Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 8 p.m.
If you’re driving out to Coachella this weekend, be sure to catch Radiohead. Duh, right? Except that heading into last Saturday’s first-weekend performance, the British rockers seemed more under the radar than they have in years. Pre-fest talk centered on reunion acts, the dance tent’s shift toward big-name DJs and rumors of strange surprises from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, while the biggest band on the bill kinda felt like an afterthought.
Not so a few days later. Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway reaffirmed their position as the act every festival in the world wants at the top of its poster. The quintet brought a sharp setlist and a dazzling light show to the California desert for a performance that spoke of preparation and artistic commitment. In a massive musical weekend packed with talent, stylistic diversity and long-wished-for appearances, Radiohead quite simply out-everything’d everybody.
So don’t do something foolish like leave early or skip the main stage for Kaskade (who spins at Marquee on the 28th and 29th, by the way). Even if you weren’t wild about King of Limbs, the songs off Radiohead’s latest, not-so-greatest album came across far more powerfully under the starry Indio sky than they do on disc; plus we got “Karma Police,” “Pyramid Song,” “Myxomatosis,” “Idioteque,” “Lucky,” “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” “There There,” “Everything in Its Right Place,” “Paranoid Android” …
Here are a few other tips for Weekend 2’ers, based on my own Weekend 1 experience.
The comeback acts to see are Refused and At the Drive-In. Granted, Refused’s heady Friday-night impact felt partially tied to its placement on a freezing Coachella day when intense music—matching the intense conditions—made most sense (see also: experimental hip-hop outfit Death Grips and German digital hardcore overlords Atari Teenage Riot). But even without weird weather this weekend, the Swedes’ politicized hardcore punk should make its mark. As for At the Drive-In, the weekend’s penultimate main-stage act lived up to the legend that has swelled steadily since the Texas band split 11 years ago. Sunday’s set was tight and unrelenting, drawn entirely from albums In/Casino/Out and Relationship of Command.
Stake out a spot early if you wanna watch M83 and Azealia Banks, because you won’t get to otherwise. The Mojave Tent filled up in a flash Friday for Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez’s synthy M83—largely on the strength of 2011 hit “Midnight City,” no doubt—though for me the set wound up lagging well behind the buzz. And emerging-rapper-of-the-moment Banks left around half of her 45-minute time unused Saturday in the Gobi Tent, putting me there too late to hear anything. On the flipside, if Friday was any indication, you can show up as re-formed Brit-pop band Pulp goes on and still get in good position, surprisingly.
If you have a hole in your schedule, try to see rockers Gary Clark Jr., the Buzzcocks and The Hives. I caught only a snippet from veteran Austin guitarist Clark on Friday, but one soaring solo was enough to convince me I should have heard more. Pete Shelley’s Buzzcocks worked their tent into a frenzy on Saturday, playing a pile of poppy old-school punk tunes. And Hives’ frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist easily captured the weekend’s charisma award, insulting VIP pass holders and persuading the entire audience to sit on the grass and then rise as one on cue.
Don’t feel badly if you miss Yuck, Real Estate and DJ Shadow. Yuck, a British band whose guitars sounded big and brash on last year’s debut record, came off disappointingly demure on Friday. Real Estate, an unassuming indie band from Jersey, didn’t wow me with its sunny tunes on Saturday. And Shadow, aka lauded electronicist Josh Davis, served up a visual spectacle that never sparkled sonically on Sunday. In the same vein, Amon Tobin’s Friday array offered cool eye candy, but the Brazilian’s experimental electronics couldn’t keep a late-night crowd in place.
You’ll cry later if you skip Jeff Mangum and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. One is a rarely-seen indie icon from Louisiana, the other a rarely-seen instrumental troupe from Canada, and neither disappointed its cult of fans on Saturday. In his first large-stage U.S. appearance since returning from a lengthy hiatus, Mangum put forth a characteristically emotive set heavy on material from beloved 1998 album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, some of it augmented by horns. And Godspeed, touring sporadically after coming back from its own long break, served up a menacing trio of compositions, the octet’s thundering fury drowning out David Guetta’s nearby dance party. Also, if you happen to be in the neighborhood on Friday, James’ bright British pop and Mazzy Star’s haunting dreamscapes are well worth a listen.
As for that hologram, by now you’ve surely heard that Dre and Snoop brought Tupac Shakur back to life during Sunday’s fest-capping performance. The set actually started out strong, with the headlining rappers (backed by a full band) stirring up a massive crowd behind hits like “The Next Episode,” “Gin and Juice” and “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” And then it all fell apart. Unnecessary guests paraded to the stage—Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent (for three songs), Kendrick Lamar—and Snoop covered House of Pain’s “Jump Around” (no joke). Then Tupac disturbingly “appeared,” “performed” and “spoke” to the crowd (was his “What the f*ck is up, Coachella?” computer-programmed, because there’s surely no archival footage of him mentioning a festival launched three years after his death). Eww. Please tell me concert promoters have enough sense not to turn this into a trend. Oh right, we’re talking about concert promoters. Expect Elvis to re-enter the building momentarily.
Anyway, after the fake Tupac left the stage, the real Eminem showed up for a few songs, but he didn’t play his good stuff, so the crowd started streaming out. Then Dre and Snoop did “Still D.R.E.” and vanished. No “Dre Day.” No “Let Me Ride.” No encore from the final act of the weekend. It was almost enough to make me stop scoping out ticket prices for Weekend 2. Almost …