoon crowd. The difference between Byrne’s speaking and singing voice is night and day. Talking quietly into the mic between songs, her voice is soft-spoken, a librarian’s whisper. But when she starts singing songs like “Natural Blue,” her voice sounds as expansive as the Southwestern blue sky she’s singing about. Byrne has Enya pipes, a languorous voice that manages to have more force and volume behind it than most metal singers can pull off. It’s a neat trick, to sound like you’re half-asleep while singing loud enough to wake the dead.
A diaphanous white curtain, dappled with violet shadows from the stage lights, fluttered behind Byrne and her band. She was backed by a harpist, a keys player, a violinist, and guest vocalist Julianna Barwick, whose own take on New Age siren-song music serenaded the swimmers at FORM on Friday.
While Byrne sang about a blue sky early on in her set, the sky above FORM was still gray and cloudy. A light chilly breeze continued to filter through the amphitheater. Her voice was like the sun breaking through a hazy cloud bank on that Sunday afternoon, offering some grace notes and melodic solemnity before the evening’s closing DJ sets. AN
This didn't have to happen. After that wonderful, peaceful DJ Koze set, our boy Sonny Moore starts his set with his anarchic, disruptive, unbelievably obnoxious remix of "Sicko Mode." He followed this up with an hour and a half of awful EDM bombast, as if the idyllic environs of Arcosanti had suddenly been paved over to make way for an EDC satellite festival. It was a repugnant set: The transitions were too quick, nothing matched from track to track, the textures were ugly and atonal, and the whole set practically undid a weekend's worth of rest and relaxation thanks to its unbearable loudness. This didn't have to happen.
The crazy thing is that this is a yearly tradition. FORM has been inviting Skrillex to play the fest since its establishment due to the fact that one of their co-founders is in Hundred Waters, which is on Moore's label OWSLA. But it's a tradition that ought to be rethought, especially if Skrill is going to be doing his thing on Sunday, right before everybody has to go back to work in the morning. DM