As Coachella descends upon the desert valley in Southern California, tens of thousands of people flock to the polo grounds to catch the sets of their favorite artists. With major acts such as the headliners Radiohead and others like Father John Misty and The xx playing the Coachella and Outdoor Stages music lovers could also head to the tents such as the Mojave, Sonora and Yuma which all held performances by Tacocat, The Avalanches, DJ Shadow and Sohn, just to name a few.
The biggest news of the night was both in the light and the dark. The Friday night headliner, Radiohead, took the stage to an army of fans that stood at attention waiting for their general’s order. “Daydreaming” dropped in as Thom York’s voice echoed across the land, sending listeners into the dream-like trance that we’ve all become so familiar with. “Desert Island Disk” made its play and transitioned into “Ful Stop.” This, however, wasn’t just the name of the song. With audio problems devastating the set, the stage speakers cut out and 90% of the fans were unable to hear the song being played, leading Thom York to blame the aliens for such a mishaps: “15 Step” and “Let Down” also fell victim to audio difficulty however the issue was soon resolved. The remainder of the set went off without a hitch as they soared through “Weird Fishes/Apreggi” and “Idiotque,” finishing their first set with “Creep” – which has only been heard by live music goers a few times since 2007. Radiohead came back to the stage for a dazzling five song encore that included “You and Whose Army?,” “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police.” When all was said and done, the audio misgivings made the set all the more special as the band took it personal and seemed to really give the crowd everything they had hoped for and more.
Atop the billboard was the ever harmonious and soothing Father John Misty. With his angelic conversationalist approach to singing he lit up the Coachella stage not only with the magnificent production but with his presence. Backed by a small orchestra Father John belted out hit after hit starting with “Pure Comedy.” With both jumbotron screens relaying his confident stature the strings, horns and piano made up the melody that would guide the crowd through his set of careful fire. “Things it Would be Helpful to Know Before a Revolution” engulfed the audience as he made his way from one side of the stage to the next. “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” rang out clear as day and the lights danced with him on stage with every beat of “A Bigger Paper Bag.” We saw the lights dim on his stage but not before “I Love You, Honeybear” nearly moved every set of eyes to tears, enough to bring Los Angeles out of three droughts.
A wise man once said “just play the hits.” And you know what? That’s just what The xx did. Firing on all cylinders the trifecta weaved seamlessly in and out of their most popular songs. “Say Something Loving” jumped out of the gate and moved fans upwards in a shot of glory. The slow bass, high pitched guitar and booming drums they are so well known for were in full effect and in perfect harmony. “Islands” and “Fiction” kept the ball rolling towards a great surprise as they covered “Loud Places” originally by band member Jamie xx. Once again, the heavenly theme remained as they closed out their set with “Angels.”
DJ Shadow, the hometown kid, took fans a journey of space, time and music. On the 21st anniversary of his debut album “Endtroducing” the producer cooked up a flawless beat set backed by some of the most out of this world and three dimensional graphics. From beginning to end he featured his finest work both instrumental and collaboration wise with his hit record “Nobody Speak” featuring Run The Jewels sparking a fire in the crowd. A graphical sphere of imagination sat in front of the DJ for much of the night as he spun and scratched records and played the electric drums on more than one occasion.
Stormzy came alive and brought the thunderous lightning with his grime rap genre that has been sweeping the music scene by well, storm. He kicked off his set with the appropriately titled track “First Things First.” Bruising across the stage in the desert sun,the British emcee bared his fangs and sharp tongue taking no prisoners as he seamlessly transitioned into “Cold,” “Return of the Rucksack” and “Mr. Skeng,” the atmosphere soon turned in the favor of the ladies as he wooed them with “Velvet.” In a wonderful turn of events, Stormzy put on his own rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” reshaping the song in his own grimey yet wonderfully sounding way.
Enter the Gobi Tent: set upon the stage, a man and his keys. SOHN, the electronic/ambient musician claimed front and center as his drummer and guitarist played back up to the melodic vocals. Meditation circles and garments flowing in the breeze caught the attention of many while simultaneously heightening the experience we were all present to partake in. “Hard Liquor,” “Signal” and “Tremors” all flowed into one mini set before any breaks were taken. Flickers of light played in harmony with the tremors of base as Sohn’s voice sliced through the music. Grooving in his own creation, SOHN remained in complete control of the stage and music even the instruments he wasn’t playing. “Bloodflows” and “Artifice” captivated the audience as he ended the set with “Conrad” as everyone sang in harmony “We can never go back! We can never go back!”
The temperature was rising to its crescendo when King Gizzard the Lizard Wizard took the Outdoor Stage. The seven members took their places with dueling drummers and harmonica player. Once they started playing, they never skipped a beat. “Rattlesnake” shook up the crowd in its repetitive matter followed closely by”Nuclear Fusion” and “Gamma Knife,” which screamed out of the speakers as mosh pits formed at the front of the stage. The entire twelve song set sprinted to the finish line with “Am I In Heaven?,” a fitting end, seeing that many people view Coachella as such.
Palindromes are fun to play with and even more when they’re actually playing. Tacocat can bring any stage to life and the savvy, mostly-female band made sure to leave show goers with no question. The punky rock group brings an energy and party atmosphere unlike any other band. A unique blend of speed and punk rock, Tacocat tackles feminist issues with a head on humor and sarcasm. “Men Explain Things to Me” was the crowd shaker and their charismatic stage filled with giant cacti and smiling emoji seemed to come alive and dance along with the band. “Spring Break” is a song we can all relate to; the pain of being broken up with before we can do it ourselves is all too familiar.
Crowds started to grow and pack ever tighter and once Mac Demarco entered the scene a sea of fans began to sway in delight. Mac introduces each of his band members to the crowd individually, as any gentleman would. Kicking off the set was “Salad Days” which immediately brought a sense of joy to us all with belting harmonies and infectious rhythm that so cleanly defines Mac’s style. Hands were swaying back and forth, hammocks were strung up and cold beverages made their rounds, round after round. “The Stars Keep Calling My Name” with island vibes beaming from guitars and a cool breeze of the maracas brought to a place far away from the dry desert heat. To add salt to the water and ever-further the relaxing atmosphere Mac and his band produce, a sea of fans carried one of Mac’s friends as he surfed along their outstretched hands. Throughout the set, he jokingly encouraged us all to download his music on Napster, Kaaza and even Morpheous. In a show of true heroism, Mac Demarco stops his show mid song to direct the medical staff to a fan in need. This was just before the band entered their final song of the day, “Moonlight on the River” which took us all home and left us in a state of comfort.
The Avalanches came out swinging, literally. Baseball bat in hand and the Wildflower album cover on full display behind the band, “Subways” rang out in a march of light defiance and attitude. The noisey electronic band from Melbourne, Australia blew up the Mojave Tent with blistering synths, devastating DJ cuts, drums, synths and a big party atmosphere with their full band fronted by none other than Spank Rock. With songs beaming from the past the Avalanches took a focus on their new album and pumped out a heavy stream of delight and wonder with “Because I’m Me,” “If I Was a Folkster” and of course the title track “Wildflower.”
When all was said and done, despite a minor setbeck during the headlining set, Day One of Coachella 2017 was a huge success. Conversations about all acts could be heard walking back to the parking lots and onto the shuttles. What does day 2 have in store? We’re all eager to find out!
Photo Credit: Marv Watson