Coachella was an amazing experience from the extravagant art, to the DJ sets powered by hamster wheels everywhere you look there was something great to feast your eyes on. Throughout the trip I saw many amazing things but was able to narrow down a few of the most impressive performances. Some were good, others…less than spectacular but memorable none the less.
Top 15 Most Memorable Coachella Performances:
15. New Pants. As we were walking through the Empire Polo Field for the first time discovering the art, we were pulled in by a little Chinese band rocking out the Gobi tent. Although I had never heard of them before, a guy I met in the crowd said that they were apparently really big in Asia. They were full of energy and their 80s disco vibe was quite enticing. New Pants’ electro rock sound was alluring enough to literally make me stop in my tracks. If you haven’t heard of New Pants, I suggest you pick up their EP.
14. Best Coast lit up the outdoor stage with their sweet melodies and cutesy lyrics. The surfer pop band had some competition since they played at the same time as Death From Above 1979 (on stages right next to each other). Regardless, they managed to grab my attention. I had seen videos before where Best Coast played live and I wasn’t impressed to put it nicely. I’ve always thought that the true test of a band lies in their ability to put on a great live performance. Considering I went into Coachella expecting pitchy vocals and unmelodic twangs, the smooth indie rock band from Los Angeles put on a pretty decent show.
13. Kanye West. Some may be mad that Kanye is so far down on the list but honestly, for the headliner closing out the show, he didn’t do a very good job. His grand entrance consisted of tribal drums and a big group of dancers bowing down to him and worshiping like he was some sort of god as he was lowered from a giant crane. His arrogance aside, I had to say that if you are a fan of Kanye West’s music, then you would have enjoyed the rest of the show. He played all his great hits including “Power” and “Runaway.” Throughout the set, there were random electronic sounds that just didn’t seem to belong; I have to say that I was disappointed because these sounds seemed to be building up to a surprise appearance by Daft Punk. After he played “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” the lights went out for a good 30 seconds…little did we know that he just needed to change his wardrobe. Even though Kanye didn’t bring any surprise guests, he did what he came to do which was close out the 3 day weekend.
12. Cee Lo Green rocked the main stage with his pop hop rhythms on Friday afternoon. The artist was 40 minutes late to an hour long set…the crowd wasn’t happy to say the least. When he finally appeared on stage he asked the audience “Do you all still wanna party with me tonight?” getting almost no response. Cee Lo cut his set short so in the little time he did perform, he played all his hits including “Crazy” and “Fuck You” where he had his fans stick their hands in the air and flip the bird to Coachella. He conceitedly blamed his lateness on the festival stating “Coachella should’ve given [him] a better time slot.” For his last song, Cee Lo began covering Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the crowd sang along to the first verse but at 5:41pm (the minute after his set was supposed to end) the main stage went dark and quiet. It took me a minute before I realized that they pulled the plug on him; the angry artist stormed off stage but his band kept playing till the end of the song and the crowd sang in unison supporting them. The performance was short and aggravating but what’s a good show without comparing a couple bad ones?
11. Death from Above 1979. Before DFA1979 decided to go on and reunite for Coachella, the dance-punk band hadn’t played for a good 5 years. The duo split up in 2006 to work on other projects like MSTRKRFT and Sebastian Grainger & the Mountains. A few weeks ago DFA 1979 played a free show for the annual South by Southwest Festival at Austin which quickly turned into a riot leaving quite a few people injured and many people maced in the face. As I looked around at the crowd, I half expected to see some unruly fans toss each other about but it was to no avail. Despite the lack of violence from the crowd, the performance was enjoyable. Watching one of my favorite bands on stage was definitely a great way to start closing the last day of Coachella.
10. Interpol was definitely a crowd pleaser; lighting up the main stage for the first night-time performance of the festival. Immediately I loved their attire, most were wearing suits and looking sharp…(this was enough to get my blood pumping.) They started off with “Mammoth” off their new album then slowly moved on to play a few hits from their older albums like “Slowhands” to get the crowd excited. Although their set was only about an hour long, the progressive rock band was able to play variations of their old stuff and new. They ended their set right on time (not wanting to pull another Cee Lo Green by getting the plug pulled) and made way for The Black Keys.
