After two years in Philadelphia, the Made in America fest crossed the country, with two days remaining in the City of Brotherly Love and two days taking root in L.A.'s Grand Park. United by a giant video obelisk and twin Kanye West performances, the festival once again included diverse live sets, (mostly) beautiful weather and more American flag T-shirts than you could count. Here are the 20 best things we saw during its two days, across its two cities. By Gavin Edwards and Jeff Rosenthal.
"I want to just take a second to do a … really underground song. Probably something no one's heard, hope you all don't mind," said Kanye, introducing – facetiously – "All of the Lights." For the past few years, we've only seen claws and bite, but here he was playful, dropping lines like, "If they hate me for only telling the truth, they life is a lie." At one point, he deaded rumors that he and Jay Z were on less-than-good terms; at another, he laughed, "I be at these award shows thinking I'm the only one who's not crazy." There were plenty of bon mots, even more #classics. Word was that he was set to debut two new ones, and while that didn't happen, at least we know his current mood. J.R.
The last man standing on either coast was Kanye West, closing down the Los Angeles show with a triumphant set. The show was largely the same as his Philadelphia set the night before, except that he held down his customary "rant" (on his celebrity blurring the lines in his art and his life) to under five minutes – out of respect, he said, to Jay Z and Roc Nation (who needed to make the local curfew). While we welcome lengthy West disquisitions on anything from the Annunciation to Cap'n Crunch, the extra time gave him space to include a great version of "Clique." And sure, he repeated "Blood on the Leaves" in the encore after playing it the main set, but it sounded great both times. He could have repeated "Runaway," "Black Skinhead," and "Jesus Walks," and nobody would have minded.
West went to extraordinary lengths to distance himself from his own show, performing much of it in silhouette and wearing Martin Margiela full-face masks that looked as if somebody had crocheted fencing headgear. West invited the crowd to consider the body of his work, not the human vessel flailing, stomping and rapping in front of a bright red video screen (or footage of a waterfall). But the show was such an expression of his idiosyncratic genius – arrogant, religious, off-kilter – that it was impossible to imagine anyone else on that stage. G.E.
Kendrick Lamar had an hour and a half allotted for his set – but he wasn't onstage for the first 45 minutes, turning his time over to his compatriots at Top Dawg Entertainment, including Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q. They all acquitted themselves well, but Schoolboy Q particularly killed it, windmilling around the stage as he energetically performed selections from his recent Oxymoron.
When Lamar finally emerged, he took control, telling the crowd "I go by the name of Kendrick Motherfucking Lamar." A Los Angeles native, he was the crowd's favorite on Saturday – multiple fans were sporting "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" T-shirts – and they lustily sang along to "m.A.A.d city," "P&P" and especially "Swimming Pools (Drank)." A supple six-piece band (including a live drummer and a DJ) backed up the whole TDE crew, expanding the synths of West Coast funk into something as ominous and gripping as a horror movie soundtrack. G.E.
For the past two years Imagine Dragons have been touring relentlessly behind their debut album, and during their Saturday L.A. headlining slot, singer Dan Reynolds told the crowd that the show would be their last until they have a new album (which he promised would be next year: "I feel like we have a lot of growth to do"). So the band pulled out every live trick they've learned, starting with huge blasts of stage smoke in three out of the first four songs. Various members regularly switched to drums (a trendy but effective move also seen from bands such as Haim, Weezer and Franz Ferdinand); Reynolds gave earnest inspirational speeches about following your dreams; and during a cover of Blur's "Song 2," the singer jumped into the audience for some crowd-surfing. About the only thing missing was their hit mash-up with Kendrick Lamar, which seemed strange – maybe Lamar had a plane to catch? G.E.
"I'm really upset they're not letting the press out here right now, so we could show them what it looks like for 100,000 people to be happy," said Pharrell, going on to suggest that problems in the Middle East could be alleviated if only they'd see that mass-happiness was possible, or something. His later call for "more female coders, more female doctors, more female artists" was considerably more effective, especially because there were more women onstage during his set than at any other time throughout the festival's run.
Elsewhere, Pharrell tipped his cap to local hip-hop legends like Roscoe P. Coldchain, Oschino and Sparks, Ab-Liva, Major Figgaz, Philly's Most Wanted and performed everything from Girl's recent hits to those he created with Nelly, with Daft Punk, with Jay Z and beyond. J.R.
Iggy Azalea carried herself onstage like she was balancing a dictionary on her head – even when she was rapping about "pussy, pussy, pussy." With pink lipstick, a ponytail and extremely short shorts, Azalea split the difference between finishing school and the strip club: She can star in a 21st-century My Fair Lady, learning elocution lessons with phrases like "the bitches in Michigan are mainly rich again."
Joined by a DJ, two backup singers and four backup dancers, Azalea efficiently spat out rhymes like "classic, Sinatra/bad, Phantom of the Opera," and on "Black Widow," collaborator Rita Ora appeared to sing her hook. "This is the single!" Azalea announced. To the delight of the L.A. crowd, she proceeded to feel up Ora's chest. G.E.
The Los Angeles venue stages named "Marilyn," "James Dean," and "Dylan," while the Philadelphia featured stages called "Liberty," "Freedom," and "Rocky." But the two cities came together through the magic of live video streaming: Fans who walked by a white obelisk near the booths devoted to charitable causes could see their counterparts on the other side of the country. Some people just waved to the other coast. Some took selfies of themselves posing next to people three time zones away (thereby ripping a hole in the space-time continuum). Frat boys mimed for girls to lift their shirts, and when that tactic failed, attempted breakdance spin moves. People grooved to music that went unheard 2,700 miles away. And on both sides of the country, people showed up for the festival in American-flag apparel and 2pac T-shirts. G.E.
Bookended by covers of "Mannish Boy" and "All Along the Watchtower," Mayer's set showcased his guitar chops and laid claim to the lineage of the Grateful Dead — skillful soloing, backed up by double drum kits, underrated songwriting. G.E.
Singer Rivers Cuomo identified Weezer as hailing from Santa Monica and played a crowd-pleasing set full of singles, often adding extended introductions before beginning the proper song. The best came with "Island in the Sun," which sported a whole new opening verse. As he strummed, Cuomo sang, "I was married just yesterday on the beach / Between tower 26 and tower 27 / Riding the waves / On sunny Santa Monica, whoa-oh / I'm amazed / Let's say after the show tonight / We all head down to the beach / Light up some bonfires / Party all night long / Until the sun comes up… / Just Weezer and 30,000 Weezer fans / Just chilling / It's like we're on an island in the sun." G.E.
In any given minute, Grimes is running around, remembering to hit the keys and recording into the MPC. Then she's shifting this knob and running to hit her mark here and throwing her hair around and doing an Olivia Newton-John bop step again but oh! She has to drop this rhythm first and, yes, kneel to take a sip from that red cup. She is a force, as strong as the wind. Blink and it's possible to miss something, but you'll still feel everything. J.R.
"Sing that shit with your mouth," Chance the Rapper instructed the West Coast crowd when he wanted them to get louder. Elsewhere, he told them, "You never heard this song before, but you got to sing it," "I'm trying to look y'all in the eyes, so you got to look at me," and "We got a really short set, but I'm going to try to play you some new stuff, because I don't give a fuck." He also consistently referred to the audience as "America," where other rappers might have been content with "L.A."
Chance's motormouth was matched with hyperactive feet: He bunny-hopped across the stage, spun around and danced so fast that he almost tripped himself up. He performed mixtape songs, notorious tracks and unknown material – but had such exuberance for all of it, his entire set felt like a victory party. G.E.
"I need to see girls on shoulders," said Chromeo's Dave 1, looking out onto a crowd that spread in all directions. "I see three over here, four, seven…" He counted until the numbers got too high, at which point the electro-funk duo launched into appropriate jam "Over Your Shoulder." What couldn't be seen from the stage was just as great and weird: In one spot, a group of 40 strangers did a spontaneous (and never-ending) electric slide; in another, a shirtless drunk tried to play hacky sack with his sandal before a group of girls who took it away, then returned to complete the hack. On Instagram, @Chromeo thanked those who had been climbing light posts and trees, but their kind words could've been extended even to the people goofing around on the ground. J.R.
