50 Best Things We Saw at Coachella 2014
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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…
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."
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!"
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.
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Most Insane EDM Presentation: Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun rocked a way-more-than-capacity crowd in the Sahara tent with a show that included computer animations, live musicians and a group of live dancers dressed as cyborgs (the plot was, er, unclear). Overall, it came off as a cross between the boat show and a German stage production of Battlestar Galactica — a perfectly trippy backdrop for dancing your head off.
Best Psychedelic Dance Party: MGMT
Coachella regulars and MGMT co-founders Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden are not flashy dudes, but they do know how to deliver a show. On the fields of Indio for their afternoon set, MGMT's hits and most recent songs were drenched in Peter Max splashes of color, computerized effects and a giant jellyfish floating across the big screen. As the duo at the center of MGMT led fans through this vibrant color field of sound and sight, they sometimes stood calmly side-by-side at their keyboards. "Flash Delirium" and "The Youth" were rich and energized, while fans danced on the grass and nearby performance artists held long cables of about 30 balloons each to flap violently into the sky.
Best Costumes: Pet Shop Boys
Musically, the Pet Shop Boys were as excellent as expected, playing remixed versions of old favorites like "West End Girls" and "Rent," and bolstering them with new songs that were just as literate, melancholy and danceable. But what made their set truly memorable was the constant parade of costumes donned by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe: big black bristleblock jackets seemingly designed by Pinhead from Hellraiser, minotaur masks, a disco ball over Lowe's head (and a mirror-covered derby for Tennant). Even the duo's roadies were made to wear bright orange lab jackets and glasses, making them look like mad-scientist ravers.
Most Anticipated Reunion: Outkast
No act on opening day was met with more anticipation than Outkast, eight years after going silent at the height of their popularity and powers. When the big moment arrived, fans were packed on the grass and stretched nearly to the second stage as opening songs "B.O.B" (a.k.a. "Bombs Over Baghdad"), "Gasoline Dreams" and "ATLiens" flowed in an excited, frantic rush of classic rhymes. Janelle Monáe turned up for a funky "Tightrope," the first and best of several guests in what has become a tradition among Coachella's epic hip-hop headliners.
In other ways, Outkast's long-awaited return to the stage didn't exactly match the energy and inspiration of Coachella peers past like Jay Z, Kanye and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, but the high points were as great as you remembered them. "The Way You Move," "Ms. Jackson" and "So Fresh, So Clean" collided muscular hip-hop and flamboyant musical flourishes. Their live band (including horns) was tight and at ease with the warmest romantic R&B grooves, but partners André 3000 and Big Boi spent a lot of time onstage in a transparent cube, as wild images of tigers and disembodied lips were flashed onto its walls. It was an intriguing theatrical prop but kept the star duo in the dark and distant from the 60,000 fans desperate to see and hear them after waiting forever-ever.
"Hey Ya" was wild and joyous, arriving near the end of their planned 90-minute set, but Outkast ran out their time before the venue's curfew. The plug was pulled, and Outkast could only promise to "See you next week, Coachella."
Best Dance Act With Rock-Band Tendencies: Disclosure
Thousands of people came ready to dance at Disclosure's set: Their debut album, Settle, made a lot of friends last year. But brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence weren't quite ready to host a rave: they kept pausing between songs and saying things like "Coachella, this next song is called 'You and Me.'" They both had drum kits to play, as if they were trying to prove that they weren't just checking Twitter onstage. But the show worked anyway, because it's impossible not to dance to songs like "When a Fire Starts to Burn." And it didn't hurt that their surprise guest on "F for You" was Mary J. Blige.
Best Unexpected Cover Song: AlunaGeorge
During his set, Beck took on Donna Summer's disco hit "I Feel Love" on the main stage, which proved a startling but groovy highlight of the festival. But AlunaGeorge proved one of Coachella 2014's sleeper acts: Their early-evening set in the Gobi tent Sunday was absolutely crammed, spilling out onto the field as girls in crochet bikinis mouthed every lyric sung by the U.K. electronic-R&B duo's sexily charismatic vocalist Aluna Francis. But AlunaGeorge's already-large crowd grew exponentially when the group busted into its slinky cover of Montell Jordan's chart-topping 1995 New Jack Swing anthem "This Is How We Do It," causing concertgoers to rush towards Gobi from all directions as Francis' voice singing Jordan's catchy chorus emanated across the field.
