By Ramon Gonzales
It should be said that while every experience in Indio around this time of year is always memorable, the first night of weekend 1 at Coachella socked in a different kind of energy. The crowds hit the grounds eager and early. Well before sunset, the festival floor looked a lot more like a Saturday afternoon than a Friday where many people were still in transit. That is an impressive feat considering things like traffic and the standard SoCal practice of always playing it cool and never arriving on time.
That kind of enthusiasm loaned itself to some stellar performances that helped reiterate just why Coachella really is one of the preeminent festivals on a global level. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a stage show that fell short for night one, there were some especially memorable instances that were destined for the highlight reel.
That band hadn’t even finished their set yet and already the internet was ablaze with headlines of the band’s run-in with major technical difficulties. The sound conked out a couple times forcing the band to exit the stage while engineers no doubt were on mad scramble to get the issue fixed. Although the snafu took some of the polish of the product for the band, Thom Yorke managed to remain especially cool returning to the stage for the second time with, “Can you hear me now? I’d like to crack a joke… liven the mood, but this is Radiohead so f*** it.”
There are not many bands that could hit that kind of roadblock and still keep the crowd, but again, this is Radiohead. For the faithful that managed to keep their focus on the Coachella stage, the reward was an uncharacteristic run of their fan favorites. The band played “Creep” and the audience lost it. Be it damage control or a part of the planned list, thousands of the band’s most devoted singing “you’re so f**king special, I wish I was special” into the desert night left the sound issues in the rearview. While the band has taken some flack for occasionally skipping the hits live, night 1 in Indio saw spectacular performances of essentials like “There There,” “The National Anthem,” and “Idioteque” all before the encore. Punctuating their time with a 5-song encore that included “No Surprises,” “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police” Radiohead’s indulgence of some of the greatest hits should’ve been the headline with the sound issues playing the footnote.
This year Coachella unveiled a new tent with a focus on various subgenres of rock tunes. The Sonora tent boasted an impressive inaugural line up anchored by a rousing performance from LA’s very own, Interrupters. Earning opening nods for bands like Dropkick Murphys and their recent European run with Green Day, it’s evident to see why the band’s appeal is so unanimous. For many familiar with the band and Aimee Interrupter, the success of the outfit is long overdue. For those just getting acquainted with the Interrupters, the sincere enthusiasm that translates in the songs is likely what turns casuals into immediate fans. Songs like “This Is The New Sound,” the Tim Armstrong approved “Family,” and the anthem “Take Back The Power” make a convincing argument in restoring the fun back into live music. Cultivating a stylish blend of ska and punk, the Bivona Brothers along with frontwoman Aimee are a pop culture commodity in their ability to be positive by using their stage for to party, not preach.
There was some thing particular poignant about Friday evening’s performance of The XX. The first example that this was something special for the band was when Oliver Sim addressed the crowd. “We do not have the words to say how happy we are to be here.” More than standard stage banter, there was a sincerity that really seemed to hit home with the fans. The feels would hit again when Romy Croft would confide that she was “a bit nervous” before going at it solo for a haunting performance of “Performance” from the band’s newest effort, I See You. Though the band did a great job of including the essentials like “Islands,” “Crystalised,” and “Shelter,” the new selections like “I Dare You” and the current hit, “On Hold” had the festival floor moving. Bidding their Coachella stage adieu, The XX capped their time with a brilliantly delicate rendition of “Angels” that left the spectators lucky enough witness it, hypnotized.
Sarah Barthel is a tour de force. Easily earning one of the biggest draws on the evening, the duo of Phantogram quickly asserted their stock as superstars. Even with a set that went heavy with new material, jams like “Cruel World” and “Same Old Blues” made it impossible to stand still. Of course the band’s favorites incited pandemonium the second the first note blared through the PA. “Fall In Love” is one of the best pop songs of the last decade and the live translation was enough to send chills down your spine. The single is nothing short of seductive with it’s subtle layers and stylish dynamics. Yet again, the band made it impossible to stand still. Before exiting the stage, “When I’m Small” doubled down on Phantogram’s penchant for delivering provocative pop. Josh and Sarah put together an impressive balance of equal parts party and baby-making music.
Empire of the Sun
During a festival that has helped redefine how fans soak in a live music experience, Empire of the Sun flexed the kind of spectacle and pageantry that set them aprt from the pack. Packing in the Sahara tent, the 360-LED displays seemed designed with the band in mind. During songs like, “We Are the People.” The combination of dazzling visuals and thousands of people singing in unison was moving in a way that felt way more like a congregation than a concert. That was reiterated again during a performance of “High and Low” that felt other-worldly. The kind of creative chemistry of between Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore is so prolific it’s almost incomprehensible. The result in song is a combination of sight and sound that is ideal for the grand stage of Coachella. If you needed to be convinced of why this particular festival is coupled with such mania, the roar that came from the Sahara tent during the intro of “Walking On A Dream” would make an ironclad argument.