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Concert Review: FYF Festival Brings Fierce Sets From Nine Inch Nails, Missy Elliott, Frank Ocean — Plus Brad Pitt Cameo

Los Angeles’ annual FYF Festival has often been described as Coachella’s younger brother, and for good reason: Though the fest started as a DIY operation in the tiny Echo and Echoplex complex in Silverlake, in recent years — thanks to a partnership with Coachella parent company Goldenvoice — FYF has found its footing in that Indio trendsetter, sometimes even repeat-booking SoCal dates for the fests’ largest acts (we’re looking at you, LCD Soundsystem). But no longer: if, in years past, FYF’s been picking up Coachella’s slack, the 2017 edition found the younger sibling equalling and even topping its older sibling, with top-level bookings that ran the genre gamut and all had something to prove.

Take, for instance, Saturday night headliner Frank Ocean, who two years ago dropped out of FYF’s top slot at the very last minute — only to have that spot filled by Kanye West, in what some may call the moment the fest went from upstart underdog to a title-card contender. Ocean’s make-up set actually comes at a moment in his career that makes more sense: he’s more mature, has more material, and his clout has improved since taking a break from the road for the past few years. This was his first North American appearance since since 2012, and he took full advantage, setting up on what amounted a b-stage with a small band instead of the massive stage at the front of the audience, giving a rare intimacy to slow-burning R&B songs like “Good Guy” (played twice, since Ocean wasn’t happy with the first run through thanks to a bum note — which he hit again the second time) and a cover of the Carpenters’ “Close to You,” which featured possibly the oddest cameo of this festival season: actor Brad Pitt, sitting stageside, speaking on the phone, presumably being serenaded by Ocean. Director Spike Jonze shot the whole thing, although it’s unclear whether he did so for posterity or a future project.

Ocean wasn’t the only headliner to re-emerge here from a long hiatus: Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, last seen guesting with Katy Perry at the Super Bowl in 2015 (and, by a lucky few hundred, performing at the Warner Music Grammy afterparty in 2016), played her first full-length U.S. show in a decade on Friday to a rapturous crowd who sang along and danced to hip-hop hits like “Work It” and “Lose Control.” It wasn’t the tightest set — Elliott took some time to name-check Perry as well as other stars watching from the sidelines, including Beyonce and Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator, and her songs were often performed in truncated versions. No matter: her booking was inspired, and her music clearly beloved.

Elliott played immediately after an esoteric set from Icelandic chanteuse Bjork, herself sort of a festival-level enigma: though she’s been active recently, this set was a reminder of just how out-there she can be. Backed by a massive string ensemble and a DJ, and clad in an enormous, puffy pastry of a dress that resembled a gigantic loofah as well as a bird-like face mask, Bjork was a poster woman for letting your freak-flag fly high, emoting beautifully even as non-hardcore fans became confused. Still, in a world where female festival headliners are few and far between, both womens’ performances proved that great options are out there, so long as promoters are willing to do the creative math to make them work.

Sunday’s headliner, Nine Inch Nails, were the only veteran festival headliners at FYF — in fact, Trent Reznor and his crew made their mark at the first Lollapalooza way back in 1991. No surprise, then, that the foggy, dark set was a lesson in both atmospherics and professionalism, with Reznor’s stage command on older material like “Something I Can Never Have” and newer cuts like the intense, just-released “The Lovers” (from the “Add Violence” EP) as confident as ever.

Of course, headliners aren’t the only notable part of a fest — and FYF’s mid-and-lower level performers were just as impressive, with a career-spanning set from force of nature Iggy Pop, a 70s-sexy performance from Solange, and Tribe Called Quest’s final LA-area show just a few of the many lower-level highlights that could, from artists that frankly, could have been headliner performances just a couple years ago. If FYF continues this sort of quality-control streak, Goldenvoice may have a new, moderately more avant-garde contender of its favorite son; here’s hoping the sibling rivalry keeps benefiting the festival-going audience while the battles’ being waged.

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