After a gusty Thursday evening, hipsters, ravers, and music fans descended upon the wind swept desert and waited anxiously at the gates leading into Coachella. Their dedication was then shattered when they were told that the opening of the gates were delayed an hour. Due to strong winds the night before, Coachella had to delay opening and in some cases cancel certain shows. Unfortunately, Masha and Skepta cancelled their shows and the set time for Synergy was delayed, but ultimately not cancelled. Luckily, despite the day starting out on the wrong foot, it vastly improved from there. With performances by LCD Soundsystem, Ibeyi and Underworld the day slowly transformed into a triumph.
To start off, one goes to the end, that end being LCD Soundsystem. This was a remarkable night for this NYC band. Between their cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” or the shred of “November Rain” sung in the breakdown of “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” this was a great night for both the band as well as the listeners onhand. James Murphy’s crooning voice has the ability to even have the most stoic person cavorting. Besides the songs mentioned earlier, fan favorites like “You Wanted a Hit” faired quite well and “All My Friends” allowed for intimacy between band and listener. When Murphy sang out, “If I could see all my friends tonight,” one felt as though he was singing to all that were there and present for the band’s performance.
Some of the most memorable sets, however, were not the huge headliners or the most hyped performances. Ibeyi, the French-Cuban duo comprised of two twin sisters (“Ibeyi” means twins in Yoruba) were one of the best performers of the day. The first thing noticeable during their set, was there lack of instruments, fancy drum machines, or any sort of computer that generated manipulated sounds. There were only percussion and piano. This minimalist approach and the sheer lack of excess on stage made for a much more engaging and intimate show. There were not many people in attendance and those who were there appeared as if they were seeking shelter from the sun or indulging in a brief snooze before returning to the sweltering heat and swirling dust devils. These slumbering individuals were then stirred by the perfect harmonies and the crowd led sing-a-long “I’m On My Way.” The calming effect that Lisa-Kainde Diaz’s vocals has paired with Naomi Diaz’s ability to make any sort of object sound like a gigantic bass drum is more than enough to bring one into their flawless sounding French-Cuban world.
If one thinks that Sufjan Stevens only sings sad songs, has no style, and cannot dance they would be sorely mistaken. His show this evening proved otherwise and there was not a better place to showcase his depth as a performer than on the Outdoor Stage. When he first walked out onto the stage, it looked like him and the rest of his band was in a 1980s rap group. They were all dressed head to toe in neon green and black jogging suits. This look, however, was then broken up by a set of colossal feathered wings that extended out from his back. He began by singing “Seven Swans” and slowly transformed from being half-man half-bird into a giant disco ball and then to a look that could only be described as if party city were to projectile vomit everywhere. He played mostly tracks from The Age of Adz, which seemed fitting as most of the songs on that record sound like they should be played while a disco ball rotates in the distance. This was an entirely visual departure from what one would think Stevens normally does, but it is a welcomed and well-done change.
One can not overlook the legend that is Mavis Staples. Although her set was not extraordinarily long, in the short amount of time she had on stage she managed to encapsulate the audience and hold their attention. Despite her being seventy-six years old, she still moves around as if she were still in the Staples Singers in her prime. She is still as sharp and funny as ever. While her voice may have changed and it seems singing may be more getting more difficult for her, it is her charisma that manages to enrapture the audience and lift them up while she serenades and courts them.
Of Monsters and Men were also equally as entertaining. If there song “Little Talks” did not get the crowd pumped their new American single “Wolves Without Teeth” certainly did.
Some unexpected surprises this weekend came in the form of Health, Underworld, and 2manydjs. Beginning with Health, the Los Angeles based band had an astonishing set in the Mojave tent. While it was difficult to understand what the lead singer was singing at times, it became easy to follow along as a majority of the vocals were monotone “oohs” and “aahs.”
Underworld also put on an amazing show. No surprise since they have been the best in their genre for almost four decades, it would be distressing if someone here missed them. Lead vocalist Karl Hyde has the charisma of David Byrne married to the energy of Iggy Pop. Constantly moving and dancing to the beat of the music, he is half-singer half-workout instructor. Watching his endless movement is enough to make one feel tired. The talent does not end with Hyde however, their songs “I Exhale” or “King of Snake” brought the listeners onhand into a sort of trance. The repetition of the beat and the vibration that it makes one feel moves the listener and allows for them to have both a visceral as well as intellectual experience with the music.
The only words for 2manydjs are: Why? How? Yes! Something about these guys elicits a kind of guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s the remixes of “Girls” by the Beastie Boys or the provocative pictures of women urinating on the screen that flashes behind them, but the show they put on is nothing short of amazing.
Coachella would not be Coachella if there weren’t some disappointments in the lineup. The Last Shadow Puppets played were among those disappointment. Alex Turner the lead singer, who is also the lead singer for the Arctic Monkeys, has great presence while on stage, but the rest of the performances left much to be desired. Another English band that sounded good, but was ultimately forgettable was Foals. It was difficult trying to decipher what they were singing and they did not seem all that engaged throughout their set.
Robert DeLong did have good energy while doing the job that five other people should be doing, but his performance left one feeling unfulfilled. There was a bonus in the way of a brief cameo by Kamasi Washington who shredded on the saxophone, but so brief was his playing that if one looked away they would miss it entirely.
Years and Years & Bob Moses played simultaneously and the only difference between the two is that Years & Years speak with an English accent and the lead singer was adorned with what looked like huge feather shoulder pads. While Bob Moses does sound marginally better, they were both ultimately forgettable bands.
The most disappointing of all the sets was Jack U, the duo comprised of all-star DJs Diplo and Skrillex. Maybe it’s all the finger pointing and peace signs that the performers demand that you do or maybe it’s the motivational dialogue like “2016 is going to be the best year of our lives,” but the music that this duo creates sounds shallow. Compared to season veterans like Underworld or 2manydjs, Jack U cannot hold up against the well-developed sounds more mature members of their genre produce.
While the day started off with confusion and anger and a few bad sets here and there, that vexation slowly transformed into intimate, fun, and danceable experiences. Hopefully that momentum will carry on through the weekend.
Photos by Owen Ela