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Okeechobee 2020 Day Three: Vampire Weekend, Blood Orange, Earthgang, and Others

Day three of Okeechobee saw the festival bring out musical heavy-hitters to keep festivalgoers, well, going amid the ever-lowering temperatures. Even as the air grew more frigid and attendees began dressing more and more conservatively, Yung Bae’s brand of future funk kept them warm in spirit if not in physical comfort. Later on, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe shared its instrumental finesse and refined musicality.

The evening was generous for those who prefer their music to be Stereogum-tested and Pitchfork-approved: Clairo, Haim, Blood Orange, and Vampire Weekend brought their indie stylings to this decidedly bass-heavy event.

Here are the highlights from the third day of Okeechobee:

Universal Funk Orchestra. View more photos from Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival day three here.
Photo by Jake Pierce

Universal Funk Orchestra

Orlando’s Universal Funk Orchestra (UFO) was the first band many Okeechobee revelers saw Saturday. The five-piece — which won the Orlando edition of the festival’s event series Battle of the Bands — deployed its instrumental virtuosity to deliver a full-frontal funk assault on the Now stage. In addition to the traditional rock 'n' roll essentials of bassist, drummer, and guitarist, UFO boasts a saxophone player and turntablist. The group’s interplay aided its MC, LaRue, in his quest to take the crowd on a THC-infused intergalactic journey. UFO’s potent strain of funk-filled rock attracted a number of characters, including a shirtless young man who claimed, “I am not on shrooms and I am not Arnold Schwarzenegger!” Strange things have been known to happen around UFOs, and this earthbound assemblage was no exception. — Zach Schlein

Yung Bae

I got to experience only 20 minutes of Yung Bae owing to a pushed-back set time, but he was worth every second. Contrasted with the loud, obvious selections of the future-bass DJ who was on before, Bae’s song choices were fun, surprising, and perfectly fit the beachy, spring-break vibes of the Aquachobee stage. He jumped from disco classics such as the Emotions’ “Best of My Love” to R&B in the form of Estelle’s “American Boy” to the unstoppable “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior. The DJ/producer (real name Dallas Cotton) made his bones in the “future funk” scene, a vaporwave offshoot that combines Japanese funk and disco samples with bloghouse production. Clearly, there aren’t enough vintage samples to fill an entire set — or maybe he’s catering to a youthful crowd that wouldn’t be quite so nerdy about old music — but what he did play made me want to stay at least ten times longer than I did. — Douglas Markowitz

Earthgang

Defying the industrywide edict that rappers must be late to their festival sets, Earthgang started right on time on the Now stage Saturday night. The frequent comparisons of the Atlanta-based duo to legendary group Outkast may be premature, but it must be said that when they're speaking, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot sound exactly like Andre and Big Boi. That aside, Earthgang is a thoroughly modern, original force on the stage, hyping the crowd more effectively than any of the weekend's other acts and performing hits such as “Proud of You” and the druggy “Meditate” with joy, effervescence, and skill and rapping the latter song’s lightning-fast verses with ease. They provided a fun, funky counterpoint to the festival's electronic-heavy lineup and more trap-oriented acts such as Gunna. And most important, they rapped all of their bars flawlessly — and at the speed they go, it's a feat. They truly earned a place in my heart, however, when they made everyone put their middle fingers in the air and declared, "This is for all the bullshit, all the racism, all the sexism," and so on and then dropped “Fuck Donald Trump” by YG as a lead-in to their own anti-Trump anthem. — Douglas Markowitz

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. View more photos from Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival day three here.
Photo by Jake Pierce

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

If there were a headliner for the funky, jam-band portion of the festival, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe would fit the bill. Each bandmate's resumé precedes him, from Rolling Stones keyboardist (and former Allman Brothers Band member) Chuck Leavell to guitar savants Lukas Nelson, Anders Osborne, and Adrian Quesada to R&B royal family member Ivan Neville. It’s Karl Denson’s tiny universe, though, and we’re all just living in it. The saxophonist-to-the-Stones is the real deal. His commanding stylistic presence creates a gravitational force that pulls the band into a seamless sonic orbit, their technical prowess apparent in every note. Rumors of Karl Denson's PoWoW! appearance later that night had already begun to swirl (eventually confirmed in a text alert from the Okeechobee app), adding to the thrill. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe falls somewhere between mid-'70s Let’s Take It to the Stage-era Funkadelic and extrapolated free jazz. Denson opened with a flute solo, his saxophone, tenor sax, tambourine, and cowbell close at hand. Every time I looked up from taking notes, he had changed instruments. — Olivia McAuley

Clairo

Clairo’s fans are so intense in their devotion they were shouting her name even before she walked onstage. Possibly the only one of the thousands of people at Okeechobee who wore a men’s suit to the festival, the indie singer-songwriter displayed a sense of control and presence well beyond her 21 years. She presented songs about difficult relationships, growth, and other topics to which her young audience can relate. In “Bubblegum,” for instance, she uses swallowed gum as a metaphor for commitment, asking her partner if they’re willing to make the same gesture. Occasionally she picked up an electric guitar, but mostly she sauntered around the stage while throwing back her long blond hair and letting her silky, sensual voice carry her words over the crowd. — Douglas Markowitz

Bob Moses

Electronic duo Bob Moses (Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance) staged a Miami Art Week minifest at a South Beach hotel pool just a few months ago, but this Okeechobee set was one of the few big live shows the group is scheduled to play this year. Joined onstage by a bassist and a drummer, the twosome from British Columbia attracted a massive crowd and likely brought new fans into the dance-music fold when, two-thirds of the way through the set, the duo played the Prodigy's "Breathe" in tribute to the English group's late vocalist, Keith Flint. It was powerful enough to make at least one bro say, "That's my new favorite song." — Douglas Markowitz

Haim

And the winner for Best Crowd of the Weekend goes to the people who couldn’t believe the music journalist holding the oversize Modelo Negra was as crazy about Haim as they were. At least in the front row, everyone twisted and shouted as Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim played a high-energy set drawn from their era-defining 2013 debut album, Days Are Gone; singles from their forthcoming Women in Music Pt. III; and even a cover of Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait.” It’s possible some listeners could've done without the group’s extended onstage banter — riffs included remembrances of spring breaks spent in South Florida and Este’s longtime crush on and subsequent rejection by Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek, hence the Cole cover — but it was nothing but smiles on the faces of those up front. The one-two-three-four of the girls’ Soulwax-styled triumvirate drumming intro into “Falling,” “Don’t Save Me,” and “My Song 5” set a forceful standard that they maintained for the entirety of the show. Toward the end of the set, Okeechobee was treated to the first-ever live performance of the new single “The Steps,” followed by the first song Haim formally released, “Forever.” Male, female, onstage performer, or audience member, it didn’t matter: Everyone in attendance was an absolute queen. — Zach Schlein

Blood Orange

By the time the sun set, the temperature had dropped to 35 degrees and small clusters of Okee revelers huddled on blankets as they patiently awaited the appearance of Blood Orange. The crowd was thinner than expected, but as the sounds of Haim’s set wafted in from the nearest stage, the coming migration was in the air. Dev Hynes appeared onstage so discreetly it took a moment for the audience to notice the man known as Blood Orange — people awkwardly stumbled up from seated positions and out of their conversations to welcome the artist they had braved the chill to see. He took a seat behind a cello and, with the first notes of a solo, immediately corralled the chaotic energy that had defined the festival for the past two days. The simplicity and beauty of the musical notes sent the mesmerized audience into a stupor. That understated yet dramatic move set the tone for what was to come. Whether it was the exhaustion of days past, the comforting nature of Hyne’s aloof yet keyed-in stage presence, or his soul-destroying musical ability, his set was one of the most deeply emotional experiences I have ever experienced at a concert. Hynes wore an NYC baseball cap as a collage of visuals depicting everything from Lil Wayne playing guitar to urbanscapes and prom queens played on a loop across the backdrop. Back-up singers Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah were like sonic Siamese twins, psychically telegraphing their next move to each other. “It Is What It Is” — which later received a reprise through its companion piece, "Time Will Tell" — brought many attendees (including me) to tears early on, but nothing could have prepared the crowd for the rendition of Joy Division's “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Olivia McAuley

Vampire Weekend

Okeechobeegoers transfixed by Blood Orange’s performance found themselves in a hurry to catch Vampire Weekend’s headlining set at the Be stage. Most likely heard the sounds of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” as they made their way there. But that was merely the first of many standout moments because Vampire Weekend’s set list was stacked with some of the best songs in the band's dozen-years-deep discography. The performance was an all-around showcase for Vampire Weekend's growth over the past decade. The bandmates displayed an impressive degree of deftness, alternating between softer cuts such as “This Life” and mosh-pit-ready numbers like “Diane Young,” all while flexing the production value that accompanies indie-institution status. The calming Electroplankton-like images that colored “Horchata,” for instance, transitioned to stark Virtual Boy-reminiscent red and black for the Sbtrkt collaboration “New Dorp. New York,” enhancing the contrast between the tranquility of the former song and the hefty groove of the latter. Not that listeners needed reminding, but last night’s show reaffirmed why Vampire Weekend remains one of the most fiercely adored American bands touring today. — Zach Schlein

PoWoW!

Depending upon attendees' expectations, last night’s PoWoW! was either a disappointment or a pleasant surprise. This year's PoWoW! — the festival’s recurring set that pairs unlikely artists such as Solange and Michael McDonald — was billed as featuring Vampire Weekend and friends. That made sense because it was scheduled to take place immediately after the band’s set at the Be stage. What the crowd got, however, was a show from Cory Wong of Vulfpeck alongside members of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and other guest performers. The set, which included covers such as Steely Dan’s “Peg” and Stevie Wonder's “Superstition,” was dandy. It just wasn’t as advertised, nor did it resemble what a Vampire Weekend-led supergroup might have sounded like. Ergo, attendees' mileage likely varied. — Zach Schlein

Tipper

It was my first time at the Here stage, and I have it on good authority that there has been much "Who's on First?"-like confusion surrounding the stage name. It occurred to me only as I left Blood Orange’s deeply emotional set to head over to catch the trip-hop-meets-electro artist what an intense change of gears I was in for. The transition from the Grove area to Chobeewobee via the LED-illuminated thoroughfare that connects the two was eased by ambient electronic music emitted by speakers flagging the path; like a proverbial birthing canal, I was ushered into the next musical dimension. Skirting the edge of the packed-to-the-brim crowd surrounding the tented stage, I gradually adjusted to my new environment while the waves of Tipper’s trippy frequencies washed over me. I never, ever thought I'd say this, but the music wasn’t loud enough. In the presence of a DJ synonymous with the new school of bass music, it was slightly disconcerting to have the noise pollution from neighboring stages muddy his output. Midway through his 75-minute set, the DJ took a playful excursion into deep-house territory, reviving the crowd and delivering an enjoyable electronic joyride this otherwise indie-heavy evening. — Olivia McAuley

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