Last Saturday, at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., it was David Byrne who stole the show. The former Talking Heads leader landed the coveted sunset slot on the Outdoor Theater stage for Day 2 of Weekend 2 and drew a large audience. He was accompanied by a barefoot 11-piece band clad in matching gray outfits. They all played mobile instruments, used wireless microphones and did synchronized moves. It was riveting.
Byrne initially appeared alone onstage, sitting at a desk with a model of a human brain as a prop for the opener “Here,” off strong new album “American Utopia.” Two backing singers slowly emerged from behind a transparent scrim to join him. The rest of the musicians arrived for an infectious “Lazy,” Byrne’s 2002 award-winning hit collaboration with U.K. house music duo X-Press 2.
A tribal “I Zimbra,” the first of several Talking Heads numbers, was intense; the recent single “Everybody’s Coming to My House,” joyous revelry. An idyllic “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” prompted fans own interpretive dancing around Empire Polo Field. Byrne did his trademark herky-jerky moves and dramatic gestures during Talking Heads tune “Once in a Lifetime” and got a rousing response. The skittering mantra “I Dance Like This” saw the band lined up single file; some of them played what looked like miked-up fishing poles.
The absurd lyrics on “Everyday is a Miracle” seemed to cause a few gals next to me to laugh hysterically as the musicians’ vocals soared and they formed a drum circle. Other Talking Heads’ songs like the horn-driven “Blind” (with Byrne’s image in stark black and white for fine effect on the screens) and “Burning Down the House” were definitely exciting. Back in a single file line with drums, they closed with a take on Janelle Monae’s 2015 protest song “Hell You Talmbout,” which lists the names of African Americans killed during encounters with police or racial violence. Chilling stuff.
|photo: Charles Reagan Studios|
After the tune finished, she said it was about the pure frustration and anger of seeing rape victims shamed. “It’s time to put the blame where it belongs – on the perpetrators.” Several young ladies watching in the crowd along the Outdoor Theater stage soundboard nodded in approval. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them went home and downloaded what could easily be a #MeToo anthem.
The remainder of First Aid Kit’s alluring performance often leaned toward the Americana strains heard on excellent new album “Ruins” and past efforts like “Stay Gold” and “Lions,” with breezy pedal steel work and wonderful harmonies. Standouts included acoustic guitar-based B-side “Wolves” (which got a rousing response), “Emmylou,” a sweet older track about the Soderbergs’ love for country music where that genre’s past power couples Emmylou Harris & Gram Parsons and Johnny & June Carter Cash were namechecked, and the compelling “My Silver Lining.”
Declan McKenna drew a decent crowd at the Mohave tent. “I came prepared for the beach and just got out of my flip flops,” said the wiry 19-year-old London-based singer/guitarist sporting large sunglasses. After a male fan shouted, “I love you, Declan,” he replied, “I do too. It’s good to love yourself, you know?”
McKenna’s impressive set revolved around solid 2017 debut album “What Do You Think About the Car?” and often recalled such 1990s indie rockers as Pavement and Ben Lee, paired with occasional synth pop touches. He frequently ventured close or into the crowd. Highlights included the striking ballad “Paracetamol” (about the suicide of a transgender teen), the ska-tinged “Isombard” and catchy hit “Brazil,” where he played electric guitar with abandon and fans eagerly clapped along.
Immediately following McKenna was Django Django. The U.K. alt-dance band brought along enticing visuals to project on their screens. Scottish front man Vincent Neff was quite a live wire onstage. He urged fans to dance, to “imagine it’s midnight” and humorously “feel the arpeggio flow to your booty.”
The highly rhythmic tunes, where the guys often added extra percussion, easily got people moving about, especially amid the propulsive Kraftwerk-styled title track to new album “Marble Skies,” a moody, synth-enhanced “Surface to Air” (which included a snippet of Blondie’s “Rapture”), the frenetic Inspiral Carpets-leaning “Tic Tac Doe” and Jimmy Dixon’s added harmonies/Peter Hook-inspired bassline on “In Your Beat.”
Since the Mojave tent was moved closer to the Rose Garden this year (and other tents or stages were shifted), heading over to the main Coachella Stage took longer than usual. Still, I managed to catch the last few songs of Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. The legendary guitarist/producer had no problem turning Coachella into a desert disco – even in the 95F heat. They did a fun take on Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and powerhouse vocalist Kimberly Davis (who has had dance hits on her own) capped it with an awesome vocal run. Later, equally stunning vocalist Folami would shine.
|photo: Nikki Jahanforouz|
Then Chic did a couple more songs that Rodgers had a hand in creating: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” (starting slow then gradually picking up the pace) and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” (drummer Ralph Rolle handled lead vocals - nobody can match The Thin White Duke - and a long audience participation bit).
Finally, the Chic groove soared again for two of its No. 1 singles: “Le Freak” and “Good Times.” A mass of people came onstage to boogie down during the latter tune, while Rodgers went into “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. Chic gets bonus points for the brilliant graphics and old school footage on the screens.
Back at the Outdoor Theater stage, Borns was quite a sight. Clad in a gold lame outfit (sans shirt), the pop/rock singer from Michigan was constantly zig zagging across large stairs emblazoned with his name as the band performed on top.
Evenly divided between 2015 debut “Dopamine” and the new album “Blue Madonna,” the set's dreamier songs and others found Borns giving his falsetto and high flying vocal range a hearty workout. Sometimes he’d strap on a pink electric guitar and rock out (“We Don’t Care,” “10,000 Emerald Pools”). The highlight came at the end, during Borns’ slightly glam rock-esque, 2015 multi-format U.S. hit, “Electric Love.”
“Thanks for coming to see a guitar band at 8:30,” said Alvvays singer/guitarist Molly Rankin. The Canadian indie rock group didn’t disappoint in the Mojave tent, filling their set with pure pop confections marked by a frequently dense sound and lush vocals.
Keyboardist Kerri MacLellan (pictured below) provided sublime assistance in that department. Rankin started most songs by counting them off. A chiming “Not My Baby,” the melodic cascade of sound in “Plimsoul Punks” and a sonic maelstrom with rapid fire vocals on “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” fared best and brought to mind The Primitives.
|photo: George A. Paul|
The most memorable ones I spotted? A bumblebee costume (surely the dude danced up a storm later in the Sahara tent); a guy's t-shirt that read “Dissent is not disloyalty” and a woman in the food court with a t-shirt that said “Stop. Collaborate and listen.” Good advice. It's also an old MC Hammer lyric.
All photos, except Alvvays, courtesy of Goldenvoice and Coachella.