Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2019 (Weekend 2) review

photo: Robert Kinsler
For the past two decades, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has been among America's best barometers of the current music climate as well as a fine showcase of the past. Although rock music didn't have a strong presence like the other 17 Coachellas that I've attended, I had no problem finding some new and old favorites among the 20 full or partial sets I witnessed (out of 175+ acts across seven stages).

Here's my rundown:

photo: George A. Paul
Friday night at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., The 1975’s spectacular 55-minute set featured multiple phrases that flashed across large screens flanking the main Coachella Stage. One stated “rock ‘n’ roll is dead,” but the Manchester, England alt-rock band proved otherwise, especially with Adam Hann’s excellent guitar work. It was most prominent during the upbeat hit singles “Give Yourself a Try,” “Chocolate,” “Sex” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You).” A tenement building scene served as a backdrop for the Broadway-styled presentation of the soulful and jazzy “Sincerity is Scary.”

Front man Matt Healey briefly reverted back to what he might've looked like as a teenager by putting on a rabbit eared hat, backpack and headphones. He sang it while walking across a treadmill placed along the stage edge. Majestic ballad “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” - one of seven played from 2018's A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships - had a dramatic uplift akin to early Radiohead, was a standout and saw Healey display a rare serious side. Infectious final song “The Sound” had fans loudly singing along.

Earlier Friday, Let’s Eat Grandma kicked off all the Gobi tent action. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, friends since childhood from England, put on a performance like no other. They played keyboards and took turns playing each one during the 40-minute experimental pop set.

Opening with the jarring “Hot Pink, the gals moved into electro territory on “It’s Not Just Me,” both from second album I’m All Ears. At times, they harmonized like Tegan & Sara, but the electronic sonic terrain encompassed saxophone, recorder, electric guitar, cheerleader-styled handclaps and vocals. Sometimes, the pair would get out from behind the keys to frolic around the stage, run into the crowd, lay on the floor and do some dance moves. The 11-minute-long “Donnie Darko” served as a finale.

photo: Robert Kinsler
Following Let’s Eat Grandma was Hooray for the Riff Raff, a compelling Americana/rock vehicle for Puerto Rican singer Alynda Segarra. Clad in a shiny blue leather outfit, she possessed a fierce and sultry stage presence and was definitely a force to be reckoned with. “Living in the City” had a Lou Reed vibe, while politically-leaning songs such as “Rican Beach” and “Pa’lante” boasted thought-provoking lyrics about “politicians building walls to keep us out” on the former and Milagros on the latter as Segarra called for female and trans power.

Beach Fossils drew a good-sized afternoon crowd to Gobi. Arriving onstage to a shrewdly-filmed sendup of SNL’s intro, the Brooklyn indie rock band went down a storm. They enraptured the crowd with atmospheric tunes such as set opener “This Year” and “Sugar” (off 2017’s Somersault) reminiscent of prime 1990s shoegaze and alt-pop (think: Ride, Ocean Blue). Front man Dustin Payseur said the dreamy “Sleep Apnea” was about “existential dread on a sunny day.” Later, he joked about wanting to see a mosh pit and teased the crowd with an Oasis snippet. Elsewhere, “Sleep Apnea” and the jangly “Adversity” fared well live.

The fully enclosed, air-conditioned Sonora tent stage provided a welcome respite from the heat. Designed like a hip, small Los Angeles club, it had a separate bar, couches and murals. Here, The Frights had balloon sculpture towers next to their instruments and several twisted balloons were thrown into the audience. Several of the alt-rock band’s songs veered toward the whimsical punk side (like fellow San Diego area native Blink-182) and a few young, obviously inexperienced stage divers tried their luck, often with poor results. A hard-hitting “All I Need” made the most impact, while “Over It” prompted pogoing en masse.

Listening to Kacey Musgraves and watching the country music performer makes you feel good about life. Her 45-minute set on the Coachella Stage primarily concentrated on 2018’s award-winning Golden Hour album. Since it tends to lean more into pop than country territory, the songs went over well – especially with a huge silver disco ball positioned behind Musgraves.

photo: George A. Paul
“Slowburn” was a hypnotic opener and “Wonder Woman” had a luxurious texture. Before the love song “Butterflies,” she admitted it was her first time at Coachella and noted how she loved seeing “a million types of people in the crowd…we all can find common ground.” Several LGBTQ fans near me cheered. The breezy “Lonely Weekend” was a standout and the album’s title track - another luxurious sounding tune - was gorgeous.

Switching to a stripped-down band configuration for “Family is Family” (off 2015’s Pageant Material), Musgraves talked about “weird as hell” family members from her “itty bitty” hometown in Texas. Then, as at an equally excellent Stagecoach Festival appearance last year on the same stage, she prefaced the pleasant “Love is a Wild Thing” by saying “Love is a beautiful organic thing. You can’t crush or vote it out. It’ll always trump hate.” Loud cheers erupted in the crowd.

Also providing comfort to fans in attendance facing some kind of adversity, Musgraves told “anyone with a weight on your shoulders, you’re not alone” and launched into the electric piano only take on her ballad “Rainbow.” Finally, the band – still wearing matching brown attire, but the bassist was wrapped in a rainbow flag – rejoined for the disco-fied “High Horse."

The Coachella art installations never disappoint. They’re always a wonder to behold when you’re relaxing, grabbing food or a drink and serve as the perfect spot to take photos – especially in our current social media obsessed society.

photo: George A. Paul
One of the best art pieces was Hazardous Interstellar Professional Operations (H.I.P.O.), designed by Dedo Vabo, which revolved around hippos preparing to launch a rocket. At night, people could peer into windows and see the “hippos” busily scrambling around.

Colossal Cacti, by Office Kovacs, were bright and eye-catching, especially after sunset. Everybody seemed to love the revamped return of Overview Effect (AKA the giant roaming astronaut) from Poetic Kinetics. A half dozen large paisley patterns comprised the Mismo installation by Sofia Enriquez. Sarbale ke - a dozen colorful hut-type structures – were patterned after baobab trees in West Africa. Also making a return engagement was Spectra, the seven-story spiral translucent observation deck of various hues.

Early Saturday afternoon, Wallows played the Mojave tent and drew a large crowd. Led by singer/guitarists Dylan Minette and Braeden Lemasters (who are also actors - no wonder there were so many screaming female teens around), the young LA alt-pop band was like a breath of fresh air.

photo: Robert Kinsler
Several strong songs from the just-released debut album Nothing Happens, such as the jaunty, trumpet-enhanced “Ice Cold Pool” (segueing into a snipped of Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?”), “Remember When” (and its Peter Hook-inspired bassline) and the racing set closer “I’m Full,” variously recalled The Strokes and ‘80s UK act Orange Juice. The recent sprightly rock radio hit “Are You Bored Yet” received the loudest response. Clairo guests on the studio version and was scheduled to play Coachella the next day, but apparently wasn’t available to reprise her singing role in person.

After constantly hearing the top five alternative hit “She’s Kerosene” on heavy rotation at KROQ/106.7 FM last year and raves about gigs from colleagues, I was eager to see if The Interrupters lived up to the hype. Performing on the Outdoor Theatre stage, the Los Angeles ska-punk band didn’t disappoint. Lead singer Aimee Allen and guitarist Kevin Bivona were balls of energy and all over the stage. They always kept the proceedings interesting.

At various points, Bivona thanked event promoter Goldenvoice for doing its part to keep punk rock alive in LA over the years, joked while introducing his brothers in the band (I'm the one who's been to the most Coachellas") and described the inspiring ska-tinged “Title Holder” as being about “fighting addiction and PTSD – you’re not alone.” Fans near the stage skanked right along.

A small mosh pit developed during the vigorous chant-worthy, fist pumping anthem “Take Back the Power,” which Bivona said was a “protest and unity song…there’s no room for racism or homophobia.” Allen, whose voice resembles Joan Jett, was constantly smiling. Other set standouts included “On a Turntable,” a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Sound System” (former member Tim Armstrong regularly works with the group), “She Got Arrested” and a supercharged “Kerosene.”

Bob Moses set the perfect mood on the Outdoor Theatre stage with an alluring 50-minute set around sundown. Backdrop imagery of storms and fire shrewdly elevated the atmosphere. The Grammy-winning electronic duo from Canada played several songs from its impressive latest album Battle Lines, including the Noel Gallagher-esque “Back Down,” “Enough to Believe,” “Nothing but You” and others. The guys paid tribute to the recent death of The Prodigy’s Keith Flint with a fitting “Breathe” cover. They capped it off with the seductive “Tearing Me Up,” a top 20 alternative chart hit.

photo: George A. Paul
Weezer bore the distinction of having the longest history with Coachella of anyone on the festival bill (it appeared in 2001, which I also attended). The LA alt-rock band was also the biggest, most recognizable name to fly the “rock” banner here in ‘19. It just put out two albums and already scored big hits off each one (Toto’s “Africa”; “Can’t Knock the Hussle”).

With a prime evening slot on the main stage Saturday night right before headliner Tame Impala, Rivers Cuomo and company delivered a solid hourlong set with selections dating back to the 1994 debut album.

Talk about fun: Huddled together at one microphone stand near the side of the stage, Weezer opened with an a capella version of their first big hit “Buddy Holly” dressed as a barbershop quartet. That was followed by a homage to the song’s “Happy Days” series-themed music video with Bill Haley & the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” and actor Al Molinaro’s introduction. After a brief mistake, the actual song’s performance sounded strong. “My Name is Jonas” and “Hash Pipe,” accompanied by fire plumes, were brawny as ever. Cuomo even stuck out his tongue, KISS style, on the latter. The guys joked around amid the popular “Pork and Beans.”

Surprisingly, a cover of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” (heard on the new “Teal” album) led into a quick snippet of Green Day’s “Longview” and back again. The crowd really went crazy for “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” paired with archival video footage of the city. Brian Bell even did some tasty guitar box action. Another cover, this time A-ha’s “Take on Me,” was pure jubilation. Even with the hot and windy weather, Cuomo still managed to nail that seemingly impossible high vocal note at the end. Finally, Weezer concluded with the hard rocking “Say it Ain’t So” as fans fist pumped their fists in unison.

Also noteworthy on Saturday: New Jersey electro-pop band Arizona, which occasionally verged into Depeche Mode musical territory during an afternoon set on the Coachella Stage with “Freaking Out,” “Find Someone” and “Oceans Away.”

Thousands of Coachella attendees flocked to Kanye West’s special Easter Sunday service, but only a few hundred seemed interested in sticking around when the gates opened to see the day’s early performances.

Mansionair defined the term “calm, cool and collected” at the Mojave tent. Playing songs from its new album Shadowboxer, the Aussie trio were entrancing on chill synth-pop songs like a delicate “Alibi,” the subtle, popular “Easier” and “Falling.” Later, Jack Froggatt’s delicate vocals got more dominant during the guitar-driven “Violet City” and danceable “Astronaut (Something About Your Love.”

photo: Robert Kinsler
Singer/guitarist Nicolas Munoz, who records under the name Boy Pablo, brought his band to Coachella for a very entertaining Gobi tent set featuring everything from soccer-type chants (some of the musicians originally hail from Chile) and dance moves to a bit of 1970s pop hit “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band, done a capella style.

Based in Norway, Munoz recent won a prestigious music prize in that country. The group’s blissful jangle-pop impressed most on the Belle & Sebastian-ish “WTF,” “Losing” (bearing shades of Aztec Camera) and breezy 2017 viral video hit “Everytime.”

photo: Robert Kinsler
Alice Merton rocked the Gobi tent with authority, coming across like Garbage’s Shirley Manson and Gwen Stefani at times. Her tight backing band definitely elevated songs like opener “Learn to Live,” the intense drama of “Speak Your Mind,” the funky “Trouble in Paradise” and “Funny Business” - all from the new album MintChildhood tale “Homesick,” a Stonesy “Lash Out” (where Merton owned the stage) and the tribal hit closer “No Roots” were all highlights. 

Elsewhere on Sunday, indie rocker Soccer Mommy (the nom de guerre of leader Sophie Allison) held court in the Sonora tent. Her low-key set included tracks from last year’s critically-acclaimed album Clean such as “Last Girl,” “Cool” and the laconic “Wildflowers.” Possessing an onstage vibe akin to a more laid-back Liz Phair, her fans were very attentive; some even swayed along while Allison and the other two electric guitarists locked into a sleepy groove.

Chvrches closed out the festival for this writer on a strong note in the packed Mojave tent. The Scottish synth-pop trio’s impressive 2018 album Love is Dead was represented by powerful renditions of “Graffiti,” “Miracle” and “Get Out” (the last two went top 20 at alternative radio) as Lauren Mayberry spun around in her fluffy “Black Swan” dress. The singer’s self-deprecating humor between the songs was memorable. Yet the loudest crowd reaction came from the final selection – propulsive 2012 hit “The Mother We Share.”

A version of this review appeared at

No comments: