Why Was Frank Ocean’s Coachella Set Such a Disappointing Mess?

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UPDATED: Artists spend months rehearsing for — and years dreaming about — headlining the Coachella festival, the biggest in North America. So the fact that Frank Ocean’s festival-closing performance — his first in nearly six years — was so shambolic left many concertgoers distressed, depressed, annoyed and other similar emotions (and left exponentially more people feeling similar kinds of ways when his set was unexpectedly not livestreamed). Ocean and his band delivered strong, often dramatically rearranged performances of many songs, and even closed with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love)” (later covered by Aaliyah). But overall, the energy was low; he and the band were obscured by a battery of people walking in a circle around the stage; and the pacing was bizarre: a seemingly random DJ set was dropped into the the middle, leading many fans to think his performance was over. It also started an hour late.

A post early Monday from the music-festival-centric Twitter site the Festive Owl offered a seemingly plausible basic explanation for what transpired, several basic facts of which have been confirmed by sources to Variety, along with reports in Rolling Stone and TMZ. Reps for Coachella promoter Goldenvoice, its parent company AEG and Ocean did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.

The sources confirm that an elaborate stage production involving an ice rink and a battery of skaters — who would apparently skate around Ocean and the band during their set — was constructed, rehearsed for several days and ready to go, but abruptly called off on Sunday afternoon, after the festival was already under way. Why the production was abruptly changed, however, has two different explanations.

Citing “sources,” the Festive Owl wrote: “Frank decided at the last minute that he no longer wanted it at all. All of the people walking around him at the start of the performance were actually ice skaters, had been practicing for weeks, and were supposed to be skating as part of the production. Coachella had to deconstruct the approved stage (that had been planned and signed off on for months in advance) + melt the entire ice rink and then set it up how Frank decided today with no warning. Which is what you ended up seeing, and caused the hour-long delay. This all happened when doors had already open for Sunday, and people were securing their spots to see him. If the last minute changes weren’t made he wouldn’t have performed at all — leaving the festival without a closing headliner.” Variety sources support the basics of this report.

The reports in TMZ and Rolling Stone — which published at around the same time Monday afternoon — cite a source as saying that production on Ocean’s performance “was adjusted at the last minute to account for an ankle injury the singer sustained during on-site rehearsals in the week leading up to the festival,” according to Rolling Stone, with TMZ adding that the incident took place not during actual rehearsals but while he was riding one of the bicycles that artists and staff use to get around the sprawling Coachella grounds. It added that the injury “was serious enough for doctors to advise Frank’s production be changed.”

While Ocean indeed was seated for much of the performance, during the DJ segment he got up and bopped around the stage for a few minutes, although it’s unclear what level of mobility the original production called for (or whether he was planning on skating as well?). It also would not fully explain why, if the injury took place earlier in the week, the stage was so hastily dissembled just hours before the performance was scheduled to begin — sources report hearing construction sounds almost up to the set’s hour-delayed start.

However, such observations are based on obscured views: The stage was dominated by giant video screens that showed images from the stage that were often unclear, with the performers themselves frequently obscured by the group of people walking in a circle around them — apparently a half-step toward the original skating concept — and the stage itself was not clearly visible to most of the audience.

As for the livestream, a source tells Variety that although Ocean’s set was never publicly scheduled to be broadcast, organizers had expected it and were not told it wasn’t happening until the production changed; they were told not to expect a livestream from Bjork.

Ocean is scheduled to close out Coachella’s weekend two this coming Sunday. Variety will have more on the situation as it develops.