One of the best things I witnessed during Coachella was a note taped to a smoothie stand’s tip jar asking the customer to pay if they wanted a Notorious B.I.G. hologram.
Sadly, Biggie Smalls did not come back to hypnotize Coachella’s audience. I wonder what the talking heads would have said if he and Tupac’s hologram had battled on stage. That would have been a Coachella moment for the ages.
My head might have exploded.
I should not be too greedy though. Sunday delivered incredible performance after incredible performance, plus the aforementioned ‘Pac hologram. Not to mention the blueberry smoothie I had tasted exquisite in the Indio inferno. Maybe my $1 tip will go to a Biggie hologram at Coachella 2013. One can dream.
First Aid Kit (2:15 p.m., Mojave)
The Soderberg sisters from Sweden proved Sunday they were more than one beautiful Fleet Foxes cover. The sisters performed enthusiastic renditions of songs off their latest album, The Lion’s Roar, before a modest early afternoon crowd. Yet, it was obvious they were still a green live act. For instance, they played the rollicking album closer “King of the World” and then walked off stage. When a festival official informed them they had more time left they played another song, to the delight of the audience. All things considered, a small boo-boo by a band with a world of promise.
Wild Beasts (3:25 p.m., Mojave)
One of my favorite moments of the festival happened as Kerry and I waited for Wild Beasts. A festival worker blasted the people near the stage’s right side with a pressure washer. I stayed soaked for the next hour, which amid the 100+ degree heat felt like Heaven. UK glam rockers Wild Beasts impressed me, exhibiting a lithe, yet danceable sound that played better in the live setting than I anticipated. Lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe’s operatic voice was one of the best I heard during the festival. His flamboyant fashion sense — designer shirt, pants, and shades — reminded me of someone vacationing off the south of France rather than playing a festival in the desert. Bassist Tom Fleming’s animated vocal performance on “All The King’s Men” provided one of Sunday’s early highlights.
Real Estate (4:10 p.m., Gobi)
Real Estate has some entertaining songs — songs like “Easy” and “It’s Real” — that breeze along and inspire repeat listens. The New Jersey-based indie rockers, however, are not an entertaining live band. Maybe it’s their appearance — they could presumably challenge early Weezer to a nerd-off and win. Or maybe it’s their lack of fire on stage — they looked like they would have rather been somewhere else, perhaps a library. As far as I am concerned, low energy sets are the kiss of death in a festival setting. Real Estate failed to provide any energy, and thus I walked away disappointed.
The Weeknd (6:55 p.m., Outdoor Theatre)
An hour spent at the merchandise tent caused us to miss lady rock titans Wild Flag — a development that led one of my coworkers to remark, “Why did you even go to Coachella?” Apparently, he’s a huge Wild Flag fan. Who knew? Had I missed The Weeknd, my coworker’s question might have been valid. Abel Tesfaye is destined for greatness. Scratch that. He has already achieved greatness. His outdoor set as dusk settled over Indio cemented this. Unlike Frank Ocean, who seemed unsure how to sell himself on-stage, Tesfaye looked at ease, with a flat-brimmed Raiders cap covering his mini-Afro. He rarely strayed from behind his mic stand. Yet, he was an arresting performer. His voice cut through the salty desert air, transforming his gritty, drug and sex-fueled romps. The crowd, especially the ladies, ate it up, with each track getting greater applause than the one before. “House of Balloons” received a deafening roar of approval, as it should have. It thumped live. “D.D.” and “The Party/After Party” also inspired awe. The sound of the crowd chanting “Girl put in work” off “The Morning” remains in my head two weeks after Coachella. Ball’s in your court, Frank Ocean.
Justice (7:45 p.m., Main Stage)
When I viewed Coachella’s schedule prior to Sunday, the prospect of seeing Justice offered an enjoyable enough bridge to At the Drive-In. I did not imagine the French electro duo putting on the best performance I saw at Coachella. And yet, they did just that. Imagine attending a show where you recognized one song — the worldwide smash “D.A.N.C.E.” — and then imagine being compelled to dance like a raving lunatic on X for an hour straight to songs you would not otherwise recognize. There you have Justice. About “D.A.N.C.E.”: Midway through the Michael Jackson-sampling song they paused and spliced a bit of Jay Z’s “On To The Next One” in unexpectedly. I damn near lost my mind. The crowd of thousands surrounding me simultaneously joined the Cult of Justice. For as far as the eye could see, people threw their bodies backward and forward and side to side as if their salvation depended on it. Justice did not let up until, near set’s end, Xavier de Rosnay stepped down from the DJ’s booth and stood at the front of the stage for what seemed like a minute or two. This seemed an anti-climactic close to the set. Instead of exiting the stage, de Rosnay rejoined Gaspard Auge. Moments later, the music started slowly building until the beat blasted like an electronic machine gun. My calves burned. So did my body. Justice played two or three more songs after that — each causing the crowd to lose its shit. Girl Talk started its set in the distance. I didn’t care. I needed time to process what had just happened and to grab water.
At the Drive-In (9:10 p.m., Main Stage)
At the Drive-In’s presence at Coachella did not just convince me to attend the festival this year. It provided me the patience to continue refreshing the page to buy tickets for two hours, in hopes of being passed to the purchase tickets page. As I counted the minutes to their set (impatiently), a sense of joy, a decade in the making, overtook me. The El Paso, Texas-band took the stage and Cedric Bixler Zavala announced, “We came to superglue your ass shut.” When At the Drive-In launched into Relationship of Command lead-off cut “Arcarsenal”, I screamed at the stage and punched the sky. Here, in the flesh before me, was the band whose YouTube clips I watched religiously year after year. Cedric Bixler Zavala jumped off the drum kit and a speaker, crawled around the stage, and twirled his mic around with an abandon that would have made punk forefather Iggy Pop proud. Forget the Mars Volta. This was Bixler Zavala in his true element, spitting punk fury in fragmented bits. A woman to my right bounded up and down, screaming as if in tongues, lost in her version of a faith healing ritual. I sang/shouted along with “Napoleon Solo”, as I had done so many times while driving in my car. The time of atonement had come. At the Drive-In concluded with “One Armed Scissor”, a furious, three-minute burst of punk that came out when most of those watching were in grade school. It came and went in a flash, just like At the Drive-In’s long-awaited performance. My ass was not superglued shut but I knew, as I walked over to catch Florence+The Machine, that my neck was going to be sore the next day.
NOTE: Guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez stood in place during the set. He had an “I’m cashing in and I don’t care” vibe about him that was disappointing. It was as if At the Drive-In replaced its original guitarist so it could reunite. His indifference kept the set from being as good as it could have been.
Florence+The Machine (9:45 p.m., Outdoor Theatre)
When I arrived midway through Florence+The Machine’s performance, I found her vocals a tad muted. Florence Welch has built her reputation on having a voice that explodes out of her chest. Surely, this was not her best. Her backup singers lacked the proper volume too. Then, Ceremonials’ standout “Never Let Me Go” came. It was as if Welch’s voice blasted into the desert sky. And from that point, her set killed. Expectant closer “Shake It Out” delivered in full. I wrote expectant closer because it seemed that would be her last song, from the way she announced it. Instead, she followed it with “Dog Days Are Over”, a song that would have earned high marks even without Welch’s insistence that everyone jump up and down on the count of three. I jumped up and down so many times over the three days that I reasoned why not do it again. When the song ended, I started my walk to the food stand with Dungeness crab fries (Best $9 spent EVER!!!). Welch accompanied my walk with actual set closer “No Light, No Light”, a fitting song considering the Empire Polo Grounds were, at this point, shrouded in darkness.
Snoop+Dr. Dre (10:35 p.m., Main Stage)
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I am not a big fan of either Snoop or Dr. Dre. But even in my skepticism I found their set entertaining. They focused on staples — the type of songs everyone my age has heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It is a credit to Snoop and Dre that their old songs sound better than 95 percent of what’s played on the radio today. Wiz Khalifa smoked weed on stage while performing “Young, Wild, and Free” with Snoop, a duet that resonated from the front of the crowd to the back. I know this because I was what seemed like a mile from the stage. Kendrick Lamar joined Dr. Dre for what felt like a passing of the torch to the young Compton MC, who has officially arrived. These appearances paled to what came next. The Tupac hologram seemed surreal, even from light years away. I remember in middle school people talking about Tupac had moved off to some remote island on the other side of the world. I always ignored these whack job conspiracy theories. But to see Tupac on the big screen was to see him reborn for at least a few minutes. And it was pretty wild. How do you top that? Easy. You bring Eminem out. I have never been a fan of Eminem. In fact, I loathed him for a long time. But his charisma was undeniable Sunday night. He electrified the polo grounds, performing three hits including “Forgot About Dre.” I would not be surprised to see Eminem headline Coachella in the not too distant future. He still has the it factor. So did Snoop and Dr. Dre, for that matter, as they closed Coachella 2012.