In which WW's Mark Stock waxes ecstatic over his favorite Coachella bands...
#1 Thom Yorke (Atoms For Peace)
Radiohead's captain has a way of achieving perfection and then somehow one-upping it. His means this time came in the form of Atoms For Peace, his newest project / supergroup made up of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, producer Nigel Godrich, and frenetic percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco.
Yorke was unusually giddy and loose, beer in hand and falling helplessly into a rubbery dance during most of his material. He played every track from his solo masterpiece The Eraser
in order, but his new band reinvented the record entirely. The only defectors of Radiohead Nation seem to be those who believe that Yorke's own work is nothing more than himself with a laptop and a bit of time. In a 90-minute musical address that can only be described as heavenly, Yorke reconstructed his record with a full band and new instrumentation, proving definitely that this small pack of naysayers is totally full of shit.
From the self-titled opening track to some brand new stuff Yorke dubbed “mad shit,” Flea pounded away in classic fashion, feeding funk to the haunting, crashing riffraff of Yorke's work. The percussion section was emphatic and wonderfully savage throughout, turning tracks like “Harrowdown Hill” into thick, tribal sketches, terribly fitting with the winds rising and the temperature finally dropping at Coachella.
In “Skip Divided,” I witnessed the impossible: Flea on the melodica. He played the dreary melody assigned to the keys on the album version. He and Yorke shared the feeling of self-infection, rendered crazy by their collaboration. Yorke did offer some solo takes on Radiohead mainstays like “Airbag” and “Everything In Its Right Place.” But the subject of the evening was finely-tuned, freakishly contemporary, genre-inventing music and it wasn't long before all of Atoms For Peace was back on stage, obliterating expectations.
It was one of the most involved and innovative live sets I have ever seen, truly special.
#2 Beach House
Tired of hearing how dreamy Beach House “has become” but still listening to Teen Dream on a daily basis, I approached the their set with caution. Would recent recognition - despite having been solid from the beginning - taint their stage ethic?
Not at all. Coachella's acoustics were noteworthy from the beginning but it took Beach House's pristine nature to underline the quality. Victoria Legrand's celestial voice ran the length of Polo grounds and fell like freezing rain on fans. Her endless notes revealed an oversize pair of lungs and she head-banged along. They played most of the new record, changing a few things up. Their slow and bubbling take on “Real Love” (yes, they made it slower) had moments of Dire Straits as guitarist Alex Scally sat on an amp and strummed with ethereal effects. You could taste the briskness of their remarkable set.
#3 Portugal. The Man
A full-fledged onslaught of dirty, bluesy rock that shook the rafters of other stages. (See Mark Stock's Coachella, Part One)
Sigur Ros' colorful frontman sat behind his favorite piano most of the set, playing new tracks from his solo project. His sky high vocals came standard, floating across pretty piano riffs, samples and a percussion setup that included a suitcase for a bass drum. Jonsi appeared fairly focused through “Lilikoi Boy,” when he donned a full feather headdress and returned to the Outdoor Theater stage with a huge grin on his face.
His drummer gave grit and toughness to Jonsi's fragile musings, creating an interesting on-stage dualism. He demonstrated much of the ambience of Sigur Ros through bells and droning guitars and without the darkness. If anything, Jonsi's own work can be criticized as too playful, but therein lies the charm. One of the best arrangers and orchestrators in music today, Jonsi commanded respect on and off the stage and thrived in his captivated support group.
Maybe it was because this was the first full set I saw after a miserable drive to the venue. Or, maybe it's that Jay-Z is a born entertainer, with veteran charisma. He thumbed through bits of nearly all of his hits, frustrating some by not playing songs through. At the same time, he managed to play a little something that everybody knew. If he were to play every big song he ever wrote, Jay-Z would have to headline all three days.
Only Jay-Z could be lifted onstage by a trap door 25-minutes late. There was even a countdown starting at ten minutes. New York themed songs blared as the seconds expired. Once he arrived, Jigga rapped like old-times, Memphis Bleek at his side throughout his set. Jay-Z strutted about, walking the length of a stage that held some mesmerizing props. Giant 3D blocks in the back turned to heaping stacks of amps, Wall Street numbers and the Big Apple skyline during his show.
Beyonce walked out to a storm of screams and sang “Young Forever” with her husband. “I feel like a kid up here,” he said. “I don't want to leave but they're making me.” Which was probably true as the dreaded 1 am cutoff—even for those who run New York—was approaching. His appreciation of his sea of fans was pleasant to see and he spent several minutes giving shout outs to random crowd members who caught his eye. By the end, Jay-Z's voice was hoarse and his ten-piece backing band exhausted. For good reason: they spent all night making us bounce.
Mark Stock's Coachella, Part One
Video: Thom Yorke at Coachella