When I was 15, I saw a curious looking Coachella DVD in the music documentary section at Best Buy, and bought it on a whim. It turned out to be a collection of select performances from the festival’s recent years. It introduced me to the concept of the contemporary music festival. Watching awe-inspiring sets from the Pixies, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire back then made me long for this mystical festival destination for the ensuing years. What could be better than a music festival in the California desert, surrounded by swaying palm trees and gorgeous sunsets? As an East coast-bred music nerd, it was an ideal but impossible musical destination. It always fell during a school semester, would take a flight to get to, and just never seemed to be within my grasp. Nevertheless, I knew I had to go. In fact, I had dreamed of one day making the trip to Coachella every single year until this one, when I finally decided I was done denying myself, when I saw Radiohead and Godspeed listed alongside Jeff Mangum and Bon Iver. I was sold.
When I got there, though, I realized that, for many, Coachella is just another California party. Whereas I was going to surround myself with music and people who loved music, like I have done repeatedly at Bonnaroo for the past six years, many here were at Coachella, to, well, be at Coachella. There’s certainly nothing wrong with going somewhere for the sake of going somewhere, plus the added bonus of catching sets of music, but the Coachella experience definitely wasn’t all my pubescent dreams had longed for. I expected massive crowds of cultish fans going nuts for reformed acts like At the Drive-in, Refused, and Mazzy Star. I expected Radiohead heads to overtake the polo field and post up all day at the main-stage waiting for their beloved gods of rock to grace their eyes and ears. Maybe I was hoping for something that really doesnt exist anywhere but in my head. Maybe I’m outgrowing the magic of festivals. Or maybe there simply were too many young, neon-clad partiers and not enough music-worshippers.
Photo by Ted Maider
For whatever reason, the music never felt as powerful as I would have expected it to, because, when it comes right down to it, for many sets, I felt alone in my excitement. I may be out of line here, but something about Coachella did not sit well with me. The music was great, the setting was phenomenal, I just wish my dreams weren’t so far from the reality. But I guess that’s the reality of high expectations, they can never be met.
I’ll never forget the unique experience of actually keeping an eye out for the Radiohead fanatics, and actually being able to get close for Jeff Mangum right before he started. In many ways, it kept the performances I wanted to see intimate, but in others, I wish I had a community to look on with. Because nobody goes to a festival just to see music, and sadly, for many here, that seemed to be only one of the fringe perks. Maybe Bonnaroo is my perfect festival after all.
Anyhow, here’s what we all saw.
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 13th
Photo by Ted Maider
Abe Vigoda – Gobi – 12:00 p.m.
Abe Vigoda’s tropical goth-rock was a perfect way to ease into the weekend’s festivities. Playing their subtle blend of dream pop, new wave, and doom-goth–a vaguely sunny take on Disintegration era Cure–the California natives sounded pretty good in front of the Gobi stage’s palm tree-lined backdrop. Crush’s “Repeating Angel” was a skittering, tribal romp basking in the desert sun, as Juan Velasquez’s low howl skittered atop the murky synth. -Drew Litowitz
Wolf Gang – Gobi – 1:00 p.m.
With a name like Wolf Gang, I decided to judge a band by its title and check these bros out. After all, I have been known to like a few indie groups with references to animals in their names (oftentimes wolves in particular). But instead of the strange Odd Future/Wolf Parade amalgamation stemming from the deepest, most twisted associative regions of my brain, the roles of Spencer Krug and Tyler, The Creator were swapped out for the sort of standard British pop-singing and songwriting you rarely see performed outside of rom-coms starring Hugh Grant as a washed-up former pop singer. Dude even wore a thin black scarf and a matching vest! In other words, this was not my cup of hot beverage. -Drew Litowitz
Other Lives – Gobi – 2:05 p.m.
