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Coachella 2014: Top 15 Sets + Photos

There's now no denying that the festival has gone Top 40.

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Justin Bieber appeared during Chance the Rapper’s set at Coachella and didn’t get booed and bottled offstage. There’s now no denying that the festival has gone Top 40.

As a nine-time veteran of Coachella (plus one cruise), the festival is a completely different entity than the one I met back in 2004, forming a decade-long tumultuous relationship. People may not change, but festivals certainly can, and these instances have been the root of our darker moments together.

What was originally a getaway for music obsessives and an opportunity to let loose is today a place to spend a weekend #yoloing, and music is often just background noise to the experience. Is this a condemnation of Coachella? Not at all. Times change and Goldenvoice was savvy enough to get on board. If anyone’s at fault, it’s the previous generation of attendee for not elevating the festival to the status of being the center of the world of popular culture for one weekend a year.

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Photo by Ted Maider

Revelers are now younger and prefer DJs, popular hip-hop, and synthpop bands with a catchy single to any and all forms of rock music, acclaimed experimentalists, and esoteric reunions or rarities. For their tastes, Coachella went above and beyond in delivering the biggest names around and still provided just enough options for even the most jaded rock-leaning veterans.

Logistically, Coachella was still conflicted between its past and present. Acts like The Replacements received top-tier billing, and grandiose arena rockers Muse headlined, even though hardly anybody watched, while recent sensations such as Lorde and Lana Del Rey played overcrowded side stages despite being the true stars. It’s only a matter of time before the traditional headliner gets phased out in favor of “that guy/gal with that song” or once-in-a-lifetime guest-filled sets. The tipping point could prove to be Pharrell Williams, who drew what felt like the largest crowd of the weekend.

Because some things never change, Coachella was a challenge to endure physically. Temperatures soared to the triple digits on Friday, and even after multiple showers, my skin and hair are still caked with dirt. Following a sensual, psychedelic voyage with Warpaint on Saturday afternoon, Mother Nature decided to call it quits with an apocalyptic dust storm. Apparently, the world no longer needed to exist after something so perfect, but thankfully she changed her mind. Until then, everyone channeled their inner Corey Hart and donned shades to protect their eyes, while masks and bandanas became a commodity prized even more than Molly or mushrooms.

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Photo by Ted Maider

Despite the harsh weather, a handful of overcrowded performances, and frequency of “broments,” the 15th edition of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was one of the most satisfying yet. Throughout the weekend, the festival felt truly special on account of the caliber of artists as well as the massive displays of stunning artwork. Coachella will continue to not only reflect the current state of festival culture but also shape it, because regardless of what people saw, everyone went back to the real world with the satisfaction of having witnessed some exceptional performances.

15. GOAT

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Photo by Ted Maider

Friday, April 11th – Outdoor Theatre – 1:25 p.m.

It’s tempting to laze around the campsite or pool in the afternoon, but arriving at Coachella as early as possible every day to catch a must-see set is a festival tradition. For 2014, that artist was the psychedelic Swedish outfit GOAT. The mysterious collective blended afrobeat rhythms with fuzzy, distorted guitars, formidable chants, and yelps. Clad in ornate costumes, the two frontwomen of GOAT channeled spirits that invigorated the modest turnout with their sublimely bizarre sounds and style. –Frank Mojica

14. The Knife

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Photo by Frank Mojica

Friday, April 11th – Outdoor Theatre – 10:30 p.m.

Swedish electronic weirdsters The Knife have been on the top of the wishlist of the message board regulars as well as the festival promoters ever since the unreasonably short-lived Silent Shout tour. Fan reaction was mixed at best after the group finally returned to the stage in 2013. Some praised the challenging nature of what was more of a performance art piece than a traditional concert, while others threatened to sue for not getting a live performance.

After touring Europe exclusively last year, The Knife finally came to America to bring their Shaking the Habitual show to Coachella. Joined by a group of nine dancers and instrumentalists decked out like a space-age cult, provocateurs Karin Dreijer-Andersson and Olof Andersson challenged our notions and expectations of what a live performance can be.

