“Day for Night wants to be a festival no one has ever seen before” thundered a Houston Press blog headline earlier this month. I don’t know if I would go quite that far, but Houston has not seen an event quite like this since 1986, when Jean-Michel Jarre uplifted a city grieving over the Challenger disaster and battered by the oil bust with his Rendez-Vous Houston concert and skyline-bathing laser show and fireworks display.
Few in the audience on Sunday night were old enough to remember that city-uniting extravaganza, though I am told that many in the audience for the previous evening’s headliners New Order were in that demographic. At any rate, though organizer Omar Afra (of Free Press Summerfest fame) touted Day For Night as something new, it really falls in to the son et lumière tradition, a sixty-odd-year-old French movement melding sound and light, usually in and around historic edifices or ruins.
But its execution did bring a few new twists. There was that squishy, hideous-yet-welcome carpet facing acres of the main stage. Both of the indoor stages at the still-evolving Silver Street Studios arts complex (a cluster of recycled heavy industrial buildings in the shadow of the Houston skyline) were in the main rooms of repurposed warehouses, whose legions of nooks and multitudes of crannies were filled with digital art installations ranging from the sublime to the alarming. Afra has said that he wanted to maximize the festival experience by filling in as many of the dead spaces between stages as possible. On that score he succeeded admirably, not just with the installations, but also with the armada of food trucks on the grounds. And in that surprises lurked around many a corner, and its mélange of music and visual art, it reminded me of a sixties-style “happening” writ (very) large, or a gritty, urban version of Austin’s sylvan Enchanted Forest fests of recent years past, albeit with choice musical headliners.
And wow – New Order and Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monae, Flying Lotus, Dan Deacon, Death Grips, and Phillip Glass for lagniappe? Hats off to veteran Houston booker Ryan Chavez. And just as billed, visual artists were very much the co-stars here, as was the Houston skyline, in a cameo role about a mile away, looming benignly over the proceedings. Albeit one said by Swedish rapper Elliphant to “look exactly like chlamydia.”
And that was just as infectious as Lamar’s set on the main stage, his own show possibly overshadowed by a fan he pulled from the audience who called himself “Corporate Do,” (pronounced “dough”), whose unscripted cameo has lifted him from obscurity to H-Town Hero (NSFW: cussing]:
For Houston, this was an unusual foray into both winter outdoor concert-going and, strange as it may seem, a night time al fresco concert experience. (As Afra pointed out, in summer, Houston doesn’t go full dark until about nine, and two hours later, noise ordinances start kicking in.)
The winter aspect was a bold move too long in the coming. Back when I was the Houston Press music editor, it always annoyed me that virtually all of Houston’s outdoor fests were held in October or April, the two months with weather as close to perfect as sultry Houston ever gets. Promoters offered that every other month was either too hot or too cold, or that it might rain (as if that were impossible in April and October), and then we’d waste another month of glorious January weather. And February and March too. Sigh. Houston is a Goldilocks town where Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium invariably turtle up unless the elements meet some precise algorithm for absolute weather perfection, but maybe events like this will finally break down that fixed idea.