Thursday, May 05, 2016

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival highlights: roundup of Weekend #2 of Coachella 2016

Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir of Icelandic collective Of Monsters and Men at Coachella.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Coachella 2016 provided a number of special and memorable performances as it staged its final Weekend April 22-24 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Those arriving at Coachella early Friday were treated to one of the fest's most spirited performances. Mbongwana Star brought their joyful and otherworldly African rhythm- and vocals-rooted sounds to the Gobi tent at noon confirming the adage that great music is the universal language.

The festival's most senior performer of 2016, 76-years-young Mavis Staples' energetic sound blended blues, gospel, soul and more. She also honored her friend Prince with an acappella chorus of "Purple Rain," and reflected how the Purple One was "the most beautiful spirit I have ever met."

Foals singer Yannis Philappakis goes into the crowd.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Foals had no trouble attracting the masses to the main Coachella Stage despite high temperatures and gusty dust-filled winds. The band's 50-minute set included a dreamy "Olympic Airways," atmospheric "Give It All" and rapid fire rocker "What Went Down."

Icelandic collective Of Monsters and Men was the perfect artist to perform on the Coachella Stage as night fell, with the group's shimmering and soaring material providing true magic on day one. The infectious "Empire," and several hits off the band's debut ("Dirty Paws," "King and Lionheart," "Little Talks") thrilled the crowd gathered at the expansive Empire Polo Club.

The genre-defying Last Shadow Puppets weighed in on Coachella with a truly genre-defying sound that somehow mixed up Paul Williams pop sensibilities, rock, baroque pop and more. But the band killed it for the final number, an epic and rocking take on the Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." 

The sun sets on Friday, April 22, 2016.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I had never heard of The Dead Ships before I caught their energetic set inside the Gobi tent early Saturday. The original song "Big Quiet" made quite an impression via my single listen, with the Los Angeles band driving the song's melodic and rhythmic textures in a powerful display of force. The mighty melodic rocker "Canyon" made an equally strong impression.

For jazz fans, taking in GoGo Penguin's early afternoon performance inside the Gobi was critical. The British trio impressed with a 45-minute set of original compositions, including a swirling "Branches Break" and propulsive "Initiate," the latter that worked flawless drum, bass and piano solos into the track's dynamic flow.

GoGo Penguin pianist Chris Illingworth performing. Photo: Robert Kinsler

Australia's DMA's created such a compelling and expansive sound throughout their fast-moving 45-minute outing, I could easily see the band returning to play on one of the larger outdoor platforms next time around. Featuring material from their 2016 album "Hills End," the DMA's conjured up the best of Oasis as they unleashed rousing rock that was both inspired and inspiring. Standouts in the band's terrific appearance included the soaring rocker "Too Soon" and undeniably catchy "Lay Down."

No matter how many times I've caught singer-songwriter-guitarist Gary Clark Jr. in concert, I've been floored by the strength of his performances. It was no different when the Austin-based great performed on the Coachella Stage on Saturday. His set featured a splendid 7-minute "Bright Lights," that segued right into the Chuck Berry-styled rocker "Travis County." Subsequent tracks continued to showcase his amazing guitar work, as well as his soulful vocals (notably on "Our Love").

Pioneering English quartet Lush (who formed in the late 1980s and disbanded in 1998 before reuniting in 2015) played a wonderful set of dream pop-meets-alt rock in the Gobi tent. "Breeze" was one of many wonderful songs they played that came off as a kind of amped-up version of Mazzy Star, while "Ladykillers" simply rocked to the delight of the crowd moving with the music. 

Courtney Barnett hails from Melbourne, Australia, but the young singer's blend of insightful and literate-but-rambling lyrics delivered in a kind of deadpan manner amidst a sparse alt-rock attack made for an involving set for those gathered in front of the Outdoor Theatre. To be sure, her songs can be as catchy as any in memory (the chorus of "Dead Fox" and the folk rocker "Depreston" being obvious examples), and the large setting allowed Barnett to really showcase her hard rocking instincts via the freewheeling rocker "Pedestrian At Best" and "Nobody Really Cares if You Don't Go to the Party."

Silversun Pickups' made a triumphant return to Coachellafest, and I can't think of many performances that played out over Weekend #2 that were stronger. The quartet's driving version of "Well Thought Out Twinkles" and "Panic Switch" were standouts.

Did Guns N' Roses deliver at their second appearance at Coachella? The quick answer is yes. Despite lead singer Axl Rose being confined mostly to his throne (in the wake of a broken foot he suffered at a warm-up gig in early April), GNR impressed fans with their version of classics such as "It's So Easy," "Welcome to the Jungle," "Live and Let Die" and "Sweet Child O' Mine."They also unveiled the tour debuts of "Out Ta Get Me" and "Used to Love Her" this night. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats turned in an entertaining set highlighted by bouncy, soul-fueled "I Need Never Get Old," R&B "Howling At Nothing" and "Wasting Time," the latter soulful blues song that allowed Rateliff to showcase some cool guitar lead work. 
Singer-songwriter Pete Yorn led his band through an essential
set at Coachellafest. Photo: Robert Kinsler

Pete Yorn turned in the first of two essential sets I caught on the final day of the event. His 45-minute set showcased the singer-songwriter's amazing gift at wrapping his infectious songs in a style blending alternative and folk rock layers. Playing both early standouts ("Strange Condition," "Life on a Chain") and new songs from 2016's amazing "ArrangingTime" album (the aptly dubbed "Lost Weekend" and wistful "Tomorrow" pulled in everybody immediately), Yorn's set was one of the best of the long weekend. 

Chris Stapleton performed at Coachella, and played the next weekend at Stagecoach for good reason. The talented singer-songwriter-guitarist showcased one great song after another off his great debut "Traveller," with the honest ballad "Nobody to Blame," gorgeous "Fire Away" and rousing cover of Waylon Jennings' "I Ain't Living Long Like This," displayed the Kentucky artist's rich baritone and top-tier band (including his wife Morgane Stapleton adding amazing vocals to the set and harmonica legend Mickey Raphael).

Review and photography by Robert Kinsler

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