As last year’s CoS Coachella reviewer Ben Wener noted, this year’s second weekend of Coachella will celebrate the 100th day of music that Goldenvoice has thrown on Empire Polo Fields. That includes all the Chellas, the Stagecoaches, the Desert Trips, standalone events featuring Pearl Jam and Phish, and the Big Four metal show. So understandably, there is a clockwork aspect to the festival that has been present for years, with each edition now fixed on the question of how Coachella can adapt and evolve to the ever-changing marketplace. Or, more often the case, how they can shift the marketplace to their advantage.
In part, that is what made Friday night’s much-discussed Radiohead debacle all the more unexpected. With the experience that everyone involved with throwing the SoCal fest has, having a set maligned by a major technical issue felt like a freak occurrence, one that especially stung during the weekend’s one headliner that hearkened back to old-school Chella. The turnout reflected that, as the sparsely attended performance confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: that not even Radiohead, one of the most respected and prestigious rock bands of the last quarter century, can slow the culture change at Coachella.
Coachella’s reaction to their shifting audience has been both subtle and transparent. When bombastic EDM pushed the heady techno that runs deep in the festival’s DNA out of the Sahara tent, the festival built the Yuma, a safe space for IDM. This year, another new tent was birthed: the Sonora. This stage answers complaints that punk music has lost its foothold by featuring an assortment of bands from garage, hardcore, and other less commercial rock tributaries. Air-conditioned, couched, and featuring glowing graffiti on its walls, the tent acted as a savior for a segment of the music world that no longer makes sense on the big stages, but remains an inherent part of Coachella’s identity.
And that’s been a big debate of late: What is Coachella? If you read the news, you’ll find a lot of people trying to define the festival when they clearly don’t know much about it. These are the types that blast AEG owner Philip Anschutz for his shitty politics without considering the actual extent of his involvement in the festival. Others criticize founder Paul Tollett for not booking Kate Bush based on an out-of-context quote in a New Yorker article. Interestingly, both of these subjects were raised on Sunday. First, Ezra Furman gave in an insightful speech about Anschutz that served to at least raise questions about what attendees dollars support (though it skirted the fact that Furman himself is still cashing the festival’s checks and providing entertainment at the event). Later, Lorde slyly used Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” as her intro music, which saw virtually no reaction from her most dedicated fans (maybe Coachella fans really wouldn’t get Kate Bush).
The truth is, when you are the premiere music festival in the world, you’re set up to be the villain regardless. People love to see the powerful fall, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that naysayers flock to the first sign of weakness in Coachella’s armor. When DJ Khaled shouted his mantra on Sunday evening, letting everyone know that “all he does is win,” Coachella as a festival could have been saying the same thing. In a year where adversity struck from all angles, the end discussion was of a legendary Kendrick Lamar set, built around a new album that was basically released with his festival-closing set in mind. What other events can have one of the most highly regarded artists on the planet do that? The ending discussion was on appearances by the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, Lauryn Hill, Pharrell, and Migos, the last of which showed up as guests so many times that they probably would have come out with Hans Zimmer if he asked.
It won’t get easier for Coachella. The festival is increasing capacity; its cousin event, Desert Trip, was a paradigm shifter last year; and another LA festival, Arroyo Seco Weekend (basically Coachella for Generation X), will launch in June. Goldenvoice keeps winning and everyone who is not a believer will keep trying to knock them down. But with the biggest headliner on the planet, Beyoncé, already locked in for next year, Coachella should continue to push the boundaries of what music festivals can be.
No question about it: Travis Scott drew the largest audience of any Friday artist to the Outdoor Theatre. Unless you claimed a prime spot early, it was nearly impossible to ascertain just what was happening on stage, especially given the excessive smoke bursts and pink neon video treatment that made any projected image look like the result of an excessive molly dose. We do know that the Houston rapper/singer performed his first few songs (“Skyfall”, “Mamacita”, and “Don’t Play”) from a small platform positioned halfway between the stage and the soundboard and at one point fed what appeared to be a moss-covered effigy to an enormous animatronic bird, whose wings were occasionally visibly flapping behind the smoke plumes. Perhaps these maddeningly disorienting visuals were responsible for the ranks upon ranks of once-curious festgoers turning on their heels and bailing long before the set ended.
But more likely the uninterested reaction stemmed from Scott’s complete lack of momentum throughout the set. Much like Drake’s 2015 performance, Scott blazed through plenty of tracks (19), but each of them was just a snippet, and long pauses between their abrupt starts and stops stifled any mojo he might’ve hoped to achieve. Surely, all those that stuck around to get turnt for set closers “Antidote” and “Goosebumps” would disagree – it’s easy enough to dance to dope beats with garbage lyrics when you’re high enough – but with no extra star power (nope, Kendrick didn’t turn up early for that latter hit) and an atrocious speaker delay that made it impossible to tell where his droning backing track and horribly over-Auto-Tuned voice began, the result was one of the most disjointed and confusing sets of the weekend. –David Brendan Hall
Landing third in a lineup of Latin-influenced bands who played early afternoon in the new Sonora tent, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys served up the only legitimate dose of in-your-face punk rock that I witnessed all weekend. For each song (standouts among them: the ska sax-laden “Poder Elegir”, the Spanish shout-along “Somos Chulas”, and the mosh pit-inducing “Future Police”), there was an overt political message, with some sort of half-shouted preface from frontwoman Victoria Ruiz about issues ranging from white supremacy, overcoming self-loathing, and police brutality. But no matter how fiercely she and her band mates performed, only a small handful of Coachellans looked ready to rally. Maybe kids just don’t know how to mosh properly anymore, or perhaps a bougie, air-conditioned tent with couches and bean bag chairs to lounge in just a few feet back from the stage wasn’t the ideal performance space for such an earnest punk act. Not the band’s fault, but the whole affair came off more silly than serious in light of the circumstances. –David Brendan Hall
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
It’s easy to understand why the punk-inclined kids love King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: They consistently dish out a psych-infused rollick that incites moshing en masse with their two-drummer, erratic-vocalist setup. (Stu Mackenzie’s screeches, high-strapped guitar shredding, and tongue-wagging is oh so similar to Thee Oh Sees’ “John Dwyer”.) Sure enough, as they launched into a quartet of tracks off their upcoming 10th studio album, Murder of the Universe – “Alter Me I”, “Altered Beast II”, “Alter Me II”, and “Altered Beasts III” – the teenage throng gathered at the front of the Outdoor Theatre dutifully started a circle pit.
