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40 Best Things We Saw at Coachella 2015

Rock reunions, desert dance parties and a generation-spanning kiss: the most memorable moments from Weekend One

Fans Watching Alesso

Fans at Coachella's Sahara stage.

Theonepointeight

This weekend, Coachella returned to Indio and the small Southern California town once again became the center of the music world. AC/DC went for the jugular, Drake received an intimate surprise, Tyler, the Creator took us on a Freudian trip, Jack White insisted that "music is sacred" and Azealia Banks packed as much of it as possible into one searing set. Our team went in search of the festival's most memorable performances, moments and meals, consuming bacon s'mores in the name of both pleasure and obligation. These are the 50 best things we saw.

Jack White

Best Encore: Jack White

Jack White returned to Coachella with a fundamentalist's fervor, stomping through nearly two hours of stuttering rock and blues and declaring again and again that "Music is sacred!" As soon as he left the stage, fans began singing the riff from "Seven Nation Army." They were rewarded with a five-song encore that ended with the White Stripes hit, White's bottleneck guitar colliding against drummer Daru Jones' brutal and increasingly chaotic beat. Fans continued shouting until White knocked over a cymbal stand and tossed his guitar to the floor, where it echoed into the desert cool with a storm of feedback as the musicians left the stage. 

Read our full report: Jack White Thrills Coachella With Scorching, Career-Spanning Set

AC/DC

Angus Young - AC/DC

Andy Keilen

Best Allegiance to a Formula: AC/DC

"I hope you guys like rock & roll," AC/DC singer Brian Johnson told the crowd at Coachella last night, "because that's all we do." The band, in the headlining slot, performed 20 songs and, as Johnson promised, did not try to vary their road-tested formula. The two-hour set, full of songs that split the difference between "simple" and "primal," was almost too much of a good thing, but served as a welcome return to form for the Australian group's first concert in six years.

Lead singer Brian Johnson, 67, still seems delighted and amazed to be onstage with them 35 years after joining, as if he had sent in the winning postcard in a "Sing for AC/DC" sweepstakes. Guitarist Angus Young, 60, still pulls out his trademark moves, playing solos with his left hand so he can pump his right fist in the air and doing a (largely upright) duckwalk across the stage. And the show didn't stint on the props: a giant bell for a ragged performance of "Hells Bells," a battery of cannons for the thrilling show-closer "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" and a giant inflatable woman for a solid version of "Whole Lotta Rosie." For the closer of the main set, "Let There Be Rock," Angus Young was escorted out to the middle of the crowd, and played guitar on top of a hydraulic lift that elevated him at a stately pace — proving the maxim that it's a long way to the top if you want to rock & roll). 

Read our full report: AC/DC Shake Coachella With First Show in Six Years

Drake

Drake

Andy Keilen

Best Cameo (Pop Edition): Drake (and Madonna)

Drake has become adept at sitting in chairs and receiving lustful moves that he can't really reciprocate. First, Nicki Minaj gave him a lapdance in the "Anaconda" video. Then Sunday night, a performance of his new "Madonna" culminated with Ciccone herself stalking onto the stage in thigh-high boots and singing her own "Human Nature" and "Hung Up." After she took off her coat to reveal a "Big as Madonna" shirt, she gave Drake a long, passionate kiss. Totally flustered, the rapper could do no more than giggle, "What the fuck just happened?" as she left the stage. It all goes with his reputation as the nicest guy in hip-hop — which is a bit of a mixed bag, like receiving the Lady Byng trophy for the most gentlemanly conduct in the National Hockey League.

