Coachella has often been aptly described as a marathon. Between the nine stages and all the acts, those who attend are likely to move more at the festival grounds than they will over the next two months in everyday life, especially if they choose to park each day. But what makes it most close to a marathon is that it is a feat of endurance just trying to take it all in. By the time day three rolls around its plain to see that some people are starting to get wiped out by more than just their morning hangover. Nonetheless, the festival barely seems to slow its roll, scheduling act after act with a pace that could cause heart palpitations in the best of us. That’s what makes this weekend so special, beyond the traffic and the lines, everyone will walk out knowing that they just paid witness to one of the most impressive musical assemblies in the world. It’s a marathon worth running, and it’s time to cross the finish line. Read our reviews of day one and day two here.
During the wee hours of the festival the few guests that arrived early took to capturing Instagram worthy photos of the various art pieces scattered throughout the fair grounds. Of these pieces, the massive sunset colored tower SPECTRA was the most popular by far. The piece was not only a landmark in terms of size but also as both the first ever non-American art piece on festival grounds (Spectra by UK based New Substance) it is also the first permanent installation and will stay in place for at least the next three years, opening only for Coachella and Stagecoach.
Emily King opened our day of music with a bouncy, soulful set at the Gobi Tent where a decent crowd for such an early set had begun to gather. Many of the people in the tent were sitting in the shade but nearly all of them had their attention focused on the stage, where King’s beaming smile and impressive voice held their eyes and ears in a tight grip. While it may have been early, her impressive stage manner neither communicated any weariness nor conceded anything to the less awake crowd members as she sang, strummed and joked her way through a solid set.
As the second set of the day on the main stage, Nigerian Afro-fusion artist Burna Boy found himself playing to one of the smallest crowds that had gathered around the main stage all weekend. His performance featured a number of dancers and a solid backing band. He also wore a fun Tartan patchwork suit and pants combo with fringed cuffs. Unfortunately he was never able to grab a larger crowd, though those that were there mostly stuck around and danced in the heat. There was an element of an unknown factor about him which prevented him from gathering too much of an audience, not that there was much of one to grab at this point in the day anyways.
Iceage’s set at the Sonora Stage would turn out to be one of the more unfortunate scheduling consequences of the festival. The Danish punk band, hot off the release of yet another critically lauded record Beyondless was seemingly unable to translate that acclaim into a sizable crowd. It would end up being one of the smallest crowds to gather at the Sonora Stage but if it annoyed Iceage to be ignored they certainly didn’t show it. They poured an impressive amount of passion and showmanship, including coordinated working clothes, into their set. The one benefit of such a small crowd was that nearly everyone in the tent, save those who had passed out on the fuzzy blue couches on the sides of the space, knew the words and were stoked to see one of their favorite bands live. Not everything worked out in Iceage’s favor, but they showed themselves as capable of making the best of it, and provided a memorable set for the few eyes that saw it.
Some artists really are all about the hustle, and no one could ever deny that Pusha T is among them. Ever since the release of his critically acclaimed Daytona last year he has been relentlessly touring the record while making multiple festival appearances including Camp Flog Gnaw back in November. Each of those performances had been stellar, but now that he was playing towards the middle of the lineup in the full heat of the afternoon sun he had a chance to prove that he could beat the heat and draw a dedicated crowd that would make any artist sick with envy. At 4:15pm he demonstrated that he was more than capable of bringing in a crowd regardless of the time or temperature. The first difference from this set and his others was plain to see before he even hit the stage, not only was there actually a stage design beyond a few backing screens, but there was a giant crack rock sitting in the middle of the stage. This set was built to go hard, and people would have to decide for themselves if they could handle it. Most responded yes. Beyond the stage design, and a few people who appeared to be yetis engaging in a martial arts fight, the set progressed similarly to most of the others on his recent tour. He played the entirety of Daytona along with hits like Kanye West’s “Runaway,” “MERCY,” “Numbers on the Boards” and “Grindin’,” creating a set that appealed to nearly everyone in the crowd.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra received a sizable crowd boost after Pusha T’s set ended, despite the crossover of their musical Venn diagrams being very small. U.M.O. played a far more jovial, laid back set than Pusha T but after such an intense performance the change of pace was welcomed with open arms. This was a strange window in the day where it felt like a classic festival with people sitting on blankets and inflatable chairs simply taking in a lovely performance. And a lovely performance it was, the band leapt nimbly through their setlist, guitars flaring and soothing in equal measure while lead singer Ruban Nielson deftly controlled his voice to float between soft croons, shouts and glassy falsettos with ease. The crowd responded with constant whoops and hollers, and gave persistent, undivided attention to the mid day performers.
