At approximately 2:00 p.m., the main area of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was relatively deserted. A handful of people were littered around the gargantuan art pieces. One could probably assume correctly that the group of people already at the Coachella Stage were hardcore Beyoncé fans making sure they had the best spot to see their queen. However, it would be nine hours before Beyonce graced Coachella with her presence once again.
For a set that began at 2:20 on day two, Sir Sly had a fair-sized crowd for their performance at the Outdoor Stage. By the end of their eight songs, the crowd grew and, what’s more, they kicked the audience back into festival mode. In all-white outfits reminiscent of country club employees, Sir Sly were high energy from the moment they began. Frontman Landon Jacobs immediately drew the audience in: “We wanna be the biggest band in the world, so if you could sing along.” He did the same thing toward the end of the set during “High,” indicating for the audience to take “devil” and “level” in the chorus:” It feels good to be running from the devil/ Another breath and I’m up another level.” They closed with “&Run” by jamming out with as much force as possible all clustered together by the drums, inspiring a line of three bent over twerking young men.
The variety in Saturday’s acts continued. Over at the Gobi stage, Big Thief performed to some genuine fans and a plethora of festival goers looking for some easy listening while resting in the shade. Adrianne Lenker led the quartet’s conventionally indie croons that would mellow out anyone passing through. Quite the opposite from Big Thief, art rock band Django Django entertained the Mojave crowd. “How the fuck are you all doing out there Coachella?,” singer Vincent Neff asked just a few minutes into their set. The London-based band jumped from song to song in the same way they switched instruments; everything flowed sporadically. It was organized chaos in the best possible way, with Neff keeping the “people of Coachella” (as he often said) intrigued, whether instructing them to get down on the ground or thanking them. Back at the Outdoor Stage, things took a turn for the folksy with Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit. By the late afternoon, the grounds were mostly filled in. First Aid Kit definitely drew a crowd, and even the ones lounging in the dead grass were enjoying their music. It felt like a proper music festival moment: relaxed vibes, nice tunes and people soaking in the sun. A standout moment in the set came when they played “You Are the Problem.” The sisters explained the song was about putting shame back where it belongs, on the perpetrator, in reference to rape culture. She called on men to help with the change and for women to feel empowered. Good vibes followed over to the Gobi stage for Angel Olsen, only this time as mellow rock. Olsen was a nice watch in her musicianship. She possesses vocal and guitar expertise, but also knew when to chat with the crowd, whether joking about a weird sound from the monitors sounding like french toast being cooked or explaining that the photo on the screen was of her cat, Violet. Olsen’s set was a chance to recharge before the night went into full swing. Songs included “Sister” and “Shut Up Kiss Me.”
Danish electropop darling MØ took the main stage to segue day two into the evening. In a cropped sweatshirt and lace pants, she danced around the vast Coachella stage, performing feel-good alt pop tunes like “Kamikaze” and “Nostalgia.” David Byrne at the Outdoor Stage took a dive for the eccentric. In conforming gray suits, and he barefoot, Byrne and his band put on a display of dance moves that could be likened to a marching band or kung fu, depending on the song. The sky went from cotton candy clouds to deep navy as Byrne led a performance of new songs (American Utopia’s “Everyday is A Miracle”), old songs (Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”) and covers (Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout”). Unlike Byrne, who was always the center of the show, Los Angeles punk band the Bronx went for a more immersive take. Singer Matt Caughthran sang in the middle of the mosh pit, which involved most of the audience, whether pataking or viewing from just outside the lines. It was fun. It was aggressive– everything someone wanting a little more hardcore action at the festival could’ve hoped for.
Tyler, the Creator brought his Flower Boy forest set up to the Coachella stage. For someone known for their harsh lyrical tendencies, Tyler actually took a moment toward the end of his set to be vulnerable: “This way better than last week… I was crying for three hours. That shit was dark god damn.” On a more exciting note, A$AP Rocky made a special appearance for “Who Dat Boy. At Mojave, indie pop band Alvvays scaled back on the pop presentation for a delivery of songs enhanced by the swirling of colors on screen over their live footage.
San Fernando Valley- native sisters Haim warmed up the Coachella stage for Beyoncé, a heavy task for a trio nowhere near the celebrity if Beyoncé. Nevertheless, their pure musicianship skills carried their set with flying colors. Bassist and eldest Haim sister Este explained to the crowd it had been an emotional day, as Coachella was their “hometown festival.” She also reminded the audience it was the two-year anniversary of Prince’s death, who was a key musical influence for her. Radio hits like “Want You Back” and “The Wire” kept spirits high. It may have seemed strange to end with Something to Tell You’s soothing“Right Now,” but it gave way to an impeccable drum presentation by the sisters. “We love you. Get ready for Beyoncé,” Este hyped up with an hour left of waiting.
Hordes of friends sat across the field in anticipation of Beyoncé. With her headlining set to come next, it was a wonder if you would find very many people elsewhere at the festival. Nevertheless, Coachella goers packed the Outdoor Stage to see alt-J. Frontman Joe Newman didn’t engage in too much banter with the crowd, except for a hello and some thank yous. Their setlist included “Matilda,” “Tessellate” and “Every Other Freckle.” X Japan were under similar circumstances as alt-J, only their stakes were much higher. Beyoncé was set to start at 11:05 p.m., while X Japan was set for 11:10 p.m. For anyone aware of the intense level of commitment by X Japan fans,it was no surprise they drew a decent-sized audience, which continued to grow over the set. Some held back their tears as X Japan played songs such as “Jade” and “Born to Be Free.” It was announced previously Marilyn Manson would join the Japanese rockers, though Manson did more than assist on an X Japan song. With Yoshiki at the piano, Manson sang “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which he covered on 1994’s Smells Like Children. The rendition was cabaret-like, with a spin more dark than sultry.
Beyoncé’s festival name-changing (re:Beychella) headlining set stuck to the same protocol as weekend one’s performance, for the most part. Weekend two attendees were fortunate enough to experience Jay-z’s “Deja Vu” verse, a Destiny’s Child reunion and a Solange Knowles appearance for some “Get Me Bodied” sister choreography. This time around, J Balvin came out for “Mi Gente” and there was a slight changeup in wardrobe. Instead of yellow Beyoncé academy wear, the weekend two performance called for pink. The immense power of Beyoncé could be seen in the size of the crowd that sprawled the field. There were hardly any large open patches within earshot of the Main Stage. Larger droves began to leave when she started to sing “Love on Top,” the final song of the night. Even if Beyoncé takes her Coachella set to On the Run II Tour, it set new festival standards. Beyoncé cemented her status as Pop Queen, nevertheless Entertainment Queen, after her first weekend. The fact that she even changed the set up in the slightest proves her insatiability in looking to always get better. Only an avid member of the Beyhive could see all special details that saturated her performance. Still, any attendee watching Beyoncé would, at the very least, understand the kind of leadership, poise and skill it takes to command an impossibly large crew and audience.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat