Ezra Furman – Outdoor theatre
“Yes, we know it’s cool to play here but our job remains the same,” said Ezra Furman as his early afternoon slot got underway at the large Outdoor theatre. The crowd was disappointingly small for a set that paired low-key staging with buoyant energy.
Furman is an engaging and funny performer, providing sharp repartee between songs. At a festival that has been short on political statements, the musician went straight for the jugular in a rant against billionaire Philip Anschutz, owner of the company behind Coachella. Anschutz has been linked to donations to anti-LGBT groups – which he has denied – and Furman lambasted him not only for this but also for being a proponent of “invasive oil exploration”. It was an eloquent and fiery intro to the suitably titled Tell Em All to Go to Hell, a high point of the set, Furman’s anger imbuing the track with a layer of emotion that was in curiously short supply during the rest of his act. BL
Skepta – Sahara stage
British musician Joseph Junior Adenuga’s attempt to take the US began in earnest on the hottest day of Coachella. Skepta’s resurgence in the UK is thanks to him embracing grime in its purest, most potent form, and that is what the crowd here was exposed to in his early afternoon set, which he performed with only DJ Maximum and a BT phonebox for company. The grime staples of call and response and demands of high energy from the crowd weren’t lost in translation: from the moment he emerged, performing the title track from his Mercury-winning album, Konnichiwa, he put to bed any doubts about whether Americans would get grime. The highlights, though, came when he performed tracks that reached beyond his core following, namely That’s Not Me, It Ain’t Safe and Shutdown.
The audience formed circle pits and took part in mass singalongs, and Skepta was joined on stage by longtime hypeman Shorty and Frisco for a version of their track Detox, about the power of partying. There was a clear anticipation for Shutdown, with the track’s opening sample “Trust me, daddy” shouted after every song. When it finally did come, it was the signal for moshing that continued into the set closer, Man. If this was a sign of things to come for Skepta’s US takeover, then he could once again be the person to take grime to new heights. LB
Whitney – Outdoor theatre
As the crowd’s energy started to intensify along with the desert heat, Chicago indie band Whitney made a casual stroll to the stage to give fans and curious newcomers a taste of their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, released last summer. It proved to be something of an endurance test for those who find a falsetto voice grating, and lead singer Julien Ehrlich’s stretched vocals were dwarfed by such a grand stage. Things improved with their slightly darker songs, such as Polly and Golden Days – a winsome track that Ehrlich says is “about the opposite of love” – and an instrumental interlude that gave the band a chance to shine. They also added a cover of Lion’s You’ve Got a Woman, a single released in March, and some new material, but it did little to prevent the general feeling of apathy by the time they left the stage. BL
Show Me the Body – Sonora stage
In the air-conditioned surroundings of the new Sonora stage, Show Me the Body seemed determined to bring some chaos to the chillout room. People sat on beanbags and sofas, hiding from the sun, as the group appeared on stage. Lead singer Julian Cashwan Pratt was joined by a guitarist in an Anaheim Mighty Ducks jersey and a pair of tights over his head, knocking out metal riffs.
That was possibly the calmest moment in a set that showcased the hardcore-tinged efforts the band are known for. Pratt was joined by a singer who grabbed audience members while shouting lyrics, before jumping into the crowd and crawling around on his back. The contrast between a stage decorated like a children’s playground and the intensity of what was happening both on it and in the audience was as incongruous as it gets. From there the band resorted to their usual setup of bass, drums and vocals to rattle through the hardcore from their latest album, Body War. The crowd became more manic as they played with curious onlookers either having to choose between joining the melee or making an exit. LB
Future Islands – Outdoor theatre
After a decade spent inching their way up the indie-rock food chain, Future Islands’ status escalated after their revelatory Coachella debut three years ago. The Baltimore three-piece’s blue-collar melodrama is at once classic rock, synthpop, and a little bit disco, but painted with minor-key melancholia. The music’s timeless quality feels at home in grubby bars and festival main stages alike.
Singer Samuel Herring – dressed like an office clerk in an old button-up, brow perpetually furrowed and writhing like a lonely burlesque dancer – has a captivating gruff sensuality. He sounds like Bruce Springsteen singing Tina Turner and punctuated his performance with stoic mid-song musings such as: “This ones for the young ones. It’s a fucked up world, but we’ll make it through.”
People stretched far into the polo fields, with many lounging in groups on the floor as the afternoon heat gave way to an evening breeze. “Get up offa that grass,” Herring barked, before launching into the band’s still-excellent sleeper hit Seasons. Hundreds sprang to their feet. JK
Lil Uzi Vert – Sahara
“I wanna see y’all turn the fuck up right now. I wanna see some moshing in the crowd,” Philadelphia newcomer Lil Uzi Vert implored to a packed Sahara tent, his Technicolor dreadlocks a-flowing. The audience, as young as they were enthusiastic, duly complied. It was not the last moshpit he incited during a Sunday afternoon set in which he brought his jeweller on stage to show off “where he gets his ice from” while instructing the crowd to “get out ya Snapchats, ya Instagrams”.
Lil Uzi Vert’s flow is no better than something you’d find in a middle-school lunch-break rap battle – it’s nothing but repetitive phrases and chants. Some of the bass-blown beats are body-moving, though, and occasionally he nails a catchy hook. With that, he has become one of the fastest rising rappers in the US in the last year. It did lead to awkward moments: there was something alarming about a tent of mostly white youths shouting along with a black man singing “All my friends are dead” while everyone else laughed and danced. JK
Hans Zimmer – Outdoor theatre
An Oscar-winning film composer taking a major spot at Coachella was always a tantalising prospect, but one that left some major questions lingering. On a mammoth stage with a crowd of thousands – most of whom being twentysomethings waiting to watch Kendrick Lamar – just how would a series of film themes be received?
This question was partly answered as Hans Zimmer came on stage to the sounds of Dreams Are Collapsing from Inception and was met with the sight of confused millennials trying to figure out just how to dance along (clue: it ain’t easy). “It takes a special kind of crazy person to bring an orchestra to the desert,” Zimmer said, before musicians who proceeded to take us through some of his greatest hits. The Pirates of the Caribbean theme was an crowd favourite, while King of Pride from The Lion King initially excited then confused phone-lifting festivalgoers who were expecting Circle of Life.
Zimmer brought out a number of vocalists and then, as with pretty much every act this weekend, he introduced a very special surprise guest: Pharrell. The pair performed Freedom, one of their tracks from Hidden Figures, much to the delight of the crowd. But the greatest moment was still to follow as Zimmer followed elements of his Dark Knight trilogy score with Time, the closing song from Inception. It was an exhilarating spectacle, and was met with an electric response. The gamble paid off. BL
Lorde – Main stage
Lorde used her late-evening slot to showcase material from her forthcoming album, Melodrama. Starting off with a portion of her lead single, Green Light, performed staring straight down the barrel of the backstage camera, there was an assured confidence that could have easily seen her as a headliner.
After older tracks such as Tennis Court and the Disclosure collaboration Magnets, she told the audience to expect surprises and said her new album is about the “dichotomy” of having a fantastic night out turn to dust. Although her banter sailed over some heads, Lorde’s self-belief and delivery worked – a surprisingly minimalist setup that saw the Kiwi spend much of the time on stage unaccompanied save for backing singers (and some dancers suspended behind her in a clear box). Whether or not fans get the intricacies of the mindset she’s sketching out in her new work, at its core this is music too well-crafted to fail.
Even with so much new material, the crowd maintained their attention, and tracks such as Homemade Dynamite and Sober exhibited the sophisticated pop she specialises in. Royals and a full version of Green Light finished off a set that showcased a pop star able to hold her own on the biggest of stages. LB
Justice – Outdoor theatre
Justice first emerged a decade ago as a central force in a wave of French electro that gave so many stateside millennials their first taste of dance music. Even though their sound hasn’t changed drastically in that time, their new album, Woman, and their headlining set on Sunday proved they sound fresher than all the EDM pretenders who claim their influence.
The blase duo, clad in bomber jackets and with cigarettes hanging from lips, dropped a relentless hour of hard, dark, and fastidiously slick electro that had the crowd loose, squeezing the last drops of dancing from tired legs. They postured as if to close with their eternally fun re-remix of Simian’s We Are Your Friends, but in typically challenging fashion they curveballed into a high-tempo, old-school techno number that wouldn’t have seemed out of place at Love Parade in 1993. Crowds were lukewarm all weekend but Justice closed the festival on a high note. JK
New Order – Mojave tent
Aside from Radiohead and a surprise appearance from Michael McDonald, the lineup for this year’s festival has been largely lacking in the older acts that, in previous years, have been a steady fixture. So scheduling New Order to close the Mojave tent on the final night felt like something of a treat for those feeling starved of familiar setlists filled with tried and tested bangers.
Despite opening with 2015’s Singularity, the performance was not as predictable as many might have expected but it was soon followed with Your Silent Face . It was a similar format from then on, a mixture of the new and the old, appeasing the hardcore fans while also helping to push their recent material. The band, who laid the groundwork for the EDM acts that have become synonymous with Coachella, chose to focus on their more electro-leaning tracks: a successful strategy with the eager-to-dance crowd but one that meant that, as with their 2013 set here, some classics were left out.
Other than making a poorly judged joke about Barry Manilow’s sexuality and some awkward dancing, Bernard Sumner was a masterful ringleader, and by the time Regret, Blue Monday and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart came around, it became abundantly clear that to survive, Coachella must continue to embrace the old as well as the new. BL