By Zachary Kaczmarek
Friday, Day 1
The Shouting Matches
The weekend started off with a throwback type of bang, when Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon’s sideproject took the stage in the Gobi tent Friday afternoon. Most fans who know Vernon’s music with Bon Iver were in for quite a different pace when the band ripped into their first song of their bluesy and gritty set. Vernon left his soft folk style vocals at home and favored a more energized rock n roll approach. It was quite a treat for any fan of Vernon’s, and even for folks who appreciated the genuine sound of old time blues rock.
Every year fans who attend Coachella have high hopes that The Smiths will reunite one last time to headline, and every year it never comes close to becoming a reality. But after the band turned down 5 million dollars this past year to headline both weekends, crazed fans were willing to settle for former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Before the set even started older fans who grew up listening to The Smiths, and even a good chunk of younger attendees, crowded around the stage in the Mojave to get a good view of Marr. When he finally walked on stage with a rose in his mouth the entire tent erupted with screaming and applause for the old Brit rocker. His style and sound was more 60s British Invasion, which provided a high energy set, as opposed to the 80s style that The Smiths were known for. Midway through his set he gave the fans what they wanted, playing The Smiths “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before”, before later playing one of their bigger hits, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, and finally closing his set with the well known track “How Soon Is Now?” Fans in the crowd could have closed their eyes and imagined it was Morrisey singing because his vocals were so sharp. It was the perfect ending to a legendary performance by Marr, who proved that hes still a rock star.
One of Friday’s most energetic sets, courtesy of the Canadian rock duo Japandroids, had people in the crowd moshing and headbanging like there was no tomorrow. During their 50 minute set they held nothing back, thrashing around as they played newer songs from their sophomore album and older tracks that the die hard fans were shouting out. Their punk garage rock style was fresh and kept the packed Gobi tent engaged throughout.
It was a sight that had to be witnessed to be believed, as the duo never showed signs of exhaustion from exerting so much energy and played just as intense to close out the show as they had when it began. During the final song a true punk moment took place as guitarist Brian King climbed up on an amp next to drummer David Prowse’s drum kit, as the two put every ounce of energy into finishing with a fierce exclamation point.
Considering all the hype and attention that the British indie rock act has received over the past year, its no surprise that the crowd for Alt-J was spilling out of the Mojave tent on all sides as some fans even resorted to standing in the warm sun, watching from afar. They brought a very entertaining level of energy that got the entire audience moving around and swaying back and forth, as they played tracks off their debut album. It was a quite a feat that the band was able to reproduce their sound live, with all the complex harmonized vocals and layers of instrumentation. Their execution was so crisp and in sync, especially during “Breezeblocks” with the harmonious singing of the line “please don’t go please don’t go, I love you so I love you so”. Alt-J’s performance lived up to the praise that they have received as their live amazing studio recordings were even more breathtaking in person.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs didn’t disappoint on the main stage Friday night, putting on a show that was filled with dramatic antics from Karen O. and top notch musicianship from guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase. During their set they broke out all the essential songs from different points throughout their career, such as “Gold Lion”, “Zero”, and some new songs like”Mosquito”. But the moment that will forever remain in the minds of those who watched was when the band played their timeless hit from a decade ago, “Maps”. Before Karen O. started singing she got a little bit choked up and said “this is going to be very emotional”. When she sang the chorus line “wait, they don’t love you like I love you”, a large portion of the crowd sang along and others simply looked on in awe. To close out their set they went out in a blaze of glory with the electro rock anthem, “Off With Your Head”, during which giant eyeballs were released into the crowd and everyone in the audience for a moment “danced till they were dead”, as the song goes.
