The 20th-anniversary edition of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival offered up an incredible experience over Weekend 2 (April 19-21) at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. Event-goers were completely immersed in a world of stellar music with dozens of groundbreaking artists performing each day of the fest. Larger-than-life artwork provided a colorful and dramatic backdrop to the experience.
Those attendees who only arrive at Coachella late in the afternoon miss some of the incredible up-and-coming artists who perform. This writer tried to soak in as many complete performances as possible.
Here is a chronological run through my favorite sets of a magical Coachellafest weekend.
The British duo known as Let’s Eat Grandma has a new name to be sure. Besides, long-time musical pals Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton were able to unleash the musical magic and muscle to match their curious moniker with a spellbinding 40-minute set in the Gobi tent on Friday afternoon. Both have winning soprano voices that work alone or when joining forces with harmonies. While mostly using their twin Novation electronic keyboards, both showed off skills with different instruments and even the use of choreographed handclaps and a recorder on the ambitious art damage opus “Donnie Darko.”
Turning things on a dime in the same concert space was Hurray for the Riff Raff, a terrific Americana-meets-Latin rock band headed by arresting singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra. The New Orleans-based group’s inspired and energetic approach was bolstered by memorable songcraft, Jordan Hyde‘s tasty lead guitar work, and Segarra’s passionate vocals. The band’s 40-minute set was filled with songs tackling hot topics with equal parts protest and hope including “The Navigator,” “Rican Beach” (“First they stole our language / then they stole our names” Segarra sings) and the wonderful closer “Pa’lante” (Spanish for the idea “to move forward”).
Brooklyn, New York rock quartet Beach Fossils attracted a massive crowd to the Gobi with their mix of dream pop, melodic rock, and lo-fi atmospheric soundscapes. Standouts included the faraway “Sugar,” driving New Order-minded “What a Pleasure,” shoegaze gem “Sleep Apnea” and otherworldly sortie “May 1st.”
Kacey Musgraves brought her multi-Grammy winning album”Golden Hour” to the Coachella Stage for a fast-moving 50-minute set weighted mostly from that already-classic 2018 disc. Musgraves opened with the acoustic-styled “Slow Burn” (track one on “Golden Hour”) before turning things up a notch via the uptempo sheen of “Wonder Woman.” Looking around at the massive crowd during her performance there was a palpable sense of Musgraves’ authentic style and burgeoning star power. One young Coachella-goer I saw was in tears for much of the set, clearly moved by the singer’s brand of modern country. Musgraves’ signature vocals soared in the expansive late afternoon, with the wistful “Lonely Weekend,” the tender “Rainbow,” bona fide country favorite “Family Is Family” (from her “Pageant Material” LP) and the super-catchy set-closing “High Horse.”
What fun The Frights offered up a blistering turn inside the colorfully-decorated Sonora tent, including the use of large balloon arrangements cast into the air to enhance the relaxed atmosphere. From the time the Poway, California-spawned punk rockers took the stage with “Crutch,” fans were moving (some clearly enjoying the mosh pit and even a few brave souls stage diving later on) in time with the hard-edged punk rock. Another highlight was the irreverent “Whatever,” with the four-member band clearly having a ball at the high-profile gig.
Manchester, England’s The 1975 lit up the main Coachella Stage with dance-minded electropop brew including the uptempo opener “Give Yourself a Try,” slower “I Like America & America Likes Me,” and monster indie rock dance cut “Chocolate.”
Saturday brought another slew of standout performances, beginning with Los Angeles-based Wallows. The emerging melodic rock outfit proved to be the perfect outfit to welcome the day, recalling all that is great about power-pop, indie rock and the ’80s strains of the Psychedelic Underground via great originals like “Ice Cold Pool,” “Are You Bored Yet?” and “I’m Full.” Singer-guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters give Wallows an obvious one-two punch; the group’s official full-length debut “Nothing Happens” was released by Atlantic Records in late March.
New Jersey’s A R I Z O N A was many more times as powerful when I was positioned in front of the Coachella stage in person than when I had caught the quartet on Weekend 1 via the YouTube live-stream. One of the most exciting discoveries I’ve made courtesy of Coachella 2019, the band tore it up across 40 minutes; lead singer Zachary Charles, guitarist Nate Esquite and keyboardist David Labuguen (assisted by a touring drummer) were on fire throughout. So many highlights: the anthemic “Find Someone,” R& B/pop brew “Electric Touch” and blistering “Let Me Touch Your Fire,” the latter which included Esquite was smashing one of his guitars on the stage. The finale was a beautiful take on “Cross My Mind,” one of the single best moments at Weekend 2 of Coachella 2019.
Los Angeles’ The Interrupters brought a fun-filled mix of ska and punk rock to their 45-minute outing on the Outdoor Theatre stage. Capturing the spirit of the weekend was the hard-edged “Take Back the Power,” with lead singer Aimee Interrupter noting the song is both a song of protest and a call for unity. The band also tore through great songs like “Title Holder,” “Gave You Everything,” “Family” and set-ending “She’s Kerosene.”
Vancouver, Canada-based duo Bob Moses (featuring Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance) conjured up a mix of dream pop, electronica, and alternative music during an immersive appearance on the Outdoor Theatre stage. The swirling intro “Heaven Only Knows,” alt-rock dance groove that played out via “Talk,” textured “Like It or Not” and dance-heavy “Enough to Believe” were among the tracks that hit the mark.
Weezer mixed things up a bit when performing Weekend 2. While the Los Angeles rockers had played with several guests the previous week (including the two members of Tears for Fears), singer-guitarist Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson, bassist Scott Shriner, and guitarist-keyboardist Brian Bell used this turn to handle things on their own. The results and new track listing pleased the massive crowd. After offering up an a Capella vocals-only version of “Buddy Holly,” the band then went on to offer the classic version of that 1994 hit via a full-on electric take. The band’s setlist featured a bunch of great Weezer classics (“Hash Pipe,” “Undone-The Sweater Song,” “Island in the Sun,” etc.) as well as outstanding covers of some of the tracks of the band’s 2019 “Teal Album.” Takes on the Turtles’ “Happy Together” (with so many fans singing along) and Toto’s “Africa” were especially memorable.
Because there are so many stages at Coachella, it is often difficult to see everything on a “wish list.” That proved to be the case for yours truly on Sunday morning; I opted to catch all of Mansionair in the Mojave tent knowing full well that I could only catch a little of Emily King in the nearby Gobi tent. The good news is I was able to catch Mansionair thrill listeners with a shimmering style of guitar- and keyboards-layered synthpop-rock. The Australian trio was outstanding across its 40-minute set, particularly on the lovely “Falling” and driving “Violet City.” The group finished things off with the captivating “Astronaut – Something About Your Love.” I quickly made my way to the Gobi where Emily King was conjuring up magic of her own. A wonderful singer, I watched her lead a band and two backing singers through several tracks including the dance-fueled “Remind Me” and R&B-funk ride “Can’t Hold Me.”
I stayed put in the Gobi for two more unforgettable performances. First up was boy pablo, a terrific and fun-minded indie pop group from Norway. Singer-guitarist Nicolás Muñoz and his four-man band had a blast, and so did the audience. Faves like the hyperactive “Feeling Lonely,” breezy “Everytime” and aptly-pegged “Dance, Baby” were a true reason to move. Rising rock singer Alice Merton impressed with her dynamic soprano and ’80s-flavored rock attack, including the ferocious “Learn to Live,” “dance-tinged rocker “Trouble in Paradise” and even better “Lash Out.”
Soccer Mommy draws favorable comparisons with a range of greats including Mazzy Star and Moonpools & Caterpillars, but the artist (a moniker for Sophie Allison) is something special on her own. The mix of three textured guitars, some keyboards, and hypnotic rhythm section elevated the dreamscapes created in “Try,” “Cool,” “Wild Flowers” and a great new track titled “Lucy.”
My last stop was to check out CHVRCHES in the Mojave tent. The Scottish trio comprised of singer Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty was simply incredible, performing its fun, high-energy synth-pop with artful persuasion for an adoring and massive crowd. The soaring “Get Out,” introspective “Graffiti,” driving “Forever” and electronica dance cut “Leave a Trace” were among the incredible works offered up with power and perfection in the desert late Sunday.
All Photos by Robert Kinsler