Coachella is a truly beautiful realm where long-absent bands and air-conditioned dance floors exist within walking distance. We spend so much of our time trapped in our plodding, far-less-interesting “real” existences that we need things like the three-day Coachella to break up the monotony. Even the skies look like something out of a Tolkein novel. This year, Coachella was especially crowded; it took me upward of two hours to finally get in the doors on the first day, but once you’re there, all the annoyances and claustrophobia fade away. Sure, it’s a bummer when the band you want to see is playing in a tent filled to dangerous capacity, and it sucks when you can’t find a cold bottle of water, but in the larger context of the festival, those little things don’t even come close to sullying the whole experience.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Like I said, the entirely unnecessary traffic and impossibly slow line made it so I couldn’t catch potentially amazing acts like Sleigh Bells, Yeasayer, Baroness, Wale, and others. But I managed to make it over to the Gobi Tent to catch the back half of Dillinger Escape Plan’s set for a surprisingly populated crowd; you wouldn’t expect the Coachella masses of post-scene hipsters to get down with such a niche act, but there was an enthusiastic pit, and plenty of applause when the songs became recognizable. There’s a reason Dillinger was the only hardcore-leaning band booked at Coachella: They’re just so much better than the average aughtie-bred Hot Topic act. Anyone who’s heard their records knows how preposterously awesome the members are at their respective instruments, and somehow they recreate it live with ease and a heavy dose of showmanship. I watched as lead screamer Greg Puciato climbed up the stage, hung upside down from the rafters, and threw his arms out, all under the entirely un-atmospheric cover of the late afternoon. Rock on.
“For those of you who didn’t think there was going to be a show here today, you lose!” a crinkly Gil Scott-Heron said to the audience, equipped, as always, with his cinnamon suit and totally badass golfer’s hat. Scott-Heron has had the most unlikely of comebacks following his perplexingly awesome I’m New Here, and he easily resisted any sort of washed-up qualms with his set. For the first few songs, it was just Gil and his piano—a “real piano” as he pointed out to his audience. And despite a few endless renditions, including a verse-absent take of “Work for Peace,” he sounded leathery as always, and still entirely relevant. And “Did You Hear What They Said?” still hits really hard. I just wish he could’ve played some stuff off of his latest record; I bet “New York Is Killing Me” absolutely slays live.
Them Crooked Vultures
The guy behind me was probably approaching his 50s, probably visits the gym twice a day, and probably was a little louder than he intended to be, but he was there for this band and that’s it. He was even sporting his TCV shirt fresh from the merch table. To be honest, I was there more for LCD Soundsystem’s performance one slot down the bill than for a supergroup, but I have to say, when you put two undisputed icons of the previous decade of rock music, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme, with a legend like John Paul Jones, it’s going to be a good time. In fact, the notion of latching onto this flimsy, potentially one-off project with such adoration makes a lot of sense. Because audiences are constantly being subjected to heinous, gravel-voiced shlock that radio is continually trying to dub “rock,” this type of boozy, riff-laden music sounds miles better than every other option available to the casual listener. We need comically oversized 12-string guitars, we need Dave Grohl hunched over his drumset like a gargoyle, we need Josh Homme’s full-throttle vocals. Rock n’ roll will never die, and the genuine awesome level of Them Crooked Vultures’s set is the biggest testament to that.
From the moment a giant disco ball was rolled on stage, you could tell that James Murphy was not fucking around, at least not anymore. This was probably the biggest stateside show LCD has ever put on, and Murphy was quite aware. To paraphrase: “We’ve always been the mixed nuts of Coachella, but this year we’re the fish. We’re not the steak that’s Jay-Z, but we’re the fish, finally.” It’s clear that he hopes one day to dominate the hearts and minds of everyone, not just the hipsters. The music was predictably great, with the band rolling out neo-classics like “Us v Them,” “All My Friends,” “Losing My Edge,” and “Yeah” right alongside bangers “Drunk Girls,” “I Can Change,” and “Pow Pow” off the upcoming record. Naturally, for a band that specializes in seven-minute, incredibly gradual compositions, it was one of the shorter sets of the festival in terms of song-count. (Murphy even tried to rush his banter.) The two kids in front of me were there solely for Jay-Z; they weren’t even sure what an “LCD Soundsystem” was, but by the time Murphy got to “Yeah,” they were dancing harder than anyone else in the crowd—absolute proof that this band should be far bigger than they are.
And so, 11 years after starting with Beck, Rage Against the Machine, and Tool, Coachella had its first unquestionably hip-hop headliner. Crack a bottle. Rumors of Beyoncé, Kanye West, even a revitalized Dr. Dre with a new track off of the now-preposterously delayed Detox showing up for Jay’s set sifted through the festival all day—and, well, besides a predictably gorgeous Beyoncé delivering the hook on the not-very-good “Forever Young,” none of that came to be. Still, there was Jay-Z, being Jay-Z, and that cannot be touched. “99 Problems?” You got it. “Empire State of Mind”? Of course. “Big Pimpin”? “Hard Knock Life”? “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”? Yep, yep, yep. We’ll throw in “Encore” too, just to be safe. Not even a potentially debilitating sore throat could keep Hova down. This is what a headliner set should be: no filler, no obscure cuts or American Gangster-era socio-hop, just the hits you and everyone else want to hear. (I still wish he would have played “Roc Boys,” but hey, you can’t have it all.)