Coachella Music Festival explodes with mind-blowing acts

12:42 AM, Apr. 17, 2012

Written by Bruce Fessier, The Desert Sun


I can't wait to go back to Coachella for Weekend 2.

I didn't always feel that way. The cold and windy weather Friday and Saturday didn't bother me. It was different. Refreshing. Newsworthy.

But there were lulls in the programming that bored me. That's much worse than 110-degree heat or a 50-degree cold front with a windchill factor.

But Sunday ended with such a flourish, it was impossible to keep up.

I missed Gotye singing his big hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which he performed mid-set. But I saw him play after that and found myself way more stimulated by his electronic sounds than by his pop hit. He's the real deal, and his performance at Coachella, coming right on the heels of his “Saturday Night Live” appearance, will help propel his career.

Then I saw Justice hit the main Coachella stage with a meaningful energy that had been missing from that venue since, well, 2011. I enjoyed the Hives' garage sound and over-the-top schtick just before that. But Justice brings political themes with a dance beat.

Then Rihanna sang two songs in the Sahara tent with electronic dance artist Calvin Harris, who helped produce her recent album.

Then At the Drive-In performed on the Coachella stage after an 11-year break-up, showing the same dynamic, hard rock sound they exhibited at the first Coachella in 1999.

Then Florence + the Machine gave me an “Ahhh” moment at the Outdoor Theatre. I texted my wife as she was singing “It's darkest before the dawn” from “Shake It Up.” When Florence followed with “Dog Days Are Over,” I called my wife and let her feel the love.

Like a band that knows how to build a set list, Goldenvoice was building Coachella to a climax.

Sunday's finale, featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and some pretty important friends, was one of my top-five Coachella moments of all time — right up there with the Pixies in 2004, Rage Against the Machine in 2007, Roger Waters in 2009 and every Arcade Fire set.

I came back to the press tent after it was over, and reporters tweeted my comment that it was like a Beatles reunion, scooping me with my own quote.

Coachella founder Paul Tollett said last year he didn't want to have to do a band reunion every year. He'd reunited so many warring acts, he was becoming the Abraham Lincoln of popular music.

But he pulled one out for the ages with Dr. Dre.

Dre was the king of hip-hop in the late 1980s and early '90s, helping to engineer the West Coast gangsta rap movement that impacted pop culture way beyond the Compton city limits.

Remember Tipper Gore's efforts to protect kids from gangsta rap with warning labels? Well, those kids are all grown up now, and they showed up Sunday as a political force, singing along to all those gangsta rap songs some politicians didn't want kids to hear. It was an alternative nation saying, “We're here, and we have something to say.”

And that's what Coachella is all about. It's a platform for those kids who were muzzled and now have an opportunity to say something en masse.

Dre had lost some of his luster after public feuds with his former N.W.A. collaborators Ice Cube and the late Eazy-E, and God knows how many lawyers. But Tollett gave him an opportunity to regather his troops and they responded as they would to a beloved general.

Snoop was amazing, performing his own hits, rapping alongside images of the late Nate Dogg, and getting most of the massive audience to jump up and down to House of Pain's “Jump Around.”

Other superstars on hand were Eminem, 50 Cent, Warren G, Wiz Khalifa and Dre's latest protégé, Kendrick Lamar, who dueted on their new recording, “The Recipe.”

Dre even pulled out a clip of Frank Sinatra singing “L.A. Is My Lady” instead of “New York, New York” to emphasize this was all about the West Side.

The excitement was palpable as a great live band played the introduction to Eminem's “I Need a Doctor” before the Detroit rapper appeared in a hoodie. He then brought his theme to fruition with “Forgot About Dre.”

The big hologram event was the late Tupac Shakur singing with Snoop on “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” Tupac's legend has grown exponentially since his murder in 1996, so this was like Paul McCartney singing with John Lennon. Only it was better because Lennon and McCartney never had to worry about each other's flow. Snoop, despite his eyelids growing significantly heavier after smoking what appeared to be spliff after spliff, rapped with amazing facility while projecting the essence of cool.

I'd call the set a once-in-a-lifetime moment except Goldenvoice is bringing them back next weekend! It will be the ultimate test of whether you can capture lightning in a bottle.

Stars of Coachella

Snoop might have been Coachella's biggest star with his multi- faceted performance. But these are other acts I saw that I'd be happy to see again:

Gary Clark Jr.: The 28-year-old blues guitarist showed why he's destined to perpetuate a Texas guitar tradition going back to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Albert and Freddie King, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

SebastiAn: One of the more intelligent and creative multi-media electronica artists.

M83: Spanish-French frontman Anthony Gonzalez has been around since 2001, but his band is blowing up on the heels of its hit, “Midnight City.” Like Gotye, M83 is more than a one-hit wonder.

The Big Pink: A Goldenvoice consultant told me they're looking to nurture this English electro- rock duo through its “farm system.” I was impressed by their songwriting and stage presence.

AWOLNATION: Macy Gray lent her distinctive voice to their hit, “Sail” — in the only celebrity guest appearance not featuring an electronica act. The eclectic band made its diverse material cohesive and frontman Aaron Bruno was adept at selling his material, even getting past the photo pit to crowd surf.

Radiohead: This critically acclaimed band focused on its latest album, “King of Limbs,” and single, “The Daily Mail.” The crowd wanted more of its older songs, but I've been devouring “King of Limbs” and loved the way they expanded the material, making the polyrhythmic and multi-time signature music even more percussive.

SBTRKT: This is another electronic band on the verge. It's next appearance at Coachella should be in the Sahara Tent.

Rise of electronica

Electronic dance music is enormously popular at festivals today and, until Sunday night, it dominated Coachella. David Guetta's Saturday crowd in the Sahara was so overflowing, it should have been a second bill on the Coachella stage. Usher joined in for Guetta's last song of the night.

Chris C. of Los Angeles, who said he's been part of the underground electronica scene in L.A. warehouses for more than 20 years, said he thinks Coachella must give electronica more slots on the main stage.

He said it's not just a young person's genre. The music is simply more vital than much of today's pop.

Nelson Silva, who traveled to the festival from Sao Paulo, Brazil, didn't disagree but said Coachella must continue to present cutting- edge bands.

“It's harder to enjoy a band you don't know anything about than a DJ,” he said. “I think it's more related to that. People still like live music.”

Bruce Fessier can be reached at (760) 778-4522 or bruce.fessier@thedesertsun.com.