Missy Elliott and Björk are the definition of incomparable artists: If for some sad and mysterious reason your friends had never heard of them, you would struggle to come up with musical reference points. Performing back-to-back on the main stage, both issued a vivid reminder of their singular creative legacies on day one of FYF Fest in Los Angeles.
Backed by a large string ensemble and the Venulauzian electronic producer Arca, Björk performed first and she was luminous and beguiling. Opening with the breathtaking “Stonemilker,” Björk’s set leaned heavily on her later period work, especially her 2015 album Vulnicura. Björk has always been a restless artist and at this point, her sound more closely resembles progressive classical music than the proto-trip-hop of Debut and Post.
That’s not to say that the Icelandic star has surrendered any of the daring qualities that have always defined her persona (in fact, a shift toward neoclassicism is deeply subversive in its own way). Though she didn’t appear on the LED screens until about halfway through her performance, Björk’s costuming was as outrageously idiosyncratic as you would expect from someone who once rocked a swan dress at the Oscars: Her outfit resembled nothing so much as a multi-colored loofah and her neon green mask suggested a close encounter backstage with Slimer from “Ghostbusters.”
Though Björk clearly had no intention of capitulating to a music festival audience -- uptempo hits like “Army of Me” were notably absent from her setlist -- she ended her performance with pyrotechnical flourishes on “Hyperballad.” Fireworks and flames might seem gauche coming from such a sophisticated artist but for Björk, it was a fitting end to a set that expertly mixed spectacle and substance.
Missy Elliott is another artist who knows a little something about marrying visual absurdism to creative eccentricity and although her hour-long set didn’t include any of the unforgettable costuming of her music videos, Missy completely delivered musically. After her hype man primed the crowd with a brief montage of her hits, Misdemeanor hit the stage to “She’s a Bitch” and proceeded to remind the ecstatic audience of why she’s one of the greatest artists in the history of rap music.
With over a decade having passed since her last album, it’s easy to forget what an incredible run Missy was on in her heyday. From her 1997 debut Supa Dupa Fly through 2005’s The Cookbook, Elliott completely bent the rap zeitgeist to her will, issuing smash after smash without ever compromising her freaky, future-forward sound. Though she performed several newer songs -- which sounded great the context of the performance -- Missy’s set was primarily a celebration of her peak era.
“Get Ur Freak On,” “Gossip Folks,” “Work It,” “Hot Boyz,” “Pass That Dutch”: These songs sound as vital today as they did upon their release. Missy performed each with aplomb and though she had to take a couple of breaks (her battle with Lupus is a major reason she’s been out of the spotlight) her first U.S. concert in 10 years was everything her fans could have wanted. It was fitting that she both entered and exited the stage with the “empty box” illusion: 20 years after the release of her debut, Missy is still making magic.
Other highlights from day one of FYF Fest….Beach Fossils were the perfect band to open the day, as their hugely melodic sound is both dreamy and driving. Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell guested on “Tangerine”....BADBADNOTGOOD are equally adept at both squawking free jazz and focused funk and their set found the Canadian band chasing both muses….After touring extensively throughout 2016, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals sound as crisp as a two-dollar bill. .Paak’s astonishing musical talent is no secret but the pure joy with which he performs is a wonder to behold in concert….Flying Lotus debuted new music and 3D visuals at his festival-closing performance. An obese pus monster from his just-released directorial debut “Kuso” joined him on stage toward the end of his performance (“You are truly disgusting and I love it” FlyLo remarked) and the 3D imagery was an excellent compliment to his deeply psychedelic beats.
For more on FYF Fest, keep it here on AXS.com.