The day began with Blood Orange on the Great Oak Stage before Cat Power, who donning an anti-gun-crime badge, gently diffused her soft, folky melodies towards the crowd. Jamie XX was the lively antidote to Cat Power’s calm. The set started promisingly, with club beats and samples of Kendrick Lamar, Skepta, Florence and the Machine, and of course, The XX, briefly transforming an overcast Hyde Park to a hot Ibiza beach. A heavy downpour quickly dampened the illusion, soaking many underprepared festival goers; momentum slowed as his metronomic rhythms began to grow tedious.
Later Kamasi Washington brought his epic jazz to the Park stage. Though Washington is the star, he is keen to share the limelight- each band member was given their turn to shine with extended virtuoso solos. Though arguably self-indulgent, the performers were spellbinding – it was easy to get lost in the overwhelming layers of brass, choral harmonies and melee of rhythms. Washington and his band are rising stars and any chance to see them perform in the flesh should be taken. The only shame was that collaborators Washington and Lamar did not team up to make a guest appearance in one another’s respective sets.
However Lamar did not disappoint. Strolling up to the mic, Compton’s poet laureate was left speechless at his raucous reception. In the opening three songs his live band display their impressive versatility – as comfortable with free jazz (For Free?) as they are with classic hip-hop (Wesley’s Theory) and jazz infused soul (Institutionalised). The tracks from 2015 masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly demonstrate why Lamar is hip-hop’s hottest talent. Even if rapping isn’t your thing, there is such intricacy that he demands attention.
Hits such as Swimming Pools and m.A.A.d city from preceding album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, certainly improve live, giving the crowd opportunities aplenty to put both hands up and bop on King Kendrick’s command. Lamar’s delivery is just as impressive as it is on the record, conveying his incredible depth of meaning through his intricate, nimble rhyming style – backing tracks and hype-men are surplus to requirements. After a foot-stomping rendition of King Kunta, the set reached its peak with a sensational rendition of Alright(the protest anthem for the Black Lives Matter campaign). On it, Lamar demonstrates that he can dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee, delivering a powerful affront to institutional racism while executing that breathtaking pause in the second verse to perfection.
No surprise to say Florence’s set was different, with smaller room for angst or poignant social commentary. Floating ethereally across the stage Welch euphorically called for ‘love and peace’; her message was essentially the same as Kendrick Lamar’s, and that of the festival’s headliner the previous day, Massive Attack: one of tolerance and compassion. But whereas Lamar and Massive Attack are all about strong and direct engagement, Florence refused to leave the ideal realm and give context, political or otherwise.
While I found this decontextualised idealising jarring in wake of recent upheaval, the majority of the Hyde Park crowd did not. Welch certainly knows how to deliver a good spectacle, prancing wildly around stage with limitless energy during the likes of Delilah andShake It Out. More reflective songs like How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful and a semi-acoustic rendition Cosmic Love set against the fragile plucking of harp strings, showcase how strong and near-flawless Florence’s vocals are. Fan favourites, You’ve got the love, Rabbit Heart and Dog Days are Over brought the capacity crowd to fever-pitch as they unanimously belt out the songs’ grand choruses. The rockier encore of What Kind of Man and the brilliant Drumming Song, provided an epic finale to the second day of British Summer Time.