By Ramon Gonzales
For those living under a rock, the closing night of Coachella’s first weekend crippled the internet with a flood of updates about an awkward Madonna opting to suck Drake’s face onstage.
The seemingly unscripted stunt cast an unfortunate shadow on what could arguably have been the festival’s strongest day of entertainment.
Stretched across a Sunday that had minimal gaps in musical goodness, powerhouse mainstage appearances were fortified with solid showings in every region of the festival’s floorplan.
It’s tough, but there were some especially juicy bits that are crucial to the recap.
The on again, off again heavy half of indie folk champion Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, took to the Gobi tent with a plan of rattling the collective hangover obvious throughout the festival’s grounds with a dose of raw volume. Delivering a driving, dynamic, well-written brand of brass tacks rock tunes, the quartet satisfied familiar fans and established a whole hell of a lot of new ones. Tearing through a set with zero stage banter, Oberst’s slicing social commentary in song makes tunes like “Backsell”, “Anonymous”, and “MariKKKopa” part sweaty rock and with equal parts rallying cry. In line with the likes of Murder City Devils, Refused, and Husker Du, the “Disappeared Ones” are carefully crafted audio catharsis. The band is set to release their first record in 13 years on Epitaph this June and it cannot come fast enough.
The creative vision of Portland based musician and producer André Allen Anjos, the Remix Artist Collective has amassed a cult-like following with their ever expanding catalog of lush indie-pop remixes from the likes of St. Lucia, Chromeo, The Gossip, Lana Del Rey, and Phantogram to name a few. Since 2007 however, the now solo project for Anjos has evolved to include original music with the same penchant intelligent arrangements and pop sensibility. Singles like “Hollywood” featuring Penguin Prison and “Let Go” featuring Kele Okereke of Bloc Party have cemented the Anjos as one of pop music’s most promising prospects. Conceding it was, “…probably the biggest show we have ever played,” Anjos and his wife Liz, are bucking the conventional dynamic of pop music by eliminating the superstar and putting those actually arranging and performing the music under the centerstage spotlight.
Surrounded by confetti cannons, state of the art lighting rigs, LED screens the size of buildings, and a gigantic moving butterfly, Australian Singer Songwriter Vance Joy stood solo with nothing more than a guitar and a handful of songs. It was enough to pull one of the biggest crowds of the day. Recalling the very first song he had ever performed back in 2010, Joy began “Winds of Change” to a captivated audience. In just five years the Aussie has gone from open mic nights in the land down under to tent in the middle of the California desert; and for good reason. Songs like “Red Eye” resonated in an unlikely environment, as the tale of rocky romance seemed to stop the party in it’s tracks. Performing a stripped down version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In the Dark”, the nostalgic favorite endeared Joy even more to the already convinced lot. Wrapping up with the clap cadenced “Riptide”, Vance’s ability to retain his singer-songwriter identity in the face of growing pop stardom is almost as impressive as his time on stage.
FLORENCE & THE MACHINE
The Machine proved nothing short of massive on Sunday night. Performing “Ship to Wreck”, “What Kind of Man”, and the title track to the band’s latest studio release, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”, Florence Welch was as commanding as she was captivating. Delivering a powerhouse performance, it was tough to not be fixated on her every move for the duration of the set. More than an incendiary voice, Welch galvanized the pre-Drake hysteria with energetic, arena-sized anthems like the Calvin Harris collaboration “Sweet Nothing” and the almost choral “Shake It Off”. Saving “Dog Days Are Over” for last, Florence not only prompted some 80,000 plus people to begin hugging one another, but she also rallied thousands to remove articles of clothing, before stripping down to her bra to finish the song. Liberating both literally and figuratively, Florence and the Machine made night 3 rightfully memorable.
This is included as a highlight of the evening, but not for reasons you might assume. The Madonna thing made everyone forget how absurd the first half of Drake’s set was. Delving into his more somber, introspective selections, at one point, Drake was sitting near a digital campfire. Prior to his set, the anticipation was heavy. There was a visible, tangible sense of excitement and 20 minutes in, the collective audience had retreated to their phones, bored of Drake’s need to croon and indulge his emotional sensibility. The guy seriously opened and closed with the same song (“Legend”). It really doesn’t get more pretentious than that. The only thing more hilarious was Madonna’s need to wear a baseball hat slightly off-center like she was channeling the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Drake was definitely a highlight, but in a “what the hell did we just watch” kind of way.