By Shelia Moore Coming off the high of seeing Refused for the first time ever on Friday night I went back to the festival on Saturday with very few expectations. We started the afternoon watching Childish Gambino on the main stage. I’m a huge fan of Donald Glover in Community and watching him as a rapper was equally entertaining. I think the thing that surprised me the most was the fact that he used a full band while performing. In an era where electronic music is becoming king and musicians are using their computers instead of real instruments this was refreshing to see. After listening to Childish Gambino rap about his love for Asian girls in “You See Me” (Forget these white girls/ I need some variation/ Especially if she very Asian) we walked to the other side of the grounds to get some food and chill out while listening to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I was unfamiliar with Grace Potter before Coachella. Upon hearing her sultry vocals and watching her wail on guitar I became completely enamored with her soul and funk infused style.
Saturday afternoon and evening became our indie-band portion of the festival- mostly by accident. Having recently seen the Head and the Heart headline their own tour back in March, I was a little bored. That’s not to say they didn’t play well; they sounded great and had great set list (it is kind of hard to have variation when you only have one album). Playing their semi-hit “Down in the Valley” mid-set got everyone singing and clapping along- it was one of the few times during the festival that I could tell everyone watching the band genuinely liked the band. They closed with my personal favorite “Rivers and Roads.” The lush harmonies created by Josiah, Jon and Charity gives me tingling chills every time I hear it. (Not to mention, the song was used during a pivotal moment of this current season of "How I Met Your Mother" making it the song and show that much better). Watching keyboardist Kenny Hensley slam his stool on the stage to the beat of the bass drum was the perfect end to the song and their set.
Multi-instrumentalist and whistler extraordinaire Andrew Bird was a delight to watch, filling his 50 minute set with songs off his brand new record, Break it Yourself, along with old crowd-pleasers “Plasticities”, “Fitz and the Dizzyspells” and “Fake Palindromes.” The highlight of the set was his rendition of “Bein’ Green” that he did for the Muppet movie soundtrack which had even the oldest of fans smiling ear to ear.
Jeff Mangum, of Neutral Milk Hotel fame, prefaced his set with an audio recording telling people that “taking photos and videos were strictly prohibited” which kind of made me laugh. What made me laugh even more were all the cameras and smartphones I watched shoot straight up in the air the minute he came on stage. Nice try, Jeff. He opened his set with just his acoustic guitar playing “Two Headed Boy, Part 2,” bringing out the drummer and horns for “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” and several other Neutral Milk Hotel songs. Because he played a majority of his set acoustically I became very aware of how close together the organizers placed the stages. You could clearly hear the band on the main stage during the especially quiet parts. I realize that is the nature of a big festival but that didn’t make it any less distracting.
The Shins, Bon Iver, and Radiohead were back to back on the main stage. We lingered far in the back unwilling and unmotivated to push our way through the hoards of people get a closer spot. While I enjoyed The Shins and Bon Iver had an impressive stage set-up and sounded amazing, they definitely were not the highlight of my Coachella weekend. The cold desert night and numb feet got the best of us so we only stayed for a few songs of Radiohead, who I don’t care much for, but my husband assures me they were awesome.
Sunday was my favorite full day of the festival, mostly because all of the bands we cared to watch were all playing back to back on the same stage. After two days of walking around and pushing through hoards of people to get to each stage it was nice to stay in one spot. We made it back to the festival in time to catch Fitz & the Tantrums play an energetic, sassy afternoon set which had everyone dancing to their jazz-inspired hits. I was impressed with how great they sounded live and how vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs worked the crowd the entire time. Bookending their set with their two most popular songs “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” and “Moneygrabber” was a great way to pull the crowd in and leave them wanting more.
A friend once told us that watching The Hives perform is like watching a ringer leader in a circus. This is probably the most accurate comparison one could make after seeing their performance. Kicking off with percussive “Come On!” the band walked on-stage in their signature black tuxedo tails and top hats. Frontman Pelle Almqvist proved to be entertaining and hilarious asking the crowd between each song if they loved him and if they loved The Hives saying that he loved all of us. At one point during his stage banter he said “Here in America you have a game called Simon says. Well as far as you’re concerned my name is Simon and you will do exactly as I say” continuing with “Please, please everyone move in, I didn’t come here to play to grass, fill that area in.” While whipping the crowd into a frenzy during their hit “Hate to Say I Told You So” a young guy in front of us, who’d been jumping around and dancing the entire time, looked back at a nearby couple and asked if they had seen The Hives before and if they were always this awesome before running up front to join a mosh pit that had broken out. Closing their set with “Tick Tick Boom” Pelle stopped mid-song and asked everyone to sit down continuing to call-out those who didn’t comply ripping into the VIP section saying, “Everybody in the fucking VIP you’re not that important! Sit down! I see you over there VIP, you’re not that important just because you spent a little more money on your ticket or know someone in middle-level management at Coachella, sit down. I’m talking to you Tom Hanks,” gaining riotous applause from everyone in general admission area. They kicked back into the song with everyone leaping up and jumping to the beat of song while cheering. Their performance was the second highlight of the weekend for me.
