Pop & Hiss
Review

Kendrick Lamar blasts Air + Style sound system, cuts off set early

Shaun White's Air + Style snow-sport and music festival soars at first, only to land with a thud.

The big-ticket traveling production at the Rose Bowl was called Air + Style, presented by its majority owner, Olympic-medalist/superstar-snowboarder Shaun White. Saturday's inaugural day opened as gracefully as White flying and spinning through the air — but ended like a Wile E. Coyote thud and a poof of powdery snow.

It was the first U.S. installment of an Austrian snow and music festival with recent stops in Beijing and Innsbruck, Austria. The two-day event featured fake snow and a man-made slope as tall as the Capitol Records building, from which Olympic and X-Games snowboarding medalists shot themselves skyward with great grace. These feats were interspersed with performances from Kendrick Lamar, Diplo, Portugal. The Man, Phantogram, the Black Lips, METZ and others. 

Air + Style Los Angeles, though, hit its unfortunate climax near the end of that first day, with masses of disappointed Lamar fans chanting the vulgar equivalent of "Screw this stuff!" Scheduled to play a 90-minute set, the rapper ended it with frustration halfway through after repeated failed attempts to increase the notably low volume. 

The festival equivalent of a snowboarder's frontside double-cork 1260, Day 1 featured a good roster that promised musical wonder but landed with the gracelessness of a first-timer sprawled face-down, arms and legs splayed. (Sunday is to feature Steve Aoki, the Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and others. It's raining and the Oscars are on, so no thanks.)

The thing is, Saturday's musical roster looked fine on paper, even if it lacked a center. Toronto trio METZ ripped through hard, distorted punk-rock, but fans were nowhere to be found at 3:30 p.m. unless you count the hundreds waiting in the nearby beer line. Phantogram pushed its propellant synth-pop as the band has done at second-tier fests in the past few years; they were as professional as always.

Did somebody say line? There were many. The "cuisine" boasted about by Air + Style in advance literature was a fancy term for food trucks and taco stands. An Umami Burger cost you about an hour. That the 24-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon ($10) wasn't described as an American-style Wisconsin lager seemed a missed opportunity, given that the $14 "premium" beer was a 24-ounce can of Tecate (about $2.25 retail). Most frightening: The least-expensive drink on the menu was a "double-shot" of some sort of liquor, and it was slammed with great glee by young fans. The flabby shirtless dude zig-zagging toward his car, the girl being dragged by two friends, the guy on the gurney in the back of an ambulance — all looked to have gotten their money's worth.

The event also had promised "art," but the most impressive piece to be found was the jumbo Rose Bowl sign affixed to the stadium — unless you consider the long queue for portable toilets to be a performance piece on the tyranny of bodily functions.

Why would Phantogram fans want to pay $50 for this? To also see Diplo? Not likely.

For his part, Diplo phoned it in with fist-pumping, twerk-happy jams, yet he still managed to rave about it on Twitter as if he'd witnessed an alien invasion: "Wow!! Air and Style passadena [sic] was insane!!" Hours later he was doing a second "insane!!" set in Vegas.

Portugal. The Man and Black Lips rocked adeptly for their sets, loaded the gear, banked the checks and probably made a beeline for Highland Park.

Lamar was the main draw. The accomplished Compton rapper and his live band offered his typically confident verses from tracks including "Money Trees," A$AP Rocky's "... Problems," "Backstreet Freestyle," "Poetic Justice" and his anthem "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe." 

The problem? The music seeped out of the system as if connected via Bluetooth, thin and light on the bass. Lamar's primary instrument, his microphone, was muted. Then again, it was after 8 p.m. on a Saturday night in Pasadena. Keep it down!

"Sound-man, I need you turn this .... up! We're trying to party," he said after a few songs.  The volume increased a little, but not for long. Seems the officials near the soundboard were monitoring a decibel meter and had the final word. Lamar asked again but was told that he had to turn down the volume or the show was over. After one song at nearly proper volume, the set ended with many disappointed attendees.

Vibe killed. 

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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