A single tuft of cloud squatted over the distant mountains on the approach to Harder Stadium Sunday as thousands of students (and a few “students”) flooded into Extravaganza 2016.
The field adorned itself as festively as the assembled audience, all adding up to a tilt-shift facsimile of the Coachella aesthetic. Free yerba mate on tap subbed for the $10 beers cupped in hands on polo fields all over California, and the colorful décor was complete with a pair of 20-foot insect sculptures constructed by Bamboo DNA, a collective of veterans to the festival circuit. Natalie Koe, Festivals Coordinator of UCSD’s A.S. Concerts & Events, said she “LOVED the art and decor aspect of the festival. That’s something that is hard to find at other college festivals because students often don’t put much effort into the art side since they are so focused on the music side,” though she also congratulated Program Board on booking such an exemplary lineup.
As the music started up a bit after 1 p.m., the crowd remained relatively sparse. Opening acts Emancipator and Zella Day played amicably to the assorted audience, though each had to share stage space with the other’s (and Anderson .Paak’s) equipment. “It was a bit odd to see Emancipator, Zella Day and Anderson .Paak not given the full stage since there were other production pieces still on stage,” noted Koe.
A delightfully ripe grab for the Extravaganza lineup, .Paak is primed to join the ranks of 2013’s Kendrick and 2010’s Drake as hip-hop legends who played here before their blow-ups into full-fledged legendary status. The Oxnard native oozed pre-supernova glow, decked out in a flashy windbreaker, some signature circle shades and an undeniable swagger. Alternatingly strutting around up and down the stage or deftly smashing on his drumset, .Paak flashed with his virtuoso skill and charm.
Displaying his range, the multihyphenate rapped and crooned jams off his lauded latest release Malibu, including “The Bird,” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Put Me Thru.” Included in the setlist was .Paak’s closest thing to a party song, “Drugs,” off the less recognized (and less sonically distinct) Venice.
.Paak and his band, the Free Nationals, proved an excellent addition to the fest with their energetic blend of R&B, hip-hop and funk. As those on the field grooved to the Free Nationals’ cover of the iconic Nile Rodgers riff from Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” those stuck in the expansive stretch of a line lamented that they couldn’t join them in time to catch the end of the set.
After .Paak’s electric act, students squashed in to wild-out with Rae Sremmurd. The 20 and 22-year-old Brown brothers, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi, bursted onto the stage. Heralded by SremmLife crew member D-JaySremm and joined by the rest of their squad (and a heap of pineapples), the duo riled up the crowd with their hoppy energy and unabashed attitude. Lee rocked a Prince tee, which he quickly tossed to bound around tats-out in the sweaty heat. His brother donned a certified-dope denim coverall worthy of the Zara and H&M replicas you’re sure to find on racks in a couple months; both let their dreads bounce and swing with the thump of their beats.
The Sremm Bros. came out determined to pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist. The screens behind them depicted 8-bit avatars of themselves hopping through neon cityscapes or a bottle spinner landing on pie slice categories with dreadfully on-the-nose imagery like emojis (eggplant included) or a “Netflix & Chill” slogan. Despite their youth, they still couldn’t avoid the corniness that comes with co-opting all things viral, though the goofiness of it all lent to their devil-may-care demeanor.
After blasting through a seemingly inexhaustible list of SremmLife hits like “No Type,” “No Flex Zone,” “Throw Sum Mo,” and the unquestionable banger that is “Unlock the Swag,” the rappers played “Look Alive,” the first single off their upcoming, aptly-titled SremmLife 2.
Carson Capps, bassist for local band The Duds and a member of Program Board’s production staff, mentioned how the show was literally lit: “The sound system was crazy and a few of the subwoofers actually caught on fire during the show; we could smell the melted rubber while we were packing up!” Regarding the cavalcade of dancers that stormed the stage at the group’s invitation, Capps noted, “eventually a few climbed on ODESZA’s gear and we had to get them off! They did not want to go. It sounded like the performers were about to call us out for kicking the girls off, but they ended up yelling about Trump instead, which was cool.” It was cool; Sremms launched into a souped-up rendition of “Up Like Trump,” replacing its usual lyrics with expletives bashing of the woefully legitimized candidate.
Jennifer Kim, a second-year who joined the Sremmlife crew on stage, called it “a carefree and fun experience that had me reflecting on how the year is coming to a bittersweet end … I have so much love for the other women dancing on stage with me because I see the world as our stage.”
Like .Paak, Swae and Jimmi wrapped up with someone else’s song: the breakdown to Ghost Town DJ’s recently and virally resurged 1996 R&B jam “My Boo,” inciting Vine-worthy jittering in the rambunctious crowd as Sremmurd departed for their “Afterparty in LA!”
Taking shelter from the amassing horde of blacked-out shovers in the graciously shaded bleachers, one could relax to the relatively chilled stylings of electronic darlings ODESZA. The Seattle duo certainly provided an engaging performance but its mellow vibe didn’t quite befit their billing as the event’s headliner.
Known for their involved live act, members Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight beat on some drums and were joined by live trumpet accompaniment, which — despite their distinction from many other electronic acts — did not quite live up to their buzzy reputation. In fact, the choice of ODESZA’s position as a headliner is a bit dubious; though perhaps more popular, their act didn’t match the raw energy of Sremmurd’s or the ecstatic instrumentation of .Paak’s. Though the outpour of crowd reaction for anthems like “Say My Name” and their remix of Zhu’s “Faded” proved they deserved a spot on the lineup, their role as the ultimate act was a bit of a cooldown. Said KCBSB host Elena Bernick, “ODESZA was cool, but their live show wasn’t as exciting as I heard it would be, and they weren’t even close to matching the energy of Rae Sremmurd or .Paak. It would’ve been better if one of them had closed the show.”
ASPB certainly outdid their already esteemed selves with the studded list of performers, and the relatively smooth run — save for the aforementioned line drama and some slight technical issues with the LED displays — of 2016’s Extravaganza makes it one for the books.