But their sound over the course of their 50-minute run was about as varied as those song titles. Even when they busted out older numbers like “Gamma Knife” and “Cellophane”, Mackenzie’s up-and-down cadence, which always matched a guitar or keyboard riff note for note, melded into a cacophony that ultimately felt like one monotone tune. If you weren’t losing your shit in the pit, your mind (and subsequently, your body) were likely meandering mid-set, which doesn’t bode well for their THREE upcoming albums, purported to explore similar sonic patterns, set for release before 2017 is finished. –David Brendan Hall
There’s one understandable reason why people enjoy Future Islands live, and that’s frontman Samuel Herring, who incited wild cheers from the Sunday afternoon crowd at the Outdoor Theatre with his animalistic dance moves and improvised growls over pristine, synth-driven soundscapes. His antics alone (the rest of the band generally don’t move much) are worthy of the graduation from the Gobi tent of the Baltimore-based band’s 2014 Coachella debut. But by the end of their 12 songs – a good handful of them off fifth album The Far Field – all the high-kicks, lunges, and impassioned theatrics weren’t enough to mask the feeling that the same sounds were being repeated over and over, with only slight variation. The droves of people who walked away mid-set after hearing breakout hit “Seasons (Waiting on You)” were proof enough that the band’s listenable notoriety is based mostly, if not all, on that single. If they don’t take serious strides to advance sonically beyond those one-hit-wonder vibes, Future Islands’ popularity could soon be a thing of the past. –David Brendan Hall
When you’ve got a Coachella performer that has about as much charisma as the water bottle sitting on his DJ stand, one of the only possible routes of recovery is bringing out some special guests as consolation. Such was the case with Canadian hip-hop/trap artist NAV on Saturday night as he paced the Gobi stage as slowly and unenthusiastically as an ailing old man, delivering cuts like “Fell in Love”, “The Man”, and “Myself” in mind-numbingly monotone fashion. No, it wasn’t fellow Cannuck and XO label mate Belly that did the trick during “Re Up” (ZZZzzzZZzzzz), but the imprint’s boss man himself, The Weeknd, who saved the day. If not for Abel Tesfaye’s high-energy, three-song appearance (“Party Monster”, “Starboy”, and “Some Way”) to close out the set, Nav’s prime-time evening slot would’ve been an atrocious waste of time. –David Brendan Hall
The concept behind DREAMCAR feels like a pretty big ask. The men of No Doubt, adrift while Gwen Stefani is off being a TV star and tabloid fodder, unite with AFI singer Davey Havok to relive their collective youth in a fun new wave revivalist band. Still, given that degree of proven star power, it’s somewhat easier to at least give the outfit a fair shake. Anything’s possible, right? They arrived at Coachella a shiny and well-oiled machine atop an expensive-looking stage setup complete with two female backup singers and another woman on keyboards. The songs are snappy and precise, with grand, operatic choruses courtesy of Havok. There is a strong Duran Duran influence, with one song sounding about a key change away from launching into that band’s early-album track “Nightboat”. There was even a big saxophone solo from the backup keyboardist, which was glorious, of course. Altogether, DREAMCAR is a clever reinvention for the men of No Doubt and allows Davey Havok the chance to try on yet another persona for size. With songs like “All of the Dead Girls” and “Kill for Candy” screaming for KROQ spins, this band is gonna be just fine. –Scott T. Sterling
The Japanese-American singer-songwriter and bassist Mitski led her power trio through a somewhat muted set of highly tuneful indie rock with a decided early ‘90s grunge edge. Older songs like “Francis Forever”, “I Will”, and “Townie” make up the majority of her set, thick with disarmingly intimate and brutally honest lyricism. The singer also had jokes, remarking proudly that she now outranks the MIT ski team on Google Search. The band’s slightly off-kilter arrangements recalled alt-rock totems like The Breeders, though the set could’ve benefitted from a little more volume. Any lack in loudness was more than made up for through Mitski’s sheer will, as she charged through a powerful version of “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” alone with just her guitar. –Scott T. Sterling
“They don’t want us to win!” The human meme machine DJ Khaled hit Coachella with his best shot, taking the vast Sahara Tent to a hero’s welcome as he declared that by set’s end Coachella would offer him a headlining slot next year. He blazed through a seemingly endless stream of snippets from his catalog of hits, performing a verse or two and a chorus before moving on to the next track, to the growing chagrin of some fans. Continually teasing “so many surprises,” he brought out a string of guests, including 2 Chainz, French Montana, the ubiquitous Migos, and ultimately, Rick Ross. As expected, it was a completely over-the-top spectacle that kept the crowd jumping, as the buzz grew that Drake would eventually appear. He didn’t. Instead, Khaled, Rick Ross, Wale (who’d arrived to reprise his verse on Ross’ hit “Trap Trap Trap”), and the growing crew onstage just kept dropping hits until the sound was unceremoniously cut off for going over the allotted time. While not a total win, it was definitely a whole lot of sweaty, hands-in-the-air fun. –Scott T. Sterling
Porter Robinson and Madeon
As far as the new wave of electronic musicians go, North Carolina’s 24-year-old Porter Robinson and France’s 22-year-old Madeon are, as they say, doin’ it right. Though they generally didn’t appear as much more than dots amid the larger-than-life light display and consistent fireworks bursts during their Sunday sunset main stage show, their music evoked all positive, non-drug-fueled vibes throughout their 18-track set. Also to the duo’s credit, their sound stemmed from much more than just pressing play on laptops. The pair are musicians in their own right, playing live electronic drums, the occasional keys, and even singing live (though he’s got some effects over it, Robinson’s voice sounds angelic when he sings the hook on Madeon’s “Finale”). In that sense, they aren’t quite as engaging as similarly operative electro-wizard duo Disclosure, but at least they’re making efforts to break the mold of lazy, push-button EDM. –David Brendan Hall
It’s hard not to love Mac DeMarco, at the very least for his carefree character if not his generally upbeat music. He was full of his usual facetiousness Friday on the Outdoor stage, making it feel like a small club show by bantering often with front-row fans. But going into it, I was prepared to be bored for much of the Canadian indie rocker’s set – it’s just that he’s basically played similar stuff for the past couple of years, and I was expecting much of the same crowd-pleasing cuts in this instance. Thankfully, he and his ace band embraced the spirit of experimentation and showcased plenty off his upcoming third album, This Old Dog, which conveniently leaked online Thursday.
New tracks played – “One More Love Song”, “One Another”, “On the Level”, and “Moonlight on the River” – were all cut from a R&B-infused cloth, leaning heavily on smooth, jazzy keys and more guitar-less, sultry vocal forays from DeMarco than usual. Though, there were still plenty of older, jangly guitar tunes to appease the core fans: set opener “Salad Days”, “Chamber of Reflection”, normally reserved for “later in the set,” and “Freaking Out the Neighborhood”, which featured former bassist Pierce McGarry as guest crowd-surfer (DeMarco typically rides the wave of hands himself). “Moonlight on the River” was somewhat of a sleepy closer for a fest set, but kudos to DeMarco and his gang for risking something slightly different instead of finishing on same ol’ “Still Together” – the alternative slow jam certainly lived up to his chill-as-fuck, anything-goes ethos, at any rate. –David Brendan Hall
There’s nothing like a heartwarming love story to infuse an already resplendent Coachella set with even more impact. “I don’t mean to show my age,” began Alaina Moore, vocalist for Denver-based indie-pop outfit Tennis, who made their Coachella debut early Friday afternoon in the Mojave tent. “But 13 years ago, Patrick [Riley] and I separately attended Coachella, and Radiohead was the headliner. We both watched the set, but hadn’t met yet … we met six years later and now have this band on this stage on Radiohead day – we never thought we’d be that band, and it’s fucking amazing.” That nostalgia translated into smiles shared aplenty between the audience and the husband/wife-led quartet and added a sense of uplifting genuineness to an already sunny set – perfect to usher in chill vibes on a relatively mild first afternoon of Coachella – that highlighted the disco-meets-psych grooves of key cuts (“Fields of Blue”, “Baby Don’t Believe”) off new album Yours Conditionally. –David Brendan Hall
Father John Misty
Whatever your opinion of Father John Misty, this set was unlikely to change your mind. While his current album campaign for Pure Comedy found Misty attacking the indie rock world with the zeal of a superstar rapper, there were no shenanigans on this night. Like, at all. Charging through a selection of tracks from the new album, he played it straight the entire time, not once breaking character or regaling the crowd with his notoriously existential onstage banter. He seemed content to bounce his updated take on 1977 Laurel Canyon vibes and sardonic proselytizing across the vast main stage crowd. Things really heated up along the back nine of his set, when he delivered the one-two punch of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “I Love You Honeybear”, all lounge lizard swagger and GQ style. Appropriately, Lana Del Rey was in the crowd taking Instagram videos of Misty’s performance. –Scott T. Sterling
Already a sensation overseas, the buzz had definitely reached the desert as British soul upstart NAO arrived with a legion of eager fans packed into the Gobi tent primed to see her make her Coachella debut. Her young, fresh take on R&B was an ideal late-afternoon salve, with songs “Happy” and the funky “Inhale Exhale” generating a big dance party. Simmering “quiet storm” numbers like “In the Morning” and particularly “Girlfriend” showcased her vocals, with show closer “Bad Blood” eliciting the biggest cheers of her set. –Scott T. Sterling
Based on their sorta arbitrary name, Pond is probably one of the bands most Coachellans decided to pass up early Sunday afternoon, unless of course they were already fans, or curious because they’d heard there were two members of Tame Impala (one, former frontman/guitarist Nick Allbrook, and the other, current keyboardist/bassist Jay “Gumby” Watson”). The one-fifth-filled Gobi certainly gave the impression that only those in the know – faithful followers of psych jams – had turned up. All the better – the intimate vibes made the incredibly catchy Moog and guitar-octave duels over heavy-yet-sunny beats (see key cuts “30.000 Megatons”, “Giant Tortoise”, and “Sweep Me off My Feet”) feel like well-kept secrets, despite the fact that the Australian outfit have released six albums since 2009 and have a seventh, The Weather, due out May 5. Those averse to overcrowded, half-interested fest audiences will be pleased to know you’ll likely have plenty of chances to catch Pond in such close quarters again before word of their stellar stylings get overhyped and their shows overrun. –David Brendan Hall
Flanked by a drummer and guitarist (AKA “the twins”), Shura delivered a bouncy and upbeat dance-pop that was a refreshing sound early in the afternoon. Leaning heavily on her 2016 debut album, Nothing’s Real, songs like “Indecision” revealed her early Madonna influence, while “What Happened to Us” shared the same warm, radio-friendly sheen of HAIM. Lovely ballad “2Shy” was a set highlight, packed with ‘80s synths and earnest, heartfelt sentiment like a long-lost Cyndi Lauper single. Shura’s onstage energy was palpable, as she made the most of the space, descending down into the crowd to get up close and personal with her fans with a rousing run through the groovy, dance-floor celebration of being different “White Light”. –Scott T. Sterling
Over the past few years, Coachella has earned a reputation for its special guests, who, in some cases, end up being more of a headliner attraction than the act officially booked. As runner-up to Bon Iver and Lady Gaga, Future’s main stage Saturday night set wasn’t necessarily headline status, but his gargantuan audience and his guests – Georgia-bred hip-hop group Migos and the 6 God himself, Drake – made it so.
The former trio appeared sharper than ever during “T-shirt” and “Bad and Boujee”, while Drizzy’s brief yet galvanic cameo (“Jumpman” with Future, then solo turns on “Gyalchester” and “Fake Love”) felt downright redemptive. After essentially bombing his Chella debut two years ago (let’s be real, the Madonna French-kiss made things even worse during his stifling, start-stop set), he had some mileage to make up and handily achieved it by inducing deafening, Beatles-worthy screams and leading the loudest sing-along of the weekend. Though his fierce appearance constituted a bona fide Coachella moment, it was also Future’s downfall – his solo follow-up of “Mask Off” fell flat by comparison. Truthfully, it’s ridiculous that anyone could love that song so much. I’ll concede that Future is one of the most energetic, talented players in the trap game, but ending a set by leading a field (mostly) full of teenagers in a chant about abusing pharmaceuticals – “Percocets/ Molly, Percocets/ Percocets/ Molly, Percocets,” goes the chorus – is as deplorable as it is lackluster. –David Brendan Hall
Scanning my notes from Róisín Murphy’s Saturday evening set in Gobi, there are tons of seemingly non-sequitur descriptions like “giant, black puffball Eskimo head-collar,” “three-headed doll hat,” and zebra/red intestine squid headdress.” These were all my attempts to describe just a few of the various items tried on (and inevitably discarded) as the eccentric Irish singer powered through a mind-bending mix of house music crossed with funk, psychedelia, and trip-hop. Though the seven-song set included only a couple of tracks off 2016 release Take Her Up to Monto (“Thoughts Wasted” and “Whatever”) and even tapped a cut from here former project Moloko (“Tatty Narja), it felt like a fluid body of work, perhaps because – underneath the frequent costume changes and sometimes erratic sonic shifts – one could sense a consistent, fiery, and uncompromising energy behind those bright, blue eyes, sultry/slightly raspy voice, and seductive dance moves, all so obviously influenced by avant-garde auteur Grace Jones. Once her transformation was complete through music and movement, so it was for the audience: All around me, initial confusion gave way to fandom.
–David Brendan Hall
Car Seat Headrest
Because of their predominately DIY, lo-fi recordings, Seattle-based outfit Car Seat Headrest (brainchild of frontman Will Toledo) might give the impression that they’d come off a bit sleepy and muted in a live setting. But on Saturday in Mojave, that was only on certain parts, like the cool Velvet Underground-esque vocal lethargy of “Maud Gone,” or the J Mascis-like drone and palm mute build of “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” before each of those erupted into soaring, distortion-filled choruses. And on top of those loud-quiet-loud formats, there were plenty of noisy-as-fuck post-grunge forays like the explosively riffy “Fill in the Blank” and the raucous start-stop of set closer “Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Enough)”, which ended in some experimental pedal fiddling. Based on some spirited sing-alongs that lasted throughout the gig, there were a fair number of folks who wholeheartedly dug the feedback-heavy format, but an almost equal amount of blank looks and less than enthusiastic applause signaled that these indie upstarts might be just slightly too arty and aloof for quite a few Coachellans. –David Brendan Hall
Francis and the Lights
There is quite a bit going on with Francis and the Lights. A whirlwind of dramatic new wave, singer Francis Farewell Starlite mashes up old-school punk-funk, Faith-era George Michael, classic boy bands like New Edition, and even tosses some ‘50s doo-wop melodies into the mix. But most of all, he dances, feverishly working the stage in a nonstop frenzy. It’s a lot for one man and a DJ to take on, but Francis has heartily accepted the challenge. He also comes with a pedigree, having already worked with the likes of Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon, and Kanye West. At Coachella, he delivered his music with a religious fervor and infectious positivity that far outweighed any perceived corniness. Songs like “May I Have This Dance” and “See Her Out” highlighted the kinetic singer’s high-energy set, though he may have offered up one too many reflective ballads for 6:30 in the afternoon. –Scott T. Sterling
The Lemon Twigs
Ever since Questlove gave The Lemon Twigs the boost of their career by bringing them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last fall, the Long Island rock quartet – helmed by brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario and filled out by bassist Megan Zeankowski and keyboardist Danny Ayala – have appeared poised to make a massive splash among contemporary rock acts. Their soaring ‘70s homages (think plenty of ultra-dynamic, Queen-esque ballads) helped them nab the coveted Grulke Prize for US developing act after playing a slew of shows during SXSW. While their Fallon performance of “These Words” portrayed Brian and Michael as impressively professional given their age, then 19 and 17 (now 20 and 18), it was only a taste of their talents. During the early afternoon set in Gobi on Friday, the brothers revealed the extent of their chops by swapping spots mid-set; when Michael became the group’s frontman, he likewise transformed into an unstoppable rock gymnast, pulling off high-kicks well above his head and midair splits while shredding throughout surefire sing-along “As Long as We’re Together”.
