Over the past few years — somewhere around the time that the reunited Outkast received a lackluster response from a youthful audience familiar only with “Hey Ya,” and college rock legends the Replacements played to a shockingly empty field — much ado has been made about what are known in the music industry as “heritage acts” no longer having much pull at Southern California’s Coachella festival. For instance, a seemingly offhand comment made by the William Morris agency’s Marc Geiger last week in a New Yorker article sparked raging online debate over whether the iconic Kate Bush would be an appropriate booking. And at this past weekend’s Coachella, actual bookings like indie cult heroes Guided by Voices struggled to fill modest-size tents — while the younger-skewing EDM tents easily overflowed past capacity with Coachella revelers.
Therefore, many doubters surely predicted that German film composer Hans Zimmer, age 59, would end up drawing a pitifully tiny crowd when he played the festival’s Outdoor stage Sunday evening. But Zimmer turned out to be the king of Coachella — unexpectedly upstaging other Sunday acts like 20-year-old Lorde and 29-year-old Kendrick Lamar, and attracting masses of millennials who practically openly wept and generally lost their minds over his performance. As a massive orchestra played Zimmer’s instantly recognizable movie scores (The Lion King, Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, Gladiator — the veritable soundtrack of these raised-on-Netflix kids’ lives) under the desert stars, and as the show simultaneously live-streamed on YouTube, “Hans Zimmer” even became a trending topic on Twitter for several hours.
Guys, I just watched 30,000+ 20-somethings lose their minds as Hans Zimmer started playing the Lion King theme & it was kinda beautiful. pic.twitter.com/HZ1O3n4aEK
— Heather Wixson (@thehorrorchick) April 17, 2017
“Good evening, Easter bunnies!” the jolly Lion King Oscar winner, seeming almost amused at the huge turnout, declared as he greeted the roaring (no pun intended) Sunday crowd. “It takes a special kind of crazy person to bring an orchestra into the desert — but it had to be done, didn’t it?” Later, when his introduction of a group of string instrumentalists elicited downright elated screams, he chuckled, “F*** me, I don’t think anyone got applause like that for a cello concerto before!”
Highlights of Zimmer’s 65-minute show included a sweet moment when he introduced Lion King arranger-musician Lebo M., reminiscing that he first met Lebo, a South African refugee, when the man was working at an L.A. car wash. “Every night, I mark his step from exile to where we are now,” Zimmer said, as the audience cheered and the two men embraced. Later, Zimmer’s longtime collaborator Pharrell Williams shared a similar emotional exchange when Williams came out to sing his own hit “Freedom” (a song Zimmer said was “now more important than ever”). Zimmer praised Williams for radiating “peace and joy and love” and “every day making the world a better place,” and Williams returned the compliment by literally bowing down at Zimmer’s feet.
An actual unique concert event (and a truly epic one, in the nonclichéd sense of the word) in an underwhelming Coachella year of uninspired, recycled bookings and the usual festival staple acts, Zimmer’s set felt like a real event — in the festival’s 18-year history, there had never been anything in the lineup like Zimmer’s orchestral rave.
In contrast, this wasn’t the above-mentioned Lorde’s first Coachella despite her young age — she first played the festival in 2014 and made a surprise appearance with Disclosure last year — but in preparation for the June release of Melodrama, her first album in four years, she graduated to the main stage this year, performing the already-released new tracks “Green Light” and “Liability” (the latter, a sad ballad inspired by the recent breakup of her first serious relationship, interspersed with a snippet of Kanye West’s “Runaway”) and debuted two other new Melodrama songs, “Homemade Dynamite” and the album’s title track.
And Lamar, two days after releasing his critically acclaimed fourth album, DAMN., and five years after first gracing Coachella’s main stage as part of mentor Dr. Dre’s all-star entourage, brought his own entourage to the main stage this year, closing out the weekend with a fiery set featuring Travis Scott on “goosebumps,” ScHoolboy Q on “THat Part,” and Future on “Mask Off.”
And finally, over in the Mojave tent, elder statesmen New Order (minus founding bassist Peter Hook) provided ideal counter-programming for Lamar, drawing a good-size “Blue Sunday” crowd of all ages for the band’s post-punk classics like “Perfect Kiss, “True Faith,” and “Blue Monday” before bittersweetly encoring with Joy Division’s “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Coachella will stage a do-over this coming weekend, April 21-23, with the same lineup but probably more surprises — and hopefully an equally enthusiastic reaction for elder statesman Zimmer.