How to Destroy Angels
One of the final sets on Friday night, which took place in the Mojave tent, belonged to Trent Reznor and his new side project that he formed with his wife Mariqueen Maandig. The visual setup, which was composed of curtains of clear fiber strand that colors were projected onto, concealed the band and offered nothing more than a sillhoute when the set first started. As the show progressed some light was shed on the faces of Reznor and Maandig, and the curtains rotated before parting and revealing all members of the group. Maandigs vocals were beautiful and very eerie, as were Reznor’s when the two would harmonize. Halfway through their performance blinding strobes that were behind the group flashes an array of different colors, as the group really got into an industrial inspired groove. As they played one of their final songs, “The Loop Closes”, the curtains of light closed and the stage went dark, before Reznor and the gang thanked everyone for showing up.
Saturday, Day 2
Not many acts displayed the level of pure rage and ferociousness that Trash Talk unleashed during their noon set on Saturday. Their fast paced dingy style of hardcore thrash provided a nice change a pace, and one of the more intense mosh pits for the hardcore fans to take part in. Singer Lee Spielman immediately engaged the crowd by climbing off the stage and doing most of his screaming and flailing around in the middle of the crowd. There was even a star sighting, as Blake Anderson of the Comedy Central show Workaholics, left the vip area during the final three songs to get involved in the mosh pit. For their finale, Spielman demanded that the as many people as possible hop the railing and climb into the railed off vip area in front of the stage. A massive storm of fans moshing around then ensued, and when the band had finally finished all who had gotten up early and dealt with the melting heat were satisfied with what they had just witnessed.
El-P was just one of the many underground rappers at Coachella this year, who bring a different style that isn’t found on the radio or talked about in the mainstream. The energy and intensity that he brought engaged fans and also those who showed up to see what all the buzz was about. The fact that he had a complete supporting band behind him made the experience much more interesting than most rappers who simply have a DJ press play. MIdway through his set he blew everyone away with a politically charged freestyle acapella, that was nearly two minutes long, which showcased his ability to spit out rhymes without a beat to back him up. Soon after that fellow rapper Danny Brown made an appearance for a song and the crowd gave a great deal of applause to their chemistry to trade rhymes back and forth. At the end of his set El-P had impressed many of his die hard fans who camped out in front of the stage as well as newcomers that will surely become fans in the future.
A couple hours after the sun had gone down, Jason Pierce took his spacey soul rock group on stage and put on one of the most memorable performances of weekend 2. The music combined with amazing visual displays of looped videos like outer space or the ocean on the screen behind him made it more of a complete experience, than just another concert. The two singers that he brought to back him up during certain choruses and verses added another layer of depth, especially to older songs that didn’t originally have that type of harmonization. By the end of his set Pierce had taken the crowd on a rock n roll journey that they won’t soon forget.
The xx were one of the more highly anticipated sets of this years festival, and they had a lot to prove to those who didn’t think that the band was deserving of a main stage sub headliner slot. Although they didn’t employ expensive or mind blowing lights, their performance was captivating. They provided deeply emotional songs with Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim trading lyrics back and forth, almost like a conversation between two individuals. The real x factor that gave Croft and Sim a groove to work with was the third member of the group, DJ Jamie xx. His samples, beats and percussion lifted the songs to another level and allowed such powerful songs to function as subtle pop songs. Towards the end of their set Croft acknowledged that this was a big step for the band, having played Coachella three years ago, and making a giant leap from an afternoon slot on the Outdoor stage to set on the main right before Saturday’s headliner Phoenix in just a matter of two album releases. The slot was deserved for the trio, and they did not squander their opportunity, delivering a performance that not many other bands topped over the course of the weekend.
Sigur Ros, the Icelandic post-rock group, had high expectations this year, receiving a lot of attention for their loud, but yet beautiful performances. When they took the Outdoor stage to close out the night fans were not disappointed, as the band had it all figured out. There was a screen behind the band projecting eerie and fascinating videos, a full orchestra complete with violins and horns, and frontman Jonsi Birgisson was on key with his otherworldly falsetto and his impressive guitar playing style with his cello bow. The transitions from slow and soft to a chaotic storm of emotion during all their songs was flawless. They put this ability to bring a quiet intro to a loud crashing halt to close out their set, before drummer Orri Dyrason knocked his drum kit over as the band walked off the stage. But they returned one last time for a humble bow before the crowd, which really spoke volumes about their commitment to putting on a fantastic show.
Sunday, Day 3
The muddy blues rock duo known as Deap Vally took the stage at noon of the final day, and they brought their A-game for all the loyal fans of old school rock n roll who showed up. Guitarist and singer Lindsey Troy was fierce with howls that could go toe to toe with any of the legendary vocalists in rock n roll, and riffs that were so gritty and laden with fuzz. Drummer Julie Edwards was hitting all her drum fills like she had a grudge against her drum kit, making it look easy to display that much passion. The duo played a shorter set than most acts, but it was a set that felt peeled out right from the start and never slowed down to let the crowd catch their breath.
One of the most power packed, artsy, and well executed sets during the course of the three days in the desert, was held in a tightly packed shoulder to shoulder Gobi tent by the one woman indie pop act, Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes. During her hour set she put on display every talent that she possesses whether it was creating and looping her own synth and beats, to dancing around on stage, or hitting an unbelievably angelic falsetto, Grimes did it all. She drew on industrial samples for older tracks from her first two albums, and played her most recent songs like “Oblivion” and “Genesis”, which were dark dream pop jams that had the entire tent dancing. She even elevated the show to another level by having dancers who were dressed up move around on stage, and during a few tracks she let out some wild screams into the mic before adding echo and delay effects over them. It was an astonishing performance that was equal parts dj set, pop show, and ethereal art performance.
The old school noise rockers known as Dinosaur Jr. rocked the Outdoor stage to fans of all ages. They played nearly every essential song that chronicled their long and successful career. Frontman J. Mascis blew the crowd away with his squeally fuzz tone solos that he has perfected over the past three decades. It was a performance that may have felt like just another jam session to the three men rocking on stage, but from a crowd perspective it was something that takes years of experience to excel at.
Not many sets possessed the “once in a lifetime” atmosphere that Rodriguez’s performance had as the sun went down on the final day. His career that never seemed to take off back in the 70s, received the proper recognition from fans who packed the Gobi to see the psych folk rocker. Rodriguez’s stage presence was one of a legendary artist who was born to play concerts, and his vocals and guitar work seemed to have never left his side during the years in which he stopped making music. It was like watching a mystical timeless figure display his craft, as the 70 year old commanded the audience with his rough around the edges songs packed with emotion from a lifetime of wisdom. When he had wrapped up the set, he took not one bow, but three, and the crowd gave him a lifetime worth of applause as he was helped off the stage.
The quirky indie prep rock group has finally arrived after five years of wowing fans with their off beat timings and uptempo, slightly punk edge. Their main stage set had quite an elegant feel to it, with a giant mirror hanging above, surrounded by three white pillars one each side. Over the course of their set they played every essential tune that has gained them such a large following, from both of their previous acclaimed albums, and a few brand new songs that fans were delighted to hear. Ezra Koenig had such charisma while he was up on stage hitting notes of octaves high and low. After their show had come to an end, they played the classic song “Walcott” which was fitting as Koenig pointed out, because its a song about getting out of town, which they would soon do after leaving the crowd wanting more.
Wu Tang Clan
The famous Wu Tang Clan have had a lot of ups and downs since they burst onto the scene in the early 90s, but they have persevered and they left a new memory for all the fans who would have given anything to see a fully reunited lineup which included RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Red Man, Raekwon, and GZA. Their timing in delivering rhymes was just like it was when they were at the pinnacle of rap, as they performed the best of their tracks from the classic album, Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers, which turned 20 years old this year. The entire crowd was enjoying the performance and it had the ultimate party vibe no matter where you looked. There were even Wu Tang beach balls thrown into the crowd during the middle of the set. As the night was coming to a close for the historic rap group, they did a really touching tribute to the late Old Dirty Bastard. It was a performance that had everything a fan of Wu Tang or rap could ask for.
Until Next year!
Sahara tent, Sunday night during Eric Prydz DJ set.