(photo courtesy of Spin)
Day two of Indio, California’s Coachella music festival was basically “Cameochella,” featuring an array of surprise appearances by everyone from a triumphant and defiant Kesha, to a mini-N.W.A reunion, to even a virtual Bernie Sanders. But perhaps no cameo was as shocking as when schoolboy-suited axeman Angus Young pranced out during Guns N’ Roses’ main stage reunion set to perform AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Riff Raff” – with GNR’s Axl Rose on impressively screechy lead vocals.
Perhaps this cameo wasn’t all that surprising. In retrospect, a seemingly oddly timed Saturday evening announcement only three hours before GNR played Coachella, confirming rumors that Rose will be filling in for AC/DC singer Brian Johnson on tour, should have been a tipoff. What was surprising was just how fantastically this collaboration worked. The many skeptics who previously balked at the concept of “Axl/DC” were instantly proven wrong by this thrilling two-song preview.
“Since I can’t run around for you, we’re going to bring out a friend to put a little life into things for us. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Angus Young!” an obviously excited Rose announced, sitting on the throne he famously borrowed Dave Grohl with his still-broken foot propped up in a cast. Suffice to say, even if Rose’s foot isn’t healed by the time he joins AC/DC for the remainder of their Rock or Bust trek starting May 7, this will clearly be a must-see tour. Rose, a longtime massive AC/DC fan, sounded perfect in this role.
The most powerful Coachella cameo, however, was a much quieter and simpler one, by Kesha. Following her harrowing (and ultimately unsuccessful) legal battle with producer and label head Dr. Luke, whom she has accused of sexual and mental abuse, Kesha let the lyrics of Zedd’s “True Colors” convey her message when she joined the superstar DJ on the Outdoor stage. (Earlier this year, Zedd expressed sympathy and support for Kesha on Twitter, and offered to collaborate with her.)
“Something tells me, I know nothing at all/We’ve escaped our capture/Yet we have our masters/And somehow it’s like I’ve waited/All my life, one page at a time/I’ll show you my true colors/No, I won’t apologize for the fire in my eyes/Let me show you my true colors/It ain’t no rainbow,” an emotional, black-clad Kesha belted passionately, while supportive fans wildly cheered her on.
Guns N’ Roses weren’t the only ‘80s legends that reunited at Coachella Saturday, by the way. Fresh off N.W.A’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last week (where N.W.A did not perform), Ice Cube brought out his seminal group’s members MC Ren and DJ Yella to “give everybody a little history lesson on Ice Cube, N.W.A, Westside Connection, everything I’ve been doing over the years.” Ren and Yella joined Cube for "Straight Outta Compton” and “F— Tha Police” (with thousands of assembled concertgoers raising their middle fingers in unison), after which Cube shouted, “Rest in peace, Eazy-E!”
While N.W.A’s Dr. Dre was missing in action (as was a rumored Eazy-E hologram), the delighted audience didn’t seem to mind. There were more cameos to come, anyway. Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who played Cube in the Straight Outta Compton biopic, performed on “Dopeman.” Then Cube’s former rival Common joined in for “Real People,” off the just-released Barbershop soundtrack. (“A long time ago, we used to have a beef, but we got over that s—, like real men do, and now we have nothing but love,” Cube explained.) And finally, Snoop Dogg showed up on a glittery tricycle for "The Next Episode” and “Go to Church,” before a big group finale of “It Was a Good Day.”
Saturday was a good day indeed for N.W.A fans. (Video below contains profanity)
Incidentally, across the field in the Sahara Tent Saturday night, electronic artist ZHU brought out another superstar hip-hop group, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. While Bone Thugs actually once performed with an Eazy-E hologram at Rock the Bells back in 2013, the virtual Eazy was a no-show at this Coachella 2016 set as well.
Another all-star rap collective, Run the Jewels featuring El-P and Killer Mike, brought out their own special guests Saturday. Along with unbilled onstage appearances by Nas, DJ Shadow, Gary Clark Jr., and Gangsta Boo, RTJ’s set was introduced – via video message – by none other than Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Killer Mike has long been one of Sanders’s most vocal celebrity supporters.)
“One of the highlights of running for President over this past year has been getting to know Killer Mike,” Sanders announced. “His depth of passion, his knowledge, and commitment to community is an inspiration to me, and I value his friendship immensely… El-P, keep up the great work, and let’s get to know each other better in the months to come. By the way, I thought the least I could do for both of you was to help you out by bringing a few young people together. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce my friends, Run the Jewels!”
Not to be outdone, elsewhere on Saturday the U.K. DJ duo Disclosure brought out collaborators Lorde and Sam Smith (the former on recent single “Magnets,” the latter for “Omen” and “Latch”); pop starlet Halsey was joined by Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie for a surprise mashup of her “New Americana” with Panic!’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”; and electropop goddess Grimes (whose stage set featured Bernie Sanders-themed animation) dueted with Janelle Monae on a feisty, dancetastic rendition of their Art Angels track “Venus Fly.”
It should be noted that Grimes, Janelle, Kesha, Halsey, and Lorde weren’t the only women ruling Coachella day two: Saturday also featured stellar sets by Bat for Lashes (aka Natasha Khan), Courtney Barnett, Zella Day, CHRVCHES, AlunaGeorge, and SZA. And Guns N’ Roses weren’t the only old-school rockers representing, either: Punk vets the Damned also wowed on the Gobi Tent stage, with the band’s irrepressible Captain Sensible cheekily telling the crowd, “We may be old, but we can still f—ing rock” and justifiably bashing Rolling Stone for not including the Damned on the magazine’s Top Punk Albums list, before signing off triumphantly with “punk’s not dead!”