The sound of Frank Ocean’s voice sent tens of thousands of fans into overdrive at the main stage Saturday during the first night of the FYF Fest.
Backed by a blistering electric guitar, Ocean unpacked the chorus of “No Church in the Wild.”
The R&B crooner, however, was nowhere to be found.
Ocean had backed out of his headlining set just days ago. His replacement, Kanye West, nodded toward the switcheroo by opening with his Grammy-winning collaboration with Ocean, the singer punched in from a recorded track.
Starting the show obscured by a grid of yellow flashing lights that hung like a ceiling as billows of fog turned him into a ghostlike figure, West ceded the opening moments to Ocean’s prerecorded vocal.
It was an acknowledgment that the 11th hour lineup change likely miffed thousands who had anticipated the return of the reclusive Ocean -- and dropped upward of $175 for a ticket to the two-day festival at L.A. Memorial Sports Arena and Exposition Park.
But the oft-polarizing West spent the remainder of his hour-long set proving why he’s one of the few acts that could pull off a thrilling headlining performance on 48 hours’ notice.
West opted for crowd-pleasers. This wasn’t a set that tested new material or created a narrative.
In a set loaded with hits and fan favorites, the rapper looked to keep the crowd’s energy at a heady maximum -- and he found it early during an opening salvo that included the electro rush of “Stronger” and the dark, tribal bounce of “Power,” with the rapper eventually asking for more distance from the intricate lighting rig that hung above him so he could dive about onstage.
“I need it a little bit higher because I’m scared I’m gonna jump up and bump my head,” he said. But in true West fashion, the request came with specifications before he started back: “But can you make it level?”
Dressed in layers of tattered shirts, black leather pants and his own Yeezy Boost gym shoes, he offered one hit after another -- and very little talking.
The noise-stomp of “Black Skinhead” dissolved into the frenetic “… In Paris.” Those flashing bulbs over his head were positioned into a wall, illuminating the rapper as he tore through the thrashing “All Day,” one of a few new tracks he delivered.
West has spent the last year teasing the follow-up to 2013’s jarring “Yeezus” with a few singles and high profile performances including on “Saturday Night Live,” the Billboard Music Awards and the Grammys.
But if a new record were on the horizon, you wouldn’t have known it Saturday night. Save for “All Day” and the Paul McCartney collaboration “Only One” (the ballad that closed the show), West didn’t offer any other peek at what he’s cooking up.
There were a few surprises, however.
He brought out rising emcee Travis Scott, whom West also employs as a producer, to run through singles “Upper Echelon” and “Antidote.”
And an impromptu appearance from Rihanna made for a surprisingly punk rock moment when West sat at the edge of the stage and handed his mike to the singer, who was in the front row, for her verse on their collaboration “FourFiveSeconds.” She later joined him onstage for an abbreviated take of “All of the Lights.”
“I still have like 10 years of hits to do for y’all,” West proclaimed before later looking at the timer and telling the audience he was going to run through “one hit a minute” -- cramming songs like “Gold Digger,” “Jesus Walks” and “Good Life” into a mega-medley of sorts.
West’s set was durable but ultimately unsatisfying. It feels unfair to want or ask for more from a 48-hour replacement, but it’s unlikely that the FYF crowd was taking in West for the first time in awhile.
Nearly a year ago, he closed the first Los Angeles edition of the Budweiser Made in America festival (his addition a ploy to push sales after gripes over the lineup here compared with the one for Made in America Philadelphia, where he also played).
And in the last year, he’s also topped the bills at Wango Tango and Powerhouse concerts.
West is one of the few who could pull off an 11th hour show and please the masses of a multi-genre festival. But was he really the only one in town willing to try?
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