Above – Arctic Monkeys
While people play up the drug use, debauchery, and general hedonism present yearly at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, let’s get one thing straight: it is still a music festival. Sure, you will walk by kids bragging about the number of times they rolled over the weekend, you will pass some young folks complaining about how very sober they are (for once), and you might even be offered drugs just for cruising by and smiling, but this just makes up the most visible aspect of Coachella and does not respect the fact that a good portion of the attendees are not fucked up beyond recognition.
Of course, marijuana is one of the most prevalent intoxicants at the yearly event, which was held on consecutive weekends for the first time ever this year. The smell of weed is so consistent that you begin to stop noticing it, except for 4:20 in the afternoon on Friday, which happened to be 4/20. I was at the Outdoor Theater waiting for Neon Indian to start when smoke began to visibly lift from the crowd. One could only imagine the scene at the performances of more stoney acts.
Friday’s most appropriate set came from Jimmy Cliff (featuring Rancid’s Tim Armstrong on guitar), a Jamaican singer that dressed the pro-pot part, and had tunes to match. Though the set when on a little after 4:20 in the afternoon, tunes like “I Can See Clearly Now” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” were some of the most relaxing to be found on the polo grounds. But, the most noteworthy acknowledgment of 4/20 came from a surprising place: the reunited Brit-pop act Pulp. Playing the Mainstage just after dark, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker mentioned (in a prober English accent and while wearing a suit) that someone backstage had explained to him what 4/20 was and he then sang one of the band’s protest songs in solidarity with the marijuana activists of the day. It was a surprising and highly visible show of support for the legal marijuana movement.
Of course, people still enjoyed a variety of other ways to get their party going over the course of the weekend. In 100+ degree temperature on Sunday afternoon, Santigold asked the audience if they were drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, to which she got a moderate cheer back to her. She then asked if people were drinking alcohol, to which she received a much larger cheer. The singer (in the middle of a bizarre and energetic set that was once of the best of the weekend) then commented that she is “always amazed by how stupid human beings are.” This, of course, got the biggest cheer of all.
But, for all the lifestyle and art that is present at Coachella (and it is mostly awesome), Coachella remains first and foremost a music festival. Headlining the event were a pretty solid run of The Black Keys on Friday, Radiohead on Saturday, and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg on Sunday. The Black Keys are the newest of these bands to achieve the status of major festival headliner, and they did not disappoint when given the opportunity. Not a band for bells and whistles, The Black Keys stuck with the blues-rock formula that got them where they are. Of course, having CCR’s John Fogerty come out for a cover of The Band was pretty awesome as well. (And, it should be noted that tribute’s to The Band’s Levon Helm, who passed away just days before, were widespread over the weekend, from Real Estate using The Band as their entrance music, to Bon Iver and The Shins both covering The Band.)
For their part, Radiohead also stuck with a certain formula, playing a similar set to what they have been touring the country with for the past several months. This featured some pretty incredible lighting and visual screens, but was marred with a setlist that featured mostly material from their last two albums. Still, it was Radiohead and it is hard to go too wrong when Thom Yorke is dancing around the stage like a madman. Plus, the band still treated fans to favorites “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police,” as well as the OK Computer rarity “Exit Music (From A Film).”
And, if you haven’t heard about the show-stopping non-stop party that Dre and Snoop put on, than you probably are living under a rock. And, Tupac hologram aside, the set managed to celebrate rap music spanning far beyond the West Coast scene that bred the two headliners. Whether it was Wiz Khalifa, Eminem, or 50 Cent, the guests were all there to both honor the rap godfathers and to show their widespread influence. Indeed, even newcomer Kendrick Lamar was given a chance to show that Dre and Snoop are still seeing their influence rising up in the rap game, and that fact is unlikely to change any time soon.
But, as any music festival attendee will tell you, some of the best action came from the smaller stages. On Friday, reunited seminal hardcore outfit Refused gave fans a much needed shot of adrenaline in the middle of the night, while M83 proved to be much too large for the tent they were placed in, as fans overflowed and gathered from the outside to catch a glimpse of the increasingly popular band. During the daytime, San Francisco’s GIRLS offered up a retro set of 60’s-influenced rock numbers, complete with a backing girl group to help out on the harmonies. And, then there is WU LYF, which stands for World Unite: Lucifer Youth Foundation, who used their plush sunset time to introduce America to “heavy pop,” an idea that they can take the energy of post-rock and cram it into a four-minute pop song. It works and is exhilarating to see live.
On Saturday, Feist gave one of the most surprising sets of the whole weekend, featuring nearly 20 people on stage and, well, just rocking. One might expect a subtle and laid-back affair from the female singer, but Feist showed a very different side to here that was perfect for the festival atmosphere. And, where there were many different types of fun to be had, whether you wanted intimacy from Jeff Mangum or a party with Azealia Banks or pure intensity from St. Vincent, there was quality to be had nearly anywhere you looked. Also, though I missed it, the word is that Black Lips brought out a “hologram” of Biggie Smalls (which was actually just a cardboard cutout), and that sounds completely hilarious.
Sunday featured the biggest singalong of the weekend for, uh, The Weeknd. Yeah, turns out when you give out three free albums over the course of a year, a lot of people hear your music. Florence + The Machine made me feel claustrophobic for the first time at the festival as an absolute shit-ton of people showed up to her 9:45 set at the Outdoor Theater. And, AraabMuzik proved to be more of a party DJ than expected, getting a pretty intense dance scene going on a hot afternoon. In the end, the cliche held true, that there really was something for everyone at Coachella, and, whether you were there for the music or to party, it would be hard to go away from there disappointed.