For two weekends every year now, the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA has not only become a musical festival but a trendy mecca for the H & M/American Apparel/Urban Outfitter sect with as Win Butler from the Arcade Fire confessed – “I just want to say that there’s a lot of fake VIP room bullshit happening at this festival, and sometimes people dream of being there – but it super sucks in there, so don’t worry about it.”
Instead of getting dirty in the dust-storms, it’s a fashonista oasis where somehow Motorhead and The Replacements got invited to the party. All funny truths aside, there were still 90,000 fans a day that came to see a couple of hundred musical acts (and nearly as many special guest stars). From Muse, Skrillex, Arcade Fire, and Pharrell Williams to the smaller stage bands we heard below, here are some of the highlights from weekend one.
In a cool, dark tent, dripping with chandeliers, a mass of old folks in beige sun hats half-filled the premises, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion took the stage and in a matter of minutes Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied,” which was making its way all the way from the main stage, was drowned out completely. Being formed in the 90s, their zeal was surprising. They surpassed many of the younger acts in that area of the event. Their sound was reflective of the Rolling Stones’ early blues-rock or Elvis, but there was something more to them. Blues Explosion had a punk rock soul. With their hollers and jammed out guitar riffs, they were edgy despite age. The yelps were rather piercing however, but that seemed more to do with sound system issues. They were comfortable on stage, often throwing in banter within songs that fit so well that it could have been interchangeable with lyrics. One example was Spencer’s repetition of the semi-ambiguous phrase, “Who’s ready to do it?”
Outdoor Theater-8:45 P.M.
The Replacements strutted onto the Outdoor Stage. Paul Westerberg greeted the crowed: “Well hello! There’s been a lot of good music here today. Let’s put a fucking stop to that right now!” They opened with “Takin’ a Ride.” Their background was simple but classic, just white lights and fog. They really didn’t need anything else. Their presence was so unique, so lax, and their genre of post-punk was just what everyone wanted. Having been known in their earlier years as a band whose live shows were rather raw and unhinged, their Coachella set was comparatively solid with a casual demeanor and only minor lyrical slip ups. For example, they would burst into “Favorite Thing” only to interrupt themselves midway for Westerberg to proclaim: “Anyway I had to quit doing yoga cause the lighter in my pocket was giving me a bruise.”
Bassist, Tommy Stinson, turned to the crowd and commented, “Kinda dry out here. You guys need any water?” But the crowd didn’t get any water, instead the band gave them “Color Me Impressed” which was satisfying, even if not very thirst quenching. The mellow, crowd-hummed “Androgynous” was particularly raw and beautiful. After Westerberg asked, “Would you rather hear ‘Psychopharmacology’ or ‘I’ll Be You?’” The verdict was “I’ll Be You.” Things picked up speed and the few youngsters in the audience formed a swarming circle-pit in the center of the crowd. Later, so as to not leave anyone out, Westerberg then said, “Were gonna do a song about drugs” They played “Psychopharmacology.” The band members smirked as they pulled flowers out of their sleeves and forgot lyrics. To everyone’s disappointment, they mentioned that their next song would be the last of the set as they played “Alex Chilton.” The disappointment was short lived, and replaced by cheers as Westerberg jokingly mimicked smashing his guitar and then went into “Can’t Hardly Wait.” They closed their set with a crowd-pleasing version of “Bastards of Young.”
Mojave- 9:15 P.M.
Due to some scheduling overlap, those who watched The Replacements were only able to catch the last 20 minutes of Bryan Ferry’s set. The night winds whipped at the performers as The Roxy Music singer/songwriter, with his large band and black and gold fringed backup singers, played songs like Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” as well as some of Ferry’s covers from his solo days like Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” The songs were 70’s art rock perfection.
Coachella Stage- 11:30 P.M.
