For the first time in Coachella history, the sprawling, heat stroke-inducing festival based in the Southern California desert made the initially insane-sounding decision to make the event even bigger: Clone itself to add a second, identically lined-up weekend. Giving the artists a chance to improve upon their first weekend performances, some took the opportunity to make tributes to the great loss of legendary rock drummer and vocalist Levon Helm of The Band. Most notably was a surprise appearance by John Fogerty during the Black Keys' set!
Midway through their blues-rock performance, lead singer Dan Auerbach spoke about Helm's passing and introduced the audience to the venerable John Fogerty. But when the lustrously bronzed and coiffed Creedence Clearwater Revival musician came out on stage, there was nary a cheer from the mostly young Black Keys fans. The sounds of "Who The F**k Is John Fogerty" Tumblrs being made echoed throughout the audience, with one Keys fan asking in earnest, "Did he say Josh Groban?" But the Black Keys and Fogerty were not to be dismayed, launching into a touching cover of one of the Band's most recognized songs, "The Weight." Unfortunately when Auerbach and Fogerty came together to share a mic, the mic cut out, putting a bit of a damper on the tribute to Helm, but nonetheless the performance was hugely moving.
Levon Helm tributes came in throughout the day, with indie rock band Dawes doing a cover of the Band's "The Night They Drive Old Dixie Down." Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith told their audience, "Yesterday was a sad day for bands like us. We had to get that one out there." While the influence of Helm's era is apparent with bands like Dawes, even bands that seem to scoff at the roots rock sound recognized Helm's effect on music. Swedish post-punk/hardcore deities Refused had "Levon Helm R.I.P." taped to their kick drum for their headlining set at the Outdoor stage. Even after having the incredible fortune of seeing Refused at their first American tour date in 14 years last week at the Glasshouse in Pomona, CA, this journalist was still swooning through the screaming, kicking, moshing set. Lead singer Dennis Lyxzén took a few moments between songs to address the most pressing questions about the band's long-awaited return. "We were alienated punks looking at a dystopian world, so we wrote angry songs about what we saw," said. "People asked how I felt revisiting these songs as a 40-year-old man, if I still believed them… but I can tell you holy f**k I was right!" The singer also made jabs at the other acts, saying "There are not many bands like us out there, a lot of people with laptops," as fellow Swedes Swedish House Mafia boomed from the neighboring stage. With moves like Jagger—and Bowie and Tyler and Brown—Lyxzén gave swagger a new kingpin, stood triumphantly atop some lucky audience members as he had in previous sets, and put on a show that had this journalist buying her fourth and fifth Refused t-shirt in the past ten days.
Straight from opening Refused's Glasshouse show, post-apocalyptic hip-hop group Death Grips may be heralding a whole new musical movement, infusing rap with horror-core that is in no way related to the unfortunate likes of Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit. Namely, their music is genuinely terrifying in a very, very good way. Grips lead MC Ride (né Stefan Burnett) has the presence of a possessed Tupac in tight pants, screaming and rhyming with a fervor that lambasted the rest of the festival from their small tent. Equipped with a dj and drummer, their erratic rhythms and nightmarish videos create an image that far surpasses the comparatively adolescent disturbances that Tyler the Creator and Odd Future champion. I'm talking a too-real-life, padded-walled psych ward, physical-threat-to-themselves-and-those-around-them brand of insanity. Like the thrill of cheating death, Death Grips is an experience well worth facing your fears.
On the other side of the emotional spectrum is Odd Future cohort Frank Ocean. His downtempo, yet still a little twisted R&B sounds garnered attention from superstars Beyoncé and Kanye West, having even worked as a ghost writer for Justin Bieber and John Legend before going solo. With very little on-stage mobility, Ocean's tent was nonetheless packed as he regaled the audience with his impressive falsetto and chill vibes, saying the performance was only his seventh ever. Performing his critically acclaimed singles "Swim Good" and "Novacane" along with his version of Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing," Ocean's long pauses and slow starts throughout the set could likely have been due to that particular day's date: 4/20.
Back on the main stage, 90s Britpop king Jarvis Cocker seemed fascinated with the idea of 420, the annual day that celebrates marijuana. The still-lanky Pulp singer said he had only heard of it the day before as the stage filled with smoke. Cocker quipped, "You thought this was dry ice, you're so wrong," then dedicated their drug-inspired song "Sorted for E's & Wizz" to stoners everywhere as appropriately green lasers flooded over the crowd. Whether or not you're a Pulp devotee, the show still gave goose bumps just knowing that the band had returned to America for the first time since the 90s (also perhaps why they didn't know about 420 until this week). Cocker got into the same antics as last week, hovering over the audience with a camera attached to a flashlight and recounting steamy, drugstore romance novel-worthy stories of illicit affairs and unrequited love. Even with being aware of what to expect, it was thrilling for me personally to see the band whose songs were always played in the mod clubs that I heavily frequented in my own angsty teen years.
Across the way, Texas natives Explosions in the Sky brought their own natural high with another stunning set of transcendent instrumentals. With a clear, starry sky as the perfect setting, the cinematic rock outfit had the audience entranced as much as a band ever could. Preceding Explosions, 90s shoegaze/dream pop/alt-rock band Mazzy Star seemed dwarfed in the festival cacophony, with lead singer Hope Sandoval's voice straining through the set, particularly during the band's seminal song "Fade Into You." The rough dry heat would be a bane on any singer. But if ever there was a moment to lay on the grass and really enjoy a peaceful respite from the Coachella chaos, it was then.
The rest of the day mirrored much of what happened on Coachella's first weekend, sans the inclement weather. Leading up to the festival, First Weekenders and Second Weekenders split against each other à la Team Edward and Team Jacob, and news of the unusually chilly weather last Friday had us Second Weekenders smirking. But with temperatures back up to triple digits yesterday, rain and clouds sounded like a luxury! Otherwise, there was an obvious sense of déjà vu throughout the day after having already read reports and watched last weekend's stream of the shows. 90s speed techno ensemble Atari Teenage Riot's audience was disappointingly sparse, breezy Southern California band Girls played another second generation flower power set, the colorful Grouplove's Andrew Wessan gave a shoutout to his parents, French dj SebastiAn smoked though his whole set despite it being during peak heat hours (how very French), the Horrors tackled their own amplifier, The Rapture slayed the audience with funky sass rock, M. Ward brought a little cabaret to his set, Arctic Monkeys had the ladies jumping with their Johnny Depp from Cry-Baby greaser moves… [big inhale]. What more can I say that hasn't already been said?
I'll be on the Coachella Weekend 2 beat looking for what surprises are in store. I'm told something "once in a lifetime" is happening today, so be sure to check back for Saturday's review!
Oh, FYI, if you're in the market to buy stage lasers, you're out of luck. Swedish House Mafia bought ALL of them. Ever.
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