Headliners for the 2017 festival are Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar.
Denise Figueroa/The Desert Sun
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has evolved into a more youth-oriented, multi-activity event, and that began to become apparent Friday afternoon during a set by the historic Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The oldest band in the festival, which is supposedly preserving a style of trad jazz popularized in the red light district of New Orleans around the start of the 20th century, featured an electric pianist.
Clearly, this wasn’t your grandfather’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and certainly Coachella is no longer your father’s music and art festival.
The 18th annual Coachella launched Friday on a field so large, it’s almost impossible to tell where Alex Haagen III’s Empire Polo Club ends and the Eldorado Polo Club, owned by Goldenvoice president and CEO Paul Tollett, begins. Tollett added 20 acres and has filled them with attractions that help to redefine Coachella.
Poetic Kinetics, the art collective that created images that defined the 2014 and 2015 festivals, is nowhere to be found in 2017. But an astronaut, not unlike its iconic “Escape Velocity” installation from the 2014 Coachella, can be seen floating in space as part of the new 360-degree sensory experience in a 60-foot-tall dome called The Antarctic.
The Antarctic features a 10-minute video containing natural photography and computer-generated imagery projected on a 120-foot wide surface that is played for new audiences every 20 minutes. They sit in 500 bean-bag-like chairs with upright backs and look up at images that start with desert objects, such as boulders and Joshua trees, and morph into a visual cacophony that ultimately transports viewers through a vortex into the universe. Objects from floating crystals to metallic machines and even the astronaut float by.
Upon exiting the dome, three men in their 20s from San Diego, Charles Maston, Taylor Allen and Chris Shaver, all said it was, “The coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Another man the same age, who has been to Coachella for 12 years, and who refused to give his name, considered the Antarctic reflective of what has gone wrong with Coachella.
“It’s completely changed,” he said angrily. “Nobody’s here to dance. Nobody’s here for the music.”
That man had not had time to experience all there is to do now at Coachella. The relative new Yuma tent, featuring mostly DJs of less renown that the electronic artists in the massive Sahara tent or the mid-size Gobi and Mojave tents, had a line more than 100 yards long in mid-afternoon. The air-conditioned interior was packed with people dancing. They also were standing in line outside and dancing in the air-conditioned Heineken House, where the legendary hip-hop artist Grandmaster Flash and the contemporary Bone Thugs N Harmony performed in advance of funk idol George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic on Saturday.
A new air-conditioned tent, called the Sonora, featured compelling punk and Latino acts, such as the female-led Paranoyds and Diamante Electrico. They failed to attract any lines outside and there was plenty of space to watch the performers on that hardwood space with animated-like drawings on fake brick walls, which created a too-cool for the average person vibe. Tollett, who cut his teeth promoting punk shows, said that genre of music will always survive in small spaces and he wanted to give it a home.
Veteran festival-goers noted that the audiences seemed to be skewing younger this year, which Tollett said was a reflection of the prevalence of hip-hop artists who he said are what younger people are listening to now.
Many of those rappers highlight the Saturday bill, including ScHoolboy Q, Banks & Steel, featuring Paul Banks from Interpol and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and Future, who had hits with Drake and Pharrell Williams, leading to speculation that there might be some surprise guest appearances Saturday evening. DJ Snake, scheduled to appear at 10 p.m. Saturday before Lady Gaga’s headline slot, also has a hit called “Let Me Love You” featuring Justin Bieber on vocals.
Aaron Weinstein of Los Angeles, who has been to Coachella 10 of the past 11 years, said he noticed this festival skewing younger and speculated that it had to do with the success of Goldenvoice’s fall festival in Indio with classic rock legends, Desert Trip – something Tollett has strongly denied.
Weinstein said he has always appreciated the opportunity to discover new artists at Coachella and this year’s lineup is another treasure chest waiting to be opened.
Weinstein bought a travel package for $3,200 months before the lineup was announced and invited his childhood friend, Doug Kane, to come with him, as he has every year since his second Coachella. He said he simply had faith that Coachella would be a positive experience.
“For me, it’s an opportunity for musical discover,” he said. “When they announced the lineup, I knew Radiohead. Then I knew Beyoncé (who had to bow out due to her pregnancy with twins), and I knew Kendrick Lamar. But, when I saw the rest of the lineup, I had to wonder who the rest of them were.”
After the lineup was announced and he had a chance to research the acts, he said the lineup was “an embarrassment of riches.”
Despite all the activities that some might consider a distraction — plus celebrities including James Franco, Kylie Jenner, Ashley Tisdale, and some cast members of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” and The CW’s “Riverdale” —day one of Coachella did contain many musical riches.
The first major surprise guest came on around 3 p.m. when the Lemon Twigs, a pop-rock band from Long Island, was joined on the Gobi stage for their last song, “Couldn’t I just Tell You,” by legendary producer and recording artist Todd Rundgren.
Canadian multi-instrumentalist MacDeMarco gave a surprise powerhouse performance on the Outdoor Theatre at twilight.
Father John Misty, the former Fleet Fox drummer who has come into his own as a singer-songwriter since changing his stage name from Josh Tillman, opened his evening show on the large Coachella stage with a heartfelt version of the title song from his new album, “Pure Comedy,” which is anything but funny. Supported by a horn and string section and a pianist on a Yamaha grand piano, Misty crooned lyrics like, “They build fortunes poisoning their offspring/And hand out prizes when someone patents the cure/Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them?”
Later, Misty sat on the edge of the stage, dangling his his feet in shoes with no socks, and intoned the equally conscientious “When the God of Love Returns There Will Be Hell to Pay.” Fans sang along with every word, but Misty ran out of time before he could perform his Dylanesque, 14-minute magnum opus, “Leaving L.A.”
Phantogram, an electro-dream pop group from New York fronted by Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, took full advantage of the three screens on the Outdoor Theatre to engagingly complement a set that was consistently more dynamic than their radio hit, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” They drew a larger crowd in their smaller outdoor space than Misty attracted on the main stage.
But the crowds came back for the xx, an English group Goldenvoice has brought up through the ranks on the heels of hits such as “Crystalized” and “On Hold.” The group didn’t feature multi-media on its two screens, but the crowd roared in recognition of its hits.
Not surprisingly, the best presentations may have come at night in the Gobi tent. Jagwar Ma, for example, had screens on both sides of the Austrian electro-dance band’s position on stage, but the backdrop was the lit palm trees of the Empire Polo Club.
That’s a permanent scene that will continue to inspire through this weekend and next.
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