Rather than replicating the often-demented sounds of their albums – eerie synths, pitch-shifted vocals, and danceable beats – The Knife brought life to their music with an interpretive dance spectacle that was incomparable to any other performance, electronic or otherwise, of the weekend. Musically, what was live and what wasn’t? The loyalists in the front didn’t care either way and just wanted to dance along to what amounted to a high-concept approach to having a bit of mindless fun. –Frank Mojica

13. Lana Del Rey

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Photo by Ted Maider

Sunday, April 13th – Outdoor Theatre – 8:15 p.m.

Ever since “Video Games” went viral, Lana Del Rey has been a divisive figure, with critics calling shenanigans on what they perceive to be a manufactured pop star for the Instagram set. Regardless of these accusations of inauthenticity, there was nary a hint of dissent among the massive gathering at the Outdoor Theatre post-sunset. As was the case with Lorde and Pharrell, legions of fans and curious onlookers spread unreasonably far for a glimpse of their new favorite diva.

With “My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola,” Lana Del Rey delivered the most memorable opening line of the entire weekend, if not Coachella history. Compared to her disastrous Saturday Night Live appearance years ago, Del Rey has evolved as a live performer. Sometimes her husky coos dissipated in the open breeze, but Del Rey tapped into her seductive reserves to make “Blue Jeans” and the debut of new single “West Coast” fully enchanting.

Were her occasional ramblings, smoke break, and extended hug sessions with the fans on the rail calculated attempts at endearing humanization or moments of genuine emotion? For most of her admirers, it didn’t seem to matter and being in the presence of Del Rey was enough to be enthralled. –Frank Mojica

12. Chance the Rapper

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Photo by Ted Maider

Sunday, April 13th – Coachella – 3:10 p.m.

Few souls were alive by Sunday afternoon. In fact, it took Chance the Rapper’s trademark fusion of soul, jazz, and rap to raise the spirits of everyone looking for their seventh, eighth, or twentieth wind. As the sun slurped up any chance of that, the grooves of “Everybody’s Something”, “Cocoa Butter Kisses”, and a Gambino-less “Favorite Song” carried the weight. Of course, bringing out Justin Bieber didn’t hurt, not exactly causing a riot but certainly jolting everyone out of a daze. Together, the two performed Bieber’s track “Confident”, though the pop icon pretty much just danced around back and forth, hyping the sweaty masses for a solid two minutes. It was one of those “I need to get this on Instagram”-sort of moments, and once it was over, shade became the next priority. Still, not too bad for the Chicago kid. Not too bad at all. –Ted Maider

11. Dum Dum Girls

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Photo by Ted Maider

Friday, April 11th – Outdoor Theatre – 2:30 p.m.

The timing of GOAT’s exit from the Outdoor Theatre coincided with the clearing of the protective overcast that made the heat almost comfortable. In the most daring outfit by a performer of the weekend, Dum Dum Girls frontwoman Dee Dee Penny came prepared for the sauna-like setting by sporting a barely-there top and black pasties for a raver-gone-goth look.

Now a quintet featuring a third guitarist – this one a man – Dum Dum Girls cooled the crowd with a chilled mix of fuzzy surf rock and girl group harmonies. Drummer and SISU-frontwoman Sandra Vu was especially animated as she pummeled along in a storm of ferocity and flying hair. Although their hazed-out style works best under the veil of night, Dum Dum Girls were captivating enough to remain in the sun. –Frank Mojica

10. Bryan Ferry

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Photo by Frank Mojica

Friday, April 11th – Mojave – 9:15 p.m.

Apparently Coachella isn’t just for the selfie generation. The Mojave tent became a refuge this weekend for the music fan who’s unimpressed with the abundance of EDM, is twice the age of the average attendee, and sports a graying mane rather than an undercut. Lamentably, Friday’s other older-skewing rarity, The Replacements, were playing at the same time. Coachella, I will never understand your scheduling.

Despite the conflict, Bryan Ferry drew more people than the couple hundred that turned out for Sparks’ evening set on the same stage last year. The moderately full tent nodded and cheered along to Roxy Music classics such as “Love Is the Drug” and a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. Clad in a paisley tuxedo jacket and supported by eight musicians and backup dancers/vocalists, Ferry captivated with charming showmanship and musical exquisiteness and even trolled the audience during a series of general crowd-pleasers by teasing just a verse of “More Than This”. –Frank Mojica

09. The Replacements

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Photo by Ted Maider

Friday, April 11th – Outdoor Theater – 8:45 p.m.

“Punk dads everywhere are happy,” a friend of mine suggested upon seeing The Replacements revealed as part of Coachella’s lineup back in January. True, but unfortunately, few “punk dads” traveled to Indio, CA. For the n00b generation, Paul Westerberg & Co. fell on deaf ears; to be fair, it didn’t help that they had to compete with a rare set by Bryan Ferry. Still, the Minneapolis outfit stretched their legs and dusted off a great show with plenty of vintage energy.

“Are there any women here who have never said the word ‘awesome?'” Westerberg cracked, only one of many snarky asides throughout the hour-long set. When he wasn’t entertaining with his trademark hubris, he was trying his hand at magic tricks and revisiting classics like “Alex Chilton”, “Androgynous”, “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”, and “Left of the Dial”. Surprisingly, they even tackled the ol’ Westie song “Psychopharmacology”. It wasn’t the sleeper hit of the weekend, but those who stuck around hardly slept. –Ted Maider

08. OutKast

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Photo by Ted Maider

Friday, April 11th – Coachella11:30 p.m.

Early Friday afternoon, the official Coachella app announced that OutKast’s set time had changed to 11:05 p.m., making scheduling even more complicated. Fortunately for those who elected to watch The Knife, and lamentably for those who ducked out early or skipped the Swedish dance party entirely, the announcement was a false alarm and Andre 3000 and Big Boi took the stage at the previously announced time and immediately launched into “B.O.B.”.

Opening with an undeniably genius song was OutKast’s first misstep of their long-awaited comeback, despite its impeccable execution and the duo’s flawless flow. Once your best song is played, the only way to go is downhill. Also, many in attendance missed out on experiencing the moment as they were rushing over from another stage and attempting to navigate between thick, impenetrable clusters of both dancers and sitters. A string of gems including “ATLiens” and “Rosa Parks” continued the momentum built by “B.O.B.”, but the energy would soon hit the brakes.

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Photo by Ted Maider

With the exception of an appearance by the perpetually phenomenal Janelle Monáe for an irresistible “Tightrope”, the 90-minute set became the most alienating headlining performance at Coachella since Gorillaz’ awkwardly paced and underwhelming spectacle of 2010. The culprit? A shameless promotion of guest Future’s upcoming and unheard album was awkwardly placed among what should have been a celebration of OutKast and their classics. Additionally, a surprisingly lengthy string of material from Spearkerboxxx/The Love Below made the feverishly anticipated reunion feel more like two solo performances mashed together.

In what was inadvertently a middle finger to photographers, the duo spent much of time inside a cube. It became a hiding place for Andre 3000, whose delivery was increasingly that of someone that was uncomfortable onstage and desired to be elsewhere, which only worsened as it became increasingly clear the crowd was not feeling it. “Are y’all alive?” he asked at point. Prince must have been making pancakes backstage because he was given a shout-out but did not appear.

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Photo by Ted Maider

Following a slight resurgence of enthusiasm for “Hey Ya”, Killer Mike surfaced for a finale of “Whole World” that never came to fruition. It was now 1:00 a.m. and the Coachella gods had shut down the sound. It was an anticlimactic ending to a set that offered thrills but did not live up to the hype. The takeaway lesson from OutKast’s reunion? Always keep expectations in check. –Frank Mojica

07. Nas

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Photo by Ted Maider

Saturday, April 12th – Outdoor Theatre – 12:00 a.m.

Nas doesn’t always promise the best show. In fact, past performances (even recently) have ranged from “decent” to “eh, I wish I stayed home.” Oftentimes, his sets span his entire career, revisiting a handful of classics or digging deep into albums like, say, his 2004 double-album, Street’s Disciple. So, when he promised Coachella to close the Outdoor stage with a performance of his diamond debut, Illmatic, few could pass up the opportunity. And sure enough, Nas dropped every song like it was still 1994, spitting everything from “NY State of Mind” to “Ain’t Hard to Tell”. He even tapped his Rolodex of friends, and while AZ wasn’t there to do his verse on “Life’s a Bitch”, Jay-Z cut in on “The World Is Yours” with the song that kicked off their beef years ago, “Dead Presidents II”. Given that Illmatic spans only 10 tracks, Nas had time for a few more, surprising the crowd with a late-night appearance by Mr. Sean “Puffy” Combs. Together, the two worked through the closing rendition of “Hate Me Now”, proving that the East Coast was definitely in the house that night. –Ted Maider

06. Pharrell Williams

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Photo by Ted Maider

Saturday, April 12th – Outdoor Theatre – 10:35 p.m.

