Monday, April 24, 2017

Coachella 2017 - Weekend 2 Roundup

Coachella concertgoers were greeted by the Chiaozza Garden,
one of many stunning art exhibits at the two-weekend festival.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Among the countless joys of attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival are the diverse field of musical artists and one-of-a-kind art installations that inhabit the Empire Polo Club in Indio. Here are my highlights of attending Weekend 2 (April 21-23) of Coachella 2017.

Art - Sure the musical artists who appear at Coachella are the event's calling card (more on that follows), but there is little doubt that in an age of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the "selfie," the eclectic and visually-arresting art installations positioned around the festival are a tremendous part of the magic of Coachellafest. 

Take "Lamp Beside the Golden Door," the creation of Brazilian artist Gustavo Prado. The beautiful and enticing lighthouse was created using thousands of rounded mirrors. The title of the work comes from the last line of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed at the Statue of Liberty. As you can see in the image on the right (which I took on Saturday night, April 22, 2017), the piece attracted notice even after nightfall. An even more dramatic work at Coachella 2017 was the colorful "Is this what brings things into focus" by United Kingdom-based artists Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan, a work resembling a herd of species-defying animals (some as high as 75 feet), That work, as well as the "Chiaozza Garden" courtesy of Brooklyn-based artists Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza, and "Crown Ether" by Olalekan Jeyifous also provided some welcome shady spots for sun-drenched concertgoers during the day.  

Radiohead singer Thom Yorke on April 21, 2017 
Photo: Julian Bajsel courtesy of Goldenvoice
Radiohead was the unfortunate victim of two early-set power outages when they performed on Weekend 1, but the British quintet's headlining concert on April 21, 2017 was pure perfection. For two glorious hours, Tom Yorke led the band (guitarist-keyboardist Jonny Greenwood, guitarist Ed O'Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood, drummer Philip Selway and touring drummer Clive Deamer (of Portishead fame) through a powerfully-delivered set featuring classic cuts (including a beautifully-rendered "No Surprises" and gorgeous "Fake Plastic Trees," the latter bringing this writer to tears), cutting-edge electronica ("Identikit," "Bloom"), songs off the group's latest album "A Moon Shaped Pool" ("Daydreaming," "Desert Island Disk") and audience favorites (the haunting "Pyramid Song," a mind-blowing "Paranoid Android" with the band's formidable powers fully on display). Time has not dimmed the power and originality of Radiohead's approach to create songs that challenge and electrify on record or in concert.

Lady Gaga performing on April 22.
Photo: Greg Noire 
courtesy of Goldenvoice
Lady Gaga delivered the most high-profile set over the weekend and her 90-minute performance on the Coachella Stage showed why. She appealed to fans of all ages and even casual music lovers knew just about every song she performed. Several first-time Coachella-goers I spoke with prior to her set came primarily to see Lady Gaga, and one even admitted to being confused by Radiohead's challenging performance the night before. But just because Lady Gaga is a superstar who seemingly appeals principally to the masses, it would be foolish to dismiss her. Beyond the flashy costumes, choreographed dance routines, pyrotechnics and video interludes, Lady Gaga played piano and guitar, and used her incredible voice in the service of original dance-pop songs that easily outdistance those of her chart-topping contemporaries. Her set at Coachella touched on her biggest hits ("Just Dance," "Born This Way," "Poker Face") but also included more innovative material such as the bluesy dance rocker "A-YO" (where the artist traded electric guitar bursts with her band's lead guitarist) and a reworked "The Edge of Glory" (where she sat at a piano and dedicated the song to a friend named Sonya battling cancer). The night ended on a party-minded high note with the electropop hit "Bad Romance," fireworks shooting into the desert sky and the huge crowd turning the Empire Polo Club field into a big dance floor.  

A huge crowd took in Two Door Cinema Club's set at Coachella Weekend 2.
Photo: Greg Noire courtesy of Goldenvoice
Alex Trimble of Two Door
Cinema Club on April 22, 2017.
Photo: Greg Noire 
courtesy of Goldenvoice
Two Door Cinema Club was among the many outstanding artists that floored me on Saturday. The Northern Ireland-based group unleashed a dozen exhilarating dance-minded indie rock songs that undoubtedly helped the huge crowd gathered in front of the Coachella Stage forget about the heat on Saturday afternoon. Highlights included the urgent opener "Cigarettes in the Theatre," catchy "Undercover Martyn" and electronica-tinged "I Can Talk." Two songs from the group's latest album "Gameshow" came off particularly well; the disco-flavored "Bad Decisions," dashing "Are We Ready? (Wreck)" and set-ending "What You Know" were a blast. Singer-rhythm guitarist Alex Trimble was the perfect frontman, his soaring tenor voice and graceful stage presence in tune with the band's animated approach; ever the secret weapon, lead guitarist Sam Halliday's flawless technique and artful fret work dazzled everywhere. 

