Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Arcade Fire to ZZ Ward: Coachella 2014 Weekend 2 roundup

Poetic Kinetics' "Escape Velocity" at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Weekend 2 at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (April 18-20, 2014) didn't kick off quietly on Friday morning, at least in the Gobi tent where Ramones tribute outfit Gabba Gabba Heys tore through 40 minutes of old school punk rock in front of a small, but enthusiastic group of early Coachellagoers.

Highlights included the quartet's faithful versions of "Blitzkrieg Bop," "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Beat on the Brat." For those of us who never got to see the Ramones live, this was likely a very fitting tribute. 

Following up on the same stage came dynamic sonic duo Wye Oak, whose magical appearance included singer/multi-instrumentalist Jenn Wasner and drummer-keyboardist Andy Stack creating enough textures and dynamics to rival just about any indie folk rock outfit today. The pair featured several songs from their forthcoming album Shriek including that disc's title cut, a dreamy synth-pop gem highlighting Wasner's distinctive soprano.

Another musical highlights that played out on the first day of Weekend 2 featured ZZ Ward who
ZZ Ward in action on April 18 in the Mojave tent.
brought her infectious blend of R&B, pop, blues and rock in a Mojave tent performance that got the place moving like it was Saturday night. People cheered, moved and clapped to the mix of the Pennsylvania artist's high energy style that had her singing, playing blues harmonica or strumming her guitar, Ward's material was definitely what the crowd ordered. Early offerings ("Put the Gun Down," "Til the Casket Drops") and later favorites (especially the closer "Blue Eyes Blind") were delivered forcefully by Ward and her strong three-man band. 

Other day 1 standout performances came later that day via Neko Case's authentic and winning 50-minute set on the Outdoor stage (highlighted by a stunning version of "Night Still Comes") and even stronger subsequent turns from Broken Bells and The Replacements. Broken Bells' infectious "After the Disco" and set-ending "High Road" really hit home with a crowd that packed in front of the James Mercer- and Danger Mouse-led troupe.

Neko Case performed on the Outdoor stage.
Friday ended long after it started with a rousing performance by The Replacements, who were joined for most of the set by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. Because Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg had been suffering from an ailing back, he was positioned on a large sofa for most of the show while Armstrong stood and added a flair to the proceedings ("Can't Hardly Wait" simply rocked).

Day 2 kicked off with British soul singer Laura Mvula, who made the most of her early afternoon set in the Gobi by performing not only choice songs from her wonderful debut Sing to the Moon but even a non-album track about freedom titled "Let Me Fall" that included an undeniable rhythm provided by a stand-up bass and elements of African music. Other highlights of her 40-minute set included "She" and the infectious dance-minded "Green Garden." I then ran over to the Mojave (you do a lot of that at Coachella in the sport of "musical discovery") to catch the last few minutes of New York-based Bear Hands' set. The quartet's mix of dance and alt rock was effective on the original "Agora," notably how bass was used to help propel the song along.

The next band I caught, White Lies proved to be one of my favorite performers of the weekend. Although I only got to see the English band's first five songs, it was immediately clear the group and their material outdistance their post-punk roots. The infectious "There Goes Our Love Again" was a clear favorite while "To Lose My Life" showcased the deeper emotional elements of the group's artistic reach.

Playing in the heat of the late afternoon on the main stage, City and Colour (the moniker for singer-songwriter Dallas Green) and his band brought authority and authenticity of his blend of Americana, folk and country-rock with a power that connected with the large crowd. "Hope for Now" was among the standouts of City and Colour's 40-minute foray, with the song's long and emotional build steeped in power that was palpable.

Like Capital Cities' amazing and high-energy 50-minute set a bit earlier that was nothing short of a dance party on the green, Foster the People found the power to move the masses came via unleashing a number of dance-minded songs that had festival-goers moving after dark. The group's "Pumped Up Kids" really excited the crowd, and the closer "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)" allowed Foster the People to showcase the harder guitar side of their tuneful alt rock-dance approach.

Saturday night ended with me wishing I could be in two places at once; catching the first 40 minutes of Muse on the main stage ("Knights of Cydonia" kicked things off with the band's characteristic bombast), and finishing up my night in a sea of dancing people in the Mojave as the Pet Shop Boys thrilled the party faithful with "I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)," "It's a Sin," "Always on my Mind" and other hits from the British duo in a showcase that included incredible lighting and artful sets as well as several costumed dancers.
Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys.

The fest flew to the finish line on day 3 thanks to outstanding performances spanning the long day. First up was powerful New Orleans-based Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, with the ensemble blending funk, rock, hip hop and jazz for a crowd positioned in front of the Coachella stage. Another early day outstanding turn came via indie singer Courtney Barnett, who featured songs off her first international release The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Highlights of her set included the blues-rocker "David" and the heavy Neil Young & Crazy Horse-tinged "Out of the Woodwork."

British pub-minded rocker Frank Turner, hard rocking indie North Carolina rockers Superchunk, genre-busting Beck (loved the cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean") and Canadian troupe Arcade Fire (whose version of "No Cars Go" soared) also impressed in their more high profile sets. This weekend was definitely a three-day party that the Coachella faithful will long remember.

Check out the coverage of several other writers from The Orange County Register's team that also covered Weekend 2 of Coachella. You can read George A. Paul's coverage on his Music Minded blog here. You can check out a number of posts featuring reviews from Ben Wener, George A. Paul and me here.

Artist Christian Ristow's "Becoming Human"
surveys the Empire Polo Club in Indio.
Coachella not only boasted countless artists representing a countless number of musical styles, but the 90,000 or so attendees who attended the second weekend of the event also got to check out original and one-of-a-kind artwork commissioned for Coachellafest. From the innovative and jaw-dropping "Smart Bird" (which looked like a silver winged robot that flew through the skies flapping its wings like a real bird) to the towering robot-minded piece titled "Becoming Human" and gigantic astronaut "Escape Velocity," more than 20 artists' installations were featured. Scroll below to see some more images from Coachella I shot over the weekend...

Artist Mike Grandaw's aptly-titled "Caterpillar"

Yours truly in artist Philip K Smith's "Reflection Field."


Robert Hanson said...

Looks like a great time. I just wish the promoters would make the tickets available for single dates instead of buying that whole weekend. Good times. Thanks for your coverage!

Robert Hanson said...

Looks like a great time. I just wish the promoters would make the tickets available for single dates instead of buying that whole weekend. Good times. Thanks for your coverage!

newwavegeo said...

I agree. I wish they'd offer single day passes again too. But they're so successful with three-day ones, I don't think they'll ever go back.