After yesterday’s supremely disappointing showing, day two at least exhibited some of the relative quality one would come to expect from the Coachella Music Festival. The bands booked for day 2 were more indicative of the music listening public’s actual taste as opposed to the insipid mainstream confections that were rife in yesterday’s bill. As it should be, style counted less than quality, as bands of all varieties delivered in spite of the day’s overwhelming heat.
All photos for mxdwn by Owen Ela
In particular, two bands in two very different ways demonstrated what real excellence could look like. More on that in a bit.
Early on, Perfume Genius had the worst timeslot imaginable, considering his music, playing at the Outdoor Theatre stage at roughly 2 p.m. It’s hard to paint a clear picture for folks unfamiliar on this one. Backed up by three supporting musicians, Mike Hadreas cavorted on stage in some tank top black dress, wearing shiny shoes and fishnet leggings. The sexualized nature of his project’s music was instantly evident, as he spent roughly half of every song pretty much gyrating his hips languidly. Sonically, the output is close to a chillwave industrial noise throwback. To his credit, Hadreas can summon an impressive falsetto or banshee-like scream when he wants to, as “Queen” attested to.
Canadian popstress Lights measured up to the quality of her released material at another early set at the Gobi tent. While she is indeed pretty, the bulk of her appeal comes not from any over-sexualized demeanor, rather old-fashion charm. She woos the audience with a wry smile and simple positivity. “Toes” dialed up the affection for a new love and “Running With the Boys” warmly reminisced of youthful fun. “Siberia” whole-heartedly embraced the deep cold of her home country Canada.
UK duo Royal Blood had the strongest showing yet for a straight-ahead hard rock act. Much in the vein of Melvins alums Big Business, the band’s Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher do bass/vocals and drum duties respectively, opting to not use guitars in rendering their music. Instead, Kerr uses bass distortion acting as the main guitar while still aiming for the heavy bass chug. It wasn’t as huge a crowd as Wolfmother had at their Coachella debut years back, but odds are given Royal Blood’s success in the UK, this is only the beginning of their ascendancy here in North America.
Bad Suns are truly the product of the Coachella experience. Lead singer Christo Bowman told a story of doing car-camping at a Coachella four years back. In 2012, he wrote a song while at the festival, “Cardiac Arrest.” He joyously played it for the crowd present. The group’s strongest asset was the strong basswork from bassist Gavin Bennett.
Toro y Moi played to a packed crowd at the Mojave Tent. The project from Chaz Bundick played here as a full five-piece band. Ages ago at SXSW, we saw Bundick do this band with nothing more than a keyboard. Needless to say, much has changed. His performance here shifted between old-style songs of his like “Rose Quartz,” and his new sound which is closer to harder indie rock like “Lilly.”
Later at the main stage, German duo Milky Chance took a refreshingly unique take on folk music, incorporating limited elements of sequenced beats and electronics, mixed with acoustic guitars and harmonicas. One of the few times that a band actually lives up to the hype, their amalgamation of styles may be unusual, but there is something intriguing to it.
Chet Faker proved that the so-called sub genre PBR&B does not have to be a schmaltzy approximation of R&B music merely layered with futuristic keyboards. Oddly adorned with a bulbous white winter hat (in 95 degree weather), Faker has a knack for crafting a solid groove in a low BPM (much harder than it sounds). “Melt” and “Release Your Problems” built up the fun and then he drove his set home even further with a chilled-out cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”
In what would make for an interesting complement to yesterday’s awkward antics from Lil B the Based God, Father John Misty outwardly went for the weird in his evening set. The artist formally known as J. Tillman appeared more interested in trying to be snarky in terms of stage banter and lyrics. He brought up an adoring female fan on stage and then had stage crew bring out a white wicker throne, literally surrounded by white balloons. He had her sit and the crew placed several large teddy bears in front of her. He sang to her lovingly, covering Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man.” Huh.
This night served as something of a victory lap too for Jack White. The man many of us have grown to love over the last fifteen years first from his storied success in The White Stripes with “Meg,” and then equally so with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, has fully branched out as a solo artist. Now two albums into his solo career, White has been rightfully building up his reputation and fame. He’s had some high-profile shows at nearly every major festival. This was his biggest show yet. Sad to say, something is not right in the presentation here.