Most Eye-Popping Set By an Obscure Act: Woodkid
The artist known as Woodkid is a man of many disguises. He's a successful designer and music director named Yoann Lemoine who has worked with Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift, among others. But for his Coachella debut on Friday, he brought all his visual talents to bear from the opening moments of his Woodkid set: flashing lights, a big horn section, drums pounding, a video screen of Gothic arches seemingly rushing toward the toward the crowd. It was unexpected and sort of epic, even if it meant Woodkid wasn't the flashiest part of his own set. It delivered his music in epic fashion.
Best Indie-Rock Guitar Jams: Warpaint
"Are you guys ready to dance? Get ready. It's time," Emily Kokal told the crowd in the Mojave tent on Saturday, introducing the new tune "Disco/Very," from the band's new self-titled album, sung by bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg. As QOTSA's Josh Homme watched from the side of the stage, the sound was exotic and danceable, while the album outtake "No Way Out" balanced the soothing and the brooding. But many of the band's most memorable moments came when the eccentric rock guitars of Kokal and Theresa Wayman kicked in, like the quick bolts of electricity shaking through "Undertow." Maybe the best was saved for last, as the band gathered in a circle around drummer Stella Mozgawa and dove into an extended indie rock windout on "Elephants," colliding layers of guitar with rhythm as fans moved in closer, joining in their noisy meditation.
Best Old-School Punk-Rock Stage Persona: Toy Dolls
Toy Dolls are veteran makers of playful (not so angry) old-school punk rock, founded in 1979, and their place on Sunday's bill was a nod to the genuine punk roots of promoter Goldenvoice Productions, which created Coachella. The U.K. trio rocked as tight as ever Sunday, dressed in matching gray schoolboy jackets with red piping and short red ties. Cute, but the band can still rock like younger men, frantically crisscrossing the stage, bouncing and kicking to the beats and riffs in a stage act that seemed both random and completely choreographed, as only punk rock can. They peeled off the jackets for "Credit Crunch Christmas" and told nasty stories from the road on "Spiders in the Dressing Room." It was a refreshing bit of snarling noise and melody from the days before punk went to Broadway.
Best Afternoon in the Park Ahead of a Dust Storm: City and Colour
For listeners willing and able to get to the polo fields of Coachella at an earlier hour (after a late night out with Outkast or Anti-Flag), the polo fields of Indio were a good place to ease into the day and take in some epic folk rock in the form of Canada's passionate and sophisticated City and Colour. The mid-afternoon set was several hours ahead of the windstorm to come, and unfolded like a pleasant concert in the park, with ideal weather and fans grooving on the grass. Leader Dallas Green sings in a voice soft and forceful, at home within the quietest ballads and at the center of bigger rock guitar explosions, of which there were many, such as the bluesy, blasting "Fragile Bird." That bite also extended deep into his lyrics, as he sang of the end of California as paradise, doomed to being "wiped out by the ring of fire or a great earthquake" on the otherwise sensitive and dreamy "Golden State." Maybe he saw the weather report.
Loudest Clean-Cut Band: Foster the People
Foster the People's main-stage set began unexpectedly with a sudden clang of noise that suggested hidden muscle behind the smooth melodies and clean-cut image. But on a stage covered in prop stalagmites that made it look like their own Fortress of Solitude — an icy theme at odds with the desert winds on front of them — the trio embraced churchy organ on "Miss You" but also veered occasionally into tougher bits of rock amid the pop. For the Eighties synth wall of sound on forceful "Call It What You Want," singer Mark Foster wandered toward the back to begin banging a drum hard, turning things up convincingly for a guy wearing a letter jacket (minus the letter).
Best Spaceship: Skrillex
Skrillex took the stage for his headlining set in a DJ booth that looked like a mini-me Millennium Falcon. As expected, the EDM superstar brought along the big guns for his electro odyssey in the desert: crazy alien light-show visuals and an energetic hype man who pumped up a crowd heavy on baseball hats, muscle T-shirts and calf-length shorts that pumped their fists in the air religiously. He played an eclectic set varying in tempo and genre — hip-hop (with an A$AP Rocky guest spot), trap, dubstep, electro and house, with a smattering of his own hits like "Bangarang." It was as thick, loud and relentless as expected and amped up a hugely enthusiastic crowd despite the ongoing sandstorm building in intensity.
Best Foodie Option: Kogi Food Truck
Music isn't the only thing to be psyched about at Coachella. Unlike many big festivals — where funnel cake is often the most gourmet dining option available — Coachella has turned its V.I.P. area into a foodie paradise, with booths representing acclaimed Los Angeles eateries like Alma, Eveleigh, Umami Burger, Orsa & Winston and Baco Mercat. Hoi polloi ticket holders, however, aren't shorted. This year, Coachella created a new food court area accessible to all called "The Terrace," which featured Salt & Straw's artisanal ice cream, a Stumptown Coffee bar, gourmet Thai flavors via Night + Market and Beer Belly's high-end, artery-clogging comfort food. The continual culinary star, however, remains the legendary Kogi food truck, with its filling and flavorful Mexican-Korean fusion (insider tip: get the kimchi upgrade for your short-rib burrito).
Best Sunset Moment: Neutral Milk Hotel
The mythic time at Coachella is sunset: the festival has even compiled stats on bands who have been playing the main stage when the sun dips behind the mountains (16 from the U.S., eight from England, one from France). This weekend's sunset moment belonged to Neutral Milk Hotel, who at 6:57p.m. yesterday were playing the title track to their beloved 1998 album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: a song about falling in love but knowing that someday it will end, like all things, in death.
The crowd was rapt, almost silent, knowing they were witnessing something rare. Jeff Mangum, leader of Neutral Milk Hotel, vanished for well over a decade before reuniting the band last year, and he came onstage looking like Howard Hughes in recluse mode, with a long beard and a baseball cap pulled down low. He greeted the crowd by saying, "Would you mind putting the cameras and cell phones away? Let's just be together, OK?" People complied, for the most part.
Neutral Milk Hotel lovingly recreated their old songs, drawing on both Aeroplane and the earlier On Avery Island, bolstering Mangum's guitar with a motley assortment of instruments: accordion, trombone, saw, even a banjo played with a bow. The group (as many as seven strong at some points) matched the dense tangle of Mangum's lyrics with music that veered between drones and melodies, and felt like ecstatic prayers, as if the fastest path to divinity was making a joyful noise.
A few hours later, Coachella would end the weekend with a triumphant set by the Arcade Fire: another artistic collective fond of instrument-swapping, Salvation Army aesthetics and ambitious theme records. But although the Arcade Fire had Debbie Harry onstage to sing "Heart of Glass," their predecessors owned the day. Neutral Milk Hotel's set climaxed with Mangum doing "Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two" solo, singing about "secret songs that you keep wrapped in boxes so tight." In a corner of the Coachella grounds, Mangum unwrapped some of those secret songs and gave the 2014 festival some evanescent but indelible memories.
Hardest-Rocking Acoustic Guitarist: Frank Turner
"Who's up for a fucking sing-along?" Frank Turner asked an afternoon crowd. "It'll be like we were simultaneously seized by the spirit of rock & roll." Turner used to sing for a British hardcore band, but now he rocks almost as hard on songs like "Wessex Boy" with an acoustic six-string. With his backing band, he pounded his way through songs about life, death and music, pulling off the tough punk-folk combo, and so winning over the audience that he convinced them that it was a good idea to do jumping jacks during one song. "I would take you home to meet my mum," he told the crowd. "Maybe not all at the same time."
Best Cover: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — more grizzled these days, but having lost none of their aggression — bashed their way through an excellent version of the early Beastie Boys single "She's On It" (from the Krush Groove soundtrack). Runners-up: Ms. Mr, doing LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean," only with more spastic dancing and pink hair, the Afghan Whigs' muscular take on "Heaven on Their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar, and Capital Cities' union of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" with Weezer's "Undone – The Sweater Song."
