Just before 11 p.m. last night, Arcade Fire disappeared. After delivering a thunderous headlining set to close out day 1 of Panorama on Randall's Island, Win Butler, Régine Chassagne, and co. exited the stage and made their way through the dark crowd to a massive illuminated cube 300 feet away. Then, with the help of Preservation Hall Jazz band and thousands of backup singers, the group paid homage to David Bowie with beautiful renditions of "Rebel Rebel," "Suffragette City," and "Heroes." The moment was at once strange and familiar, and altogether perfect.
But arriving at that musical peak took some time. Panorama began somewhat mutedly Friday, with noticeably thin crowds milling about the spartan, all-white grounds all afternoon. Early acts like hip-hop producer Madlib and violin/dance virtuoso Lindsey Stirling, and a newly-revitalized Broken Social Scene offered up strong sets, but much of the energy felt lost on the overheated listeners dancing apprehensively, wondering, perhaps, "Is this, like, a real festival?"
That question was answered by Major Lazer, who took over the main stage just after 6 p.m. and worked the crowd into a frenzy with brilliant spotlights, pyrotechnics, t-shirt cannons, a dance troupe, and a setlist that never let up. The Majors dished out an ideal party set that spliced their own dancehall-EDM material with plenty of hip-hop. "Panda" hit at the perfect moment—Panorama had found its stride.
As Major Lazer dropped one last banger, FKA Twigs opened her beautiful, whisper-soft set with ornate dance choreography. Later, as the sun set, Alabama Shakes rolled out a barrage of blues riffs and guitar solos, while Schoolboy Q put on a modern hip-hop tour de force. By the time Arcade Fire took the stage, the crowds were primed and the indie rock septet capitalized by launching into "Ready to Start."