9. The Black Keys opened with “Your Touch” a well known and exciting rock song. The dynamic duo seemed somewhat tired when they began but after a few more songs, they jumped into the swing of things and popped the cork (energy-wise). They turned the crowd from a swaying mass, to a jumping/dancing/head-banging fiasco. The band brought out the rest of the group to help them play newer songs off Brothers like “Everlasting Light” and “Tighten Up”. I was surprised to find that the band actually whistled to “Tighten Up” since whenever I try, I get tired about half way through the song. The giant light up disco ball emerged from underneath the stage and the crowd went wild. The band brought their energy and charisma to the main stage on Friday night, however, when comparing to a few of their past shows…it wasn’t exactly what I would call their best.
8. Duck Sauce pumped up the Sahara tent on Sunday night. Starting with the hit (that some argue) made them famous “Barbara Streisand,” the group dazzled the audience with the lights stretching all the way across the electronic tent. Duck Sauce came with a giant blow up duck in toe. They moved from “aNYway” onto “You’re Nasty” playing hits and then some. Considering that the Sahara tent was overflowing, Duck Sauce put on a pretty mediocre show. I’m not saying it wasn’t enjoyable, because it was, but I guess my expectations were a little high for the quality I was given. The duo showed that they were still relatively new at the DJ live performance game, hopefully they’ll learn how to add a bit more flare to their set.
7. Before seeing them in person, I heard The Drums didn’t put on a good live performance. I was hesitant to stay for the show but I was already up close to the Mojave stage so decided not to leave. It turned out to be one of the best band decisions of the weekend. The flamboyant Brit rock group bounced around the stage and grabbed the audience with their synth-pop sound. Before watching the show, I liked their music but had never really considered myself a fanatic. The Drums definitely gained an additional fan or two at that show with their intense energy.
6. Delta Spirit is very folky-esque band who has more of a rock undertone. Their performance on the outdoor stage was notable; for playing in the middle of the day in the hot desert, these guys knew how to make the crowd forget it was about 100 °F. Delta Spirit is not exactly a well known band but their unusual instruments (like trash can lids) dazzled everyone and engrossed the crowd with their tight riffs and thick bass lines. The lead singer Matthew Vasquez did some brief crowd surfing while the band went on to play “White Table.” Once or twice, the sound of the band was overpowered by the Gypsy Punk band Gogol Bordello on the main stage but other than that, it was a pleasurable show. Their laid back and mellow vibes were a good transition into Day Two of Coachella.
5. Two performances after Korn’s surprise appearance during Skrillex, we caught Afrojack which was a complete coincidence, we didn’t really go for the artist but used the mindset of “when in doubt of who to see, hit the Sahara tent.” The electronic dubstep artist cranked the bass and pumped the lights for his one hour set. Afrojack took a hold of the tent starting with “Take over Control.” After powering up the crowd using a very strong baseline, there was a surprise appearance by Sir Paul McCartney and Usher (strange combination…I know!) The two danced for the crowd sending Afrojack’s performance off the charts.
4. Duran Duran is definitely one of those bands you think of when one says “oldie but a goodie.” Coachella was definitely appealing to the more nostalgic crowd when booking this group. Most of the crowd at Duran Duran was definitely older than the average festival-goer but they were rocking out like they were 17 again. Duran Duran brought on Ana Matronic (the singer from Scissor Sisters) to help them perfom “Safe.” Matronic said, “I’m on stage with Duran Duran and I’m freaking out,” which would be any normal person’s reaction! Hearing “Hungry Like a Wolf” and “Girls on Film” took me back to my childhood when my mom would blast 80s pop on Sunday mornings while she cleaned the house. The performance was somewhat reminiscent of DEVO’s appearance at the Mojave Tent last year. The synth-pop group riled up the audience; the sounds made me want to look for that leopard leotard in the back of my closet.
