After being introduced through their mutual friend and colleague, M.I.A., red-hot producers Diplo and Switch created and collaborated on a project called Major Lazer–to enormous success. Their debut album, “Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do” was released June 2009. Drawing heavily on reggae infused with hip hop and insane bass tracks, a smash-hit was born. The music video for “Pon De Floor” is both notorious and revered, and the video for “Hold the Line” was nominated for an MTV Video Award. After garnering so much hype in such a short time, the duo was invited to perform Saturday evening, and fans or not, the Mojave tent was jampacked.
With Diplo and Switch set up with turn tables and computers in the back, dressed in understated suits, many were initially unsure of the show that was to come. That quickly changed when the industrial strength lasers began to sweep over the crowd, while enormous Chinese dragons danced around on stage. When hypeman Skerrit Bwoy took the stage, along with an insanely talented dance partner, things got wild. His triple mohawks, serious dance moves and infectious energy led the massive crowd to a borderline riot. The soundtrack was excellent, but more than anything, Major Lazer was a spectacle not to be missed.
For the Gorillaz diehards desperate to be at the front of the stage for Coachella’s closing set, listening to the cheers from the Thom Yorke crowd before Damon Albarn, the man behind the monkeys, took the stage was torturous. Waiting for hours in a crowded pit, the excitement was palpable as the massive video screens began to fire up and a recorded Snoop Dogg announced, “Welcome to the plastic beach.”
Albarn and an orchestra took the stage in nautical outfits, and the audience was reassured that the long wait wasn’t for nothing. While traditional Gorillaz concerts use holograms and elaborate visual effects, the festival setting forced the set to be scaled down to something like Gorillaz Lite.
The video screens added an intense aesthetic created by Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett, but in a rare turn, Albarn sang not in shadow, but instead fully visible for the crowd. Albarn justified his legendary status by singng with incredible soul and flawless pitch, carrying an infectious energy throughout the entire set. Appearances by De La Soul, Mick Jones and Bobby Womack added considerable star power and talent to the show and the crowd went wild for smash-hits “Feel Good, Inc.” and “Clint Eastwood.” Albarn shone on tracks from his new album, “Rhinestone Eyes” and “On Melancholy Hill,” the latter of which moved many to tears. While the set list showcased some great songs, the audience was left without an effective closing number to round out the weekend, leaving many unsatisfied. Regardless, Gorillaz has proved time and time again, and this weekend was no exception, that this cartoon band is not a joke.
For the hipster enthusiasts waiting to see The xx on Saturday, it was as one person said: “Kind of like seeing your girlfriend at a strip club.” You’re really excited to see her, but you’re not too thrilled by the way that everyone else is appreciating her. Or that she’s a stripper. Dressed in an uncharacteristic white, the English threesome took the Outdoor Stage during sunset to a packed crowd who embraced the soothing bass lines and chilled-out drum machine beats with crowd surfing and beach balls. So much for the intimate setting. Despite this, the band hardly noticed, transitioning seamlessly from their stirring “Intro” to songs like “Islands” and later “Basic Space.” They even managed to maintain their cool when a mesmerized Jay-Z was flashed across the big screen and even when the main stage’s ceiling went up in flames. As the band finished an impressive cover of Kyla’s “Do You Mind?” a nonchalant Oliver Sim joked, “The roof is on fire.”
Rave enthusiasts came out in droves for this year’s festival, and when anywhere near the Sahara tent, it was impossible to escape the flashing lights, strobes and lasers emanating from the stage, the art and the crowd themselves. In perhaps one of the best sets of the entire weekend, legendary electro house producer Joel Zimmerman, commonly known as Deadmau5, proved to both his most loyal followers and ambivalent listeners why he is considered one of the best producers in the world. Closing out the festival on Friday night, Deadmau5 took the stage in his signature sinister Mickey Mouse head, except unlike ever before, it was rigged with unbelievable LED lights, changing throughout the set, mesmerizing the crowd along with his irresistible beats and thumping bass tracks. Perched atop a flashing dais, Deadmau5 ruled over an enormous crowd, assembling tracks off the cuff and building an audience energy unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Raver or not, Deadmau5 is a must-see performer, with a talent that will go down in electronic history.
Austin-based veterans Spoon spun through a list of their best hits with a cool demeanor that complemented the hazy sunset against the main stage as the day began to morph into night on Sunday evening. Although the crowd was a bit sparse, that left all the more room for those tired out by the weekend to rock out while sitting down to classics like “I Turn My Camera On” and “The Way We Get By.” The band, known for its music’s tendency to evolve into long, jam-like repetitive crescendos, took advantage of the live setting to draw out songs such as “Don’t Make Me A Target” to its stretching point. Near the end of the set, Spoon drove “The Underdog”–backed by a full brass section–to a climax when Britt Daniel threw the upright piano over onto its back, serving as a sufficiently powerful punctuation to the song. Many audience members, thinking this was the end of the show, joined the wave of people migrating toward the Outdoor stage to see Phoenix, but Spoon wasn’t done yet. Broken piano lingering on stage, the band whipped out one final song–“Black Like Me”–before signing off with a humble, “Thanks, guys, but we’ve got to go.”
The crowd that gathered to wait a full hour for Thom Yorke and his backing band Atoms for Peace was a crowd that waited with bated breath and touchy attitudes. Near the front of the stage, a few terse exchanges almost grew to fights in the cramped space. When the band took the stage, though, all was forgotten. Atoms for Peace, driven by the epileptic stage antics of Yorke and bassist Flea, pushed the sparse music from Yorke’s solo album “The Eraser” into a full-blown, fully-fleshed musical freakout backed with a complete band and plenty of energy. Around the middle, though, Yorke dismissed the band from the stage and, taking up his acoustic guitar, went through an acoustic version of “Give Up the Ghost,” (“You won’t recognize this one unless you spend too much time on YouTube,” he said to the audience) where he skillfully looped a chorus of “Don’t hurt me” over and over and half sang, half moaned a melody above it. Then, he struck up the opening melody of “Airbag” to an uncontrollable wave of cheers, morphing the Radiohead classic into a haunting, beautiful acoustic solo. Up next was a piano-driven take on “Everything In Its Right Place”–in his words, “for old times’ sake.” Then it was back to the lightshow-driven stage seizures of wildly exciting music with the backing band for a quick finisher before, with one last thanks to the crowd, Yorke took his leave, and the crowd moved en masse to find Gorillaz on the main stage to cap off the weekend.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
Composed of ten members, this band really gives a show, delivering easily one of the best performances of the weekend. Led by vocalist Alex Elbert, this band released their first full-length album, “Up from Below,” in July 2009 and then proceeded to tour the country in a big school bus. Though Elbert does not believe in labels, many have classified Edward Sharpe as “hippie-sters.” Not only do they have a great folk-rock, experimental sound that translates well to a live show, but beyond that, the audience can tell they genuinely enjoy their art.
You may think that having a ten-member band on stage could be a little bit overwhelming…and you would be wrong. The scale of the group only accentuates how zany they are as performers and how intricate their music is. The lead singer, Elbert, was predominantly in the spotlight, but at different points, I actually found myself intrigued by each member of the band, wanting to know what they were playing and how they were performing.
Elbert has a natural ability to sing and perform that is only enhanced by his girlfriend/muse, and the other vocalist in the band, Jade Castrinos. Their chemistry is obvious, and it is apparent that they are delighted to be together and with their band. Beyond the actual music, nothing seemed planned, and both singers simply acted organically to do what felt right with the music. I was completely enrapt, enjoying myself just as much as the performers were.
Friday afternoon found Cambridge-based Passion Pit welcoming in the benevolence of cool early evening with a lively show. After a rough first day on the polo grounds, concertgoers readily welcomed the setting sun against the band’s irresistibly chipper sounds. The show drew heavily from its first and only full studio album, “Manners,” opening the show with its first track, “Make Light.” Frontman Michael Angelakos’ distinctively high-pitched voice projected easily over the eager crowd’s faces as they flocked to the Outdoor stage. The band acknowledged humbly that this was the biggest audience they’d played to yet, and did their best to engage the audience, at one point shouting out, “How rowdy can we get on this m—-f—-ing property?!” Moving through hits like “Sleepyhead” and “Smile Upon Me,” the quintet riled up the crowd, letting them know that, “If you’re not familiar with a Passion Pit show, you should know it requires audience participation.” The band capped off their evening set with “Little Secrets,” leading the audience to sing as a group about going “higher and higher and higher, higher and higher and higher”–an oddly fitting transition from day to night as the artificial lights across the polo grounds lit up to replace the sunlight.
I was expecting to enjoy the La Roux set; however, I more than enjoyed it–it was one of my favorites of the weekend. Although technically composed of two people, this English electropop duo with folk origins only showcased one of its members at Coachella, singer Elly Jackson. Other member, Ben Langmaid, who contributes to the group by playing the synthesizer, does not participate in live performances, which is just fine, because Elly has plenty of charisma to carry the show.
La Roux’s music, with its rhythmic, electric beats and repetitious lyrics, succeeds in engaging the audience. Everyone in the crowd was jamming out to the music, especially radio hits like “Bulletproof” and “In For the Kill.” Although it is really easy and fun to sing and dance along to these songs, they are more than just dance hits. They have enough connotation to gives them quality without being too trite.
The best part of the show was definitely Elly herself. She has a great distinct voice that is perfect for the synthpop style of her work. She knows how to perform and was dancing all over the stage right along with the crowd. Despite being new and relatively inexperienced, she was very confident and seemed to project a defined and respectable artist–I’m already looking forward to catching La Roux live again.
When six roadies lugged out a massive disco ball, you knew LCD Soundsystem would be up to something. With James Murphy cutting a Messiah-like figure in his stark white pants and blazer and his band of professionals providing a soundscape of rapid-fire percussion, synths, distorted guitars and yes, cowbell, the band was ready to kill. Firing off “Us V Them” and the awesome “Losing My Edge” (with a major shout out to Gil-Scott Herron), LCD Soundsystem shimmied away a short set sandwiched between Them Crooked Vultures and “fucking Jay-Z,” whom Murphy was humbled by. Also popular was “I Can Change” and “Pow Pow” off LCD’s upcoming “This Is Happening.” As always, Murphy was the same brash charmer, asking the crowd as he came to the close of his set, “It’s 9 o’clock, why aren’t you drunk yet?”
Originating in Brooklyn, this experimental indie rock group released their sophomore album, “Bitte Orca,” during summer 2009, which put them near the top of my must-see-at-Coachella list. Regrettably, post festival, they are also near the top of my most-disappointing-at-Coachella list. Their music sounded fine on a technical level; however, they failed to perform as artists, making me believe that I could have had the same, maybe even better, experience sitting in my room listening to their CD.
Simply put, they were boring, and even a little off-putting. To start, they began the show late, which may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve been standing for a while in a crowd of sweaty people, it is. Also, keyboardist and vocalist, Angel Deradoorian, was the opposite of hypnotic and enchanting like I was expecting–she was flat and seemed almost upset, and did not crack a smile once for the thousands of people in the crowd.
My main complaint is that they were completely robotic. Everything they did was methodic and mechanical, rather than truly feeling the music. They didn’t have the energy and enthusiasm to win over the crowd. For most of the show the guitar and vocals were great, so I want to believe there is potential there. Walking out of the tent afterwards, I knew that I heard good music but I certainly didn’t see it.
Julian Casablancas knew he was coming to Coachella with a sparse picking of original material. He also knew that his job was to make that material last the massive 55-minute set he was allotted in the Mojave Tent on Sunday afternoon. Did he do it? Well, judging by the fact that he played a Christmas Song–“Christmas Treat” a la Saturday Night Live–the clear answer was no. While The Strokes’ frontman has the charisma to handle any crowd, he couldn’t make up for the fact that his only working material was a nine-song album. It was indeed a disappointment, but what could we expect? Casablancas can play “Hard to Explain” and continue on his solo expedition for as long as he wants, but it ain’t the collective beauty that is The Strokes.