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50 Best Things We Saw at Coachella 2014

Surprising cameos, sizzling superstars and real-live desert rock: the most memorable moments from Weekend One

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Koury Angelo

For two weekends every year, there is an oasis in the California desert, when the Empire Polo Club in Indio transforms into the music festival known as Coachella. This past weekend, around 90,000 fans a day came to see a couple of hundred musical acts (and nearly as many special guest stars). From Skrillex, Arcade Fire, and Pharrell Williams to the artisanal ice cream, our team found the very best parts of the festival. Join us for the 50 greatest moments of Coachella — just like being there, but without the sunburn and sandstorms. By Steve Appleford, Matt Diehl and Gavin Edwards

 

Dana Distortion

Best Epic Headlining Set: Arcade Fire

"It's on, motherfuckers!" That's how Arcade Fire frontwoman Régine Chassagne introduced the sole guest to the band's headlining slot at Coachella 2014. The fest typically features some notable surprise guests: this year alone, Nas had Jay Z, Skrillex had A$AP Rocky, Beyoncé sang with sis Solange, Mary J. Blige made a cameo appearance with Disclosure and Pharrell got everyone from Snoop to Gwen Stefani — but Arcade Fire beat them all. Late in their set, they brought out Blondie's Debbie Harry to duet with Chassagne on Blondie's 1979 disco smash "Heart of Glass." Harry was totally badass, her glam charisma and luscious vocals a high point among many in Arcade Fire's set.

The band opened with the title track of latest album Reflektor, giving it a dubbed-out, percussive, extended-remix vibe that played on the record's dance-oriented sound. Songs flowed together like a DJ set and the band's emphasis on mirror-balled groove played out spectacularly, especially on the supremely funky Gang of Four/Talking Heads bass line of "Wait Until It's Over" and a soaring "Afterlife."

All four Arcade Fire albums were represented in the hour-plus set — from a driving version of "Ready to Start" from 2010's Grammy-winning The Suburbs to "Rebellion" and the band's traditional closer anthem "Wake Up" from their breakout 2004 debut Funeral. The band played "Wake Up" just past the hard closing time of midnight; still, even as the sound faded from the speakers, numerous Arcade Fire members — led by frontman Win Butler in a skeleton suit and Adam Ant facepaint — kept playing acoustically, wading into the audience with instruments in hand to encourage a final sing-along. It was a perfect communal end for a perfect communal band at North America's most communal festival.

Lindsey Best

Best Homecoming: Queens of the Stone Age

"Welcome to my hometown," Joshua Homme declared mid-song amid gusts of wind and dust during the crushing hard rock of QOTSA's set-opening "No One Knows." There were already storm clouds in the tour video rolling across the big screens, in a scene that Homme — who grew up in the desert cities around the now-famous festival venue — knows well. "This reminds me when I was 15. The dust would blow forever, man."

The band hardly seemed to notice, taking the storm in like a summer breeze, sturdily keeping their places onstage to deliver easily one the tightest and loudest sets of the weekend. "This is one these perfect evenings when the dust and the mud brings us all together," Homme went on. "Nothing can stop us now."

On a stage stacked with blood-red amps, the Queens players ripped into "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" and its laundry list of recreational drugs, as former bassist Nick Oliveri watched from the guest section. They shifted long enough for Homme's version of a slow jam: the self-explanatory "Make It Wit Chu," from the band's Era Vulgaris in 2007, but first played at Coachella with Homme's Desert Sessions confab in 2004.

From the band's newest album, …Like Clockwork, came "Smooth Sailing," a song about anything but, as Homme sang, "I'm burning bridges, I destroy the mirage/Oh, visions of collisions, Fuckin' bon voyage," and slashed out some sleezy guitar. He sat down at a piano for the contemplative ballad "The Vampyre of Time and Memory," and the wind barely managed to blow a hair out of place.

Koury Angelo

Biggest Trend: #CoachellaSelfies

If the Internet has ushered anything into the Coachella experience, it's the de rigueur selfie. In addition to cutting-edge music, Coachella doesn't lack for large scale, weirdo, Burning Man-style sculptural installations – which offer a perfect backdrop to Instagram those pics of your bros against. Two proved to be 2014's ultimate #coachellaselfie hotspots. While there was no Daft Punk to be seen or heard at Coachella this year, a giant, flower-bearing red robot seemed to be selfie central, with an enormous, looming kinetic astronaut coming in at Number Two in the social-media Olympics.

Koury Angelo

Best Coachella Debut: Lorde

"Coachella, it's so good to meet you," Lorde exclaimed during her stunning, victorious evening set at the festival's Outdoor Theatre — and the feeling was decidedly mutual. The seemingly overnight superstar from New Zealand received a pure heroine's welcome at her first-ever Coachella appearance on day two. Despite her newbie status, Lorde drew one of the weekend's largest crowds, and definitely inspired what seemed to be Coachella 2014's biggest crowd sing-along when she busted out her smash, "Royals."

Koury Angelo

Best Reliving-the-Viral-Video Moment: Future Islands

You know you've arrived at Coachella when the entire crowd is aping your dance moves. That was exactly what happened during Future Islands' much-anticipated early-evening set Saturday. The Baltimore-based synth-pop rockers experienced a viral-video moment a little over a month earlier, when the then-unknown band played "Seasons (Waiting on You)" on Letterman's Late Show. (The dramatic body gyrations and Dave Gahan-meets-Marlon Brando theatrics of Samuel T. Herring became a meme-tastic sensation with not just millions of YouTube viewers, but David Letterman himself, who kept constantly referring to and cutting back to the performance in later shows.) At Coachella, concertgoers matched Herring hip swivel for swivel, but not just during "Seasons" – the crowd was with him through Future Island's entire exuberant 50-minute set that proved to be one of Coachella 2014's best. Future Islands' star may have been born via Letterman, but Coachella certified its place in the universe of music fans once and for all. The uncanny moment wasn't lost on Herring, who promised between songs that he's "got some new moves." Now we'll definitely be watching for those…

Koury Angelo

Most Demanding Art Project: Cryochrome

"Keep your shoes on. If you get dizzy, look at the ground." Those are quality pieces of advice in any context, but they were particularly useful if you were about to enter the piece of art officially called "Cryochrome" but popularly known as "The Rainbow Tunnel." People lined up for it all weekend having no idea what was inside (lollipops? vaccinations?): the answer, it turned out, was "a spinning interior that made it feel like all of Coachella had gone off its gravitational axis."

Koury Angelo

Best Return to Action: Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister

Few things in rock are as pure, satisfying and loud as the sound of Motörhead. They sit at the ear-shattering nexus of punk and metal — or what leader Lemmy Kilmister prefers to call rock & roll: "You like rock & roll, don't ya?"

Their spot on the 2014 Coachella bill was thrilling but also a surprise, not only because metal might seem outside the fest's original alt-rock comfort zone, but because health issues had recently taken Lemmy off the road while he recovered. One of his very first nights back onstage (after an L.A. warm-up show April 11th) was Sunday in the Mojave tent, plucking a leather-clad bass and singing his timeless tales of sex, drink and rock & roll. "Here we are again," Lemmy said by way of introduction. "It's fucking cold up here." Added guitarist Phil Campbell irritably: "Who wants it louder?" 

The songs ripped as fans expect, from the driving "Over the Top" to the happily grim "Killed By Death," sung by Lemmy with eyes bulging, teeth bared. "Just 'Cos You Got the Power" was described by Lemmy as "about all those fucking politicians who are stealing all your money."

