Upon closer examination, the Saturday lineup proved to be the most stacked of the day, a result that proved a fortuitous coincidence with another smooth day of sailing through parking, security, and the festival lines to arrive at the fest just in time for Big Thief around 3 p.m. While I’ve always been a fan of their somewhat off-kilter live show, Big Thief’s confessional, contrasting components – their guitarist’s uh, unique style has to been seen to be believed – was always going to be a bit of an odd fit at Coachella. Singer and frontwoman Adrianne Lenker always performs like she’d rather be anywhere else rather than on stage, but the small crowd was thrilled nonetheless.
As great as the lineup was, it presented a series of conundrums that have me seriously trying to finagle a wristband for weekend two just to go again Saturday (see that Missed Connections list *crying emoji*). I’d seen bands like First Aid Kit and Django Django before – in the interest of trying something new, I ventured to the Yuma tent for the first time all weekend to check out former Daft Punk manager and Ed Banger mascot Pedro Winter aka Busy P spin some old fashioned electro house to get out of the rapidly increasing temperatures. The Yuma tent remains the preeminent vibe for people younger than me to get fucked up in, and while I continued to enjoy the air conditioned environs and the relentless grooves, the removal of the vast array of cushions, sofas, and pillows, leaving only a few scattered along the edges, was truly a criminal act on Goldenvoice’s part. Bring back the coma couches!
Wanting to keep the house vibes going, I checked out the Do LaB for the first time that weekend to see Fisher, the latest Dirtybird DJ to hit it big over the last year. His set was packed, but the trademark water cannons the Do LaB collective busts out every day were well appreciated. Fisher’s set itself was a who’s who of house bangers over the past year, a list his own recent hits – “Stop It” and “I’m Losing It” in particular – more than stood up to. Hell of a party in the blazing afternoon at one of the wildest tents in the festival.
After eating one of the few full meals at the festival of the weekend – thank you David Chang and New York City’s Fuku Chicken – it was an easy decision to continue to seek the shade at Priests at the punk-themed Sonora tent and Angel Olsen afterwards at the Gobi as the sun began to dip lower. The crowd for Priests was pitifully small; turns out there’s not much of an audience for visceral punk rock at Coachella. Priests didn’t seem to mind much, though, feeding off the energy of the few dozen youth crowding the stage to enjoy the oddball juxtaposition of guitarist GL Jaguar, who looks like an Arby’s manager who moonlights as a shredding badass, and frontwoman Katie Alice Greer. Ms. Olsen, meanwhile, was predictably superb. While her live performances don’t sound nearly as full-bodied as her records, particularly the lush production of My Woman, Olsen’s voice remains near flawless live. And the stage banter, as always, was on point: prior to closing with “Sweet Dreams” off last year’s Phases, she sarcastically thanked the “high pitch over at the next stage,” a none so subtle swipe at BØRNS’ piercing performance simultaneously going on next door at the Outdoor and often bleeding over.
After catching a bit of Snakehips’ overcrowded set at the Sahara tent and some seriously dark techno at Jackmaster in the Yuma tent (certainly ill advised with the sun still out), I ventured to the main stage to check out MØ, who was somewhat surprisingly gifted the coveted sundown stage. Aside from Major Lazer’s ubiquitous “Lean On” – MØ of course brought out Diplo for a song (he’s got nothing better to do) – there’s not many MØ tracks which I would point out as obvious hits, but the Danish singer was having none of it. Mostly alone on the stage except for a welcome cameo from Charli XCX for a couple tracks, MØ was charismatic and engaged with a sizable crowd that knew a hell of a lot of the words to her songs. That her off-kilter pop worked so well on the main stage was a pleasant surprise and a testament to how much the frequent guest star has come into her own in recent years.
One of the best parts of Coachella is actually paying attention to your friends and checking out an artist you’d never heard of before, much less seen. When I saw Tash Sultana booked for a 7:20 p.m. slot at the Mojave tent, I sort of shrugged and glossed over her. When a friend explained to me her live show, which entailed a virtuosic one-man performance involving a lot of multi-instrumentalism and crafted-on-the-fly loops a la Kishi Bashi, I was sold. The Australian singer-songwriter is something of a force of nature on the stage, a one-woman band who flits around barefoot beatboxing, spinning synth loops, exhaustively finger tapping, and, most of all, tearing up her guitar all while mixing things together with a frightening array of effects pedals. At 21 years old, watching her on the stage was both stunning and shameful given my relative inability to keep up my drum skills from college. Oh, and she’s got a killer, soulful croon that left the Mojave overflowing by the end of her set. Nice job, Australia.
While I’m happy to skip the likes of Django Django or other bands I’ve seen both, I’m also guilty of flocking to see the same band over and over at every festival I attend to, and Alvvays are no exception. Taking the stage at Mojave right after Tash Sultana, the increasingly tight Canadian indie poppers played a fairly even set of new and old hits, and nailed every single one of their best songs in a concise ten song setlist. “Adult Diversion”; “In Undertow”; “Not My Baby”; “Archie, Marry Me”; “Dreams Tonite” – it was klapcore gone to heaven. Of course they ended with “Party Police” – I’m particularly sensitive to tugged heartstrings as Saturday night accelerates at Coachella, but seeing “Party Police” with the classic backlit palm trees swaying in the background as the wind buffeted the tent top was a beautiful experience.
Sputnik wouldn’t know this from my reviews, but a significant portion of the live music I attend is strictly house or a variant thereof. When I saw that M. Vierge-Noire aka the Black Madonna was closing the Yuma tent, I knew I would have to bid goodbye to HAIM and Hundred Waters for another date. Aside from being an outspoken, transgressive activist in the North American dance music scene and a general badass, the Black Madonna’s fluid, disco-fried sets are some of the best in the scene right now. Her set at the Yuma certainly didn’t disappoint, blending decades-old house remixed into something sharp and funky while rich, orchestral-heavy samples added a touch of soul that packed the house. Ever since I first ran into one of her sets at Los Angeles festival FYF a few years ago, I’ve resolved never to miss one of her sets, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. I suggest you do the same.
What is there to say about Beyoncé’s Saturday night set that hasn’t already been said? The New York Times certainly said it best when the publication titled its review of her set: “Beyonce Is Bigger Than Coachella.” To give an idea of the scope Coachella was clearly going for, this is the first time I can remember the rest of the other stages shutting down early in order to drag as many eyeballs as possible to the main stage for the headliner (save for X Japan), a feat that is normally saved for the Sunday closer and has more of a logistical motive than anything else. The best compliment I can give both Coachella and Beyoncé is that I was glad they did; although not a member of the Beyhive myself, it was impossible to not be floored by the sheer scale of what Beyoncé and what must have been a sizable production team put together here.
The list of spectacle had to be seen (or streamed) to be believed: a full marching band and drum corps; an intricate display of tightly coordinated choreography that never paused for even a single breath; an array of variously talented dancers, including at least two bonecrushing contortionists who were mesmerizing to look at; guest spots like Jay-Z, the Destiny’s Child reunion that literally everyone saw coming, and Solange that always accentuated Beyoncé but never, of course, stole the show; and Beyoncé’s irresistible force of personality, which dominated the stage, the crowd, the music. Most stunning of all was Beyoncé’s complete command of the moment, a showmanship that dwarfed any Super Bowl show with its deep thematic implications, subtle jabs at the white power structure that had granted her this stage, and constant, laudatory reminders of the triumphs and tragedies of black culture. It’s rare that such a monumental pop culture moment could be such an educational one as well, driving a thousand different think pieces across the Internet, an outpouring of critical adoration and analysis that I don’t think I’ll ever see from Coachella again. I don’t think I can safely name this the set of the millennium yet, but I’ll certainly never bitch about being forced by my friends to be sandwiched between thousands of other people near the front ever again.
- It’s tough being literally the only artist going against Beyoncé, but if anyone was up to the challenge, it was hard rock legends X Japan. Oh, and apparently Marilyn Manson will be joining them for weekend two. Playing a rare show in the U.S. in preparation for their first new album in 20 years, the band was joined by holograms of late band members Hideto Matsumoto and Taiji Sawada and the return of frontman Yoshiki from last year’s surgery.
- David Byrne covering Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” at a riotous, impassioned set over at the Outdoor Stage.
- The worst crowd at the festival for Post Malone’s closing set at the Sahara, the result of Goldenvoice’s mind boggling decision to have him end just as Beyoncé was set to begin all the way across the festival and setting up some vicious choke points in the meantime.
- Nile Rodgers & Chic’s unforgivable placement in the blazing sun of the main stage at 4 p.m. Get the disco in a tent!
- The spacey, voluminous orchestral pop of Hundred Waters, which I would have been interested to see translated to the rather dim, close confines of the Sonora tent.
- Fleet Foxes
- Cherry Glazerr
- Django Djano
- Oh Sees
- AC Slater
- Tyler, the Creator
- First Aid Kit