The 16th edition of Coachella launches this weekend and simultaneously kicks off America’s major music festival season. Having attended the first one in 1999 - when Beck, Morrissey, Modest Mouse, Moby, Rage Against the Machine, Tool topped the bill – I’ve been amazed at how much the event has grown in stature over the intervening years.
Now the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival , held in Indio, Calif. (just outside of Palm Springs), draws talent and concertgoers from every corner of the globe. According to Billboard Magazine, it was the top-grossing festival in 2014 and had an average attendance of just under 100,000 people daily during both three-day weekends.
This year boasts another eclectic lineup with more than 150 acts on multiple stages, plus another 50 electronic-leaning acts on the DoLab stage. With such a dizzying array of choices, I’ve compiled a list of “can’t miss” performers beyond headliners AC/DC, Jack White and Drake. Check www.coachella.com for updates, set times and more information.
April 10 and 17
George Ezra – Inspired by Woody Guthrie, Howlin’ Wolf and Lead Belly, the young British folk newcomer possesses a deep bass-baritone voice. His spirited ’14 debut album Wanted on Voyage was one of the biggest sellers in Britain and spawned two top 10 singles there. Earlier this year, Ezra (pictured above) did a tour opening stint for Sam Smith and appeared on Saturday Night Live. The whimsical music video for “Blame it on Me” features Sir Ian McKellen lip synching Ezra’s lyrics.
Interpol – Marking their fourth Coachella appearance, these NYC gloom merchants thrive in darkness. One past main stage set in Indio even featured strange backing screen imagery courtesy director David Lynch. Touring behind the appropriately-named El Pintor (“the painter”), the guys polish their newer atmospheric post-punk tunes in broad strokes alongside members of Secret Machines and Bon Iver.
Kele – Trick, the solid second solo album from the Bloc Party front man, delves further into dance club music than before, with subtle forays into techno, dubstep and more. Add Kele’s urgent falsetto and confessional lyrics and you have a perfect fit for Coachella’s Gobi or Mojave tents.
Lykke Li – This Swedish singer first appeared on many people’s radars after contributing “Possibility” to the Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack and the European hit “I Follow Rivers” in 2011. Rappers gravitate toward remixing her tunes. The reverb-laden alt-pop tales of heartache on last year’s I Never Learn (co-produced by longtime collaborator Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn & John) are a wonder to behold. And her backing vocal contribution to U2’s “The Troubles” made it a highlight of the unjustly maligned Songs of Innocence.
Ride – When Oasis offshoot band Beady Eye split last year, guitarist Andy Bell returned to Ride - the group where his music career first took off while at school in Oxford, England. Signed to esteemed UK indie label Creation during the 1990s, the popular “shoegazers” specialized in a dense psychedelic sound on such classics of the era as “Vapor Trail,” “Leave Them All Behind” and the more folk/rock-leaning “Twisterella” (all of which received modern rock radio airplay here). Rhino Records just put out a new career retrospective, OX4: The Best of Ride, as a refresher course.
Porter Robinson – In just a few short years, the promising young electronic DJ from North Carolina has amassed a No. 1 iTunes dance chart single (“Language”), hit Zedd collaboration (“Clarity”), Lady Gaga remix (“The Edge of Glory”) and ethereal debut album (Worlds).
Also worth seeking out: Caribou
April 11 and 18
Bad Suns – Bringing to mind Local Natives, Phoenix and a more effervescent 311, this Los Angeles indie rock band’s music is characterized by plangent guitar effects and Christo Bowman’s high crystalline vocals. The Edge-like guitar effects on earworm single “Cardiac Arrest” (a top 20 U.S. alternative it in 2013), plus the danceable “Salt” and “Transpose” helped make 2014’s Language & Perspective an enticing first album.
Belle and Sebastian – After a five year absence, during which leader Stuart Murdoch released a memoir, then wrote and scored his feature film debut “God Help the Girl,” the Scottish chamber pop outfit is finally back. It often downplays past twee tendencies for more danceable pop fare on frothily delightful album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.
Hozier – This lanky Irishman’s performance of top 5 pop hit “Take Me to Church” alongside Annie Lennox was a highlight of February’s Grammy Awards. The tantalizing blend of blues, gospel and rock on his self-titled effort made it one of last the year’s best albums and should go down a storm during his Coachella debut.
Kasabian – One of the more successful dance rock acts to emerge from England in the mid-2000s, these guys are always full of attitude in concert. That was evident by their vigorous Coachella set three years ago in a packed Mojave tent where singer Tom Meighan easily worked the crowd into a frenzy. For latest release 48:13 (named after the running time), synthesizers tend to take precedence, especially on EDM-approved single “Eez-eh.”
Also worth seeking out: The Weeknd, St. Paul + Broken Bones
April 12 and 19
Ryan Adams – More than a dozen full-length studio efforts into his career, Adams’ lean and mean eponymous album is proof positive that you don’t always need a producer to realize your vision. There’s a subtle Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen rock vibe to these songs, which feature contributions from Heartbreaker Benmont Tench and Johnny Depp (on guitar). Landing at No. 1 on my top 10 album of ’14, Empire Polo Field should be the perfect setting to hear this enrapturing material and more.
Florence + the Machine – When Florence Welsh and company held court on the Outdoor Theatre set at Coachella ’12 (also a Sunday), the magnificent set was a festival standout. Like a modern day Stevie Nicks, the flame-haired singer’s dramatic art rock often transports the listener to another world. She’s amassed two platinum albums and the top 20 singles “Spectrum (Say My Name),” “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) and “You’ve Got the Love” in her native Britain. Coachella listeners will likely get an early taste of much anticipated new album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, due out June 1.
Jenny Lewis – This Las Vegas native got her start in acting as a child on several high profile TV shows and films before transitioning to music in the late ‘90s with the critically acclaimed Rilo Kiley.
Now solo, Lewis (seen at left) has done studio work with The Postal Service, Elvis Costello, Brandon Flowers, Bright Eyes, M. Ward, plus dual albums with The Watson Twins and her partner Johnathan Rice. Produced by Ryan Adams, The Voyager finds Lewis in excellent, luxurious confessional mode with frank lyrics and dollops of classic country.
Night Terrors of 1927 – The Los Angeles alt-rock group, led by singer Jarrod Gorbel (ex-The Honorary Title) and former Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett, recently put out Everything’s Coming up Roses. Bearing shades of AFI and The Killers, it’s one of the strongest debut albums of the year so far. Their percolating duet with Tegan and Sara is pure bliss, while the dramatic “Shine” and goth-tinged “Always Take You Back” finely showcase Gorbel’s rich baritone.
St. Lucia – Raised in South Africa, where he sang classical and opera with a travelling boys choir, Jean-Philip Grobler studied music in Liverpool before landing in Brooklyn. St. Lucia’s entrancing synth-pop and alt-dance tunes on 2013’s When the Night share a stylistic kinship with M83. Grobler has also remixed tunes for Foster the People, Passion Pit and Charli XXC and produced Haerts.
Also worth seeking out: Vance Joy, The Cribs, Saint Motel