Eight years into the history of Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, one thing is absolutely clear: Tyler, the Creator, the artist who birthed this baby and curates every important piece of it, throws a terrific party.
The 2019 edition opened Saturday on the hilly parking lots outside Dodger Stadium where Camp Flog Gnaw moved a year earlier, and featured a thrillingly artful headlining performance by Solange, the most-crowded set of the day from Tyler himself, carnival rides and games, and tons of Tyler-created merch for both the festival and his Golf line of apparel.
Because it’s November in L.A., there were huge clouds of smoke rising from wildfires in the distance — on Saturday from near the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, though from Dodger Stadium it looked like the historic Hollywood sign was imperiled
Here are the four things that thrilled us most on Day 1.
1. Solange is queen: Solange Knowles, the younger sister of superstar BeyoncÃ©, was listed high on the bill for Coachella this year before canceling a few days before the festival in April because her production wasn’t ready yet ready to go.
The desert’s loss was Camp Flog Gnaw’s win because the 50-minute performance she delivered to close out Saturday was one of the best I’ve seen this year. Her voice alone is a stunner, a mellifluous soprano, more delicate than her big sister’s powerhouse belt.
Her songs, too, are odd, little beauties, sometimes reminiscent of ’70s soul-jazz, sometimes almost classical in their construction like the opening number “I’m A Witness,” which saw her singing over angular orchestration, her drummer tucked inside an alcove of the platform on which six dancers stepped rhythmically up and down broad stairs.
The bulk of the set was drawn from “When I Get Home,” her album from earlier this year, that explodes the genre she’s usually assigned, alternative R&B, for something entirely her own creation. Call it cosmic jazz or avant-garde soul, somewhere out on Sun Ra’s planet he’s digging this.
Highlights included songs such as “Binz” with its catchy choruses, “F.U.B.U.” which featured her horn players to strong effect, and “Cranes In The Sky,” a recent Grammy winner for best R&B performance.Â “Don’t Touch My Hair” wrapped up her set with another sweet groove.
2. And Tyler is king: People love, love, love Tyler, the Creator. Not just for creating Camp Flog Gnaw, though there’s certainly gratitude for that, but because he’s an oddball delight on stage as in the studio. Like Solange, his 2019 album is one of the year’s best, and he opened his hour-long set with a focus on tracks from “Igor” such as “I Think” and “A Boy Is A Gun.”
He appeared on stage wearing the blond bowl-cut wig and a dapper Frankenstein of a suit — like the reassembled pieces of brown, lime, cream and pink suits shaped into one. It’s part of the Igor persona he created along with the record, and plenty of fans arrived wearing similar wigs.
Unlike some stars who perform solo on stage and, to put it kindly, aren’t always interesting to watch, Tyler is a fascinating performer, acting out and dancing the emotions of songs such as “Puppet” and “Earfquake” in ways that others don’t even attempt.
After stacking six of the eight “Igor” songs, he played at the top of the set he dipped back into his discography for tracks from its predecessor “Flower Boy” such as “See You Again” and “Who Dat Boy,” and then even further to songs from his first two albums “Goblin” and “Wolf.”
Solange might have edged him out for sheer creativity, but Tyler, who had the biggest crowd of the day watching him perform, was right behind.
3. A rap classic: I focused on the alternative hip-hop and R&B on Saturday, it’s what I prefer, and portions of sets by Yuna, the Internet and Daniel Caesar were highlights of the day.
But there was plenty of modern rap on the bill as well. 21 Savage closed out the Flog Stage, second in size to the Camp Stage, with a huge crowd there for hits such as “A Lot” and “Bank Account.” And Juice Wrld had an even larger audience for his main stage performance of songs that included “Robbery” and his hit “Lucid Dreams.”
But it was the veteran performer Yasiin Bey, on the smallest Gnaw Stage, who delivered the purest rap set of the day. Bey, who’s perhaps better known by his former stage name of Mos Def or as a member of Blackstar, did nearly all of his 2009 album “The Ecstatic,” with highlights including “Casa Bey,” “Twilite Speedball,” and “Life In Marvelous Times.”
Sometimes all you need is a rapper with something important to say and a DJ to back him up with the beats.
4. The oddball delight: Thundercat, the bassist born Stephen Bruner, turned in the coolest set of the day, turning the mostly young Flog Gnaw crowd into fans of older music — jazz fusion and soul-funk — and an older guest artist — former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald.
Thundercat arrived on stage with a sparkly Gucci barrette in his blond-and-pink braids and opened with a pair of instrumentals, his long fingers flying over the strings and frets of his pink six-string Ibanez bass.
His first vocals arrived on a pair of songs written about his beloved cat Turbo Tron — “A Fan’s Mail,” which includes lines such as “Everybody wants to be a cat,” and choruses of “meow, meow, meows,” and “Tron Song,” in which he sings, “Don’t you ever leave me, Turbo Tron.”
Toward the end of his set he brought out McDonald to join him for “Show You The Way,” a song that Thundercat recorded with him and fellow soft-rock star Kenny Loggins,” and McDonald’s own “Keep On Forgettin’.”
Thundercat is the best.
Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival
When: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019
Where: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles