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The superstars came out on the third and final day of Southern California's Coachella festival--and really, only at Coachella would a surprise dance tent performance by a superstar like Rihanna (more on that later) not be THE most talked-about event of the day. Instead, everyone was talking about another, much more surprising superstar cameo, by Tupac. Yes, the late Tupac Shakur. In hologram form.
Tupac died in 1996, three years before the first Coachella festival took place, but that didn't stop him--or at least his bizarrely lifelike 3D image--from joining Dr. Dre onstage during Dre's much-hyped festival finale this year. Call it better gigging through technology: About halfway through Dre's 70-minute set, what appeared to be an actual shirtless Tupac appeared onstage, greeted the crowd with "What up, Coachella?"--and then traded rhymes with Dre's co-billed Coachella partner, the flesh-and-blood Snoop Dogg, on "Come With Me," "Hail Mary," and "Gangsta Party." Concertgoers at first seemed confused--the audience momentarily grew abnormally silent--and that confusion only increased when Tupac suddenly vaporized and vanished from the stage as quickly as he had materialized. All eyez were on him, so to speak, and then, POOF--'Pac was gone.
The video below contains explicit language:
Yes, it was a little weird, but it was also pretty cool (it even inspired its own Twitter account, HologramTupac, the next day). And considering how many reunion and heritage acts have played Coachella over the years, this introduction of hologram technology to the festival now opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to future Coachella comebacks. How about a hologram Beatles? Or maybe this would be the way to get the original Guns N' Roses to finally reform? You never know...
Tupac may have been the only hologram at Coachella 2012, but he certainly wasn't the only hip-hop allstar to join Dre and Snoop onstage. Non-hologram guests included Kurupt and Warren G on the "It Ain't No Fun" tribute to the late Nate Dogg (although Nate's likeness, sadly, was limited to a two-dimensional video screen); rising rapper Kendrick Lamar (who'd already played Coachella on Friday) joining Dre for their first live performance of their collaboration "The Recipe"; Wiz Khalifa on "Young, Wild & Free"; 50 Cent on "What Up Gangsta," "P.I.M.P.," and "In Da Club" with Tony Yayo; and even Eminem on "I Need A Doctor," "Forgot About Dre," and "'Til I Collapse."
However, the show was still all about the Dre/Snoop partnership--which, incredibly, marks its 20th anniversary this year. The dynamic duo performed "The Next Episode," "Kush," "Gin & Juice," "I Wanna Rock," "Nothin' But a G Thang," "What's My Name," "Drop It Like It's Hot," "Still Dre," and even bits of House Of Pain's "Jump Around" and Tupac's "California Love." And California was loving it indeed. This was a colossal closer to the Coachella weekend, and the only way to top it next year will be if a Biggie Smalls hologram shows up.
Over in the Sahara Tent earlier than evening, Rihanna made her own real-life cameo with Scottish electropop maestro Calvin Harris, her "We Found Love" collaborator. Hopping onstage for "Where Have You Been" followed by "We Found Love," RiRi rocked a teeny-tiny pair of studded short-shorts onstage, then hopped in the crowd to take photos with fans--among them one of her biggest admirers, the one and only Katy Perry.
Even earlier in the day, Rihanna had been spotted in the crowd checking out the searing set by Canadian alt-R&B buzz artist the Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye, pictured below) with her buddy, indie rapper Santigold. And Santigold's own set on the main stage was a fun and feisty romp, complete with pom-pom girls in Janelle Monae-reminiscent tuxedo/cheerleader uniforms, a furry white horse, and an onstage dance party with invited audience members, including a toddler wearing neon pink noise-protection ear muffs. After all, you're never too young to start being a Santigold fan.
Another awesome lady wowing the massive Coachella crowd was Florence Welch, whose trusty Machine churned out one gorgeous desert-drama song after another as Flo floated--almost like a hologram herself--across the Outdoor Stage floor, in bare feet and a Stevie Nicks-worthy blue velvet bodysuit created just for the occasion by London fashion designer Hannah Marshall. "Epic" is an overused adjective these days, but there really was no more fitting word to describe Florence + The Machine's performance.
A whole bunch of other awesome ladies gracing the Outdoor Stage were Wild Flag, the critically lauded supergroup of Carrie Brownstein (formerly of Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (Helium), Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, the Shins), and Rebecca Cole (the Minders). Many people now know Carrie--possibly the coolest woman on this planet (sorry, Rihanna)--as much for her hit IFC comedy sketch show "Portlandia" as they do for her music, so it was amusing when fans yelled out TV catchphrases like "put a bird on it!" as Carrie strummed away. Wild Flag's refreshing set of high energy and highly skilled musicianship hearkened back to a time in the '90s when female musicians didn't have to rely on sex appeal to get ahead--but this writer still developed a bit of a girl-crush on all four of the Flag-flying women anyway.
Another cool Coachella girl was Noelle Scaggs, the not-so-secret weapon of Fitz & The Tantrums, a Motown-style combo in a Mark Ronson/Sharon Jones/mid-period-ABC vein. The ultimate fun-in-the-sun party combo, F&TT's soul-revival revue had the Coachella crowd going crazy in the desert heat, and the onstage chemistry between Noelle and Fitz was hot indeed. And it was unclear just how these two managed to remain so cool in their groovy mod threads; despite the manic energy they put into their performance, they never let the audience see them sweat.
Fitz & The Tantrums were a Coachella breakout for sure, but another gang of mods and rockers, the Hives, were the real stars of the festival, tearing through one of the most fantastically fun sets of the entire weekend. After a five-year recording hiatus, and nine years after making their memorable Coachella debut on the same stage in the same 6pm Sunday timeslot, the Swedish garage-rockers orchestrated a triumphant comeback, assisted by stealthy ninja-costumed roadies and dressed to impress in top hats and tails. (Hilarious frontman Howlin' Pele Almqvist explained, "This is our desert camouflage; this is what Swedes wear to the desert." Okay, then.) Pele, a masterful master of ceremonies whose every quip was so brilliant, he could (and should) have recorded a live album consisting entirely of his Coachella stage banter, announced at the start of the band's set: "We are the Hives and you're not! We have returned! It's actually happening! We are not a mirage caused by too much time in the desert! This is real!"
Making multiple trips into the crowd and multiple requests for that crowd to loudly profess undying love for the Hives, Pele was a brash and unsubtle showman, but it was a shtick that worked and somehow never, ever got old. He claimed he was "the sun's closest cousin on earth. I'm genetically the closest that a human can come to being the sun." He introduced one song by saying, "This song is called 'Wait A Minute,' and you will soon see why, because we say 'wait a minute' a lot in it." He described the Hives' "Go Right Ahead" with: "Our new single is so good, it's a double." And then, the Hives finished off their set by faking an encore ("There's no time for one, so pretend we're not here, pretend we left and came back")--after which Pele proved that he still wields great power over the masses by somehow convincing every single person in the audience to sit down on the field and jump up at the same time upon his command. Coachella's packed dance tent may have been thumping and pumping all weekend, but the Hives' wild show proved that rock 'n' roll isn't dead just yet.
But perhaps the most packed tent of Coachella Sunday was the Mojave Tent around 7pm, when Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, fresh off his performance on "Saturday Night Live" just the night before, for some reason played there instead of on one of the bigger open-air stages. Gotye is responsible for the positively inescapable "Somebody That I Used To Know" (as covered on "American Idol," "Glee," "The Voice"), possibly THE song of 2012 so far--and it seemed like everyone at Coachella still wasn't tired of hearing it, and was in fact yearning to hear it from the originator himself. It remains to be seen if Gotye will be a one-hit wonder--and the Mojave Tent did empty out quite a bit when he (and guest duet partner Kimbra) dared to play "Somebody" before his set was over, instead of saving it until the very end. ("Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with the real show," Gotye joked.) But a good number of the people who did stick around seemed to be grooving to the other hippie/dubby/Gorillaz-y songs Gotye had to offer, and some of them even seemed as familiar with those songs' lyrics as they had been with "Somebody's" massive, field-wide group singalong. So maybe Gotye will get to play a bigger Coachella stage next year after all.
But before we get to next year's Coachella, there's next weekend. Yes, due to popular demand, Coachella has been expanded to TWO weekends this year, with the same three-day lineup happening all over again starting on April 20. However, no two Coachellas are alike, and weekend two is bound to be a different experience, with its own cameos and surprises. So make sure to watch this space next weekend for a fresh batch of Coachella redux reports.
(ALL PHOTOS BY DEBI DEL GRANDE, except Rihanna photo courtesy of John Shearer/WireImage)