After two days of jaw-dropping performances, the third and final day of Coachella 2016 failed to live up to the musical prowess of the previous days, but shattered expectations in regards to visual presentation.
Calvin Harris, the headliner for Sunday evening did exactly what one would expect from one of his performances, which is almost a relief. It is comforting to know that everything you hope for in a performer is true, not to mention that it also included special guest appearances and fireworks that could rival any Fourth of July display. Harris’ surprise guests started with Big Sean, who joined him for the songs “Open Wide” and “I Don’t Fuck With You.” The real showstopper was when Rihanna walked out onto the stage for the song “We Found Love.” The crowd erupted into girly, high-pitched screams and an overwhelming applause of approval. The set was marked by several displays of fireworks and for the final song, he was joined by John Newman for the song “Blame.”
The best performer of the day, however, was Sia. Between the combination of performance art and vocals that were stunning, Sia’s performance awed and reinvigorated the fatigued crowd. For the entirety of her set, she was accompanied by pre-recorded videos featuring Tig Notaro, Kristen Wiig, Gaby Hoffmann, and Paul Dano. Her dancers (including regular Sia video fixture Maddie Ziegler) then recreated these videos and matched the choreography on stage. She began with the song “Alive” and from the start, her performance was an emotional one. The emotion that her dancers conveyed on stage and of the actors in the videos proved to be moving for many in the crowd. Even for Sia, when she sang “Chandelier” for her final song, her voice cracked several times. This was not because she performed badly; it is because she accurately conveyed the pain and suffering in her lyrics, powerfully emoting through her vocals. She told a story with each song and with the minimalist set on stage, the audience was able to truly engage with the music and choreography.
What Major Lazer lacked in technical ability they made up for with gusto. When Diplo and Walshy Fire are not DJing, they are acting as hype guys. With this in mind, no matter what the song, they managed to keep the audience enthused and even convinced them to do things like sitting on the ground before ultimately all jumping up in unison. The hype only increased when they brought out Sean Paul to do a handful of songs. While the audience was pleased, there were also confused faces and questions like, “Sean Paul? Whatever happened to that guy?”
Looking beyond the more visual performers of the day, there were a handful of bands that chose to disregard visual aesthetics and focus more on the music itself. Rancid was one such band, playing crowd favorites to heavily tattooed fans that loved the nostalgia of seeing the ’90s punk band in this environment.
If there is one band that quintessentially screams Coachella, that band would be Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, complete with flower crowns, man buns and music that defines a pretentious, hipster sub culture. Although it still does not feel the same without Jade Castrinos the vocalist that for many years sang on so many Edward Sharpe favorites, the lead singer, Alex Ebert quickly set the tone for the rest of their show. In the middle of singing “40 Day Dream” he addressed someone in the audience before reaching down to them and taking several drags off of a blunt. He then continued with the song blunt in hand and brought the crowd to sway in unison. After the song, Alex remarked how after that song he felt a bond with the audience and for the remainder of the show continued to hold them in the palm of his hand.
In addition to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, other bands that focused more on the music instead of visual presentation included Kamasi Washington, Cold War Kids and Beach House. Kamasi Washington, to start off with, is a saxophone player that performs mostly instrumental music occasionally accompanied by a woman who vocalizes sounds, but rarely actual words. Washington’s performance was truly meant to be absorbed and did not require visual stimulation. His style of saxophone playing is primarily experimental. Imagine if the music of John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and Sun Ra all had a baby and that would just about describe this experience. He is an extraordinarily talented musician, he had several saxophone solos that seemed as if they would and should continue on forever. If nothing else, Washington’s stamina while playing long solos should be applauded.
Cold War Kids and Beach House were somewhat on the same wavelength when it came to performing. For both bands there was not much dialogue or banter between songs, which allowed for more songs overall to be played in each set. Where they differ is in the sonic style of their music. Beach House has more of a haunting, dreamy aspect to their songs. Lead singer Victoria Legrand has a voice that does not sound gender specific and for some reason, this ambiguity makes the music more enjoyable. Legrand’s voice and the echo of the ethereal sounding instruments, especially when they played the song “10 Mile Stereo,” made for a meditative listening experience.
Cold War Kids, on the other hand, have a far simpler sound. The guitars are scratchy and lead singer Nathan Willet’s voice sounds as if it could be interchangeable with the vocalist from a glam rock band. They sang plenty of crowd favorites that included “Louder Than Ever,” “Hang Me Up to Dry,” and “Miracle Mile.”
The London based band Wolf Alice also chose to ignore any visuals and performed a set that was entirely about the music. While their show was lacking in attendance, it was not lacking in enthusiasm. Like most bands here, they thanked the audience for coming to see them and continually commented on how grateful they are to be at Coachella. For Wolf Alice, however, the sincerity they have when they say these things sounds so much more believable than most bands other bands present.
For instance, the band The 1975 played at the Coachella Stage in the late afternoon and it felt incredibly superficial. Perhaps it is because the lead singer Matthew Healy commented on how “superficial” the festival seemed, but then followed it up with how lucky we were to all be there, as if he was trying to convince himself that it was worth being there. They then played their hit “Chocolate” to a dwindling crowd that seemed more interested in taking the perfect Instagram picture rather than listen to the rest of their set.
Other musicians that lacked in excitement on Sunday were Peter Yorn and Meg Myers. Pete Yorn, while he is talented is not a terribly exaggerated entertainer. His music is good, but watching someone stand in one spot on the stage and merely strum a guitar for an hour is not something one wants to experience at a music festival like this one. They want to be awed and exhilarated. Pete Yorn does not offer that. Meg Myers also disappointed with her set in the Gobi tent. While she was more lively than Yorn, her voice fell flat and failed to engage the audience.
At the start of the day, it appeared that day three of the festival was going to be an uninteresting one. Most of the crowd searched in vain for a shaded spot to recline in and most of the fields were littered with sun burnt festivalgoers trying to catch up on sleep. The excitement that everyone came in with on the first day had diminished with large groups lethargically sitting in inactivity. Perhaps it was because everyone was tired, or maybe distressed that it was the last day and they would have to return to their normal lives, or maybe even a little bit of both. By the end of the night, however, day three transformed into a day that was visually breathtaking, all thanks to the performances by Calvin Harris, Major Lazer, and Sia. In the end, attendees left with a feeling of fulfillment. A surge of gratitude moved like a wave over the crowd, as they walked past the glowing Ferris wheel and across the arid desert.
Major Lazer photo by Raymond Flotat