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At Portola, Little Simz and Nelly Furtado Show Who’s Boss

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Nelly Furtado performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)

After a chaotic first year, Portola made a triumphant return to San Francisco’s Pier 80 — an austere, concrete landscape bookended by mechanical cranes and ships. The city’s largest cargo terminal doesn’t exactly scream musical festival, but it does say Bay Area industrial with its chest. Thousands flocked to the venue in repurposed Renaissance sequins and LED garments galore on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to brave Bay Area climate at her finest: too hot for layers at noon and tundra cold by dark.

Eric Prydz’ set on day one was less of a DJ set than it was an atmospheric experience. His electro-house beats were all-consuming even hundreds of rows back from the stage, while holograms of humanoids in hazmat gear surveilled the crowd like a cyberpunk nightmare.

An obvious gem of the entire two-day festival was British rapper Little Simz, who tore up the main stage on Sunday with her turbo-charged rhymes and commanding stage presence. She exuded the raw confidence of an artist well in her prime. “I bottle up and then spill it in verses / One day, I’m wordless, next day, I’m a wordsmith,” she rapped from her 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, and the crowd felt it.

At the end of her set, Simz was as reluctant to go as the audience was. “Fuck it — if they cut us off, they cut us off,” she laughed, launching into an exhilarating bonus performance of “Woman.” (A highlight within the highlight were her ASL interpreters, who were busting moves as much as they were keeping up with her rapid fire verses.)

Little Simz performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)

True to form, Thundercat delivered silky, six-string bass guitar solos — and meowed a lot. Rina Sawayama brought theatrical realness with three outfit changes and dramatic vocals. In the indoor scene, Kenny Beats, 2manydjs and Flying Lotus curated excellent warehouse parties. Kenny Beats’ expert mixing of Bay Area hits like “Got 5 on It” and “Tell Me When to Go” was frankly stunning.

FKJ, Nelly Furtado and Polo and Pan had spectacular back-to-back sets. The crowd pressed up to the stage as Furtado made an emotional comeback performance. “Thank you so much,” she said tearfully as the crowd sang along to “I’m Like A Bird,” a 2000 hit that still has the staying power to heal our collective inner child.

Nelly Furtado performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)

If Furtado brought a syrupy nostalgia for the aughts era of Juicy velour and lowrise cargo pants, then Polo and Pan brought something more timeless and even subatomic. Kinetic orbs and pulsing triangles frolicked onscreen as the duo performed effervescent songs like “Feel Good,” which had the whole crowd astral projecting onto a plane better than this one.

And while Skrillex delivered a relentless yet unremarkable 90 minutes of EDM, the real supernova of Portola’s climax was Tokischa, emphasis on the climax. The Dominican rapper threw down a volcanic performance that had both fans and backup dancers literally tearing off their clothes. Even the stragglers on the outskirts of the crowd were dancing and putting their whole backs into it to songs like “Perra” and “La Combi Versace.” Nothing was lowkey about the event — and Portola was better for it.

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The crowd at Portola festival on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Thundercat performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Skrillex headlines Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Rina Sawayama performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Rina Sawayama performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Masego performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Little Dragon performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Little Dragon performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Labrinth performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Janellelise Ondevilla (left) and partner Michae McEuen wear matching light up outfits to Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Festivalgoers cheer from the front row of the Pier Stage as Skrillex headlines Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Fans dance at the Ship Tent as Kenny Beats performs at Portola on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Fans cheer for Kenny Beats from the front row of the Ship Tent on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Eric Prydz performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Eric Prydz performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Polo and Pan perform at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Polo and Pan perform at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Polo and Pan perform at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Flying Lotus performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Portola attendees dance as Nelly Furtado performs on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Portola attendees dance as Polo and Pan perform on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
FKJ performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
FKJ performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Chromeo performs at Portola on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez)

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