See the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival through the eyes of The Desert Sun’s visual journalists, who captured Coachella’s performers, festival-goers and art installations throughout Weekend 1.
Brian Indrelunas/The Desert Sun
And yes, “DAMN.” is the title of Kendrick Lamar’s first proper album since “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which hit the streets the day Coachella 2017 Weekend 1 started, allowing Lamar to go into weekend as the headlining artist now trending on Twitter.
But also damn, as in he really crushed it at Coachella.
Lamar was in total command of the stage before he even hit the stage, setting the scene with the first of three truly ridiculous yet oddly entertaining “Kung-Fu Kenny” videos.
Then, he set off some explosions.
And when the smoke cleared, there he was, alone on stage, rapping “DNA.,” the first of seven songs he performed from the just-released “DAMN.” with fiery conviction.
New music, crowd-pleasing hits
It was a bold move, putting the focus squarely on an album people only had at most two days to wrap their head around before he hit the stage. But judging from the crowd reaction, that was all the time most people needed.
After a second new song, “Element,” he reminisced about his last time at Coachella when “good kid, Maad city” was his current effort as an introduction to “King Kunta,” a crowd-pleasing highlight of “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
Then he dusted off two tracks from last year’s “untitled,” an album of “Butterfly” outtakes that felt like what it was, a holding pattern by an artist whose outtakes would go over well in a festival setting.
That three-song journey through his recent past was followed by the set’s first walk-on, Travis Scott on a heavily Auto-Tuned “Goosebumps.”
Special guests slow flow
Before the set was through, we also heard from Schoolboy Q with “That Part” and Future doing “Mask Off.”
Special guests have become a Coachella tradition, and they can be pretty amazing, like when Lauryn Hill joined DJ Snake or Michael McDonald jammed with Thundercat. The most talked-about drop-in of 2017 was almost certainly Drake showed up in Future’s set.
But those were actual surprises.
These three rappers had already played the night before Lamar, so it was only so surprising that they’d stick around to share the spotlight with the next day’s headliner.
And as good as they were, they just distracted from the flow of the performance. Not enough to kill the vibe of what Lamar was doing but enough to make you wonder why.
Between the guest spots and the new material, that left time for a handful of the songs that helped establish Lamar as the critical darling most likely to speak to the masses – “Backseat Freestyle” (which featured a snippet of “Swimming Pools (Drank);” “B****, Don’t Kill My Vibe;” “Money Trees;” “m.A.A.d. city” and “Alright.”
If Future’s set on that same stage the night before felt like the weekend’s hottest hip-hop party, Sunday with Lamar felt like the coronation of a star who’s rapidly become the most ambitious hip-hop star of any real commercial consequence since Kanye West.
Lorde, up close and personal
This was a big show for Lorde, who hit the main stage right before Lamar. And you could tell it meant a lot to her. She tends to wear her feelings on her sleeve that way, which may be why her music resonates the way it does.
The 20-year-old pop star has an album titled “Melodrama” coming out in June, and this was her first major concert appearance of the year, although she did test the waters on Thursday with a surprise show, her first live appearance in two and a half years, at Pappy & Harriett’s in Pioneertown, Calif. But something tells me this was different.
Her performance started with a closeup of her face on the giant monitors that flanked the stage as she sang “Tennis Court” directly to the cameraman. It was as though it was meant to suggest that the fans were about to get up close and personal with Lorde. And if that was message, then mission accomplished.
The torn-from-the-pages-of-a-tear-stained-diary vulnerability of “Liability” cut even deeper live, despite her having pointed out beforehand that the chords reminded her of “Runaway” by West and then singing a bit of the chorus.
It’s the sort of thing you’d maybe do if you were playing that for friends. And therein lies the key to Lorde’s appeal. She feels like “one of us” and felt like “one of us” to that entire sea of fans who sang along to nearly every song she did on that Coachella stage.
They song loudest, of course, to “Royals,” the seven-times-platinum breakthrough that remains her most effective calling card. But they were with her through it all, from “Tennis Court” to “Team” and the first hit from the “Melodrama” album, “Green Light.”
She also shared a “brand new song nobody’s heard” from the forthcoming album, telling the audience: “Let’s bring it into the world.” And it definitely sounded like the sort of thing that could inspire massive singalongs at future festival appearances, especially when she hit that chorus hook about blowing “s—t up with d-d-d-dynamite” over a heavy dance beat. Which is exactly what she did. Metaphorically speaking.
Rock and roll is here to stay? Or Sunday afternoon with Hinds
There was part of me that felt like rock and roll was dead – or, OK, dying (there’s no need for melodrama) – after witnessing the crowd react to Future at Coachella a day after Guided By Voices rocked a tiny fraction of those masses in a little room away from all the action in support of Robert Pollard’s 100th release. I call that part of me my soul.
But I was born again on Sunday when I rolled into the festival in time to catch one of my favorite new arrivals on the rock scene, Hinds. It’s not that they renewed my faith in rock and roll so much as they renewed my faith in rock and roll’s ability to thrive in situations like Coachella.
As I said of their album in my preview of the festival, “Leave Me Alone” is the kind of sloppy that’s too often missing – or forced – when people try to make garage-rock records, also calling it “imperfectly imperfect” and “blessed with indelible pop hooks.”
All of that came through with charm and personality to spare on Sunday afternoon.
These four young women from Madrid play rock and roll with an enthusiasm that can’t help but translate. It’s contagious.
At one point, Carlotta Cosials, who shares the guitar-playing vocalist duties with Ana Perrote, told the crowd, “There’s this culture where when we go to a band and we like it, we dance. And when we love it, we crowd surf.” Or words to that effect. It’s all part of the charm and personality to spare I mentioned earlier.
I did see one guy crowd surf when they followed “Garden” with an electrifying “Castigadas en el Grenaro,” but here’s what really sealed the deal for me. When they launched into their last song, two guys came on stage to stage dive and I don’t know if they lost their nerve or just decided it would be more fun to stay right where they were and dance.
It wasn’t long before the stage was packed with young Coachella dwellers having fun to rock and roll. You couldn’t even see the band, but they kept playing, at one with the fans in a glorious, ridiculously entertaining celebration of rock and roll’s ability to move the masses, even after all these years.
While basking in the afterglow of Hinds, I was reminded by a friend on Twitter (thanks, Maria Lopez) that the Spanish rockers would be playing Crescent Ballroom here in Phoenix Monday, April 17, with Twin Peaks. And Twin Peaks were playing Coachella. So I bailed on Future Islands after three or four songs at the Outdoor Theatre to see what these Chicago rockers had the goods to satisfy my craving for another fix of what I got from Hinds. And it turns out they did.
Their one guitarist looks a little like a young Pete Townshend and his onstage antics followed suit. The kid has some serious moves — I highly recommend the shaky legs and epileptic seizure — approaching it all with a reckless abandon that sends the whole thing into overdrive as he mishandles his Vox Teardrop as the Gods of Rock intended.
They rocked with the violent excitement of the early Who without the broken instruments, although the one guy did come perilously close to smashing that Vox Teardrop (unless he’s just perfected the appearance of almost thinking he should smash it, but that works for me).
Highlights ranged from a majestic soul-punk waltz called “Stain” to their rocked-up treatment of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and “Strawberry Smoothie.”
T.S.O.L are a punk-rock riot
“Well, well, well. This is a strange place to find us.”
Jack Grisham of Long Beach punk-rock institutions T.S.O.L. had a blast at Coachella, embracing his role as a fish out of water at a festival where punk may not be dead but you certainly wouldn’t say it’s living large.
And it was a joy to behold as Grisham led his bandmates in a raucous set of T.S.O.L. classics and selections from “The Trigger Complex,” their new album, which the singer joked was their 30th, with the great Max Kuehn of Fidlar driving the beat with the youthful abandon that tends to come with the “being young” package on drums (his dad is T.S.O.L. keyboardist Greg Kuehn).
“That’s nice when you’ve been around so long that the babies can actually play as grown adult men,” Grisham said, “drinking liquor behind the stage. It’s fun. Max picks up a bottle of Jack Daniels and says, ‘Should I down this?’ I go, ‘I think you’re an adult.’”
Rocking a white suit Elvis Presley would have loved if it didn’t have “T.S.O.L. Rules” on the back with a skull and roses (“T.C.B. Rules,” maybe), Grisham was among the festival’s more entertaining personalities, while singing and while introducing songs.
At one point, he announced that the suit and the pink creepers he was wearing would be auctioned off, with proceeds going to a local food bank. And he wasn’t kidding but it did end in a perfect punk-rock punchline.
“Ten dollars can feed a hundred people,” Grisham said. “The last suit I had sold for $1,500, so we’re talking about 15,000 people ate off that suit. So it’s real nice to sit around complaining, ‘F—k the government. F—k the government. F—k the government.’ But that does nothing to feed those that don’t have enough to eat.”
Then, he paused with flawless comic timing before adding, “Oh and by the way, f—k the government.”
Later in the set, he joked about his former wives, then launched into a comic bit about political correctness.
“Take it easy,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t know when everything got so p.c., but I’m very uncomfortable with it. It’s all right. I’ll be dead soon. You guys can do whatever. You’ve got, like, another 50 years to go. So in 2075, you guys can get all p.c. all f—king day long.”
Highlights ranged from “Wash Away” from 1983’s “Beneath the Shadows” to “The Right Side” from their latest effort and a fiery “Abolish Government” from their debut, a self-titled EP that hit the streets in 1981.
Sunday’s most beautiful music? Whitney
Chicago indie rockers Whitney played the Outdoor Theatre stage at 3:45 in the afternoon, when the desert sun is at its least forgiving. But watching those guys bring the songs from “Light Upon the Lake,” one of last year’s most breathtaking albums, to life may be why God invented sunscreen.
Whitney’s deeply soulful brand of gently rocking, richly textured chamber-pop was just as gorgeous in that setting, thanks in large part to drummer Julien Ehrlich’s sweet falsetto. It’s like watching Levon Helm.
Highlights ranged from “Golden Days” and an achingly beautiful “Polly” to their take on the Lion song “You’ve Got a Woman” and a truly unexpected NRBQ cover, “Magnet.” And they signed off the melancholy majesty of “No Woman,” the track that draws you into “Light Upon the Lake.”
Toots & the Maytals ‘Do the Reggay’
I missed the beginning of Toots & the Maytals’ main-stage set because I couldn’t bring myself to walk out on the end on Whitney’s set. So I was more than slightly bummed to learn that they’d already treated the Coachella crowd to “Pressure Drop,” a reggae classic later covered by the Clash and featured on the soundtrack largely credited with breaking reggae in the U.S. market, “The Harder They Come.”
It’s probably my favorite Maytals song. But such is the nature of festival life. You live with the choices with you make.
I did catch a crowd-pleasing version of “Funky Kingston,” which featured a pretty good call and response between Toots Hibbert and the audience, and a spirited “Monkey Man,” a Maytals hit that got a second lease on life when the Specials recorded it on their first album at the height of the U.K. ska revival.
Other highlights of the Maytals’ set, inspired a lot of dancing in that kind of sun that tends to make a person want to keep their movements to a miminum, included a rousing rendition of “Never Get Weary” and the upbeat soul vibe of their last song, “Got to Feel It.”
On achieving freak-folk Nirvana with Devendra Banhart
Devendra Banhart was as loopy as expected at the Outdoor Theatre. He made a running joke of the expressions “Nice flower to you” and “A flower to you” in response to the flowers people in the audience were holding.
And he brought a young girl wearing cat ears out to sing a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song “Sara,” after which she told the audience “Happy Easter everybody and I’ll see you at my next year.”
Coachella’s cutest moment? I would have to think it’s up there.
As I got there, walking over from the Maytals, the singer was leading his bandmates in a breezy “Für Hildegard Von Bingen” from 2013’s “Mara.” It was actually a pretty smooth transition from the Maytals, without being reggae, as he made his way through such highlights as “Baby,” the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac cover and the big reveal – a guest appearance by Krist Novoselic of Nirvana, playing accordion, not bass.
No accordions were harmed in this performance.
That one New Order song was great
I suppose it’s inevitable at a festival as massive as Coachella that someone has to deal with going up against the headliner. Friday, it was Mr. Carmack. Or Radiohead. I know; tough call. But Sunday’s choice seemed especially cruel.
Post-punk legends New Order went on at 10:20, which by the time they screened a lengthy video of people diving, meant I got to see one song in the Mojave tent before racing across the field in time to catch that Kung-Fu Kenny video.
And this is while Justice, a French EDM act whose fans would almost certainly have liked the electronic dance side of New Order’s legacy, were blasting their beats through the side of the tent from the stage of the Outdoor Theatre while playing to a massive crowd.
But “Singularity,” a driving post-punk highlight of “Music Complete,” an album New Order released in 2015, sounded great. And I hear the set closed with an encore of two Joy Division songs (“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” of course, being the final song) after making its way through such New Order classics as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith,” “Blue Monday” and “Temptation.”
Like Saturday, Sunday at the Outdoor Theatre concluded with an EDM act playing to a large, receptive crowd of dancers. This time, it was French electro duo Justice, who sounded as vital as ever a decade down the road from that attention-grabbing debut album that gave the world “D.A.N.C.E.,” which they dispensed with early in the set, after setting the tone with “Safe and Sound.”
With the cross from the cover of that release on stage behind them, they also reached back to “Cross” for such classics as “Genesis,” “Phantom” and “Stress.”
Kendrick Lamar setlist
Untitled 07 | 2014-2016
Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014
Goosebumps (Travis Scott)
Backseat Freestyle (with snippet of Swimming Pools (Drank))
B****, Don’t Kill My Vibe
That Part (Schoolboy Q)
Mask Off (Future)
Staying alive at a desert music festival
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Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Twitter.com/EdMasley.
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