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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.

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)

Theonepointeight

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)

Theonepointeight

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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