The 10 best performances we caught at Coachella
Coachella: Day 3
With more than 100 performances — plus outlandish visual experiences and even a tiki bar — the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival can overwhelm even the most die-hard of music fans.
But now that all the desert dust has settled and the crowds have departed, at least for the first weekend, here are the performances that made the most lasting impressions.
Not many acts can use Coachella’s gigantic platform to make its debut in the U.S. But that’s just what the Avalanches did when the reclusive Australian outfit — which reunited last year to release “Wildflower,” its first album in more than 15 years — brought its jubilant disco-pop to a tightly packed Mojave tent.
“First U.S.A. show ever!” one of the band’s vocalists crowed, and he may have been more pumped than the audience. On record, the Avalanches are known for stitching together hundreds of tiny samples to create lush new tracks — basically a shinier, happier version of what DJ Shadow (who also played Coachella) perfected on his landmark 1996 album, “Endtroducing.”
Here, though, the group bulked up its careful studio productions with two vocalists, two guitarists and a live drummer. They were beginners in a sense, but they didn’t sound like it. — Mikael Wood
The trio of Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May commanded something the likes of DJ Snake never aspired to — the hearts and minds of techno purists on Sunday afternoon. Each is a formative figure in dance music in his own right. Together, they named their group after their Detroit childhood neighborhood that laid the groundwork for a culture to come.
Their Yuma Tent set wasn’t quite a victory lap, as their sounds are too moody and mechanical to win over huge crowds here, even if their work laid the scaffolding for American EDM. But their peerless selections were even more compelling for the fact that it was all clearly done by human hands.
Going b2b2b on a thrice-synced Pioneer rig means that, sometimes, things are going to clash. But the few moments of discord only made the occasion seem more rare and interesting — artists who invented a genre actively choosing not to avail themselves of glossy production or mixing tricks. Just true musicians turning tracks inside out to show the roots of a scene that came to dominate the world. — August Brown
The night after Radiohead encountered a rare technical difficulty with the high-level sound system at Coachella, the festival’s other big art-rock act, Bon Iver, gave a knockout of a main-stage performance that showed how powerful that system can be when it’s working.
Frontman Justin Vernon’s processed vocals, thunderous bass tones, the massed textures of a five-person saxophone section — each hit your ears as though you were wearing headphones. But it wasn’t just Bon Iver’s good luck that made its performance more satisfying than Radiohead’s. Playing songs from last year’s “22, A Million” album, Vernon and his bandmates seemed engaged — stimulated is the word — in a way the British group didn’t. They earned their perfect sound. — MW
Known as one of hip-hop’s most shadowy figures — a rapper capable of musicalizing any number of narcotic experiences — Atlanta’s Future was surprisingly charismatic in a main-stage performance that featured muscular renditions of some of his many hits, including “Mask Off,” “Karate Chop” and “Move That Dope.”
How sure was he of his charm? Sure enough to wear a denim jacket with the Misfits’ logo. Sure enough to show more images of naked women than any Coachella video screen has likely ever shown. And sure enough that he brought out perhaps the weekend’s biggest guest star in Drake, who joined Future for their duet “Jumpman,” then stuck around to do his own “Fake Love.” — MW
Few artists have had the intensity of ups and downs in a single year that Kehlani has been through. After a suicide attempt in 2016, fans feared the worst for the rising R&B singer’s mental and physical health. But then her album “SweetSexySavage” was an absolute scorcher, and she earned high-profile placements on the “Suicide Squad” and “Fate of the Furious” soundtracks.
Clearly, she’d come around the bend, and at Coachella on Sunday night her set was raucous, joyful and one of the weekend’s most sheerly pleasurable. She also made one of the few overtly political statements of the weekend – painting “Find Our Girls” on her white overalls, a reference to the disappearances of young girls of color in Washington D.C. in recent weeks. Kehlani, too, was once feared lost for good. But she is proudly, defiantly back. — AB
Much has already been written about Kendrick Lamar’s triumphant closing set, but the beloved Compton emcee deserves extra kudos for having the finest production of the weekend.
Lamar largely tore through his set in the middle of a bare stage, a massive video wall hung flatly above his frame, washing him in an array of colors before lowering at a sharp angle to become a traditional graphic display that worked in tandem with the towering screens comprising the main stage. At another point the screen lowered tightly above to box him in and that was after he performed inside a glowing cube.
If that wasn’t enough eye candy, the rapper also “levitated” in a sequence that gave him the appearance of floating freely above the crowd. — Gerrick D. Kennedy
Barefoot and ready to dance, Nao provided a splendid respite from the heat with a dance-centric set that was loose and wildly infectious. The bright and funky R&B that dominated her effervescent debut, "For All We Know," was the core of her set and she twisted and slithered across the stage, moving her body into a sweat that was matched by some serious dance moves from her audience.
Her shimmering, tender single "Girlfriend" was the day’s most captivating sing-along but she was at her best when she took the crowd to dance ecstasy during jams like “Firefly” and “Happy.” — GK
One of the highlights of the opening day was a ravishing showing from Sampha. His still-fresh debut album, “Process,” is a sweet, heartfelt listen that sees the British singer tenderly navigating love, loss, loneliness and even a battle with sleep paralysis.
His set was exhilarating as it was moving, with his electro soul tunes having the ability to cut deeply to one’s soul one moment and uplifting it the next. That he took a break from some of the more somber, pensive tracks of his catalog to work the crowd into a fury as he pounded in a drum circle. — GK
Thundercat and Michael McDonald
The revival of blue-eyed soul singing was a consistent thread at this year’s festival, as heard in strong performances by Bon Iver, Mac DeMarco and Francis and the Lights.
But none of those youngsters could hold a candle to one of the style’s OGs, Michael McDonald, who dropped in for a very welcome guest spot during Thundercat’s set. Earlier this year that L.A. jazz-funk bassist drafted McDonald (along with Kenny Loggins) to sing on “Show You the Way,” a track from his excellent album “Drunk.”
And the tune sounded great in the Mojave tent, with McDonald’s silky keys over Thundercat’s undulating bass. As an extra treat — dessert after dessert, more or less — McDonald stuck around to sing the Doobie Brothers’ deathless “What a Fool Believes.” Thundercat didn’t stop smiling the entire time. — MW
When the Coachella lineup was announced this year, Zimmer’s presence was the one chin-scratcher. His scores have, for three decades, set the tone for some of the biggest blockbuster films of our time. "The Dark Knight," "Inception," "The Lion King," for starters. The resume speaks for itself.
But how would it play at Coachella? Would a millennial crowd more used to DJ Khaled’s Snapchat missives take to an orchestra playing instrumentals from movies they may not have seen? Oh, Lord, did they ever.
It was a stroke of mad genius to put him out in the field at primetime, and the literal squeals of delight coming from teenage ravers when they recognized his film themes rivaled any reaction to anything else all weekend. After a weekend in which a surprise Migos cameo was as expected as sunburns and flower crowns, Zimmer had the good fortune to be doing something both totally recognizable and completely new at Coachella. — AB