If Lemmy ever looked at all uncertain up there, those feelings were incinerated by mid-way into the Motörhead performance. Fans raised horns above, but when Lemmy brought out Slash to add another guitar for the last two songs, the temperature was raised. Motörhead and Slash charged into the band’s signature song, "Ace of Spades," and the floor erupted into a full-force circle pit. Clearly, Lemmy's band and life mission were back in effect as he said his goodbyes: "Don't forget about us! We are Motörhead!"

Koury Angelo

Most Oddball Coachella Mash-Up: Girl Talk Vs. Bryan Ferry

Girl Talk, of course, made his career from doing mash-ups — musical ones, that is. But about midway through his Coachella main-stage set late on day one, suddenly the video monitors were filled with images of… Bryan Ferry wearing a brocade jacket that seemed to be made out of curtains. It was a video link to Ferry's performance a few stages over in the Mojave Tent was being fed – and his smooth lounge lizard persona made for a totally bizarre juxtaposition with Girl Talk's hyper mixology. While it wasn't clear whether it was a mistake or on purpose (most likely the latter), it proved one of the most unexpected, humorous moments of the festival.

Koury Angelo

Best Way to Be Found: Giant Heads

With tens of thousands of people attending Coachella, how do you make sure your friends can find you? The answer: carry around a giant stick with the image of a celebrity's head affixed to the top. Sample celebs: Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey, Zach Galifianakis, and (in a two-sided maneuver) Outkast. But the technique weirded out Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches when she spotted her own face in the crowd; she interrupted her group's electro-pop set halfway through. "I appreciate the craftsmanship," she told the fan, but she stood up for her bandmates: "You didn't make one for the others. That's favoritism."

Koury Angelo

Biggest Breakout: Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper drew a huge crowd, brought Justin Bieber along to perform their single "Confident" and performed like a man ready to take his career to the next level. Backed by a live band (drums/guitar/keyboard/trumpet), Chance alternated between jacked-up bangers like "Juice" and ballads like "That's Love," croon-talking his way through the slow jams as if he were a hip-hop Sinatra in overalls. For good measure, he showed off his dancing skills, hopping around the stage like it was a hotplate. When Chance jumped off the stage to high-five audience members, he found no shortage of volunteers. "I love you, I love you," he told the fans as he ran down the line slapping palms. "I love you, I love you — damn, there's a lot of people."

Dana Distortion

Best Almost-Reunion: The Replacements

"You heard a lot of good music today," Paul Westerberg said as he came onstage. "We're putting a stop to that right fucking now." With bassist Tommy Stinson on a brief sabbatical from Guns N' Roses, Westerberg led the Replacements (half of them, anyway) through a thrilling set that was tight enough to do justice to some of the best rock songs ever written, but sloppy enough that you knew it was the Mats. When the audience didn't know the words to "Androgynous" well enough to make it a sing-along, Westerberg shrugged it off: "Well, that was authentic." And the band had a sign-language interpreter, who valiantly tried to render ASL versions of "Alex Chilton" and "Bastards of Young."

Joseph Llanes

Most Random Stage Banter: Neko Case

Between songs, Neko Case became distracted by being in the open air: "There's a little falcon flying around up there, looking all cute. That's the kind of shit that gets me off — falcons."

Koury Angelo

Band Most Likely to Burst Into Flames: Dum Dum Girls

The Dum Dum Girls hit the stage in the early afternoon looking like Los Angeles vampires. Lead singer Dee Dee Penny was all in black — stockings, shorts, mesh top, pasties — and her bandmates seemed just as unfamiliar with the sunlight. But their set was a revelation, with one hooky guitar song after another that transformed the polo grounds into their own "Lost Boys and Girls Club."

Matt Diehl

Best Security Censorship Moment: What Happened to This Guy

During our three days observing Coachella 2014, we saw no drugs or weapons being taken from attendees. However, when a young man entered Superchunk's Sunday afternoon performance at the Gobi tent with a priapic pink mannequin wrapped around his shoulders, the offending article was confiscated by security during "Slack Motherfucker."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Best Beard: Capital Cities

Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities not only had the best beard at Coachella — luxuriant, Rasputin-like — he may currently have the second-best facial hair in the Western Hemisphere (behind James Harden of the Houston Rockets, of course). The rest of the band ably backed up the beard, not oust with matching white dinner jackets, but an super-fun set of trumpet-heavy dance pop.