Other Lives was one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival weekend. Their show was sort of like what would happen if Talk Talk was part of the Canterbury Folk scene, and Thom Yorke gave Mark Hollis a few singing lessons. (To be clear, frontman Jesse Tabish sounded nothing like Mark Hollis, but for the sake of my stupid comparison to Talk Talk’s instrumentation, let’s just say Mark Hollis started singing like a folkier Thom Yorke mixed with Bowerbirds’ Phil Moore and it ended up sounding like this). And since Other Lives opened for Radiohead on the first leg of their North American tour, Yorke may in fact have given the guy singing lessons. Aside from Tabish’s vocals, though, dissonant strings, brass swells, churning acoustic guitar, and heavy piano made for a set filled with fluttering, grandiose “post-folk” explosions. Subtle, elegant, and ultimately, unhinged. -Drew Litowitz
Kendrick Lamar – Coachella – 2:40 p.m.
Photo by Ted Maider
It’s hard enough to win over a crowd of anxious festival goers, and even harder when it’s raining and said festival goers have just endured hours of ridiculously long lines, parking, and a seemingly endless series of security checkpoints. But Kendrick Lamar made it look easy, drawing the first real crowd of the afternoon with his sharp flow and huge stage presence. Kicking off with a couple of verses from “Buried Alive”, his feature on Drake’s Take Care, Lamar managed to keep the audience engaged even as he stuck almost exclusively to tracks off of his forthcoming Dre-approved LP, before ending with “Rigamortis” and “Hiiipower”, two highlights off of last year’s Section.80. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
Jimmy Cliff and Tim Armstrong – Coachella – 5:10 p.m.
Photo by Ted Maider
One of Jimmy Cliffs most renown songs is a cover of Johnny Nashs I Can See Clearly Now, a classic that digresses on rain clouds clearing and people’s situations improving for the best. Given Friday’s downpour, it felt like the wrong moment for a reggae star to sing such a track. Still, it didnt matter though. If anybody could make people smile, it was Cliff, accompanied by punk legend Tim Armstrong, as they played a handful of reggae jams to try and brighten up the crowd. Cliff was lively on stage, while he danced charismatically and belted out tracks like Vietnam and Armstrongs Ruby Soho, which had everyone dancing and looking past the rain. Shortly after his set ended, however, the clouds parted and Coachella returned to its normal state. Something tells me Cliff was behind the weather all along. -Ted Maider
Death Grips – Gobi – 5:45 p.m.
Minutes before the rest of Death Grips took the stage, Zach Hill’s drum soundcheck proved more than enough to inspire the first mosh pit of their set. And once they actually got to playing, it was clear that it’d hardly be the last. Frontman Stefan Burnett cut a downright terrifying figure onstage as he bellowed his way through “Beware” and “Spread Eagle Cross the Block”, both off the group’s first mixtape, the latter of which finds Burnett beasting over Link Wray’s surf-rock classic “Rumble”. New tracks “Lost Boys” and “I’ve Seen Footage” were met with raucous circle-pitting, as was the menacing “Guillotine”, which saw the audience attempt to shout along with Burnett’s half-intelligible shouts. In a way unlike any other act in recent memory, Death Grips fuses the blunt candor of hardcore punk with ferocious, low-slung hip-hop stylings that somehow caught the ear of Epic Records. To their credit, this marriage of ideologies works both on record and on-stage. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
Arctic Monkeys – Coachella – 6:30 p.m.
The last time they played Coachella, back in 2007, the Arctic Monkeys had just released their second album and were still being dismissed by many as just another NME-championed guitar boyband soon to go the way of the Fratellis, the Libertines, etc. Five years and two very solid albums later, they made their triumphant return to Coachella’s Main Stage, blasting through a greatest hits set that touched on all the best points of their catalog. Alex Turner has developed into one of the finest frontmen around in the years since then, cracking jokes in his dry Sheffield accent and leading his band through hits old and new with all the cocksure swagger and strut of a bonafide rockstar. Fan favorites “Still Take You Home” and “Pretty Visitors” were delivered with blistering precision, as was “R U Mine?”, one of two new songs the band played, whose thunderous groove nods heavily to tourmates and new chums the Black Keys. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
WU LYF – Gobi – 7:00 p.m.
The lead-up to WU LYF’s evening set was one of the most ridiculous of the weekend. Coachella’s few, proud young-alts packed themselves nicely into the Gobi tent to literally worship the vaguely enigmatic Manchester quartet. I mean, people were chanting “WU LYF” and shouting out “I’ll love you forever!” for a good ten minutes before the guys even came out to play. I really had no idea people were this apeshit over WU LYF up until this point. Shows how much I know. Throughout a set of bombastic, post-rocky pop, self-described by the group as “Heavy Pop”, I was awed by how gravely Ellery Roberts” voice actually was, especially in the live setting. Dude makes Tom Waits sound like Michael Jackson with minor laryngitis. His onstage banter was almost incomprehensible, too, since he even talks like he just swallowed a whole bucket of glass shards. “LYF” and “Heavy Pop” went over great, but the true highlight was probably when Roberts alluded to Kanye West’s “So Appalled” chanting “It’s like that sometimes man ridiculous” for seemingly no reason. Fine by me. After all, “We Bros”. And if we weren’t prior, we certainly are now. -Drew Litowitz
Pulp – Coachella – 7:50 p.m.
Pulp’s Coachella set was hilarious, fun, and exciting. No surprises there. But the relatively small crowd was a tad unsettling. It’s not like this was one of the first of the few U.S. performances this fairly popular band has played in nearly a decade, or anything. ANYHOW, before the band even entered, for a good ten minutes, Pulp’s deliberately overwrought “scrolling questions” introduction set the scene for a lighthearted, nostalgic jaunt through the band’s discography. Featuring green scrolling text operated by a seemingly arrogant, apologetic, insecure, and self-conscious, charmingly British computer, the ten-minute introduction certainly kept the crowd restless, with a seemingly never-ending string of ridiculous questions and commentary. But when Cocker and co. finally emerged, fans were promptly served a plate of the classic arty Brit-pop they anticipated.
With his captivating brand of British wit and his overtly sexual demeanor, Cocker played the role of sex-crazed ringmaster, momentarily turning Coachella’s main stage into Cirque du Pulp. Cocker even offered up grapes (yes, the man was eating grapes on stage) to the crowd, breaking down whatever fourth wall there could have been in a set during which the guy basically talked us through his sexual existence from beginning to present, from hiding in a wardrobe watching two people get it on, to eventually “Doing it for [himself] and entering the adult world,” (“Do You Remember the First Time?”). He even apologized for the band’s slightly slim set with a well-timed innuendo, “I’m usually great with timing, just ask my girlfriend.”
As for the particulars, obviously, “Disco 2000” and “F.E.E.L.I.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E” hit pretty hard, and “Common People” was exactly the sort of “penetration” Cocker told us it would be. “I know we’ve only just gotten to know each other, and I’m sorry, but now I’m going to have to penetrate you,” he warned. Soon enough, Cocker’s ice cold “Ahs” and sensual whispers climaxed into the song’s yelped appeal for low-class monotony. As promised, we were all fucked. -Drew Litowitz
Frank Ocean – Gobi – 8:15 p.m.
Photo by Ted Maider
Mystery surrounded Frank Ocean’s debut solo performance at Coachella: Was he going to play tracks off his mixtape, last year’s Nostalgia, Ultra? How many songs could he actually do live? Were other members of Odd Future going to show up? All of these questions were answered in a very awkward set on Friday. Frank Oceans band strolled out in welding masks about 15 minutes late and tipped off the set with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Long Time Gone”. Throughout, Ocean kept cutting off his band, and it appeared as if nobody on stage really had an idea of what was going on. In hindsight, the only things that saved the show were Ocean’s fantastic vocals, which plucked all the right heartstrings when they were on, and a surprise appearance by Tyler, the Creator for Analog 2. -Ted Maider
The Rapture – Mojave – 8:45 p.m.