The powers that be wisely scheduled high-billed niche acts such as The Knife and The Replacements on the smaller Outdoor Theatre. Their modest number of fans had an appropriately intimate experience, and the masses were free to watch the more popular acts like Girl Talk with some breathing room at the main stage. Unfortunately, Goldenvoice went in the exact opposite direction on Saturday by having both Lorde and Pharrell Williams on the second stage.

Despite performing on a side stage that lacked both the space and the production values to meet the demands of the crowd, Pharrell Williams was the true headliner of Coachella‘s second night. With a turnout that surged past the Outdoor area, the neighboring concession row, and almost to the nearby Gobi tent, Pharrell Williams was the king of Clusterfuckchella, and his Arby’s hat was his crown.

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Photo by Ted Maider

Even with the miserable conditions, rows of shoulder-riding fans grooved along to hit after hit and screamed with the appearance of every superstar guest. With Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Puff Daddy, Diplo, Tyler the Creator, and Gwen Stefani each surfacing for a barrage of hits, Williams proved to be the most influential figure in popular music of the past decade-plus. Even Lorde appeared for a dance during set-closing chart-topper “Happy”. Absent from Coachella? Daft Punk. Sorry kids, the robots don’t care how much you want to see them or if you weren’t old enough to catch their tour nearly a decade ago.

What made Pharrell Williams’ de facto headlining set was the array of guests and the crowd hysteria, rather than the star himself. Attributing his vocal shortcomings to the weather, he repeatedly lamented the dust and wind and promised better for next weekend – though, his infamous hat managed to stay on despite the storm. Williams’ woes fell upon deaf ears, however, since he didn’t have to walk a couple miles through it to return to a tent that had likely blown away. –Frank Mojica

05. Pixies

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Photo by Ted Maider

Saturday, April 12th – Mojave – 8:50 p.m.

Perhaps to answer the question of why a former Coachella sub-headliner was playing in the Mojave tent, Pixies played the video for “Another Toe in the Ocean” on the screens prior to taking the stage. It’s easy to point fingers at the band for diminishing their legacy with an endless reunion tour, revolving lineup, and skippable new material, but isn’t that a small price to pay for the nostalgic bliss that comes with hearing “Bone Machine” and “Where Is My Mind?” live?

Pixies are still formidable as a live entity, with Frank Black sounding as ferocious as ever. Current bassist Paz Lenchantin more than had the musical chops to fill in for Kim Deal, as well as a magnetic live presence and energy. The band actually appeared to be having fun – the most I’ve seen on their faces since their big Coachella 2004 comeback. Black was all smiles and Joey Santiago toyed and eventually unplugged his guitar during closer “Vamos”, tapping the plug with his finger for extra feedback.

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Photo by Ted Maider

Newer songs such as “Indie Cindy” and “Magdalena 318” were more palatable when taken amongst the likes of “U-Mass” and “Nimrod’s Son”. Nevertheless, checking our phones during a new Pixies song is my generation’s equivalent to our parents grabbing a beer whenever The Rolling Stones play a more recent number. In that sense, we have become our parents, except we spend hundreds of dollars on a weekend of debauchery for our nostalgia instead of on just one arena rock performance.

With the surprise last-minute addition of the Pixies to the lineup, Coachella inadvertently addressed its own changing nature. The Coachella of today is different from the festival some of us met a decade ago, as are the Pixies, and expecting either to forever remain the version we knew is self-destructive at best and selfish at worst. –Frank Mojica

04. Lorde

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Photo by Ted Maider

Saturday, April 12th – Outdoor Theatre – 7:55 p.m.

Due to the winds of doom, the Outdoor Theatre’s screens were lowered to the point that 70% of the crowd was too far away to see them. The lack of a view of anything happening onstage didn’t seem to matter for those in attendance, though. Fans as far back as the crab fries stand performed their obviously rehearsed dance moves just for the set while others exhibited NC-17 levels of PDA along to the minimalist grooves and hip-hop beats.

