@ZackTeibloom As a festival-goer in my early 30s, I have to pick my spots a little more carefully on what shows I’m willing to push my way to the front row for. If I’ve traveled across the country with my wife to make good on this bet of seeing the first LCD Soundsystem show after their hiatus (aside from NYC warm-up shows) I want to see “our band” from as close as possible. So what does that entail? Driving 2.5 hours from San Diego to Indio Friday morning, seeing seven bands and THEN standing from 7:55 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the M83-Ellie Goulding-LCD combo on the main stage. Caitlin and I started about 10-15 rows back during M83 moved up to the third row for Ellie Goulding and were right against the guardrail by the time LCD took the stage at 11:10 Friday night and held our ground until the last notes of “All My Friends” at 12:53 a.m. Saturday morning. There’s only so many times you can do that in one weekend.
We’d had an easier time getting front row earlier in the day for Christine and the Queens after suffering through Bob Moses. On Saturday we were happy to enjoy Gary Clark Jr. before moving up behind only the die-hard G’N’R fans with full Guns & Roses inspired back tattoos to see our favorite hip hop group, Run The Jewels. And by Sunday night, as exhausted as we were, we got close for Anderson .Paak and made our way right to the front to end our fest with Miike Snow. Not surprisingly, those eight shows we were super close for ended up being pretty much the best shows we saw all weekend. Since that’s the case, I’ll break down those eight and then give a few details about seeing G’N’R live for the first time, the N.W.A reunion and a couple other enjoyable shows we caught.
Christine and the Queens
This was honestly the best performance I’ve seen all year. Christine (Héloïse Letissier) is an incredible singer and dancer and with her exquisite dancers perfectly in sync with her, it was captivating every second she was on stage. Opening with the powerful “iT,” a song she says in live banter is about being anything you like, the self-identifying pansexual artist explores what it would be like to be a man. She struts around the stage with her belt end sticking out phallically. Later she does her beautifully haunting mash-up of Kanye’s “Heartless” with a french song to create “Paradis Perdus.” “Tilted” (above) is the show stopper. With her dancers leaping and flitting and walking on their hands back and forth across the stage, she sends the crowd into hysterics as her voice soars above the warm desert air. This was my second favorite set of the weekend, only behind LCD Soundsystem, only because I know them so much better and they played twice as long and had more moments I’ll never forget.
Something is missing in M83 with departed keyboardist and vocalist Morgan Kibby. It’s tricky, because Kaela Sinclair is a talented replacement, but for whatever reason, it’s just not the same. Even though M83 put together a spotless 11-song setlist for Coachella, with arguably the only two really good songs from the mostly poor new album, the old favorites sound almost the same, but lack the epic quality the band used to have. Some band members are pretty interchangeable and you can swap out a bassist or drummer or keyboardist without casual fans even noticing. You can’t replace a talent like Morgan Kibby. It’s still Anthony Gonzalez’s band and he and bassist Jordan Lawlor still sound very good and the band is still solid overall, but they’re no longer one of my favorites. I still enjoyed the show, but had no qualms about missing their Stubbs date the week before Coachella.
I didn’t plan on seeing Ellie from up close, but I got the same feeling from seeing her as I did with Sam Smith a couple years ago at ACL and in his guest performance this weekend. I may not connect with the music, but that’s an undeniably talented singer up there. Ellie puts on a strong show, moving around a ton in a white halter top, white shorts with lots of buckles and white boots. It’s more taking up a lot of stage space than dancing per se, but it’s still interesting to watch. She writes some good songs and really belts them. The crowd was super into it, chanting “Ellie! Ellie!” and perhaps no one was more into it than the flock of bros near Caitlin and I. These seven bros had their arms around each other in a huddle as they leapt higher and higher into the sky yelling “ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!” in each other’s faces. If you want to watch the full video of the set, I found this Russian site hosting it. Sadly, no footage of the bros. But I’ll never forget them.
It was worth the trip just to see James Murphy and LCD come back to conquer Coachella after a long five years away. As James noted, the last time they were here they opened for Jay-Z and now they were followed up by no one. As it should be. They came out firing with “Us v Them.” Indeed, “the time has come.” Then they kicked it up a notch with crowd favorite “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” But for Caitlin and I, we came to see our song and they played a beautiful rendition of “I Can Change” third and it was the highlight of the fest for me. It’s the song our local LCD cover band played in our apartment as I proposed and played at the Parish for our first dance and we finally got to hear the real thing live in the flesh with my arms wrapped around her and it was everything I hoped it would be. The setlist continued full of favorites, with an especially exceptional second half of the show from the stunning “Someone Great” to the anthemic “Losing My Edge” feeling more poignant than ever, “Home” always pulling at the heart strings, the sweet tease of “November Rain” in “New York, I Love You…” into the bombastic “Dance Yrself Clean” and the perfect cover of “Heroes” by David Bowie embedded above through the finale of “All My Friends.” It was perfection.
Gary Clark Jr.
Gary’s guitar turned into a bunch of flame emojis Saturday afternoon on the main stage. The best guitarist I saw all weekend not named Slash lit it up at his show, then guested with Run The Jewels and he relished the spotlight, taking lots of solos and melting faces in the 90 degree heat. Staying and looking cool in his smaller version of Pharrell’s hat with cool shades, and a thick beard, Gary played blues rock that doesn’t mesh with the dance-music fest vibe, but the crowd ate it up anyway. Check out the solo starting at 2:47 in the video above to see the kind of face melters Gary was dropping on us all set. He makes that perfect “this is nasty” soloing face to go along with the minute-long solo. From Austin to Montreal to Indio, I’ve yet to come across a crowd that doesn’t eat up what Gary serves.
Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels was not only invited back to Coachella in consecutive years, they were upgraded from a tent to the main stage this year. They earned their spot. Giant inflatable mummy hands in the fist and gun position were raised above the stage, a massive chain outfitted the DJ booth and their street team handed out a bunch of free red RTJ bandanas and a couple flags to the first few rows to set the scene for a RTJ takeover.
Bernie Sanders recorded an adorable intro video where he talked about the joy of getting to know Killer Mike this election season and how he’d like to get to know El-P as well. Then the duo took the stage to their usual Queen “We Are The Champions” intro before diving into RTJ1 and RTJ2 favorites and dropping a brand new, never played track “Scenes” from RTJ3. It’s great and left no doubt that RTJ3 will live up to RTJ2. DJ Shadow came out to do some great scratching on the debut of “Nobody Speak,” Gangsta Boo guested to rap her dirty part on “Love Again,” and shook her ass as Mike joked that all the guys got dirty thoughts when she did it. Nas came out to do ”
No matter how many times we see Run The Jewels, I’m still blown away by their energy, how they don’t have a bad song and how they keep it fun and fresh and inspired. Fests don’t typically have an artist back in back to back years because they fear it’ll be been there, seen that, but there’s just no limit to our appetite to Run The Jewels. I was thrilled to get a hand shake from Mike as he came to our section at the end of the show. I think I’m in love again.
This guy is immensely talented and one hell of a performer. Whether he’s rapping or playing drums or doing both at the same time, he commands all attention on him. He battled a couple sound issues gracefully, checking to make sure Coachella was still with him and making sure we were. We sure were. He brought out T.I. and proved to be just as captivating as the superstar. We were sad to miss Sia, but were having way too much fun in the tent with Paak to leave. I don’t know his material that well, but it’s easy to become a fan of his without knowing a lot going in.
“They’re telling us we gotta get off. So let’s get off together.” Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt intro’d their 8-minute epic “Animal” set and, for us, festival closer and then proceeded to blow us all away. We wanted to end our fest on a dance party and we got one. Look how smiley we are (5:02-5:05 into the video above.)
The set was a blast from beginning to end, with new songs “Genghis Khan” sounding big and important with horns as well as “Heart is Full” which was reworked for a spectacular soon to be released Mark Ronson remix. Wyatt typically used to just play keyboard and sing, but now he plays an occasional guitar and the band in general has more live instrumentation and it suits them well. The show was full of highlights like “Burial” and “Silvia” getting gorgeous renditions. The ten song setlist felt short and the show demanded a bigger stage, but what we got in the tent was exceptional and a perfect way to end an incredible weekend in the desert. Before we go, we did see a bunch of other bands, so I’ll give them a couple lines each:
Guns ‘N’ Roses – Slash really is an all-time great guitarist and is one you have to see live. Axl was a bit hampered by being in a throne, but he’s still got the pipes to nail all their classics. We stayed back for this show, only standing for the singles like “Welcome to The Jungle” and a Macca cover of “Live and Let Die.” Both sounded great, and while we enjoyed it, we headed back before midnight and heard a few favorites like “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Paradise City” either in our walk back or from the comfort of our tent on a chilly night. It was a good show and I’m certainly glad we saw them, but it was a cold night and we’d seen a full hour of G’N’R and that was enough for us casual fans.
Ice Cube – There was a lot of gushing over this performance, but we were pretty meh on it. We loved Straight Outta Compton and enjoy a couple Cube singles, but they forgot about Dre. MC Ren and DJ Yella didn’t do much for me and while it was fun to hear “Fuck The Police,” and a nice Snoop cameo, we saw better Snoop in 2012. That hologram hip hop show was worlds better than this.
The 1975 – Sometimes I found them to be fun and poppy, sometimes I found the lead singer incredibly off-putting and their slow songs to be dull. I get why they’re so popular, but they didn’t do too much for me. I didn’t want to leave their show early, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see them again.
Kamasi Washington – Andy and Big Bri insisted we see them and I’m glad they did. Arguably the most talented group of musicians we saw all weekend, this jazz saxophonist and this band wow’d us on Sunday afternoon. Kamasi kept the banter funny with lines like “You might wonder why i have two drummers. Well. I got two homies who play drums” and “I met this dude at my 3rd birthday party. We had a drum off. Annnd now that’s why i play sax.” It’s surprising a jazz band playing nearly 10 minute jams was on this bill, but it was undeniable that it worked. They were cool, funky and oozing talent at every instrument. I don’t know what else to say about a great jazz band, since it’s not really my genre, but even if it’s not your thing, I don’t know who wouldn’t dig it.
Wolf Alice – This British rock band really did it for us. Lead singer Ellie Rowsell was my favorite Ellie of the weekend and the 2016 “Best Live Band” winner of the 2016 NME awards is ready to break bigger in the U.S.
Courtney Barnett – This Australian rock star is already big in the U.S, being robbed of best new artist Grammy but getting love wherever she plays. The band sounded great Saturday early evening on a big stage, taking those big left handed guitar strums and getting the crowd jumping around. She has a line, “Put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you.” I don’t think she will.
Meg Myers – Sounds a lot like a young Alanis Morisette. I mean this as a compliment. Check her out.
Mavis Staples – Mavis was the first act we saw of the weekend and she set the tone for us. She was charming, urged us to love each other and be peaceful and though she seemed a bit overwhelmed with how the festival worked (she thought her bassist was making the thumping noise coming from another stage) she was a hoot. She noted that there were chandelier’s in the tent, then said it made her want to sing that song, she started singing Sia and then said she better stop or that little girl would come after her. Someone from the crowd threw her a bouquet of flowers and a card. We all should have. Love you, Mavis.