This weekend, Coachella returned to Indio and the small Southern California town once again became the center of the music world. Lady Gaga subbed for Beyoncé, Hans Zimmer played ‘The Dark Night’ and Migos showed up four times.
“Don’t be scared. I’ve done this before,” Lady Gaga declared Saturday, midway into what may have been the weekend’s most anticipated main-stage set. She was a provocative, late addition to the lineup, stepping in after the advanced pregnancy of Beyoncé forced her to bow out. But which version of Mother Monster would be delivered at Gagachella? Would she wrap herself in an otherworldly costume from the art world? Would Tony Bennett show up? Metallica? Instead, the singer delivered a 90-minute set focused on her broadest, core appeal, with no guest stars – just a night of dance-floor pop (and a bit of rock) on romance and self-determination, occasional flames and fireworks in the sky above, and a stage full of dancers. She stepped out to the fast-paced “Scheiße” while crouching in a long leather coat and military cap, a bright light shining from her belt buckle. But soon she peeled down to a leotard for a tight action-packed series of songs (“LoveGame,” “John Wayne,” “Just Dance,” “Born This Way,” “Venus”), and asked the packed field in front of her, “You guys having a good time tonight? You find anybody you want to sleep with yet?” Behind the piano, Gaga stripped things down, turning “The Edge of Glory” into a piano ballad, dropping in the aside: “Playing for 100,000 people? Not too shabby.” She debuted a new dance song, “The Cure,” to a warm reception. Overall, it was a mostly flawless performance representing her most accessible side. Some fans might have wondered where the artsy extremist went off to (other than an onscreen glimpse of her with a octopus tentacle in her mouth). At Coachella, Gaga came to dance.
Radiohead arrived on opening night with a long and meaningful history at Coachella. It was back in 2004 that the festival truly arrived as a fully formed happening, and Radiohead had something to do with that, heading a bill that also featured a reunited Pixies, Flaming Lips, Kraftwerk and Air. Radiohead returned in 2012, and now were back in 2017 fueled by another powerful album, last year’s A Moon Shaped Pool. The U.K. band opened their Friday night set with that LP’s alienated ballad “Daydreaming,” with leader Thom Yorke singing to a solemn piano melody. As the performance continued, Radiohead were their usual driven, confident selves, until the first moment the sound cut out during “Ful Stop.” The band played on, not realizing fans couldn’t hear them. “Fucking aliens again,” Yorke joked when the sound returned. Soon after, during “15 Step,” the sound cut out again, and one fan near the front groaned: “This is killing me.” Radiohead ended up leaving the stage twice from sound breakdowns, which were mostly fixed soon after. Sometimes even a first-rate band and a festival with demonstrated first-rate production will go haywire, which must have sapped Radiohead’s momentum for their Coachella homecoming. Despite any disappointment onstage or in the crowd, Radiohead completed the show. They’ll be back next weekend for another shot at delivering the Coachella performance they intended.
It’s official: In 2017, rap took over Coachella. If there’s a single theme for this year it’s the ubiquity and attendance for the top hip-hop artists, with Travis Scott, Future, Schoolboy Q and more making more noise than any other genre. Hitting the stage with the explosive “DNA” on Sunday night, Kendrick Lamar volleyed between high points like the Travis Scott-assisted “Goosebumps” and more of his slower, jazzier work. It wasn’t till about 20 minutes into his set that Compton’s finest dropped the sizzurp-laced chorus of “Swimming Pools” that the main stage closing out Coachella 2017 truly came alive. With his backdrop bleached in black and white, Lamar slipped directly into “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Then Schoolboy Q entered the stage, eager to finish a rendition of “That Part” that he couldn’t complete after the sound went out on his own set. But even that felt a bit sleepy, and when K-Dot segued into “Money Trees,” it still felt a couple bpms slow. If you took the temperature at this moment, you could feel the cool reception when he asked “Coachella are you out there?” and the response was warm but noticeably exhausted. Future joining the Coachella stage for “Mask Off” and the braggadocious ripple of “Humble” stirred the crowd, but whatever momentum built was quickly lost during an extended encore break. It’s not that Kendrick didn’t demonstrate his gargantuan skillset this warm Coachella evening, it’s more that he seemed to purposefully select his slower, more thoughtful work. After returning to the stage post-encore, Lamar eased into “Love” from his just released Damn., which was a lush, beautiful and tasteful way to send the Coachella crowd quietly into the desert night.
Lorde revealed another song from her upcoming Melodrama, the followup album to her platinum-selling debut, 2013’s Pure Heroine. The song was “Homemade Dynamite,” which bounced with breathless confidence, powered by attitude and pop hooks. Her breakthrough hit “Royals” was still catchy and biting as always on the desert stage, accompanied only with a raw snapping beat and occasional background voices, but the strength of her newer material was also on display, including “Liability,” first revealed in March on Saturday Night Live. Her set-closing “Green Light,” the first single released from Melodrama, showing a new intensity and fearlessness from Lorde, as she sang at Coachella to a heartbreak beat.
Future’s set seemed like a perfectly outlined argument that 2017 belongs to trap music. Bouncing up and down in white hoodie and copious swagger, the Atlanta rapper ran through hits like “Draco” and “Too Much Sauce” to universal crowd approval. He didn’t even need to bring on fellow ATL superstars Migos (and producer Zaytoven) for their “Bad and Bougie” and “T-Shirt” – but he did – causing the massive Coachella Stage crowd to convulse in a sea of dropping knees and dabs. That turned out to only be an appetizer, however, as Drake soon after took the stage for “Jumpman.” Draped in a puffy yellow vest, Drizzy didn’t even have to murmur the words to “Fake Love” – the crowd was so loud you couldn’t even hear the track through the speakers. Who knows how far across the desert you could hear chants of “I got fake people showin’ fake love to me.” But Future ensured he had the last word as he polished everything out with viral hit “Mask Off.”
There’s only three of them — childhood friends Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith — but the xx’s special power as a band comes in their commitment to collaboration and each other. On the main stage on opening night, Croft and Sim traded loving verses from their first three albums, while Smith was stationed within a large clear desk with his keyboards, sequencers and percussion. During “Islands,” from the xx’s 2009 self-titled debut, there was an otherworldly twang on Croft’s guitar, as her voice and Sim’s mingled warmly. On “I Dare You,” his soothing purr eased into her hushed desperation, but ended with them facing each other happily, getting down in the groove, and a smile of joy beaming at the last pluck of Sim’s bass. As she began “Performance” (from their recent I See You), Croft stood alone onstage with her guitar, as her bandmates stepped back. “This song means a lot to me. I’m going to play it on my own, which is a bit scary,” she said. The song provided a moment of raw understated emotion. Sim says it’s among the best things in the current xx show. “I’m just sitting back and watching,” Sim told Rolling Stone hours earlier. “It’s one of my favorite hitting in the set, even though I’m not playing.” On the opposite end of the xx sound, “Dangerous” soared from a festive blast of sampled Jamaica horns. It was a song built for the clubs, but never abandoned the affection of their most deeply felt love songs.
With a giant metal bird behind him – mechanical wings flapping rhythmically, red eyes smoldering – Travis Scott took to the stage screaming “I wanna see you fucking rage, Coachella! I came for the chaos!” And the rage didn’t wane from there. With his voice drenched in vocoder, the Houston MC ran through his already healthy catalog of hits: “Don’t Play,” “90210,” “Upper Echelon,” “3500” and more before shifting towards Days Before Rodeo cuts “Mamacita” and “Antidote.” After a short pause, Travis re-emerged on top of the bird to “Goosebumps,” motorizing out to the front of the stage on pedestal, its iron cage doors open wide. Travis was free, and the young crowd exploded like we rarely seen them do.
“It takes a certain type of crazy person to bring an orchestra into the desert,” film composer Hans Zimmer said, leading an orchestra augmented by electric guitars, accordions, drums, multiple vocalists and more. Onstage behind him were bleachers filled with musicians and vocalists, the top row devoted to a choir of voices, all dedicated to a rare live performance of his work scoring major films. Among those performed at Coachella was music from Gladiator and the stirring opening theme for The Lion King. Zimmer brought out surprise guest Pharrell, a frequent collaborator, to sing a stirring “Freedom.” Zimmer said of Pharrell: “This man lights up the world,” but soon added, “It might just get a little darker now.” He followed with the high-tension sounds from his score for The Dark Knight, delivering it as hard as metal, operatic in scope, with a poundingm forward-leaning beat.
The big moments at Coachella don’t all happen on the biggest stage. On the smaller Outdoor Stage, DJ Snake delivered a Saturday night set that was layered with intense beats and effects, sending one of the weekend’s biggest crowds bouncing around the field. Picking up a mic, the accomplished French DJ and producer shouted, “Let’s get roughed up!” There were towers of flames and frantic lights and graphics behind him. Migos joined in to rap over the stark beats of the massive hit “Bad and Boujee.” Soon after came a surprise appearance by Ms. Lauryn Hill, in a stylish red hoodie, to recreate some classic moments from her career, including the Fugees hit “Ready or Not.” The singer-rapper was in great voice, beginning “Killing Me Softly” as a rich a cappella, before shifting into the full arrangement. Snake echoed her vocal with a shout of “Two times!” but otherwise sat back and watched with the rest of us.
The last time the artist born Josh Tillman came to Coachella, he was most memorable as a bearded singer of dark, quirky ballads, going for the laugh as often as a heart-wrenching melody. That was before this year’s Pure Comedy, which aims more for the lasting musical statements on human frailties and cruelty. The song “Total Entertainment Forever” laments the mindless technological distraction of infinite home entertainment. On the main stage this year, he presented these songs under the influence of the fully arranged sounds of Randy Newman or even Elton John, adding subtleties of feeling through strings, horns and an understanding band. His move to the big stage cost him the often dazzling and confounding interaction with the audience, but the grand scope gave his songs new depth and beauty.0
For an hour-long glimpse into music’s future and past, Sunday night’s closing set by New Order offered an enlightening session of synth-pop devotion. The British rock act began in 1980 with a forward-leaning sound rooted in electronics and post-punk club culture. Even with competing performances at the same time by Kendrick Lamar and Justice, fans packed the Mojave Stage to overflowing. At Coachella, the early hit “Blue Monday” erupted from a machine gun beat, sounding as relevant to today’s dance floor as ever. “The Perfect Kiss” from 1984 rode a simple chiming melody over a storm of electronic noise and rhythm. For an encore, the band reached back further in their shared past with two songs by Joy Division, whose career was cut short by the death of singer Ian Curtis; his face filled the screen behind them during fully formed takes on “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
On a night that clearly belonged to hip-hop, where Future and Schoolboy Q both held court like heroes, it was trap originator Gucci Mane that ruled supreme. From his “California, what the fuck is going on!” introduction to the last bass rumble, Gucci reminded everyone in the packed Sahara Tent who invented the sound of rap music in 2017. Gucci’s dropped a ton of jail fat, and he looked trim and sharp in all black and checkered socks, stalking the length of the stage while slurring lines like “I love the way she fuck me, but I don’t love her” with the casual hustle that’s made him a modern legend. There was no confusion you were witnessing the elder statesman of trap – and everyone came out to pay homage. First was Lil Yachty, performing “Ice Cream” while dancing in front of a giant inflatable “The Hood Luv Me!” candy heart. Then came the non-stop barrage of people who followed in Gucci’s wake: Migos, 21 Savage, Rae Sremmurd. Even Puff Daddy stopped by for “O Let’s Do It” before performing his own “I Need a Girl (Part Two),” “Pass the Courvoisier,” “All About the Benjamins” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Often, Gucci didn’t even stay on stage while his guests performed, opting to chill backstage while his children and well-wishers did his work for him.
With a peak slot on Saturday night, Schoolboy Q took to the Outdoor stage with a sea of humanity spreading to the other side of the Polo Fields. Donning a freshly shaved scalp, Quincy Hanley ran off a string of cuts like “John Muir” and “Hell of a Night”, equally sprinkling hits from Blank Face and Oxymoron. When the opening tones of his Kendrick Lamar collab “Collard Greens” played through the speaker stacks, you could almost feel the crowd pause in anticipation to see if his Black Hippy partner would make his way on stage. It never happened, but the people were quickly sated when A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, dressed in goggles and head to toe in green shirt and short shorts respectively, stormed the stage to A$AP Mob’s “Telephone Calls.” Unfortunately the set was unexpectedly terminated: As Schoolboy was wrapping up his finale, “That Part” – under a projection of a stripper in gold thong spinning overhead – the sound cut off mid-verse. At first everyone assumed it was just another Radiohead sound embolism, but as the crowd stood waiting for Schoolboy to finish up it became clear that it may have been the Coachella staff cutting off his sound at precisely 9:20 p.m. He smiled bashfully, shook his head in confusion and called out to the people in startling silence.
“All I Do Is Win” and “All the Way Up” pretty much established the theme of the night – and DJ Khaled himself – in the first five minutes of his show. But there must be something said about the weirdness of a radio station DJ getting the keys to the Sahara Porsche. Will he DJ? Will he rap? Will he hold court with airhorns and canned explosions? Only one thing was for sure: We were gonna get treated to guests. A lot of guests. And that promise didn’t falter: A$AP Ferg on “Work” flowed into “Shabba.” 2 Chainz machine-gunned through a string of anthems in “No Problems,” “Rich as Fuck” and “Birthday Song.” Then unofficial Coachella Artist of 2017, Migos, performed “Bad and Boujee” for the fourth time this Coachella even though they weren’t anywhere on the playbill. “They said you want guests, so we got guests!” Khaled shouted as French Montana strutted onstage. Rick Ross followed with “Everyday I’m Hustling.” Any question of whether Khaled could command a prime Sahara slot were all but eliminated when the stage finally went silent: Without prompt, a “DJ Khaled!” chorus rang out for minutes after the stage went dark.0
The signature extra-terrestrial vibrance of Coachella’s DoLab stage was as dynamic as ever when Tycho took over for a surprise headlining DJ set on Saturday night. The artist born Scott Hansen (pictured above during the Outdoor Theatre performance with his full band) provided musical selections that proved to be a perfect fit amidst the 360 degree LED production and seemingly supernatural aesthetic of the stage known for its immersive art. Taking a break from his typical all-original live spectacle, Tycho jumped into a modern pallet of artier shades of the electronic contingent: Bonobo’s “Kerala,” Tale of Us and Mano Le Tough’s remix of Caribou’s “Can’t Do Without You” and the hat tip to California rave of Todd Terje’s “Ragysh.” The secret show was capped with his dreamy and melodic original “Horizon” and overwhelming applause.
Massive works of art are a permanent feature of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. The sculptures this year include a “Chiaozza Garden” of super-sized vegetables in wild shapes and colors, a small collection of cartoon buildings on tree-like pillars, and an animal-like structure standing like a skyscraper over the polo fields. All were gathering places for fans during Weekend 1, but a shimmering tower of circular mirrors drew the most traffic: As festival-goers stared deep into the mirrors for contemplation or a quick selfie. Mysteriously titled “Lamp Beside the Golden Door,” the piece by Gustavo Prado shone even brighter at night, glistening beneath bright spotlights and visible almost everywhere on the festival grounds.
“Ah, the twilight of Coachella,” singer Davey Havok noted from the stage inside the Gobi Tent, as the sun slid behind the mountains. The singer best known for his leading the band AFI, Havok was dressed to impress in an all-pink ensemble of suit and tie, with a pencil-thin mustache. Like Havok, the other members of Dreamcar have all experienced the highest forms of alternative rock and pop success: drummer Adrian Young, guitarist Tom Dumont and bassist Tony Kanal have seen Grammy Awards and platinum sales as members of No Doubt. But if their new band isn’t yet well known enough to fill a Coachella tent, the freshly minted quartet looked unfazed and ready to introduce themselves, beginning with “After I Confessed,” the opening track on the band’s self-titled debut, due next month. The No Doubt dudes were all dressed in shades of white and joined on the bandstand by two additional singers and a keyboardist. On “The Assailant,” Havok sang “No, no, don’t make me say it …” with bite and romantic anger, as Dumont stepped up for a New-Wave-y cowboy solo.
Canadian techno maestro Richie Hawtin used the Coachella platform to debut an entire new project, Close: Spontaneity & Synchronicity. What has kept Hawtin (and his Plastikman alter alias) relevant for two decades in the fickle world of electronic dance music is his unique ability to evolve. Just because you saw a Hawtin set 20 or 15 or five years ago doesn’t mean you’ll have any idea of what you will witness next. The Close concept is both sonic and visual. Strategically placing various cameras around his rig, the idea is to give viewers a more intimate view of how he summons his music from his hard drive and manipulates it for the audience. In the three screens behind him, you could see Hawtin’s hands triggering buttons, selecting tracks and performing the basic knob twiddles. Visually, the uniformity of the presentation eliminated the visual flare that defines so many EDM performances.
A lot of dance music is meant to be played in the dark, but a few dance music acts bring the darkness with them. In the case of Canadian electronic duo Crystal Castles, a blinding hot sun shining into the massive Sahara tent during their late-afternoon set only added to their intensity. It acted as a natural spotlight on singer Edith Frances, who wailed like a banshee beneath a head of green hair. She’s fully grown into the role left vacant by original singer Alice Glass, collapsing to the stage, rolling to the edge, pouring water over herself. There was tension and melody in her vocals, as producer Ethan Kath stood behind his sequencers, black stocking over his bearded face. Neither needed the dark to be wild and mysterious. The song “Fleece” was wild and noisy, while “Celestica” was more a clubby torch song set to a heartbeat throb. By the end of the set, Frances was tearing at roses and throwing pedals into the crowd.
Sampha, who gained fame as the faceless voice of SBTRKT, had his work cut out for him: A Friday afternoon set, a musical style built on subtlety and lyrics that reads less like main stage fodder and more like scribbles in a private journal. Sampha spent most of his time behind a keyboard letting his voice – a honeyed baritone that is at its best when it finds the cracking edges of a falsetto – do the heavy lifting. The set list eschewed most of his back catalog of collaborative work to mine cuts from this year’s critically acclaimed Process and his previous two EPs. At one point Sampha and his skeletal crew (a drummer plus two keyboardists) assembled in a literal drum circle, flailing away on percussion while his voice filled out the otherwise barebones afternoon Mojave Stage. Whether you thought his set was too restrained for the Coachella spectacle or an unadulterated opportunity to bathe in the beautiful timbre of his voice was probably evenly divided by the crowd. Many in the audience were held rapt, while others seemed shiftless. Still, when he wrapped up his set with his biggest solo hit to date, “Blood on Me,” the presence of potential stardom shone through.
The Yuma Tent offers festivalgoers a cool respite from the omnipresent torrid heat that chokes the Polo Fields daily. It also feels like a separate entity – no palm trees or Ferris wheels in view. But the dislocation is also sonic: Yuma tends to cater to those with more niche house and techno interests. All weekend you can wonder in and find dudes like Floating Points, Four Tet and Daphni mixing it up to a packed crowd. On Saturday afternoon, all three decided to perform together, spinning back-to-back-to-back. Floating Points eschewed the dreamy nerd atmospherics of his production work and opted to aim straight for the groin with classic disco straight from the dance floor of Studio 54. When Four Tet took over, he phased the sounds to that place where steady beat morphed from disco into the phenomenon we know today as house music. This wasn’t so much a résumé of the three esteemed producers’ work as an illumination of their what made them step behind the turntables in the first place.
“Hello, bunnies,” said Hans Zimmer from stage, referring not only to the Easter holiday that happened to land at the end of this year’s first Coachella weekend, but the swarm of fans who wore bunny ears to celebrate. At a time when festival-goers are criticized for cultural appropriation for donning Native American headdresses or South Asian bindis, a pair of fake-fur rabbit ears was a fun and non-offensive solution.
“How many you guys actually drunk right now?” Thundercat asked a packed Mojave Tent crowd. As heard on his recent cosmic-funk opus Drunk, the singer-bassist has a knack for wild combinations. He interrupted his 50-minute set to introduce a very unlikely Coachella performer: Eighties hitmaker and blue-eyed soul man Michael McDonald. The pop crooner sat behind a keyboard and together they recreated “Show You the Way” (which, on Drunk, also includes McDonald contemporary Kenny Loggins), as Thundercat stepped back from the mic with a smile. If a lot of the younger fans watching couldn’t quite place the McDonald name, there was was a lot more recognition when the singer dove into “What a Fool Believes,” his massive radio hit with the Doobie Brothers.
Back in 2015, one of the biggest breakout stars of Coachella was the Weeknd, who stood alone onstage and captured the attention of a packed nighttime field of swooning fans with smooth jams on blunt subjects. He was back again this year, this time stepping out for a surprise mini set during a Gobi Tent performance by labelmate Nav. They joined together to reignite their 2017 duet “Some Way,” then Nav wandered off as the Weeknd smoldered through his own “Party Monster” and “Starboy.”
It’s just impossible to deny the effusive, unsullied joy in what the Martinez Brothers do. And how can one blame them? Discovered when the younger bro Chris was only 13, the Bronx siblings have steadily gained infamy: modeling for Givenchy, touring the world endless times, and commanding dance floors from Ibiza to Barcelona to Tokyo. But it’s not just hype and swag, the Brothers know how to bring it. The crowd packed into the Yuma Tent – against acts like The xx and Travis Scott – prove the Martinezes are helping usher in a whole new generation to New York house music, making that four-on-the-floor sound coveted in nightclubs, festivals and Milan runways.