Koury Angelo

Best Chanteuse: Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey started uncertainly, maybe because she was kicking off her American tour, maybe because she was really jonesing for a smoke. But halfway through her set, on the song "West Coast," she got into her NyQuil groove, claiming her place in the tradition of chilled-out modern torch singers like Hope Sandoval and Beth Orton. By the time she did "Video Games," she had gotten that cigarette and the crowd sang along unprompted. She finished with "National Anthem," going into the crowd to collect their gifts of flowers — which means that fans brought flowers to Coachella and carried them around all day — and strode offstage as if she had been the headliner for the whole weekend.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Best Dancer: Solange

Some people say "proprioception" is the sixth sense: that's an awareness of where your body is at all times. Solange was the weekend's proprioception champion with plenty to spare: She skillfully led a crack band through a set of Eighties-flavored R&B, but what really impressed was her dancing. Grinding her hips, throwing shapes, grooving, walking like an Egyptian: it was a master class in movement. (Inspirational stage patter: "Get low with me, get low with me — get that camera out of my crotch!") When Beyoncé showed up to dance with her on "Losing You," big sister could equal Solange's moves, but she couldn't outshine them.

Koury Angelo

Best Meeting Spot: Under the Spaceman

The seemingly most primo location for meet-ups was under the big spaceman, designed by Poetic Kinetics (the sculpture was officially called "Escape Velocity"). And if you agreed to met your friends there when you came in and only discovered hours later that the spaceman was slowly roving around the festival grounds? That's just the way Coachella is, baby.

Dana Distortion

Best Non-Reunion Comeback Moment: Beck

Beck released his triumphant mellow-rock masterpiece Morning Phase — his first full studio album in five years — in February. But that wasn't the Beck revealed in his headlining set at Coachella 2014, playing just before Arcade Fire closed the night. Instead, Beck focused largely on his best-known Nineties hits, opening the show with "Devil's Haircut" from his 1996 classic Odelay, then segueing immediately into his breakout hit from 1994, "Loser" before ending the set with his funky hit "Where It's At." In fact, he only played one song from Morning Phase, the single "Blue Moon," which appeared half an hour through the show. Instead, he relied on uptempo favorites with near garage-rock abandon, giving "One Foot in the Grave" an extended blues harmonica honk and welcoming his son onstage to play tambourine. "I got a phone call back in '99," Beck stated between songs towards the end of his set. "I was asked if I wanted to play a show in the desert called Coachella — its first year. Fifteen years later, I'm back on the same stage, with the same band." Moments after this heartfelt paean to Coachella's awesomeness, however, Beck and his band had inched past their end time, and the sound was cut out abruptly, leaving Beck to pop, lock and moonwalk in utter silence — a perfectly surreal end to a classic, spontaneous Beck performance.

Koury Angelo

Best Secret DJ Stage: The Do Lab

The Do Lab, tucked into a distant corner of the Coachella campus, had the smallest DJ space of the festival, but also one of the best: an outdoor venue with brightly colored poles that looked like they had been decorated by Frank Gehry and Dr. Seuss in collaboration. While Supervision spun a Pretty Lights remix, three minions hosed down the dancers, who didn't miss a beat. "That got hectic quick," announced a soaking-wet guy as he stumbled out of the crowd.

Koury Angelo

Best Interruption of a Classic Album: Jay Z Cameos With Nas

Nas, bottle of Hennessy in hand, was celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his stone-cold classic debut Illmatic by performing the whole album, from "N.Y. State of Mind" to "It Ain't Hard to Tell." But three tracks in, he put that tribute on hold. Nobody complained because he was introducing a special guest: Jay Z, who joined him for "Dead Presidents" (once upon a time, the source of a feud between the two rappers) and "Where I'm From." "I had to come out and celebrate 20 years of Illmatic," Hova told the sand-blasted crowd. Similarly compelled: Diddy, who later in the set joined Nas for their collaboration "Hate Me Now."

