This past weekend, Jaime Lewis and I enjoyed our first ever Coachella. Having desired to attend the festival since its inception 18 years ago, the well-organised, well-oiled event proved itself worthy of the hype, and indeed worth the wait. From the picturesque, desert oasis that made up its location, to the quality of the bands and on site production – including the well curated food, great sound systems and some stellar lighting (including the surrounding palm trees) – Coachella proved that it’s one of the world’s most popular festivals because it’s one of the best. But of the performances, some stick out stronger than others. Here’s a look at nine performances that stuck with us through the weekend, and a few extra special mentions.
HANS ZIMMER with LEBO MORAKE
“Yes the crazy German is back and I had to bring a whole orchestra with me to the desert.”
This statement from iconic composer Hans Zimmer aptly sums up the surprising choice for the artist to play Coachella, though the addition was one of the event’s most successful endeavours, with thousands turning out for a history lesson on some of cinema’s best music from the last twenty-plus years.
With Inception‘s closing number, featuring Hans on keys, ending the set, we enjoyed music from Gladiator, The Lion King (with guest vocalist Lebo Morake), The Dark Knight Trilogy and Pirates of the Caribbean, before which Zimmer remarked: “And now we’re going to try and do a cello concerto in the desert…” – clearly understanding how bizarre it all was.
But it was the live medley from The Lion King that will go down as one of the most emotional musical experiences I’ve ever had. My throat immediately choked and eyes started welling as the screen’s orange sunrise lit up the night and the stirring opening Zulu chat from “Circle of Life” reverberated around the field.
It was so pitch perfect it was a surprise when Hans introduced Lebo Morake or “the real lion king,” the South African singer and political refugee who provided the original iconic vocal from the movie.
The British artist who is fast becoming a staple of the international touring circuit was an easy highlight of the weekend; many may recall her being a highlight of the 2017 Laneway Festival tour in Australia. Her tent was packed and filled with fans, to the point of some level of perplexion from the rising star, as she asked the crowd, “how do you guys know all the words?”. Her performance with Bon Iver for “Michicant” was another highlight of the weekend, which won her a fan in Lorde:
damn this girl singing during michicant am i right
— Lorde (@lorde) April 23, 2017
“This time you hopefully hear us…” was the only obvious reference Thom Yorke made to the sound problems that plagued the band’s set the prior weekend. Though that set included the iconic “Creep”, this 22 song strong set was filled with fan favourites, including a couple of rarer sightings such as “My Iron Lung”, “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Exit Music (For a Film)”. In fact there was music from just about every album thrown into the set. Here’s a look at the full setlist:
Desert Island Disk
All I Need
Everything in Its Right Place
My Iron Lung
I Might Be Wrong
Exit Music (for a Film)
Fake Plastic Trees
Evoking memories of some of the earliest and best works of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Chicago’s Ezra Furman was another favourite of my weekend. He proved himself to be one of the festival’s most outspoken members, telling the crowd, “There’s something very cool about playing this festival, and there’s something very not cool about it… I’m going to take the pay check but fuck AEG.” This is no doubt in reference to the reported anti-gay stance of AEG Live’s Philip Anschutz, the company who own Goldenvoice, who operate Coachella. He also declared “we will not melt!” as the temperature soared past 100 degrees… Great band, great saxophone.
Bon Iver welcomed a few special guests on stage during a set which focused almost entirely on his new album. The legend Bruce Hornsby joined Justin, the band and Jenny Lewis to perform the seminal “The End of the Innocence”, which Hornsby co-wrote with Don Henley. The band then finished with a cover of “Friends” by Francis and the Lights, joined by Francis – a track which originally featured Bon Iver and Kanye. Nao also joined Bon Iver on stage for “Michicant”, as mentioned earlier. Elsewhere, in a set dominated by new material, Bon Iver snuck in “Skinny Love” and “Flume”. It was a very special experience – and the new tracks sounded phenomenal.
Since their reemergence at Primavera Sound in 2016, The Avalanches’ live show, much like their Wildflower butterfly emblem, has undergone a full metamorphosis. There’s the addition of live drums, guitars and guest vocals, including Eliza Wolfgramm’s soaring closing rendition of “Since I Left You” that had the audience lifted above the rising mercury. Not a bad set, but what I wouldn’t give for just one pure, uninterrupted run of “Frontier Psychiatrist”…
FATHER JOHN MISTY
Props to Josh Tillman for pulling an Adele and starting “Pure Comedy” over when the sound cut out. An outstanding set, further heightened by an orchestral ensemble featuring a number of celebrity look-a-likes. If this was any indication of his tour that lies ahead fans are in for a treat when he hits Australia for Splendour in the Grass later in the year. The new stuff is just amazing…
CAR SEAT HEADREST
So much angst! I don’t know if it was the heat or the sound issues that had the drummer making gentle threats in between songs, but Car Seat Headrest played with such frenetic and final ferocity that I was expecting each song to be their last. Thankfully it wasn’t; it would have meant missing their stomping cover of Devo’s “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’)”. Will Toledo has an aching vocal that sways between The Buggles and Tom Verlaine of Television and I am a fan.
LEE FIELDS & THE EXPRESSIONS
It’s safe to say there’s too much negativity in the world right now. The soul music from legendary artist Lee Fields, however, wants to make sure we’re filled with love and positivity. And given the state of things – that’s exactly what we needed.
I was blown away by the performance of Preoccupations, FKA Viet Cong, who continue to be one of the most original live bands on the planet. The same has to be said for Future Islands. One of my favourite discoveries was Portland’s Grace Mitchell, who knows how to throw together a catchy tune, and Bishop Briggs showed herself to be a strong performer bursting with confidence and energy.
It was also stunning to see Lorde in full pop star mode. The set was pretty phenomenal, as were her dancers, while the “best lights at the festival” award has to go to Justice. And as for best cover not performed by Bon Iver, that has to go to Grouplove‘s incredible rendition of “Sabotage”.
To learn more about Coachella, head to their official website.
Contributions to this article by Jaime Lewis. Header photo by Roger Ho. All photos courtesy of Coachella.