Read our full report: Watch Madonna Make Out With Drake at Coachella

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis (Outdoor Theatre)

Theonepointeight

Best Cameo (Indie Rock Edition): Jenny Lewis (and Haim)

As a rocker native to Southern California, Jenny Lewis has made Coachella another musical home. This year marked her sixth time playing the fest either as a solo artist or member of Rilo Kiley. "I may be MVP," she said proudly, while admitting Conor Oberst might have her beat. Either way, she looked at ease singing "She's Not Me," a sunny tune of romantic catastrophe, and Rilo Kiley's "With Arms Outstretched." She didn't even seem bothered when Marina and the Diamonds got a little too loud on the main stage, offering a joking hello: "What's up, Marina!" She brought out former Kiley bandmate Blake Sennett for a song, and boyfriend Jonathan Rice for another, but fans got most animated when she was joined by the sisters of Haim for the new "Girl On Girl," a rousing, jangly rocker the quartet introduced a week earlier at a Los Angeles benefit show. According to Lewis, the reason for the collaboration was simple: "We're all from the Valley basically."

The Weeknd

The Weeknd

Andy Keilen

Best Man Alone: The Weeknd

The main stage at Coachella is a big space, and not many can fill it alone. Even Kanye brought out Bon Iver and a team of dancers in 2011, but the man known as Weeknd calmly stepped out by himself at Coachella, facing easily one of the festival's biggest crowds ever. He began with "High For This," his team of players out of sight behind a stage partition bathed in red light, as he slowly paced the stage, sharing his take on modern soul music. Calling the set "the greatest night of my entire life" to cheers, Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye) delivered a full menu of 15 songs, including his own Drake cover, "Crew Love," with other passionate, respectful nods to Beyonce and Wiz Khalifa. Still just 25, the singer-producer otherwise seemed unfazed by the challenge, facing a desert landscape filled with fans with smooth jams on blunt subjects found on his last album, 2013's Kiss Land, where partying and lovemaking don't always grant redemption and release. Love hurts, and by the time he closed with a perfectly chosen "Earned It," few were about to disagree with him.

Florence and the Machine

Florence Welch - Florence and the Machine

Andy Keilen

Best Live Improvement: Florence and the Machine

When Florence and the Machine broke through five years ago with the single "Dog Days Are Over," their live performances got over on the vocal power of lead singer Florence Welch: She had strong enough pipes to make up for some onstage awkwardness. But on the Coachella main stage, she showed how far she's come as a performer, running from one end of the stage to the other, constantly jumping off the stage to get close to the audience, and selling the new songs from the band's upcoming album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. (The title, she told the crowd, was inspired by the Los Angeles sky.) Welch's command of the audience was so great, that by the end, they were willing not just to clap along when she asked, but to embrace nearby strangers in the crowd and remove an item of clothing for the final song. She confidently led by example, removing the top half of her white pantsuit and singing in her bra.

Steely Dan

Donald Fagen - Steely Dan

Andy Keilen

Best Banter: Steely Dan

"We came here tonight for — well, there were some financial considerations, I'm not going to deny it," Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker told the crowd, many of whom were young enough to be his grandchildren. "We're still here, we still got it, if you want it, come and get it." Although he expressed some anxiety about playing to a younger audience, the band delivered a triumphant set, from "Bodhisattva" to "My Old School." Becker and his partner Donald Fagen (author of our Coachella diary), joined by a dozen other crack musicians, delivered an hour of acerbic Steely Dan classics like they were driving a luxury sports car from 1975, immaculately maintained and immensely powerful. The overall level of musicianship was crazy: When there was a trombone solo at the end of 1980's "Hey Nineteen," for example, it was sly and funky and just about perfect. And some younger concertgoers found a way to reach out to "Uncle Wally and Uncle Don" (as Fagen introduced Becker and himself): during "Show Biz Kids": They slam-danced, but slowly and gently.

Alesso Crowd

Alesso (Sahara Tent)

Theonepointeight

Best Tent Overflow: Alesso

The DJ known as Alesso (a.k.a. Swedish born Alessandro Lindblad) is just 23 and still awaiting the release of his first full-length album, Forever, but he closed Friday night inside the big Sahara Tent with one of the largest, most ecstatic crowds of the festival. For a few moments, it was so big that the dancing overflow trampled through two chain-length fences at the adjacent beer garden. No one was hurt (as far as we could tell) and the relentless beats and flashing lights continued, including the appearance of Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic to perform their collaborations "Scars for Life" and 2012's "The Calling (Lose My Mind)." Schooled by his countrymen in the Swedish House Mafia, Alesso's music is built for mass adulation — but he just might need to be put on a bigger stage next time.

Corporate Headquarters

Theonepointeight

Best Art Installation: Corporate Headquarters

Artists Derek Doublin and Vanessa Bonet created an amazing piece of temporary art, staffing it so it could run through the day and deep into the night. Corporate Headquarters is a three-story office building in the middle of the festival, with a helicopter on the roof and a billboard on one wall advertising "Pond Water: fragrance for hippos." Walk over to one side and through plate-glass windows, you see a three-story office staffed by seven to nine people, dressed in business attire and wearing giant hippo masks on their heads. Top floor is the executive suite, below is middle management and the ground floor is the mailroom — and all the hippos are engaged in frenzied, useless office activity. There's even a red telephone outside: Pick it up and make it through the voicemail tree ("your call is very unimportant to us") and a hippo will answer the phone and grunt at you. The parody of corporate America, branding, the mercenary imperative and economic stratification was fun to watch — but none of those things exactly disappeared when music fans walk through the Coachella gates.

Action Bronson

Action Bronson

Andy Keilen

Best Pandemonium: Action Bronson

Action Bronson dashes with deceptive speed up the concrete gauntlet parting the Coachella audience. The King of Queens leaps into the frenzied adoring crowd. They rub his head, twist his beard, and reverently touch him like he was the Pope. A burgundy Albanian flag waves. Chants of "Bronson! Bronson!" erupt. Just another day for Mr. Wonderful, rap's John Belushi crossed with Mario Batali. Wearing shorts, a hat and a flowing bandana underneath, he emerged at 2:30 p.m. to the strains of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and it only got heavier from there. This was the only set in festival history with cameos from George Lopez and the Alchemist (who handled DJ duties).

During a rare break in the craziness, the rapper slyly grinned and said: "This is fucking rap music. I wish I could sing like one of the Isley's, but I can't." Someone corrected him, to which he replied, "You're right. I can." Then he unleashed his endearing THC-dazed nasal belt. By the time of the finale, the acid rock-meets-"November Rain" motorcycle rampage of "Easy Rider," the audience was screaming "rocking very loose pants!" right with him. He's known for throwing weed and XBoxes in the crowd, but just Bronson himself was more than enough.

Azealia Banks

Azealia Banks (main stage)

Theonepointeight

Best Multi-Tasker: Azealia Banks

Though steadily getting more headlines for her Twitter vitriol than her music, Azealia Banks' performance at Coachella was one of the festival's most versatile and dazzling. Surrounded by two funky backup dancers and her band, 1500 or Nothing, Banks rapped, sang and danced like an amalgam of Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson and Lil Kim. With a weathered American flag backdrop, she opened with "Idle Delilah," the opening song from last year's Broke With Expensive Taste. As soon as the first strains started blaring, tattooed girls in backpacks and short black skirts started leaping in the air and sprinting towards the stage. Banks is blithely unconcerned with public reception and her music is effortless. She can croon deep house hooks like she studied under Robin S. When she wants to rap, she's one of the rawest around — spitting ferocious double-time bars that curve and dip, bending around slippery experimental beats as though it were almost too easy. If dance music and rap are the most popular genres at the festival, no one merges them more seamlessly. She was pop, hip-hop, house and R&B rolled into one Yung Rapunxel.

FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs (Gobi)

Theonepointeight

Best Uncompromising Vision: FKA Twigs

The reigning queen of trip-hop played a slow, dragged-out Coachella set: unrelenting enough that it thinned out the crowd a bit, intense enough that it earned a rapturous response from those who remained. FKA Twigs might just be the 21st-century Kate Bush: She's got her own singular musical vision, matched with a strong sense of onstage theatricality: coming onstage in a diaphanous gown and singing in a high pitch that made her beats sound only deeper by contrast.

S'mores

Andy Keilen

Best Dessert Innovation: Bacon S’mores

The Coachella authorities frown on festival attendees starting bonfires. That policy has multiple benefits, but it does make it very hard to make s'mores. Fortunately, the good people of Mallow Mallow stepped up to fill the void with graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows and miniature blowtorches. The most brilliant item on their s'more menu is "The American": bourbon mallow, honey grahams, milk chocolate and, most importantly, a little chunk of bacon. It's sweet and savory, a delicious, gooey morsel that melts all over your hands, reminding you of the best $4 you spent all day.

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus (Mojave)

Theonepointeight

Best Light Show (Electronic Edition): Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus appeared only as a pair of glowing sunglasses on Friday, delivering his You're Dead Tour performance from inside a shadowy "Hypercube," a booth where the visionary producer had dazzling splashes of animated color, shapes and characters projected across the surface. The effect inside the Mojave tent was like a post-modern kaleidoscope to accompany his fusion of stuttering beats, electronics, jazz, noise and more, with a bit of Drake's "Know Yourself" tossed in for artful deconstruction. The visuals enhanced rather than distracted from the sonic exploration (unlike the unfortunate cube OutKast brought last year to Indio), and left both eyes and ears craving more.

Tame Impala

Tame Impala (Main Stage)

Theonepointeight

Best Light Show (Rock Edition): Tame Impala

Tame Impala seemed to be scheduled on the main stage to make a connection between AC/DC and the rest of the festival: a heavy Australian band, albeit one much trippier than Angus Young's crew, who followed immediately after. They were honored to be the Coachella-to-Sydney bridge: "I've been waiting my whole life to see AC/DC live — you have no idea," one of the Impalas announced. They offered the most psychedelic light show of the weekend: Technicolor splatters, hypnotic Spirograph effects, and beams of light splaying and reuniting in the sky.

Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts

Austin Brown - Parquet Courts

Andy Keilen

Best Introductory Line: Parquet Courts

"Hey, California. Real sorry to hear about your water supply," the deadpan Parquet Courts frontman Andrew Savage said as his band took the stage. "Just keep partying. You'll forget about it until next year." Then he launched into "Bodies Made Of," singing "Sludged all the way through the mud to orate to some bodies made of slugs and guts." The band didn't offer a cure for the drought, but they did overflow with East Coast urban tension and logorrhea, playing with the easy confidence of a band that has just begun to realize how amazing they are.

Alabama Shakes

Andy Keilen

Best Voice: Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes leader Brittany Howard sounded like she could fill up the entire festival grounds just with her voice and her guitar. Plus, she knows how to rock a cape. The quintet (plus three backup singers) debuted material from Alabama Shakes' upcoming album, Sound & Color. When Howard lost herself in a song, she closed her eyes, threw her head back, and unleashed her unique yowl. "See, I do not love you," she said, with so much passion that everybody knew it had to be a lie, and as the song built musically, she progressed to "I can't make you stay."

St. Vincent

Annie Clark - St. Vincent

Andy Keilen

Best Choreographed Rock Show: St. Vincent

While rock shows can be just as ritualized and staged as dance performances, they still have the vague aura of being free and improvisational. Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, did everything she could to undermine that stereotype. Playing a set drawn largely from her excellent 2014 self-titled album, she delivered a show where every twitch seemed to be choreographed — and never more so than when she played an over-the-top guitar solo. She's been doing this set for over a year now, which means that her movements have only gotten more crisp and precise.

Father John Misty

Father John Misty

Andy Keilen

Best “Dancing in the Dark” Nightmare: Father John Misty

Father John Misty had a dream to share amid the tortured ballads and off-kilter folk-rockers that sent him stumbling and stomping across the stage. Near the end of his set, he brought a female fan to the stage to "make a very weird dream come true." Soon the fan was center stage in a rattan chair, surrounded by balloons, white teddy bears and two women wearing masks and pasties as Misty sang Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man." If she didn't know what to make of it, she wasn't alone. "Let's all thank Amy," he said after. "Sorry about the nightmares you're going to be having tonight."

Stromae

Stromae (Mojave)

Theonepointeight

Best Pop Theatricality: Stromae

During his set at the packed Mojave tent, Belgian-born singer-rapper Stromae displayed his flair for the dramatic. The well-choreographed performance had the natural showman serenading a spider and pouring himself a stiff drink. Songs unfolded at epic scale or elegantly stripped down, with Stromae in jacket and tie or glamorously disheveled, as if at the end of a long, wild party. He closed one piece by coughing helplessly into the mic and collapsing to the floor; a band member carried him away — to another costume change.

Run the Jewels

Run The Jewels (Mojave)

Theonepointeight

Best Victory Lap: Run the Jewels

What's left for Run the Jewels? The top tag team for the last two summers has eclipsed all expectations: Both of their albums have rightfully received unanimous critical acclaim, they've sold out shows all over the world, they've attracted an ever-expanding fan base that somehow dwarves their already impressive solo careers. What's left is Coachella, the victory lap at 200 miles per hour — with Gangsta Boo, Travis Barker and Zack de la Rocha coming along for the rampage. A blue-haired Kylie Jenner and Diplo were in the VIP. They came out to their now-standard intro, "We Are the Champions," and it's accurate. In just two years, Run the Jewels have cemented their spot as arguably the finest rap duo currently cracking skulls.

Killer Mike may have the most nimble dance moves in the history of 40-year-old men approaching 300 pounds. El-P is the third rail instantiated, pure adrenaline and voltage, feeding off the wrathful vengeance of his partner. When the tandem combines it's like a lightning storm, sparking the crowd into chaos. Mosh pits erupted from young kids who don't know Def Jux from Def Jam. They have the energy of hardcore punk and rap combined — M.O.P. meeting Minor Threat. But this is two rapping-ass rappers hurling Molotovs at racist Ferguson cops, corporate plutocrats and the corrupt government. Though it's rap as revolution, there's a deceptively sweet side: The camaraderie and bond between El-P and Mike gives it legitimate heart. Even though they've "made it" at least two times previously, Run the Jewels is something entirely different. As El-P told the crowd at the conclusion of the set: "Thank you for making our dreams come true."

Tyler the Creator

Tyler the Creator

Andy Keilen

Best Freudian Furniture: Tyler the Creator

There was no shortage of notable moments in the set from Tyler, the Creator: the Odd Future rapper performed new songs "Deathcamp" and "Fucking Young" live for the first time; he enthusiastically accepted a gift of Waffle Crisp cereal from an audience member; he said "Fuck you" to the VIP section in general (and Kendall Jenner in specific). But what's going to provide grist for his psychoanalysis session for years to come? The set, featuring oversized versions of furniture from a child's room (his shirt even matched the bedspread), suggesting that maybe Tyler liked the stage to be a safe place where he could regress to a childhood.

Raekwon & Ghostface Killah

Raekon & Ghostface Killah (Outdoor Stage)

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Best Piece of Hip-Hop History: Raekwon and Ghostface Killah

Raekwon and Ghostface Killah have been working hard to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Rae's Only Built for Cuban Linx, arguably the best solo project ever made by a Wu-Tang Clan member, even putting together a documentary on the album, Purple Tape Files. So it was no surprise that they devoted their set to playing the 1995 classic, track for track, with exhortations like "Y'all know this shit? Sing this shit!" The beats and the stories of criminal behavior still sounded immediate, even necessary, and single "Ice Cream" was still a popular favorite. Ghostface and Rae stalked the stage as the sun sank in the sky, refusing to go gentle into that good night — it seemed like Coachella even turned off the sound when they exceeded their allotted time.

Kiesza

INDIO, CA - APRIL 10: Singer Kiesza performs onstage during day 1 of the 2015 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (Weekend 1) at the Empire Polo Club on April 10, 2015 in Indio, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Coachella)

Jason Kempin/Getty

Best Stage Outfit: Kiesza

If performers at Coachella aren't careful, their wardrobe choices can be outshined by the fashion statements in the audience. Dance-pop singer Kiesza wasn't taking any chances: She showed up in a Wonder Woman outfit emblazoned with New York Yankees logos. (If Wonder Woman was real and a Yankees fan, she would have been Opening Day shortstop, right?) With a hugely enjoyable set, Kiesza proved to have multiple superpowers, including the ability to summon rapper Joey Bada$$ and the power to do the Worm.

Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian

Stuart Murdoch - Belle & Sebastian

Andy Keilen

Best Musical Comedy: Belle and Sebastian

"Someone called me a candy-assed bitch yesterday. It was in Sacramento," singer Stuart Murdoch declared to the Coachella masses with amused disbelief. "I thought it was kind of sweet." The Belle and Sebastian leader told a few stories like that on Saturday, managing to be bouncy and effervescent regardless of the subject. He happily slapped the bongos and sang of domestic bliss gone cold in "Perfect Couples" and climbed the barricades to be closer to fans during "Piazza, New York Catcher." The rest of the Scottish band (with the help of some local trumpet and string players) floated right along with him. Sitting at a piano later, Murdoch stretched out "The Boy With the Arab Strap" with a few spontaneous words marking  the moment and location: "She's a waitress and she's got style/And she came to Coachella/She got in a car and drove to the desert — to be with me."

Antemasque

Antemasque (Mojave)

Theonepointeight

Best Uncontrollable Urges: Antemasque

Guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala have a long history at Coachella, playing together in At the Drive-In, the Mars Volta and this year in Antemasque. The sound of each group is different, but all have shared a commitment to chaos that always provides a rare and welcome jolt to the festival. The moment Antemasque's midnight set began late Saturday, Bixler-Zavala launched himself across the stage, snapping his microphone cord like a whip, stumbling and flailing his arms, while Rodríguez-López swayed back and forth, lost in the swirl of their new hard-rock quartet. Unlike the sound of the Mars Volta, which reached ever deeper into the prog stratosphere, Antemasque's songs are intense but more straight-ahead, with wild and warm hooks beneath the storm of intensity. Yet during "Ride Like the Devil's Son," Bixler-Zavala suggests some vulnerability amid the sonic attack, singing, "Can you read my heart? Can you read my soul?"

The Gaslamp Killer

The Gaslamp Killer Experience (Gobi)

Theonepointeight

Best Bizarre Ride: The Gaslamp Killer

If you're familiar with the blistering DJ sets of the Low End Theory linchpin, you might have been shocked by the arrangement on display for the Gaslamp Killer Experience, including a 14-piece orchestra melding bass music with Turkish psych-rock. It revealed the latest iteration of the ferocious TGK as bandleader and conductor — maybe like Beirut, the Bomb Squad, and Syd Barrett coming together after an afternoon huffing DMT; mournful Levantine brass blending with Björk, Burning Man and Bali dance routines. Then there's the Killer himself, writhing and barking to the crowd, "We all feel darkness sometimes, but the darkness in my soul is very fucking real." He danced in a tie-dye tanktop and dropped to the floor growling. It was soul music from the most charcoal corners of the mind. The bad trip and the good trip fused into one bizarre ride

a drone at Coachella

Drones filming sets at Coachella 2015

Andy Keilen

Best Conspiracy Theory Flashpoint: Drones

A drone was regularly seen doing loops in the sky over the Outdoor Theatre stage all weekend long. Naturally, we wondered what it was doing: Checking concertgoers for counterfeit wristbands? Providing raw footage for an aerial documentary of Coachella? Our favorite theory: a military model commandeered by Malia and Sasha Obama when they didn't get permission to attend Coachella themselves.

Ride

Mark Gardener - Ride

Andy Keilen

Best Reunion (Shoegaze Edition): Ride

Ride was never as hugely popular in the U.S. as some of their British contemporaries, but the influential shoegaze band enjoyed an intensely devoted following during its initial run from 1988 to 1996. The announcement of a reunion late last year made their Coachella gigs this week possible, and the band delivered on every level. Bathed beneath a canopy of blue light, singer-guitarist Mark Gardener arrived center stage in black T-shirt and fedora, as the quartet tore into a nine-song set that included the U.K. Top 10 hit "Leave Them All Behind" and 1990's "Vapour Trail." More than a decade later, the bristling wall of sound was just as brooding, rumbling and heavy as we remembered.

Drive Like Jehu

Drive Like Jehu (Gobi)

Theonepointeight

Best Reunion (Hardcore Edition): Drive Like Jehu

Maybe it was because their time slot began while Jack White was doing his encore. Maybe it was because they were fundamentally too cultish a band to attract a big crowd. Either way, there were only about 100 fans in attendance to check out a rare reunion gig by Drive Like Jehu, whose early-Nineties albums helped shape both emo and post-hardcore. The screaming vocals of Rick Froberg haven't aged well in the past two decades, but the band's guitar attack sounds remarkably fresh — it's hard to imagine what Queens of the Stone Age would sound like if Drive Like Jehu hadn't come first.

Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings (Gobi)

Theonepointeight

Best Lunchtime Noise: Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings came on for a midday Friday set like any other Cleveland guitar trio with a Sonic Youth vibe and a drummer in a "Music is a 'natural high'" T-shirt. But every one of their songs just kept building and building, full of noise and passion, until it felt like the band would blow away the Gobi Tent.

Panda Bear

Panda Bear (Mojave)

Theonepointeight

Best Chill-Out Hour: Panda Bear

Immediately following OFF!'s hardcore fits, electronic musician Panda Bear stood comfortably behind his gear and microphone on the same stage for nine songs of throbbing, soothing tunes. Eyes closed, one hand on a dial, Panda Bear (a.k.a., Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) leaned into the mic as the crowd swayed happily to the layers of sound. The music was fuzzy, sparkly and often as emotionally alluring and tuneful as vintage Beach Boys.

Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley (Main Stage & Portraits)

Theonepointeight

Best Hot Desert Soul: Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley's startling 2011 debut album, No Time For Dreaming, didn't come until he was 62, but he arrived fully formed by a lifetime of pain, redemption and an explosive gift behind the microphone. On the Coachella main stage on Friday, Bradley wailed and wept through "Heartaches and Pain," the true story of his early life and the murder of his brother. Bradley arrived in bright yellow, and no one looked happier to be standing in the afternoon desert heat, supported by his Extraordinaires. During "How Long," the singer looked overwhelmed with feeling and swung his mic stand over a shoulder and fell to one knee, shaking his weary head to a piercing trumpet solo. He sang like a man looking desperately for love, for social justice, for a higher power and closed by handing red and white roses to the ladies up front. 

Reverend Horton Heat

Reverend Horton Heat (Mojave)

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Best Wake-Up Call (Friday Edition): Reverend Horton Heat

For fans arriving early on Day 1 of Coachella 2015, the 1:30 p.m. set by Reverend Horton Heat had more jolt than a triple espresso. Dressed in flaming red and blue, bandleader Jim Heath ripped up the Mojave Tent with songs of cars, girls and rockabilly badness. The singer-guitarist's "psychobilly freakout" was propelled by the slapped upright of Jimbo Wallace and agitated beats of Scott Churilla, rushing through "Smell of Gasoline" and "The Devil's Chasing Me." Heat growled and purred during "Let Me Teach You How to Eat," a song of domestic bliss and double entendres, as a big crowd of festival fans stomped up the grassy dancefloor.

Nortec Collective

Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible (Coachella Stage)

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Best Wake-Up Call (Saturday Edition): Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible

As early arrivals staggered into the Coachella grounds on Saturday, they were drawn almost magnetically to the joyful sound from the opening band on the main stage: a funky horn groove from live brass players backed up by a pair of DJs (one dapper and chipper, the other glowering and badass) in a sound system that looked like it was designed by Dr. Seuss. The groovy combination felt like the Nortec Collective had picked up a random collection of musicians from a Tijuana street corner late the night before, piled into a bus and kept the party going until they arrived in Palm Springs.

Outstanding in the Field restaurant

"Outstanding in the Field" Dinner Reception

Andy Keilen

Best VIP Experience: Outstanding in the Field

An ordinary ticket for a weekend at Coachella costs $375, but a VIP pass costs $899. With the pass comes some perks that are visible to regular fans (special viewing areas, sometimes taking up a large chunk of the real estate in front of the stage) and some that aren't (the sushi bar in the VIP-only Rose Garden). Special passes are part of why Coachella sold over $78 million of tickets last year, but for many people, separating concertgoers into economic strata is contrary to the spirit of a rock festival. Win Butler expressed this point of view onstage last year during Arcade Fire's set when he criticized Coachella's "fake VIP room bullshit."           

So when the folks who made the Reserve app invited Rolling Stone to check out a $225 dinner at the pop-up restaurant Outstanding in the Field, we were curious to see how the upper crust lived at Coachella. Somewhat more elegantly, it turned out, but not more quietly (the Rose Garden is right next to the thumping EDM bass of the Sahara tent). Dinner-conversation topics with our neighbors included the ease of traveling to Iceland, the personalities of various tech moguls and the going rates for scalped passes to Coachella's second weekend. Wage inequality in the United States is still a disgrace but the marinated hamachi with avocado and crispy quinoa was delicious.

Angus & Julia Stone

Theonepointeight

Best Cover: Angus and Julia Stone

Angus and Julia Stone are superstars in Australia: It was national news when Rick Rubin convinced the brother-sister duo to reunite for an album last year. They showed Americans why with a great afternoon set, bridging the divide between harmonized folk and prog-rock: Imagine Pink Floyd with a banjo. And because it was National Siblings Day, they ended the set with a hug. The high point was a cover of "You're the One That I Want," from the Grease soundtrack. Julia Stone explained that when they were kids visiting their grandparents, there were only two videocassettes in the house, Grease and The Blues Brothers, and called the tune "A song about finding the right person but they haven't quite figured it out yet." Then she sang it solo, not as a duet, starting slow and bluesy but gradually building until she had explored every inch of its unrequited passion.

Do Lab

The Do Lab

Theonepointeight

Best Dance Floor: The Do-Lab

Coachella has no shortage of places to get your groove on. But our favorite is the relatively tiny Do Lab, tucked away in a corner (just past the brand-new bathroom structure). It's got girls dancing with water guns, guys spraying the crowd with hoses decorated with plastic flowers and a wooden boat up in a tree. With its brightly colored fabric panels, it looked like the boarding area for a spaceship commuter flight, circa 2030.

Brant Bjork

Brant Bjork (Outdoor Stage)

Theonepointeight

Best Desert Flashback: Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band

"When you're in the desert, when you're in doubt, play some desert rock," Brant Bjork declared at his early afternoon set Friday leading his Low Desert Punk Band. The singer-guitarist made a high octane stand for the original "desert rock" scene that emerged at wild generator parties in local sand dunes and canyons, back when the word "Coachella" signified the rough side of town. Kyuss came out of the same scene and included Bjork on drums (and future Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme on guitar). In Indio this week, Bjork and band reclaimed the desert with their sludgy Sabbath riffs.

Papilio Merraculous

Butterfly art installation on Sunday

Andy Keilen

Best Large-Scale Biology Lesson: Papilio Merraculous

Last year, the Los Angeles art collective Poetic Kinetics brought a gigantic rolling astronaut to Coachella; this year they did something even better. On Friday, the art piece Papilio Merraculous made its debut as a caterpillar the size of a city bus, slowly cruising around the Coachella grounds. On Saturday, it looked different, and music fans who remembered their elementary-school biology knew that the caterpillar was pupating. On Sunday, it emerged as an enormous gauzy butterfly: a demonstration of actual biological processes and a suggestion that Coachella could fundamentally change anyone who showed up for all three days.

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