About the time of the festival where you realize how much quality sleep you haven’t gotten over the past 48 hours, how much carb-loading you’ve done in the name of trudging to that next stage, how badly you calculated your water/hard alcohol balance and consequently will spend the first half of the work week with your office door closed. Reduced to watching the amazing Kamasi Washington and his sprawling backup group under the beer garden tent while grubbing down another order of crab fries – all that gourmet cuisine this year and go fuck right the hell off – was not ideal, but the peak temperatures of the weekend necessitated it. It also made Washington’s loose set even more impressive, crowding turntablists next to saxophonists and drummers and even Washington’s father on flute on the Outdoor Stage with a setlist that seemed like it could go anywhere, and usually did.
I skipped between the Gobi and Mojave tents for the next hour, taking in sets from Tennessee tongue-lasher Meg Myers, who accurately conveyed her man-eating persona live but who’s voice fell a bit flat at times, and Joywave. That latter band, who played to a surprisingly full Mojave (likely on the strength of single “Tongues”’ placement in that cellular commercial), should be a hit, but frontman Daniel Armbruster’s vocals come and go, and his asshole-hipster shtick comes off as more manufactured than genuinely funny in a festival setting. “Destruction” is still a jam, though.
Best electronic set of the day belonged to Los Angeles producer TOKiMONSTA, who had stagehands giving out her trademark bunny mask to as much of the audience as they could beforehand. The LA Weekly called TOKiMONSTA’s set at the Do LaB last year the best of the fest; while I didn’t catch her last year, it was the least Goldenvoice could do to move her up to the massive Sahara screen. She didn’t disappoint, bringing out Anderson .Paak and, later, MNDR for their duet “Go With It.” While TOKiMONSTA is synonymous with the Los Angeles beat scene and Brainfeeder, she knew her audience, and the sound system she was in control of: her set was heavy with hip-hop, interspersed with some trap and the kind of rattling bass music you come to expect in the Sahara. Best of all, she looked like she was having the time of her life, providing the kind of energy that is too often lost behind faceless decks and bland DJs seeking only drop after drop.
Speaking of Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, his set certainly had the most unexpected guest turn of the weekend when T.I. came out to perform on “Come Down” and then dropped “Bring Em Out” and “About the Money.” Gary Clark Jr. (performing on Saturday) also stopped by to lend some fiery guitar solos midway through the set. If it sounds like a cluttered list it’s because it was, but it worked beautifully: .Paak jumping from razor-sharp funk to thudding bass music to murky, soulful grooves to goddamn acid rock like a veteran of decades of shows, the Free Nationals as on top of his shape shifting music more than any other band I saw all weekend. .Paak going behind the drum set himself, and then proceeding to play it better than most anyone that weekend, was the rapper’s equivalent of a mic drop.
I definitely didn’t regret missing most of Beach House to check out .Paak. I long ago decided Beach House live, particularly in a festival environment, is just not my cup of tea, too often boring and drawn out, missing the kind of studio details you can hear with a good pair of headphones. More impressive was Melody’s Echo Chamber, the project by former Kevin Parker flame Melody Prochet. Her material can tend to sound a bit derivative – think Apocalypse Dreams with a French vocalist – but, like Tame Impala, it translates well live. Prochet herself has grown more confident live since her debut came out in 2012. The long wait for her sophomore record has stretched out interminably since “Shirim” was released as a single in 2014, but this spate of strong live performances makes me hopeful she can recover from the brutal kiss-off that was Currents.
Rather than follow the army of Hawaiian-shirted and tall sock adorned bros heading over to Flume and then the headliner, I closed out the festival in the Mojave, my legs at this point little more than rubber bands. Miike Snow got me to stand, though – while iii is certainly the weakest album of their career, this is a group with significant festival experience (they’ve previously played Coachella twice) and know where their bread is buttered. Those iii songs that they did play – “My Trigger,” “Genghis Khan,” “The Heart of Me,” and “Heart Is Full” – were the ones that could reasonably lay claim to standing up next to a song like “Cult Logic” or “Paddling Out” and not be utterly embarrassed. In the case of “Heart Is Full,” switching gears to the Mark Ronson remix was a solid choice, and the band’s habit of experimenting with each song’s layout – stretching them like taffy or emphasizing their dynamic range, as on the funereal opening to “Silvia” – paid dividends for a crowd that was eating from the palm of their hands. The 8-minute long version of “Animal” they closed with was pure fan service, building up and collapsing in on the group’s most indelible hook over and over again before exploding into the loudest (and most visually stunning) celebration of the band’s aesthetic I’ve ever seen.
Nosaj Thing was certainly not hitting those kind of primal pop buttons, but his closing set was mesmerizing in an entirely different way. Joined by an additional producer, Nosaj Thing essentially converted his live show into a giant virtual reality live set, using a spot-lighting setup and linked sensors on every part of their bodies to create the live visuals for the show. It transformed the stage into an entire digital environment that shifted and transformed based on the producers’ bodies and the beats. It’s hard to explain in words, much like the music itself, which veered into ambient territory at times while dipping its toes in ricocheting boom bap and riding minimal house beats until they disintegrated. It stood in sharp contrast to the show on the main stage, another in a long line of generic EDM producers that Coachella sprinkled about the festival this weekend.
Talking to a coworker before I headed out last weekend, the subject turned to superstar producer Calvin Harris and the co-opting of Coachella as the desert’s most expensive rave over the past few years. I have no problem with EDM artists ascending to the biggest typeface on Coachella’s lineup – Tiesto in 2010 is still one of the best shows of my life – but a choice like Harris seems uninspired at best. This coworker was telling me how he saw Harris in 2008 at Coachella, when he was more of an electro-pop act, played with a live band, and actually sang. That Harris is long gone; in fact, he’s pretty much been playing the same set for the past three years. Anointing him as a headliner is both uninspiring and lazy (he last played the main stage all the way back in…2014), and suggests Coachella cares more about appealing to the lowest common denominator then seeking a closing headliner who will leave people talking about a performance for years. Instead, we get another slice of Top 40 EDM, certainly loved and appreciated but unquestionably disposable: the DJ equivalent of a pill that hits you too quick and leaves you wanting more, empty and glassy-eyed. Here’s hoping Goldenvoice steps outside their comfort zone next year. I promise the fans will still be there.
- Chainsmokers carrying the torch for this year’s EDM act that rocketed to fame the fastest by breaking capacity at the Sahara.
- Respect to the shirtless guy who successfully climbed one of the main stage speaker towers and began swaying back and forth at the ratchet show put on my Major Lazer shortly after the sun went down and was almost assuredly given an early exit from the festival when he was finally called down.
- Hudson Mohawke giving every indication during a stale set that he is a far better producer than he is a live DJ.
- The packed Yuma tent that Spanish tech-house DJ Maceo Plex played to opposite Calvin Harris. I had to make Nosaj Thing my plan B given the massive line that virtually guaranteed I would miss everything but the last few minutes of this set.
- The quintessential Coachella band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes prepping for their upcoming album with the aid of several hits of a festivalgoer’s blunt.
- Although I missed it, numerous comments from friends forced me to go back to watch Sia’s set just prior to Calvin Harris’s headlining gig, and I can confirm: she definitely would have made for a more memorable headliner, although Goldenvoice never would have dared. Having not performed since 2011, Sia left it all out with a bizarre interpretive dance routine to a 13-song set of hit after (relative) hit and a TMZ-worthy list of celebrity backups. She is the rare pop star to subvert the main stage to her own will, rather than let the masses dictate what they want to see. Despite the big names alongside her, you never lost sight of Sia herself: both the artist, who danced between singles, covers, and deep cuts with effortless skill, and the personality, bold and playful. When her vocals cracked during “Chandelier,” it wasn’t an affectation but a heartfelt portrayal of what that song means to her. She didn’t want the audience to miss a thing. This is how a pop star should do Coachella.
Top 5 Sets
3. Despacio tent
5. Miike Snow