David Bowie's "Space Oddity" rings out. Dancers decked in gold shimmer across the stage. The hall is pitch black except for spotlights splintering on the surface of a disco ball. Festival Supreme is a ticket to another world, located within the hall, auditorium and grounds of The Shrine. As the festival unfolds, it becomes clear that there is no single unifying experience. Festival Supreme is a multiverse, rich with alternative outcomes.
Curated by Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D, Festival Supreme is an annual one day music and comedy extravaganza. Now in its fourth year, it boasts an atmosphere charged with community. Festival-goers don costumes, whether a superhero outfit or an original creation. Many have riffed on this year's space theme, and Ziggy Stardust flashes abound.
On the Omega Stage located at the Shrine grounds, Eric Andre plays the host of a fictional TV chat show, a live rendition of Adult Swim's "Eric Andre Show". It's incredibly frenetic, with Andre launching cabbages into the crowd, and then himself. His zap of hair bobs within the sea of people. Short, aggressive video clips, intercut his mock TV host act. Away from the main stage, there are food trucks, a fun slide, and a fairground ride for those who want to make instant room for another trip to the food trucks. That's why Andre's act is so breathless. When there are so many other enticing distractions, he does well to retain a large audience throughout his performance.
Festivals are fitful affairs. You take in snippets of the acts, ducking out early or joining in late. As a result, you have that strange sensation of missing out while simultaneously partaking. Around five thousand fans mill about the Shrine, hopping between the three stages and various on-site attractions. This intermittent nature is why music is more suited than comedy to the festival setting, but when it comes to attracting top comedic talent, Festival Supreme is second to none.
Unfortunately, the afternoon is slow, with Jenny Slate one of the few engaging performers playing the Crab Nebula stage in The Shrine Auditorium. Both Maya Rudolph and Will Forte, former members of the SNL roster, spend too long mimicking singers Patti Labelle and James Ingram respectively. Half-way through his set, Forte admits he didn't know how he was going to fill his time and the performance confirms the confession.
The festival really kicks into gear when Sarah Silverman steps onto the Crab Nebula stage. She's a consummate performer and it's a pleasure to see a comedian so assured in her abilities. Material about laser hair removal and dogs, trivial in the hands of another performer, is stinging and hilarious when rendered through her particular prism, playful in the face of despair. When taking in Silverman's act, it's easy to conclude that life is both meaningless and hopeless so it's good she makes it so funny.
Not everyone in the crowd is willing to let Silverman hit her groove. The briefest gap in her routine is filled by a heckle disguised as a compliment, "We love you!" Silverman is unfazed but clearly a little irked. What's the best possible outcome of these inane outbursts? Silverman hands them the mic? She becomes their best friend? For the next Festival Supreme, some people need to adopt the alter-ego of a decent person with manners. Now that's an elaborate costume.
Following Silverman, Jack Black introduces the stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt. Oswalt's riffs on purchasing pants and spending Christmas in L.A. are classic. But his performance reaches new heights when he talks about the loss of his wife, the writer Michelle McNamara, in a way that is both poignant and side-splitting. Only six months on from her death, Oswalt shares details about his imperfect adjustment to life as a widower and a single father. His attempted graveyard heart-to-heart with Michelle is scuppered, so too is his effort to distract his daughter from the inevitable grief of Mother's Day. Oswalt's performance is so candid that even the hecklers are stilled for a little while.
The night ends on a high thanks to Flight of the Conchords on the Omega Stage. With no more schedule clashes, the Festival Supreme crowd is finally gathered in one place to watch New Zealand's self-described "most populous band" (they have two members, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement). The pair play classic tracks like "Business Time" and "The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)" as well as newer songs, such as "Father and Son", a droll take on the Cat Stevens song of the same name. Most affecting, however, is the rendition of "Bowie", a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the pop musician and counter culture chameleon. In the year of David Bowie's death, this freaky medley becomes an emotive homage. It's the crowning moment of the day, threading together everyone's disparate festival experiences. Festival Supreme, you really made the grade.
"Festival Supreme" was one night only at The Shrine Auditorium (665 W. Jefferson Blvd.)