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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.


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.

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 (Mojave)


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)


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)


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.


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 (Mojave)


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?"