Best-Represented Decade: The Eighties
"Some people said we didn't belong here," Ian Astbury, the iconoclastic frontman for the Cult, said onstage. In truth, bands that made their name during the "greed decade" tend to draw well at Coachella, and 2014 proved no different. In addition to the Cult, day one also featured the Replacements, along with Bryan Ferry crooning through some of his best known Eighties hits; day two, the Mojave tent headliners proved to be Pet Shop Boys and a strong set from the newly revamped Pixies, who kicked the asses of Kim Deal loyalist naysayers with new bassist Paz Lenchantin. And even if they don't actually hail from the Eighties, some of the most buzzed-about new acts — Blood Orange, Chvrches and the like — sound like they might as well be…
Best-Represented Fashion Statements: This Top 10
1. Crocheted bikinis 2. Crocheted anything else 3. Body paint 4. Beards 5. Fringe 6. Bandanas 7. Flags 8. Lace tops 9. Ironic T-shirts 10. Capes
Best Proof Coachella’s Dance Scene Isn’t Just About Brostep: The Yuma Tent
Lasers, beats, bass — works every time! Far from being a fair-weather trend, EDM seemed more pop-culture entrenched then ever from its hands-in-the-air popularity at Coachella 2014. The Sahara — Coachella's traditional dance tent — was continually the most packed square footage of the fest: Day one saw Glitch Mob absolutely destroy with dayglo synths, speaker-bursting low end and relentless beat barrages, not to mention face melting, arena-ready visuals. Dutch superstar DJ Martin Garrix followed with a pounding set of 4/4 electro-house, and the main stage was rocked with prime-time sets from Girl Talk and Calvin Harris. Even better, many dance artists made sly references to other popular Coachella genres in their sets, from Martin Garrix remixing Blur's "Song 2" to Glitch Mob freaking classic Prodigy during their sets to Girl Talk mashing up Lorde and M.I.A. to Skrillex dropping a mini-set of old-school hip-hop during his headlining appearance (not to mention bringing out A$AP Rocky for their collaboration, "Wild for the Night"). Even more shockingly, dance music at Coachella 2014 wasn't just for brosteppers: the clubtastic acts drew more women than almost any other, and even, gasp!, hipsters may be returning to the EDM fold. Enclosed and air conditioned, with a feel of a dark, sweaty nightclub, the Yuma tent was the coolest place to be, figuratively and literally. Indeed, even before the sun had set, the Yuma vibe felt like a little slice of Berlin at 4:00 a.m. in the desert, as more tastemaker DJs like Nina Kraviz and Damian Lazarus rocked ecstatic crowds with some of the most underground sounds heard at Coachella 2014.
Best Guest-a-Thon: Pharrell
Pharrell's set truly proved the height of sonic namedropping, with a deluge of hip-hop royalty launching just a few songs in. First Nelly appeared to kick up some superstardust rap on his 2002 hit "Hot in Herre," which Pharrell produced as part of hitmaking duo the Neptunes. Next up was a kinetic Busta Rhymes, who tore up the stage with his performance of another Neptunes joint, "Pass the Courvoisier." That was followed by a rebellious performance of "Lapdance" from Pharrell's group N.E.R.D., enhanced by a suitably bugged-out turn by Odd Future mastermind Tyler, the Creator. But when Snoop Dogg showed up to spit his two smash collaborations with Pharrell, "Beautiful" and "Drop It Like It's Hot," everything truly went to a higher level (see what we did there?) and the crowd was chanting along to every word. But that wasn't even it: He brought out Diplo for a version of Major Lazer's "Aerosol Can," then Gwen Stefani reprised "Hollaback Girl" to a mass sing-along.
Best Blue-Eyed Soul: John Newman
John Newman comes from the rich tradition of British blued-eyed soul, and his set at Coachella was an example of real excitement and reserve. Dressed in a bright white suit, Newman sang his newest U.K. single "Out of My Head" and then stopped for a long dramatic moment; then his legs buckled and he lunged across the stage in passion and agony, using the mic stand as support. Newman has already sold well over 1 million records in the U.K., and at Coachella looked determined for the work to get a few fans in the U.S. as well, looking sharp and feeling downhearted.
Best Way to Feed Short Attention Spans: Wandering
Since Coachella has six stages and acts adhere pretty closely to their posted performance times, it's totally possible to wander around and keep catching the last 10 minutes of various musicians' sets. Sure, you'll spend half your time in transit and you'll have trouble getting good sightlines. But you will get to see one alterna-hit after another: the Pixies doing "Vamos," Superchunk playing "Slack Motherfucker," MGMT busting out "Electric Feel."
Best Song Debut: A$AP Ferg
It wasn't a huge surprise that A$AP Ferg was rolling with other members of the A$AP Mob crew, but when he finished his set by bringing A$AP Rocky onstage, nobody expected they would debut a new song called "Multiply" — or that it would be an incredibly hot jam. By the end, the crowd was chanting "Even in my will/Keep it trill."