During the first day of the Made in America festival, which had its Los Angeles debut in Grand Park this weekend, a hot and cloudless Saturday sunburned a lot of music fans before the Cali breeze drifted in at dusk to cool the crowd and relax the vibe.
The inaugural L.A. festival, which runs through Sunday night, drew an ocean of fans that stretched the event's infrastructure. Happy-go-lucky troopers had to be willing to endure long lines, poorly situated facilities and little shelter from the sun.
Building on the success of the East Coast version born in Philadelphia in 2012, the L.A. Made in America's first day featured a batch of hitmakers including Afrojack, Imagine Dragons, L.A.'s thriving Top Dawg Entertainment roster (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and others) and Australian "Fancy" rapper Iggy Azalea.
Featuring 20-plus acts on three stages, two of which sat side by side along Spring Street beneath City Hall and the other a slog up through chaotic clusters of revelers, Made in America from the first performances set a defiant tone.
Onstage, F-bombs flew like water balloons, echoing through downtown from the first tracks that hip-hop producer Hit-Boy dropped. The hardened, frantic tracks delivered by DJ Mustard, first at the skate ramp and a few hours later with YG, matched perfectly with the energy. Setting hot revelers ablaze above Mustard’s sibilant, minimal beats, YG offered a lesson in the cussword's grammatical versatility while presenting songs from his new album, "My Crazy Life." (That said, as much cursing goes on during an average day at City Hall behind him.)
ZZ Ward's confident mix of rock, blues, R&B and soul offered counterpoint. During “Put the Gun Down,” Ward sang a harrowing song about a showdown and a gun: “Put the gun down, put the gun down,” she voiced. “Or I’mma set fire to the whole damn house.” While she played, fans gravitated toward any point of shade.
By the end of Saturday, Azalea had made a valid argument to her doubters with defiant, impressively versed lines -- and everybody sang the words to "Fancy." Sublime with Rome made a weary crowd totally happy. The Canadian rock band Metric sent a reminder of what solid, magnetic songs -- and lead singers -- can accomplish. Dr. Dog presented bounce-along beard rock. Hard, anthemic band Ambassador X strove to make dents as a new-breed jock rock unit.
As night fell and the festival peaked, Afrojack pumped four-on-the-floor stompers to a crowd of bouncing devotees. Los Angeles rock 'n' pound band Imagine Dragons closed the fest with bombast and its gigantic hit "Radioactive."
By far, though, the day's most anticipated, and best, music was presented by the artists on rap label Top Dawg Entertainment. As the sun set, a lineup featuring rappers Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Isaiah Rashad ripped through highlights from throughout its remarkable ascent. In the process, Top Dawg confirmed its place as kings of Los Angeles hip-hop.
The back-to-back highlights arrived through Schoolboy Q and Lamar. Q, presenting tracks from his excellent new album, "Oxymoron," and before, owned his stage. Confident from a long round of touring, he's a natural storyteller whose very presence on the mike commands attention. During "Man of the Year," much of the fest chanted his lyrical observation: "I see hands in the crowds / See whites, blacks blazing a pound, jumping around."
It was true. Those not drinking branded beer were blazing (and vaping) lots of marijuana -- especially during Sublime with Rome's set.
Lamar, who is working on the follow-up to "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City," looked particularly at home on the jumbo screen at the foot of City Hall. A superb L.A. chronicler, the Compton-born lyricist gave portraits from South Los Angeles that bounced off the Los Angele Police Department's headquarters a block away like bricks against riot shields.
"If I told you I killed a ... at 16, would you believe me? / Or see me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street / With a basketball and some Now and Laters to eat," rapped Lamar, while a voluminous part of the crowd rapped every word. "If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?"
As he delivered the lines, those skeletons did in fact propel jumps -- as well as bounces, finger-points and vocal chanting. Lamar's show of force, as well as the totality of the TDE lineup, was memorable accomplishment.
The question for now is whether Kanye West will have a response Sunday.
Looking for music tips? Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit