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Coachella 2014 review: Day 1

Coachella 2014: Day 1

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

ZZ Ward

Coachella 2014-slide0
Photo by Karl Walter
Outkast
Photo by Kevin Winter

ZZ Ward began the trend of powerful female performances set during the scorching daytime. Her funk-infused soul leapt out of the microphone and into the backbone of everyone under the tent.

Mostly known for being a woman that can strum a mean guitar and play a harmonica, her backing band provided the perfect structure for her to do some crowd work and be a badass frontwoman. This was definitely an ear-opening set that was a perfect way to open up the weekend.

MS MR

This New York duo fit right in on the West Coast, blending genres and shredding on keys and drums while bellowing out one of the finest voices of the weekend. The band was able to somehow feel larger than their stripped down real life (a single Korg keyboard, a modest drumset, and a mic stand) during one of the hottest time slots of the weekend.

The crowd was begging for something special, and the two covers, one of Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” and LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean,” were both right on the money. A nighttime set inside a tent is definitely in their future.

Grouplove

Comeback sets are best when they are deserved, bringing a band back after they showed a tent was too small to contain their awesomeness and the crowd was too rabid to be denied a longer set time. Cue Grouplove on Friday and you have that equation to a tee, as Christian Zucconi and his gang of rowdy misfits stormed the stage to a massive uproar.

Blasting Skrillex’s “Going Hard” while wylin’ out during the intro raised the temperature a few degrees before they settled into their solid set that included “Shark Attack,” a song written about Coachella inspired by their prior performance.

Some bands are quintessential Coachella bands: they are young, fun, full of energy, and usually from California. Grouplove fits this mold better than most and if they can put together one more stellar album, stronger than the prior two, they should stick around the Indio scene for years to come.

AFI

Sometimes you see bands out of love and sometimes you see bands out of comfort. AFI was a comfort food band for myself, as I grew up listening to the Northern California punk outfit for many years. Although I could hear the sound of a wailing guitar coming from the stage HAIM was currently claiming as their own, shade, water, and sitting down were a necessity if I was to survive the rest of the night.

AFI came out to some older singles before showing off what they have been up to recently. Davey Havok cemented his legacy as a workhorse vocalist that has defined a sound all his own, one that luckily holds up live and sounded crisp from the main stage’s speakers. While not the most impressive set of the weekend, it hit all the right notes for anyone that spent a good amount of time moshing to those three killer mid-90’s albums, even if the band has pretty much written them out of their live set list for good.

The Glitch Mob

After grabbing some grub and changing into warmer clothes, a walk over to The Glitch Mob was momentarily stopped by Ellie Goulding’s main stage set. She was wailing away and it dawned on me how the majority of the female performers were shoved into daytime slots, as Goulding was playing at the same time as both Kate Nash and Neko Case. Same for MS MR versus Dum Dum Girls.

As for the mob of glitching, they showed off the Sahara in the best way possible. They played a good amount of their fantastic new album Love Death Immortality and stuck to original tracks for their entire set. While they did bust out two remixes, they were their remixes, not satisfied to just hit play on their drinking buddy’s new album and waving their hands in the air.

That would have also been impossible, as the band was playing live electronic drums, giving their show another wrinkle of authenticity in a live space that can often become a temple of fakery. Playing their California-friendly “West Coast Rocks” mix was smart and fit perfectly in their set, giving the dancers something to groove to while the laidback onlookers could bob their head in unison.

Woodkid

Yoann Lemoine (aka Woodkid) had the chance to really make a name for himself at Coachella. He has already been a part of some of the biggest pop hits on the planet and people are dying to work with him, but his live show is rarely seen and had a lot to live up to. The setup seemed stellar, as a large black and white screen filled the back of the Gobi tent, creating a imagery overload ala Cornelius from a few years back.

When the intro song started, it became apparent very quickly that was going to be an extremely subtle performance. His minimal movements on stage didn't help things, nor did the two large drum sets on either side of him, lacking any real rhythm section to drive the performance forward. While the dude will not take a hit for not blowing away a hyped-up Coachella crowd, he showed that moving from behind the camera or board and getting on stage can be quite the delicate transition.

The Replacements

After last year’s Descendants pull, the Replacements seemed like the logical move to produce another magical Outdoor Theater moment in the name of punk. Nearly 20 songs poured from Paul Westerberg’s face, a vision that read of both confusion and professionalism, as the crowd really had no idea who they were.

Even worse, when he tried to throw the masses a bone by asking which song they would actually like to hear, the lack of any real response was visually depressing to the singer. Even still, the band carried on and delivered a yeoman’s set that was both louder and faster than the less-than-informed crowd deserved. Throw in a Chuck Berry cover and you had a pretty interesting set for Coachella.

Martin Garrix

The plan was to go see Flume, the hip-hop infused Aussie DJ whose stock has risen beyond the capacity of the Gobi tent. Getting near the tent itself was nigh-impossible, as his set landed right before Girl Talk’s mainstage extravaganza, so plenty of people wanted a little nearby entertainment before heading to the Coachella Stage.

Since Flume was too young and popular to see, it was on to Martin Garrix, another “too young and too popular” DJ that had the Sahara Tent crawling around like animals during his set. The 17-year old might be a one hit wonder, he might end up becoming a legend, but right now he has that Dutch House DJ thing going for him and he seems to be doing alright with it. His set was mostly unmemorable, keeping it simple with electro house bangers focusing on moving various parts of your body in a rhythmic fashion.

Zedd

Speaking of European DJs focused on moving various parts of your body in a rhythmic fashion, Zedd came out and did the smart thing by getting his singles out of the way early. “Clarity” was the big one, giving fans a dose of the singalong he’s very happy providing quite early into the set, making way for more exploratory measures for the majority of his time.

Zedd has kind of reached this zenith of popularity, only below guys like Skrillex and Diplo due to his lack of entrepreneurial spirit. He is going to be big for a long time as long as he keeps finding those little heartwarming lyrics girls can tattoo on their arms and ribcage, pairing up with the finest of unrecognizable female singers to belt out his lyrics, and a stable of close DJ friends to continuously push his sound to the world. There is nothing wrong with Zedd’s style, but seeing his extremely safe and tidy set in the Sahara showed how carefully he is sticking to that game plan.

Caravan Palace

Finally, the surprise set occurred late Friday night and it was all due to the hard work of Caravan Palace. It is difficult to explain what a Caravan Palace show sounds and looks like, so make what you will of these comparisons: Gogol Bordello meets Crystal Castles doing the soundtrack to Boardwalk Empire. Or maybe a smoky jazz version of Slipknot meets Newsies.

Regardless, this show was insane as the Django Reinhardt-style guitar conducted their musical train, as each car had its own unique musical payload to deliver. The seven-piece French jazz band delighted from start to finish, as no other stage had a sparkling lead female vocalist tap dancing and doing the Charleston while a clarinet solo was rocking the house. Words really do not do this band justice, as their authentic throwback swagger was too much for the Gobi to contain. Definitely a rare spectacle for Coachella.

Outkast

This was the set every blogger, VIP, and curious Coachellian was waiting for. Crowds usually form for bands that are remotely famous, but Outkast had a stunning portion of the 90,000 in attendance, as the rest of the polo fields were nearly empty during their reunion show. Their live presence was fitting of the spectacle, with the duo encased in a giant prism and surrounded by a large backing band.

They started furiously, blasting out some of their top hits (“B.O.B.” and ‘Rosa Parks” in the first 15 minutes) and then transitioned into a sort of dual solo performance. Both Andre 300 and Big Boi were given time to showcase stuff from their solo careers before reconvening for their big finish. The emcees sounded as slick and together as they have been in their two decades together. But, like always, it wouldn’t be a headline set without some controversy.

When Janelle Monae came out for her and Big Boi’s collaboration, everything went smooth, but the presence of emcee Future only made the 1:00 a.m. time limit more apparent. They spent ten minutes playing his music before going into the medley of singles, which included “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Hey Ya,” and “The Way You Move.” This meant that their big finish, playing “The Whole World” with Killer Mike (who came out just at the end simply because he was already on stage) was not going to happen.

Since Coachella has a hard time limit (and will be charged tons of cash for every minute that they go over the approved time), they literally had to cut the mics. The whole thing unraveled in a very anticlimactic way, especially after sending out alerts earlier in the day about the group’s early start time (which never actually happened).

So after all the hype, the big get, the big reunion, we were left with a fun and impressive outing from a stellar hip-hop duo that was unfortunately undermined by time issues and poor planning. The day that this stops happening at Coachella will be the day they come close to being as great as Bonnaroo when it comes to late night entertainment.

Anti-Flag

For some, Outkast was the edgy 90’s group that was perfect to go out on. For those with more of a hard disposition, Anti-Flag was the obvious choice. While Chino from The Deftones was getting his crosses on across the way, some hard-hitting political punk was churning it up in the Gobi. From “Die For Your Government” to “F*** Police Brutality,” Anti-Flag was not concerned with playing it safe. They instantly recognized that having only a few hundred people to play to at midnight might actually be pretty awesome, so they took over the show and commanded respect with their fierce speed and intensity.

Bassist and vocalist Chris Barker demanded a circle pit that went from the front of the stage all the way back to soundboard, and dammit, he got it. And it wasn't filled with jeans cutoffs or ironic t-shirts, as the muckety muck of Coachella showed up strong for the punk icons. The intimate nature of this set made it all the better, as most in attendance knew the words and chanted along, building a sort of anti-Coachella army amongst punk friends. Sometimes the most off-color lineup choices make for the best shows and Anti-Flag definitely did not disappoint.