Festival Reviews

Coachella 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

on April 17, 2017, 5:00pm

Travis Scott

No question about it: Travis Scott drew the largest audience of any Friday artist to the Outdoor Theatre. Unless you claimed a prime spot early, it was nearly impossible to ascertain just what was happening on stage, especially given the excessive smoke bursts and pink neon video treatment that made any projected image look like the result of an excessive molly dose. We do know that the Houston rapper/singer performed his first few songs (“Skyfall”, “Mamacita”, and “Don’t Play”) from a small platform positioned halfway between the stage and the soundboard and at one point fed what appeared to be a moss-covered effigy to an enormous animatronic bird, whose wings were occasionally visibly flapping behind the smoke plumes. Perhaps these maddeningly disorienting visuals were responsible for the ranks upon ranks of once-curious festgoers turning on their heels and bailing long before the set ended.

But more likely the uninterested reaction stemmed from Scott’s complete lack of momentum throughout the set. Much like Drake’s 2015 performance, Scott blazed through plenty of tracks (19), but each of them was just a snippet, and long pauses between their abrupt starts and stops stifled any mojo he might’ve hoped to achieve. Surely, all those that stuck around to get turnt for set closers “Antidote” and “Goosebumps” would disagree – it’s easy enough to dance to dope beats with garbage lyrics when you’re high enough – but with no extra star power (nope, Kendrick didn’t turn up early for that latter hit) and an atrocious speaker delay that made it impossible to tell where his droning backing track and horribly over-Auto-Tuned voice began, the result was one of the most disjointed and confusing sets of the weekend. –David Brendan Hall

Downtown Boys

Landing third in a lineup of Latin-influenced bands who played early afternoon in the new Sonora tent, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys served up the only legitimate dose of in-your-face punk rock that I witnessed all weekend. For each song (standouts among them: the ska sax-laden “Poder Elegir”, the Spanish shout-along “Somos Chulas”, and the mosh pit-inducing “Future Police”), there was an overt political message, with some sort of half-shouted preface from frontwoman Victoria Ruiz about issues ranging from white supremacy, overcoming self-loathing, and police brutality. But no matter how fiercely she and her band mates performed, only a small handful of Coachellans looked ready to rally. Maybe kids just don’t know how to mosh properly anymore, or perhaps a bougie, air-conditioned tent with couches and bean bag chairs to lounge in just a few feet back from the stage wasn’t the ideal performance space for such an earnest punk act. Not the band’s fault, but the whole affair came off more silly than serious in light of the circumstances. –David Brendan Hall


King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

It’s easy to understand why the punk-inclined kids love King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: They consistently dish out a psych-infused rollick that incites moshing en masse with their two-drummer, erratic-vocalist setup. (Stu Mackenzie’s screeches, high-strapped guitar shredding, and tongue-wagging is oh so similar to Thee Oh Sees’ “John Dwyer”.) Sure enough, as they launched into a quartet of tracks off their upcoming 10th studio album, Murder of the Universe – “Alter Me I”, “Altered Beast II”, “Alter Me II”, and “Altered Beasts III” – the teenage throng gathered at the front of the Outdoor Theatre dutifully started a circle pit.

But their sound over the course of their 50-minute run was about as varied as those song titles. Even when they busted out older numbers like “Gamma Knife” and “Cellophane”, Mackenzie’s up-and-down cadence, which always matched a guitar or keyboard riff note for note, melded into a cacophony that ultimately felt like one monotone tune. If you weren’t losing your shit in the pit, your mind (and subsequently, your body) were likely meandering mid-set, which doesn’t bode well for their THREE upcoming albums, purported to explore similar sonic patterns, set for release before 2017 is finished. –David Brendan Hall

Future Islands

There’s one understandable reason why people enjoy Future Islands live, and that’s frontman Samuel Herring, who incited wild cheers from the Sunday afternoon crowd at the Outdoor Theatre with his animalistic dance moves and improvised growls over pristine, synth-driven soundscapes. His antics alone (the rest of the band generally don’t move much) are worthy of the graduation from the Gobi tent of the Baltimore-based band’s 2014 Coachella debut. But by the end of their 12 songs – a good handful of them off fifth album The Far Field – all the high-kicks, lunges, and impassioned theatrics weren’t enough to mask the feeling that the same sounds were being repeated over and over, with only slight variation. The droves of people who walked away mid-set after hearing breakout hit “Seasons (Waiting on You)” were proof enough that the band’s listenable notoriety is based mostly, if not all, on that single. If they don’t take serious strides to advance sonically beyond those one-hit-wonder vibes, Future Islands’ popularity could soon be a thing of the past. –David Brendan Hall


When you’ve got a Coachella performer that has about as much charisma as the water bottle sitting on his DJ stand, one of the only possible routes of recovery is bringing out some special guests as consolation. Such was the case with Canadian hip-hop/trap artist NAV on Saturday night as he paced the Gobi stage as slowly and unenthusiastically as an ailing old man, delivering cuts like “Fell in Love”, “The Man”, and “Myself” in mind-numbingly monotone fashion. No, it wasn’t fellow Cannuck and XO label mate Belly that did the trick during “Re Up” (ZZZzzzZZzzzz), but the imprint’s boss man himself, The Weeknd, who saved the day. If not for Abel Tesfaye’s high-energy, three-song appearance (“Party Monster”, “Starboy”, and “Some Way”) to close out the set, Nav’s prime-time evening slot would’ve been an atrocious waste of time. –David Brendan Hall


The concept behind DREAMCAR feels like a pretty big ask. The men of No Doubt, adrift while Gwen Stefani is off being a TV star and tabloid fodder, unite with AFI singer Davey Havok to relive their collective youth in a fun new wave revivalist band. Still, given that degree of proven star power, it’s somewhat easier to at least give the outfit a fair shake. Anything’s possible, right? They arrived at Coachella a shiny and well-oiled machine atop an expensive-looking stage setup complete with two female backup singers and another woman on keyboards. The songs are snappy and precise, with grand, operatic choruses courtesy of Havok. There is a strong Duran Duran influence, with one song sounding about a key change away from launching into that band’s early-album track “Nightboat”. There was even a big saxophone solo from the backup keyboardist, which was glorious, of course. Altogether, DREAMCAR is a clever reinvention for the men of No Doubt and allows Davey Havok the chance to try on yet another persona for size. With songs like “All of the Dead Girls” and “Kill for Candy” screaming for KROQ spins, this band is gonna be just fine. –Scott T. Sterling



mitski 2 Coachella 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

The Japanese-American singer-songwriter and bassist Mitski led her power trio through a somewhat muted set of highly tuneful indie rock with a decided early ‘90s grunge edge. Older songs like “Francis Forever”, “I Will”, and “Townie” make up the majority of her set, thick with disarmingly intimate and brutally honest lyricism. The singer also had jokes, remarking proudly that she now outranks the MIT ski team on Google Search. The band’s slightly off-kilter arrangements recalled alt-rock totems like The Breeders, though the set could’ve benefitted from a little more volume. Any lack in loudness was more than made up for through Mitski’s sheer will, as she charged through a powerful version of “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” alone with just her guitar. –Scott T. Sterling