OutKast’s crowd was massive. From a semi obscured stage a voice boomed out: “Make some mother fuckin’ noise!” André 3000 and Big Boi formed the Georgia-based funk, soul, hip hop group in the 90s, and after a long hiatus to pursue solo careers, the pair came together for Coachella to celebrate their 20th anniversary. It seemed like every attendee at the festival showed up to see their performance, even the giant, moving astronaut art piece with the moving fingers drifted around during their set. OutKast opened with “B.O.B.” The crowd’s reaction was tremendous. People were dancing all the way to the back and even on the outskirts. It was like one giant pool party… at night… nowhere near water. During “ATliens” they would sing “Now throw your hands in the air/ And wave ’em like you just don’t care/And if you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit/ Everybody let me hear you say — ” and the crowd would scream “OH YEA YER!” They played “GhettoMusick,” which featured some great speed rapping accompanied by an abundance of ass-related images. Then they brought out special guest, Janelle Monae, and covered her song “Tightrope.” She proclaimed afterward, “This is my favorite group in the entire world and what we are witnessing tonight is history!” With another holler of “Coachella! Make some mother fuckin’ noise!” they went into the spacey, dreamy “Prototype.” Their songs were fun but also sensuous and this seemed to cause a lot of couples (or make-shift couples) to gather.
André 3000 shouted out: “I’m gonna ask you a serious question. I want y’all to be honest with me. How many bitches we got here?” before going into “Behold A Lady,” They followed that saying, “Speaking of bitches and hoes…” and then bursting into “Roses.” They brought out Future and played a few of his songs such as “Same Damn Time” and “Ain’t No Way Around It.” Going back to OutKast material, the duo played “Elevators (Me & You),” “Mrs. Jackson” with a fade into “So Fresh and So Clean” and “The Way You Move.” They ended with “Hey Ya,” though not intentionally. They had brought out Killer Mike to do one last song with them, but their time was up and the festival cut off the sound to their set.
Outdoor Theater -1:45 P.M.
There was a small crowd gathering around the Outdoor stage to see the classic rock infused, tempo-shifting, pop-experimental band Foxygen. Four guys who looked like girls took the stage with their three sassy-looking backup singers. Sam France slithered over to the mic with his skeleton body, silver shiny jeans, colored strips of dyed hair, and dark lipstick. The mic was not loud enough when they started, but after the first song that was fixed. There was a lot of spinning and ass shaking from France who was definitely doing a good job of convincing the audience that he was tripping on something. During “On Blue Mountain” there were thrusts and shakes reminiscent of Mick Jagger. The performance, coupled with the 70’s inspired music, could easily transport one into some Velvet Goldmine fantasy.
Co-founder and keyboardist, Jonathan Rado’s commentary was strikingly normal in comparison to the rest of the show. He would say stuff like, “It’s really hot up here” or ask the audience what they had for lunch. Then France would chime in with his falsetto “hello! Thank you so much for coming!” and by the end of “Shuggie” he would no longer be wearing a shirt. He may have had the moves like Jagger, but he had the body like Iggy Pop. With a wide-eyed expression that can most simply be described as freaky, France launched his band into “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.” His voice was incredible— at times sounding as if he is literally imitating Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison. After a sped up outro of “San Francisco,” France blew kisses out to his audience. The last song performed by Foxygen was “Teenage Alien Blues,” which was fitting because there was something very spacey and unusual about this young, intriguing band.
Outdoor Theater -2:55 P.M.
Just by drifting past Ty Segall, it was striking how loud it was. His albums usually consist of a sort of lofi garage rock, but the live show was straight up punk. Segall seemed very concerned with the health of his crowd; He would throw out helpful reminders such as, “Is everyone being safe out there?” and “Make sure to drink lots of water today!” They played a few new songs one of which was called “Tall Man Skinny Lady” and another that had a hint of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” called “Feel.”
Coachella Stage -7:05 P.M.
Suspense grew as a booming radio voice announced MGMT’s impending arrival. They entered, singer Andrew Vanwyngarden gave a mild “hello” to the large crowd, and it was off into “Weekend Wars.” As the song built up the bass reverberated through the ground, sending vibrations into the bodies of the dancing crowd where it resonated in their chests. The visuals were enthralling— trippy images, colors, globs, and geometric designs. There was also a good balance between new and old material.
During “Kids” the band segued into a retro dance club keyboard beat. There were plenty of girls on the tops of shoulders and everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves despite the ominous grey storm of dust that had kicked up in the valley and was blocking out what would have otherwise been a beautiful sunset. MGMT finished their well received electronic tangent and went back into “Kids” to wrap the song up. They played the daisy chain reminiscent, Faine Jade cover, “Introspection,” off of their most recent album, MGMT, during which Vanwyngarden sauntered around the stage projecting live images of the band and crowd onto the screen. At one point he even sprawled out on his back, legs crossed lackadaisically, while he played with the camera. They ended with “Electric Feel” and an utterly jammed out guitar solo from guitarist James Richardson.
