Another year, another Coachella won by the DJs. It was apparent seeing the massive crowd flocking to the Main Stage for Kaskade’s 7:30pm set that no matter the time, no matter the place, big electronic names have supplanted rock ‘n roll and pop acts as the biggest draw of the festival. Ever since Tiesto’s headlining set in 2010, electronic music and its den of iniquity, the Sahara tent, has consistently drawn the most packed crowds, with the requisite increase in dilated eyes and face paint. Not to say Kaskade’s set was a bust – indeed, it was quite good – but it failed to rise above the constraints of its audience, who know what they want and are happy enough to get it. Still, credit to Goldenvoice: where past Coachellas have gone heavy on the big names), the electronic acts this year pushed the boundaries of their genre, from Kygo, who’s languid house beats draw white girls like moths to a flame, to Jamie xx’s innovative, heavy set, to John Talabot, who proved the best avatar of the Yuma’s throbbing, mutating waves of bass music. Sure, David Guetta may have still closed out the Sahara Sunday night, but: progress! And that’s not even mentioning one of my favorite sets of the night, which rocked the top of the Mojave, of all places.
Placing Canadian indie-pop legends Sloan at a noon time slot on THE LAST DAY OF THE FESTIVAL is downright criminal – getting out of bed and stumbling through the gates is hard enough on Saturday, let alone after two full days of roasting in a chemical and sun haze. I was fortunate enough to make it in to catch the end of Angel Olsen, however, who entertained an intimate crowd in the Gobi tent with a heavy helping of Burn Your Fire For No Witness and some of the best banter of the day. The tent filled up much quicker for Danish singer MØ, who’s set overcame an early technical hiccup to finish strong with the kind of bouncy electro pop that is catnip to the average Coachella attendee (and, obviously, myself).
After that came a long stretch at the Outdoor Theatre, where I could rest my weary bones on grass that at that point was probably as filthy as the floor of a New York City dive bar. First up was Built to Spill, prepping for the release of their new album with an afternoon set that was offensively underpopulated. Whatever; more Doug Martsch for me. The band would have been better served out of the sweltering heat and in a more compact tent, but seeing “Carry the Zero” live dispelled most of my issues with the timing.
The one-two combo next of Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams was predictable; the pair have been touring together, playing together, producing together, and generally being best buds for much of the past year. Lewis, who has somehow played at Coachella in one capacity or another six (!) different times, laid down a set list that touched on all parts of her career, and was clearly out to have as good a time as possible on stage. Even Blake Sennett overcame any residual Rilo Kiley angst to come out and play on “Portions for Foxes.” Haim coming out to play and sing alongside Lewis for her new track “Girl on Girl” was almost too cute, but you have to give Jenny props for supporting the next wave.
Perhaps I had been oversaturated from seeing Adams three times in the span of one week at the end of 2014, but his set paled in comparison to that of Lewis. Whether it was the heat or the pounds of grass, Adams set shuffled along slowly when it should have burnt out quickly. “When The Stars Go Blue” was a predictable hit, and “Come Pick Me Up” is as great a closer as anything at this festival, but for the most part Adams seemed content to strum along in neutral. I’ve seen Adams play much more engaged sets in the past, even of the very same songs – it was like he thought he was doing Coachella a favor just by showing up. Half-assing your fans is no way to go about life.
I’m glad I was able to catch Florence and the Machine’s absurdly energetic gig (their third at Coachella), as it appears Ms. Welch broke her foot after leaping into the crowd following one of the sets of the weekend. Guess weekend 2 is just getting the Machine. Welch loves performing the festival: you can see it in her banter, repeatedly exhorting the fans; in her endless vivacity, tearing about from one end of the stage to the next without losing a breath; in the band itself, which has been expanded to a crew of backup singers and a ass-kicking brass group. The new stuff played well – “Ship To Wreck,” in particular, got a fantastic response – but the money remains in her hits, in her ability to work a crowd through songs as disparate as “What The Water Gave Me,” Calvin Harris collaboration “Sweet Nothing,” and anthems like “Dog Days Are Over.” The consummate natural, Welch gave Coachella the Sunday night Main Stage highlight that many thought would have been Drake’s to take.
The set of the day, though, went to the chain-smoking French DJ who demolished the Mojave tent around 9:30pm. With his finely coutured appearance, stiff approximations of groove, and 3-pack-a-set habit, Gesaffelstein reminded me more than a little of SebastiAn, that other French electro artist who tore up the Sahara in a memorable afternoon set a few years back. Apparently his last live show ever, Gesaffelstein didn’t disappoint, throwing down one of the hardest electro sets this side of Boys Noize. It was ruthless and rigorous in all the right kinds of ways, never letting up with an interlude to catch your breath, the harsh lighting and disturbing visuals a perfect complement to his industrial beats. That they eventually had to cut him off so Kygo wouldn’t go on late was the perfect capstone: it was the kind of ferocious, implacable set that actually couldn’t be stopped.
At this point, everyone knows that Drake’s set ended Coachella with a whimper, a thud, a weak flash of surprise – Madonna! Doing anything for attention! Some things never change – than anything truly memorable. His set began with a video of him driving a Bentley through Hollywood Hills-esque canyons and the man himself came on late. Drake can write anthems, there’s no doubt, yet for all the crowd adulation and neon-clad basics worshipping every radio hit he obliged them with, the set dragged, collapsed in on its own hits: Drake in love with himself. Props to the man for performing most of the set with not a guest or backing band in site, but the performance itself was vacuous and dull, saved from lifelessness mainly due to the power of some undeniable hits.
The set ended with fireworks, because that’s what you’re supposed to do on Sunday night at Coachella. I didn’t see them. I had retreated into the dark, welcoming cocoon of the Yuma tent, where an exclusive collaboration between four DJs rocked the makeshift club for three straight hours. Jackmaster, Eats Everything, Skream, and Seth Troxler made up the creatively titled J.E.S.+S., which I had been interested in seeing ever since their publicist informed the media that they were requesting no “pre or post coverage.” No post coverage? Technically I’m violating that sacrament by writing this, but I’ll be vague – the fact that they were able to pack the Yuma tent until the festival ended and the pops of Drake’s fireworks could be heard through the walls was validation enough of their brand of intense wobbles – one track actually shook my bones. Coachella may be half-rave in a few more years, but booking these kinds of artists takes more than a little sting off that inevitability. And who am I kidding? I’ll still be there.
- The remix artist RAC debuting a full band and original compositions for the very first time to a packed house at the Mojave tent. I’m still unsure as to how this was received – I saw people singing along, but I had never heard of a RAC original before, and, well, don’t people come to see them transform other people’s works? I was a bit disappointed, but good for them for promoting their own stuff, I suppose.
- Bonobo making a surprise appearance as the guest closer for the Do LaB as the festival came to a close.
- Seattle electronic duo ODESZA bringing out the USC marching band to back them up for a couple songs. Fight on indeed.
- Brand New taking people way back to high school in the Mojave tent. In retrospect, I much would have preferred to catch more than the end of their surprisingly popular set than most of Ryan Adams’ lackluster effort.
- A study in contrasts: the chill slacker vibes of Mac DeMarco at a blistering Outdoor Theatre that had a considerable crowd braving the heat to shake off last night’s drugs, and Desaparecidos in the relative cool of the Gobi tent, with a heat and a fury in their performance and a crowd that younger bands like Touche Amore could only dream of. Conor Oberst’s “Deport Conor Oberst” t-shirt was arguably the best accessory of the entire festival.
Top 5 Sets of the Weekend
1. Jack White
2. Father John Misty
4. Run the Jewels