NovaFM's James Marallich is on the ground at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the US. Here's his rundown of the festival's first day, featuring Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys and more.
Isn’t Coachella known for being hot? Upon last attendance in 2007, it got to the toasty mid-30s by 8am. On the Friday the max was 18 degrees, and all the festival folk dressed in bikinis and short shorts were walking around shivering. This was without a doubt the coldest festival day ever – in Palm Springs in April, no less. Insanity.
The last time around it was also a hassle getting in, with lines everywhere and for everything: to park your car, set your tent up, collect wristbands and get food. There have been a lot of changes made since then and it’s a well-oiled machine now. The biggest improvement is the collection of wristbands the day before the festival. On the Friday it took about 30 minutes to get in, but not after getting a full body pat down from the overzealous security.
Once inside the festival grounds you realise what a stunning environment you’re in; set in a polo field, there’s green grass everywhere and you’re surrounded by mountain ranges. There are also spectacular art installations everywhere so just wandering around leads to discovering strange new things.
There are five stages at Coachella: the main stage, second stage and three tents, respectively Coachella, Outdoor, Gobi, Mojave and Sahara Stages. The first band to get our attention hit the Outdoor Stage early on. The Sheepdogs are seemingly well known in their native Canada and there were a lot of Canucks in the audience. The band sounded and looked like 70s southern rockers, not unlike Lynyrd Skynyrd or Crosby Stills Nash and Young. There were a lot of heavy blues riffs but sadly, no “Freebird”.
Kendrick Lamar was straight outta Compton and the hardcore hip hop fans got into the big beats, overtly sexist lyrics and his general “don’t mess with me” attitude. Back at the Outdoor Stage, British band Yuck wailed loudly with their signature 90s sound of shaking tambourines and fuzzy guitars, getting all the hipsters dancing. Ironically, of course.
It’s a known fact that Tim Armstrong from punk band Rancid has a love of reggae and roots music, so it made sense that he played with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. It was a bit disappointing that he was only in the background playing guitar and not on vocals. In the Gobi tent, however, Death Grips were the undeniable buzz band of the day. Fronted by MC Ride, they blended an aggressive mix of post punk with hip hop, leaving many who stumbled upon these guys accidentally with jaws dropped. If Saul Williams was in a punk band he’d be in Death Grips. One of the best new discoveries at the festival.
Arctic Monkeys were on the main stage for the coveted sunset slot, although it was heavily overcast and didn’t make much of a difference. Alex Turner is a great frontman and they sound a lot heavier these days, thanks to working with Josh Homme. They have also undergone an image overhaul, swapping T-shirts for leather jackets and quiffs; they looked and sounded good. “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” whipped everyone into a frenzy, which is just as good because by then it had started drizzling and the wind had picked up, leaving everyone freezing cold. Perfect weather for the Arctic Monkeys.
It’s hard not to be sucked into Madness’ cheery demeanour. These English ska legends made everyone dance to classics such as “House of Fun” and “Baggy Trousers”. They were also one of the smartest dressed bands of the day, with their signature suit-and-sunglass combo. Carrying on with the English theme was Pulp, fronted by the charismatic and hilarious Jarvis Cocker. “Do You Remember the First Time?” and “Mis-Shapes” brought the 90s kids out of their shells and “Disco 2000” and “Common People” went off like they were right back at home. It appeared Coachella punters have an interest for English bands – who would’ve thought it?
The biggest disappointment of the day was Frank Ocean, of Odd Future infamy. His mix tape Nostalgia, Ultra is fantastic but his live show didn’t reflect this, even though he had a full band with him. “Strawberry Swing” and “Swim Good” should really have gotten a bigger reception, but Ocean’s sound wasn’t great due to the band either playing too loud or too soft. His pal and Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator made an appearance, performing a freestyle rap that, as always, ended up in misogyny. What a way to spoil Ocean’s smooth flow.
Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star is known for her temperamental persona, so for them to play in near darkness on stage was a bit of a slap in the face to their fans.
I’m still dumbfounded as to how popular The Black Keys have become. Sure, they have a lot of good albums, but why was it El Camino that pushed them to rock star status? Nonetheless, the band and the crowd were ready to go, so when they launched into “Howlin’ For You” there was severe swooning from both the girls and guys. At least they’re in touch with their fan base enough to know that the early stuff is appreciated, and is done so without the backing band. “Thickfreakness” and “I’ll Be Your Man” had that swampy touch to it, but it wasn’t until the band returned and “Lonely Boy” was played that the place erupted. I’m still not convinced if The Black Keys are festival headliners, but there were 60,000 people that clearly were.
With the night being far from over, we headed to the Outdoor Stage as the legendary and newly-reformed Refused from Sweden played on US soil for the first time in 14 years. There are some manic Refused fans that have waited a long time to see them, and they were definitely not disappointed. No one quite screams and jumps around like Dennis Lyxzen, even though he’s getting a bit on in years. The anti-government ethos and anarchistic fire in their bellies still rages. “The Shape of Punk to Come” and “New Noise” sound as fresh as they did when they were released in the late 90s and after an hour of intense brutality, it was safe to say that their comeback was a success. This was hands down the best set of the day.
Amon Tobin closed the Mojave Stage with his stack of light cubes scattered over the stage, tripping everyone out. The light show was amazing: with sine waves of white light flowing over the stage and Tobin playing from within the cubes, it was a pretty great spectacle. With everyone’s collective minds blown, we called it a night. One day down, two to go.