Headliners for the 2017 festival are Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar.
Denise Figueroa/The Desert Sun
Coachella’s first weekend closed Sunday after the crowd of more than 100,000 people displayed a passionate embrace of a rainbow variety of musical genres.
Kendrick Lamar, the world’s hottest rap artist, faced conflicting time slots with English electro rock legends New Order, the popular French electronic duo, Justice, and EDM artist Marshmello after 10 p.m.
Audiences decided who to see based on the uniqueness of the artists, not their genres. Just two hours before Lamar’s set, a crowd as big as Saturday’s star-studded hip-hop shows gathered for a thrilling combination of classical and electronic music by the Oscar-winning composer, Hans Zimmer.
Zimmer, who has won two Grammys and an Oscar for his music to “The Lion King,” brought a full orchestra to the Outdoor Theatre stage because, as he said, “Somebody had to.” Also featuring a rock rhythm section, electronic programming and stunning visuals on the giant screen behind the orchestra, Zimmer went from movie themes to modern electronic music to full classical.
The crowd devoured everything, even as Zimmer said the orchestra was going to perform a cello concerto, which the audience recognized as music from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The festival-goers became just as excited by Zimmer’s powerful arrangement of music from “The Lion King” and a surprise appearance by Pharrell Williams, who collaborated with Zimmer on the music to “Hidden Figures” and who showed his reverence for Zimmer by bowing to him on stage.
One thing about Coachella that hasn’t changed in the past decade: Audiences appreciate the whole spectrum of music the Goldenvoice producers put before them. Saturday, crowds went from manic love for hip-hop, including a record three guest appearances in one night with three different by the Georgia rap group Migos, to total enthrall for pop star Lady Gaga. Now, Coachella can said its audiences like orchestral music as much as Nine Inch Nails’ industrial sounds.
Jon Effron of Los Angeles, who was attending Coachella for his 10th time, said he doesn’t come to Coachella to see just one particular genre of music.
“Exactly the opposite,” Effron said. “It’s the variance of the music. You’re exposed to different kinds of music. That’s what I enjoy the most.”
Effron was at the 2005 Coachella when Madonna was heavily criticized for her dance-pop performance. That was partly because she arrived 30 minutes late and created major overcrowding, Effron recalled, but it also was because she was a pop artist at a time when Coachella was geared almost exclusively to indie rock, hip-hop and electronic music.
This year, the Madonna-inspired pop star Lady Gaga attracted record crowds late Saturday and early Sunday morning from the main Coachella stage. That was partly because the city of Indio allowed an extra 25,000 people into the Empire Polo Club, which was reconfigured to provide more space. It was also because Coachella has shown greater acceptance of pop.
“Madonna had to win over her crowd,” Effron said. “With Lady Gaga, there was a little more acceptance. But she had a polished set.”
Grouplove, another radio-friendly pop-rock group, had their substantial audience at the Coachella stage singing along to hits like “Tongue Tied,” “Ways to Go” and one that had particular meaning for the desert audience, “Shark Attack,” about wanting to be “in the hot, hot desert” and leaving “my body in a sea of people.” Co-frontman Christian Zucconi called Coachella “the best festival in the world” and said they were glad to be there for the third time.
Earlier in the day, indie rocker Ezra Furman also thanked Goldenvoice for having him on the Outdoor stage, saying, “Our last show was in a synagogue basement. Isn’t it a joy to be here?”
He then called out Philip Anschutz, the billionaire entrepreneur whose AEG Live owns Goldenvoice and is a minority partner in Coachella with Paul Tollett, for his “highly invasive exploration of oil locations” and his support of conservative organizations that have reportedly opposed LGBTQ civil liberties.
Furman, an observant Jew who identifies as gender fluid, performed in a black dress with a slit up to his thighs and what appeared to be a pearl necklace. He alluded to the high cost of Coachella passes and said, “We’ve got money enough to be here. How you use your money that lines billionaires’ pockets, you have a say in that.”
He also gave a compelling performance with his band, Ezra Furman and the Boy-Friends. He sang in his song, “Body Was Made,” “My body was made this particular way/There’s really nothing any old patrician can say/You social police can just get out of my face/My body was made.”
The wide range of music on the final day of Coachella’s weekend one also included some old school. Lee Fields & the Expressions evoked memories of James Brown and ‘60s-era Memphis soul with songs like “Faithful Man” (about a man who was faithful until meeting a woman who made him unfaithful). Toots & the Maytals, who have been credited for popularizing the term reggae in the 1960s, lived up to what “Toots” Hibbert said was an historic day: the first time Toots & the Maytals played Coachella. They performed classics like “Pressure Drop” and “Reggae Got Soul,” which reinforced the message over and over that reggae does indeed have soul.
The local band, Ocho Ojos, opened the musical lineup at the Gobi tent, which had to be juggled after the French rap brothers, PNL, was unable to get a visa to come to Coachella. A spokeswoman for the brothers said they had spent month applying for visa and they’re still hoping to be able to perform at next weekend’s Coachella.
Other Sunday highlights included an enthusiastic response to Lorde, who closed her well-attended performance on the Coachella stage number with a passionate rendition of her recent hit, “Green Light,” following her surprise appearance Friday at Pappy and Harriet’s saloon in Pioneertown. The electro-pop-rock band Future Islands attracted a moderate-sized crowd on the Outdoor stage with a hit-laden set including “Ran” and “Seasons (Waiting On You).”
Kendrick Lamar started his set at 10:37 p.m. with the song “DNA” off his new album “Damn” and included several notable guest stars.*
Megan Cahalin of San Diego said she liked the music and art of the Do Lab in The Terract and most enjoyed the electronic music at Coachella. She danced to the music of Grouplove and then headed over to see the electronic group, Porter Robinson & Madeon on the Coachella stage.
Fans said Coachella’s friendly atmosphere was as much of an attraction as the bands.
“I like the vibe, really chill,” said David Nguyen of San Jose. “Everyone’s really friendly. Overall, I think it’s a great community event.”
Gianna Garcia of San Diego said, “It’s like an adult Disneyland.”
Editor’s note: This story briefly misstated Kendrick Lamar’s opening. He performed the song “DNA.”
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