New York's inaugural Meadows Music & Arts Fest brought Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, the 1975 and more to the home of the Mets. Here's the 10 best things we saw.
West started 30 minutes late and cut his set abruptly short following the news of his wife Kim Kardashian being robbed at gunpoint in Paris. But what fans saw before he left was a stunning translation of his Saint Pablo tour to a festival setting. The ominous, light-laden stage that hovers above audiences in closed stadiums was still present at the outdoor venue, but instead became a spotlight for the artist who went from dancing on top of it to being bathed in its stark glow. West raged through a career-spanning set of songs from his catalogue of solo releases and features, including Pablo cuts "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" and "Pt. 2," Drake's "Pop Style" and "Flashing Lights." He even jumped into the crowd for "All Day" and his remix of Chief Keef's "I Don't Like," posing for a sea of front row camera phones and encouraging the security guards to give him some space to touch and rap with the fans. Most exhilarating was the emotionally powerful accidental finale of "Wolves," the last full song before a false start of "Heartless" preceded his swift exit.
Chicago's 23-year-old wunderkind is at a pivotal moment of his career: He built on the buzz of his breakthrough sophomore mixtape Acid Rap and a Kanye co-sign to create the exhilarating, pristine, still technically independent third mixtape Coloring Book. Now it seems that with a more developed live show, Chance is moving himself from opening act to headliner who can potentially fill stadiums and arenas on his own. For Meadows, he was previously just joined by his cohort Nico Segal on trumpet until a cast of puppets helped guide the show in different directions. At the helm was Carlos the Lion, who continuously pushed Chance to find a balance between early cuts like 2012's "Brain Cells" with newer tracks like "Juke Jam" and "Same Drugs." Carlos remained an important muse and adversary as the show progressed, though he was not alone: A flapper-like muppet sang along to "Same Drugs" while several others formed a "Sunday Candy" gospel choir.
During a quiet moment in J. Cole's set, the rapper – a former student at the nearby St. John's University – led what might go down as the most sedate five-borough roll-call in the history of New York City hip-hop. "Is Brooklyn in the house?" he asked, seated VH1 Storytellers–style, mid-stage. "I'm comfortable with that number of people from Brooklyn," he continued almost in parody of the way this usually works. "I feel confidant that for the first time in my life when I say, 'Where the fuck is Queens at?!'" Here, finally, he trailed off and let the screams erupt.
A last minute addition after the Weeknd cancelled, Cole approached the festival like a local block party, or a concert on a college lawn, playing a cordial, easy-going show with a full band and lots of banter. Bas, a frequent collaborator who lives, he estimated, eight minutes away, joined for one song, and "No Role Modelz" became a sing-along with an apropos diss of Donald Trump. "I was trapped in this city, then I asked is that really such a bad thing?" Cole had rapped in opener "A Tale of 2 Citiez." In this instance, it was anything but.
The era where late New Wave crashes into pop is over the 1975's sophomore album, but as their tour progresses, the band seems to go deeper and deeper into the decade with glee. From singer Matty Healy's Robert Smith-inspired hair to the rest of the band's oversized, flesh-toned suits that looked like they were repurposed from the set of David Bowie's "Modern Love" video, the band appeared to go full-throttle into sporting a look to match the INXS-inspired sound of songs like "Love Me" and "She's American." The constantly neon pink light-soaked band also fit in better than most of the other non-rap acts competing against the hip-hop-heavy Sunday line-up, offering an unapologetically dance-y set that worked perfectly between Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.
Thank you, Grimes, for the festival's only – and best! – Russian rap. Just after dark, the 28-year-old walked onto the main stage in a Comic Con hoodie, hit a button or two on a sampler, and began dancing like a J-Pop Thom Yorke while the bass on her song "Realiti" grabbed the audience by its collective throat. This was, without a doubt, Saturday's loudest set, and nearly every song was transformed by the volume. "Venus Fly," a collaboration with Janelle Monáe, evoked not just dance-pop, but club music, Sleigh Bells and hardstyle. Meanwhile, the EDM-influenced "Go" – "I know it can be controversial to some people," she said before cueing the beat – sounded fully realized, and it was received with excitement by a large crowd that possibly knew nothing of said controversy.
Pusha T is excellent at putting on a consistently great live show. The Clipse member and current president of G.O.O.D. Music kept the mid-afternoon energy at a high while blasting through hits like "Untouchable" and "Drug Dealers Anonymous." The crowd reached its rowdiest during Pusha's features like the "Don't Like" remix, Future's "Move That Dope" and Kanye West's "Mercy," which the rapper delivered gleefully.
Kamasi Washington's band included two drummers, keys, a vocalist, an upright bass onto which Miles Mosley had inscribed his Twitter handle and of course, Washington himself on tenor sax. Later, Washington's father Rickey joined on soprano, but already, within minutes of taking the stage, they were pushing the crowd as high as it could go, jumping octave after octave. Mosley may have earned some new followers with a long solo that incorporated bow and wah-wah pedal, and Brandon Coleman closed the performance by blowing out a speaker while jamming on keytar as the band rolled through some Minneapolis-style funk.
Bryson Tiller had the unique task of being the sad, heartbroken voice of the festival and his trapsoul was a nice complement to the gloomy, overcast weather on Sunday. Lyrics like "I ain't your man, that's true enough" off songs like "Set Free" naturally embraced the gray day but moments like the more aggressive, boastful "Rambo" broke up the doom and gloom for a late-afternoon pick-me-up.
For those who wanted to hear hard, tight, rock music, there was the English band Savages. As it turned out, more people were interested in the merch table, where the line to buy Kanye "Pablo" hoodies lasted, literally, one hour; but those who stuck by the stage got a better deal, tentatively moshing to a some equally fashionable post-punk. "What do you want?" singer Jehnny Beth asked at one point. "Something… fast? Something … sexy?" "T.I.W.Y.G." qualified as both, and though the subsequent cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" didn't qualify as either, it was nice way to wind down an intense hour of music.
This afternoon set began with a short speech about world war and a video showing clips of destruction. For the next 45 minutes, reggae would be, to some extent, the answer. But rather than banish chaos from the stage, Marley incorporated it into his sound: The drums and bass were always a little at odds with each other, and the singer's voice, rough and precise, never settled completely into the melody. The effect worked. Although most in the crowd seemed to know only the last three songs – "Could You Be Loved," "Road to Zion," "Welcome to Jamrock" – the dancing began as soon as the music did.