Woke up at seven in the morning, went to the communal showers at the campgrounds, finally succeeded in showering by 9:30. Did I mention camping was a terrible idea? Although I had marked down Portugal. The Man as my likely first set of the day, the intense heat at the campgrounds had me headed for any shade I could find at the festival. I decided to hit up Rx Bandits on Sputnik’s recommendation and was presently surprised – despite the rather small showing thanks to the early (12:30) set time, the band played their hearts out on the Outdoor Stage, causing a number of passerby to question who they were. The guitar dueling between Matt Embree and Steve Choi was a particular highlight, the group making a good case for a later time slot next year with a high-energy set that leaned heavily on the group’s newest album Mandala.
Portugal. The Man predictably tore it up over at the Gobi stage shortly after two, playing to a crowd that was already spilling far out of the tent by 2:30. The band was expansive and appropriately psychedelic in the desert heat, with frontman John Gourley leading the way with memorable guitar lines and a confident vocal performance that the crowd took to immediately. The best received were those off The Satanic Satanist, particularly the sing-a-longs of “The Sun” and “People Say,” and the feedback-drenched jam session that they closed with set the bar quite high for the rest of the Gobi’s performers.
Making the choice between Camera Obscura and Girls wasn’t too difficult, as I’d seen the Scottish indie-popsters a few times before, and the hipster hype building up behind Girls’ live show was impossible to resist. They took to the Gobi around 3:30, frontman Christopher Owens’ long mane concealing most of his face. They launched into an enjoyable, if rather expected, set that was more than passable but lacked any extra oomph. Their fuzzy cover of “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” however, saved the show from being just another Pitchfork lovefest.
Saturday was hipster day, without a doubt – following Girls I trekked to the Mojave tent to check out Beach House, a band I swore I wouldn’t see but which I was convinced to go to anyways so I could convince my friend how boring they’d be live. I wasn’t exactly wrong, as the duo put on a set that was perfectly appropriate for the siesta timeslot they were in, but they put on a near-flawless performance, with only a few howls from the monitors interrupting their dreamy indie pop. But it was impossible to enjoy even crowd pleasers like “Norway” and “Zebra” as you would at a normal rock concert, when a quarter of the tent was sitting on the grass or entirely passed out.
Following Beach House I checked out Australian DJ Dirty South at the Sahara tent for a few minutes, just managing to catch his fantastic remix of Miike Snow’s “Silvia” before running over to the Gobi to see the Raveonettes. The Danish fuzz-pop duo were a bit late coming on, explaining that they almost didn’t make it due to the flight situation in Europe, and that they’d be performing without the aid of any their normal touring band. I should have expected what came next then, a throwback to some of the Raveonettes’ earliest tunes with nary a power-pop gem from their latest, In and Out of Control. The crowd seemed unsure of what to do when the two spent most of the time wailing on their guitars and distortion pedals, creating a wave of dissonant sound that would’ve seemed more at home at a My Bloody Valentine concert.
It was refreshing, then, to relax to the down tempo electro of buzz band the XX over at the packed Outdoor Stage. The three-piece British group performed fairly faithful renditions of tunes from their debut, not really moving the crowd but never really intending to either. In fact, the most exciting part of the set was when singer Romy Croft exclaimed that a fire had broken out over by the main stage and everyone turned wide-eyed with their cell phones ready – of course, everyone found out later that had merely been the work of Coheed and Cambria’s ridiculous stage show. The xx show was the first concert when I fully realized the power of Coachella’s sound systems, something I’d really be punished with later on that night. Lying down on the grass during the xx, I could literally feel my head vibrate from the subwoofers arrayed out over the field. There’s a good chance I lost several frequencies from my hearing that weekend.
I caught a bit of Hot Chip’s immense set following the xx at the Outdoor Stage as I grabbed some dinner, but the dance-punk group have never really interested me and I soon made my way to the DJ set being put on by Kaskade at the Sahara. Along the way I heard a bit of Corinne Bailey Rae’s set at the Gobi, which was surprisingly lively and rocking at a time when most of the concertgoers were traveling one way or the other. The Sahara tent was filled to the brim and more so, as tens of thousands of visitors with eyes the size of quarters prepared for an evening of top-billed DJs.
It was a little ridiculous just how widespread “party favors” were throughout the weekend, but Saturday night was the peak of everything – walking around past sunset it was easy to guess that perhaps 75% or more of the attendees were enhancing their experience with plenty of ecstasy, ketamine, and various hallucinogens. No more so was this apparent than at the Sahara, where set times were separated by as little as five minutes (no need for set up with a DJ) and the audience was one crackling mass of people, all hyped on an incredible amount of energy, music, and schizophrenic visuals and moving as one to every dropped beat. It was easy to see the DJs feed off them in turn – from Kaskade’s hard-hitting set to David Guetta’s throbbing house (when he dropped “Sexy Bitch,” absolute pandemonium set in) to Major Lazer’s dancehall-influenced dance music over at the Mojave, the south side of the festival transformed itself seamlessly into a colossal rave. Describing these DJ sets is pointless – like Coachella itself, it’s an experience you have to be there for, filthy music and constant dropped beats combining with the addicting positive vibes of the crowd and the masterful ways each DJ directed it.
I pulled myself away to catch the end of Muse’s performance, who concluded their spectacle of a show on the main stage with a thunderous, nearly ten-minute-long “Knights of Cydonia.” Following that it was an eager wait for everyone at the main stage for the Saturday headliner, Dutch DJ and producer Tiesto. Thoughts from other acts that I had missed that others in my group had seen: some disgust at MGMT’s 9:00 set at the Outdoor Stage, where the band resolutely refused to play “Kids” to the crowd’s dismay and seemed intent on pushing their newest album; Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros performing a respectable set before the xx that seemed eternally hazy with pot smoke; and Faith No More’s frontman Mike Patton destroying the main stage with impressive vocal range and an energy that belied the band’s age and ended up with Patton crowd-surfing.
As with Jay-Z, I hardly considered myself a Tiesto fan before he took the stage to a mountainous image of his head on the video screens, but yet another astounding headlining performance converted me. It’s difficult to tell whether it was the combination of the 50,000+ people who all packed in front of the main stage, overflowing onto the festival grounds and Outdoor Stage area; the dizzying light shows and intense lasers that Tiesto’s crew put on; the sense that every single person attending was having the time of their life; or just Tiesto himself, who quickly proved why he had been elected as the best DJ in the world two years in a row. Every beat he dropped renewed the crowd with even more vigor, and the scene of seeing what was an entire mass of people jumping up and down as one or reaching to the sky or singing along to the ubiquitous remix of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” was mind-blowing. Highlights included his collaboration with Tegan & Sara on “Feel It In My Bones,” crowd favorite “Adagio for Strings,” and relentless closer “Everything.” It was a concert that no one seemed wanted to end, and needless to say, it was nearly impossible to fall asleep with the entire campgrounds still raving after that. Sunday morning was not going to be fun.