Ambitious, expansive and creative, the Day For Night festival largely delivered most of what it set out to accomplish in its second year. The location in the old Barbara Jordan Post Office, nestled along the skyscraper silhouetted skyline in north downtown, as well as the strong musical lineup filled with notable performances, made it feel as though this could be the event that puts the Houston music scene firmly on the map.
The weekend was a contrast of two seasons — Summer For Winter, if you will — as Saturday's muggy, humid temperatures transported sweaty concertgoers to the warmer months of the year. Sunday's sharp drop in temperatures left both musical acts on the venue's three outdoor stages, and the audiences watching them, scrambling for winter layers.
Of the two days (Friday was a VIP-only event), Saturday was the most successful with the biggest crowds and better known performers bringing their A-games. At times, scanning the thousands of revelers, it felt almost ACL-like in a positive way. Crowd flow was generally OK despite the odd layout of medians and landscaping left behind after the closure of the post office as well as bottlenecks at certain areas, most specifically to get into the Red and Yellow Stage areas.
In comparison, Sunday saw a sparse crowd due to the elements and a few acts either missing (Blonde Redhead) or almost missing their sets (Little Dragon) due to the cold front that came through the area overnight. By the time the event ended, temperatures were only slightly above freezing, leading many concertgoers to leave early or huddle indoors at the Blue Stage or at the many fantastic visual art installations.
In just two days, it became clear why organizers thought hosting a largely outdoor festival in Houston in December could work (Saturday's temps), only to have that idea questioned with the cold air making it a challenge for both bands and fans.
Despite some of the kinks, it was an overall success for those there to see and discover musical acts, many who haven't played Houston or haven't been in these parts for years. Some of the most notable things I witnessed include:
Best Hometown Ambassador: DJ Windows 98
DJ Windows 98 aka Win Butler aka Album of the Year Grammy winner isn't a great DJ. Other than a percussionist adding a new twists to standards by Fleetwood Mac and Beyoncé during his Saturday night slot, the highlight was watching the very tall frontman of Arcade Fire, standing statuesque over a couple of CD-Js. At the end of the set, however, he did call on Houstonians to keep pushing for more of what Day For Night represents.
"When I grew up here, there was none of this shit," said Butler, who spent his formative years in The Woodlands. "Keep on making cool shit. The rap here is some of the best in the world. I want to see one great band come from Houston. Fucking show me something."
Best Crowd: Odesza
The Seattle electro-house duo drew the biggest audience to their Saturday night slot, filling the impressive 90-minute set with crowd-pleasing bangers. The best moments came when they brought out a live guitarist and local drumline to layer over the bouncy beats and trippy visuals.
Best Hidden Secret: The Yellow Stage
The only major criticism of the weekend was the layout that left the Yellow Stage, home to many of the local bands, largely ignored. If the stage had one more accessible entrance, it might have brought more of the crowd to discover some of Houston's finest.
Biggest WTF?: Texas weather
From 80 degrees on Saturday to mid-30s on Sunday, it was Texas winter weather at its finest (or worst). If anything, it brought Sunday audiences together for body warmth and directed the less hearty towards the art installations on the second floor of the Barbara Jordan Post Office building.
Biggest WTF?, Part 2: Björk Digital
The biggest question of the weekend, many speculated what we would see from the Icelandic luminary, so much that the crowd surged towards the Blue Stage to catch a glimpse of her Sunday set. Sadly, no one saw much of anything, as Björk played sound collages of Native and Spanish folk songs amongst a screen of foliage — yes, you read that correctly — dimly lit by blacklight and a neon LED costume. Any truly devoted fan would chalk it up to Björk being Björk. It left everyone else scratching their heads.
Best Evidence for Experience Over Youth: The Jesus and Mary Chain
The British legends didn't disappoint with a swirling mix of noise-driven pop with the first great performance of the festival on Saturday evening. Covering songs from the upcoming Damage and Joy, and hits such as "Head On," "Just Like Candy," and "Happy When It Rains," JAMC promised to be back around again once the new album drops, a visit that would be most welcome.
Best Rediscovery: The Liars
NYC's The Liars gave the best performance of Sunday afternoon, blending beats with punk guitars, squelches and squeals, while fronted by charismatic Angus Andrew who channeled his inner Iggy Pop. First gaining traction in the mid-2000s, The Liars, proved their vitality relevancy with this blistering Blue Stage set.
Best Improv Session: Little Dragon
Sweden's Little Dragon just made it to their Sunday night set. Their gear wasn't so lucky. Thankfully, Day For Night organizers cobbled together a set up for the four-piece who put on a great set of jams improvised from a number of hits. Led by Yukimi Nagano, a pint-sized powerhouse, fans were treated to a funky, fun ride.
Best Nightcap: Travis Scott
The cold may have driven out a large number of people on Sunday night, but a sizable crew of diehards stuck around to see the electrifying set from the hip-hop superstar. The audience held on every word, bounced along to the trap-inflected beats, and soaked up the charisma of former Houston resident.