Before she even took the stage the energy for Lizzo’s show was insane. A massive crowd swelled and burst from the sides of the tent leaving latecomers out in the cold, or the heat to be more accurate. Nearly five minutes before her set time chants of “Lizzo! Lizzo!” could be heard echoing through the venue. She took to the stage and it felt as though the earth crumbled beneath the feet of all those present; the crowd erupted. Lizzo made sure to earn that reaction, providing the eager crowd with a performance that brought the house down as she soared through her soulful setlist. As the show went on the intensity only increased, backup dancers joined the stage as she launched through “Worship” dropping kick-ass dance moves at every turn. It seemed as though everyone in the impossibly massive crowd (she coulda have easily held her own on the Outdoor Theatre stage) knew every lyric to every single song. Lizzo would occasionally turn to the crowd, begin a song a cappella and then ask if it was cool if she sang that song with everyone. If this set is any indication of her typical live show then she’s a must see, and if this set is any indication of her upward trajectory, expect her to make good on her promise of headlining Coachella in a few years.
Blood Orange is one of those artists who simply shines in a live setting. So much about him becomes clear when you realize how wickedly talented he is in all respects. No matter what instrument he’s playing or what guest he brings in (such as Lil Yachty), he improves everything he touches. For his set he stuck with playing hits like “Chamakay” and “Charcoal Baby” (after opening with a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”) to the decent sized crowd that had gathered. He played in stark contrast to the equally impressive international sensation Bad Bunny, and provided a more introspective, vibe based portion of the show. The crowd clearly appreciated having a haven from some of the more intense, high profile acts that were going to rule the stages for the rest of the night, and Blood Orange happily obliged them.
From a distance, putting Zedd as a late-evening pick inspires two thoughts: The first is that it’s an obvious pick, Zedd is huge, the other is that it’s a blatant attempt to pick off some of the crowd from the massively popular EDM festivals from all around the world. While both of these thoughts have their merits, and putting together music festivals ultimately nets out to a profit goal, what it really is is an affirmation of a producer/DJ with such a long and storied career that to deny him at least this level of spotlight would be a travesty. Now it was only up to Zedd to see what he would do with such an affirmation. As it turns out, rather unsurprisingly, the crossover between Coachella attendees and EDM fest attendees is pretty large and Zedd was able to assemble a completely outsized crowd for his time slot. The highlight of the set could’ve been noticed from a mile away when he brought out Katy Perry for their recent collaboration “365” which saw the stragglers who were exiting the crowd rapidly sprint back to the stage to catch her appearance. On top of that his mixes were tight, well executed, he had an excellent stage presence (an often overlooked component of an EDM performance) and mind-boggling visuals that looked excellent on the gigantic stage. Plus dancing is fun, and Zedd did an incredible job getting people on their feet.
Gesaffelstein came into Coachella off of an album with relatively tepid reception, especially when compared to his now classic debut studio album Aleph. But in the world of music journalism people consistently forget that critical reception does not equal commercial or audience love and Gesaffelstein is clearly loved, or at least has a lot of good will. His set was composed of a nice mix of his latest hits, including the Pharrell featuring banger “Blast Off” (Editor’s Note: No Pharrell at this performance) but they also made sure to drop in “Pursuit” and “Hellifornia” to get people completely out of their skulls. From a technical standpoint there was a lot to be desired, but none of that landed on the shoulders of Gesaffelstein, who laid down the most impressive techno set of the night. The very same tech issues that plagued Billie Eilish’s set caused a similar delay here and forced many of the onstage visuals to be abandoned altogether. Luckily Gesaffelstein was more than flashy enough to make up for it. Clad in what appeared to be a silver suit top and his signature chrome mask, he was front and center in everyone’s mind as he pummeled the audience with a sonic barrage worthy of warfare.
Unfortunately due to the delays at Gessafelstein we were able to catch just the end of Sofi Tukker’s set. They had packed the entire tent and lead singer Sophie Hawley-Weld walked offstage to wild cheers, leaving behind a gorgeous, plant focused stage design that captured the eyes of any passersby.
Khalid is a talented but risk averse pop star and it stood to reason that his set would be much like his music, predictable and pleasing. Unfortunately–or fortunately depending upon your perspective–that’s exactly what the set was. One of the bigger disappointments was that for some of the set, including the performance of “Young, Dumb and Broke” his often impeccable voice felt slightly off, as if he were struggling to hold onto singing in key. Though, he did manage to achieve that melodic perfection later, making the set much better from there on. His supporting band did add a homemade touch to the show which was much appreciated given all of the lushly produced pop and electronics that the rest of the night was going to include. Still, the impact of Khalid lately cannot be overstated, and that same impact was felt throughout the absurdly massive crowd at least mouthing along to the words as they danced.
Rather confusingly Chvrches faced a great deal of scheduling competition for a band of their fame, but you wouldn’t know it if you had stumbled across the Mojave Tent even ten minutes before the show started. Their stage setup would prove to be the best that the Mojave stage would have all week, and it was replete with lights that could blind the audience at a moment’s notice and also contained a stage design comprised of two X’s that visually represented their latest record Love is Dead. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry came out clad in a white outfit with massive puffy sleeves and launched immediately into “Get Out.” The sound production throughout the whole set was positively excellent, perfectly balancing backing instrumentation and Mayberry’s voice. The live instruments and electronic components particulary were clear, visceral, and powerful. They even had a surprise appearance from Marshmello for the song “Here with Me” which energized the crowd for their final song “Never Say Die” Overall the group laid down one of the more impressive performances of the day and inspired another look at their latest album, which translates wonderfully live through the shimmering production and Mayberry’s impeccable voice.
After Chvrches finished their set we briefly swung by the nearby Gobi Stage where Jon Hopkins was delivering his incredible electronic mix to a small crowd. While the tone of the music may not have been quite right for a crowd that was preparing to see one of the worlds biggest pop stars, his undeniable skill and unorthodox mixes made room in the hearts of many a weary festival goer, and on this night a little room was all he needed.
Of course a show isn’t complete until the headliner takes the stage, and how could we not talk about the hottest woman in pop, Ariana Grande. Her much anticipated set served as a bookend to the final evening of Coachella and would likely be the most highly produced and scrutinized set outside of the ever secretive Childish Gambino on Friday night, and with the critical and commercial acclaim of her latest record Thank U, Next to say expectations were high would be an understatement, and while she of course didn’t reach the same heights as Beyoncé’s now legendary performance from last year, she did make good on delivering a perfectly done pop star set. Her set kicked off with a pitch perfect rendition of “God is a Woman” which saw her singing laying down and even with her head draped backwards off of a stage element while her dancers delivered an equally impressive and flawless routine. Given the scope of her show and fame her staging was relatively sparse (though she did bring out a whole car with “Arichella” scrawled on the side for “7 rings”), consisting mostly of pyramid risers and a large orb that hung above the center of the stage with LED lights behind it, casing a cool eclipse effect depending upon a viewers location in the crowd. Though she did have the best scenic projection of the whole festival, with it often appearing vaguely real. Of course the show took an impressive throwback centered turn when she brought N-Sync during “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” and even performed “Tearin’ Up My Heart” which found even the young audience of Coachella absolutely lose their minds. After that brief explosion of energy she moved through the set until Nicki Minaj appeared to perform her portion of “Side to Side” and “Bang Bang” though the latter song saw some issues with her mic being mixed far too low or even completely out of commission. Afterwards the set continued more or less as expected with Grande flawlessly moving through her performance and delivering all the energy and production value her fans could’ve wanted. She even brought out Mase and Diddy for a rendition of their mid ’90s hit “Mo Money Mo Problems.” (and though known as their song it was actually a Notorius B.I.G. song that Puff Daddy and Mase guested on).
Over at the Mojave Stage Kaytranada was laying down a vibe heavy set for the surprising number of people who weren’t in the mood to close their Coachella 2019 with a pop star. Much like what had happened earlier in the night the tent was so full that people were pouring out of the sides, making it impossible to get in for a decent view, luckily you don’t need your eyes to hear great music and given the body language of those both within and without the tent Kaytranada was absolutely killing it, and providing a well deserved and potently delivered finale to the vibe lovers of Coachella.
Beyond all the music, but in some ways because of it, there’s one gigantic takeaway from this festival: There’s music festivals and then there’s Coachella. Sure, there were some hiccups here and there with tech and audio but no festival is this large, covers this many genres, and does it so effectively. And when it comes to festivals, the little things matter a lot. Think back on all the logistical nightmares of other festivals, parking, admission lines, too few bathrooms, the list goes on and on. At Coachella you need not even think about these things, everything is already taken care of, all that’s left is for you to do is kick back and enjoy the music. Oh, and Coachella might do that better than anyone else too. It might be expensive, it might be a meme generator, but you get what you pay for and if everyone is talking about something, more often than not it’s worth checking out.
File photo by Raymond Flotat