Given that their full-length debut, Do Hollywood, is only a few months old, it made sense that only a handful of the folks in their modest-sized audience knew all the words, but influential art rocker Todd Rundgren, one of the band’s “favorite musicians of all time,” gifted them the final stamp of approval by joining the group for a set-closing rendition of his 1972 single “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”. Rundgren attempted to keep up when Michael began shred-flailing toward the tune’s end, but ultimately didn’t catch nearly as much air as younger D’Addario to punctuate final note – it felt like a touching passing of the torch. –David Brendan Hall
Swet Shop Boys
Hitting the stage at 1:00 p.m., the Swet Shop Boys brought a little star power and a whole lot of cool to the early afternoon of Coachella 2017 Day 2. Featuring Heems (formerly of Das Racist) and Riz MC (AKA actor Riz Ahmed, best known for his work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and HBO’s The Night Of), the duo strolled onstage to a hero’s welcome, only to discover that neither of their microphones was working. “That was all planned,” Heems joked as they sorted out the technical issues. Shouting out everyone that had to fill out visas to attend Coachella, they kicked into “Shoes Off”, an ode to dealing with TSA on a regular basis. Another set highlight was “Half Moghul Half Mowgli”, which shouts out Tupac Shakur as “a true Paki.” Sprinkling in a taste from the group’s upcoming Record Store Day EP, Sufi La, the show ended with Riz MC delivering a powerfully political a capella solo rap. –Scott T. Sterling
Though it was a treat to witness nearly the entirety of Bon Iver’s new album 22, A Million Saturday night on the main stage – Justin Vernon and his expansive band stunned by working through the intricate, entrancing instrumentation of every track save for finale “00000 Million” – that wasn’t the prime reason why his appearance at this Coachella stood out. Rather, they earned their stripes by doing an early-afternoon public soundcheck for a dozen or so lucky fans with Vernon down in the photo pit for part of it (probably due to a late arrival, but still pretty damn cool) and by being the day’s only main stage artist to drive home a fully meaningful message.
“You know, there’s a lot of fucked-up shit going on, and I don’t know what to think about it or what to say about it to you guys,” interjected Vernon before launching into a spellbinding coda of older cuts (“Minnesota, WI”, “Calgary”, “Creature Fear”, and “Beth/Rest”). “But I will say that you have to love everybody, and I mean everybody, unconditionally. Not just those on your side – I’m talking everybody. Take that with you.”
He also briefly plugged his own upcoming fest, Eaux Claires (June 16-17 in Eau Claire, WI), but he ultimately deserves kudos for using this massive platform to spread the sort of positive idealism that could actually make an impact among the predominately young and impressionable Coachellan masses. –David Brendan Hall
With Kendrick Lamar locked in to headline the festival’s final night hot on the heels of his recently released DAMN. album, all eyes were on the TDE stable, including ScHoolboy Q. The crowd from Future stormed towards the Outdoor stage as soon as Drake’s appearance ended in hopes of getting a decent view of the local star, but the area was already packed to the back with hardcore fans who bypassed Future altogether. Emerging onstage with a Los Angeles city skyline as his backdrop to the strains of “Gangsta”, the rapper delivered a tight set of his greatest hits, including “Hands on the Wheel”, “Collard Greens”, and “Studio”. He even got into the Coachella spirit with a pair of surprise guests, welcoming ASAP Rocky and another local native, Tyler, The Creator, to the stage for an updated version of ASAP Mob track “Telephone Calls”. –Scott T. Sterling
Ezra Furman opened the Outdoor stage on the last day of Coachella 2017 to a small smattering of fans who braved the best and weren’t too hungover from the weekend to make the 2:35 p.m. set time. The gender-fluid Furman hopped onstage in a slim, black dress, a strand of pearls and bright orange lipstick as he led his band through an invigorating set of straight-ahead rock with Americana and rockabilly undertones, ideal to slap haggard attendees awake after two days of desert partying. It was during “Tell Em All To Go to Hell” that Furman really got loose, going off on a well-researched rant calling out AEG (Coachella’s parent company) owner Philip Anschutz and his alleged financial ties to anti-LGBTQ organizations and evasive oil explorations. The crowd seemed stunned at first, but quickly rallied behind his sentiments. From there, Furman and his band roared through the rest of the show with renewed vigor and a much larger audience, having left a decided mark on the early afternoon hours. –Scott T. Sterling
As soon as British rapper Skepta hit the Sahara Tent stage Sunday afternoon, he wasted no time letting the audience know he was seeking some redemption.
“I was supposed to be here last year … but I lost my passport,” he said after giving the Coachellans a proper grime greeting with the title track off 2016 album Konnichiwa. “I went back to the embassy to get my visa, and they dug up my shit and denied it. I’ve got two years’s worth of energy – where is my energy crew? Let’s test it!”