Watch The Hives performance of “Tick Tick Boom”:
Awaiting At the Drive-In’s performance, we had the pleasure of experiencing Justice, our first electronic/DJ of the weekend and all of the fans who came along with it. While sitting and waiting for them to start we watched a few young kids taking swigs out of a sunscreen bottle - assuming (hoping) it was filled with vodka and chasing it Vitamin Water. It reminded me of something I would have tried in college. I can’t say I blame them for going to such lengths to sneak in alcohol considering beer was $9 and cocktails were $10+ and you could only drink in designated “Beer Garden” areas. We also overhead a rather interesting exchange between a self-proclaimed medical professional who spent several minutes explaining to her friends why they should quit smoking weed, but then accepted just half a tab of ecstasy rather than the whole; because she felt like she may have had too much already that day. There are no words.
Justice was exactly what I expected- loud, lots of lights and lasers, good beats and lots of jumping, dancing, and fist pumping. They did an interesting mix of D.A.N.C.E and DVNO- playing only portions and mixing in a few other songs. While watching all the people around me go crazy I started to see the merit in some electronic music. Since nothing is really happening on the stage there is no reason to get a good spot and you can act like a loon and no one cares, but after about 15 minutes I was deaf (those DJs can turn up the amps way louder than any rock musician) and exhausted from sensory overload.
The second reason I decided to fly out for Coachella was to watch one of the few reunion shows At The Drive-In was playing. Much like Refused, I became a big fan after they broke-up making this one of the few chances I was going to have to see them perform. The excited buzz in the crowd exploded into impromptu mosh-pits as they kicked off with the opening track from Relationship of Command, "Arcarsenal." Much to my chagrin, the band didn’t live up to what I was sure was going to be my second favorite performance of the weekend. While the music was played with precision and sounded phenomenal, lead guitarist Omar played with zero enthusiasm Cedric’s vocals sounded rough. After an 11 year hiatus of screaming and playing hardcore/punk shows, I’m sure it isn’t easy to readjust. Between songs Cedric was drinking what appeared to be hot tea which would explain his rough vocals. They continued with “Pattern Against User” followed by “Chanbra” off of In Casino Out filling the set with a good mix of songs from their two most popular albums. At one point Cedric dedicated a song to “all of those who came out to the desert and decided to dress like it is Cirque de Soleil.” They predictably closed with “One Armed Scissor,” the only song that had the entire crowd singing along and ending their set on a high note.
The only time I thought I might actually get trampled to death occurred as we were desperately trying to leave the main stage area after At The Drive-In while everyone else in attendance was pushing their way in to secure spots for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Making our way to safety, far in the back with easy access to the exit, we waited. Earlier in weekend we’d heard rumors that Eminem was going to make a surprise appearance with Dre and Snoop which sounded promising. Little did we know how many other famous rappers were going to make appearances that night. The set started with “The Next Episode” to the elation of the white college girls next to us who started bumpin’ and grindin’. “Gin N Juice”, “Nuthin’ but A “G” Thang”, and a cover of the House of Pain hit “Jump Around” filled the first half of the set along with special appearances by newcomers to the rap scene, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa. I was ecstatic when 50 Cent joined Dre and Snoop on stage performing, what became our college anthem, “In Da Club” as well the hit “P.I.M.P.” Snoop and Dre performed “California Love” before bringing out the next special guest. Since we were so far back there was some confusion as to exactly who was on stage with Snoop for the next two songs. My husband insisted it was a video of Tupac since the voice was undeniably his. I was insistent that it was not a video, there was person walking around on stage. It turns out we were both somewhat correct. Hologram Tupac had made his debut and it was probably the coolest thing I’ve seen at a concert ever. I was awestruck by the ingenuity of it. Managing to top themselves one last time, Eminem came on stage to perform “I Need a Doctor” and then breaking into “Forgot about Dre,” the song we’d been wanting to hear all night. Eminem teased the crowd saying he was out and had a cab waiting, leaving just as quickly as he arrived. Wanting to beat the crowd, we left Coachella while Dre and Snoop were finishing their set, knowing we would probably never again have the opportunity to see so many rap legends - both alive and dead - share the same stage.
Watch Hologram Tupac’s performance: