Coachella day one: Tame Impala, Steely Dan, Ride and more

The first day of the California music festival saw stage-diving, sun and psychedelia, as well as some significant comebacks

The Allah-Las

Who? Former assistants at LA’s gargantuan record store Amoeba Music turned sun-dappled beat combo.

Where: The outdoor theatre, a gorgeous spot at the corner of the festival in a thicket of palms.

Most ardent fan: The many shirtless dudes greeting this starry-eyed, 60s-influenced music bare-chested and with arms aloft.

The highlight: Their bongo player and tambourinist, surely the coolest man on site. Even more importantly, some glorious selections from their new album Worship the Sun.

The lowlight: Naysayers say it’s all been done before, but on a sunny Friday afternoon in California, the Allah-Las still intoxicate.

Action Bronson

Where: Coachella main stage.

Most ardent fan: George Martinez, surprisingly, is a massive Bronson fan. The comedian posted this gem on Twitter moments before Bronson took the stage, and stood stageside throughout the set.

The highlight: “Perfect gentleman” isn’t necessarily how you’d usually describe Bronson, who, in his lyrics, calls his mother a slut and boasts about killing his girlfriend’s father – but onstage at Coachella on Friday, that’s exactly what he was. When a photographer tripped and fell mid-set, Bronson brought him up to his feet. When fans begged him to come into the audience, he hopped off the stage and into the crowd. When one woman lunged at his facial hair, he turned to her and said: “You want to touch my fucking beard, you weirdo,” but obliged her anyway. In fact, Bronson spent so much of the show with his fans - climbing up and down the stage steps several times - that one point, the 300-plus-pound rapper demanded their support. “Every time I do something athletic, I want an applause,” he boomed into the mic. And his fans screamed.

In summary: It’s easy to see why Bronson’s fans love him so much. Despite the brutal midday heat (it was 93 degrees when Bronson got on stage), he had tons of energy. And even though he hardly stood still the entire set, Bronson never missed a beat. As one of the first hip-hop acts of the festival, Bronson set a high standard that other acts, including Tyler, the Creator, who sat stageside the entire show, will have to try to match.


Who? Originally from New Zealand, now residing in Los Angeles. You may know her as the female voice on Gotye’s enormous hit Somebody I Used to Know a few years back.

Where? The Gobi tent.

Most ardent fan: Not sure whether he’s that ardent about Kimbra – he seems to prefer Morrissey, but look at the incredible sense of style on this guy. Also wearing a black bandanna, the accessory of the festival.

A Morrissey fan watches Kimbra at Coachella.
A Morrissey fan watches Kimbra at Coachella. Photograph: Alex Needham/The Guardian

The highlight: Kimbra herself made sure that her arrival onstage didn’t go unnoticed – she was wearing silver stack-heel boots and a floaty white cloak which was later opened to reveal a dress made of tongues of silver paper.

But what about the tunes? I’m Wishing, which starts the set, suddenly reminds you that in her gown, Kimbra looks a bit like a Kick Inside-era Kate Bush, though a more apt comparison might be Marina and the Diamonds: an engaging and very pop take on kookiness but nothing that’s genuinely out-there.

What she said about it:


Who: Reformed British indie heroes and leading lights of the early 90s shoegaze scene, named after the less than dynamic performance style popular at the time. The bands were also notable for their layers and layers of warm, fuzzy guitars, vocals enigmatically buried in the mix. Years after Ride split, their guitarist and co-founder had a long stint in Oasis – and another in Beady Eye.

Who’s watching? Indicating that the Thames Valley scene might not mean quite as much in Cali as it does back at home, the crowd is small but ardent, with a fair sprinkling of fans who loved the band the first time round.

The highlight: It’s thrilling when they come on and assault Leave Them All Behind, a reminder of the long-forgotten days when indie bands could be dramatic, seductive and ambitious. Singer Mark Gardener’s fey purr is still intact, and Bell brings on the cascading guitars. Closer Drive Blind includes an extended feedback interlude that blisses out the front rows.

In summary: Get ready for another tour around the sonic cathedrals this summer.

Alabama Shakes

Where: Coachella outdoor stage.

The context: As the sun set and a purple-pink light spread over the sky, the mood shifted at Coachella. The change suited Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard just fine. “The vibe is so good now that the sun is finally setting,” she said before launching into a 45-minute set that was anything but a lullaby. Although the band did include hits like Don’t Wanna Fight in their set, they started off with some slower jams which made some fans consider checking out Interpol instead (“we want something more upbeat!”), while others used the opportunity for romance. Slow jams or not, Howard is a force. Who can compete with her epic pipes? She commanded the stage, furiously playing her green guitar and showcasing her incredible voice on tracks like You Ain’t Alone and Miss You.

The fans: The crowd definitely changed once it got dark. Out came the glow sticks and the neon tutus.

TL;DR: It was a good day for soul music at Coachella. Sixty-six-year-old Charles Bradley kicked things off earlier in the day with an electrifying performance at the main Coachella stage, and hours later Alabama Shakes brought it home.

Mouth almighty: Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes at Coachella.
Mouth almighty: Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes at Coachella. Photograph: Rich Fury/Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Lykke Li

Who: Goth-tinged Swede in wet-look hair.

Where: A rammed Mojave tent.

Most ardent fan: Not sure, but your correspondent was randomly hugged by one of Coachella’s famous vest-clad bros, overcome with emotion during Never Gonna Love Again.

The highlight: Though the Magician remix is (even) better, the plangent I Follow Rivers is a perfect blend of Spector-style drama and Li’s bruised but tough and clear-eyed pop persona, and it sends the tent into meltdown.

The lowlight: Sure, people are excited about Drake’s Sunday night set – he’s the man of the moment. But Li’s version of Hold On We’re Going Home isn’t quite up to the standard of Holy Ghost’s, while incorporating Started From the Bottom into the intro of Get Some makes the audience think that the rapper is about to come onstage. Sadly, they’re disappointed.

Lykke Li closes her Coachella set.
Lykke Li closes her Coachella set. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Anything else? The black ticker tape was the perfect conclusion to a triumphant set which showed that Li’s slow-burning pop-noir has now ignited into a full conflagration.

Steely Dan

Who’s watching? With Steely Dan, Coachella reached peak Dad, and while there was more salt and pepper hair than I’d seen at the festival all day, the baby boomers were no match for the thousands of millennials that surrounded them. With Josie, Hey Nineteen and Reelin’ in the Years, the band had twentysomethings singing the words alongside men and women three times their age. “This is my dad!” exclaimed one excited fan, pointing to the only man wearing a blazer I’d seen all day. His father was surprised and said: “It’s amazing that he’s not embarrassed to be seen with me.”

Most memorable moment: The set was solid and the 13-piece band on stage was impressive to watch, but the highlight of the show came when Walter Becker addressed the audience, many of whom, he acknowledged, might not know the band very well. He introduced the band as “Uncle Wally and Uncle Dan”, joked that “financial considerations” explained the band’s reason for playing the festival, and told the crowd of (mostly) twentysomethings what to expect. “What’s going to happen when you go home tonight, is you’re going to know that tonight your little tree has been shook and that your world has been rocked!”

Low point: The Coachella crowd isn’t used to sitting through six-minute rock’n’roll songs with drum and sax solos, and the audience got restless during some of the extended jam sessions. People around me checked their email and contemplated moving on. “I want to hear Aja! Aja! Let’s go! Come on, Walter!” screamed one impatient fan next to me during Show Biz Kids.

Donald Fagen of Steely Dan reels in the years at Coachella.
Donald Fagen of Steely Dan reels in the years at Coachella. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

TL;DR: DJs and dance artists have largely replaced the rock’n’roll bands at Coachella, and after the Washington Post declared that “Coachella is dead and Steely Dan killed it”, there were some questions about why the festival chose to invite the old-school rockers. But their charm and showmanship made them a pleasure to see – something not lost on Becker. “We still got it, and if you want it, come and get it!” he boomed into the mic at the beginning of the set, before launching into the next song.

Steely Dan doing "Hey Nineteen" at #Coachella, where avg age is ca. 19 and "'retha Franklin" can be Shazammed, is bit of a brain twister.

— Ben Sisario (@sisario) April 11, 2015

Tame Impala

Who: Led by the psychedelic maverick and one-man band Kevin Parker, Tame Impala broke out from Perth, the most remote city in the world, with their second album, Lonerism, which catapulted them to the upper echelons of festivals all over the world. Now they’re about to come back with album three.

Where: Coachella stage.

What happened? With Tame Impala and AC/DC, Australia has a lock on the top of the bill on Friday night, but Parker’s saucer-eyed fellow-travelers couldn’t be more different from the Young brothers’ down-and-dirty mob – though Parker says onstage how much he’s looking forward to seeing them: “I’ve waited my whole life.” Coming on to a pitch-shifted version of Elton John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, Tame Impala open with two songs which encapsulate psychedelia’s little-boy-lost strain – It’s Not Meant to Be and Why Don’t They Talk to Me, the latter song beefed up with a motorik thrum.

The highlight: There’s something infinitely appealing about Parker’s music, which manages the trick of transplanting the spirit of 69 to 2015 without seeming simply retro. New songs Cause I’m a Man and Let It Happen show that Parker’s palette is broadening too, to incorporate disco and swoony soft rock, but the tunes are strong enough to withstand accusations of record-collection rock. It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards is still sublime.

The lowlight: They were pushing their luck with a drum solo.

TL;DR: Aussies rule Coachella, which Parker calls “the world’s best festival” as they leave the audience with their synapses fully frazzled.

Streamed @tameimpala's great Coachella set last night. That was a good show & perfect for a hot desert night outdoors

— Erica Farjo (@ericafarjo) April 11, 2015


Alex Needham and Ruth Spencer

The GuardianTramp

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