3. Although we stood far back for The Strokes, they definitely rocked my socks off. Julian Casablancas pumped up the Gobi tent at last year’s Coachella and said he was excited to be playing the main stage. He thanked the enticed crowd for supporting them for so many years; they played old songs like “Juicebox” and “Is this it” then moved onto newer hits off their new album like “Angles” and “Under Cover Darkness.” The Strokes were a good show to watch looking at Albert Hammond Jr., Nick Valensi, and the rest of the crew you could almost see the musical vibrations pulsating through the air. The skill of the band was the kind of “in-your-face” rock that I love. When the band began playing “Reptilia,” their performance was well received by the crowd it was at that moment that my friends and I agreed that the 13 hour drive was completely worth it.
2. Even though Arcade Fire is on the slower side of the indie rock spectrum, their performance truly was amazing. When they first came on stage, they said it was intimidating to play for such a large audience but by just watching their performance, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. They mainly played songs off their new album, The Suburbs, which was to be expected then took many samplings from Funeral like “Neighborhood #3” and “Haiti.” Half way through the set, a few hundred balls dropped from the top of the main stage and bounced their way into the crowd. The screens on the side of the stage showed the massive audience holding up the balls stretching back to the end of the field. As Arcade began playing “We Used to Wait,” the screens showed the balls light up in sync with the music. Watching the light show move across the audience was like watching a neon ocean in the dark. As the band began playing “The Suburbs,” the main screen on the stage lit up. They screened the music video for “The Suburbs,” showing a few teenagers riding their bikes through neighborhoods, skipping rocks, and just being kids. The video went perfectly with the song and at this moment I could tell that Arcade Fire had definitely matured. Their lyrics seem to be much more insightful than previous albums and even though I had listened to these songs before, I didn’t come to this realization until I saw them perform live. For the last song, they decided to play their hit “Wake Up” which really moved the crowd emotionally…I know this because I saw a few girls cry. Of course Arcade played an encore performing “City with no Children” and my personal favorite “Sprawl II.” The band entertained their audience with amazing beats, sharp witted lyrics, and an amazing light show which was enough to place them at the top of my list.
1. Empire of the Sun’s performance was hands-down the most amazing show of the weekend. I had seen them at their first ever American performance at Chicago’s Lollapalooza 2010 where they put on more of a trippy and psychedelic show. On Saturday, they took a more fast-paced/electronic approach to the performance by playing their songs with the remixes in toe. The dramatic entrance was not like Kanye’s in the sense that there was no giant crane involved but it was extremely exciting. You see the shadow of an Indian head dress behind a white curtain, after singer Luke Steele raises his arm and lets out a howl, the white sheet drops and they immediately start playing “Standing on a Shore.”There were quite a few costume changes throughout the show and a crazy light show to boot. I distinctly remember trying to rip my eyes away from the stage for a second to see the expressions on people’s faces but I couldn’t bring myself to miss a second of it. They trippy visuals enticed the crowd and powerful elecronica beats drove the performance to amazing heights. The trio brought out their dolphin dancers who were almost creepy, but enhanced the visuals in a good way. The group went on to play the remainder of the album with songs like “We are the People” and “Swordfish Hotkiss Night.” For their last song they played “Walking on a Dream,” the crowd went nuts, turning into a giant dance party. Mid-song, Steele pointed the microphone to some scantily clad girls close to the stage. Instead of singing the chorus like they were obviously supposed to, they all screamed into the microphone which was quite aggravating. Once Steele got back on stage to sing the rest of the song, he had a smile on his face and only looked at the extras (I refuse to call those girls fans so I will call them extras,) for a second to shake his head in slight disappointment. The lights became more intense as they excitedly ended Saturday night.
Coachella is an entirely different world in itself and seems as though every year gets better and better. Camping neighbors are more than willing to share their cigarettes and beer, people in the crowd give you sunscreen and water. If you throw a peace sign at any one person you can expect to get one in return with a smile attached to it. I’ve been to my share of music festivals but the sense of unity that comes over Coachella-goers puts this Music and Arts Festival over the top for me. It seems like you aren’t alive anywhere like you are there, until next year Coachella.
PJ HARVEY AT COACHELLA