Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend by far, yet still a relatively (by Coachella standards) 83 degrees with a nice occasional breeze. It showed in the increased turnout to the open stages; Kentucky buzz band Sleeper Agent played a quick and dirty wake-up call of big riffs and shout-along choruses on the Outdoor Stage to the bleary-eyed, quickly roasting audience. I soon made my way to the other side of the festival to check out the criminally underbilled Noisia who played to a half-filled Sahara tent. I’m assuming Noisia’s relentless brand of drum n’ bass and dubstep was a bit too dark for the serotonin-depleted masses. After catching their well received remix of deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon,” I detoured over to the Mojave to see perennially on the cusp indie rockers Oberhofer. There’s a bit of Wavves in their rambling, sunny surf-rock, and if there was ever a song to get Brad Oberhofer’s pet project finally over the hump, irrepressibly catchy single “Away Frm U” is about as good a shot as any. Energy was something Mr. Oberhofer definitely did not lack; at one point, he climbed the precarious metal support on the left of the stage, seemingly for the express purpose of massaging the lights before climbing down and giving running high fives to the first row.
Santigold had a great time over at the Main Stage for her mid-afternoon set, repeatedly cracking jokes about the stage setup and inviting various members up on the stage to join her and the two professional dancers. The turnout was also fantastic, resembling more of a night set than a throwaway daytime one, but given the pristine conditions, maybe this wasn’t such a surprise. Next Big Thing Real Estate, meanwhile, played to a packed house at the Gobi tent. Their wistful indie rock, with that distinctive guitar tone that makes me want to simply lay out on the grass and think, translated well to a festival environment. I can imagine it would have sounded even better on the stretched out lawn of the Outdoor Stage, where people could enjoy the music in their own space rather than crammed into a tent. Regardless, their set was a success – “It’s Real” was the obvious crowd favorite, inspiring an almost reverential sing-a-long. Those who left early missed the real treat, though: closer “All The Same,” which untangled its guitar lines more deliberately than the album version and druggily faded out in the blistering heat.
On the Outdoor Stage, Wild Flag launched into one of the more conventional sets of the weekend, but its straightforward rock ‘n roll was perfectly suited for the setting. The members of Wild Flag are practically indie royalty (Sleater-Kinney, Helium, the Minders, Portlandia (!)), and it was nice to see the women let their hair down and burn through some blissfully unhinged power pop and aggressive, solo-filled rock. Following that I saw some of the Hives, who brought the energy on the Main Stage but squandered any goodwill their music might have brought with the antics of frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. “Howlin,’” indeed; Almqvist, in a tuxedo and top hat, couldn’t be bothered to shut up between sets, nagging the audience with repeated requests to “get down” or to clap along and generally murdering any momentum the band had gained. It wasn’t a total bust: Almqvist actually got most of the sizable audience to jump up and down in unison for “Tick Tick Boom,” although it was probably just to make him stop talking.
Having garnered the coveted sunset slot on the basis of three mixtapes and a significant amount of hype, the Weeknd had a lot to live up to at the packed Outdoor Stage. The audience was more than receptive – one of the largest crowds I had seen at the stage all festival, and the rapture on some people’s faces was nearly worshipful. Although Abel Tesfaye was the star, his full backing band really provided the emotional punch the music needed: hazy backbeats; melancholy guitar solos; the triumphant crash of “Crew Love;” the menacing roar conjured up on “Glass Table Girls.” Tesfaye, on the other hand, occasionally sounded out of his league on the bigger stage. Although the hype demanded he be put here, I would imagine his often strained, sometimes frail vocals would have sounded better in closer quarters.
From there, I managed to catch the predictably cathartic climax to new Australian star Gotye’s set, where Kimbra came out of stage right to deliver her verse in “Somebody That I Used To Know” to a massive roar from the crowd. “Somebody That I Used To Know” is so overplayed as to be offensive when heard on the radio now, but that’s the beauty of the festival environment – heard live, with an over spilling throng of fans (the Mojave was easily the most packed I had seen it all weekend) singing intensely along to every word, the song again became fulfilling, empowering, and incredibly addictive.
Justice, meanwhile; here was a set I was extremely interested in seeing, given how disappointed I was by last year’s cock-rock extravaganza Audio, Video, Disco. I wasn’t particularly sure how the newer songs would translate live, and given the observations of many the crowd around me, who seemed to have no knowledge of Justice beyond Cross, I wasn’t sure they would be able to engage the audience effectively. Of course, the favorites were opener “Genesis” and the omnipresent “D.A.N.C.E.” (which cleverly sampled Jay-Z’s “On To The Next One”), but the way the duo transitioned from their older tracks into beats like “Civilization” and “Helix” made sure the bass kept thumping and the crowd kept dancing, preventing most “huh?” moments. Unfortunately for the pair, who had already come on late, they encountered technical problems and had to shut down their set early.
Those who still wanted to dance either headed to Girl Talk’s manic show at the Outdoor Stage or Calvin Harris in the Sahara, where Rihanna showed up to sing on “We Found Love.” I decided to relax at the Mojave with Beirut, who showed up with an accordion, a ukulele, keys, and an assortment of horns. It stood in sharp contrast to the constant thuds of bass floating over from Harris’ set, but Zach Condon was in fine form, often adding his trumpet to the wave of brass that his band layered in. On record, Beirut is lush and elastic, stretching itself through Balkan folk and twisting Americana around to meet its own ends; I’m happy to report that nothing is lost in the translation live, and Condon’s baritone sounds just as exotic.
After a short diversion in the Heineken Dome to get myself properly lubricated for the closing sets, I hit up the end of DJ Shadow, just in time to see his trademark rotating ball open up and reveal the man himself spinning the decks from within. Shadow dropped a hard-hitting set that was rather filthy compared to what I was expecting from him. The cherry on top was Rage Against the Machine firebrand Zack de la Rocha coming on stage to pump up the crowd and rap his collaboration with Shadow, “March of Death.” de la Rocha has kind of fallen off a cliff in recent years, but he’s still got plenty of passion live and seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, rather than some contracted-for guest appearance.
A quick aside regarding the Heineken Dome – I swear there are people in there who never see the light of day all weekend. Expanded to two domes connected by a covered walkway this year, one serving beer around the clock and the other featuring a claustrophobic dance room and a DJ booth, the Dome is an easy place to get lost in. Forget the fact that you have to drink nothing but Heineken and listen to straight, head-pounding house, drum ‘n bass, and techno. This was the first time I had visited the Dome, and it was an experience: from stepping into the first room and getting hit with the intoxicating stench of beer, which coated everything; seeing the bartenders literally filling up drinks nonstop, seemingly in a trance themselves; entering the darkened second dome, with its undulating bodies and E-friendly light show arcing over the roof; and finally, people-watching while getting increasingly inebriated, which is a spectacle all in itself. Losing track of time is simple, given how its kept purposely dim, with only unearthly green lights and that light show keeping things visible, and pleasantly air conditioned, which, combined with the beer, is a godsend during the day. Just make sure you have a watch, or you may never come out.
So, let’s get the “hologram” out of the way first. There’s pros and cons to this, although I do think it has been blown out of proportion – I certainly don’t expect a tour full of dead stars to be rolling through my town anytime in the next decade or so (and if they do, then I imagine we’ll have bigger problems to be worrying about by then). Tupac’s mom stated she was “absolutely thrilled,” and Dr. Dre made a sizable donation to Shakur’s charity as thanks. Unfortunately, despite my Star Wars fantasies, the thing wasn’t even a real hologram. Rather, handsomely paid CGI artists used a fancy, centuries-old glass reflection trick to make the 2D image appear 3D. But shit! Given the distance, the amount of substances everyone was on, and just how real it looked in the flesh, surrounded by thousands of screaming fans equally shocked and amazed, it was a pretty fucking cool moment. I feel terrible for all the weekend 2 attendees who had that one moment of surprise ruined for them…yet another reason why I’m not sure bigger is better for Coachella.
The performance? Aside from the shameless plugging (Dre makes Beats headphones? You don’t say!) and the aforementioned spoiling for next week’s festivalgoers, it was just as you imagined a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg collaboration to be: all the hits, with plenty of guest stars to spice up the setlist and roil the crowd into a frenzy. Wiz Khalifa, clearly beyond excited to be there, guesting on “Young Wild and Free;” Dre protégé Kendrick Lamar spitting some fierce verses on his new tune “The Recipe” and looking like the next big rap star, particularly after his Main Stage set on Friday; 50 Cent crashing the party and looking fairly out of place; and, of course, Eminem with a three-song celebration (“I Need A Doctor,” “Forgot About Dre,” “’Till I Collapse”). It was big. It was bombastic. It was everything a Coachella festival should be, over the top and playing directly to the fans’ desires. It took the elaborate theatrics of Kanye’s set last year and transformed it from that artistic, dramatic coming out into the most ridiculous greatest-hits performance this festival has probably ever seen. It’s anybody’s guess how Coachella is going to continue to change over the next few years, but so long as the music keeps attempting to out-do itself, Coachella is going to remain the North American music festival for the foreseeable future. That’s something I can get behind.
Top 5 Sets
1. The Shins
2. The Rapture
3. Amon Tobin
4. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg