Well, that was a hell of a time.
Day for Night met and exceeded expectations at the 2017 edition, a fabulously run festival with few noticeable glitches. Artists and spectators dropped accolades on the event throughout the weekend, proving that Houstonians finally have a brilliant music festival to call their own. What a great early Christmas present.
There were memorable performances and expansive venue space and bathroom facilities kept the flow steady. Food and beverage vendors were in abundance, meaning short wait times. Security was tight but generally not overbearing, not an easy feat in this era of heightened tension surrounding concerts.
Organizers deserve a huge amount of credit for nailing it with programming and exhibiting professionalism all the way through the last performance.
Here are some the best and most notable things we saw this weekend.
Best changes to stage set-up: Yellow Stage
One of the best changes at Day for Night 2017 was the placement of the Yellow Stage. Rather than being outside, behind the Post HTX headquarters where hardly anyone visited last year, organizers opened a brand new part of the building and created something truly special — a circular rotunda for DJs to play in, surrounded by spaced out LED screens blasting tripped out visuals. Think of it as an art and music Stonehenge. It was a scene straight from a late-'90s rave, but even better.
Best case for going back to last year’s set-up: Red Stage
Not that the Red Stage was poorly placed — it was fine where it was this year and the sound system was out of this world. But one thing that made last year’s stage placement special was the downtown Houston skyline behind it, giving the festival a distinct Bayou City identity.
Best way to kick off the weekend: Of Montreal
Kevin Barnes’ gang of psych misfits unofficially kicked off the ceremonies by bringing a decent crowd during their early Saturday set. There were the requisite Of Montreal outfit changes — Barnes went with the drunk granny motif with '70s style shawls and thigh-high neon blue tights — and costumed dancers, all that made for a fun performance.
Best display of glamorous sound: Perfume Genius
No one filled the expansive space of the Red Stage on Saturday afternoon better than Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius. Bringing tunes from his acclaimed albums, the four-piece live band makes music that Arcade Fire wishes it could still make these days — big, bright, emotionally layered and beautifully performed. “I’m going to thank you after every song,” Hadreas told us. “It’s just what we do.” We should be the ones thanking him.
Best way to spend time between sets: Art installations
The one thing that sets Day for Night apart from other festivals is the cutting edge visual art throughout the venue. This year’s installations knocked it out of the park with several exhibits combining light and sound in ways most haven’t seen before. All were fantastic, but those that stuck out included the dozens of lit up disco balls hanging over the room on the way to the Yellow Stage by Kyle McDonald and Jonas Jongejan. The most popular exhibit of the weekend, Telestron, had lines snaking through the Post HTX warehouse to see two robotic arms with lasers and mirrors attached to the ends, dancing in programmed beauty.
Biggest diva: Cardi B
Showing up over 30 minutes late, the fast-rising chart-topper made the most of her limited time on stage, despite only performing a handful of tunes during her Saturday night slot. Hundreds crammed around the Green Stage to see the star wattage on full display as an impeccably dressed Belcalis Almanzar spit fire and threw down moves straight from her days as an exotic dancer, leading to a display of cell phones shooting up in the air as though they had all caught fire at once to record the show. After 15 minutes, the new queen B strutted off stage, leaving all of us to pick our jaws off the ground.
Best jokes: Phantogram
Credit to Phantogram lead singer Sara Barthel for having a sense of humor. Despite imploring Josh Carter to refrain from jokes on stage, Barthel couldn’t help herself, telling the crowd that Cardi B would be guest starring during their fun and well attended Sunday evening set. “Cardi B will be here in three or four hours, so stay tuned,” Barthel mused. She followed up that punchline a minute later, telling us, “Cardi B just texted me — she’s going to be a little late,” alluding to the rapper’s tardiness the previous night.
Best homegrown talent: St. Vincent
St. Vincent aka Annie Clark seemed genuinely happy to be home in Texas (she was raised in Dallas), telling the audience at one point during her electric Sunday night set that “No matter where you go, you are a Texan first.” And we were happy to have her home, especially those that witnessed the killer, one woman, guitar-shredding, amazingly outfitted, art-rock performance. One of the weekend’s best performances, hands down.
Best church/’90s R&B revival: En Vogue
En Vogue seemed to be the odd act out at first glance at the lineup. What place does '90s R&B act have at a festival that includes Nine Inch Nails and Thom Yorke? Apparently it’s a worthy place, after the Oakland trio ripped through their hits, showcasing the vocals, dance moves and charisma that delivered them to the top of the charts 20 years ago. Part-church revival, part-nostaglia act, En Vogue had everyone nodding their heads on Sunday afternoon.
Biggest WTF?: Pretty Lights
We get it — Day for Night encourages artists to stretch their sound into new territory. So when Pretty Lights aka Derek Vincent Smith said he was going to drop “some new frequencies,” no one thought anything of it. What we weren’t expecting was down-tempo, minimal techno, of which one guy within hearing distance said he could do on his Casio keyboard at home. Needless to say, fans that wanted to dance to Pretty Lights’ EDM bangers were left largely disappointed.
Best brush with greatness: Roni Size
Music writers are fans too. So far be it to me to not recognize the greatness that is drum and bass legend Roni Size as he randomly walked on by the media lounge. No worries — I kept the handshake short, the greeting even shorter, but I was sure to tell the man that he was awesome.
Best set of the weekend: Roni Size
My hello to Size foreshadowed one of the best DJ sets I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Debating whether to see Nine Inch Nails or a rare appearance by the U.K. DJ, going with the latter was the right choice. Compared to the disappointing Pretty Lights set, Size got right down to business, building up the audience from the get go before dropping his classic souped up drum beats, leading to an audible shriek of excitement from fans who had been waiting 20 years to see this in person. Thrilling and wholly entertaining, there wasn’t a single person surrounding the Yellow Stage not freaking out and it made this former rave kid very, very happy.
Biggest FOMO: Nine Inch Nails
Unfortunately, as we tried to catch the last half-hour of Nine Inch Nails, Mother Nature once again proved she was boss by dropping a torrential downpour on those gathered around the Red and Green stage. The band cut the show short after playing 50 minutes due to lightning in the area (in freaking December). Alas, many were left to scour social media for clips of the performance that looked nothing short of amazing.
Best instance of snarly Britishness: Thom Yorke
One of — if not the — most anticipated appearances of the weekend, hundreds of fans packed around the inside Blue Stage early Monday morning to see Radiohead leader Thom Yorke perform solo. Unfortunately, sight lines were blocked by warehouse pillars, but those who did see the set were treated to a performance that perfectly encapsulated what Day for Night stands for — forward-thinking music that incorporated breath-taking visuals to match. Too bad some sponsor thought that giving out blinking tambourines was a good idea, as Yorke told the enthusiastic shakers just where to stick them before he played one note.
Worst reminder of where we live: Weather forecast
The weather gods blessed the majority of the weekend with a beautiful forecast, allowing hipsters to wear their best long-sleeves and jackets – a black parade, indeed. However, it wouldn’t be a music festival in Houston without some craziness and the heavens opened up at about 9 pm on Saturday night, dousing those watching Nine Inch Nails and Tyler, The Creator on the Red and Green stages.
While the rain actually enhanced the visuals, it forced organizers to (smartly) move up performance times and eventually shut down the outside stages for the night when lightning was detected on the radar, leaving everyone to tightly squeeze into the Post HTX warehouse. I can speak for everyone: eff you, Mother Nature.