By all counts, the test was massively successful – it seemed like virtually every Brit at Coachella had crowded into the enormous hangar-shaped tent to rap along with the MC’s impressive, double-time deliveries on London street life anthems like “That Not Me”, “It Ain’t Safe” (with ASAP Mob’s Young L.O.R.D.), “Detox” (featuring fellow Boy Better Know crew members Shorty and Frisco), and “Security”. By set’s end, even the kids who’d begun the show looking clueless were moshing and at least chanting along with the easy-to-follow hooks, leaving no doubt why Skepta is the premiere presence in British grime and sure to continue his ascension among US hip-hop heads. –David Brendan Hall
While Kendrick Lamar was the top dog overall among Sunday’s bill (and king of the weekend, in our opinion), French duo Justice reigned supreme among the day’s electro acts by pulling off a production that was both inventive and invigorating. With focus on tracks off latest album, Woman — among them: kinetic set opener “Safe and Sound”, multiple reprises of “Love S.O.S.”, and galvanizing closer “Chorus” – the group hosted the weekend’s most spirited dance party at the Outdoor Theatre. Getting an actual glimpse of Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé was next to impossible among the constantly flashing white strobes and deep shadows, but no matter – seeing their hunched figures wasn’t the point. The idea was to immerse oneself in the impressive production – the usual absurd number of Marshall amp stacks surrounded by geometric square and rectangular light panels attached to tethers that could change color/rise/fall/morph in endless variation – and rock-based, robotic party beats, the sort that might supplant Daft Punk’s world-champs live status if that famed robot pair never takes the stage again. –David Brendan Hall
Whitney might hail from Chicago, but their Sunday afternoon Coachella set was about the chill vibes of the ‘70s Southern California sound personified by the likes of Fleetwood Mac and particularly the Eagles, thanks to Whitney featuring a singing drummer (Julien Ehrlich) with a beautiful falsetto like a young Don Henley (this is all complimentary, trust me). Easy, breezy tunes like “No Matter Where We Go”, “Polly”, and “Golden Days” felt like we’d been transported back to the original California Jam in 1974. They threw a couple of covers into the mix (Lion’s 1975 nugget, “You’ve Got a Woman” and NRBQ’s “Magnet) and introduced a new acoustic mountain jam tentatively titled “Rolling Blackouts” before culminating with a beautiful version of “No Woman”. They’ve been quoted as wanting to play the Stagecoach someday, and that fest would be lucky to have them. –Scott T. Sterling
It was a rough start for Radiohead, with major technical malfunctions cutting the sound off completely in the middle of three different songs — “Ful Stop”, “15 Step”, and “Let Down”. It was enough that the band was forced to vacate the stage twice for technicians to root out the problem. Once the situation was sorted, Thom Yorke and company casually cruised through a classic Radiohead set. “Everything in Its Right Place”, “There There”, and “Idioteque” all made appearances, closing the main set with an increasingly rare rendition of “Creep”. It was more fan favorites in the encore, including “You and Whose Army?” and “Paranoid Android” before winding up with “Karma Police” well past midnight. Other than the glaring technical difficulties that marred the set’s opening stretch, Radiohead was more than capable of overcoming the show stoppages to deliver a triumphant main stage-closing concert on the opening night of Coachella 2017. –Scott T. Sterling
It’s always special when a major artist gets to launch their next important campaign at Coachella, particularly one as intriguing as Lorde. After amassing a mint of goodwill in the time since her last Coachella appearance (a triumphant and star-making turn on the Outdoor stage in 2014), this year finds her square on the main stage right before Kendrick Lamar and with her pivotal second album, Melodrama, due this summer. She kicked off her show perfectly by playing Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” over the PA as the stage lights dimmed. It was an obvious nod to the recent “controversy” over whether or not Coachella had passed on hosting Bush’s first US show ever. Bush’s 1985 classic sounded as vital and fresh as ever, and the serious music nerds in the field appreciated the nod. The actual show got off to a strong start, with Lorde striding onstage and right up to one of the cameramen, filling the massive flanking screens with her face as she sang the opening line of her most recent single, “Green Light”. But instead of launching into the song, she hit center stage to deliver an exhilarating “Tennis Court” before downshifting into her sultry collaboration with Disclosure, “Magnets”.
Lorde’s visual production was inspired, featuring a large rectangular plexiglass box elevated above the stage. Inside, a cast of dancers played out social scenarios while the singer performed “400 Lux” below. She paused to talk about what fans can expect from Melodrama, explaining that it’s about the ups and downs of modern life as a twentysomething, with an emphasis on the range of emotions and experiences that can occur over the course of a night out. It was all a way of introducing a brand-new song, “Homemade Dynamite”. As opposed to “Green Light”, it’s very much in line with what we’ve come to expect from her: a big, stomping beat, minimal melody line, and her own multi-tracked vocals. It’s a solid track, but sounds much like something found on Pure Heroine, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all and could serve as a transitional track between that album and the new one.
Lorde’s set coalesced perfectly with her performance of Pure Heroine standout “Ribs” when she joined the dancers in the elevated box to sing while they cavorted behind her. They all applauded her at the end of the song, with the claps reverberating across the field as they filed out, leaving her alone inside to perform another new song, “Sober”, a tension-filled track about being “King and Queen of the weekend/ Ain’t a pill that could touch our rush/ But what will we do when we’re sober?” As the song ended, Lorde fell backwards out of the box into the waiting arms of her dancers to perform the orchestral “Sober (Interlude)”, a powerful and dramatic set piece from which Melodrama gets its name.
As the show progressed, Lorde’s onstage façade cracked a bit, as she repeatedly asked if there was any threat of her being cut off before she was done. “Someone please just tell me, so I’m not boiling with nerves,” the singer implored. It was a very real and human moment and actually quite endearing. Once she was informed to “keep the talking short,” she visibly relaxed and finished the show as strong as it began. Closing out with “Royals” and the full, exhilarating version of “Green Light” as she ran through the pit to get up close and touch her fans, Lorde’s Coachella main stage debut was a definite success, but we’ll have to wait for Melodrama and the ensuing tour to see what big reveals she really has up her sleeve. –Scott T. Sterling
There’s a theory that British rappers will never break in America. That it’s ultimately too colloquial for rap fans Stateside to ever fully embrace. It’s a theory that UK grime sensation Stormzy has obviously heard before, as he repeatedly returned to talk about the cultural divide that exists across the Atlantic Ocean throughout his incendiary set, imploring fans to simply ignore them. Hitting the stage dressed all in white, he launched into tracks from his 2017 debut, Gang Signs & Prayer, unleashing hardcore lyricism over stark, minimal tracks including “First Things First” and “Cold”. Marveling at the size of the crowd amassed in front of Coachella’s Outdoor stage at such an early hour, Stormzy switched up the vibe for a more down-tempo mood, with the icy synths of “Velvet” spreading a cool chill across the hot desert afternoon. His smooth remix of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” ignited the crowd, but it was breakout 2015 single “Shut Up” that elicited the biggest crowd response of the day. Maybe grime has a chance over here after all. –Scott T. Sterling
The star of any Sampha show is his voice: warm, pillow-like clouds of pure, heart-wrenching emotion that demand attention. Underneath the thick layers of synthesized melodies and rumbling bass, Sampha is an old-school soul singer. And at his best moments, he’s among the finest doing it today. Backed by a three-piece band, the singer’s onstage presence has improved drastically from past tours. At points, he stepped away from the electronics to stalk the edge of the stage as a confident frontman. The set ventured into tribal beats on tracks like “Kora Sings”, and the band even launched into a full-blown drum circle for “Without”. Culminating in a dynamic run through “Beneath the Tree”, Sampha was easily among the best acts to take the stage on Saturday. –Scott T. Sterling
First ever official performance on US soil – that label comes loaded with some hefty expectations. But Australian electronic outfit The Avalanches – officially comprised of multi-instrumentalist-producer-wizard pair Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, but here fleshed out by a quintet that included MCs/vocalists Spank Rock and Eliza Wolfgramm – rose to the occasion and hosted a dance party Friday in the Mojave tent that was almost worth the 16-year wait that commenced with the 2000 release of chart-topping debut album, Since I Left You.
Almost, because of a couple minor factors: For the intro tune (“Because I’m Me”), Spank Rock’s mic was off or malfunctioning, so the show’s initial energy was slightly stifled by the lack of audible lyrics, and the group started 10 minutes late, which wouldn’t be a huge deal at venue show, but the difference between 40 and 50 minutes during a fest slot is significant. No telling if the delay caused them to rush a bit more through their mix, but it was nevertheless disappointing when they omitted the parrot sample turntable scratch sesh at the end of “Frontier Psychiatrist”, arguably the most memorable part of that cut. But the dance party during the heavy, horn-led beat of that smash hit was still epic, and the other gripes are small potatoes given how powerfully they served up their gypsy-punk-funk cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”, the space-klezmer-meets-hip-hop swagger of “Frank Sinatra”, the highlight of new album Wildflower, and euphorically chill set finale “Since I Left You”. Besides, enduring these slight hiccups means they’re likely to work out the kinks and hit a grand slam with this set at Weekend 2. –David Brendan Hall
Thundercat has made no secret of his very genuine love for classic ‘70s soft (some call it “yacht”) rock, and at Coachella he upped the ante considerably by bringing out no less than legendary former Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald in the middle of his set. There to reprise his role on the song “Show You the Way” from Thundercat’s outstanding Drunk full-length, McDonald’s booming, iconic voice incited a roar of approval when he launched into his verse. He followed that with a rousing version of the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” that had the entire Mojave tent moving, including Solange and Flying Lotus down in the pit. McDonald stuck around to play on Drunk highlight “Them Changes”. Wrapped around the McDonald cameo was a stellar performance from Thundercat himself, his fleet-fingered bass virtuosity propelling his band from smooth, melodic passages into full-on free jazz freak-outs and back again. Going back to 2013 album Apocalypse for “Oh Sheit It’s X” and the timeless “Tron Song” to round out the show, Thundercat’s 21st century jazz-fusion was among the finest moments of Coachella 2017’s entire opening weekend. –Scott T. Sterling
The xx have quietly become a live juggernaut and displayed even more of that evolution on the heels of the band’s recently released third full-length, I See You, with a highly anticipated set on Coachella’s main stage. Opening with a muscular take on new album track “Say Something Loving”, the band reached back for an updated rendition of “Crystalized”, featuring Jamie xx on drums. “Islands” and a remixed version of “Shelter” pumped up for the dance floor were followed by a cover version of Jamie xx’s 2015 solo single “Loud Places”, featuring the band’s guitarist, Romy Madley Croft, on vocals. Where the xx shows were once all stark, black-and-white, and moody shadows, now they come in full glorious color, with a tropical stage setting and even more self-confidence. Ending the show with the Hall & Oates-sampling “On Hold” and 2012 Coexist single “Angels”, the xx were an absolute Day 1 standout. –Scott T. Sterling
“I’m on the edge of glory … playing for 100,000 people – not too shabby,” ad libbed Lady Gaga during piano tune “The Edge of Glory”, flashing a smug smile before picking up the actual lyrics again.
