It’s hard to fathom, but mxdwn has been attending and covering the Coachella Music Festival for over ten years. Yes, in the days of way, way back when, we camped, came in at 11:55 a.m., and phoned in our reports to writers standing by nationwide. I’m not joking. Back in those days, this festival was only two days, and somehow felt a little bit smaller, a lot more personal and a lot less overwhelming. It’s fitting as an epochal moment, as it was the one-two punch of Radiohead and the (at the time) recently reunited Pixies that drew the largest crowd we’ve ever seen on the massive field apparently also used for the sport Polo. Until tonight that is.
All photos by Sharon Alagna
Yes, more than eleven years dormant from playing concerts—unless you count a small smattering of award show performances performing “The Way You Move” and “Hey Ya” separately—OutKast arrived for a barn burner of a headlining set. One that was evidently what the lion’s share of attendees on day one had come to see (more on that later). The duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000 had a crowd that threatened to consume nearly every inch of the main stage area of the festival, fans cramming into every possible mark of field to see what had apparently been withheld so curiously for so long. And the burning question is, “Why so long?” Truthfully, beyond a few vague answers revolving around Andre 3000’s ambitions to be a professional actor, there has been no explanation. Big Boi never stopped his hustle, and in OutKast’s public absence since their ill-fated movie Idyllwild, has cranked out multiple albums and guest verses touring avidly under his own name. Andre 3000 managed a few roles in the mid 2000’s but was seemingly quiet the last few years until it was announced last year he would play Jimi Hendrix in the new biopic All is By My Side.
Those craving an explanation haven’t received one, and didn’t get one tonight either. Was it a planned scarcity? Or, did it stem from just a serious need to dial back from the trappings of the music industry? We may never know. Instead, the band’s adjusted set time of 11:05 turned back into it’s original time of 11:30 (due to set up delays) and the band scorched through an onslaught of material spanning their entire career. Wisely backed by a full band, horn section and troupe of backing singers, their set design mainly was comprised of a giant three-dimensional cube that they often performed inside of. At set’s beginning, the sole prop inside it was a kitchen table and chairs. Later, Big Boi would explain how more than twenty years earlier the band wrote their first songs circling each other around a table in his aunt’s kitchen. The band opened with arguably their strongest single song, “B.O.B.,” an explosive series of rapid-fire rhymes and interlocking bits of genius musical accompaniment. From there, they delved deeper into their catalog, playing “Gasoline Dreams,” “Skew it on the Bar-B” and their controversial number “Rosa Parks.”
After “Aquemini” and a short interlude featuring often group collaborator Sleepy Brown, the duo entered into two segments that allowed each member center stage. First, Sleepy Brown joined Big Boi from the excellent, funky “Bowtie” from the landmark Speakerboxxx/The Love Below double album. Big Boi followed with the futuristic sprint “Ghetto Musick.” Then, things ratcheted up even further, with Big Boi bringing out longtime protégé Janelle Monae do their collaboration from her album The Archandroid “Tightrope.” Andre 3000’s portion came next and upped the ante even further, playing a portion of “Vibrate,” “She Lives in My Lap,” “Prototype” and “Behold a Lady.” Each one literally jumped off the page, serving as effortless reminder of the immense quality of 3000’s portion of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The group rejoined at center stage for a smoking performance of “Roses.” Super early career cuts “Hootie Hoo” and “Player’s Ball” brought things firmly back to their rap roots and they drew the set to a close with a semi-cut-off transition between “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” And it all ended the way it probably would have back in 2003. Big Boi got the all crowd grooving with “The Way You Move” and without even a second delay, Andre 3000 counted out the unforgettable “1! 2! 3! 4!” to cue the opening of “Hey Ya!” Everywhere you looked, the crowd was dancing. Where have you been OutKast? And wont you stay a while?
Elsewhere on the day, peppy and happily indulgent mega pop excelled. MS MR commanded a decent-sized main stage crowd with joyful glee. The band did an artful and noticeably different cover of Arctic Monkeys’ recent hit “Do I Wanna Know?” Otherwise, they kept the crowd interested and singing along through the duration. “Ash Free Lane” and “Hurricane” delivered the goods in what served to be an auspicious performance. Sometimes the super saccharine is just what it ought to be, just enough to hit the sweet tooth and crack you open.
Later on at the same exact stage, the Coachella Stage, mxdwn favorites Grouplove brought to life their own variety of pop-alt-dance party. “Tongue Tied” was rambunctious and clean. “Ways to Go” went for the throat and oozed its relentlessly fun spirit allowing for co-lead singer Hannah Hooper to enrapture the crowd. They ended just as strong on early hit “Soft Colors.”
Nearing the end of the afternoon, the band that blew up from nowhere Haim had their shot to prove their place over at the Outdoor Theatre. The band more than lived up to their stellar reputation, amping up and rocking harder live than they do on record. They opened with the ubiquitous “Falling” and “If I Could Change Your Mind.” Even more impressive was their sexy and confidant cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” Este Haim took several moments to joke with the crowd, at one point even admitting she had snuck in or jumped the fence at Coachella several times before actually playing at it herself. Before the group performed “My Song 5” she quipped, “I like seeing ass shaking. I like hearing ass shaking. I want to hear those booties clap. I want to hear those hands clap.”
A curious trend on this day was several bands of immense status that had almost no crowd at all. Yes, The Replacements, The Afghan Whigs, Neko Case and Kate Nash all had a flabbergasting lack of a crowd. There are times when a band that’s heralded by true music fans doesn’t reach a wide audience, but each of these was just ridiculous. Where was everyone when these giants played? And do they have any idea what they’re missing?
Paul Westerberg of The Replacements led the group an aggressive set. He also made numerous jokes, some witty with the right amount of snark, others downright curious. He opened the set proclaiming, “Hello there. There’s a lot of good fucking music here today huh? Well let’s fix that,” which was an appropriate enough beginning. However, later he joked back and forth with bandmate Tommy Stinson about losing a wife. “It’s hard to get rid of a wife,” said Tommy Stinson. “Practically impossible,” replied Westerberg. “Harder than that,” quipped Stinson. Huh?
The Afghan Whigs delivered the rock in alt rock that we know and love them for, playing tracks both new and old. Band friend Van Hunt joined them for two songs before the set was over.
Kate Nash dialed up the pink for her set. Literally. Clad in a Cinderella-esque pink dress, died pink hair, surround by stage props (one apparently a vagina) she was all chipper bombast. “OMG!” and “Fri-end?” were solid examples of the more riot grrl influenced edge she’s taken to lately. Interesting to note, we were here for her last performance at Coachella, back in 2008, and it’s an amazing 180 degree shift from the super safe singer-songwriter pop she was performing at the time.
Neko Case did her best to entertain a small crowd. “Calling Cards” with a soothing bit of alt-folk right as the sun was starting to go down.
EDM trio The Glitch Mob made strong use of a primetime set at the Sahara Tent to demonstrate their strong songcraft and decision making. “Drive It Like You Stole It” featured the immaculate grooves they concoct coupled with the constant peppering of complementary melodic nuance. Better yet, standout track “Fortune Days” was all dizzying finesse and knockout high spots.
Broken Bells delivered on their soothing potential, ending strongly with first album single “The High Road.” Their set was appropriately placed in the mid evening when people were starting to run out of energy after the long, hot day.
Bryan Ferry fronted a large band, and played several classic cuts perched behind a keyboard at the back of the stage including, “More Than This,” “Avalon” and “Love is the Drug.”
Dum Dum Girls rocked heavy style and chill songs early on in the worst early afternoon sun.
Mashup master Girl Talk also had a strong set on the main stage, doing combinations of so many songs it was hard to keep up. Impressive creations included uses of Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Daft Punk’s “Around the World,” Radiohead’s “Idioteque,” Tag Team’s “Whoomp, There It Is,” Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People,” Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” Lorde’s “Royals” and many, many, many more.
All photos by Sharon Alagna