White’s always been known as a direct, spontaneous and aggressive performer, but what he did tonight could best be described as sloppy. The easiest way to put it is it appears as though he directs his band on the fly almost constantly, and in this show, perhaps too much. It looked as if the band had trouble keeping up with him and his many sudden changes in pace, tempo and arrangement. White’s solos lacked none of their typical bombastic flair, but the end result felt like a mish-mosh of electric guitar, violin, lap steel, thunderous drums and organ. The show opened strong with “Icky Thump,” and found footing in The White Stripes classic “Hotel Yorba.” But false starts on “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” a muddy take on “We’re Going to Be Friends” and an overly long cut on The Raconteurs “Steady, As She Goes,” kept this from being the Coachella masterpiece we all hoped it would be. Even the sure winner “Ball and Biscuit” seemed unfocused. The most cohesive moment predictably came in the form of set closer “Seven Nation Army.” White curiously gave shout-outs to Tyler, The Creator, FKA twigs, Run the Jewels and St. Vincent as he closed out the song. Hopefully it was a sincere nod to those acts, but it’s hard to be sure given two of them were playing at the same time as him.
At the same time dancer-turned-singer FKA twigs played the most artistic bent on futuristic R&B in modern times. While not quite as out there as say, Fever Ray is capable of, twigs opted to close out her set with a series of heavily emoted histrionics. To her credit, she moves like a latter-day Aaliyah (there’s some alluring in just watching her) and she can belt out simple notes with commanding authority.
In perhaps the saddest attendance news yet—and that is saying something—reunited post hardcore act Drive Like Jehu had practically no one watching them play. Maybe, fifty people? Antemasque had a small turnout, but they are a pretty new band that most people likely haven’t heard of yet. Drive Like Jehu are widely admired for their influence and the pedigree of members John Reis being from Rocket From the Crypt and Rick Froberg being from Hot Snakes / Obits should have netted them a larger crowd than this. But, as with our coverage of day 1 from yesterday, this is a further sign of the changing audience of the Coachella music festival. Semi-obscure hard rock bands just aren’t what this audience is looking for. Thankfully, Drive Like Jehu are artfully brilliant and the small group on hand loved every minute of it.
At the very end of the evening, Antemasque closed out the Mojave Tent with a scorching set. Primary members, singer Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, played with an urgency and purpose not heard in their music since perhaps the final At the Drive-In album Relationship of Command. Following the demise of The Mars Volta, this is an incisive palette cleanser. The Mars Volta’s ultra prog at times bordered on over indulgent, while this new project, Antemasque, is like driven punk rock urgency with lightly distorted twangy sound. Drummer Dave Elitch (also in Killer Be Killed) was the perfect accompaniment to Rodriguez-Lopez’s immaculate fretwork and Bixler-Zavala’s Iggy Pop times five explosive maneuvering.
Two bands simply stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
Run the Jewels treated this Coachella performance at the Mojave Tent like it was their ninth-inning grand slam. Like their knockout performance at SXSW this year, the heart, confidence and enthusiasm took an already wildly popular point for the band and brought it a step beyond. The duo of El-P and Killer Mike took the stage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” The crowd joyously sang along and then they opened with the song that bares their name, “Run the Jewels.” “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Blockbuster Night, Part 1” had the crowd elated dancing to every frenetic rhyme.
Then, things pretty much went full-tilt nuts. They brought out Zack De La Rocha for the incendiary police kiss-off “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” and the crowd went wild. They led the crowd to the chant of “Lie / Cheat / Steal / Kill / Win / Everybody’s doing it” on “Lie Cheat Steal.” Boots almost magically appeared stage right playing a guitar and helped “Early” become a transcendent moment. Travis Barker came out not long after to play an impressive drum solo on “All Due Respect.” Even Gangsta Boo got in on the action, jumping on stage for her verse on “Love Again.” Killer Mike expressed his fondness for his partner El-P at the set’s conclusion. They closed out simply with “A Christmas Fucking Miracle.” Rappers and rap fans around the world, are you paying attention? This is what hip-hop could be like. No nonsense. No drama. Just hard work and earnest, sincere delivery.
And last, but not least, Alt-J played the main stage and gave what might be called the performance of their career. Playing just before Jack White’s headlining set, the band immaculately rendered their music for a large main stage audience. They opened with two of their best songs, “Hunger of the Pine” and “Fitzpleasure.” From there, they also performed “Left Hand Free,” “Dissolve Me” and “Matilda.” The group’s genius resides in a careful skill of production and arrangement. While the band is only four players, each instrument or voice is used sparingly. Elements are added and taken away with precise timing. Each element added is done only when its effect truly helps complete the motif they’ve set.
This was demonstrated supremely well on “Tesselate” and This Is All Yours cut “Every Other Freckle,” each with their own stunning conclusion. Three of the four songs that brought the set to its finale each in turn upped the ante from the previous: “The Gospel of John Hurt” became epic in stature, Bill Withers cover “Lovely Day” was a tear-jerking meditation on love and companionship, and “Breezeblocks” all a flutter with nimble harmonies, let the fans close out the show with a smile. Take note of this performance. We might have a new Radiohead in the making, and their name is Alt-J.
All photos for mxdwn by Owen Ela