The aside came late in her Saturday set on the main stage, and where such self-assuredness might’ve been off-putting coming from most artists, it was 100% warranted in her case – frequent aerial drone images throughout the performance revealed a stunningly massive audience, easily one of the largest in Coachella history, which didn’t thin out in the slightest until after her fireworks-laden “Poker Face”/”Bad Romance” finale.
The en-masse attention was absolutely deserved: Before that stripped-down section, which also included lovely renditions of “Speechless” and “Yoü and I”, she retained full command of her crowd with confidence becoming of such an influential pop icon, rewarding her faithful and newcomers alike with a slew of songs not played in years (electro-pop openers “Scheiße” and “LoveGame” for the first time since 2013 and the snarky snarl of “Teeth”, not dusted off since 2011), a couple of pseudo-country-toned tunes from 2016 album Joanne (“John Wayne” and “A-Yo”), plus the debut of new single “The Cure”.
“I’ve been so excited for this next part of the show because I’ve been trying to keep it a secret for so long,” she teased before belting out the good-vibes love ballad, which was propelled by catchy R&B snaps over the verse and a soaring chorus punctuated by fireworks. The tune was just the latest example of a brilliant singer-songwriter who can own countless sonic styles – from straight-ahead rock to bubblegum pop – all the while advocating female empowerment, sexual liberation (“Did you find anyone you wanna sleep with yet?” she asked coyly toward the show’s start), and taking risks fearlessly for the sake of seeking fulfillment in art and life.
“If there’s a fire, I’m running toward the fire,” she said in reference to her approach to making art. That statement embodied the spirit of perhaps one of the only artists who could replace Beyoncé as a Saturday headliner without the boost of any special guests (or overly flashy set design and costumes, as one might expect). For her Coachella debut, Gaga was fiery, uncompromising, and completely in control. –David Brendan Hall
“It takes a special kind of crazy person to bring an orchestra into the desert,” remarked German composer Hans Zimmer after commencing his Sunday night Outdoor Theatre performance, backed by a full orchestra, with two lively pieces from Inception. “But here we are – it had to be done.”
Thank goodness he did, too, because, though it may sound odd to throw a famous movie score composer into the millennial-heavy Coachella mix, his hour-long display – framed with lighting design by Pink Floyd mastermind Marc Brickman – likely melted more than a few minds, under the influence or not, with its epic conclusion. Nostalgic Disney kids of a few different eras got their fix with Pirates of the Caribbean and Lion King medleys, the latter made more astounding by featuring the film’s original South African singer, Lebo M, who was once an exile/refugee and now is, as Zimmer put with overt pride, “the real thing” at a world-class music festival.
The utter intensity of Gladiator material was offset by a buoyant guest spot from Pharrell Williams for 2015 single “Freedom” (it was clearly a friendly nod by Zimmer from one composer to another), but soon reverted back to melodic cacophony with metal-accented, thunderous, timpani-driven selections from The Dark Knight that could rival most of Tool’s catalog in heaviness. Without skipping a beat, Zimmer brought it down and full circle to close with the soft build of Inception’s “Time.” For most of this piece, the camera stayed focused on Zimmer’s hands while they gently laid down the beautiful backbone notes as dozens of instruments flooded in to flesh it out. How astounding to think that all the pieces of this bigger-picture soundscape – presented here at an attention-commanding volume that would overpower any state-of-the-art movie theater sound system – all came from this one man’s mind. It was a distinct privilege to witness such a master in action. –David Brendan Hall
How did Kendrick Lamar pull off the set of the weekend?
The short answer: masterfully. In more detail: He asserted himself as the sharpest, most visionary rapper in the business with a stunning new stage show on Sunday night that featured the best of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, some key cuts from To Pimp a Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered, and nearly the entirety of just released DAMN.. All of this was framed by a kung fu narrative – the story of Kung Fu Kenny aka Black Turtle – told via comical, vintage-looking movie clips, which served as interludes between songs.
The focus on his latest effort was an obvious choice, and a DAMN. good one – “GOD.”, which featured at least four different rapid-fire cadences, solidified his status as contemporary rap’s king in terms of both style and content. But the weight placed on the Good Kid era was less obvious until he reminded the audience that he hadn’t officially played Coachella since 2012, about six months before that breakthrough album dropped. (He made cameos last year with Ice Cube and Anderson .Paak, respectively).
“Shout-out to Dr. Dre while I’m on this stage in front of 100,000 people,” he quipped in the midst of a run of “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Backstreet Freestyle”, and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, appropriately acknowledging the legendary producer who made that record possible. “I said to myself, I got some off my first record I want to perform.”
It’s amazing to think how much prophetic poetry he’s dropped since then, especially within the context of his progress as a performer. Back in 2012, during an early afternoon main stage spot, he appeared stoned and somewhat timid, and his spotlight track was “Pussy and Patron”. This evening saw him fearlessly attacking with verse after intricate verse, never faltering and taking full advantage of Coachella’s production capabilities, at one point performing “LUST.” from within a cage in the middle of the crowd, which transformed into a satellite stage when a rising platform elevated him out and atop the prison cell to preach the gospel of “Money Trees” to the thousands of fans pressing toward him.
While guest spots from fellow T.D.E. rapper Schoolboy Q (“That Part”), Travis Scott (“Goosebumps”), and Future (“Mask Off”) didn’t add much – especially the latter, which doesn’t even feature Kendrick and so was just a waste-of-time encore for the Atlanta trap artist – they helped portray K-Dot as a gracious ruler presiding over and proliferating the voices of his most worthy subjects. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: All hail King Kendrick. –David Brendan Hall
Click ahead for an exclusive photo gallery from Coachella 2017.