It was the question that loomed over the festivities like all the casinos towering above the grounds where it took place.
What would Day N Vegas be like as the first major hip-hop event to take place since the AstroWorld tragedy of the weekend before?
Would people feel safe?
Would there be crowd control issues?
Would performers conduct themselves differently?
You could answer all three in the affirmative, to a degree.
Clearly, enthusiasm for Day N Vegas wasn’t dimmed by the events of the preceding week, as a massive throng of fans showed up at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds and conjured a celebratory mood that kept the party going hard for three days.
AstroWorld was definitely on the mind of the performers, though, plenty of whom kept a keen eye on the crowd.
“If you see one person fall down, I want to see five, 10, 20 hands picking them up,” rapper Duckwrth instructed from the Dean Tent on Saturday, just one of many artists who enjoined the crowd to look out for another over the course of the weekend.
Come Sunday evening, things did get claustrophobic at the Frank Stage.
Singer SZA briefly paused her show to alert security to a potential area of concern in the crowd.
After her set ended, security pulled dozens of fans over the barriers who wanted to leave the area in front of the stage, while a festival crew member repeatedly took to the mic to encourage fans to take three steps back and to the side to make room for all people massed up front before Tyler, The Creator’s festival-closing performance.
Once he hit the stage, though, the show ran smoothly.
And so it went for Day N Vegas 2021, three days of hip-hop, R&B and androgynous, funk-informed glam rock zipped into thigh-high boots. (Yes, there is such a thing. No, you shouldn’t have missed it).
Over 120 acts performed across three stages for nearly 12 hours daily.
Energy drinks were consumed; sleep was slept on; a bass hangover was incurred.
And now, five takeaways from this year’s fest:
He said it
Please allow the man with the blood-smeared saw blade inked into his face to introduce himself.
“My name is Austin Richard Post,” he beamed through a Bud Light grin, “and I’m here to play (crappy) music and get (messed) up.”
Day N Vegas, meet Post Malone, connoisseur of jean shorts, beer, self-deprecation and more beer.
On Saturday night on the Frank Stage, Malone asked if anyone in the house might be a little buzzed.
“That makes two of us,” he said in the response to the audience’s throaty cheers.
Then he launched into “St. Tropez,” a sort of victory lap for the singer-rapper where he catalogs all the conspicuous consumption his fame has afforded him (boats, jewels, Versace boxers, etc.).
But the song takes a turn: “I said, ‘I’m sorry mama for my vices,’” Malone apologizes in the tune. “You’ll never understand what my life is.”
This is the duality at the heart of Malone’s catalog: the good times always seem caked in regret.
“I wake up every day with this anxiety,” he acknowledged on “Paranoid;” “Tell me that it’s all OK,” he pleaded on an acoustic “Stay.”
Malone’s voice is warm and yet doleful around the edges; sorrow shadows everything.
And yet, here he was, leading the party as Travis Scott’s replacement on the Day N Vegas line-up, smoking cigarettes and singing simultaneously, drinking from a red Solo cup, cracking jokes.
“This next song is called ‘This next song,’” he quipped prior to “Paranoid.”
Hey, who’s to say you can’t be a hip-hop king and court jester at once?
It was a yearning no one in the audience shared with her.
“I wish I was a normal girl,” SZA sang in a flowing orange dress, performing before an even more outsize, 10-foot tall Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoe stage prop, her voice a yo-yo of emotion, shuttling up and down, up and down. “How do I be?”
Some questions are better left unanswered — and that’s one of them, because not fitting in is kind of SZA’s thing.
It may be uncomfortable for her at times, her songs consistently penduluming between self-assurance and self-doubt.
“Fearin’ not growin’ up / Keepin’ me up at night,” she confessed on “Prom” during her alternately stirring and playful performance at the Frank Stage on Sunday. “Am I doin’ enough? / Feel like I’m wastin’ time.”
With her highly anticipated sophomore record ostensibly due out soon — though no official release date has been set — she mostly mined her acclaimed 2017 debut “Ctrl,” a candid, often cutting exploration of a twentysomething’s coming of age.
“This is probably the last time I’ll perform the album in this way,” she noted.
If so, she sent it off in style with one of the most engrossing performances of the weekend.
“No, I’ll never be a normal girl,” she concluded in song, finishing the aforementioned thought.
Remember back when Doja Cat was playing the pocket-sized Beauty Bar downtown on the strength of a novelty single where she equated herself to a cow and dropped lines like, “Got the methane, I’m a farter / With my farmer, MacDonald?”
Yeah, neither does anyone else — those days are as long gone as the venue itself, which was sadly shuttered in spring 2019.
Flash-forward to Saturday night: Doja Cat’s now a main stage act at one’s of the country’s biggest hip-hop festivals, undulating to ladies-first pop-rap whose sound is as bright as her pink hair.
Alternating staccato raps with the breathy purr of a kitten getting its belly rubbed, Doja Cat’s repertoire is essentially the female gaze set to a beat, where she both embraces traditional female roles (partner; mother) and then pushes far beyond them — and she does so while dry humping the stage and singing bent-over-backward at the knees, quite the feat.
“I could be the leader, head of all the states,” she rapped on funk-lite call-to-arms “Woman.” “I could smile and jiggle it ‘til his pockets empty / I could be the CEO, just look at Robyn Fenty.”
“Princess or queen, tomboy or king,” she continued at song’s end, “You’ve heard a lot, you’ve never seen / Mother Earth, Mother Mary rise to the top.”
Give her time, she’ll get there.
The ‘you-should-have-been-there, man’ moment of the weekend
The crowd was small, the sound of opposite proportions.
“I just want to look you in the eye,” Yves Tumor (aka Sean Bowie) sang over arcing guitars and a needling bass line as he clambered down from the stage at the Dean Tent and did just that, getting pupil-to-pupil with the audience before him.
Rocking thigh-white boots, long black gloves, a ball cap that looked as if was adorned with railroad spikes and a halter top designed to look like a business suit, Bowie’s look was as singular as his sound, an over-driven pastiche of amps-to-11 glam rock, post-punk and funk overlaid with a noisy sheen of shoegaze-y feedback.
Though Yves Tumor and Its Band didn’t draw a huge amount of people to their Saturday night set, those who were there saw one of Day N Vegas’ most electric performances — granted, the fest doesn’t feature a lot of rock-based acts, but no one has ever rocked the weekend harder.
“How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” Bowie wondered near the end of “Secrecy Is Incredibly Important to the Both of them,” his final song of the evening.
And then he went away.
You missed him.
A pretty great creation
He literally began his show posed with tongue planted firmly in his cheek.
It was a telling gesture: Tyler, The Creator is one of hip-hop’s greatest talents and trolls alike: A sly, skilled lyricist, wunderkind producer and proud, ever-willing instigator with an Alfred E. Neuman smile and fingers callused from pushing your buttons.
On Sunday, he returned to Day N Vegas, this time in a headlining capacity, and again turned in one of the most memorable performances of the fest.
With a full-size speedboat listing from side-to-side at the center of the stage — in which he performed from time-to-time, his body becoming as herky-jerky as his rhymes — Tyler delved into a songbook where passion and venom intermingle freely, and the line between love and hate is of a toothpick’s width — if such a line even exists at all.
“I (expletive) hate you, but I love you,” he declared on “IFHY,” “I’m bad at keeping my emotions bubbled.”
On one hand, he’ll confess to feelings that many of us might keep hidden.
“I’m the loneliest man alive,” he contended on “911.”
But on the other hand, you’ve got to be confident to be eccentric.
And this is, perhaps, Tyler’s greatest creation: himself.
“I ain’t never had anxiety / I ain’t never second-guessed myself,” he barked on a set-closing “RUNITUP.” If I want it, I go get it / I’m always on go mode / I just go.”
And then the show ended, and off he went, taking Day N Vegas 2021 with him.
Contact Jason Bracelin at email@example.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram