Coachella 2017 – Complete Coverage

First off, the Coachella vibe was great, as always. That is undoubtedly concern #1 for the producers of the festival.
For those interested in a perspective about the infrastructure of this year’s Coachella, that immediately follows.
For those interested in a perspective on this year’s artists, that appears further below in the second half of this report.

INFRASTRUCTURE
Coachella veterans noticed some expansions to the venue:
– Outdoor, Mojave and Gobi stages all moved east. That opened up the distance from Main Stage, now allowing more space for bigger ticket sales, but diminishing sound bleed to some extent.
– Mojave and Gobi switched places.

The art this year left most veterans nonplussed. At least one attendee manifested his wish for a return of the roving Spaceman. Pastel sculptures were second tier Dr. Seuss, far inferior to the arresting caterpillar-into-butterfly and roving spaceman of years past.
Still present are the mesmerizing balloon chains. Stretching far into the sky, buffeted by the breeze, the balloons again lit up after dark.
Ubiquitous against the mountains in the distance remains the festival’s iconic Ferris wheel.
Further observations:
– the attendance demographic was younger; it may well be that Goldenvoice is using Oldchella to draw the elders.
– many water refill stations were woefully ineffective; the trickles of water created long waits and unwieldy lines, further impeding traffic flow.
– a few folks mentioned that the sound mix on weekend 2 was better than the week before.

Eclectic attire was the norm, as always

Chiaozza Garden, by Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza

Is This What Brings Things Into Focus? by Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan

Balloon Chain by Robert Bose

We want The Spaceman back!!

ARTIST REVIEWS

Most observers agreed that the lineup was not as strong as in years past.
Friday

We arrived sadly too late to see the NOLA funk of Pres Hall, had to lick our wounds at Bonobo. As the sun set and we entered the first golden hour of the weekend, Glass Animals seized the moment with lead singer Dave Bayley’s crowd surfing prowess. The band’s pineapple motif signaled their friendly attitude.
XX offered a visually arresting set, with pulsing monochromatic imagery.

Phantogram was equally enchanting. Sarah Barthel’s haughty blonde visage brought to mind a mid-period Debbie Harry. Boyfriend Shaun White hired her band to play his Air + Style festival in 2015; Phantogram has been on a pleasant upward trajectory since then.
Radiohead closed Friday on the main stage. Taking a visual cue from Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, the Brits deployed the full screen before taking the stage, displaying a moonlit desert scene far removed from their roots. After seeing them 12 years apart, I am still unsure what all the fuss is about.

Saturday
Thundercat packed the Mojave tent and delivered slippery grooves, landing in a delightful area somewhere between Return to Forever and Sly Stone.
Róisín Murphy channeled her inner Stevie Nicks with some swirling melodies and stage moves at the Gobi tent.

Róisín Murphy

As the sun began its inexorable slide toward the mountains, Two Door Cinema Club worked the crowd into a frenzy with their propulsive arrangements and sinewy guitar work.
Bon Iver opened with an excerpt from Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (only sorta kidding) and then lurched into a series of auto-tuned songs far removed from what he once sounded like. It was not unlike Neil Young’s inscrutable foray into electronics with “Trans.” Wasn’t that the album that caused Young’s label to sue him? Indeed it was.
But after a few songs the acoustic instruments came out and Justin Vernon’s songs had pleasing melodies. When the brass section took a break the melodies became as gentle as the opening was abrasive.
For the penultimate song, Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis were brought on for a very thoughtful version of Don Henley’s ‘End of the Innocence.’ It was the first time the video screens showed color.
I doubt I have seen another set that swung from maximum abrasiveness at the opening to such melodic beauty at the closing.
Sunday
We braved the heat to ensure we did not miss Toots Hibert, the last alive of the three giant lions of reggae. Toots and the Maytals are the last major link to the birth of the reggae movement, once also championed by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Deftly assaying crucial hits like ‘Funky Kingston’ and ‘Pressure Drop’ in the late afternoon sun, Toots brought the Jamaican heat to the desert.

Toots Hibbert

We then slipped over to the Outdoor stage where Devendra Banhart was delivering his languid set. The temperature started falling, cooling skin and making everybody aware the golden hour was upon us. Banhart offered his goofy yet engaging stage moves, before exiting ten minutes early.

Devendra Banhart, far right

Honne had an equally smooth but jazzier sound, which folks enjoyed under the Mojave tent. Bishop Briggs deftly mixed gospel vocal stylings against electro instrumentation.
Hans Zimmer brought a full orchestra to the Outdoor stage, recreating many of his film scores. While an ambitious booking for Coachella, the effect was more suited to a Tanglewood or Hollywood Bowl engagement. The audience inevitably applauded at the slightest downtempo moment, and then again when the piece ended. The building breeze did nothing to improve the complex sound mix. With the drummer placed nearly center stage, this was not an occasion for nuance. Zimmer’s attempt to meld the orchestral with rock was not as successful as that of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
All that said, I do wish my two daughters were by my side for ‘The Lion King’ segment.
For the penultimate performance of the Main Stage, Lorde delivered. She was far more interesting than Lady Gaga the night before. Lorde admitted the building breeze was “on brand” for her. She had an inscrutable set of dancers, moving mostly in slow motion, encased in a glass aquarium that was lifted above her upstage. Lorde’s band was stage right, leaving her a clean open space in which to perform. For being only two decades old, Lorde is a confident and commanding singer.
Biggest surprise of the weekend? It was right near the end, in the Gobi tent with Real Estate. Multiple guitars reminiscent of War on Drugs, swirling arrangements and pleasing vocals make for an appealing recipe. I will add this quintet to future playlists.
New Order closed the Mojave tent with their brooding mix of throbbing keyboards, insistent percussion and slashing guitars. Although the band is decades old, not enough EDM fans recognize how near the genre is to what New Order birthed. The crucial  difference is that New Order does it with drums and wires.

Their second song of the evening was a gripping rendition of their hallmark ‘Age of Consent,’ for me the highlight of the weekend.

(additional reporting by Carly, Ellie, Glenn and Grant Auerbach)

(all photos by Brad Auerbach)


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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