[almost famous] Coachella Acts Not to Miss Weekend 2
When I made the decision to move across the country to Boston, I figured my annual trip to Coachella was unattainable, at least for the next couple of years. Fortunately, after only one year away I was able to make the trip again this year.
After taking a red eye to Los Angeles, I hopped on the I-10 with my favorite editor seated closely to my right and began my once annual pilgrimage.
My Friday afternoon began the same way all Friday afternoons at Coachella have for me as I wandered around the familiar Empire Polo Grounds with an ear-to-ear smile that blew away any Christmas mornings.
I felt a little puzzled at first—maybe it was my two year gap compounded by my subsequent trips to two Outside Lands, one Bonnaroo and an FYF Fest—but the grounds were certainly different than before.
I soon after learned that AEG, Goldenvoice’s parent company, has expanded the festival to allow around an additional 20,000 attendees. The stages were also re-arranged—and not always in the best way—for example, the placement of a beer garden that nearly completely cut off the once direct path from the main stage to the tents.
Additionally, the festival added a new stage, Sonora, at its entrance, and it is by far the nicest addition. Simply put, Sonora is a beautiful, intimate, club-like venue equipped with air conditioning and a fantastic set of bands, like Guided By Voices, Allah-Las, Twin Peaks and the Hinds, all indie and punk, which may be Goldenvoice’s attempt to reclaim Coachella’s roots after so many years of wall-to-wall EDM and Rap acts.
The first act I caught Friday afternoon was a favorite of mine: Klangstof, the up-and-coming Dutch band whose credentials include opening for Jagwar Ma (who also had a terrific set this year) and the Flaming Lips. The group performed a majority of their debut album Close Eyes to Exit to the delight of a strong crowd for a 1:25 p.m. Friday billing. Their act was followed by the pride of Hicksville High School from Long Island, NY, The Lemon Twigs, who delivered an energetic, if not always harmonic, performance.
I soon after left the cover of the Gobi tent and ventured outdoors into the sun, certainly a nice change from the Boston gloom I have grown accustomed to.
The Outdoor Theatre hosted King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard—a band whose music, somehow, rivals the brilliance of its band’s name.
I had the pleasure of seeing the seven-piece Australian rock band just two weeks prior at the Royale in Boston where they were able to play a full set, over a hour and a half.
Unfortunately, their Coachella set felt like a bit like a cluttered mess by comparison, as they went back and forth performing songs off of their first 2017 release (one of five to come) Flying Microtonal Banana and their upcoming album Murder of the Universe.
This shorter set, closer to 50 minutes—featuring five of the 12 songs from an unreleased album—left me disappointed as too many songs beloved by so-called “Gizzheads” were left off the set list. It is not to say that Murder of the Universe does not have the makings of a classic Gizz album, “Altered Beasts” and “Lord of Lightning” are sure to be classics, but more variation would have been nice.
Following King Gizzard was Mac DeMarco whose popularity among Southern California youth is unrivaled.
DeMarco gave a strong performance playing a mixture of classic songs and debuts, all while popping beers with his teeth and swigging some unmarked hard liquor in classic Mac DeMarco fashion.
The highlight of the set was when DeMarco brought out former beloved bassist Pierce McGarry who recently left his role as a backing band member to pursue a personal project called “Walter TV.”
Meanwhile, on the main stage, Glass Animals gave a crowd-pleasing performance primarily focused on their most recent album How to be a Human Being as entertaining front man Dave Bayley danced around on a broken ankle.
From performing a rather pretentious set on the Outdoor stage two years ago, Echo Park based Father John Misty rose to the occasion of the main stage this year.
Nearly clean-shaven and impeccably dressed in a suit with a crisp white shirt, he sang, as is his trademark, with his arms crossed or both hands in his coat pockets and danced in sockless loafers with a beautiful voice that recalls early Elton John.
Misty has found who he is—after extensive work in various indie rock bands under his name Josh Tillman, he rebranded himself in 2012—and we hope he’s here to stay.
I also caught The Avalanches, who were making their return USA debut at the festival after releasing their first album in 16 years. Their set was fantastic and I highly recommend stopping by for anyone going weekend two.
At this point I was very pleased with how my day had gone, but honestly, my day was about to begin. As an intransigent believer that Radiohead is the single greatest and most important 21st century band, my mission to lock eyes with Jonny Greenwood was about to begin.
What I did not anticipate was just how popular fellow British band the XX was, as I have always been more familiar with Jamie xx’s solo work than his band’s. The XX’s show was pretty great and their hold on the crowd was fantastic. It was clear that both Romy Croft and Oliver Sim were genuinely ecstatic to play the festival and that showed in their performance. Jamie xx was, as he always is, too cool to show his excitement, but he was fantastic as usual, making the entire set come together.
After the XX, Radiohead took the stage.
Opening with a rendition of “Daydreaming” off of their 2016 release A Moon Shaped Pool, they immediately wowed the crowd. As has been well documented in recent days, the early part of their set was plagued by audio issues as Radiohead’s complex set up seemingly overpowered Coachella’s sound capabilities.
The first sign came during their performance of “Ful Stop,” the most upbeat song off of A Moon Shaped Pool. Unfortunately their performances of “15 Stop” and “Let Down,” both featured the sound system failure and the band left the stage twice.
What became clear to the audience was that no one was more disappointed in the audio collapse than front man and known perfectionist Thom Yorke who, after the issue was again fixed, returned to the stage and blamed aliens before delivering this classic line: “I would tell you a joke to lighten the mood, but f**k it. This is a Radiohead show.” The band then broke out into the somber a-minor arpeggiated guitar riff of “Street Spirit (Fade Out).”
Fortunately, for everyone, there were no further sound issues and the band could finally get into a groove.
Their set was a mixture for die-hard fans and those of a more casual ilk a headliner has to also play for, something OutKast was criticized for not doing in 2015.
As a testament to their timelessness, Radiohead performed songs off of all nine of their studio albums across their 22-song set. It has been speculated that they have prepared some 55 individual songs for their 2017 tour and play a varying selection every night, another sign of the band’s extensive and masterful catalog.
Highlights included “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi,” my personal favorite; “Burn the Witch,” with guitarist Jonny Greenwood playing a bowed guitar a la Jimmy Page; a rare performance of smash single “Creep,” the brilliant encore-opening “You and Whose Army?;” a vibrant performance of “Paranoid Android” and their closing “Karma Police,” essentially Radiohead’s anthem, which featured Yorke ending the set singing the beautiful outro “for a second there I lost myself, I lost myself” in unison with the crowd. Their set should not be missed.
Saturday is this year’s festival’s weakest link, but I accidentally discovered a pretty great, young (and I mean really young) Palm Desert-based band in the Gobi tent called the Yip Yops.
The band’s lead is 18-year-old Ison Van Winkle. Think Iggy Pop meets Kurt Cobain meets Beck. Watching Van Winkle, you sort felt like you were watching a star in the making. A recent graduate of La Quinta High, he has amazing stage presence. The group’s keyboardist, Mari Brossfield is just 15. This group playing Indie Rock will make a name for itself.
The day featured a handful of great performances by bands like Car Seat Headrest, Thundercat featuring the Doobie Brother’s Michael McDonald and Bon Iver). But overall, this year, Saturday is just a hurdle in the weekend.
ScHoolboy Q delivered an energetic set that featured guest appearances from Tyler the Creator and A$AP Rocky, but nothing special, just a typical rap show.
Gucci Mane was fine, but mostly because it was simply Gucci Mane, who was released last September after serving nearly three years in federal prison on gun and drug charges.
His decision to bring out Lil Yachty, a rapper who hurts rap more than he helps it, contributed to his rather sub-par set.
Headliner Lady Gaga seemed thrilled to be playing the festival, but did not live up to the quality of past headliners such as Phoenix, Jack White, Blur and LCD Soundsystem.
Any act that cannot stand on its music alone and resorts to an array of dancers and fireworks is not strong enough to headline a festival like Coachella. It is clear Coachella was banking on Beyoncé, who had to cancel due to pregnancy, to anchor the weak Saturday night.
Of note: don’t miss the lead-up to Gaga’s act: a synchronized dance of colored drones hovering above the stage.
Sunday was a blast. The day began for me at Pond’s early afternoon performance on the Gobi stage.
The Australian band features members of Tame Impala and is the best-kept secret at Coachella.
They performed a fantastic psych rock set in true Aussie fashion and the petite front man, Nick Allbrook–who reminds of Damon Albarn’s classic Gorillaz character “2D”—was incredibly fun and interacted with the audience in ways that baffled Coachella’s uptight stage security. (The same thing occurred over in the Sonora tent Sunday mid-day when dozens of fans of indie band Hinds overtook the stage and the girls just danced along, never stopping their set, much to the crowd’s delight.
Next up was Washington, D.C. rapper GoldLink, who has disappointingly evolved into more of a dance party than a rap set, based on when I first saw him open for Flume a few years ago.
I then trekked to the Yuma tent to check out the Belleville Three, a group of legendary house artists credited with inventing Detroit Techno. Member Derrick May, you may recall, famously described Belleville as “like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company.”
Their show was great in small bursts. If you’re not familiar with true techno—not the EDM of the Sahara tent and EDC—then the repetitiveness can be overwhelming. Regardless, it is worthwhile to escape the heat some and check out three living legends in action.
From there, I ventured back to Sonora, where the Los Angeles based Allah-Las were playing before an incredibly passionate crowd that spanned from teenagers to the elder attendees of the festival. Their set sounded great and was crowd-pleasing as the band’s members took turns cycling roles in flawless fashion. This was not one to miss.
Up next was the true surprise of the festival and, arguably, the coolest thing I have seen in my six rounds at Coachella: Hans Zimmer live.
Zimmer, the monumental film score composer whose works have earned him an Academy award and four Grammys, brought a full orchestra to the desert to bring his famous scores to life.
His set opened with a medley of themes from Inception before Tina Guo took over delivering an unforgettable cello concerto for Pirates of the Caribbean.
They then moved into the crowd-favorite, and Oscar winner, Lion King score featuring the original vocalist for “Circle of Life,” a refugee from South Africa who first met Zimmer at a car wash and whom Zimmer said is “the true lion king.”
Zimmer had more surprises up his sleeve as he welcomed Pharrell Williams to the stage to perform Pharrell’s hit single “Freedom,” before wrapping the set with a collection of themes from the Dark Knight trilogy and a beautiful closing rendition of “Time” from Inception. The act was the first of its kind in Coachella history and was truly remarkable.
Following Zimmer was Justice.
The French electronic duo who seldom get around to touring—as seems to be the case with all French electronic duos (*cough* Daft Punk *cough* *cough*)—delivered their strongest of their three major live tours to date.
The show started strong with “Safe and Sound,” the strongest track off of 2016 release Woman, which duo Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé have described as entrance music for a boxing match.
“Safe and Sound” was flawlessly mixed into the duo’s most commercially popular song “D.A.N.C.E.” I do not want to give too much away, but the set was fantastic and featured a solid mix of the Justice classics and their new tracks, all with a new lights display. Don’t worry, their trademark massive illuminated cross is still present. I highly recommend catching this set, but if you happen to miss it, I am pretty confident a documentary of the tour and a live album are on the way.
Chapel Hill based Porter Robinson and French electronic music producer Madeon also put on a strong, emotional show. At one point, the stage’s video screens showed a drone’s aerial view of the massive tens of thousands gathered to see them.
Both Robinson and Madeon seemed overwhelmed by the support, with Madeon appearing to cry as he said goodbye after “Shelter” and Robinson telling the crowd, “This was the best night of my life.” Their performance weekend two will be the last, they said, of their collaboration.
The festival closed with Kendrick Lamar, the most hyped show of the weekend.
The newly dubbed “Kung Fu Kenny” failed to disappoint, delivering the most cinematic rap show since Kanye West’s infamous 2011 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy performance.
The show featured a mixture of Kendrick Lamar classics from To Pimp a Butterfly and Good Kid m.A.A.d City with the highly anticipated debut of DAMN. released April 14th.
Kendrick also brought out the festival’s other high profile rappers Travis $cott, ScHoolBoy Q and Future to perform a song each.
The set featured Japanese-inspired skits and an incredible closing duo of new songs “HUMBLE.” and the fragile and haunting “LOVE.” to send the crowd home happy.
Kendrick Lamar, who in 2012 joined both Radiohead and Justice on the Coachella lineup, proved to any naysayer just how deserved his rise from bottom billing on Friday to Sunday headliner was. In five years Kendrick has become the biggest name in rap and DAMN., paired with, by far the strongest performance of his I have seen, proved Kendrick’s true place as top dog in rap and anywhere else he might show up.
Words of wisdom: Coachella does seem more crowded this year. Those at the stage Sunday night to see Lorde, were packed immovable, which for some fans, took away from the set.
Lorde also confused the audience, a couple of times during her performance, including her distracting stage enactment of people doing somewhat ordinary things in a see-through box that tilted on its axis and her early announcement she had a few surprises in store, “Because,” she said, “you know, this is Coachella.”
Because Lorde blasted Kate Bush’s 1985 classic “Running Up That Hill” prior to taking the stage, many wondered if that was a tease to bring Bush out for a duo. Unfortunately, that never happened—but it would have been a great idea. Lorde’s surprise, it turns out was singing—for the first time—a new song called “Homemade Dynamite.” She implored the audience to give it a “happy birthday.”
Also, due to the festival’s expansion of its footprint this year, fans can no longer toggle between acts on the main and Outdoor stages while enjoying a $15 margarita or $10 suds in the beer garden in between those stages.
And whatever you do, don’t self park in lot 1A off of Avenue 49 (yellow path to festival entrance). Some unlucky motorists were stuck in that lot Saturday night for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Rethink these issues, Goldenvoice. See you next year.
Allison B. Cohen contributed to this story.
Charles Cohen attends Boston College where he is studying business and music. He is currently on hiatus from his DJ gig on WZBC-FM Boston College Radio and will study with Berklee College of Music in Spain this summer.