"Who the fuck is on Instagram?" These words echoed loud across downtown Philadelphia, the exact location where the creators of this country cracked bells and signed Declarations of Independence. "Tonight I'm going to introduce you to my neon future," Aoki said, running like a wood nymph around the giant LED-lit stage. Half the crowd was super into it while the other half hung back, totally unsure of what was happening. Is this an aerobics class? But there were things that crossed over: When Aoki asks for selfie, for instance, or when he plays The Lion King's "Circle of Life." Everyone understands that, even if they don't. J.R.
It had been a long day of sunning, dancing and stepping over bodies passed out on the grass near the Uber tent. Darkness started to fall, and the National arrived to wind the party down. The 76ers' Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel stopped by briefly but didn't last long. The fun of turning up, of being young and making mistakes, suddenly seemed to have consequences. Everyone gets old. Then again, lead singer Matt Berninger drank from a red cup, so perhaps all is not lost. J.R.
Spoon had the misfortune of landing a late-afternoon slot on the final day of the festival, a point at which people seemed burnt out and melted by the sun. Two songs in, though, the crowd began to creep closer, stand up and dance. Just then, Britt Daniel said, "I was gonna say it was a beautiful day, but … oh, what? They … they want us off the stage," dropped the mic to the ground, and walked off. An hour and a half after the weather-induced evacuation, the band returned to the stage, and the crowd regained some of its energy, remaining unfazed even when precipitation followed them back. Like the saying goes: It's always better to stand in rain than sit in mud. J.R.
ZZ Ward took a break from her set of hard-rocking blues to give the L.A. audience some advice on love interests who are attractive jerks: "They will always suck, but the hotness will fade," she counseled. "Hook up with them fast." When not playing the blunt version of Dear Abby, Ward proved to be excellent on the harmonica and a booming singer. She was backed up by a tight trio who could lie back, feel out a song and then explode into a bunker-buster solo. Her best twist on a lyrical cliché came in her set-closer: "You make my blue eyes blind." G.E.
Despite a heavy police presence at L.A.'s Grand Park and omnipresent advertising for the beer brand that sponsored the festival, a strong aroma of pot always hung in the air. The weekend's best act for those in an altered mood? The seven-man Dr. Dog. When they took the stage, most of their members were sporting cheap, brightly colored sunglasses, but their eyewear was soon forgotten as they rolled into a loose, compelling groove and spouted wisdom such as "there's a pistol and a crystal underneath my pillow." G.E.
A leather jacket draped over his Tommy boxers, Jesse Rutherford slithered to the microphone and in one breath said, "Yo, we're called The Neighbourhood. Free Meek Mill," referring to the Philly rapper currently in jail for violating his probation. Later, closing out the set with hits "Sweater Weather" and "Afraid," Rutherford looked like A$AP Scott Weiland and asked if anyone had downloaded their music for free. A kid – in Eagles gear, naturally – screamed, "I love America! I love the Internet!" while hoisting a weathered Bud Light can in the air. Philadelphia, you're welcome. J.R.
New York's Bas – looking like a Teddy Graham, sounding like steak and broccoli – opened up his set with "Mook in New Mexico," the kind of song that got him signed to J. Cole's Dreamville Records. Want to hear it? Just find the torrent. "I got a new album out," he at one point said, "You can download it illegally, I don't give a fuck."
That was good, that was cool, but the party really got started when – Philly be damned – he scrolled through a few New York's greatest hits of yesteryear: DMX's "Ruff Ryder's Anthem," Onyx's "Slam," Ol' Dirt Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." And, with the words "we made it," it seemed like half the population of Queens stormed the stage like it was the Bastille, all in matching "FIENDS" shirts, crashing into one another while Bas stunted on Drake's anthem. J.R.
With temperatures nearing 92 degrees, no humans should have been running across entire expanses of highway. And yet, here were dozens of screaming young-somethings, juke-and-sprinting a hundred yards from Vacationer's beachy marimba vibes to catch the Springsteen-meets-hairspray set from Jack Antonoff's new outfit. The sounds – Vacationer's off-kilter Passion Pit impression, Bleachers' Duran Duran heartbeats – felt great in the sun, but it should be reiterated: Running isn't worth it when you have to actually run. Maybe they were taking one of Bleachers' lyrics – "I will find any way to your wild heart" – a little too literally. Nah. Make them come to you. J.R.