The first weekend of Coachella 2014 is done. What did we learn? As we discussed at length yesterday in our day 2 review, the festival has truly gone mainstream. On the third and final day, even Justin Bieber made a guest appearance. That’s not a typo, or a delusional freak-out following a cocktail of narcotics. Justin. Bieber. Has. Played. Coachella. Yup, the one and only Biebz joined rising star Chance the Rapper on the main stage today in the middle of the afternoon to perform the song “Confident.” We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. While day 3 lacked the knockout succession of soon-to-be-star acts day 2 featured, there were still a few standout performances worthy of the festival’s name and prestige.
Lana Del Rey took the stage at the Outdoor Theatre to screams of adoration. Not surprising given her meteoric rise to power ever since her catastrophic performance on Saturday Night Live in 2012, the singer had a massive crowd on hand for her set. Del Rey wore a short red skirt aiming for a sexy presentation. She fronted a modest band and played her way through many of her most beloved songs. There’s no denying the certain je ne said quoi that she possesses in terms of charisma. She brings the love out of her fans and she is visually striking. However, just like her infamous SNL performance two years back, there is just something missing from her performance. Her voice sounds about on par with expectations, but she seems to be completely devoid of stage presence, and more than a little bit aloof in how to use the space. She tends to wander around the stage aimlessly. She opened with “Cola” and following that number stated, “Finally back in the U.S.A. Didn’t think it would happen.” She followed with early breakout hit “Blue Jeans,” and it’s soft refrain, “I would love you ‘til the end of time / I would wait a million years.” She played a new single “West Coast” from her upcoming album Ultraviolence (set to release at 3 a.m. PST the morning after this show) and introduced it awkwardly explaining, “Since we are on the West Coast at the sexiest concert of the year I thought we would play a new one.” “Born to Die,” “Summertime Sadness” and “Video Games” followed. Del Rey quipped before “Summertime Sadness,” “Am I allowed to smoke on stage?” which curiously got a large crowd pop.
Beck played right afterwards over at the main stage, and packed about as much material as was possible into 55 minutes of set time. Honestly, this was about an hour less than Beck needed and deserved. It was all killer and no filler and Beck played this show with a renewed energy and verve. Beck and his crack band opened with the one-two punch of “Devil’s Haircut” and his breakthrough single (now 20 years old) “Loser.” The mumble rumble of “Black Tambourine” came next leading into the noisy funk Modern Guilt track “Soul of a Man.” “Think I’m in Love” and “Solider Jane” cooled the upbeat energy down, setting the stage for the beautiful, lonesome ballad “The Golden Age” from the beloved Sea Change album. From there, he picked up the energy a bit for the lively “Girl.” Most impressive, Beck played an expanded take on his Midnite Vultures classic, “Debra.” Beck drew out the bridge of the song and expanded the storytelling including references to a multitude of LA area haunts, streets, highways and locations. It’s a song that reaches for and accomplishes heights far beyond expectation, and is simultaneously soothing, sexy and funny. Beck took a moment to explain how he—along with the very bandmates performing with him this evening, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Smokey Hormel and Joey Waronker—had taken a chance on performing at the very first Coachella. How it was a smaller event back in 1999 in a massive open space. Seemingly low on time, the thought hung there somewhat unfinished, and Hansen brought out his young son Cosimo to join him on tambourine on a combined medley of his classic 90’s hit “Where It’s At” and “One Foot in the Grave.” Extra curious considering his homage to what 15 years ago was an ambitious idea that needed a lot of support, the power was literally cut on Beck and his band as they were heading into the final passage of the outro of “Where It’s At.” All of a sudden all of the instruments and microphones just stopped sending audio through the speakers as the band looked on perplexed. Impressively, Beck, son Cosimo, Meldal-Johnsen and other members of the band took the hit in stride, continuing a back-and-forth sliding dance on the stage in unison in the fashion did many years ago when the song first became a hit. They then shuffled off the stage huddled in a circle spinning of the stage. We all know there are curfews and load-in times that need to be adhered to, but it probably would’ve taken another 30 seconds to have finished their set. Hard to play armchair quarterback with people with stressful jobs, but it’s hard to imagine finishing this song would have made finishing by curfew impossible. Beck has earned that much.
Earlier on, Chance the Rapper did a good job in a mid-afternoon main stage set. Backed by a proper band and leaning heavily on the motifs of Long Beach/South Bay ska, he played enthusiastically through each song. “Juice” and “Coco Butter Kisses” both had the crowd entertained. It was the surprise appearance of Justin Bieber that had the crowd screaming. The one and only Biebz joined him to perform their collaborative track “Confidant.” To his credit, Bieber sang and danced (a lot of spinning) with a ton of energy. The crowd ate it up, which now having typed that is something I would have never imagined to be a true statement about Coachella just a few short years ago. I’ll drink the kool-aid. #biebz4evar
Later at the same stage, New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous also did well. Vocalist Alisa Xayalith seemed peppy and enthusiastic, remarking at one point, “I’m going to take a photo to remember this forever. “All of This” and “No Way” were enough to get the crowd dancing. It was “Hearts Like Ours” and “Young Blood” that helped prove the band’s quality.
The Arcade Fire did a stellar job in their headlining slot. Opening strongly with new album cut “Reflektor” and the driving “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” the band meant business. It was hard to get an accurate count, but the 15 plus performers on stage fronted by lead singer Win Butler all performed with a forceful intensity. “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Joan of Arc” followed, but it was previous album title track “The Suburbs” that best displayed the band’s skill and appeal. Butler took a moment to decry the elite status now becoming increasingly more common at the festival stating, “I just have to say there’s a lot of fake VIP bullshit going on at this festival. I know that’s a dream for some people, but you’re better out here, because it super sucks in there.” Later, after stellar cuts “Ready to Start” and “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” were performed the band brought out Blondie’s Deborah Harry and performed “Heart of Glass” with her.
In the late evening rising electro stars Disclosure played a fun, if not somewhat monotonous set that featured a guest appearance from the incomparable Mary J. Blige.
Neutral Milk Hotel played amazingly to a small crowd that looked partially elated and partially confused. Not surprising given how heavily towards pop, rap and dance this weekend’s crowd has leaned. Lead singer Jeff Mangum performed “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2” solo and then the band ended with the beautiful lullaby “Engine.”
Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano put on a good show, keeping the audience entertained with their mid-tempo synth pop. “Little Man” had the crowd dancing even if their songs aren’t bursting with bombastic energy.
Classixx played a strong early set to a packed crowd, performing numerous cuts with an extra vocalist.
And lastly, on the negative side Chicago trio Krewella played a wonky mess of a set, best described as overly indulgent dubstep where the group’s two female members mostly shouted in hype woman capacity. The crowd liked it, but there’s really nothing of substance here.
All photos by Sharon Alagna