Throughout her performance, Lorde sounded surprisingly assured for someone so young and new to the scene. Flashing a vocal prowess that defied the gusts of wind, Lorde established herself as a world-class performer. Near the end of her set, the New Zealand newcomer humbly rambled about her signature song and what an honor it was to perform at the festival. More than just a chart-topping hit, “Royals” proved to be an anthem for a generation, and its rapturous reception at Coachella was an “I was there” moment. –Frank Mojica

03. CHVRCHES

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Photo by Ted Maider

Saturday, April 12th – Outdoor Theatre – 4:05 p.m.

Although CHVRCHES are still developing as a live act, they have come a long way in their year and half together, and Coachella was the latest stop in their ascent to future headliner status. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry charmed with her addictively sweet vocals and witty banter in regards to both a cardboard cutout of her face and a fan in a wheelchair floating above the colossal crowd. Mayberry’s soothing melodies were exactly the balm the sweating Chvrch-goers needed to “Recover” from the oppressive heat and surrender to the enveloping synth grooves of Martin Doherty and Iain Cook.

02. Warpaint

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Photo by Ted Maider

Saturday, April 12th – Mojave – 6:15 p.m.

Doubling as both their first Southern California performance since the release of their stellar eponymous sophomore full-length and a return to the desert that partially spawned the album, Warpaint’s Coachella revisit was a homecoming show for the Los Angeles quartet in more ways than one. The unreleased “No Way Out” was an aural journey through the beautiful but intimidating desert of renown, while self-titled numbers such as “Disco//Very” and “Love Is to Die” had the crowd ensnared in a trippy dance groove.

After hardcore fans squealed and cried the words to “Undertow”, drummer Stella Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg added a percussively furious outro to a song too captivating to stop traditionally. As they closed with an extended, pupil-dilating jam session on “Elephants”, Warpaint performed as less of a group of musicians and more of a single soul shared among four bodies. Eventually, the band arrived at an end that came far too soon. It was almost a shame to have to go see any other acts instead of spending the night absorbing and reflecting upon what Warpaint had just unleashed in the Mojave tent. –Frank Mojica

01. Arcade Fire

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Photo by Ted Maider

Sunday, April 13th – Coachella – 10:20 p.m.

In addition to being an EDM extravaganza, Coachella is now an event that reflects the celebrity-obsessed nature of our culture. Fans scramble for photos and bragging rights to having seen the likes of Jared Leto or David Hasselhoff, and the event is now an ubiquitous tabloid fixture. B-listers monetized their attendance by earning tens of thousands of dollars for wearing publicity-desperate designer clothes. Despite the personal significance the band previously expressed for the festival, frontman Win Butler made a point of shooting barbs at the proportion of artists that don’t play any instruments as well as the “bullshit” of the celebrity-filled VIP areas.

Even more impassioned than Butler’s criticism was the urgency and enthusiasm of his performance. Near the start of the set, Butler went into the photo pit, grabbed a random camera, and took some shots before returning to a hundred-minute best-of set. Reflektor tracks such as “Here Comes the Night Time” and “Flashbulb Eyes” were received as enthusiastically as old favorites like “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” thanks to the band’s newfound danceability.

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Photo by Ted Maider

Arcade Fire‘s headliner-caliber theatricality stayed true to the band’s left-of-center roots and creativity. Introducing the band was a man clad head to toe in mirror fragments, and Regine Chassagne later returned to the platform along with a skeleton man for “It’s Never Over (Orpheus).” In an official acknowledgement of the similarity between the two songs, Blondie’s Debbie Harry joined the band for a cover of “Heart of Glass” followed by “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” for the weekend’s final instance of Guestchella.

Set closer “Wake Up” proved that a Coachella crowd is capable of a Glastonbury-level sing-along that continued well past the midnight curfew. Arcade Fire were prepared for a termination of sound, however, and marched offstage and through the crowd control barriers, armed with percussive instruments and a megaphone while their audiences continued chanting. It’s only been three years since they last topped the bill at Coachella, but that moment alone proved Arcade Fire was the most deserving candidate for such a prompt return. As the most essential band of the past decade, they may be one of the few traditional headliners that can still close Coachella without disappointing or being overshadowed by a side-stage clusterfuck. –Frank Mojica

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Photography by Ted Maider

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