The Head and the Heart played in the perfect afternoon slot on the Coachella Stage on Saturday, bringing a joyful Americana sound that was ideally suited to the expansive outdoor setting. The Seattle-based collective performed nearly an hour, delivering wonderful sounding songs such as the spirited folk rocker "City of Angels," the inventive pop-rock gem "Ghosts" and utterly delightful "Lost in My Mind" that began as pure folk before the full band came in and transformed the song into a burgeoning sing-along.  

Glass Animals singer Dave Bayley in action.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Glass Animals took advantage of their 50-minute set to throw a party. From the time they tore into the aptly-titled "Life Itself," the English band performed one catchy electro-dance hit after another to the delight of a big crowd that couldn't get enough of it. Despite the face that lead singer-rhythm guitarist Dave Bayley broke an ankle two weeks earlier, he was running around the stage and led the Oxford, England quartet through energetic takes of the electronic "Season 2 Episode 3," rock-oriented Poplar St." (with Bayley and Drew MacFarlane playing some tandem guitar lines), the alt hip hop "Gooey" and plenty of other fun tunes.

Bruce Hornsby performing with Bon Iver.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Bon Iver may have performed on the Coachella Stage immediately before Lady Gaga's turn, but singer-songwriter Justin Vernon and company's set couldn't have been more different. Dressed in a simple T-shirt with the word PEOPLE dramatically visible, this was an hour-long presentation that immersed the listeners with layers of Americana, ambient, folk, electronica and R&B sounds woven into a unique soundscape. The icing on the sonic cake came when Vernon welcomed Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis to join Bon Iver on stage to perform a moving take on Don Henley's 1989 hit "The End of the Innocence" (which Hornsby co-wrote). Following that, Vernon welcomed Francis and the Lights to the stage to perform that ensemble's "Friends," complete with the two artists recreating some cool dance moves from the song's memorable 2016 video.  

Blossoms lead singer Tom Ogden.
Photo: Erik Voake 
courtesy of Goldenvoice
Klangstof was one of several young artists I caught for the first time in concert. An indie band with roots in both the Netherlands and Norway, the Koen van de Wardt-led quartet impressed me big time during an early afternoon show inside the Gobi Tent on Friday. Recalling groundbreaking bands including Other Lives and Radiohead, the band's experimental whims never failed to suppress the good songs. 

Blossoms are a young band whose five members were all born in Stepping Hill Hospital and lived within walking distance of each other while growing up in Stockport, England. For the past few years, they have been earning high marks in their native U.K. and their performance on the Outdoor Theatre Stage during Weekend 2 was a revelation. The band's self-titled 2016 album is full of great songs, many of which were performed for an enthusiastic crowd that was swept up in the band's artful indie rock approach. "Blown Rose" (the intricate guitar work recalls Johnny Marr's best),  melodic rocker "Blow" with some outstanding guitar play from Josh Dewhurst and the glorious "Charlemagne" were among the fantastic tracks featured in a fast-moving 10-song set. I look forward to hearing more great music from Blossoms in the near future. 

The XX. Photo: Erik Voake courtesy of Goldenvoice
The XX was more than just another great British band to appear at Coachella 2017. The trio, opening for Radiohead on the Coachella Stage, revealed their dream pop is a unique sound that has only been more refined since the trio won the prestigious Mercury Prize for their debut album in 2010. The trio's sublime turn at Coachella included an opening with guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim sharing exquisite vocals on the lush "Say Something Loving" and otherworldly "Angels." Not necessarily a loud or bombastic act, it was great to see the Weekend 2 "get" the XX and take in the magic of their performance.

Tycho offered up a mostly-instrumental set of ambient compositions that were ready made for twilight. The expansive sound created by synthesizers and guitars layered atop the rhythm section was enhanced by video projections of everything from crashing waters and people burning brush in the snow to dreamy images of surfers moving through golden waters. 

Robert Kinsler

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