“Last week the desert got me, but not this time!”
Pharrell Williams looked out on the enormous crowd that erupted in hoots and cheers as he declared his victory against the fickle Indio weather. “You ready to have fun?” he shouted. Once again, the almost unmanageably large congregation unanimously approved Williams’ newfound confidence as he strutted across the casually-named “Outdoor Stage” on Saturday night. After a series of disappointing technical difficulties and a weak voice during the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music + Arts Festival, the beloved singer-songwriter-producer-rapper-musician-fashion-designer-composer-hat-wearer knew he had to triumph over the elements. With his intricate light show working and a cavalcade of special guests that included T.I., Usher and Jay Z, Pharrell went all out, making sure not to waste this second chance.
It seems that the sage saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” was on the tips of the tongues of many of the acts performing at Coachella this year. Reports of lackluster sets, whining, taunting and bad attitudes floated around the web worrying festival goers and promoters alike. And while we can never be completely sure of what happened within the walls of the Polo Field in the weekdays sandwiched between the two festivals, by the time the second Coachella Friday rolled around, the “do over” button was pushed and left everyone scratching their heads asking “What problems?” as their favorite artists tore the desert stages up.
No one felt the sweet embrace of redemption more than the freshly reunited OutKast. Like a shot of adrenaline to the arm, Andre 3000 and Big Boi shed their Weekend One apathy and ran through hit after hit for over an hour and a half to a massive audience who tried to match their rhymes every step of the way. After starting with the one-two punch of “B.O.B” and “Gasoline Dreams,” the Atlanta duo launched into a career-spanning set that included an inspired “solo” section for both members to perform their contributions from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” anyone?
Seeing OutKast together again reminded an entire generation how many classic tracks these two men are responsible for, and hearing them spit such mad game (including an admirable, but hilariously failed attempt at a Coachella freestyle within “Roses” by Andre 3000) preserved their spot at the top of the ever-growing hip hop mountain.
While OutKast’s victorious show was by far the greatest surprise of Weekend Two, Friday night also provided some much needed salvation for The Replacements. The undeniably influential punk band appeared from the wings of the Outdoor Stage in matching suits, with their feisty leader hobbling in on a cane due to a brand new back injury.
After fighting through a couple songs with the group–including the classic “I Will Dare” from 1984’s Let It Be–Paul Westerberg introduced Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong as the newest addition to the group. “Dreams do come true!” squealed Armstrong, fondly referred to as an “expansion,” as he strapped his guitar on and breathed some new life into the Minnesota band, playing fan favorites including “Kiss Me On The Bus,” “Alex Chilton” and “Color Me Impressed.”
After Weekend One’s straightforward set including several insults to the small crowd, the addition of Armstrong as well as Westerberg’s sunnier disposition (maybe pain medication induced) made The Replacement’s final Coachella 2014 set a sight not to miss and a collaborative performance (Tommy Stinson taught Armstrong chords on the fly: “You’ll pick it up, it’s in E just like everything else!”) void of the malice from last week towards the small, but fiercely loyal audience.
Being able to wake up and get to the Empire Polo Field before 4pm is a rare feat of dedication to the music you love. While the crowds are smaller, there is something comforting about knowing that your audience forced themselves back into the sweltering heat and unwelcomed humidity to see you. Saturday afternoon saw the tired and faithful congregating at the feet of Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado. Watching France, the manic frontman with pastel-colored hair and pale skin, jump around the stage added another dimension to Foxygen’s vintage psychedelic sound: take one part T. Rex, one part Rolling Stones and shake it up in Iggy Pop’s body. The afternoon set by the Agoura natives acted as a form of repayment for the SoCal fans who missed out on seeing the group at 2013’s FYF due to France’s broken leg. His unstoppable energy mixed with Rado’s musicality was well worth the wait.
Charm and talent goes a long way with the sunkissed masses as seen by the immediate approval of Washed Out. Ernest Greene won the crowd the second he walked onto the stage, flashed a smile and gave a wave. Before he even strummed the guitar and started playing, most of the tent was already in love with Washed Out, proving sincerity and happiness to be at Coachella will be reciprocated from the stage to the audience.
Beyond Foxygen’s Agoura Hills background, the San Fernando Valley was well represented at Coachella this weekend including sets by Banks (hailing from Tarzana) and the Valley Village miracles known best as HAIM. The sisterly trio of Este, Danielle and Alana still could not wrap their heads around the fact that they were actually playing Coachella–their festival of choice for the last decade as SoCal natives. In between their Fleetwood Mac covers and tracks from their debut album, Days Are Gone, Este told the sizeable crowd tales of sneaking into the grounds and getting low. While this was their first appearance in the desert lineup, their years of international festival stops acted as perfect training for their Coachella debut. The Haim women know how to work with the elements and command a crowd.
It was refreshing to see an increase in female bands and acts because as the Swedish electro-duo-turned-dance-troupe The Knife pointed out to the masses on Friday evening, “There’s been a lot of dick on these stages, it’s time for some pussy!” Dum Dum Girls, Warpaint and Courtney Barnett filled some of that void with earlier sets. Dum Dum’s lead singer Dee Dee Penny controlled the Outdoor Stage in nothing but a sheer mesh bodysuit and black pasties– The fuzzy pop sounds of “He Gets Me High” and “Bedroom Eyes” were a dose of energy for some of the more listless members in the crowd. The moody disposition of Warpaint found its place in the darkness of the Gobi tent on Saturday. Jenny Lee Lindberg, Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman and Stella Mozgawa gave each other a supportive group hug off-stage before starting their set, playing an even mix of songs from their last two albums. Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett pulled a larger crowd during the second Coachella weekend ready to love her clever lyrics and jangly garage sound, while waiting to hear “Avant Gardener.”
The pinnacle of girl power at Coachella came with one name on Saturday night: Solange. What can one say? The girl can move. With a demeanor just as charming as her sister’s, Solange’s breaking moment with the audience was with her hit “Losing You.” Interaction was the name of the game at Coachella, it was a make or break decision that inspired the love or apathy of the crowd and in typical Knowles fashion, the encouragement of grinding, dancing and “smoking herb” left everyone feeling like putty in her fabulous hands.
In previous years at Coachella, MGMT has been know to skip their hits and play from their lesser-known catalog. This year, in the theme of living and learning the sun-dazed indie psych rockers played through their major singles in the first half of their set, much to the crowd’s joy. There’s nothing like “Electric Feel” to get the crowd dancing, fans didn’t hold back when they heard the ever-familiar introductory flute and bass. Frontman Andrew VanWyngarden doubled as musician and videographer between song and guerrilla GoPro director, with a microphone in one hand camera in the other VanWyngarden gave an extra layer of experience before abandoning the GoPro to focus on performing.
This lesson of relating to the crowd seemed lost on Julian Casablancas and his new backing band “The Voids” this past weekend. The Gobi tent waited in heated anticipation for Casablancas and he joined the band on stage in true rock-and-roll fashion; a little late and in a leather, studded jacket, messy hair and a muscle tee. Between banter and slightly awkward announcements of other bands playing the festival, Casablancas delved into a slew of new and old solo music, but the slightly confused crowd was won with “Take It Or Leave It.” Our love for Julian goes deep, but it all starts with The Strokes who played the fest themselves only a few years ago.
The nostalgia for Coachellas past was a common theme for first timers like HAIM and Solange, and veteran performers alike. No one’s fondness for the first major music festival could be topped by Mr. Beck Hansen who was the very first Coachella headliner 15 years ago. Within his implausibly short set, Hansen invited the audience to reminisce on a time when Coachella was just a couple of stages and applauded the booming yearly event that it has become. He also invited us up to Glendale for a real good meal during a perfect breakdown of Midnite Vulture’s “Debra”; a rare track to hear at a Beck live show. Even with his undying appreciation for the festival promoters and the Canadian band to come after him (complete with a beautiful acoustic cover of “Rebellion (Lies)”), the sound was pulled right in the midde of his “Where It’s At” outro killing the groove and reminding us that this is a large corporate event now.
While Beck’s main stage crowd was a healthy size, the pounding of DJs and electronic acts kept seeping into his 20+ year retrospective set. 2014 saw the tides shift to the Sarhara, relocated Do Lab and newly added Yuma tents for sweaty crowds and hours of waiting. Alternative and indie rock fans were pleasantly surprised as they moved easier through crowds to the front for their favorite acts, that is of course, unless you were at the sunset reunion performance by Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff Mangum stepped on stage with the original In the Aeroplane Over the Sea lineup more confident than at his 2012 solo performance, a dream come true for any Neutral Milk Hotel fan who was unaware how often saws were used within their favorite songs.
Unfortunately this dream come true turned into a waking nightmare when NMH fans realized that they were surrounded by complaining Lana Del Rey followers who were willing to trample once the delicate set was over. Common screamed complaints: “Who are these weird people?”, “This guy is soooo off key!”, “This feels like they have been on forever.” Hell hath no fury like a floral-crowned Lana Del Rey fan who just sat through a Neutral Milk Hotel set.
Closing out the Main Stage on Sunday, and the festival itself, were Coachella veterans Arcade Fire. Makeup, sequins, mirrors and more, their music filled the stage and overflowed to grounds with their, sky-high spirit, charisma and charm. All smiles and jokes, the band made their way into the crowd and let themselves get completely lost in the music. After the 2013 Daft Punk commercial for Random Access Memories played on the main stage everyone heard about, saw or even felt the stampede of fans rushing to see if the helmeted due were in Indio. So when the Montreal natives took the stage in their paper machè heads and announced some “special guests” you can imagine the chaos when “Daft Punk” was on the stage with them. It didn’t take long for people to realize it was a spoof or for the band to win the crowd’s attention back with their wildly popular anthemic roster of songs.
Like their predecessor, Beck (who joined the band on stage for a cover of Prince’s “Controversy”), and despite their headlining spot, city noise limits and festival politics resulted in the plug being pulled at the end of the band’s final number “Wake Up.” But this time, the lack of amplification didn’t stop the band as they grabbed megaphones and ran into the crowd keeping the song going for an extra ten minutes before bowing and leaving victorious.
As the exhausted masses hit the dusty trails back to their cars, there was a sense of relief in the air; not only because the lengthy periods of standing and lack of water were over, but also because we were present for a series of moments that most don’t get to experience–a solid effort to make the live music experience better for their fans. And that was worth the price of admission. F
Taken from FILTER Magazine. Published April 23, 2014.