With the first weekend of Coachella in the bag, and after watching a bunch of artists perform before the Coachella masses, I’ve got a few thoughts. Some good, some meh, but they’re the honest and they may help guide your weekend 2 decisions in the event you’re planning on making the trek to Indio for Weekend Two. Take them with a grain of salt, or don’t take them at all. Here I go …
Grace Mitchell is an artist that seemed to have come out of nowhere for me. When I heard her track “Kids (Ain’t All Right)”, I thought I had stumbled upon some unknown gem. Turns out, I was late to the party as Republic Records already caught wind of her and her music and signed her to a deal. She’s getting ready to release a new album, and since “Kids” was the only song I really knew of hers, I decided to watch her Coachella performance to see what else she had to offer.
Grace is young (19, I think), and it sounds like it. Her sonics ranged from alternative/punk rock to electronic pop vibes. Personally, I preferred it when she had more growl in her voice (i.e. “Kids (Ain’t All Right)”) than when she was more pop (i.e “Now”, a new song from her forthcoming album). It’ll be interesting to see/hear her grow into her own over the next few years as I think she still need to find a musical identity. If you are looking to peep new talent, you should check her out.
Whitney is ideal for an afternoon set under a hot desert sun as they provide the mellow vibes to help you relax into your tan. If you are unfamiliar with Julien Ehrlich’s falsetto, it could be a little grating at first. But give it time, and it will grow on you.
If you are looking for a pick-me up, you may not want to pay close attention to their lyrics. For the most part, their music is lyrically quite sad, but masked with happy melodies. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d never guess that “Golden Day” is, as Julien noted, about “the opposite of love” and that some of their songs deal with the passing away of a loved one. In an odd moment during the performance, Julien seemed compelled to let the audience know that he was losing his mojo:
“Is everyone in a good mood? I feel like my mood’s slipping a little bit”
They played a new song, “Rolling Blackout”, which seemed a little out of place. It has got a Bollywood vibe to it, and I just didn’t know where it came from. But other than that, it was decent performance that I think would be a good act to catch seated on the lawn, with a slice of pizza and cold beer.
If you have the chance to see the the man who coined the term “Reggae” perform, you owe it to yourself to see that man and his band perform. Toots and the Maytals took the main stage at 4:15, and kicked it off with the song that did just that: “Do The Reggay”.
Like Whitney, Toots’ set is a perfect soundtrack for afternoon vibes. You really can’t go wrong with solid reggae when the sun is shining bright. And when they followed “Do The Reggay” with “Pressure Drop”, you’ve witnessed a reggae legend perform legendary reggae song. Those two songs should be reason enough to catch at least the start of his set.
In the Gobi tent at 4:55, the English soul, singer-songwriter NAO took the stage, and it looked packed. It’s not often that new foreign acts get tons of crowd love in the early afternoon, but if you’ve been a featured soloist on a Disclosure record, you’re bound to get Disclosure fans to come check you out. “I didn’t expect to see so many people, so this is unreal,” NAO said mid-set, clearly cognizant of the unexpected turnout.
Her voice was amazingly pure. You can tell that she has fantastic vocal control and technique. Of all of the voices I was able to hear at Coachella, hers was my favorite. If you dig soul/R&B, I’ll guarantee that you’ll dig NAO.
You can’t go wrong with catching a band like Grouplove perform live. Not only do they have great pop rock songs in their repertoire, but the energy they exhibit on stage is more than infectious. A lot of that has to do with Hanna Hooper, and the way she leaps and bounds across the entire width of the stage to address all sides of the audience. She could get the entire audience to go wild with a whisper, like when she breathed under her breath “Shark Attack” before its performance.
“We all go through some rough shit,” Hannah later yelled to the audience, “Welcome to your life, mother fucker!” before jumping into one of their most popular songs.
Christian Zucconi spent most of his time behind his mic stand, jamming on his guitar, but he let all of his energy out at the end of their set with an unrelenting performance of “Colours”, smashing his flourescent green guitar to bits.
Jack Garratt is pretty damn cool to watch perform live. He’s a one man band, but man … he sure can put on a show. His music heavily relies on his live drumming, and the way he drums- like a madman- is a lot of fun to watch. I thought that the novelty of watching a one-man band would wear off on me after a few songs, but when your songs are as sonically intriguing as Mr. Garratt’s, it near impossible to turn away.
I’m sure watching him in an intimate venue would be a better space for his live performance than a midday set in an open tent, but it certainly didn’t take anything away his performance at Coachella.
DJ Khaled had a 50 minute set, and in that 50 minute set he “performed” over 40 songs and had six special guests (Rick Ross, Wale, French Montana, Migos, 2 Chainz and A$AP Ferg). It was a party for sure, and for those who descended into the massive Saraha tent, I’m sure it’s the stuff of Snapchat dreams and Instagram overload. But for those who love to rap along to lyrics, and yell out hooks, I can’t imagine them being satisfied with only bits and pieces of massively popular songs. It’s like musical blue-balls … and I don’t think I’d ever want to endure pain like that again.
Hans Zimmer’s Coachella performance was by far the one that impressed me the most. In my notes, I wrote two words: “Holy Fuck”. It was that amazing. “It’s takes a special kinda crazy person to bring an orchestra to the desert,” Hans spoke to the audience after his “Inception” medlly, “but it had to be done.” And I’m glad he did.
Mr. Zimmer’s appreciation of the Coachella audiences reaction to his orchestral pieces was genuine surprise. “Fuck,” he gushed, “I don’t think anyone’s ever gotten that kind of applause for a cello concerto.” Only at Coachella.
You’d have thought that the highlight of his performance was when he performed selections form “The Lion King”, with the “original Lion King” (the original motion picture vocalist) Lbeo M performing alongside him, but for me it was the surprise appearance of Pharrell Williams to do an orchestral arrangement of “Freedom”; song that is more politically relevant now, than it was when it was released. But It wasn’t Pharrell’s appearance that got me giddy. Rather, it was Grammy awarding winning musician Jacob Collier joining Pharrell, Hans and Orchestra on keys for the performance. That was a once in a life-time event, and who know what surprises Hans has in store for weekend two.
Lorde returned to Coachella with a memorable, if subdued, performance on the festival’s main stage. She teased the audience with a mention of there being “surprises” in her set, perhaps stoking the anticipation of possible guest appearances of some of her high profile friends to join her on stage. There were no special guests, however, but Lorde ably maintained the spotlight on stage, delighting her fans with her trademark stage movements and a setlist that was filled mostly with songs from her debut album (“Tennis Court”, “Royals”, “Team”, etc), and a handful of cuts from her forthcoming “Melodrama” that have already been released (“Liability” and “Green Light”).
The one true “surprise” of her set was the live debut of another track of her next album, “Homemade Dynamite”. Since the weekend one performance was streamed, I can’t image her performing “Homemade Dynamite” again for weekend two- it wouldn’t be a surprise if she did- so my bet is that she’ll play another new cut this coming weekend.
Kendrick Lamar’s headlining set Sunday was the total opposite of the quick changing and frenetic show that DJ Khaled put on. The Guardian called it a “hip-hop opera of the highest order” and I won’t disagree. It was a thoughtful, well planned and well choreographed performance that stretched and set the bar extremely high for any headlining, hip-hop artist to reach in the future.
But perhaps what caught my attention were all of the themes and stage production elements that was utilized during Kendrick’s performance. To me it seemed that Kendrick, whether he meant for it or not, was paying respect to some of hip-hop’s culturally relevant artists.
It started with a reference to asian martial arts, with a video montage showing Kendrick as the pupil studying a form of martial arts deemed the “Turtle Style”; an homage to the Wu-Tang Clan. Later, a huge LCD screen levitated horizontally above him, illuminating him and his dancer with bright white lights; an homage to Kanye’s Saint Pablo Tour stage production. Even later, for “Money Trees”, he rises from the audience in an illuminated square cage; reminiscent of the stage production that began Outkast’s 2014 Coachella performance, only to rise out of the cage and as he performs.
But towards the last third of his set, Kendrick takes his stage production to another level, invoking Cirque Du Soleil type choreography for “Pride” then using the cameras to focus into the audience to display their joy and intensity during “Alright”. Those are performance elements that are, and most likely will be, something that Kendrick has made his own.
With a setlist that was highlighted by live debuts of cuts off “DAMN” (“LUST”, “XXX”, “PRIDE”, “GOD” and “HUMBLE”), guest appearances by Travis Scott, ScHoolboy Q and Future, and songs that are in everyone’s playlist (“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, m.A.A.d city”, etc.), it was a performance was the hip-hop set to end all hip-hop sets at Coachella
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