Tright here was maybe no another extremely and anxiously anticipated at Coachella this yr than Frank Ocean. The 35-year-old has not launched an album since Blonde, in 2016, and has not carried out stay in over six years. His headliner set at Coachella, initially slated for 2020, was delayed by Covid after which pushed again once more. A refusenik and a renegade whose enigmatic public presence toggles between achingly tender and, extra typically, extremely elusive, Ocean is beloved for 2 albums’ price of nostalgia-tinged, genre-defying music. I encountered a number of folks over the weekend for whom he was roughly the rationale they purchased tickets to the pageant.
These followers, in addition to a great fraction of the pageant who stayed for Ocean’s weekend-capping set on Sunday night time, had their persistence examined. There have been warning indicators of one thing amiss, specifically the last-minute cancellation of a deliberate YouTube stay stream for his present. The principle stage screens nonetheless confirmed take a look at visuals at his 10pm begin time, for which individuals started staking out good spots an hour beforehand. By the point the present began an hour later, “Come on, Frank!” was a standard chorus.
After Dangerous Bunny’s conscience-minded celebration on Friday and Blackpink’s marketing campaign of pop bangers on Saturday, it appeared becoming – even genius, given his avant-garde bona fides – that Ocean’s efficiency would deconstruct after which upend expectations of a headliner set. There are specific conventions one expects for the night time’s greatest slot: command of the stage, interplay with a number of sections of the viewers, stage banter peppered with gratitude, a well-known and beloved hook to ease within the newer or much less palatable materials, choreography or the proof of preparation.
Ocean’s set had little of that. The present opened with eight minutes of hooded males in army fatigues strolling in a circle. The overwhelming majority of the efficiency passed off in a room outfitted to appear to be Nasa’s mission management minimize into the huge wall of screens. Ocean hardly ever left the sanctity of the bubble for the precise stage; I used to be decently near the entrance on one facet, and didn’t see him for the whole 80-minute set. As a substitute, I considered him on the large display, filmed in a shaky-cam, closeup model, alongside along with his band and crew, that evoked the sensation of a documentary produced in actual time.
For awhile, this solely heightened Ocean’s mystical stature, a flex of hype and under-exposure. He didn’t seem on digicam or on stage for his first quantity, Novacane, for which the group sang each phrase. Wearing a blue puffer coat with the hood drawn up, it took a number of minutes to even get a full glimpse of his face. The staging flouted the presumed seamlessness of a stress-tested set, as an alternative exhibiting the seams, the who and what it takes to placed on a present. The digicam would typically pan round Ocean’s management room, taking in musicians and sound techs and different cameras; copious mirrors produced the impact of infinite, looping tools. Greater than as soon as, Ocean took lengthy breaks to seek the advice of with earpiece-wearing official someones; a 10-minute interlude DJ-ed by Crystalmess showcased a twerking safety guard.
Finally, the deflection felt much less pointed than private. When Ocean did acknowledge the viewers, it was to dedicate the present to his late brother Ryan Breaux, who died at 18 in a automobile accident in August 2020. “I wish to discuss why I’m right here as a result of it’s not due to a brand new album,” he stated after an acoustic model of Pink + White. He recalled certainly one of his favourite reminiscences, seeing Rae Sremmurd at Coachella along with his brother – “I do know he would’ve been so excited to be right here with all of us.” Each pause after that – and there have been lengthy ones between every observe – held the burden, for me, of profound grief.
These pauses had been however stops on a rollercoaster. There have been moments, comparable to a tricked-out model of White Ferrari, after I believed it was the most effective live performance I had ever seen – Ocean’s voice is, as ever, nothing in need of chic, even chill-inducing. His remixes – he barely performed any observe straight, to the frustration of many within the viewers – ranged from beautiful (an ethereal Godspeed, his falsettos on Dangerous Faith) to stunning (a bouncy tackle Solo) to outright inaccessible (a rock remix of Wiseman.) The highs – and when Ocean is nice, he’s transcendent – had been chased by moments of confusion, comparable to when he handed over the present to a boy enjoying his “inside little one” or just lip-synced to Nikes and Nights, not even bothering to carry a microphone.
Or, most complicated and stunning of all, when he walked away after a canopy of the Isley Brothers’ At Your Greatest (You Are Love) and introduced, offstage, that he’d been knowledgeable he’d hit curfew and the present was over. Folks stayed put, believing it was perhaps a bit even after the lights got here on. It wasn’t, to the shock of many. Together with his first headliner set, Ocean did obtain the uncommon thrill of true suspense – what was he doing? The place was he going with this? The highs had been excessive; it’s a disgrace the top felt so bitter.