While our crew is at Jazz Fest this weekend celebrating all things New Orleans (+ Phish), Victoria Holt continues her Coachella coverage from weekend two and rounds up her Top 10 moments of the weekend. Even more still to come from her… —Editor
Seriously, if you haven’t seen the faces HAIM make when they play live, you’re missing out. It all began with Este Haim’s famous “bass face,” but in fact, each sister has her own special flavor of face-melting expressions. Danielle Haim sings and shreds guitar solos with a satisfied sneer, and Alana Haim lays down rhythm guitar slack-jawed and spaced out. They’re fantastic, easily one of my favorites of the weekend, and their funny faces make them seem all the more approachable and down-to-earth. They have a great sense of humor while delivering awesome songs, providing both entertainment and talent. They cycled through the jams from their debut album Days Are Gone with a professional thoroughness and delightful banter, with such popular tracks as “Falling,” “My Song 5,” “Don’t Save Me,” and “Forever.”
Check out their new video for “If I Could Change Your Mind,” directed by Warren Fu and featuring amazing lighting effects:
2. Woodkid’s Amazing Light Show (Friday, Gobi Tent):
Woodkid (a.k.a. Yoann Lemoine) from Lyon, France stands out for his set’s intense light show and visuals. The music video director, graphic designer, and singer-songwriter stood center stage between two drummers playing massive toms pointed inwards. Projected images of cathedrals, industrial landscapes, and huge robot machinery appeared behind the band, as huge beams of light were cast in all directions, like regal marble columns breathing life into the backdrops. Lemoine would often face the projections, throwing his shadow onto them, immersing himself in the imagery. His soft yet strong voice, reminiscent of Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, layered soothingly over orchestral arrangements and grounding beats. “The Golden Age,” the title track off his recent album from March 2013, slowly built up massive drum layers, punctuated by sharp bursts of brass. Bonobo finished his nearby set and fans flooded into the Gobi Tent, attracted by Lemoine’s infectious sound. Towards the end, he played fan favorite “Iron,” a ballad of epic proportions. In a strange mix of styles, A$AP Ferg joined the stage to rap over the end, to widespread excitement.
The Knife is an elusive band from Stockholm, Sweden, made up of siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, who have historically covered their faces in masks or makeup and shied away from public appearances. Formed in 1999, they didn’t perform live until 2006, and haven’t often since, making this appearance a rare opportunity to witness their brilliance. The band’s song “Heartbeats” gained widespread popularity when a Jose Gonzales cover of it was used in a Sony TV commercial, but the band has always resisted mainstream music culture. Despite winning several awards at the Swedish Grammis throughout the years, they never attend. In 2003, they sent two representatives from the Guerilla Girls art protest group in their stead, to make a statement against the dominance of males in the music industry. Karin made reference to this cause when she delivered my favorite quote of the entire weekend. “As usual,” she began in a deadpan voice, “there is a majority of dick on these stages.” She paused as the crowd laughed nervously, then screeched, “Are you ready for some pussy?!” The band launched immediately into a rolling drumbeat like something you’d hear on a Missy Elliot track, morphing into “We Share Our Mother’s Health.” While I absolutely stand behind more visibility for women in the arts, I think this year’s lineup made a great effort. Bands like the Dum Dum Girls, HAIM, ZZ Ward, Austra, Courtney Barnett, and Solange were just a few of the impressive lady-fronted acts on the bill.
Critical reviews from weekend one considered Outkast’s return to the stage to fall flat, with the crowd losing interest and barely anyone singing along to famous hits from their two-decade catalogue. Sound issues further frustrated their performance, and Andre 3000 was moved to ask the crowd if they were alive. This weekend, however, the crowd chanted “Outkast! Outkast!” before they took the stage and sang along to many songs. The band performed mostly in a massive semi-opaque cube during weekend one, making the performance less accessible. This week they performed almost entirely outside the cube, running around the stage and dancing. Andre 3000 was notably cheerier, letting out his signature ecstatic squeals now and then between raps. At one point he asked, “Do we have any parents in the house? Any baby’s mamas? Mamas?” and segued seamlessly into the first lines of “Mrs. Jackson.” In addition to their usual hits “B.O.B.,” “ATLiens,” and “Aquemini,” the group showcased their solo songs with Big Boi’s “Ghetto Musick” and “The Way You Move,” shifting into Andre 3000’s “Vibrate,” “She Lives in My Lap,” and “Prototype.” The crowd’s interest seemed to wane with Andre’s lovey-dovey slower tracks, but those remaining were rewarded when the duo launched into “Hey Ya!” All in all, it was a much better weekend for the Atlanta legends.
Cage the Elephant rocked the Coachella Stage during the hottest part of the day on Saturday. Vocalist Matt Shultz is the classic party boy without the apparent drug and alcohol problems, going nuts and climbing into the crowd, running around the stage full tilt, all the while making coherent and friendly banter. “Good morning Coachella,” he joked, “Coachella morning is 3pm.” A little later, after some hearty crowd surfing, he declared, “Good afternoon Coachella! I think I can say that now. We have arrived together.” They churned through crowd favorites like “Back Against the Wall,” “In One Ear,” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” from their first album, introducing tracks from their second and third like “Take It Or Leave It” and “It’s Just Forever,” the latter of which features Allison Mosshart of The Kills on the album. While their sound started out very punk and blues inspired, now they have a great mix of high energy versus slow and romantic songs. “Teeth” from their third album is reminiscent of earlier punk thrashers, but ends with a strange spoken word piece and a brass section, for which they brought out the group “Jungle Fire” to perform. It’s different, but it works, due in part to the band’s endearing enthusiasm and integrity as performers.
Nearby beer garden patrons lined the fence to clap along to the single, “Come a Little Closer,” and Shultz was visibly chuffed at the crowd’s positive response. “You guys have made baking in the California sun worth it. I’ve never had worse cottonmouth in my life,” he shared. At one point while surfing the crowd, Shultz looked down to see a pineapple rising out of the sea of hands in front of him. He took it and surfed back to the stage, gushing, “Coachella, you shouldn’t have. How did you know pineapple was my favorite fruit?” He carried it around with him for the remainder of the set. As he crowd surfed to their raucous last song, he ate the pineapple raw, ripping the hard outer shell off with his teeth and spitting it wildly into the crowd. He tried to crowd surf all the way to the back of the crowd (by now a tradition in their live sets), but the security guards weren’t having it. He was pulled out twice and finally forced to return to the stage, where he left with a cheeky wink into the video camera.
Julian Casablancas was announced as the surprise set for each weekend, and though he was listed as a solo performance, he was introducing unreleased songs with his new backing band The Voidz. He was in a peculiar place sharing this new material, in part because it’s far more discordant than fans of The Strokes or his solo album Phrazes for the Young might enjoy, but it’s also entirely unreleased, so even those excited to hear the new work could find their interest waning. Whereas last week he was reportedly antagonistic, declaring when people left the crowd that “this music was meant to alienate the right people,” this week he took an almost apologetic approach. He ventured, “Thanks for coming to hear a bunch of new songs. I know it’s weird, but thank you!” The songs had The Strokes’ New York attitude on steroids, combined with off kilter synths and strange tangential melodies that were definitely not easy listening. They featured more of Casablancas’ screaming, sounding almost like a band of The Strokes’ evil twins. After opening with a few new ones, he played The Strokes’ “Take It Or Leave It,” from Is This It? A few songs later he gave the crowd “Glass” off of his solo record. He confessed that he’d lied about plans to play his Daft Punk collaboration track, “Instant Crush,” to get people to come out and see him, but it wasn’t necessary. Fans were curious enough about the new, strange tracks to check them out and (mostly) stick around.
Future Islands of Baltimore, MD, pack a delightful punch with their catchy synth rock and the powerful vocals of Samuel T. Herring. Herring is a phenomenal performer, combining guttural growls and soaring ballads with head-banging and prancing around the stage, locking eyes with crowd members and gesticulating wildly. He holds the microphone in one hand, the other raised to the sky, as if holding some ancient relic. Fans adored his antics, yelling things from the front row like, “Yeah Sam! You got this!” Herring dedicated their song “Balance,” to “all you young people in the crowd. Don’t worry, it gets better. Just get past your early 20s.” His inspiring words continued before their new song, “Spirit,” when he urged, “Find out what your flame is, and know that it’s you. It sounds like it should be easy, but it isn’t.” The song is an infectious dance track, bouncing along with just the right degree of urgency in Herring’s voice to propel the track forward. The song is both celebratory and proactive, telling the audience, “Dreams come to those who let them in their guarded room…Spirit thrives where darkness comes to challenge you.” Other notable tracks included “Tin Man,” from the album In Evening Air, “Before the Bridge” from On The Water, and “Seasons (Waiting On You)” and “Doves” from their latest, Singles. As the latter began, Herring gave a little booty shake, to the crowd’s utter delight. Outside the Gobi Tent, a mechanical bird circled, rising and falling with each wingbeat. The appearance of the art piece in the sky was so fitting for “Doves,” and concluded this set as one of the more memorable of the weekend.
Courtney Barnett’s music is perfectly suited to slow, overheated days, her vocals rife with apathy and deadpan delivery. She uses just the right disinterested drawl to carry the lazy tune along, rambling from one self-deprecating line to the next. The Melbourne singer’s words are incredibly depressing, yet witty and well observed, broken up periodically by distorted shredding on guitar. Her whole set was great, but the track “Avant Gardener” stuck out for how fitting it was for the setting. The story of having an anaphylactic panic attack in a heat wave, it showcases Barnett’s witticisms as she sings lines like, “Oh no, next thing I know, They call up Triple O, I’d rather die than owe the hospital, Till I get old.” And later, “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cause I play guitar, I think she’s clever ‘cause she stops people dying.” Considering Barnett’s set was in the afternoon on April 20th, the last words of the song were a crowd favorite: “I take a hit from, An asthma puffer, I do it wrong, I was never good at smoking bongs.” The crowd roared as Barnett finished, “I’m not that good at breathing in.”
Neutral Milk Hotel returned to the stage this year, touring for the first time as a full band since 1999, including all original members from the album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Frontman Jeff Mangum has played shows here and there during the hiatus, including a solo tour last year. He consistently expresses a dislike of photographs, banning all press from his shows. As the band started up their set, they had not allowed the festival’s camera crews to shoot live video, so fans moved closer to see properly. After their opening song, Mangum announced, “If everyone wouldn’t mind putting those cellphones and cameras away, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks for your understanding.” Phones kept popping up once in awhile, but the request had made a huge impact, making their set one of the best of the weekend. Every other set was overrun with camera phones hovering over the crowd, thousands of tiny bright screens repeating the same scene. Mangum’s disclaimer had the fantastic effect of creating an atmosphere of true presence of mind, a genuine appreciation of their set as fans with shorter attention spans filtered out of the crowd. Sure, the crowd was smaller than for other bands, but those that did watch could enjoy the monumental reunion unimpeded. In addition, the evening light made for a beautiful setting for their expansive, harmonic music, the layers of accordion, drums, brass, and singing saw reverberating throughout a sunset-lit crowd of eager faces and dancing bodies. Saw player Julian Koster was moved by the sight, saying, “It’s so fun to be trapped in the desert with you.” Since I, too, was banned from taking photos, you’ll just have to trust me that the image above was during their set.
Lana Del Rey (born Elizabeth Grant) was the second to last act at the Outdoor Stage on Sunday, April 20th. Throngs of rabid fans pushed forward to get a glimpse of the Born to Die singer. Girls’ screams erupted at the first notes of her set, sung from off stage, and repeated calls of “I love you!” began. Del Rey emerged, barefoot, clad only in a tiny, slinky floral dress and a long sparkling necklace extending down her cleavage. She sauntered around the stage, her smoky vocals riding a catchy mix of rock guitar, trip hop drums and deep bass. While her vocals can sound one-dimensional, over-produced, or whiney on record, her live show reveals her sultry brilliance, the stage her boudoir as she dips into deeper, fuller notes. Despite the rocky reception of her Saturday Night Live performance in 2012, America is waking up to her talent. Throughout her set, she descended a ramp in front of the stage, approaching the front row to pose for “selfies.” Someone gave her a bright pink paper bag with the words “For Lana” scrawled across in sharpie, but the singer didn’t share what was inside. The whole spectacle was an interesting tableau of staged intimacy, and a striking contrast from the crowd surfing bands of earlier in the weekend. The act simultaneously gave her an air of accessibility, and yet elevated her in importance, making my top ten list for it’s complexity and execution.