Coachella 2015’s first weekend featured an unexpected controversy care/of Madonna and Drake; Weekend Two included a surprise appearance by Kanye West (that was evidently far less salacious since ‘Ye didn’t make out with the Weeknd). Fans browsed vinyl in the scorching heat for Record Store Day, got pummeled by Swans and charmed by Sir Mix-A-Lot. Here’s the best of what we missed Weekend One, and don’t miss all of our superb Coachella photos here.
The best classic rockers know how to make a statement, so as AC/DC prepared to step onstage this weekend, huge boxes filled with plastic battery-operated devil's horns were carried to the front rows and thrown by security deep into the crowd. It was more than a bit of branding by the band known for "Highway to Hell," "Hell's Bells" and other devilish rock tunes. As a sea of little red horns lit up the crowd Friday night, the crowd of pretend demons made a united front of music fanatics about to rock. We salute you.
Fans hoping to see the young singer-songwriter George Ezra during Week One of Coachella were disappointed when the British musician missed his plane. He finally made it to a packed Mojave tent stage this weekend as a welcome cool breeze blew through the tent. "I was under the impression we were playing a venue the size of a Porta-Loo," he joked, marveling at the size of his crowd. Dressed simply in jeans and a black T-shirt, he performed his "Song 6" and recalled a month-long train journey through Europe, during which he planned to write songs on his guitar. He hardly touched the guitar but came home with a head full of observations, leading to the searching lyrics and cascading guitar melody of "Barcelona. " Ezra and the band got darker and noisier on "Spectacular Rival," a smoldering rocker that had the singer asking in low, dramatic tones, "Your majesty, why you got it in for me?" It was evidence that this likable romantic can also burn with rage.
The desert can slow a music fan down, as the 90-plus-degree heat slowly wilts even the most excited dancer or rocker downward for a sunstroke break, just as the lawn gradually turns brown. When Kaskade hit the main stage early evening, however, the sky was still bright and his crowd stretched far out to the horizon, bouncing to the big beats and live mixes. They danced and shouted along to the lyrics to "Something Something" flashing on the big screen behind the barefoot DJ: "I don't need you/I just want you." For a moment at least, need and want seemed essentially the same to the masses spread out in front of him.
During her band's main stage set last week, singer Florence Welch broke her foot after an unfortunate leap. Bad news when another big desert gig awaits you at Coachella's Week Two, but the British performer wasn't going to allow that to interrupt her. On Sunday, the string section was already seated when guitarist Robert Ackroyd stepped onstage carrying Welch in his arms, delivering her to a seat, where she uncharacteristically remained anchored, while singing with the same grace and enthusiasm as before.
"I think my guitar is fucking melting in the sun!" declared Sean Lennon at high noon Friday in Indio. His band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger were one of the very first that fans saw at Week Two of Coachella 2015, performing psychedelic folk rock of real energy and grace. Bearded and wearing a floppy hat at center-stage, Lennon led the band with his girlfriend, singer-bassist Charlotte Kemp Muhl, playing organic, mind-expanding rock in the classic mode. Muhl had flowers in her hair and a spiky collar around her neck for the occasion, trading vocals with Lennon, including the title song from their 2014 album Midnight Sun. Facing the bright sunlight with good humor, Lennon said, "Sorry we don't have our light show. But our lasers and our rockets got help up at the border." It was a great way to begin a great weekend.
"Who the fuck let Sir Mix-A-Lot into Coachella?" The rapper was wondering himself, as he stepped onstage at the fest's sponsored Heineken House, where brews and additional dance floor action was added to the Coachella mix, including a set by the rock- heavy DJ Vice. Among the Saturday lineup for Week Two: Sir Mix-A-Lot, the Seattle-based rapper who had a Number One hit in 1992 with "Baby Got Back." Standing in silhouette, the man of the hour put on his fedora and rocked the house with old school beats and self-deprecation, including his description of once suffering from "SRS — Stupid Rapper Shit," spending over $100,000 for a car with his first big royalty check while his house still had roaches. "I'm what you call an old motherfucker," said Mix-A-Lot, now 51. He was tough and playful, bringing up a half-dozen young women onstage to dance during his big hit about big butts and "Heine's."
Lykke Li led her own black parade in the desert with a blend of pop, glam and vampire lighting. The Swedish artist makes indie pop at times dark and genuinely challenging, at other times defined more by hooks and danceable beats. "Who likes to slow dance? You can lift your lighters, it's all right," she said to a full Mojave tent. Her "Never Gonna Love Again" is a lonely mash note as accessible as any on pop radio, while others in the Swedish singer's repertoire are of a far darker glamour, more like a later Siouxsie Sioux. She's a singer dressed in black who can sing at a tribute to David Lynch (as she did in Los Angeles on April 1st), but can also be the subject of a Drake remix. The modern mistress of the dark closed again with a shower of black confetti falling over fans with a vampiric flourish.
While Coachella is known for collecting a wide range of contemporary rock, hip-hop, soul and more for its roster every year, traditional punk maintains a special place. The bands raging during daylight hours Weekend Two included the Cribs, who appeared in the Gobi tent Sunday in frayed cutoffs and fused feedback to melody. Bad Religion hit the main stage, facing 91-degree heat as a large-scale moshpit erupted in front of the Los Angeles band, who began as teenagers in 1979. With anthemic punk rock songs dating from their beginnings up to 2013's True North album, frontman Greg Graffin wore black and raged through the hits "21st Century Digital Boy, " "Infected" and "Sorrow" to some seriously jagged guitar lines. Before starting "Generator, " Graffin said, "We're feeling festive tonight," and described the song half-seriously as "a tearjerker, so girls lean on someone next to you. Some of you guys need it too."
Record Store Day is an annual tradition at Coachella, as it is at indie record stores across the U.S., where rare and limited edition vinyl is offered for one day only. At the festival's on-site record shop, fans picked up newly pressed records from the 101ers (the first band of Joe Strummer of the Clash), Built to Spill's Untethered Moon, Noel Gallager's Highflying Birds remixes, reissued records from Grizzly Bear, Hawkwind, Ivy, Dolly Parton, AC/DC, Venom and much more. There are no CDs at this store, just a huge cache of new and used vinyl and a section for old cassette tapes. There was a still-sealed copy of Elton John's Caribou from 1974, with an ancient FedCo sticker still asking for $3.24. The store was a place for music lovers, with air-conditioning and Television's Marquee Moon blasting from the speakers. The previous weekend, Ringo Starr even dropped in, while hanging with Paul McCartney at the festival. (They were otherwise occupied this weekend.)
Dressed in matching beige shirts with black bow ties, Los Angeles-based Chicano Batman have the look of a party band that hasn't gone to sleep from the night before, playing Latin soul fueled on their love for the La Fania Records label and flaming Jimi Hendrix electric guitar. At noon on Sunday, the quartet opened with an instrumental "La Tigresa" drenched in groovy organ played by singer Bardo Martinez. Bassist Edwardo Arenas switched to guitar and sang "La Manzanita," and there were a couple of English-language songs. It worked equally in any language. At this hour on the final day of Coachella 2015, the audience was small, but the soul ran deep.
Coachella isn't unique in drawing special unannounced guests to the stage, but the desert music festival traditionally attracts some interesting, even bizarre collaborations (the Tupac "hologram," for one). This year during Weekend Two was no different. The most high-profile artist to materialize was Kanye West on the main stage during Weeknd's cover of "Heartless," followed by Yeezus cruising through four more songs, including the new "All Day." Florence and the Machine were joined Sunday by Father John Misty for a cover of the aching "Love Hurts." Later, Nicki Minaj joined David Guetta for his mix of Afrojack's "Hey Mama" (and she stopped by the main stage for a quick wave during Drake's headlining set). Some Coachella surprises last forever.
Behind the Coachella Music and Arts Festival is the SoCal music promoter Goldenvoice Productions, originally founded to support punk rock and other raging, sometimes confrontational sounds. No act at this year's festival fit that description more than the band Swans, an ongoing project led by the uncompromising Boho hero Michael Gira. In faded black and long gray hair, the guitarist-vocalist was joined in a midnight Saturday performance by five others in a set filled with obliterating waves of relentless, abrasive melody, playing to a tent more than half empty beneath the chandeliers. The Swans gig played a similar role as a 2009 appearance at the fest by the experimental Throbbing Gristle in 2009, offering a different shade of music to any fans open to that. It was not for everyone.
Not every artist can fit onto the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival roster and then return to the same site a week later at the annual Stagecoach, which is dedicated to country music. This year's crossover artist was Kentucky singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson, who ripped up the Gobi tent Sunday with songs of bad love and big dreams. His four-man band dove into the authentic country of "Railroad of Sin," as Simpson sang: "Looking back on my life now at some of the things I done/Makes me wanna hang my head in shame." The epic journey of "Sometimes Wine" ranged from high-speed plucking to dreamy slide guitar as Simpson sang of a romance that haunts him still: "Since you've been gone, this life's been more than I can stand/so sometimes whiskey and sometimes wine."
The songs of L.A. hardcore act Off! are quick and brutal, usually clocking in at well under two minutes, starting and stopping before the uninitiated know what hit them. At Week Two of Coachella, circle pit veterans mingled and stomped with new fans never before caught in a mosh, as the band pummeled and protested (in the sneering tone of singer Keith Morris) just as they did at their first Coachella two years ago – in fittingly unglamorous T-shirts and ripped jeans. The band was soaked with sweat within seconds, performing several tracks from last year's Wasted Years, including "Over Our Heads" (the subject of a Jack Black video), throttling the crowd with a prime example of hardcore rage and invention.
Philip Selway is best known as the drummer for Radiohead, one of the most influential rock bands since the Nineties. In recent years, he's also begun a surprising solo career, and on Sunday brought his brooding, gentle music to the desert. It's not his first time, having landed in Indio twice before on the main stage with Radiohead – both especially memorable performances in the history of the festival. If Selway's set in the Gobi tent got less attention, if was at least a revealing look at the clattering beats and some other distinctive components he can claim as his own. During his nearly hour-long set, Selway was a polite and humble host, spending no time at the drums, instead singing and sitting at a keyboard. His understated delivery was worlds away from Thom Yorke's anxious presence, but the songs "Running Blind," "Around Again" and "A Simple Life" revealed a thoughtful, gifted musician at work.
Jamie xx is the progressive sound scientist of few words behind the singer-songwriters of Britain's the xx. His work outside the trio is groundbreaking in a different way, and during his second weekend at Coachella, the DJ-producer unleashed a vibrant soundscape that transcended genre. The beats were endlessly danceable, but the ingredients ranged from rock to electronic, tossing in bits from his work with the late Gil Scott-Heron ("I'll Take Care of You") or spinning the xx's "Sunset." His audience was as engaged as any crowd for the weekend's superstar DJs, carried away by Jamie's endlessly forward motion and a fluency in all styles, all the time.
The young British rock quartet Glass Animals have only existed a few years, but they've made an impression, colliding dreamy electronics and guitar rock flash. Leader Dave Bayley is also known for his restless posture behind the mic, dancing in place, waving his arms to the rhythms, shimmying to the floor with his guitar to the beats like the Beastie Boys dancer Vin Diesel recently claimed to be. At Coachella, he did not disappoint in the stage moves. Just before the band began the fan favorite "Gooey," Bayley announced late in the set, "This is a good song to play before sunset," dancing a little bit longer as the festival's giant Butterfly sculpture rolled past the Gobi tent.
There was a significant selection of sensitive singer-songwriters this year, and no one had a certain segment of the crowd swooning more than Vance Joy (a.k.a. Australian-born James Keogh). The 27-year-old played to a full tent and performed songs from last year's Dream Our Life Away. From that album Sunday, he performed the heartbreak single "Georgia," sadly singing, "I never should have let you see inside." Revealing something of himself inside is exactly what got the tent filled this week.
The DoLab stage at the southern tip of the vast Coachella field was more than just another DJ venue. Aside from beats and water-soaked dancers, the stage is also home to an annual gathering of visual and performance artists for an audience of about a thousand ticket-holders, some of them in costume. Muralists created bright new visuals, the air was filled with streaks of sunlight and bubbles floating upwards, while acrobats climbed and spun to the beats of the moment.
Several acts tapped into some deeply emotional soul during the festival, and two of the best bringing new energy to the tradition were Chet Faker and the group Jungle. On the Outdoor stage, the Australian-born Faker was often alone with his keyboard and electronic gear Sunday afternoon, delivering the songs "Blush" and "Gold" with music that was often spare but deep, the sounds and vocals alluringly echoed and blurred. A little later the same day, Jungle from London took the energy in a different direction. Standing behinds keyboards and gadgets, Jungle founders Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson bounced and raved, creating a scene like a nightclub on fire, even in the sweltering desert heat.