Day For Night Festival, Silver Street Studios
December 20, 2015
The Day for Night Festival already felt like a rousing triumph by Sunday night, beautifully blending electronic sounds and lights to offer up something distinctly different from the rest of the city’s growing slate of fests. But as interesting and challenging as a lot of the acts were over the weekend, the man selling the tickets was Kendrick Lamar. The Compton rapper has been a solid-gold draw in H-Town since he sold out House of Blues and Warehouse Live on the same night back in 2012, long before To Pimp a Butterfly became one of this year’s biggest releases. There was no question who would have the biggest crowd of people watching him at Day For Night, and if the fest was truly to be a success, he’d have to deliver.
Well, to the great relief of ticket holders, festival organizers, music bloggers and the hip-hop gods themselves, Kendrick lived up to the hype. Giving the rapper a giant stage with perfect weather in a city that loves him might have been equivalent to tossing a nice, fat softball to a man holding a flat-bottom shovel, but he still gets credit for knocking it out of the park.
Introduced by a tight vamp from his four-piece band and a massive screen that read “Never trust a n*gga with cornrows,” the braided-up Lamar took the stage with a graceful humility, smiling gently and waving to the sea of people before him. His flow was up to speed beginning with his very first song, the jazzy “For Free?” and a lot of people in the crowd were nailing every word, too. This was it. This was the weekend's headlining act. Fans were going nuts for stuff like “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” which featured a maniacal guitar solo in the middle, and “Swimming Pools (Drank),” another one from his breakout album, good kid m.A.A.d city.
In fact, enough people were screaming along to his lyrics that Kendrick decided to pull a few of them onstage. After getting “m.A.A.d. city” started, he turned the verse over to some Texas white boy who was just about as excited as a human being can be. “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my fucking life!” the guy screamed, to a big roar of approval. And hey, he didn’t embarrass himself during his verse. The results achieved by the three ladies that Kendrick plucked out of the crowd were a tad more mixed.
Frankly, after the third chick was given a shot at “m.A.A.d. city,” I was beginning to wonder if Lamar might be stalling for time a bit. New Order had 30 years’ worth of tunes to draw from to fill an hour and a half. Kendrick didn’t. But the huge audience remained patient throughout the amateur rap battle, and they were rewarded with choice To Pimp a Butterfly cuts “Hood Politics” and “King Kunta,” augmented with smooth funk breaks from the band. Many a hand was thrown into the air as if its owner just didn’t care.
“For some reason, every time I come out here, the mood is always right,” said Lamar at one point, acknowledging the love that Houston has shown him over the years. And that trend held on Sunday, with fans sticking around until the festival’s final notes. Those came courtesy of “Alright,” which had more people bouncing than anything else I saw or heard all weekend, and “A.D.H.D.,” a throwback to Lamar's early career for his most hardcore supporters.
Before he left, Kendrick led the crowd in chanting “I will be back,” and by that point, we were all believers. The festival had been an unqualified success. And if Day For Night can rustle up more headliners as unmissable as Kendrick Lamar, it’s going to be hard to stay away next year.
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Personal Bias: So, so tired.
The Crowd: In contrast to FPSF, there were very few teenagers at Day for Night. This was a festival experience that evidently required at least an associate’s degree to enjoy.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Dude, I hope he plays OH SHIT THIS IS IT!!”
Random Notebook Dump: The weather cooperated on Sunday night to prove once and for all that live music outdoors in a Houston winter can be a beautiful thing.