Still fresh off the release of last year’s In the Grace of Your Love, New York City natives The Rapture turned in a typically strong performance Friday night, with their blend of ’70s-era disco and spiked dance-punk making for one of the most assuredly crowd-friendly performances of the evening. Frontman/guitarist Luke Jenner was in top form, showcasing his pipes on the sax-infused “How Deep is Your Love”, in between digging into the band’s catalog for “Whoo! Alright, Yeah! Uh Huh.” and the obvious crowd favorite “House of Jealous Lovers”. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
Mazzy Star – Outdoor – 8:50 p.m.
It makes sense for a band that’s been defunct for about a decade to be a little rusty, but I also expect that same band to rehearse some of the corrosion away before returning to the stage of a major U.S. festical. Unfortunately, Mazzy Star’s Friday night set was a rickety, psychedelic mess. “She sings off key the whole time,” said one guy I talked to afterward. I personally found the band hopelessly in search for a psychedelic looseness, so much so that there wasn’t much for the audience to latch onto. The percussion was slightly out of time, the slide guitars squealed and bent aimlessly, Hope Sendoval’s voice wasn’t really even all that powerful or haunting. Sure, “Fade into You” peaked the crowd’s interest, and to be fair, the song’s sliding guitar melody aligned perfectly with its gorgeous chorus. But for such a draw as a reunited Mazzy Star, the set’s weaknesses were jarring. Certainly one of the weekend’s most disappointing sets. -Drew Litowitz
M83 – Mojave – 10:15 p.m.
Even the Black Keys and Explosions in the Sky couldn’t keep one of the largest crowds of the weekend from packing into the Mojave tent for M83 just after ten on Friday night. Anticipation built as the lights flickered off and on and the band’s soundcheck went 20 minutes over schedule. Hardly a soul left before Anthony Gonzalez finally took the stage, who was followed closely by bandmates Pierre Maulni and Morgan Kibby, and the collective wasted no time breaking into “Intro”, the gorgeous Zola Jesus-featuring first track off of last year’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. M83’s set mostly consisted of tracks off that album, with the group’s ubiquitous hit “Midnight City” making for one of the most unforgettable moments all weekend. Though fan favorite “Kim & Jessie” was conspicuously absent from their setlist, M83 more than made up for it with killer renditions of “Couleurs” and Daft Punk’s “Fall”. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
Refused – Outdoor – 11:20 p.m.
When all is said and done, Refused was one of Coachella’s defining moments. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, barring the almighty Radiohead and the absolute absurdity that was Dre and Snoop’s set, Refused’s late-night Friday set was the true highlight of the entire event. That’s saying a lot for a guy who a) is not all that crazy about punk to begin with (even post-modern punk) and b) is not too familiar with Refused’s recorded output, outside of listening to The Shape of Punk to Come a few times. The band was so intense and involved, they felt as vital as they must have been back when they were consistently touring. These highly complex, thoughtful songs were executed with a more than healthy dose of intensity, really exuding the sort of self-aware, agnostic vigor that made them popular to begin with. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the band had always wanted to do The Shape of Punk to Come justice in concert because they never had a lot of time to promote it.
Frontman Dennis Lyxzén proved to be Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s true godfather, throwing his mic stand to the sky and catching it mid-air without giving his lungs any rest. Lyxzén even appeared to experience an on-stage epiphany, relentlessly appreciative of the crowd that came to watch a “group of Swedish dudes yell” and play songs over a decade old. “Stay curious,” he preached, “and don’t let boredom get you.” He was honestly, and overtly, thankful that Goldenvoice persuaded Refused to join the party in the desert. It was refreshing to see a band so consumed by their own songs. I couldn’t get “We want the airwaves back!” out of my head for the remainder of the festival. -Drew Litowitz