Koury Angelo

Biggest Glow-Stick Moment: Calvin Harris

EDM was more massive than ever at Coachella this year, with packed audiences for sets from dance-music superstars like Skrillex and Dillon Fancis. But none was bigger than Calvin Harris' spectacular, laser-and-pyro-filled main-stage appearance on Sunday. There were housands of revelers holding glow sticks aloft deep into the field, seemingly tripling the crowd size for, say, a rock band headliner on the same stage like Queens of the Stone Age the evening before. The U.K. DJ/producer played non-stop hits, from remixes of Icona Pop and Florence and the Machine to his hands-in-the-air smash for Rihanna, "We Found Love." Harris' set was also the moment during Coachella 2014 that Grindr might've gotten overloaded: If you were muscle-bound, wearing a tank top, nut-hugging short shorts and a sequined baseball cap, you were there, pumping your fist to Harris' club-banger anthems.

Lindsey Best

Best Tribute to a Band Newly Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Muse

Muse are longtime Coachella veterans, with a lot of hours logged on the main stage, and this year they returned with favorites like the obsessive "Madness" and bouncing rock of "Time Is Running Out." But fans of the British band have experienced no bigger surprise than the cover song that singer Matthew Bellamy said was dedicated to "a great singer who died 20 years ago." With that, Muse dove into an entirely faithful take on Nirvana's "Lithium" that had the crowd shouting along from the opening lyrics. Just days earlier, Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Brooklyn. For a moment, the crowd must have felt like they were there.

Koury Angelo

Best David Hasselhoff Sighting: All of Them

David Hasselhoff is to Coachella what the groundhog is to Groundhog Day: it just isn't the same without him. In fact, the Baywatch icon/still-big-in-Germany celebrity is a multi-year Coachella regular. Here's the 'Hoff caught during 2014, rocking by the soundboard during Outkast's reunion performance capping off Friday night on the main stage during Coachella's first weekend. 

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

Happiest First-Timer: Kid Cudi

It's one of the Coachella rituals: performers from Los Angeles announce how many years they attended the festival as fans before they got tapped to play, while first-timers from out of town declare how excited they are to be there. But nobody seemed happier to be making his Coachella debut than Kid Cudi, who bounded onstage with a cut-off red T-shirt that matched his microphone and led the crowd through one infectious hit after another. He couldn't wipe the grin off his face, even when singing the emotional "Mr. Rager." "Let's get through this," he told the audience cheerfully. "I want to go catch MGMT after this."

Koury Angelo

Best Stage Patter: Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas definitely got the award for the best, most honest between-song banter of Coachella 2014. "Thank you for choosing us among the musical buffet," he said to a packed house during his late-afternoon set Saturday in the Mojave Tent. "This music is designed to alienate all the right people." And delight them. Rocking a leather jacket in the 80-degree heat, the eternally cool Casablancas skipped Strokes hits, and even his own previously released solo material, for an entire set of challenging, experimental songs from his upcoming, unreleased album with backing band the Voidz. And he still kicked ass, anyway.

Koury Angelo

Guitarist Most in Need of Sunscreen: Ty Segall

Underground guitar hero Ty Segall hit the stage in a striped T-shirt with a ripped left shoulder, showing off some red skin that really needed to be anointed with SPF 30. Heedless of the danger of skin cancer, however, he led his three bandmates through one great song after another. (He has a lot to choose from, having released approximately three kazillion solo albums and collaborations in the last five years.) The songs came in two flavors: fast psychedelic freakouts and even faster garage-rock stompers. If Segall ends up burning and peeling, it was totally worth it.