The first day and night of Coachella was more jampacked than any single day at a festival should be, but the second day had enough heavy hitters to justify spending all day on the fields. Sadly, Mother Nature did not agree, but those looking for rock refuge found it all across the grounds. Here is a look at how I spent my Saturday at Coachella.
Cage the Elephant
Cage the Elephant is another band that had a hot outdoor set and then graduated to...well, another hot outdoor set. Singer Matt Shultz donned some blue jeans and no-shirt by the end of the set, a striking difference between the red sunday dress he wore a few years back. The dozen tracks rattled off of their three albums got the crowd worked up, displayed powerfully when Schultz jump into the crowd for some surfing. They've grown up from being a "enter band name here" soundalike into their own skin, something very obvious during their intense live performances.
Right off of the hop, the Chvrches vibe was an obvious one: two guys, a girl, and a beat machine. Singer Lauren Mayberry showed off her Scottish pipes to a delighted crowd, with keyboards and electro-pop wrapped around her vocals. While some of the songs came off just fine, the whole set turned out sort of Phantogram-lite. While the beats would tease something sinister, the band continually stayed away from the darker side of their own sound. On the flip side, the pop was never sticky enough to get stuck in your head, leaving the crowd with a tepid act without much hook into any side of the musical fence. While not a bad performance at all, it didn't really help their stock and came off more lukewarm than worthwhile.
During Chrvches set, a dust storm could be seen forming miles away. The mountains had disappeared behind the soupy greyness that was rapidly approaching the polo fields, spelling death for any outdoor performances. To the Gobi I went, as did many others, for DFA’s own Holy Ghost!, a dance music duo from New York. The tent seemed to be the best choice for their sound, as the sides were lowered to keep the dust from storming in and the wind from ruining their sound.
A lot of keyboards and synths were used as a bedrock for singer Nick Millhiser to infuse some faster-paced lyrics through, almost like a hip-hop-inspired INXS. The live band helped qualify their sound a little more and make for one of more dancey sets of the daytime, giving people something to cheer for during an impending storm. As far as crowds go, this one mostly knew all of the words from front to back and helped make the show something better than just a small name on the poster.
On the way over to the Sahara Tent, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes fame was heard wailing out of the Mojave. I’m not sure what material he was playing, but people were stoked that the last-minute addition had something of substance to offer and not just Diet Strokes. The tent overflowed for a bit, but the Sahara was surprisingly light for the Miami DJ duo known as GTA.
They stick close to that Miami sound, unleashing a ton of grimy bass, horned drops, and slappers dripping in moombahton moments. The highlights were many, from playing a good chunk of System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” to Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” setting it up for the eventual moment where everyone could yell “GTA!” The two men on their large deck managed to keep the Sahara bouncing all the way until nearly sundown, showing off their ability to combine crowd work with seamless mixing for an optimal result.
Up next was another Moombahton master, as Dillon Francis and his army of followers invaded the unfilled gaps of the dance tent. Dozens of giant faces on sticks, cardboard pizza cutouts, and girls on shoulders dashed any chance those in the back had of seeing the show. His stage set-up was more elaborate than last year, with a stylized skyscraper skyline displaying a screen within each silhouette, allowing for maximum memes to be displayed during the set.
The tunes flowed from his singles to a few friendly hits, but a disturbing trend has crept into Francis’ set and that is his leaving of the booth to go run around on stage. As usual, the secret sauce of most EDM acts revolves around how much they are actually playing live, so when a song builds, drops, and goes into another song while the artists is jumping on stage, ten feet away from any of his equipment, it really takes the joy out of production.
Luckily, there is no doubt that RL Grime is dedicated to each and every beat, dropping “Tell Me” to a packed crowd in the Mojave. The LA native absolutely shredded the audience with every twist and turn, getting as grisly as audio can get, constantly requiring a new level of dedication to getting down. While RL might not every have the pop sensibility to land that glorious crossover hit everyone is searching for, his work ethic and sense of timing was some of the best all weekend. This was one of the first Coachellas where the EDM scene started really creeping its way into every tent and stage, but RL Grime showed why a lower ceiling, darker lights, and a packed crowd can be more impactful than every laser and screen in the Sahara.
The holy trio of rock kicked off with the Godfather of weird vocals and iconic lyrics, as Black Francis and gang stormed the Mojave to a wild reaction. Things kicked off with “Bone Machine” and tripped around parts of Doolittle and a Jesus and Mary Chain cover before dipping into the newer stuff. After Kim Deal’s absence created a vacuum for a strong, talented female bassist, Paz Lenchantin stepped in quite nicely. After her first moment to sing on the mic, she looked over at guitarist Joey Santiago who flashed a huge smile and thumbs up over her way, giving the approval any fill-in would desire.
When “Where Is My Mind?” started, the polo fields started rushing their way into the tent, dying to catch a glimpse of the living legends perform one of their best hits. While it was quite weird to see a former headliner playing a barely nighttime set in a tent, it was also the best way to feel connected to such a larger-than-life act without smashing your way past 50,000 people. Kudos to the band for playing the smaller set in such a surprising fashion.
For me, there wasn't a band I wanted to see more than Queens of the Stone Age. It had been what seemed like an entire Stone Age since the last time the desert dogs played Coachella, a crime when you factor in how close Homme lives from the grounds and how perfect his music is for the festival. The band obviously knew where they were, starting the set off with “No One Knows” and “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” listing just about every drug the audience had taken up until that point. Each shout of “Cococococococain!” just added fuel to the audible fire burning within a crowd that had been ravaged by dust and wind all day.
Only QOTSA has the kind of sound that can cut right through that force of nature and Homme told the crowd to chill out, as everything was going to be alright. And although wind caused a bit of havoc for the guitarists during a song or two, the band never bent or broke, delivering a powerhouse set perfect for the night’s finale. A headlining set would have made more sense to those in love with the band’s raw energy and power, but they aren’t Top 40 enough to play more than 12 songs for a Goldenvoice festival, so the crowd had to settle with five new tracks and a blistering finale in “Song for the Dead.” Hopefully it won’t be another decade before we see this band back on top of the main stage again.
2010 was the last time Muse stepped on a Coachella stage, and while that set was longer than this weekend's, it didn't have the big “a-ha” moment of the festival. Singer Matt Bellamy was struggling with his voice earlier in the week, which was obvious right away when “Stockholm Syndrome” kicked things off. The setlist favored the prior two albums, but the rarely-played “Animals” was quite a treat, as it is a technically difficult track to perform live due to its odd time signature and was the first time they had dusted it off this year.
The big singalong moment of the weekend happened when Bellamy dedicated Nirvana’s “Lithium” to “a great singer that died 20 years ago.” For whatever reason, the mood was perfect for that song to be played live and the entire place went nuts with every word. Music festivals are always the perfect settings for covers like this, as they did the same thing a week prior in Lollapalooza, but the crowd ate up every second of it.
Muse cemented their legacy as one of the most impressive rise to greatness in a long time. The band has been together for nearly 20 years now, but their mythos has grown exponentially every year with each new record and every great concert they put on. Coachella often gets a lot of flack for placating to the English heavyweights of the rock world, but with Muse, you would be stupid not to put your faith in their more than capable hands. They showed exactly why they are the kings of arena rock right now and show no signs of slowing down.