The annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA features a stacked lineup of pop, hip-hop, EDM and rock artists. Each day is filled to the brim with some of the hottest acts in each of these categories — day one including SZA, St. Vincent, The Weeknd, The War on Drugs and many more.
Upon entering the vast Empire Polo Club, the thumping of EDM music being played at the nearby Sahara Tent has the day parking attendees amped to join in the fun and start their festival weekend. It’s a lot to take in when first walking on the ground; the iconic ferric wheel catches the eye instantly, along with several new art installations, including a rainbow-lit clear structure with a spiral walkway that allows festival-goers to catch a bird’s-eye view of the festival. Not to mention, all the people and fashion-watching to take in, which had several attendees no doubt noting that the attire this year would be pants (or bottoms) optional, and thongs encouraged!
Genre-defying artist Kali Uchis was performing a fairly packed set around 5:00 p.m. at the Outdoor Theatre Stage, one of the main outdoor festival stages. Donning a gold, belly-dancing outfit, Kali Uchis moved her body constantly throughout her set and the crowd grooved and sang along to her R&B-infused indie-pop. She brought a couple of special guest performers to the stage, such as BIA for “Miami,” a pop song with psych and rap elements. But the crowd really cheered when Tyler, The Creator joined Kali Uchis on stage for a performance of “After The Storm.” “This is our first time performing this new music…” Kali Uchis shared, hyping up her debut album release, Isolation.
The Coachella Stage is close to the Outdoor Theatre Stage and is host to the festival’s headliners. The Neighbourhood took the stage around 5:50 p.m. Their upbeat pop had the crowd dancing and singing along to their popular songs. The frontman ironically donned a punk outfit, singing quite softly on songs like “You Get Me So High.” “Coachella, will you come with me?” he slipped into the lyrics, to which the crowd cheered and grooved along even harder.
While the majority of the festival-goers go back and forth from the two main stages, each of which have a stacked lineup, some chose to venture to the Sonora stage, a relatively small indoor space that would host mostly guitar-centered acts for the weekend, including local punk rock outfit The Regrettes. The Regrettes brought a youthful (all of them are under 21), carefree vibe to the indoor stage, which was decorated in a bubblegum-pop inspired graffiti on the floor and the walls. The medium-sized crowd bobbed along to their high-energy set which included feminist anthems like “A Living Human Girl,” which ended in frontwoman Lydia Night singing “no way” while subtly flipping off the audience. They premiered a couple new fast songs as well, which the crowd seemed to enjoy, some of whom started moshing with each other, away from the main crowd. “We all grew up in L.A., so it’s cool to be at Coachella!” said Night sharing her excitement. They closed their set with a cover of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” and encouraged the crowd to join in during the chorus.
Back at the Coachella Stage, Vince Staples performed to a packed audience, who really got into his performance. His set backdrop utilized the large screens in a visually interesting way, featuring a collage of video clips and images, ranging from black violence and police brutality to Kurt Cobain. He performed popular songs like “Get The Fuck Off My Dick” and “745” off his latest album, Big Fish Theory. “This is my second time at Coachella,” Staples shared. “This is the big stage… this is the white people stage. How many people know who Vince Staples is?” He joked half-heartedly (actually, this stage would later host SZA and The Weeknd as well), but the crowd cheered in acknowledgement.
The vibe was completely different back at the Outdoor Theatre for The War on Drugs, who’s recent release A Deeper Understanding received much acclaim from music news outlets and gained then new fans. The crowd was smaller that the Coachella Stage, but they were still very much enthused, as they danced along to the ’80s-inspired sounds. At one point, flugelhorn and bari sax players joined the band on stage, adding a sultry element to their set. And while some songs were a little on the sleepy side, fans appreciated upbeat songs like “Holding On,” inspiring them to dance and move around. During their set, the crowd was distracted for a moment by a UFO light show that appeared to the left of the stage, and they directed their attention to taking video and snaps of the show, which paired decently with the music.
St. Vincent took the Outdoor Theatre Stage next, producing an all-around exciting set, both visually and sonically. Although up against Kygo, St. Vincent had a respectable crowd through the entirety of her set. Each song had it’s own unique visual element, mostly of Annie Clark’s face with some disturbing element, such as running makeup and taking a punch during the popular “Los Ageless” off her latest album, Masseduction. She performed quite a few songs from the latest album, including “Pills,” “New York” and “Masseduction,” but also a couple of fan favorites like “Cruel” and “Cheerleader,” both ending in screeching guitar solos from Clark, which left the crowd standing in awe of her musicianship. Not only was the set the most interesting of the night, its execution was the most impressive. During “Huey Newton,” a mysterious man joined the band on stage, circling Clark creepily and eventually putting her guitar around her shoulders, which she used to add a distorted, screeching element to the end of the song. She introduced “New York” with the preface: “I hope everyone falls in love tonight…with a person, band or idea.” No doubt, the artist everyone present fell in love with would be St. Vincent.
The crowd was packed what felt like a mile back from the Coachella Stage for rising R&B artist SZA. Complete with guitar/bass player and drummer, SZA’s set, much like her latest album CTRL really showcased her impressive vocal skills. Songs like “Supermodel” and “Love Galore” had the crowd singing along. Her stage set was designed to bring her back to her “sleepaway camp” days, and SZA (real name Solana Rowe) shared several insights into her songs with the audience as she performed her set. For example, the story of a man ignoring her at a house party. So, in response she smoked an ounce of weed all by herself, inspiring the song “Drew Barrymore,” which here also featured clips of Drew Barrymore from movies she’s been in. But perhaps the most exciting part of SZA’s set was her mention of the Top Dawg family, of which both she and Kendrick Lamar are label mates, prompting a guest appearance from Kendrick Lamar himself for their songs, “Doves In The Wind” and “All the Stars.”
The time of night called for dancing from several of the crowd members who were not catching SZA, and Soulwax certainly provided that. There were more members on stage than most bands present at this festival, including three drummers and several keyboardists, a guitar and bassist. A silver head spun about as a sort of disco ball, offering a visual element that matched the sounds coming from the Mojave Tent Stage. Their set played continuously without any breaks, providing one massive dance party for the crowd with songs like “Missing Wires.”
Night one headliner, The Weeknd took the Coachella Stage around 11:30 p.m. The R&B artist had a crowd that backed up to the food vendors, as many stayed for hits like “I Feel It Coming” a club favorite and “Can’t Feel My Face.” The stage was set with two large hands and a face, with various water themes washing over the stage and props. Those who stayed for the hour and a half long set were treated to an extremely soulful and emotional “Call Out My Name.” He ended the set with heavy hitter, “The Hills,” and fireworks emanated from the stage, ending the night with a slight bang.
For the first night of the first weekend of Coachella, set times ran smoothly. Tomorrow is the most stacked day of the weekend, with even more rock artists like Angel Olsen, Fleet Foxes and Haim, the legendary David Byrne and Nile Rodgers & CHIC, and, not to mention, the highly anticipated headliner, Beyoncé herself.
File photo by Owen Ela