Inarguably, from this writer’s point of view, Saturday is the most stacked day of Coachella this year, in terms of lineup, and this started early with Black Lips taking to the Mojave stage just after 2pm. Those who had made it down early enough to catch their rambunctious rock will have had the previous day’s hangover knocked out of them within a few songs as the band tore through favourites old and new. A highlight of the set came when they announced “we’ve got friends too!” and brought out their own version hologram of Notorious B.I.G., but of course without the budget of Dre and Snoop the best they could afford was a life-size cardboard cut out of the man, which they made dance around the stage to his classic hit “Hypnotize.” It was a set packed with energy and excitement, particularly in songs such as “Modern Art” and “Bad Kids,” which really got day two off to a good start.
The Big Pink
The Head And The Heart
Andrew Bird enjoyed a set time on the outdoor stage around the time when the sun is still hot, but not so intense that you feel paralyzed by it, therefore he managed to create a sea of happy and buoyant people who were inspired to dance or shuffle around with his idiosyncratic indie pop music. As if there wasn’t already enough to look at onstage what with the stage adornments and spinning gramophones, Bird invited Annie Clark aka St. Vincent on to reprise her role from “Luisitania” off Bird’s latest record Break It Yourself. There were plenty of genuine Andrew Bird fans that could be seen and heard all around the crowd singing along to every word, and by the time Bird came to the last couple of songs he seemed to have them all skipping along with each pluck of his violin; they were eating out of his hands and completely loving every second of it.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Jeff Mangum’s set this weekend was certainly one of my most anticipated, but I had no idea what to expect. Mangum doesn’t allow any photos or video to be taken of his performances, not even for the large screens to either side of the stage, so all eyes were focused on his physical being as he arrived on stage and promptly sat down and picked up a guitar. My initial feeling was that this arena was going to be difficult for a seated single man to conquer, but his attitude instantly created a sense of intimacy which was capitalized upon with early sing-alongs of “Holland, 1945” and “The King of Carrot Flowers.” A little further into the set the arrangements started to become a little more detailed as he was joined by several musicians that added French horn, trumpet, cello and more. “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” was the singalong everyone was hoping for, but the highlight of the set was undoubtedly the magisterial “Oh Comely,” which saw Mangum in particularly fine form vocally. It’s a testament to the strength of the songs that even without any kind of stage show backing them they managed to captivate a festival audience.
There are a lot of mumbles around James Mercer’s The Shins and the fact that he’s the only remaining member from the days when they made their early albums, but in watching the band play it seems like this ensemble has been together for years. Kicking off with “Sleeping Lessons” the band perfectly wound up the audience with a quiet beginning that accelerated into a proper starter halfway through. Recent single “Simple Song” was heralded like a fan favourite, while the bouncy “No Way Down” went down nicely. “So Says I” and “New Slang” were a couple more old numbers that got excellent crowd reactions, but this current band setup is made to play the new songs, and it was these that were most enjoyable, particularly “It’s Only Life” and the impressive closer “Port Of Morrow.”
Bon Iver’s current live show almost seems excessive; custom stage design, additional lights, two drummers and seven other musicians currently back Justin Vernon, but when the first hit of opening number “Perth” finally hits it all starts to make sense. Bon Iver’s current live set up is all about being as expansive sounding as possible, so cutting down their set list to make it fit a 50 minute set time meant an awful lot of big finales to songs. Although the old songs such as “Michicant” and “Holocene” were written this way and undoubtedly sounded incredible, it was the way that the older songs have been puffed up to fit this new sound that was most interesting. “Creature Fear” now features a full-throttle rock out finale, as does “Blood Bank,” while “Skinny Love” still centers around the power of one man and an acoustic guitar, but with plenty of extra back up singing (from the crowd as well as the band). “Beth / Rest” would not have been my ideal choice for closing song, but the relaxed atmosphere it brought over the crowd was impressive, and it left a decent impression.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Even hours before Radiohead took to the stage it was already jam packed down the front of the audience, but this didn’t mean anything to some people who made things even more uncomfortable as they thrust forward after the conclusion of Bon Iver, making things even more uncomfortable. This discomfort was all forgotten about as soon as the band arrived and their spellbinding stage show hit with full effect. The opening segment focused mainly on recent material and the silhouette of Thom Yorke dancing around like the Pied Piper in front of the colourful lights, leading everyone down the strange paths of “Morning Mr. Magpie” and “Staircase.”
Radiohead are veterans of the live performance and they knew exactly how to control the flow of the evening, scaling back to less energetic songs at just the right moments – the Amnesiac double salvo of “Pyramid Song” and “You And Whose Army?” being a particular highlight. After more energy expended on old favourite “Kid A” and new jam “Lotus Flower,” it was time for Radiohead to remind us how they became the kings of festivals in the first place with a performance of “Karma Police” to which the audience rose magnificently to sing along.
Some fans in the audience may have been frustrated with the In Rainbows triplet of “House of Cards,” “Reckoner” and “Bodysnatchers” in the first encore, but the songs had as much vibrance as ever – particularly the final two. Anyone in the audience hoping to hear more 90s material cannot have complained after a second encore that closed out with a couple of OK Computer classics, “Exit Music” and “Paranoid Android,” both of which simultaneously brought fear and joy into the arena, so powerful was the performance with the light and video show combined.
This was Radiohead’s farewell to America for a little while and they took the opportunity to show once more why they are still the most sought after headline band for any festival in the world; it’s because they’re still the undisputed best.