Mojave -8:50 P.M.
The Pixies were so cordial as they walked on stage. They all stood in a line smiling, received their applause and positioned themselves at their respective instruments. They opened with “Bone Machine” and followed that with “Wave of Mutilation.” The crowd was a pleasant mix of old and young. The band performed a heavy rendition of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” “Gouge Away” got everyone jumping but it wasn’t until a rowdy “Crackity Jones” that the mosh pit really started. Black Francis said next to nothing, but due to this, Pixies were able to get through more songs than most bands. “Where Is My Mind” ended with the crowd singing unprompted backup vocals. “Vamos” was the final song, during which Joey Santiago showcased some of his guitar skills as he played his guitar upside down, then backwards, practically strangled it, and then unplugged it to manipulate the feedback. The show ended the way it started, complete with waves, smiles and bows.
Gobi- 6:25 P.M.
The crowd was dancing before AlunaGeorge was even on the stage. They opened with “Attracting Flies”, but from the beginning it was clear something was off. The lyrics and the drums just didn’t seem to line up, and the bass was wimpy at best. Aluna Francis’ was clearly a good performer, even if the nerves in her voice were a bit audible. She played it off cooly however, addressing the crowd with a ripply British “Coachella!” The crowd of the mildly intoxicated did not seem to notice the absence of bass and synchronization as they danced happily to the music that was, without these elements, nothing more than the flatlining of semi soulful pop.
By the time they played “White Noise,” a Disclosure track that features AlunaGeorge, the sound was much tighter. People quickly streamed in upon hearing the song. Francis called out to them, “Everybody!” and the crowd followed her lead as she jumped to the beat that was now pleasantly on time. She stopped to comment on how beautiful the setting sun was and then went into the bouncy and playful little number “Lost & Found.” Then the band played a cover Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” featured on their album Body Music. The elusive bass finally emerged half way through “You Know You Like It.” They ended with the glossy, trance-hop of “Your Drums, Your Love.” Francis bubbled out “Love you guys! Have a good night!” and walked out as the song finished playing.
Outdoor Theater- 8:15 P.M.
In a short, red, flowing dress, with her mass of dark brown curls and thick black lashes, Lana Del Rey appeared to her packed crowd. She started with “Cola.” Her honeysuckle voice was dark at times but with an opera flare. After the song she sighed “Ok, well, shit. Finally back in the USA… but I can’t tell you how right it feels to be here.” “Body Electric” was next and a montage of black and white pictures, religious images, and flowers filled the back screen. Lana Del Rey exuded a confidence, indifference, and sensuality all at the same time. Her range was impressive, hitting every note and producing astounding soulful solos. She performed a new song called “West Coast” off of her new album Ultraviolence. It had the same dark, sexy appeal as her previous songs but was more rock oriented.
After “Born To Die” she complimented the audience whispering in her sultry way, “Your energy is so so good.” Then she inquired, “Am I allowed to smoke on stage?” She went off to the side of the stage where a someone lit a cigarette for her. She prowled back, divulging, “I can’t think if I can’t smoke.” Then she crooned, “Summertime?” During “Summertime Sadness” she thrust the mic an arms length away so that the crowd could sing while she took a long drag of her cigarette. It was a show was both glamorous and dark.
Coachella Stage- 8:55 P.M.
Beck’s show was a lively reminiscence of glory days as well as a short sample of the artist’s future directions. He picked songs that fit the festival scene perfectly. He played “Devil’s Haircut,” followed by “Loser” as he gallivanted around the stage, actually looking like he was perhaps enjoying himself. He played “Black Tambourine” and “Think I’m In Love.” Beck told the audience “This is a song called ‘Gamma Ray.’ We’ve got a new version of it.” It seemed faster, more electronic and more energetic. He made a lot of connections. He referenced the full moon in the sky and then played the pretty, folky “Blue Moon” off of his new album Morning Phase. “This is for the end of the weekend,” he muttered right before playing “The Golden Age.” With the lyrics of the song being “Feel the moonlight on your skin/ Let the desert wind cool your aching head,” there is no doubt that they were quite fitting to the mood of many of the festival goers. He then went directly into the danceable and fun “Girl.” He even through in the funk, soul song, “Debra,” off of Midnite Vultures. No fan of Beck could possibly be disappointed with this performance.